Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http://www.cubafreepress.org

December 16, 1998, Cuba Free Press.

RATIONING SCARCITY MEANS SOME PEOPLE SIMPLY DO WITHOUT By Ernestina Rosell, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA - Of some things there is plenty here. There is no shortage of rationing methods; we are now up to three.

The first one is the special state notebook we have carried with us since a year after the regime began in 1959. The other two methods have materialized out of the farm markets and the "shoppings," the Cuban word for the stores that sell commodities only for U.S. dollars.

The tremendous limitations on food consumption are indicated in the ration book, which in part consists of a notebook in which are noted the scarcities of the edible materials that the government intends to distribute on a monthly basis.

The only advantage of this system is found in the prices which are kept low, but the scarcity of so many items, which sometimes is extreme, means that they can't provide the minimum of necessities to enable a person's survival.

The other two rationing systems - the farm markets and dollar stores - limit purchases by means of the dollar prices. It is common to hear scathing remarks from people when they see the high prices of foods that are exhibited by the venders at their portable stands that are badly called the "free markets."

At such places the vast majority of the people limit their purchases to the indispensable. Sometimes they abstain from buying because they don't dare empty their pockets because they don't have enough to soothe their stomach's appetites. Too often when they buy at the dollar stores, they find the dollars running through their fingers as if they were as fluid as water.

Even when we consider that some people receive a little economic help from family members who live abroad - mainly in the United States - the prospect of obtaining enough is uncommon because of the high prices of the merchandise.

More often than not, the "fulas," as the dollars are commonly called here, are saved for the purchase of those special items that are usually completely absent from the state stores that accept pesos (our Cuban money), such as cooking oil, bars of soap and detergent.

TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT?

To prepare a decent meal for one or two people, one must invest at least 35 to 38 pesos. But because one needs cooking oil so as to mix up and fry the spices - including garlic or onions - one needs as much as $2.40 (about 50 pesos) for the dollar stores. Oh, those stores!

So it is that the spending for the spices, beans, rice and cooking oil oscilates between 85 to 88 pesos. That allows nothing for green or other fresh vegetables, fruit or, naturally, meat products.

Since the average payment per person from the state is about 200 pesos a month, it is not necessary to be an economist to comprehend why the once sacred and happy hour of mealtime has been converted into an almost intolerable burden on the Cubans. It is not essential to have a superior IQ to recognize the new forms of rationing which subtly and deceitfully are exercised by means of the food-stands and the dollar stores. There is an abundance of products but they are priced so high as to be beyond the reach of the majority of the Cubans' pockets.

Ernestina Rosell, Cuba Free Press.


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