User:EmirCalabuch/Libreta de Abastecimiento

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Rationing in Cuba[edit]

The vast majority of Cuban families rely, for their food intake, on the Libreta de Abastecimiento (literally, "Supplies booklet") distribution system, instated on March 12, 1962 [1]. The system establishes the rations each person is allowed to buy 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)[1]. 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.

Products included in the libreta vary according to age and gender. For example, children up to 7 years of age are provided 1 litre of milk per day, as do the elderly, the ill, and pregnant women. [1] 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.

A Government office, specially created for this task, the OFICODA, emits the libreta to all citizens each year, in the form of a small booklet. 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 eventual dietary indications. A person’s products are distributed only at the bodega that serves his area of residence. A person cannot retire his products somewhere else, so each change of address requires returning to the OFICODA to update the booklet's data.

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). The libreta contains a page for every month, where the clerk marks what products were retired, and in which quantities. Cubans are required to present the libreta each time they buy the rations.

At its inception, the rationing system included not only food products, but industrial products as well. 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 at January 6, the Three Kings Day, or Día de Reyes). After the demise of the Eastern Bloc on 1989, Cuba entered the Special Period and industrial products were no longer distributed through this system.

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

Standard rations[edit]

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

Product Quantity Price (CUP)
Rice 6 lb 0.70 / lb
Beans 20 oz. 0.32 / lb
White (refined) sugar 3 lb 0.15 / lb
Dark (unrefined) sugar 3 lb 0.10 / lb
Milk (only children under 7 years) 1 lt / day 0.25 / each
Eggs (*) 12 0.15 each
Potatoes/bananas 15 lb 0.40 / lb
(*) Only from September through December.

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

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). Such delays are most evident in beef distribution. 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. So, this required a mechanism to be invented so that people with special needs, such as pregnant women and elder citizens, had precedence on the queue. This mechanism became known as Plan Jaba (jaba being the name of a sort of rudimentary shopping bag, usually made of fabric).

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 stated its intention to abolish it [1] (although specific dates have not been provided). 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. It says as well that humanitarian aid received from other countries is distributed through this method in a fair and equitable manner. The official stance on this subject is that of being undesirable, but unavoidable and fair.

The government recognizes that the rations distributed by this system are not sufficient to maintain adequate sustenance on itself. The government, as well, assures that no political leverage is made on the rations, which is said to be distributed equally to all citizens, regardless of their political views or judicial status.


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 ([2] and [3]). In their opinion, this method creates profound economical differences within the Cuban people, dividing the country in half: those that can afford the higher prices of goods in convertible pesos or in the mercado libre, and those that simply can’t [4].

Critics also accuse the Cuban government of using this system to exert control over the cuban people. As this system controls the delivery of goods and represents the largest, if not the only, means of sustainment for most Cuban families (salaries being paid in Cuban Pesos), detractors assure the government is thus capable of preventing and punishing dissidents by resorting to the fear of being suspended from the distribution of rations.

They assure humanitarian aid is not being distributed as claimed by the government. 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 over 44 years.


  1. ^ a b c Overview of Cuba's Food Rationing System José Alvarez University of Florida

See also[edit]