Goodbye to Rationing / Yoani Sánchez

Every day brings us closer to the new year and, with it, the growing alarm over the job cuts and reductions in subsidies we face in the coming months. A phrase from Raul Castro’s latest speech — “continuing on the edge of the precipice” — is not a metaphor but our painful reality. Among the social assistance that will be eliminated is the so-called ration market, which distributes a small monthly quota of products to each citizen. No one can survive eating only what is recorded in his “ration book,” a document more important here than even the identity card. But the extremely low wages in the high prices in the country’s other markets make the abolition of this subsidy dramatic and highly controversial.

It is not only a basic, though meager, support, but it is like the birdseed that justifies the cage. Whenever the tone of criticism rises, and dissenters began to point to the system, officials emerge to remind us that the government spends millions each year to provide us a few beans, a packet of coffee every thirty days, and that slice of bologna that feeds popular humor more than stomachs. So it has been for more than forty years, since the establishment of the regulated market at a time when my parents thought it would be a temporary, a transitional measure until the planned and centralized economy began to bear fruit. Within a few days of my birth, my name was inscribed in the register of consumers, and twenty years later I had to enter the name of my son in the same list. Rationing has become so ingrained in our lives many do not know whether to laugh or cry at the news of its end.

We are all aware that keeping the “booklet” is unsustainable for the national economy, but few can imagine life without it. In our house, we have decided to put the little book of graph paper we’ve been given for 2011 in a safe place, because if it really is the last one, surely it will become an historic document. Those who defend its immediately elimination are sure that it will mean the automatic placement of tons of goods on the free market, and they assume this will cause prices to drop in the market not regulated by the state. But the biggest change, perhaps, may be in the minds of the people, when they sense that the tiny portion of seed is no longer being placed inside the cage, they may begin to feel the real pressure of each one of the bars.

December 29, 2010