Cubans Who Leave the Country for More Than Two Months Will Lose Their Ration Book

The vast majority of Cubans have lived their entire lives with the ration book system. (La Demajagua)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 7 December 2023 — Cubans themselves have disdained the news of the resolution that came into force this Tuesday regarding the ration book with a devastating argument. “With all due respect, for what they give for the book, more is spent on paper and ink on cancellations and breakdowns,” reacts a reader of Tribuna de La Habana .

The news addresses only the reduction of the time that citizens can spend abroad without unsubscribing from the system. Until now, and since 2021, Cubans who left the country for at least three months had to go to the Consumer Registry Office (Oficoda) to communicate their new situation. Starting this Tuesday, with the rule going into effect immediately, it will be enough to spend two months outside the country to be withdrawn from the system.

The resolution, published in the Extraordinary Gazette of December 5, establishes the system to sign up in the registry, its rules and exceptions, but the only change in real terms is this. Meanwhile, due to the diminished supply of rationed goods that are sold through the document — which has controlled the registration system for the rationing in force on the Island since 1962 — there has been little interest in the change. Most of the reactions that have occurred – for now only on social networks and in the press – have more to do with the poor functioning of the system and its poverty.

“Just because I have traveled does not mean that my family is millionaires nor that I return to my country with a wallet full of euros. Everything is super expensive and I have no resources”

“Something is not working correctly,” explains a 70-year-old retiree in a detailed comment. The 70-year-old woman left the island to visit her grandchildren for five months, after five years without seeing them, “a trip which was made with a lot of sacrifice on the part of my daughter,” she explains. In compliance with the norm, this Havana woman registered before leaving the country and returned to her Office on her return to register again, but was told that she had to spend three months taking advantage of the “pilot voucher,” a temporary document that replaces the ration book while her new situation is being processed.

“I’ve been in my country for a month and they still haven’t given me any of the [items listed in the] November pilot voucher. I don’t even have the right to buy the daily bread that I am entitled to. Can someone tell me where what I am entitled to is? Can someone tell me where to go? Who cares if I eat or not? Just because I have traveled doesn’t mean that my family is millionaires or that I return to my country with a purse full of euros. Everything is super expensive and I don’t have the resources to shop at MSMEs [small (ostensibly) private businesses], which are the ones that have everything at exorbitant prices. Is this a punishment for having traveled?” she reproaches sadly.

Poor management in Oficode is not, in any case, new. Since the ration book digitization process began in 2018 – which has not yet been completed – disasters have accumulated, exposing a system that, far from benefiting from new technologies, has only gotten worse.

For more than three decades there has been an obligation to communicate the registrations and cancellations of deceased persons, residents abroad, changes in the home and other cases that alter the composition of family units, but non-compliance was very high, giving rise to the allocation of more resources than foreseen per family. Digitization supposedly came to increase control over changes, but the system’s own failures, together with corruption, kept thousands of consumers non-existent in the databases.

In 2021, information from the official press of Ciego de Ávila revealed that 15,000 of the 437,000 registered consumers no longer resided in the country. That year a problem began that continues today, the shortage of paper, which has prevented the delivery of physical ration books with the problems that this situation poses for thousands of people.

In 2021, information from the official press of Ciego de Ávila revealed that 15,000 of the 437,000 registered consumers no longer resided in the country

In December 2022, the problem was repeated, and the Ministry of Internal Trade had to guarantee that “the distribution of the regulated family basket” was assured but there were “affects with the timely availability of the ration books for 2023.” In the first months of the year, in at least nine provinces, purchases had to be recorded in an extension of the 2022 document until the preparation of this year’s document was completed.

Rumors about a possible disappearance of the document and the system, which is increasingly less useful on the Island, have grown since Raúl Castro stated in 2011, at the IV Congress of the Communist Party, that there was a firm decision to gradually eliminate the booklet. “The problem we face is not one of concept, but rather lies in how, when and with what gradualness we will eliminate this distribution instrument that has provided highly subsidized basic food to the more than eleven million Cubans,” he said.

The majority of the population, despite dissatisfaction with this method, is suffering from vertigo to think of the possible end of an instrument that has governed their lives for 60 years.


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