In the Chaos of the Cuban Consumer Registry Offices, ‘The Dead Return to Pick up Their Bread’

The framed photo, dominating the Consumer Registry Office in Calle Juan Alonso, can be seen clearly by the crowd in the street. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 9 January 2023 — The Office for the Registry of Consumers (Oficoda) on Calle Juan Alonso, Luyanó, Havana, was in chaos on Monday morning. Scores of people crowded round the establishment trying to resolve the problems they were having with their ration books.

“This year you must not lose your ration book under any circumstances. If you lose it again it won’t be replaced until next year”, warned an official in a loud voice, without clarifying whether you’d lose your right to buy rationed food if you did lose the book. “So are they going to write it on a piece of cardboard or what?” complained a woman, who reluctantly let pass, in front of her, a mother and her tired little boy who wouldn’t stop crying. It was already eleven in the morning and only three people had been attended to, while it was obvious that there were four other employees inside the office doing nothing.

If that were not enough, the process of getting the new ration book can be delayed by up to 17 days, when you used to be able to get it on the spot.

The lack of paper, which once again has caused the delay in the issuing of the new books, has added to a general disorder so bad that some unbelievable errors are being made. Like the one that has affected Caty, also a resident of Luyanó.

Some months ago she was pressured by the authorities to de-register her mother who had recently passed away, with the threat of a fine if she failed to do so. When she picked up this year’s book she couldn’t believe her eyes: they had once again printed her mother’s name in the book. “They told me I had to go back to Oficoda and correct the mistake, but I’m not going to correct anything. I did what they asked me to do, which was to de-register my mother. If they’ve put her name back on it, that’s their problem”, she told this newspaper. “The way things are going, anything can happen — even the dead come back to pick up their bread”.

The Juan Alonso Oficoda has been the subject of residents’ complaints for days. “Unbelievably, I’ve been coming to this office over three separate days to verify the information in my ration book, which has been retained by them, so I can’t even get basic supplies”, Zonia Suárez, a customer, complains, clarifying that all her data is in fact correct and that everyone registered in her book is alive and resident in Cuba.

The woman explains that the queues/lines for this process start to form at four in the morning and that they shut the office at midday. The picture she paints is similar to the one that 14ymedio found at Juan Alonso: “There’s a whole lot of errors in hundreds of ration books and the people who are supposed to be sorting this out are elderly and rather slow and there’s only one desk there which blocks the entrance to the building so that everyone has to crowd outside, including pregnant women and older people, so that arguments break out”.

Suárez says she asked them who gives the instruction to hold back basic food supplies from clients when the errors are not their fault but the fault of the authorities — and they replied: “it comes from the top”.

“I imagine it must be from Jupiter or Mercury then”, the woman added, wryly, “because no one who lives in Cuba could give themselves the luxury of doing that unless they had the right conditions to take similar measures with those who have only that book to get sustenance.

On the other hand, even those who don’t have any errors in their books are equally annoyed, owing to the reduction in the rationed products that are on offer. “People are ignorant of the reduction in the number of products that will be sold for cash in Havana shops where people use the ration book that’s given to every family. The price difference is significant, though many goods fall somewhere in the middle”, complains one young man from Central Havana in a store which put the January allocation on sale this Monday and doesn’t even have the new ration books available. “Last month they gave out four packets of picadillo [ground meat] and now they don’t even give out two, and it’s the same with sausages and olive oil. In my mother’s shop they haven’t given out any white sugar, only three pounds of rice per person”.

These are bad times — the worst — for the rationing system that the Island has been suffering under since 1962. Because if this weren’t enough, the new system of “cycles”, established by the authorities in Havana on 1 December, which is dependent on “the availability of produce” in the state run chains Tiendas Caribe and Cimex, has caused a situation in which even the January allocation is not yet available for many families.

“In our store they haven’t been able to even start the distribution of the January allocation because there are still hundreds of families which haven’t bought their December one yet. They can’t start selling the current allocation until the last one has all been bought”, warns a resident from Revolution Square district.

In Luyanó, it wasn’t until yesterday that Caty was able to buy her December supply. “So I’ll get my January one in February”, she says, resignedly. From the crowd in the street one can clearly see the framed photo that dominates the Oficoda in Calle Juan Alonso: Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel, together with the slogan: “We are Cuba, we are continuity”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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