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rationing

Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook
By Sarah Marsh | CIRO REDONDO, CUBA

Cuba, battling a chronic energy deficit, has all the sunshine, wind and
sugar to fuel what should be a booming renewables sector - if only it
could find the money.

The country's first utility-scale renewable energy project, a biomass
plant in Ciro Redondo, is finally under construction thanks to an
injection of funds from China, a socialist ally and in recent years, the
communist-led island's merchant bank of last resort.

Turning Cuba's renewables potential into reality has become a state
priority over the past year since crisis-stricken ally Venezuela slashed
subsidized oil shipments to Cuba that were supposed to help power its
traditional plants.

Some foreign players in green energy, such as Spain's Gamesa and
Germany's Siemens, have shown early interest in the country. But the
overall paucity of foreign financing means that this project, being
carried out by Cuban-British joint venture Biopower, is still the
exception rather than the rule.

The financing puzzle is a crucial one to solve if cash-strapped Cuba is
to hit its target of renewables filling 24 percent of its energy needs
by 2030, up from 4 percent today, a strategy that would require billions
of dollars in investment.

The government announced last July it was rationing energy, raising
fears of a return to the crippling blackouts of the "Special Period"
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The energy shortage comes at a
time when growing tourism and private business creation are generating
greater demand.

"The most challenging thing we have had to deal with in the last six
years of developing this project has been the financing," said Biopower
President Andrew Macdonald, while touring the site of the Ciro Redondo
plant.

The Scotsman, who has been doing business with Cuba for more than a
decade, said the U.S. blockade had "strangled" funding from Europe "and
other obvious sources", with banks afraid of sanctions.

His start-up Havana Energy joined forces with a subsidiary of domestic
sugar monopoly Azcuba to create Biopower in 2012, with a contract to
build five plants attached to sugar mills.

The plants are projected to use sugar cane byproduct bagasse and
fast-growing woody weed marabu as biofuels, costing around $800 million
to add some 300 MW to the grid.

Biopower was finally able this year to start building the first one,
thanks to a decision by China's Shanghai Electric Group Ltd to buy an
equity stake in Havana Energy. The JV is now looking for external
financing for the next four plants.

"We have to check whether the funders are open for the Cuban market or
not," said Zhengyue Chen, former investment manager at Shanghai Electric
and current Biopower chief financial officer.

RISKY INVESTMENT

Some international companies have shown an interest in gaining a
foothold in the slowly opening Cuban market, encouraged by a three-year
old investment law that allows full foreign ownership of renewables
projects.

Cuba last year signed a deal with Spain's Gamesa for the construction of
seven wind-powered plants and with Siemens for the upgrade of the
creaking power grid.

These are just preliminary agreements, however, which may not become
concrete contracts, Western diplomats based in Havana say, given
difficulty agreeing on a financing framework and actually securing the
funds.

On top of the U.S. trade embargo, which frightens banks from offering
Cuba loans, Cuba's payment capacity is questionable. While it has
improved its debt servicing record under President Raul Castro, it is
falling behind on paying foreign providers.

And it has little to offer as payment guarantees in hard currency. Its
state electricity utility generates revenue in Cuban pesos, which are
not traded internationally, only into convertible Cuban pesos at a
state-fixed rate. The government has promised to unify those two
currencies, but it is unclear how.

"If no currency indexation is provided from the government, significant
devaluation poses a great threat to investors' revenue," said World Bank
renewable energy expert Yao Zhao.

Moreover Cuba does not belong to multilateral institutions like the
Inter-American Development Bank that could provide external guarantees.

CHINESE FUNDING

That is likely to force further reliance on China, already Cuba's top
creditor in recent years, having offered loans as a way to hike trade
with the island. Shanghai Electric is importing and building the Ciro
Redondo plant, as well as helping finance it.

Project Manager Li Hui, already directing excavators shifting earth on
site, said he will stay on after the factory is built as the head of the
company's first branch in Cuba.

"We will hand them over a fully-functioning power plant," he said,
adding that Shanghai Electric had to bring over new building equipment
because the Cuban ones were antiquated and lacked spare parts.

But even Chinese largesse may have its limits. Chen said Biopower was
now in discussions with overseas funders, mainly from Europe, and hoped
to secure commercial funds for the second plant by the end of this year.

Macdonald said he hoped his project would be part of the launch of many
foreign participations in the energy sector.

"But today, we are still pioneers," he said.

(Editing by Christian Plumb and Edward Tobin)

Source: Lack of cash clouds Cuba's green energy outlook | Reuters -
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-energy-idUSKBN1720EB Continue reading
Rationing Says Goodbye To "Chicken For Fish" / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 January 2017 — The news has appeared
quietly in the official media: since the beginning of this year the
share of the so-called "chicken for fish*" has been eliminated from the
rationed market. The measure is part of the process of the
"rearrangement of the basic market basket," as confirmed by the Camagüey
newspaper Adelante in its Saturday edition.

As of January 1st of this year the distribution of chicken in rationing
networks is governed by new quotas. The meat companies of each province
will be responsible for the subsidized distribution of chicken meat,
including the six ounces that, until last December, was arranged the
Fishery Industry to replace fish.

Kenya Medina Monesti, director of the Meat Company of Camagüey, said
that with this measure the population living in urban areas will receive
12 ounces of chicken per person nine times a year, while in December
they will get only 8 ounces.

In February and September there will be deliveries in urban areas only,
and only for children under six years old, who will be entitled to six
ounces of chicken in each of these two months.

The distribution will be spaced out more widely in rural areas, where
consumers will be able to purchase the product only four times a year,
"in an amount equivalent to 10.6 ounces," according to the report.

Each consumer would receive 7 pounds and 4 ounces of chicken a year, of
which 6 ounces a month would replace fish (the so-called "chicken for
fish"). Consumers will now receive 1 pound and three quarts of chicken a
month for adults, and 11 ounces for children under the age of 14. In
this way, each person gets three quarters of a pound of chicken more
than before.

In 2014 the official press confirmed that the fishing crisis, which
reduced fish consumption by 75%, would be very difficult to overcome, so
seafood would continue to be missing from the ration card.

"Today, as a practical matter, we have only the fish from our own
catches and from aquaculture, which together total just over 37,000
tonnes of fish," said industry officials cited by the
newspaper Granma. This amount is well below 200,000 tonnes, mainly of
mackerel from the Soviet Union, which was consumed in the 1980s on the
island.

*Translator's note: The ration market has historically provided both
chicken and fish to Cubans as a part of their monthly food ration.
However, for years, fish has been scarce, to the ration markets
routinely substituted "chicken for fish."

Source: Rationing Says Goodbye To "Chicken For Fish" / 14ymedio, Zunilda
Mata – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/rationing-says-goodbye-to-chicken-for-fish-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/ Continue reading
Cuba's next chapter? Not so fast
Politics and Cuba's own challenges make the island a distant prospect
for tree fruit growers.
Casey Corr // Jan 11, 2017

Cuba has an outsized presence in American culture.

The reminders begin when you step off the airplane at Havana's José
Martí International Airport.

Blasted by hot, moist Caribbean air, you see things that are new and yet
at the same time seem rooted in memory: Drivers of 1950s American cars
beckon with a honk.

That familiar portrait of Che Guevera, dashing in beret, looks skyward
for his next revolution, or at least a place on somebody's T-shirt.

Reaching Havana's downtown, you see waters that trigger thoughts about
Cuba's shared history with the U.S.: the battleship USS Maine, the Bay
of Pigs, the CIA's plots to kill Castro, and the famous Americans who
drank and partied in Cuba, from Ernest Hemmingway and Meyer Lansky to
Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Elegant mansions, most now pitted and crumbling from neglect, remind you
of Cuba's past prosperity as the world leader in sugar production and
its lucrative exports of rum, tobacco and nickel.

But that prosperity, limited to Cuba's landed class, ended in 1959 when
the late Fidel Castro took power, triggering hostility with the United
States and dependency on subsidies from the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, so too did Cuba's economy.
Without Soviet cash, Cuba could not afford to buy enough food for its
people, nor could its inefficient state-owned farms grow enough food.
Rationing began and hasn't ended.

I went to Cuba last fall as part of a tour, sponsored by the American
Association of Agricultural Editors, to assess the prospects for Pacific
Northwest tree fruit growers. Our group came from publications and
organizations throughout the U.S., representing livestock and different
crops.

We met farmers, ministry officials, biotech researchers, importers and
others. We wanted to learn about Cuba's agriculture, especially changes
that began when the country's central planners decided to give their
economic model an "update:" that is, allow free market forces to take
hold in certain areas.

The sense of change accelerated in 2014, when President Barack Obama
took steps to normalize relations with Cuba. The election of Donald
Trump, however, has put a giant question mark over U.S.-Cuban relations;
during his presidential campaign, Trump pledged to reverse Obama's Cuba
policy.

The sense of uncertainty deepened in November when Fidel Castro died.
Some have speculated that Fidel Castro's death would accelerate
democratic reforms within Cuba.

When I was preparing to travel to Cuba, many friends said they wanted to
go before traditional Cuba was gone, as if Obama had triggered the quick
arrival of a thousand Starbucks. Miller Lite would push out rum.

That didn't happen, nor will it soon. The reasons are complex, having as
much to do with Cuba's internal politics and culture as with
unwillingness in Congress to unknot U.S.-Cuban trade.

Obama could only get so far by tinkering with regulations. Without
changes in U.S. law, Cuban importers cannot get financing for the
purchase of American goods. What Americans call a trade "embargo,"
Cubans call a blockade.

Whatever liberalizations that may have occurred, it's not yet, to
misapply one of Obama's own phrases, change we can believe in. Cuban
hardliners distrust the U.S. and work to dial back reforms, including
steps to allow growers to buy supplies and sell crops at prices that
reward investment.

Roughly 80 percent of Cuban farmland is controlled by the state; with
certain exceptions, government sets prices and quantities for buying
seed and other supplies.

Cubans take pride in the excellence of their free education and health
care systems, but they pay a price for imperfections in socialism:
Farmers at times cannot get fertilizer and chemicals, nor gas for aging
tractors or trucks.

Economists who track Cuba say the country imports 60 percent or more of
food needed for its 11 million people.

Before the revolution, Cuba was the ninth-leading destination for U.S.
agricultural exports, amounting to $600 million annually in
inflation-adjusted dollars.

The biggest U.S. shipments to Cuba were chicken parts, rice and
vegetables. When trade rules began to loosen, exports of all goods to
Cuba grew but only to $365 million per year.

The U.S. law requiring cash payments before shipment to Cuba places an
enormous barrier to expanded trade with the U.S., said Aurelio Mollineda
Martinez, one of the most senior Cuban officials we met on our visit.

Martinez, director general of the import-export agency Geocomex, said
the proximity of U.S. ports to Cuba, plus the quality of its products
such as grain and rice, would make the U.S. a natural trading partner.
Cuba can work around credit rules using third parties, but only to a
limited extent.

For purchases of rice and other goods, Cuba often turns to countries
that will provide financing such as Vietnam, China or Brazil, he said.

Martinez said he'd like to increase purchases of U.S. goods and
services, including equipment and chemicals from Monsanto and other
suppliers. (As if to underscore that point, the president of Iran and
the premier of China visited Cuba while we were there, prospecting for
trade deals.)

At our visits to government offices, typically bland monoliths done
Soviet style, we heard the same refrain: Credit is the problem. The
message gets repeated in the U.S. by organizations hoping to undo the
embargo for cultural, humanitarian or economic reasons.

Last February, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Cuba
and said he would expect strong sales of U.S. products, especially
soybeans, rice, poultry and biofuels.

The U.S. hoped to eventually provide 50 percent of Cuba's food and
agricultural needs, up from less than 15 percent now. Just how big could
the market become, near term? For some insight, many point to the
Dominican Republic, which has a comparable population and standard of
living.

The Dominican Republic today gets about 45 percent of its agricultural
imports from the U.S. That's $1.2 billion compared with Cuba's U.S.
agricultural imports of $262 million.

Cuba has such a vivid place in American imagination, it's easy to get
bullish on the market there. But when you take into account other
factors, the buzz from Cuba Libre starts to wane.

For starters, Cuba's purchases of U.S. agricultural goods have not gone
up during normalization; imports of U.S. agricultural goods fell 62
percent since 2008.

Even with credit, the average Cuban's wages of $20 to $30 a month will
remain a damper on growth, even with the additional income some Cubans
receive from private-sector wages or remittances from relatives in the U.S.

Moreover, any growth in agricultural imports will be constrained by the
explicit Cuban policy of increasing domestic agriculture; in other
words, the state will continue to direct resources and policies toward
improving the weak farm sector.

Increased trade with Cuba would certainly benefit American farmers who
already grow what Cuba buys, such as rice, chicken, wheat and animal
feed. I'm not bullish about tree fruit, though.

It's hard to see a humid country with unreliable electricity and
inadequate chill facilities buying apples, pears or cherries from the
Pacific Northwest.

On my visit, I didn't see apples for sale in any of the markets I
visited. Some Washington apples were shipped to Cuba years ago, with
much fanfare and expectations, but there's been little activity since.

"Our focus is really Asia," Rebecca Lyons, international marketing
director with the Washington State Apple Commission, told me in an
interview. She ticked off all the challenges with Cuban trade, such as
credit restrictions. "If those things are overcome, there's potential
there in the medium- and long-term," she said. "One of the greatest
things is economic development of the Cubans themselves. They have to
have money to buy things."

Change is coming to Cuba, but not quickly. •

– by O. Casey Corr

Source: Cuba's next chapter? Not so fast | Good Fruit Grower -
http://www.goodfruit.com/cubas-next-chapter-not-so-fast/ Continue reading
Cuba's Ration Book Survives For Another Year / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 22 December 2016 — At the end of
this month the ration market quotas for January 2017 will go on sale.
Cubans who depend on products distributed at subsidized prices will
gather outside the bodegas, in long lines, for the 55th anniversary of
the ration book, whose elimination continues to be one of Raul Castro's
unmet projects.

In 2014, the average monthly salary on the island increased by 24%, to
584 Cuban pesos (some 24 dollars). Despite this increase, many families
still depend on the subsidized prices maintained by the ration card.
Their income does not allow them to pay the prices in the
supply-and-demand markets or in the retail network of stores in Cuban
Convertible pesos.

Different analysts and official functionaries have warned that the
elimination of the ration book could cause a fall in the standard of
living in the most vulnerable sectors of the population, among whom are
the retired and families who don't receive any additional income beyond
their state salaries.

Among the Guidelines approved by the Seventh Communist Party Congress,
last April, it was agreed "to continue the orderly and gradual
elimination of the ration book products." However, so far, the proposal
has not gone into effect, in part because of the poor economic
development experienced by the country in recent years.

Cuba's gross domestic product will grow only 0.4% this year, its lowest
level in the last two decades, as recently confirmed by the Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Faced with this
reality, the government has not been able to improve people's purchasing
power or dismantle the rationed market.

The Government is faced with the dilemma of maintaining the enormous
infrastructure and the hefty costs of prolonging the life of the ration
book or suppressing it, with the consequent deepening of poverty for
various social groups. Such a measure would have an undeniable political
impact on a process that has been defined as a revolution "by the humble
and for the humble."

Officialdom has repeated on several occasions that it is preferable to
"subsidize people rather than products," but the rationed quota is still
given to every citizen equally, even those who have reached an above
average level of income. The practice has focused on removing products
from the subsidized basic market basket.

Rice, grains, oil, sugar, salt, eggs, chicken and bread are some of the
foods that are still subsidized, while other goods have been removed
from the ration book altogether, including liquid detergent, bath and
washing soap, toothpaste, beef and cigarettes.

During the 1970s and '80s it was virtually impossible to live without
ration book products. This phenomenon resulted in, among many other
ills, low internal migration and a greater control of the State over the
citizens.

Currently, the mobility of the population to provincial capitals and
especially to Havana has increased as a result of the easing of the
policy on rental housing. The ability to purchase food and hygiene
products outside the rationing system has also contributed to the
phenomenon.

The emergence of a parallel market that includes state establishments
and private bakeries has also been hugely important to the process of
citizen independence. Ration book bread, a recurring theme in the
"accountability meetings" of the People's Power, a topic of critical
analysis in the official press and a target of mockery for the majority
of Cuban comedians, has lost its importance.

Families with better incomes have given up standing in the traditional
lines to get bread for 10 centavos in national currency (less than one
cent on the US dollar). They prefer to go to the private bakeries that
offer a wide variety of products at unregulated prices.

The bodegas with empty shelves and a blackboard listing the products of
the month have become, along with the old American cars that still
circulate on the streets of the island and the billboards with political
messages, among the photographic trophies taken by tourists as part of
the social landscape of Cuba.

The disappearance of the ration book will have to wait until the
completion of the gradual reforms announced by the authorities. There
will probably be more who mourn its end than those who will celebrate
it, but the day will come when some incredulous grandchild will listen
to his grandfather repeat stories of "that era when everyone ate the
same thing on the same day in the whole country."

Source: Cuba's Ration Book Survives For Another Year / 14ymedio, Marcelo
Hernandez – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/ration-book-survives-another-year-14ymedio/ Continue reading
On Special Rationed Milk and other Food Products Cubans Eat
March 29, 2016
Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES — Some of us who live in Cuba have the strong feeling that
our current eating habits aren't exactly healthy. Some know this, others
simply don't even worry about it.

The situation could become much worse when many more food products begin
to arrive in Cuba as a result of future agreements with the United
States or any other country with a food industry ready to export its
less popular products back home.

In Cuba, there are official government diets for individuals suffering
from celiac disease, gastric ulcers, high cholesterol, HIV, diabetes and
other conditions. A medical doctor issues a document and a local entity
responsible for food rationing allots that person a series of subsidized
"dietary" products, which that person can buy on a monthly basis using
their ration booklet.

The supplementary whole powdered milk allotted me on February 23 was
considerably "different" from the milk I usually get: it has a different
taste, with a lighter, thinner and drier texture. To prepare this powder
milk using lukewarm water – it would be impossible to use water at room
temperature – results in a soft, sandy paste that swells up inside the
cup but does not dissolve. The cups and spoons remain coated with this
paste, as though one had added some kind of cereal or flour to the milk.
Because of this, this milk lasts much less.

"Perhaps they've always mixed the milk powder with something else and
the mixer got the proportions wrong this time," I said to myself.

In my case, I get the whole milk (people call it the "yellow milk" in
Cuba) for gastric ulcers. Because of this condition, I supposedly need
to drink milk and other neutral foods, such as cassava.

After talking about the problem of the milk with the person who sells it
and the manager of the ration locale (as we always suspect those who
work in these places abuse the little power they have and generally
question their integrity, particularly in connection with the sensitive
issue of milk), they assured me they were not to blame, so I ended up
paying the company that distributes the product a visit. There, they
told me the milk I received must have gone bad because of air that
seeped into the bag during packaging. This barely perceptible process
may have affected others at one point or other.

After I was given this explanation, they gave me a new bag of milk and I
headed home.

This explanation, however, leaves me with no cards to play, and made me
ask myself: how many chemicals are used to prepare this milk formula? I
read the ingredients listed on the 1-kg package again: for every 100
grams of product, the milk contains 39.10 grams of carbohydrates, 26
grams of fat, 24.3 grams of protein, 4 grams of humidity and 487.60 Kcal
of energy. The package says the milk was produced on February 14, 2016
and expires on May 14, 2016. This list, however, prompts many legitimate
questions.

This nutritional information does not in any way clarify the components
of the mix: what is the milk made of, in addition to milk? It would seem
they forgot to detail its composition, or, perhaps, it has so many of
these that it would be a headache to try and squeeze them into such a
tiny space. Also, the package makes no mention of the manufacturer,
which isn't Cuban, leaving you even more in the dark about this.

We are constantly reminded that these are subsidized products, but that
shouldn't exempt those who distribute them of responsibility. As the
milk isn't produced domestically, as we are told, there are more than
good reasons to include all of the information the customer requires.

My week has involved recurrent talk on the subject of nutrition. Some
people I know wonder how long our bodies will be able to withstand the
digestive abuse we subject them to daily, aware that we all need to eat
and of how hard it is to put a good meal on the table.

One of the factors that has an impact on what people buy, in addition to
personal finances, is people's lack of knowledge on these matters and,
therefore, what they perceive to be "good" for the body (of both
children and adults) – an attitude of buying the minimum to get by
without doing too much "damage."

This is the result of a diet based on all of the junk food available, a
diet that people have adopted and made into a habit. This diet includes
hot dogs, powder drinks, canned fruit conserves (which the owners of
food establishments sell as "natural," smoked pork and chicken (treated
with potassium nitrate, and other chemicals) and head cheese (the
sub-product of a pork sub-product)

People aren't exactly convinced that, in order to have a better life – a
longer and healthier life, that is – they should look for products that
are healthier for the body.

It would rather seem we're fenced in, for, even though meat sub-products
are conserved, treated and manufactured, the quality of those destined
to hotels and hard currency stores is one thing, while that of the
products destined to ration locales (i.e. the rationed economy that
those with ration booklets have access to) is quite another.

Being at the bottom of the food-distribution chain is probably no
different for Cubans today than it was for humans prior to the advent of
"civilization": it's like being besieged by a wild beast that's always
on the hunt for you.

In our case, this predatory hunt is expressed in the form of early and
adult diabetes (in people without a family history of the condition), in
increased blood pressure (brought about by excessive consumption of
wheat flour in different forms) and the magnitude of one's stress (which
cause digestive and other problems), to say nothing of serious
conditions such as cancer, which has spread as a main cause of death in
Cuba and affects people in their daily lives in other ways.

This February, the processed sandwich meat sold at the ration locale was
in such condition that my cat didn't even look at it. Now, I'm going
through this unpleasant experience with the milk, as I can't get my
hands on the supposedly better quality milk destined to children (sold
in different bags), which is "untouchable."

I increasingly get the feeling that the gap between the natural and
artificial is narrowing more and more. I know this is nothing new out in
the world, but Cuba is just beginning to experience this and the health
of its inhabitants is suffering for it.

On occasion, you hear someone say that "they" look after us or try and
improve our health in some fashion.

They say this because running after a bus keeps us in shape, and the
fact a bit of beef is beyond the financial reach of the majority and
drinking a glass of milk every day proves impossible (though this is
questionable) spares us the dangers of growing fat.

Following the same logic, however, eating pork in excess, or taking in
disguised flour products, doesn't help us in the least either.

Speaking of proteins, we should literally be swimming in fish, as Cuba
is surrounded by water.

But no. The fish or seafood people want to eat is also expensive,
considering their salaries. Sometimes, it is hard to find it, and buying
it in downtown Havana isn't the same as doing so in the suburbs.

In Cuba, one grows old with more stress, and children grow up picking up
bad eating habits, eating excessive amounts of "knick-knacks."

To improve one's health, folks, no matter whether you're old or young,
requires leading a healthy life in every sense of the word, and it is
important to ask oneself what one eats and drinks, and how one goes
about maintaining such habits.

You also need to ask yourself whether you're damaging your metabolism,
deliberately or unwittingly, or whether you've struck a proper balance
of carbohydrates, proteins and fat, keeping a watchful eye on sugar.

Life for us Cuban-humans is more important than any financial concerns,
no matter how important these are, beyond all of the common or uncommon
excuses used (that one doesn't have enough money and is saving for the
future, that the country is under an economic blockade, or the Zika
virus is spreading).

I believe that, if we do not act now, as others have also been telling
us, we will regret not having taken precautions a year from now.

By then, we will be talking about the types of substances that make up
what we eat – if a "green awareness" doesn't save us first -, foods full
of artificial flavors, coloring, high gluccomate contents and fake
proteins (or chemicals disguised with names people don't know), or
anything the food industry brings us to feed more people.

These and other substances, owing to our lifestyles, aren't generally
burnt by the body and become fats, surrounding our organism and flooding
us with pollutants, not to mention the bad habits they encourage.

From this to a total breakdown is but a small step.

Source: On Special Rationed Milk and other Food Products Cubans Eat -
Havana Times.org - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=117768 Continue reading
UNCOVERING GAY HAVANA, CUBA
After a 45-minute flight, we land on the cracked-concrete runway of José
Martí International Airport, walk off the plane onto a seemingly
deserted airstrip, and are greeted by a white bust of revolutionary José
Martí.
BY JOSEPH PEDRO

In old Havana there is a tree that's said to be older than the city
itself. It was here, though it was very young, when the Taíno people
would worship, venerate, and respect her as Ancient Mother. It was here
too, though a little older now, in 1519 when the Spanish first
established a settlement. The land was claimed, right beside her growing
roots, as San Cristóbal de la Habana. She provided shade for the first
mass and bestowed a breeze for the first council meeting. And as she
reached toward the heavens, so did a city. Becoming resilient and
strong, prosperous and wealthy, devout and ideological—she soon had a
home overlooking churches and plazas, statues and mansions that rivaled
those of Europe. She felt the breeze of independence and briefly felt it
taken away from her. As times changed, though, she witnessed the plight
of the Cuban people under a dictatorship and felt the mumblings of
revolution brush through her leaves. Then, in 1959, as winter drew to an
end she was here still to feel the rumbling of a tank shake her roots to
usher in spring and a new hope for her land. More than half a century
later, the wind again sways her branches and one of her leaves falls in
2014, twirling like a Sky Dancer, landing flatly on my head.

I am about to visit Havana, Cuba for a whirlwind three-day trip, and I
decide before boarding a charter flight from Miami to José Martí
International Airport, to drop the veil on my parochial American
upbringing, to observe and reflect on a country that has persevered
through difficult times, and embrace (not criticize) its convictions. Of
course, actually being in Havana, exploring, and meeting the people, I
am forced to modify this original declaration. Havana lends itself to
open-minded tourists who should be curious about the political system,
who want to question the state of the city, and who will dig deeper into
the country's modern-day ethos while understanding its past. And once
you find yourself sharing a mojito with a local, you may be surprised to
see just how open and honest they are about their lives and their
country. As my journey unfolds, I find the city to be a living testament
of its history and ideals, and I meet a proud people who have the
strength to overcome obstacles that the modern-day traveler may not
realize still exist.

I am able to visit Cuba because of loosened travel restrictions on
citizens of the USA thanks to a recent change in policy encouraged by
President Barack Obama. Now, tour companies are allowed to operate in
the island nation as long as they are licensed through the juggernaut
education-based travel program called People to People. My trip is
booked through Pride World Travel, a member of the IsramWorld portfolio
of brands, which is beginning their LGBT-focused tours of Cuba in 2015.
Because these are educational trips, Americans are still at the mercy of
the Cuban government that works to organize specific itineraries for
each group. If you don't feel like going along with the plans, too bad.
As long as the official government itinerary is in play, you're required
to be with your group. But as I learn during my trip, there is a
leniency depending on your guide. Luckily, my itinerary is relaxed and
filled with a steady stream of good food, fascinating people from the
LGBT community (including my guide), and even time to relax at the gay
beach.

I highly recommend visiting through a well-established tour company like
Pride World Travel. The company handled every little detail of the trip.
Having all the correct documents is especially nerve-wracking for
Americans visiting Cuba. The night before we depart from Miami, a
representative hands me a packet with everything I need. From a formal
letter granting me access and a visa to the required Cuban-issued health
insurance— everything is organized. Also, I receive the VIP treatment at
the Miami airport when, instead of waiting in line for the charter
flight, a representative greets us, takes our bags, and hands us all the
required customs forms that we'll need to enter Cuba.

After a 45-minute flight, we land on the cracked-concrete runway of José
Martí International Airport, walk off the plane onto a seemingly
deserted airstrip, and are greeted by a white bust of revolutionary José
Martí. Once through the doors, we are escorted into a flickering
neon-lit room filled with guards. I am so glad I have the paperwork in
order. The buildup and anxiety are unnecessary. The pleasant (and
handsome) agent takes my whole packet, stamps my passport (though I am
told you can request a separate sheet to be stamped), and I walk through
the door into the baggage claim area. Only one person in my group is
taken aside for further questioning (this is routine), but he rejoins us
a few minutes later.
s
Our on-the-ground tour company, Havana Tours, which is government owned,
whisks us through customs and takes us straight to a van. "Welcome to
Havana," shouts our guide, Oscar, who will be with us for the entire
trip. He quickly begins pointing things out, but it's hard to pay
attention. I'm in CUBA, keeps repeating in my head. CUBA! The old 1950's
American-made cars rumble by us, but they aren't exactly like the ones
in pictures. Most are beat-up, rusted, and loud, but they are still so
sexy and filled with men and women cruising with the windows down.

"Here's a school," he says pointing to a Creamsicle-orange building with
kids in white uniforms playing tetherball in the clay ground surrounded
by a lush baseball field. A propaganda billboard proclaiming "We Have
Socialism" with a picture of revolution leaders serves as their
backdrop. "All education up to a master's is free in Cuba," he proudly
exclaims. We all collectively shake our heads thinking of our enormous
student debts.

Then, we drive past the obelisk-like monument in Plaza de la Revolución
and whiz around the iconic images of Che Guevera ("Until the Everlasting
Victory, Always") and the lesser-known revolution leader Camilo
Cienfuegos ("You're Doing Fine, Fidel").

When we exit the turnabout plaza the street becomes a gorgeous,
Spanish-inspired boulevard with a tree-lined pedestrian median. Here is
where I get my first glimpse of the effects of Cuba's political and
economic climate. Each side of the avenue is lined with one stately
mansion after another even-more-impressive mansion. Large gates open to
reveal overgrown tropical flora and gorgeous Italianate-like buildings.
Each, though, has been weathered by the climate forcing their colors to
fade, but their beauty, and significance can easily still be admired.
"The people who lived here," our guide half-smirks, "Weren't too happy
about the Revolution." And you can understand why. "Oh, what the gays in
New York could do to this street," one other guest quips.

As the avenue curves toward the sea, we see our massive hotel, Meliá
Cohiba Hotel Havana.

Through the tour company, we have VIP service and are brought to "The
Level," a special check-in area with a private concierge (you'll be able
to exchange your US dollars here for the local currency, the Cuban
Convertible Peso or CUC). My accommodations are unexpectedly large; it's
a corner room with surrounding windows. I open the curtains, running
around my room pulling them to reveal a stunning view of the sea. A
large bed, two televisions (which get international channels), a Jacuzzi
tub, and most amenities one would expect, including Wi-Fi (for a hefty
price), from a modern hotel. We also take delight in the multiple
restaurants, the outdoor pool on the second floor, the large gym/sauna,
and the attention-to-every-detail customer service.

Celebrating our first night, we literally feast at a palador (privately
owned restaurant) called La Moraleja. We walk down a lighted, trellised
path to an indoor/outdoor dining area. The owner happily greets us and
lets us see his extensive wine collection. Importing more than a couple
bottles is illegal so this assortment has taken him and his father many
years to collect. Havana Tourism representatives meet us and, in a grand
show, we dine on chicken, lamb, lobster, traditional rice and beans,
fried yucca, clams, shrimp, and fried cheese. It's obvious, knowing a
bit about the food rationing that the socialist system in Cuba uses,
that our local company doesn't normally dine this way (of course, we
don't either). I'm hesitant to talk about it, but a fellow traveler
outright asks, in a non-disrespectful way: "You're not used to eating
like this are you?"

"No!" they all say laughing. Their candid response gives us our first
glimpse at the openness of the Cuban people. Our hosts freely explain
the ration books and what that gives them: rice, beans, and eggs. Taking
a bite out of a lobster tail one says: "It's why we are so lucky to have
been placed in tourism." It's a sobering moment, and we consider asking
for our food to go so we can share it with others. "No, no, no," they
insist, "You can leave it for the staff at the restaurant."

The conversation never treads on awkward, which is refreshing. We
compare apartment prices, talk about their travel restrictions, the new
iPhone, if they ever figured out how Whitney Houston died, and if New
York is just like the movies. The owner is happy we're visiting too. To
show his appreciation, he lights us Cuban cigars and brings us beautiful
rum. Taking a pull on the cigar, I think to myself: I could get used to
this.

After dinner, according to our official program, we're to meet an
activist group. So I am surprised when we arrive at a nightclub named
after the award-winning Cuban-produced gay movie Strawberry and
Chocolate called Café Fresa y Chocolate. Inside, there is a band waiting
for us called Aceituna sin Hueso. This café by day is attached to the
Cuban Film Institute and is a regular hangout for the arts community
(a.k.a gay), but at night, particularly once a month, the band (not
exactly an activist group) performs. "It's a place where everyone feels
safe," the bombshell lead singer Miriela Moreno tells me. By looking
around, you can see many more lesbian couples than gay men sitting at
the tables drinking Crystal beer. For non-Spanish speakers, Moreno's
music is still easily understood through her palpable soul-crushing
passion and the get-up-and-dance beats by her band. The group, who has
traveled abroad to Spain to perform, uses their lyrics to send
anti-homophobia and anti-prejudice messages, she tells me. I quickly
develop a straight crush on her as I gulp down several Bucanero beers
while watching them completely turn the small café into a Miami
Beach–style club.

A driver picks me up in the morning in a 1950's canary-yellow,
convertible Buick Dynaflow—it's that Havana moment I've read about. He
honks his horn to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw" as we drive down the
waterfront street called the Malecón. His horn pulsing to the rhythm of
the sea attracts the attention of the early-morning fishermen who turn
their attention away from their poles and give us a wave. The Cuban flag
proudly waves in front of a grand monument to Cuban Independence hero
Antonio Maceo Grajales who sits tall on his horse looking over the city.
The car breezes past the José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform, the site
of tense anti-American protests, particularly during the Elián González
affair. We pass the statue of González's father holding a small Elián
and pointing to the United States Interests Section's glass-covered
building. Even while pointing it out, our guide is never awkward about
US and Cuban relations.

I take in my first views of the famous buildings along the Malecón.
Weathered by time, the buildings seem different depending on how the
early-morning sun hits them. The sun's struggling to pierce through the
dark clouds overhead, and the lighting reveals splendid patterns,
architectural accents, and varying states of decay and renovation. But
most of all, I think, it reveals a color spectrum that my eyes are
unaccustomed to seeing in New York. It reminds me of the colors from a
PAAS Easter egg coloring kit, each egg always turned out to be a new and
exciting shade. The row of buildings is peppered with new projects,
including a new government-owned hotel, which gives me hope that this
once-grand waterfront will be revitalized.

We then turn onto an unassuming street. In accordance with our
itinerary, we're to "Visit Paloma Project which promotes gender equality
(part of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry and
meet with the Director Lizette Vila." A woman, no taller than 5'2″,
reaches her arms out for a hug as we reach the wrought-iron arched
entrance, and a lumbering dog lifts his head at the upcoming excitement.
She hugs each of us like a long-lost relative and leads us through the
well-manicured front garden and into the building. Trinkets (witches,
clocks, sage, figurines) and old photos (Castro, trans* activists,
famous singers) dot the walls, and we carefully try not to disturb the
large Santaria (local religion) shrine on the floor that's filled with
hopes, dreams, and prayers. We're brought into a small room and offered
tea and cookies, and we kindly accept (it is considered bad form not to
enjoy specially prepared food).

One by one, new people enter and sit with us in a tiny windowless room.
We form a circle and exchange those awkward first-meeting smiles.
Lizette Vila enters the room and goes around introducing everyone. "This
is Milena and Juani Santos," she says pointing to an older gentleman and
a young lady. "Juani is the first transgender person in Cuba, and Milena
has recently transitioned and is the focus of an upcoming documentary,"
she nonchalantly shares as our jaws nearly hit the floor.

She then continues and introduces Isabel Blanco, a famous ballerina who
now teaches acceptance and empowerment through dance; Ingrid Leon, who
produces documentaries about woman's rights and has just completed the
documentary about Milena; and Teresa de Jesús Fernández who works for
the government's gay-rights agency, Cenesex.

For a gay journalist, this room is a jackpot. I am ready to fire off
question after question, but it never becomes a structured interview, it
becomes a wonderful discussion that doesn't lend itself to an
uncomfortable middle-of-the-room recorder. We drop formalities, and we
talk, connecting with each other, undistracted like pre-iPhone days. We
learn of Juani's struggles growing up as the only girl among boys and
how he has found acceptance from his brothers after having pioneering
surgery in Copenhagen. Milena tells us about being kicked out of her
home and finding the government-supported resources and
government-provided medical treatments to make her into the woman that
she always knew she was. Ingrid discusses the difficulties of creating
documentaries in Cuba and the thrill of watching her controversial
pieces air on the state-run television channel and her hopes to show
them at international festivals.

It is Lizette Vila, whose passion for her work, her openness, and her
intelligence that captivates my attention most. Moving her hands with
wild gesticulations, reminding me of my Italian grandmother, she
discusses each person in the room's successes and troubles. Her empathy
and her understanding go far beyond the goal of the organization, which
is to advance equality through the arts. While her ideas on feminism and
the LGBT community seem quite progressive, even radical, she insists
that they are in line with the beliefs of many other people in the
country, including Mariela Castro, the director of Cinesex, and the
daughter of President Raúl Castro.

She likens Cuba to a strong, fertile, and beautiful woman whose
resilience in the face of revolution and embargoes continues to inspire
her and the arts community. And while she is lucky to travel around the
globe and meet with LGBT and feminist leaders, she continues to thank
socialism. "It's because of socialism and the Cuban government that we
exist," she tells us while placing her arm on my shoulder.

After long hugs and countless photos, our driver and Oscar have to
nearly pull us away, despite the excitement of our next stop, the gay beach.

Apparently, it is highly unusual for the government to give visitors who
are part of a planned tour such free time. After realizing that there
may be some leniency in their rigid schedule, I beg, like the literary
nerd I am, that our driver stop by Ernest Hemmingway's home where he
wrote Old Man in the Sea. I am told that after Hemmingway's children
came to see it recently, they closed it for renovations. As our van
heads down a village street, I begin to smell the salt water. Little
shops and restaurants dot the street, and men and women walk carelessly
through the middle of the road with fishing poles. In front of us is an
old and crumbling Spanish fort, long docks that seemingly stretch to
nowhere, and a round, baby-blue plaza with a bust of Hemmingway. A man
sings "Guantanamera" alone, children run up to us shouting "amigo," and
an old woman sits, legs crossed, dwarfed by the fort, gazing out. "This
is Cojimar, where Hemmingway was inspired to write his novel." Oscar
tells me. Sitting here by the bust, as I hand Tootsie Pops to the
children to quiet them, and watch fishermen row back into the docks
looking miniscule compared to the ocean, and I can see how Hemmingway
fell so in love with this town, the mysteries of Cuba, and, more
importantly, the sea. "But the old man always thought of her as feminine
and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild
or wicked things it was because she could not help them," he wrote in
Old Man in the Sea in 1952.

I've made everyone late to the beach (by Cuban standards) as people
usually begin leaving around 4 P.M., but it's still filled with
fresh-face tanned youths sipping Cuban rum, and parsnip-colored tourists
lounging in rented chairs protected by rainbow-colored umbrellas. "Mi
Cayito is a place where the gay community can really be free," Oscar
tells us as a couple of transwomen walk by topless. We find a comfy spot
and make our way into the crystal-blue Caribbean waters while the locals
ogle at our foreignness. Unlike other gay beaches in the Caribbean, this
feels empty and safe (though I would, of course, use common sense). We
begin to recognize a familiar cast of characters who proudly promenade
up and down the sand runway sporting everything from thongs to one
pieces, holding hands, swigging glass rum bottles, kissing, and
celebrating life. We easily chat with locals who are interested in why
we're visiting, and we excite them when we say how much we have always
wanted to visit Cuba, their home.

As the sun begins to set, it casts that oh-so-picture-perfect tint of
colors only found in the Caribbean.

That night, Oscar takes us for a stroll along the Malecón where under
the moonlight miles and miles of men and women sit along the waterfront
during the weekend. The massive crowds and the people's carefree no-rush
attitude impress me. The whole idea of hanging with friends to just sit
on a ledge and talk the night away seems so foreign. As cell phones are
quite expensive and most social-media websites are blocked, nobody is
looking at tiny computer screens. They are engaged, interested, and more
importantly valuing each other's time together. Gay groups sit among the
straight couples, and you'll easily notice them by their not-so-discreet
gazes. As we walk to another "cruising" area, every crevice or ledge is
filled with people. We rest under a dark and Sleepy Hollow-esque statue
of "Don Quixote in Vedado" and eavesdrop on Spanish conversations (my
Spanish teacher would be so proud I picked up the word bottom, pasivo).

Havana's gay scene and nightlife doesn't just take place on the streets.
Oscar takes us to a place called Café Cantante below the Nacional
Theatre that's hosting an event called il Divino. First, I visit the top
of the building that overlooks the lit-up Plaza de la Revolución where
an illuminated Che Guevera and Camilo Cienfuegos act as guardians over
the cars rolling around the circle. Downstairs, tables are set up, and,
slowly, people begin to trickle in. It's illuminated like a 90's roller
rink, and we're hardly expecting much modern music, or much at all. Then
the DJ plays US Top 40 with videos projected on both sides of the stage,
and by half past midnight, the oh-so-sexy crowd has overtaken the seats
and the bar is packed. A host comes on speaking machine-gun Spanish,
getting the crowd fired up. He shouts out to us few Americans, Germans,
Spanish, and then a dance number ensues. We're mesmerized and watch a
string of performances, while doing our best talking to the locals. I
learn quickly that buying a beer is way more effective than
chitchatting. We ask when the famous drag queen will hit the stage, and
we're told 5:30 A.M., and I am afraid my tired eyes will lose this
battle with Father Time.

Old Havana is crumbling," our guide tells us. "Over one building a day
currently collapses in the city, but it's because of tourism that we're
slowly beginning to rebuild and restore," he adds. The parts we
experience sing of Spain and most of the buildings in the tourist areas
are still in good condition.

When we arrive in the tourist-heavy part of Old Havana, it looks just
like I had always imagined. I'm standing adjacent to the old lighthouse.
Here, a young guard sits reading a book, she brushes her newly dyed red
hair out of her eyes and she angles her head up and uses her book as a
visor to see the clouds rolling in high above the centuries-old
buildings and trees. A wind whips their delicate leaves, and they fall
to the cobble-stoned plaza. Still green and still with much more time to
be had catching Caribbean sunlight, they become part of the sediment
that has held the stone together for centuries. They are pushed farther
into the ground by opened-toed tourist sandals belonging to curious
visitors and re-smushed by handed-down Nikes belonging to local vendors
hawking Che Guavera trinkets. One of the tree's wide-base roots
stretches far across to the El Templete monument and curves, snake-like
toward a bust of Christopher Columbus. The branches touch the
neo-classical monument gently brushing the façade like a grandmother
smoothing the cheek of her new grandchild.

"A storm is coming," the guard tells me while collecting ten CUCs and
placing the bill into her fanny pack. "Just a few minutes," she says
opening up the faded-white doors of El Templete. "I will have to shut
the doors if it rains." Inside El Templete there are three massive
floor-to-ceiling canvases by the French painter (who later moved to
Cuba) Jean Baptiste Vermay. The exquisite pieces give a first-hand look
into the importance of Cuba. They show, and more importantly allow me to
feel, the power, wealth, and divinity that came from the establishment
of the European New World.

Stepping out from the tomb-like quiet of the monument onto one of the
three main squares in Havana, Plaza de Armas, reveals a bustling scene.
I manage to make it around to a few vendors at the Second-Hand Book
Market, where eager salesmen who are trying to pawn off mostly
Spanish-language books about the Revolution quickly surround me. As I
settle a deal for a five-CUC paperback of The Old Man and the Sea and an
assortment of old prayer cards, I spot a raindrop stream down a graphic
novel, Revolucion Cubana. The vendors parachute plastic tarps over their
stands with such routine indifference I can only imagine how many times
this happens. I stroll with my group around the square. Drop. "It's just
a light drizzle," we convincingly repeat.

Drop, drop. Through the rain, we dodge into little shops, taking in the
local characters, and make our way through two more major plazas. Each
reveals an other-worldly, different-time charm. A young girl in an
orange quinceñera dress floats out of an old church, her parents
snapping photos, as she poses against the beautiful stonework, British
boys stumble through centuries-old courtyards with cigars and rum and
Cokes, and old women whose dresses are wet and sandals are worn sneak up
behind tourists begging for a CUC.

We make it to Plaza Vieja and duck into a microbrewery called Factoria
Plaza Vieja and sample the beers made on the premises and watch the
lively cast of characters. An old woman dances alone in the rain and is
joined by little children, while small dogs step across the cobblestone
square and weave through the modern sculpture of a rooster. The once
droplets have turned into monsoon-like conditions, and I watch the water
flow rapidly through the Old City. "The city has seen much worse," our
guide tells us, reflecting on past hurricanes. Through Spanish columns
an image of Che Guvera looks almost dystopian in the near-zero visibility.

The rain luckily subsides, and we are back in Plaza de Armas. The guard,
protected by a small umbrella, with near-perfect dry red hair, is still
waiting by the monument under dripping leaves. "They say," Oscar notes,
"This tree has been here since the founding of Cuba." I look up at the
branches still moving like a flag from the ocean winds. He takes my hand
and places it against the trunk. "See how smooth it is?" he says as I
brush my hand against an almost sanded-down ring on its trunk. "Each
year, people line up all the way down the street to celebrate the birth
of the nation, and we walk around the tree while still touching it," he
says like an old prophet. "Touch the tree and think of a wish, dream,
hope, or something you're thankful for and walk around three times, and
with each time drop a coin at the base."

One. I trace the tree first with my eyes closed thinking hard about a
personal wish that I send up through the trunk, and I open my eyes while
carefully stepping and see the square as it may have appeared in the
beginning and see the hopes and dreams of a colonizing people. Two. I
come around again and thank the tree for modern-day Cuba for the people,
for their hospitality, and I wish that they too will find answers for
the problems that they live with each day. Three. I come around for a
final time and think of Cuba's future, and I thank the tree that I am
already a small insignificant part of it.

Source: Uncovering Gay Havana, Cuba -- PASSPORT Magazine -
http://passportmagazine.com/havana-cuba-uncovering-gay-cuba/ Continue reading
Rationing in Venezuela: A 'Déjà vu' for Cubans / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on March 11, 2015

14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 March 2015 — Commissar Nicolas
Maduro, president of Venezuela to the misfortune of its people and –
let's admit it – also for the prolongation of our own misfortune, has
just announced recently the installation of 20,000 digital fingerprint
readers in state food markets and in several private sector retail
chains that, according to him, adopted the initiative "voluntarily"
after meetings held with the government.

Let's draw a merciful veil over the aforementioned secret meetings and
imagine the atmosphere that must have reigned there in the midst of the
"permanent economic war" that Venezuela suffers, the successive "soft
coups" that have been provoked almost bi-weekly in that South American
nation – according to the president's denunciations – and the growing
repression of opposition factions and civil society that demonstrate
publicly and openly against the government. It is not very hard to guess
what caused the "voluntariness" of these businessmen, who are
definitively representatives of the "oligarchies" constantly defamed in
official speeches and press.

But returning to the topic of Comrade-President Maduro's above-mentioned
fingerprint readers, his lofty purpose is, while guaranteeing the
feeding of the people, to counter smuggling, or more exactly, "the
smugglers" since smuggling can exist without socialism but socialism has
never existed without smuggling.

This way, the fingerprint readers – which will limit the purchase of
foods and other products in high demand whose supply has been greatly
depressed causing lines, hoarding and disturbances in the stores – now
are added to the prior rationing through magnetic cards established in
2014. It is clear that the Bolshevik Nicolas has not the least ability
to overcome his country's economic crisis, but at least in contemporary
times the new technologies permit digital management of the misery. It
is without doubt a real contribution of Socialism in the 21st Century
which the late Hugo predicted in his glory days, before being planted in
the Mountain Barracks and turned into a tiny little bird dispensing bad
advice*.

Decades later, the Venezuelan government model – if it is possible to
call it that – is dragging the country in a sort of reverse race through
experiences similar to those that we Cubans have gone through under
Castro-ism.

Those of us born before or in the years immediately following the
catastrophic accident of January 1959 remember clearly some of the
bureaucratic variants created to manage poverty, an ill that the older
ones among us believed had been almost overcome with the economic boom
experienced in the 50's.

This administrative strategy, typical of war and famine economies, was
first established for food products, and a little later, with the
decline of Cuban industries due to the extreme nationalization of the
economy, it was rapidly extended to other consumer products, such as
clothing, footwear and other goods. Then came the industrial products
book, popularly known as the store booklet, which currently functions
only for the acquisition of school uniforms.

This version of control not only indicated the limits of access to the
said articles, but it also reached the point of establishing shopping
schedules for groups, with subsections inspired in the strongly sexist
standards of the Revolution, which assigned two days a week – Monday and
Thursday – on which only women workers could shop; an enviable privilege
in the widespread poverty that, moreover, took for granted in a
Revolutionary way that trifles like shopping were not worthy of men.

Decades of shortages, manipulated in detail by those in power, sowed in
ordinary Cubans an extreme dependence on the State – an always
insufficient provider but the only one possible – and a whole culture of
systematized poverty that includes a peculiar glossary with phrases that
we drag around even today in popular speech: "what they are offering" in
this or that establishment, "what's assigned to you," "what's expiring,"
"plan jaba**," "chicken diet***" and many similar ones that reflect the
national acceptance of misery as the common destiny, something that one
day – hopefully not too distant – should embarrass us.

Rationing in Cuba has been quite an institution that has played a role
in the socio-economic realm and also in the political, functioning more
as an instrument of subjection of the people by the Government than as a
true guarantor of a just distribution of consumer goods, established
with a vulgar egalitarianism that annulled individual initiative and
turned the citizen into dough.

The ration book has constituted a mechanism of social control, even to
the point that currently the Government has not been able to eliminate
it, on pain of absolutely abandoning the most disadvantaged social
sectors, especially the elderly without filial protection and the many
humble homes which receive no remittances from abroad nor have any other
hard currency income. In spite of that, the food products rationed and
subsidized through the book – that artifact that constitutes a complete
leftover of the Cold War – are today fewer than a dozen, and they barely
cover precariously some of the most pressing food needs while the rate
of inflation keeps increasing and wages hardly have even symbolic value.

That is why, when I now witness the Venezuelan rationing process, when I
hear the openness with which Comrade-President Nicolas Maduro disguises
in modernity the cataclysm of misery that looms for his people, I cannot
escape a kind of jolt, like déjà vu. We Cubans already traveled that
path, we walked half a century over its thorns and we are convinced that
it only leads to disaster. We have painfully and abundantly proven that
misery is the only thing that, divided among many, touches more.

Personally, I hope that the poor Venezuelans, who lately pursue their
food anxiously and stand in long lines at stores with empty shelves,
manage in time to avoid that serious confusion that sometimes leads
people to interpret as justice that which is the manipulation and burial
of freedoms.

Translator's notes:
* Nicolas Maduro says that Hugo Chavez appears to him as a tiny little
bird, and dispenses advice. In this video, otherwise in Spanish, he
imitates the sounds the bird makes flying around his head and then
imitates the bird whistling a message.
** "Plan jaba" is literally "sack plan" and can mean one of two things:
(A) you leave your bag and come back and pick it up at a convenient time
so you don't have to wait in line all day, which is allowed for some
working people; or (B) you get a "special bag of extras" because of age,
illness or pregnancy, and again, you just pick it up.
*** "Chicken diet" means that you get extra protein because of age,
illness or pregnancy.

Translated by MLK

Source: Rationing in Venezuela: A 'Déjà vu' for Cubans / 14ymedio,
Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/rationing-in-venezuela-miriam-celaya/ Continue reading
Blessed be filtered water / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez
Posted on October 5, 2014

14ymedio, Ciego de Avila, Elvira Fernandez, 26 September 2014 – "This
water will satisfy you for today. Jesus will satisfy you for eternity,
do you accept him?" it reads above the two taps, in one of the most
useful and widely appreciated places in Ciego de Avila today. It is the
people's filtered water service point opened by the Pentecostal
Evangelical Church in its Voice of Jubilee Assembly of God Church in the
La Guajira neighborhood.

It rains frequently here, but the city suffers a scarcity of potable
water. People are afraid to drink the water from the aqueduct network
because it is almost always contaminated with sewage waste, due to the
abundance of cracks and leaks in the pipes. For the people, in addition,
in an environment where hygiene isn't front and center, this water is
one of the few chances to prevent contagious diseases such as cholera,
which seems to be here to stay.

The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical
congregation in the United States, which is dedicated to providing this
type of assistance to countries facing humanitarian crises, such as
Haiti. In Cuba they keep about forty similar pieces of equipment
running. In Ciego de Avila province there is another in the Pentecostal
church in the Venezuela municipality.

The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical
congregation of the United States

Four days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday) the doors of
the side yard of the church open to all, believers and non-believers,
between 2 pm and 11 pm. At first they came with small bottles, but most
have already made tanks, tanks and big jugs because, with a single trip
and after waiting so long, they are trying to accumulate the water for
several days. And the lines are getting longer again. The people waiting
when the sun shelter in the doorways all around.

The church can not cope and, lately with very little water falling in
the tank, they have to pay for water from the Communal Company's pipes.
A woman carrying several bottles says: "I have two children and I feel
very safe when I can be assured of this water. In my house, no one wants
to drink any other. But I'm worried, what if this disappears?"

Given the shortage, the increasing demand and the difficulties, expands
fear of a reduction in service. A new sign has appeared on the church
gate has caused general concern, as it heralds drastic rationing:

"We have little water, but we want to continue helping with filtered
water, therefore, during this situation, we can only give you 5 liters
per person. We expect your cooperation, thank you. God bless you."

Source: Blessed be filtered water / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez |
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/blessed-be-filtered-water-14ymedio-elvira-fernandez/ Continue reading
Soy Yogurt Meant for Children Ends Up Feeding Pigs / Moises Leonardo
Rodriguez
Posted on August 15, 2014

ARTEMIS, Cuba, Moises Leonardo Rodriguez — Soy yogurt, the sale of which
is regulated and intended for children, was received in a spoiled state
over the last two weeks in the outlets in the town of Cabañas. In the
city of Mariel in the Artemisa province, in contrast, the opening of a
new production plant for yogurt destined for Havana and Mayabeque
provinces was just announced.

The regulated amount is three one-liter bags a week for every child
between 7 and 12 years, replacing cow's milk, the sale of which is
restricted to children under age 7.

Many believe that the priority should be to ensure the technical means
so that the product arrives in good condition, before producing more.

Ileana de los Ángeles Iglesias, speaking from Central Havana in the
capital, said that the bags bought off the ration book in recent weeks
were also spoiled.

A nutritionist, speaking on a recent National Television News broadcast,
said that the product should be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, which
appears to explain the deterioration of the yogurt during its delivery
in unrefrigerated vehicles in hot weather months, as well as in the
warehouses and places of sale.

On 11 August, the yogurt was sold outside the rationing system and a
group bought dozens of bags to be fed to pigs, while the children are
left waiting for a solution.

Cubanet, August 15, 2014 |

Source: Soy Yogurt Meant for Children Ends Up Feeding Pigs / Moises
Leonardo Rodriguez | Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/soy-yogurt-meant-for-children-ends-up-feeding-pigs-moises-leonardo-rodriguez/ Continue reading
The problem with buying food in Cuba
Feb 15, 2014 By Guest columnist
By Teresa Sanchez

For many visitors to Havana, the most disappointing thing about the city
is the food. Tourists with deep pockets who stay in touristy areas might
not notice as much, but those who try to live like locals will quickly
realize that the food problem is very real and can make getting
day-to-day groceries exhausting.
Although Cubans have "libretas," or ration books that entitle them to
rice, beans, cooking oil, and other basic items, the quality and
quantity leave much to be desired. The rice often has rocks and pieces
of dirt mixed in, making the process of cooking a much longer and
unpleasant task, as one has to sit down and separate each grain. A
"monthly" supply of beans for one person is so small that it could
easily be eaten in two days. Coffee from the state is cut with the
chícharro bean, making it literally explosive. Faced with these
difficult realities, Cubans are forced to shop at expensive markets or
"inventar," invent ways to acquire food on the black market.
Despite the government opening the market to some independent stores as
of recent, government rationing through the libretas is still the norm.
There are no supermarkets in Cuba; small markets offer a limited supply
and are outrageously expensive for Cubans who earn an average of
$20/month. There are often long lines to get in, you have to check your
purse/backpack and bring your own plastic bags, and you must be
attentive when paying because the cashier might try to shortchange you
(an experience I faced almost daily).
In fact, shopping for food can be such a hassle that sometimes I chose
to go hungry instead of go shopping.

During my first week in Havana I went to a grocery store to buy some
crackers. There was a line of about 100 people outside. After waiting an
hour in the hot sun, a near riot broke out as the people, impatient,
started to storm the entrance. They were angry that the much-coveted big
cans of tomato sauce were being bought in such large quantities by the
people already inside. Scared for my safety and tired of waiting, I left
empty-handed.

Getting groceries in Cuba
People also shop at agros, open-air produce markets, but these are
expensive, and the produce is filthy. Buying lettuce for salad is not
worth it, because each leaf has to be washed thoroughly—and first you
have to disinfect the water just to wash the lettuce! This can be a
two-hour process. Shopping at agros is stressful too, as they are
overcrowded with people and stray dogs, and the venders are dishonest.
As the Cuban mantra goes, "no es facil," it's not easy.
After expressing my despair about the food situation to a foreigner with
years of experience in Cuba, I learned of a "socio" who could get me
yogurt, cheese, and meat.
This was my entry into the black market; I soon realized that everyone
has a "guy" for certain items.
"If you want tamales, my house keeper can get them for you," or "I have
a persona de 'confianza' that can get you lobster," are typical offers.
But these are still expensive prospects and require planning, which is
difficult since many people do not have phones.

Eating at restaurants in Cuba
The other option for food is going out to eat. There are generally two
cuisines on the island: Cuban food "comida criolla" and "Italian" food.
I mention "Italian" because it is marketed as such, but really these are
just privately owned businesses that sell cheap pizza or spaghetti out
of a person's front door. Pizza costs 10 Cuban pesos, roughly 50 cents,
but they are made with low quality ingredients, hardly resembling pizza
I've had anywhere else in the world in terms of texture and flavor.
The saving grace of Cuban food is the fruit. Mangos, guava, papaya,
pineapples, etc. are unbelievably delicious.
Also, the food situation outside of Havana is not as bad as I
describe—the food passes through fewer hands and is thus less corrupted
by the time it reaches your plate.
Despite the difficulties surrounding the acquisition of food in Havana,
the resiliency of Cubans and the way they rely on family and social
networks to overcome these problems continues to impress me.
If you plan on visiting Cuba, the greatest gifts you can bring are olive
oil and cooking spices. But if not, bring lots of patience with you and
un amigo de 'confianza'.

Source: The problem with buying food in Cuba | Voxxi -
http://voxxi.com/2014/02/15/groceries-cuba-getting-food/ Continue reading
Bad Seed / Jose Antonio Fornaris
Posted on September 29, 2013

HAVANA, Cuba , September, www.cubanet.org – It is not possible to find
antecedents – apparently they don't exist — or any other moments in
history when Cuban agricultural production fell as deeply and as long as
in recent decades.

As long ago as 1960, Fidel Castro assured that there was a plan to
supply poultry meat to the internal markets as of January of the
following year. And he added, "Starting in 1962 the food supply will be
fully resolved."

A little later he affirmed, "It is in agriculture where we have
immediate possibilities. It is in agriculture where the fruits are going
to be seen most quickly… The development of livestock goes hand in hand
with the development of sugar. Meat is red gold."

Castro's last attempt (there were many) in the agricultural sector, was
the so-called "Food Plan." The only thing that materialized from it was
the image of a farmer carrying a bunch of bananas which is on the back
of the 20 peso note.

Fidel's brother, General Raul Castro, is following in his footsteps in
this matter. Since taking power, he has been looking for the magic wand
to make the earth bear fruit, even moderately.

The latest effort in this direction was the National Meeting of the
Agricultural Sector Producers, which ended on 14 September at the Lázaro
Peña theater in Havana.

Raul Castro sent a message to the event; in one paragraphs it reads, "In
recent years, various measures have been adopted, in accordance with the
Guidelines approved by the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party,
to eliminate the obstacles that hinder development of this sector.
However, there still remains much to be done to make the contribution of
agriculture to the national economy greater, without which we can not
move the country forward in a sustainable way."

In the early years of the Fidelistas coming to power, the contribution
of agriculture was still outstanding. And that could be appreciated in
the markets. But in 1962, the regime was forced to establish rationing
for essential goods.

From that moment, the shelves of retail stores began to be emptied and
the lack of food began to worsen, until today, when food prices are
infinitely greater than they were at that time.

Why, for centuries, was the land of this Island able to provide
different types of provisions and, instead, for more than half a century
now, it is insufficient? The answer is obvious.

Jose Antonio Fornaris, Josefornaris@gmail.com

Note: Photo is of food ads published in the Revolution newspaper on
November 16, 1959.

From Cubanet

26 September 2013

Source: "Bad Seed / Jose Antonio Fornaris | Translating Cuba" -
http://translatingcuba.com/bad-seed-jose-antonio-fornaris/ Continue reading
Cuba: The Bitterness of its Sugar / Ivan Garcia
Posted on September 23, 2013

In 23 years, Cuba has gone from being one of the world's sugar refining
nations to exporting the sweet grass for the consumption of the tourist
sector. If in 1990, in the dawning of that silent war that was the
"Special Period," 8.2 million tons of sugar were produced, in 2013 a
little less than one million was produced.

This year the sugar harvest was 11% less than predicted in the state
plan. Only with that fabulous capacity that the official media have to
cushion failures, did they adorn the disaster with tinges of optimism.

A peripatetic television reader said that, in spite of a deficit in the
production of 133 thousand tons, "the sugar harvest of 2012-2013 was the
best in the last nine years." According to the official version, the
poor results indicated "difficulties in efficiency due to technological
obsolescence in the agricultural industry and machinery, poor
organization and indiscipline."

The sugar harvest fiasco is a hard economic blow. A ton of sugar on the
world market is valued at 400 dollars. Therefore, the rickety state
finances lost an income of 53.2 million dollars.

President Raul Castro has tried to revitalize the formerly premier
national industry by making butcher cuts. In 2012 he closed the enormous
bureaucratic apparatus of the Ministry of Sugar and, with a third of the
employees, created a state enterprise called Azcuba.

The entity announced that it aspired to an increase of 20% in the sugar
production with respect to the prior harvest of 1.4 tons. The
possibility was studied of managing a center in the province of
Cienfuegos with the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

The preparation of the harvest was thoroughly planned: petroleum to be
consumed by means of transport, inputs for cane cutters, pieces of spare
machine parts for the mills and output that should be obtained per
33-acre tract sowed with cane.

The forecast was a resounding failure. I asked a sugar industry expert
why, for a long time, the sugar production has not exceeded the barrier
of 2 million tons. Currently he is retired, but for several years he
worked in the Ministry of Sugar, in days gone by a powerful institution,
with a millionare budget and a structure surpassed only by the Armed
Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.

In that time, the official traveled half the world, buying equipment and
machinery. "If you want to know what has stopped working in the current
sugar campaigns, you have to do a little history. After 1911 in the
Cuban republic, sugar production fluctuated between 5 and 7 million
tons. They were harvests that rarely took three months. The productivity
per hectare was among the best on the planet. At the level of Hawaii or
any sugar power of that time. The Cuban industry was a jewel, with a
world class efficiency. With the arrival of Fidel Castro into power in
1959, there began the slow decline of our premier industry."

The specialist continues his story. "Blunders and volunteerism succeeded
each other in abundance. The lack of spare parts for the machinery of
the mills and the insufficient training of technical personnel in the
mills, who occupied important posts thanks to their political loyalty,
were undermining the sugar industry. Castro involved himself in the
sector on an authoritarian basis. His plans and fantasies caused a lot
of damage. By pure whim, he substituted the cane variety that was
planted in the fields, very resistant to plagues and with high sucrose
volume. The 'Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest' in 1969-1970, was the coup
de grace. Those consequences are still taking their toll on the
production of sugar."

According to the expert, Castro was like a devastating hurricane, a
noxious plague. "He not only planned the cold campaign in a wrong way,
the subproducts that the cane generates were also wasted. Sugar powers
like Brazil take advantage of it all. The cane is not only sugar or
alcohol. It serves to produce furniture, medicine and animal protein,
among other features."

In the Cold War years, when Cuba allied with the communist countries of
Eastern Europe, the island sold its sugar production at a preferential
price. Inputs, fertilizers and machines were not lacking. In the Holguin
province, some 800 kilometers east of Havana, with Russian technology, a
factory was built that produced cane cuttings.

By the end of the 20th century, all the sugar machinery was being
dismantled. In 2002, the government put into place a plan of plant
conversion. Of the 156 existing plants, 71 produced sugar; 14, sugar and
molasses for livestock feed; and of the 71 others, 5 would be converted
into museums, 5 would be kept in reserve, and the other 61 would be
dismantled. But in 2005 government sources reported that between 40 and
50 of the still active plants would be closed.

In October 2002, Fidel Castrol designed a reordering of the sugar
industry and named it Alvaro Reinoso's Task (he was a considered a
founding father of the scientific agriculture in the island in the 19th
century). In a public speech he said that in the coming weeks schools
would be opened for no fewer than 90 thousand industry workers. In an
undercover manner, thousands of sugarcane workers were forced out of work.

Today, dozens of sugar mills and its warehouses are considered scrap.
Along with the "company towns" around them, where people subsist eating
little and badly and consuming alcohol in alarming quantities.

Via the rationing book people get five pounds of sugar per person. In
the black market the prices of this commodity is almost prohibitive in a
country where the average monthly salary is $20 dollars. The cost of a
pound of white or refined sugar is $8 Cuban pesos (40¢ US), and $6 Cuban
pesos (30¢ US) for raw or dark sugar. Due to its awful quality, there
have been more than a few occasions where the tourism industry has had
to import refined sugar from the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

When the history is retold about the leading and monumental failures of
Fidel Castro's revolution, the sugar industry will be in first place.
From a great exporter in the past to an importer in the present. That's
a bitter reality.

By Ivan Garcia

Translated by mlk / LYD

22 September 2013

Source: "Cuba: The Bitterness of its Sugar / Ivan Garcia | Translating
Cuba" -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-the-bitterness-of-its-sugar-ivan-garcia/ Continue reading
Cuban food ration system marks 50 years amid controversy
10:14am EDT
By Rosa Tania Valdes

HAVANA | Fri Jul 12, 2013 1:31pm EDT
(Reuters) - Cuba's food-rationing system marked 50 years on Friday amid
controversy, with President Raul Castro facing popular resistance to his
plans to end the benefit as he moves the country from broad subsidies of
goods and utilities to targeted welfare.

Castro quickly began market-oriented reforms in 2008 after he replaced
his ailing brother Fidel, who installed a communist government on the
island nation in the early 1960s. But the younger Castro has criticized
the rationing system as "paternalistic, irrational and unsustainable."

The country spends 25 billion pesos (around $1 billion) annually on
rationing, subsidizing 88 percent of the cost, according to a source
close to the government.

The law establishing the system, known as the "libreta," was passed in
1962, and hundreds of ration stores opened on July 12, 1963.

A lifesaver for some and obsolete for others, eliminating rations has
proved perhaps the most controversial policy Castro has proposed.

"For many, the ration is necessary because it guarantees each month a
little rice, a few eggs, some sugar and milk," said Ignacio Lima, who
manages a small, dark and dingy ration outlet in Havana. "It is not
enough, but it helps a bit and then you go find what you need on the
open market."

After he spoke with a reporter, four shoppers at the store quickly began
debating the merits of the system - a discussion much like the one that
has raged across the Caribbean island for decades.

Olga Raquel Vazquez, 49, said there had to be a better way to feed
people. "The time has come for the ration to disappear," she said.

But Verena Rodriguez, a 72-year-old pensioner at 250 pesos per month,
the equivalent of $10 dollars, insisted she couldn't live without her
"libreta".

"It has to stay because without the ration some of us will eat and
others won't," she said.

"Who has money can buy everything and who doesn't can't," Rodriguez
said, adding that with 10 pesos, or around $0.45, she could buy what was
coming to her on the ration this week.

A LACK OF CONFIDENCE

Cuba has become a more stratified society since the collapse of its
benefactor, the Soviet Union, in the early 1990s. Reforms, such as an
opening to international tourism and foreign investment, the loosening
of restrictions on small businesses and the welcoming of family
remittances, were introduced to manage the economic and social crisis
that followed.

As a result of the reforms, small businessmen, farmers, residents with
family abroad and others now enjoy an income many times that of state
workers and pensioners, yet everyone receives the ration and subsidized
utilities.

"Undoubtedly, the ration book and its removal spurred most of the
contributions of the participants in the debates, and it is only
natural," Castro said in a speech to a Communist Party Congress in 2011,
after sponsoring three public discussion on reforming the economy since
taking over from his brother.

"Generations of Cubans have spent their lives under this ration system
that, despite its harmful egalitarian quality, has for four decades
ensured every citizen access to basic food at highly subsidized derisory
prices," he said.

Despite communism having its roots in social equality, Castro openly
opposes egalitarianism as harmful, saying that people should get what
they deserve through individual effort.

The Congress, as part of a five-year plan to institute further
market-oriented reforms, voted to do away with the ration, promising it
would be replaced by support for poorer Cubans.

But the government, faced with a popular outcry, has instead opted to
chip away at the libreta in hopes of gradually weaning the public off it.

Soap, detergent and cigarettes were first removed, followed by potatoes,
chickpeas and sugar. This month, the government cut in half its monthly
offer of 10 eggs.

Bert Hoffmann, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global and Area
Studies in Hamburg, said the resistance to ending the ration revealed a
lack of confidence in the government.

"It's only natural that people hang on to the "libreta", nobody likes to
give up virtually cost-free provisions if he gets nothing in return," he
said.

"And this is where Raul's reforms have failed: Cubans don't trust that
the targeted welfare system that the government promises will be better,
reliable or work at all."

(Writing and additional reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Source: "Cuban food ration system marks 50 years amid controversy |
Reuters" -
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/12/us-cuba-reform-ration-idUSBRE96B0NP20130712?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews Continue reading
Cuba marks 50 years of 'libreta' ration books but the end is nigh
12/07 15:06 CET

Food rationing in Cuba is marking its 50th anniversary but the world's
longest running system of its kind is on its way out as part of
government reforms.

The "libreta" as it is known began operating in July 1963 as a temporary
measure to counter US sanctions.

The ration books guarantee basic supplies to everyone, in theory. In
practice there are shortages, Cubans are forced to shop elsewhere and
the system is very costly for the state: 25 billion pesos a year, the
equivalent of around three quarters of a billion euros.

The rations cover the likes of rice, bread and cooking oil – as well as
small quantities of eggs, beans, and chicken or fish. But other items
such as potatoes, soap and toothpaste have been moved to regular
state-run markets.

The system was introduced under Fidel Castro, but his brother and
successor President Raul Castro wants to do away with the ration books.

Some find the move illogical. Even now the system makes some nostalgic
for Cuba's revolution and its charismatic former leader.

"I like Fidel. I am very fond of Fidel. It's all good because if we
didn't have a ration book some would eat and others wouldn't, isn't that
so? Some say they are going to get rid of it but I don't believe that,"
said pensioner Berena Rodriguez.

"They had the chance to do away with it (rationing) when everything was
available and cheap, but they didn't. Now that nothing is available or
cheap, how are they going to get rid of it?" wondered another pensioner
in Havana, Hilda Fajardo.

There is a Cuban saying that nobody can live on ration books, yet many
cannot live without them. There are fears that abolition will hit the
poorest.

President Castro and Congress want to introduce targeted welfare
instead, to support poorer Cubans.

Source: "Cuba marks 50 years of 'libreta' ration books but the end is
nigh | euronews, world news" -
http://www.euronews.com/2013/07/12/cuba-marks-50-years-of-libreta-ration-books-but-the-end-is-nigh/ Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 07.11.13

Cuba's food ration stores mark 50th anniversary
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

The Cuban government calls it a "supplies booklet." Cubans call it a
"rations booklet" or simply "la libreta."

Either way, half a century after its creation, the booklet has come to
symbolize the epic failure of Cuba's agricultural sector and the
communist government's stubborn insistence on an egalitarian subsidy for
each and every one of its 11 million people.

The hundreds of state-run food stores that distribute the rations are
marking their 50th anniversary Friday, although the decree creating the
system was issued in March 1962, at a time when U.S. economic sanctions
on Cuba were beginning to cause shortages of food, medicines and other
supplies.

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro two years ago called for an "orderly" end to a
system "under which two generations of citizens have lived, this
rationing system that despite its toxic egalitarian character offered
all citizens access to basic food at laughable prices."

Castro has been pushing a series of market-oriented reforms to drag his
economy out of the doldrums, cutting back on subsidies and other public
spending, slashing state payrolls and allowing more private enterprise.

The booklet in fact has been shrinking over the decades, and especially
after the early 1990s, when Cuba lost its $4-$6 billion a year subsidies
from the Soviet Union and had to tighten its belt to the last notch.

Today, the government spends an estimated $1 billion annually on the
system — unique in the world for its level of detail and coverage — a
huge number in a nation where the average official salary stands at less
than $20 per month.

With an agricultural sector all but stagnant after a half-century of
central government controls, Cuba must now import up to 80 percent of
the food it consumes, fueling an import bill estimated at more than $1.5
billion per year.

Cubans pay less than $2 for the items they receive under the ration card
— an estimated 12 percent of real value — a lifesaver for the poorest of
the island's poor and a help to every man, woman and child regardless of
their income.

Yet, the food rations last only about 10 days out of every month. For
the rest of the time, Cubans must buy in markets where much higher
prices are set by the laws of supply and demand.

Each Cuban is now supposed to receive a monthly ration of seven pounds
of rice, half a bottle of cooking oil, one sandwich-sized piece of bread
per day plus small quantities of eggs, beans, chicken or fish,
spaghetti, white and brown sugar and cooking gas.

Children get one liter of milk and some yogurt, diabetics get special
booklets for their diets and there are special rations for special
occasions — cakes for birthdays, rum and beer for weddings, uniforms,
pencils and notebooks for the start of the school year.

But not all those rations are always available each month, and the
number of items and the size of the rations have been dropping for
years. Gone are potatoes, soap and tooth paste, salt, cigarettes and
cigars and liquid detergent, among other items.

Today the booklet, printed on cheap paper that turns brown, is issued to
each of Cuba's 3.6 million families and has 20 pages, compared to 28
pages in earlier years.

And while the rations account for only a small part of their
consumption, Cubans say they fear that the total removal of the system
will deliver a harsh blow to retirees whose fixed incomes average
$12-$14 per month.

One Cuban axiom holds that "No one can live on the booklet, but there
are a lot of people who can't live without the booklet."

There has been talk in Havana of replacing the booklet of poor people
with something like food stamps, but Castro has made it clear that he
wants to eliminate the entire rationing system.

Rationing was introduced "with an egalitarian intent in a time of
shortages," he declared in 2011. But with the passing of time, it has
turned into "an unbearable burden for the economy and a disincentive to
work."

Source: "Cuba's food ration stores mark 50th anniversary - Cuba -
MiamiHerald.com" -
http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/07/11/3496083/cubas-food-ration-stores-mark.html Continue reading
Buying Soda Pop in Cuba August 31, 2012 Luis Miguel de Bahia HAVANA TIMES — I learned that soda was on sale and went looking for a bottle. As my turn in line was coming up to buy it, I heard a woman in front of me ask for 20 large plastic bottles ... Continue reading
Cuba's +/- Spaghetti May 19, 2012 Dmitri Prieto HAVANA TIMES — Every day I'm more and more surprised by the dilemma posed by the various approaches to product distribution in Cuba. The rationing book refuses to disappear since no alternati... Continue reading

Food imports put Cuban reforms at risk
Published: July 28, 2011 at 11:46 AM

HAVANA, July 28 (UPI) — High food imports are putting Cuban economic
reforms at risk because of the drain they pose on foreign exchange
resources.

The government sounded warnings about rising food commodities import
bills after it emerged that while Vietnam, the… Continue reading

The Cuban Way: More Government, Less Food
Olivia Snow
July 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm

When was the last time you wondered if you would be able to feed your
family?

Fortunately, for the majority of Americans, that thought never occurs,
or is rarely a problem. If mom can't cook the meal, there is always the… Continue reading

White Meat Crumbs / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado
Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado, Translator: Unstated

I turned the corner located half a block from my house and I heard
somebody yelling to another neighbor, " Mercedes, they are giving out
chicken instead of fish." The piece of chicken that the Cuban State
sells us at subsidize price… Continue reading

Cuban leader calls for gradual elimination of food rationing
April 17, 2011

Cuba will gradually cease the distribution of subsidized food through
ration cards as part of an ambitious five-year economic adjustment plan,
Cuban President Raul Castro said in Havana Saturday.

Inaugurating the Sixth Congress of Cuba's Communist Party, Castro said
eliminating the ration cards is… Continue reading