Rationing in Cuba

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Libreta store in Havana

Rationing in Cuba is organized by the government and implemented by means of a Libreta de Abastecimiento ("Supplies booklet") assigned to every individual. The system establishes the amounts of subsidized rations each person is allowed to receive through the system, and the frequency at which supplies can be obtained.[1] While the food rations are not free, the ration fees are a small fraction of the actual price of the goods (on average, less than $2 USD for a month of rations, which is approximately 12% of their market value).[1] Purchases of the goods can also be made outside of the system.[1]

Despite past rumors of ending, the system still exists.[2] As of 2012, a coupon book taken to a ration shop provided family minimums for rice, sugar, matches, and oil, above the average wage of $30/month.[3] While most Cubans do not have to pay for rent, healthcare, or education, ration fees often take up a large percentage of their monthly income, and the unsubsidized costs of their monthly rations would be greater than the average monthly income.[1] The amount of food provided to each citizen has decreased somewhat over time due to the end of billions in yearly financial support from the USSR, a drastic reduction of tens of thousands of subsidized petroleum barrels from Venezuela,[4] and according to government officials, increased sanctions from the United States, and there have been significant increases in the ration fees at times.[1] Economic mismanagement has also played a large role in food shortages and rationing, even while the USSR subsidized the island to the tune of $5 billion per year, certain food items still had to be rationed. [5]

All citizens are still provided with subsidized rations today, even those who could otherwise afford to purchase food.[1] President Raul Castro said in 2011 that the subsidies are far too costly for the Cuban government, involving more than $1 billion USD in food subsidies every year, and that he would like to eliminate the system and its "unbearable burden for the economy" which he claimed produces "a disincentive to work".[1] These remarks were received very negatively among Cubans, and Castro eventually reversed his proposal.

More strenuous rationing on food and other basics was imposed in May 2019 due to the country's economic problems, which resulted largely from a stiffening U.S. embargo, the loss of aid from Venezuela, and difficulties with the state-run oil company.[6]


The vast majority of Cuban families rely, for their food intake, on the Libreta de Abastecimiento (literally, "Supplies booklet") distribution system, instated on 12 March 1962.[7] The system establishes the rations each person is allowed to buy through the system, and the frequency of supplies. Most of these products are distributed at the local bodega (convenience store specialized in distributing these rations), and in the case of meat, poultry or fish, at the local carnicería (meat store).[7] Other industrial products are also included in the libreta, such as cigarettes, cigars, matches and cooking fuels (liquified gas, alcohol, kerosene or even charcoal, depending on each person's means for cooking). Other products can also be distributed through this method, such as light bulbs and other home supplies.[citation needed]

Some products and prices displayed at a bodega (as of January 2011).

Products included in the libreta vary according to age and sex. For example, children below 7 years old are provided 1 litre of milk per day, as are the elderly, the ill, and pregnant women.[7] Adults above 65 years are entitled to different allowances, as well. Granting a special diet requires presentation of a medical certificate which confirms the health condition and what product requirements this condition has.[citation needed]

A Government office, specially created for this task, the OFICODA, distributes the libreta to all citizens each year, in the form of a small booklet.[citation needed] This booklet contains pages indicating the exact number and age groups of persons composing the family nucleus (typically, one booklet is released per family nucleus), as well as any dietary indications. A person's products are distributed only at the bodega that serves their area of official residence.[citation needed] A person cannot receive their products somewhere else, so each change of address requires returning to the OFICODA to update the booklet's data, and those living away from their registered addresses have to return to the previous area for their supplies.[citation needed]

Products distributed through the libreta mechanism are sold at subsidized prices, which have been kept more or less stable since its inception (the mean salary of a worker has varied very little since, as well).[8] The libreta contains a page for every month, where the clerk marks what products were withdrawn, and in which quantities. Cubans are required to present the libreta each time they buy the rations.[citation needed]

People waiting in line at a libreta store in Havana

At its inception, the rationing system included not only food products, but industrial products as well.[citation needed] Along with the libreta, a tear-off coupon booklet was distributed, whose purpose was to set the allowances for industrial products, mainly clothing, shoes, and home products, as well as rationing the toys sold to families with children (which were allowed 3 different toys per child per year, usually sold near or on 6 January, Three Kings Day, or Día de Reyes). After the demise of the Eastern Bloc in 1991, Cuba entered the "Special Period" and industrial products were no longer distributed through this system.[citation needed]

A specific set of laws regulate the functioning of the system, as well as establishing penalties for its misuse.[citation needed] Most irregularities deal with clerks not recording products in the booklet, or recording them incorrectly, and the weighing of the products distributed.[citation needed] Citizens could be legally liable if they do not promptly inform the local OFICODA of any changes in the composition of the family nucleus.[citation needed]

Standard rations[edit]

Distribution blackboard displaying the products, prices and limits (as of January 2011).

A table follows that illustrates the standard ration distributed through this system.[citation needed] Figures are per person, per month.[citation needed] An indication of the subsidized prices is given, as well.[citation needed] Allowances vary from year to year, so these should be understood as approximate figures, based on data from 2000:

(Source: http://cubamigo.org/merengue123/alimentacion.html)
Product Quantity Price (CUP)
Rice 6 pounds (2.7 kg) 0.70 / lb
Beans 20 ounces (570 g) 0.32 / lb
White (refined) sugar 3 pounds (1.4 kg) 0.15 / lb
Dark (unrefined) sugar 3 pounds (1.4 kg) 0.10 / lb
Milk (only children under 7 years) 1 lt / day 0.25 / each
Eggs (*) 12 0.15 each
Potatoes/bananas 15 pounds (6.8 kg) 0.40 / lb
(*) Only from September through December.

Meat products are distributed separately, if available, following a different rationale.[citation needed] These are distributed every 15 days, and usually rotate (that is, the product type changes on each delivery).[citation needed] Fish, beef, ground beef (usually mixed with soy), chicken, sausages and ham fall in this category.[citation needed] Quantities, and prices, differ for each meat product (beef, ½ lb/person each 15 days, whereas chicken is 1 lb/person every 15 days).[citation needed]

It must be said that distribution is not always prompt, and product delivery is frequently delayed (for example, if one month there were no beans to distribute, they usually cumulate for next month, although this is not always the case).[citation needed] Such delays are most evident in beef distribution.[citation needed] The fact that products are not available at the bodega always, but arrive in a more or less random manner, creates long queues when products arrive, which sometimes makes buying the products a quite lengthy process.[citation needed] So, this required a mechanism to be invented so that people with special needs, such as old persons and pregnant women, had precedence on the queue.[citation needed] This mechanism became known as Plan Jaba.[citation needed] Jaba is a word for a flexible basket or bag taken from the vocabulary of Neo-Taino nations and originally was made of dried woven strips from palm fronds.[citation needed]

It was estimated in the early 2000s that the rationing covered between one third and one half of a family's needs.[citation needed]

President Raul Castro moved to eliminate many products from the rationing system, including potatoes and peas.[9]

Other sources[edit]

A Havana market, October 2002 - one of the other sources of goods.

The libreta is not the only means of acquiring goods available to a Cuban citizen, as many of these and other products are freely available on the mercado libre (free market) and mercado paralelo (parallel market), and in the numerous supermarkets and stores that sell goods in convertible pesos.[citation needed] (Such stores were originally set up taking United States Dollars and were referred to as "dollar stores".[citation needed] They began catering for foreign visitors but many are used mainly by Cubans).[citation needed] In addition, Cuba has an active black market (mercado negro, often described as por la izquierda – by the left hand) in many goods.[10] Black market goods may be simply items sold by unlicensed vendors (for example, fish caught and sold directly, or home-made items), or may be stolen goods. Many Cubans rely upon connections and barter, or "sociolismo", to obtain the items they need.[11]

Government justification for the rationing[edit]

The Cuban government states this method of distribution serves to ensure each citizen a minimum intake of food, regardless of the person's social and economical status, and has publicized plans for its demise (although specific dates have not been provided)[citation needed]. It also stresses that the libreta is not the only means of acquiring goods available to a Cuban citizen, as these and other products are freely available on the mercado libre and mercado paralelo, and of course in the numerous supermarkets and stores that sell goods in convertible pesos or euros.[citation needed] The prices in the ration book are about 20 times lower than the free market.[citation needed] It says as well that humanitarian aid received from other countries is distributed through this method in a fair and equitable manner.[citation needed] The official stance on this subject is that of being undesirable, but unavoidable and fair.[citation needed]

The government also says that rations are not used for political leverage, and distributes the subsidized food equally to all citizens, regardless of their political views or judicial status. However residents and refugees from Cuba report that their rationing books were taken away when they were perceived to be anti-revolutionary.[citation needed]


Detractors question the fairness of this method as well as its purpose, and stress its deficiencies, such as a historical decrement of the delivery frequency and quantities of goods distributed and, in their opinion, this method creates profound economical differences within the Cuban people, dividing the country in half: those who can afford the higher prices of goods in convertible pesos or in the mercado libre, and those that simply cannot.[citation needed] They stress, as well, the fact that the measure was adopted by the Cuban government in 1962 as a temporary palliative to a crisis and has lasted for more than fifty years.[citation needed]

Additional rationing in 2019[edit]

In May 2019, Cuba imposed rationing of staples such as chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basics (Some two-thirds of food in the country is imported). A spokesperson blamed the increased U.S. trade embargo although economists believe that an equally important problem is the massive decline of aid from Venezuela and the failure of Cuba's state-run oil company which had subsidized fuel costs.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Cuba Rations Staple Foods and Soap in Face of Economic Crisis". The New York Times. 11 May 2019.
  2. ^ Tamayo, Juan (July 11, 2013). "Cuba's food ration stores mark 50th anniversary". Miami Herald. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  3. ^ "Monika, She is Cuba". May 14, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  4. ^ Fonseca, Brian (January 2020). "Venezuela and Cuba: The Ties that Bind" (PDF). www.wilsoncenter.org.
  5. ^ Niño, José (2019-06-12). "Cuba Implements Food Rationing as Its Economy Enters Crisis Mode | José Niño". fee.org. Retrieved 2022-09-18.
  6. ^ a b "Cuba rations chicken, eggs and rice as economic crisis worsens". National Post. May 10, 2019. Retrieved May 12, 2019. Cuba imports roughly two-thirds of its food at an annual cost of more than $2.7 billion and brief shortages of individual products have been common for years. In recent months, a growing number of products have started to go missing for days or weeks at a time, and long lines have sprung up within minutes of the appearance of scarce products like chicken or flour.
  7. ^ a b c Overview of Cuba's Food Rationing System José Alvarez University of Florida
  8. ^ Garth, Hanna (2014). "They Started to Make Variants: The Impact of Nitza Villapol's Cookbooks and Television Shows on Contemporary Cuban Cooking". Food, Culture & Society. 17 (3): 359. doi:10.2752/175174414X13948130847981. S2CID 147320148.
  9. ^ Cuba cuts back on rationed products
  10. ^ Garth, Hanna 2009 Things Became Scarce: Food Availability and Accessibility in Santiago de Cuba Then and Now. NAPA Bulletin 32:178-192.
  11. ^ Garth, Hanna 2009 Things Became Scarce: Food Availability and Accessibility in Santiago de Cuba Then and Now. NAPA Bulletin 32:178-192.