Libreta de Abastecimiento: #lacolachallenge
“Mom, there’s nothing to eat.” How many times have I heard this? Our pantries are full. Our refrigerators are “Over-Sized.” There is a second or third fridge and pantry area in the garage. We buy in bulk, by the caseload, memberships to Costo, Sam’s Club, and Bj’s. However, that is not the case in Cuba. They tell me the average wage in Cuba is 334 regular pesos per month. That equals something less than $20 per month here in the US. The communist Cuban government supplements this by providing their citizens necessary items. That’s the concept. Sounds good..... February, 2020 was my most recent, latest trip to Cuba. At this time there was no soap for Cubans. NOPE - no soap. No laundry soap, no body soap, no dish soap, NADA Jabo'n! NO SOAP.
Let's update this BLOG. We are in a Pandemic. Everyone is hurting - no one is unaffected. "The Communist-run island nation last month closed its borders to travelers, shuttered schools and ordered the use of face masks in a bid to contain the novel virus, sending doctors and medical students to monitor the population."
This is not a political post. I’m not taking sides nor making a political statement; not trying to incite anyone or start a group to make any changes. These are my observations during my recent trip in 2020 to Havana, Trinidad, Vinales, Gibara and a few other cities in Cuba. This is my visual story, photos and what I have learned about the way the Cuban people live and how it varies from the way we live in the U.S.
Cuba is an island, therefore it needs to import the majority of its food (60 to 70 percent according to Wikipedia). They tell me the average wage is 334 regular pesos per month. That is somewhere less than $20 per month. It doesn’t get better and hasn’t for a while. The vast majority of Cuban families rely for their food intake on the Libreta de Abastecimiento ("Supplies booklet") distribution system. The system establishes the rations each person is allowed to buy through the system, and the frequency of supplies.
Despite the Cuban government’s rumors of doing away with the ration systems - which was implemented in 1962 - I assure you the Cuban ration system still exists. Actually, May 2019, Cuba increased rationing of staples such as chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basics. (Some two-thirds of food in the country is imported.) "Increasing rationing" is not a good thing (it's an oxymoron: a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction). Increased U.S. trade embargo was a catalyst in reducing the amount of imports into Cuba. Bottom line: there just isn’t enough food to go around, therefore everyone gets less. (Am I an economist now?)
How does it work? The “Libreta de Abastecimiento” is the name of the government controlled food distribution system in Cuba. Translated literally: “Supplies Booklet.” Cuba introduced the “libreta” shortly after the late Fidel Castro’s 1959 leftist revolution, to ensure a survival level of heavily subsidized staples like rice, beans, sugar and coffee for everyone in the face of U.S. sanctions. A Cuban takes their supplies coupon booklet (Libreta de Abastecimiento) to a government grocery shop = ration shop. The libreta contains a page for every month, the clerk marks what products were withdrawn, and in which quantities. Cubans are required to present the libreta each time they buy the rations. These “shops” provided the minimums for rice, sugar, eggs, milk for children under 7, and cooking oil. Products included in the libreta vary according to age and sex.
I don’t know for a fact if Cuban’s move around much. I assume not, because the families have lived in the same home for generations. In addition, a person cannot receive their products somewhere else, so each change of address requires returning to the OFICODA to update the booklet's data, and those living away from their registered addresses have to return to the previous area for their supplies. A specific set of laws regulate the functioning of the system, as well as establishing penalties for its misuse.
As WiFi increases (which is rationed as well) Cubans have been flooding social media with photos of the queues they are in, under the hashtag #lacolachallenge (queue challenge) to highlight their problem. My observation and assumption is that this system is not going away anytime soon.…. But people have to eat! So, what is the alternative? THE BLACK MARKET! ...
The Ration System and Book is a welcomed comeback due to Coronavirus Pandemic. Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh, World News, April 23, 2020, Cuba’s decades-old rationing system, once slated for elimination, is staging a comeback during the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to prevent Cubans from exposing themselves to the novel virus by going on frantic shopping hunts. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-cuba-rationcard/cubas-ration-book-stages-comeback-due-to-coronavirus-pandemic-idUSKCN22538R .
Tourism is more than on hold. It is "RESTRICTED." Who can predict the future of cities that rely on tourism such as Trinidad, Cuba: Trinidad is a town in central Cuba, known for its colonial old town and cobblestone streets. For me travel is for rest and relaxation; total self indulgence and an escape away from obligations. Now experts say Corona has changed the travel industry. “As much as we think about our own health when we travel, we should have compassion through realization that we may inadvertently bring the virus with us,...“this could be devastating" says ERIC ROSEN, April 18, 2020.
Personally, I don't want to feel guilt ridden or responsible for contaminating anyone else because I wanted to take a vacation. Nor do I want to die because I took one. Travel and vacationing might look and feel different once the world begins to reopen. People can count on the transformative and positive impact of travel to change their lives and the destinations they visit , hopefully for the better. We will travel again, maybe with more soap in our luggage and maybe with more conscious thought about where we are going and what we are doing.
What do you think? Where is the first place you are planning on going? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please keep the conversation going.