Unrationed Potatoes


The year I was born the first Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba was held and the centralization of trade and services became absolute. The only thing one could acquire—outside the ration market—were some books, newspapers and movie tickets. All other products and services fell under the austere sign of the restricted, enclosed within the subsidized quota we received every month. Even to buy a razor blade, one had to present the ration card where the seller marked the number corresponding to the sharp blades.

Something similar happened with food and especially with the fruits of our fertile fields, distributed in limited quantities to each consumer. The potato was one of those most controlled by the State. During my entire life this tasty tuber was exclusively available on the counters of the ration markets; they arrived every three or four months to do us the honor of their presence and their taste. I dreamed of purees spread with butter with fried potatoes hanging over the plate. I thought their soft texture was harvested from the remote Siberian planes and not from the furrows of my own country.

The private farmers were compelled to sell their potatoes to the state, which strongly penalized those who violated this strict requirement. So we got used to seeing them appear on our plates a few times a year and keeping them in our culinary fantasies. That was until a few weeks ago when Raul Castro’s government decided to liberalize their sale and removed them from the increasingly empty ration market. Now we do not need to show a document to buy pounds of potatoes, but we must wait for them to return, before we can put them in our bags and take them home.

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22 thoughts on “Unrationed Potatoes

  1. Tracy thanks for your post and welcome once again.

    Tracy’s question: “If an item is off the ration books, though, and nobody can afford the asking price for potatoes at the ’shoppings’, the prices would have to fall soon, correct?”

    Good question, good reasoning: The great majority of the population is unable to pay the asking price at the “shopping”, however, many in Cuba have relatives living outside Cuba and quite often, these “gusanos” (derogatory name given to us not living in Cuba) send their relatives US Dollars or EUROS, allowing them to buy products normally not available, except at “shopping”. The government is aware of the shortages, that’s why they have chosen this route of distribution and scam.

    Living in a free society with freedom of speech, an abundance of everything and I mean everything, is totally different than living in a totalitarian regime were citizens are dependent of the RULERS in every imaginable aspect of their life. Life is hell.

    Today I will choose another theme, probably unbeknown to you, the CDR, it is an acronym for the Spanish: Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. CDR’s exist in every square block in every neighborhood, in every city, in every State, in all of Cuba.
    CDR’s are small nets of informers (snitchers), spying on their own neighbors and controlling every movement of their lives to later report it to their superiors.
    To learn more about it, copy and paste the following:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committees_for_the_Defense_of_the_Revolution

    I encourage you to stay up today by viewing all the latest post. Thanks again Tracy.

  2. This is so fascinating…and I have to say, its an eye-opener! If an item is off the ration books, though, and nobody can afford the asking price for potatoes at the ‘shoppings’, the prices would have to fall soon, correct? I mean, if I am trying to sell a product (particularly one that will rot away soon) at 10, and nobody is buying them, I’ll very quickly start asking 9, or 8, or 7…until people do start buying it. It may be a painful process and take some time at first (and some potatoes may go to ruin in the meantime), but in the long run, is that realistic?
    Also, I really wasn’t talking about “farmers” really. My grandmother, for example, lives in a condo now; she wants to live in her own space, but cannot maintain a garden any more. She has a tiny patio – maybe 8 feet (about 2.5 meters) by 12 feet (about 3 meters). On this patio, she has a barrel for a potato plant, a pot for a grapefruit tree, some tomato plants and a few others. I have one orange tree in my yard that produces enough oranges to give me good fruit for a month. This is not enough to feed us or replace the market. But it makes me wonder if/why a Cuban couldn’t have one pot – just needs some sunlight, not an acre – just set the pot next to the door or on a patio – to help?
    After reading this blog, I cannot look at food the same way. I can’t help looking at my pantry and my refrigerator and thinking about how all that food would feed to many in Cuba. I never thought of it as a “lot” before. And as I’m planning my yard, I’m not planning to plant flowers any more; I’m trying to find pretty plants that produce some form of food (like I’m putting in a row of blueberry bushes instead of ‘bachelorbutton flowers’. I’m certainly not a ‘changed’ person, really, but I think it’ll be many months before I can look at a mere potato the same way again. I almost hope I never do, actually, even though I sort of miss that bit of ignorance.

  3. Tracy, the fact that you are not familiar with the present situation and how a totalitarian regime works, is no reason to call yourself stupid, please. I welcome you to this page and hopefully by reading Yoani’s comments and others, you will be able to have a better understanding of all the hardships and impositions that the Cuban people encounter every new day, hard to grasp sometimes, but the truth.

    Just to give you some ideas, after the triumph of the revolution the government confiscated all private land and created “The Agrarian Reform”, one of the most devastating rules of communism, since they don’t have the expertise to run anything except chaos.

    Later on and because of their inefficiencies, they allowed some small farmers to run their own small parcels of land with certain restrictions and conditions. These small farmers were able to keep part of the crop for their living, however it was the government who took the main bulk of the crop from the small farmer, again another way of benefiting from someone’s hard labor.

    When the government decided to delete potatoes from the ration book; first of all, it means that you as a dependent of the State, were unable to go to the regular store and claim the portion that de government allows you to have (when available). So now for you to buy potatoes (when available) you have to buy it from the special “shoppings” and pay a higher price, and the government is free of supplying this staple under the ration book policy; clever, ehh?

    There are other staples that eventually will be taken off from the ration book making it hard for the regular Joe to pay the high prices of the “shopping”

    Tracy, please keep asking questions, that is how everybody learns. Thanks.

  4. Statue of Libery, you’re 100% correct – I’m entirely ignorant of what its like to live outside of the US and have always been quite privileged and spoiled. Please forgive me, then, for posting such unrealistic thoughts; I’m just learning here. And I’m sitting here trying to absorb the idea that someone would tell me I cannot have a plant on my patio/porch. So, at the risk of sounding so very stupid, you’re saying that in my free time, of my own accord, if I planted a bucket of potatoes (and they grow GREAT in a bucket) that the regime would find out and care enough to take it away? I can almost (still struggling) get my head around the idea that if I have an acre, that I would be required to plan it with certain crops (regardless of whether they’d grow). But if I obey and grow that acre of beans, can’t I also grow a tomato plant in a pot? Again, please forgive my ignorance.

  5. Tracy #17
    When I see your question that tells me you are not probably aware of the following: Under a totalitarian regime, the people in control are the one who runs your life and if they want you to grow potatoes, then you grow potatoes, if they don’t you don’t.

    When Cuba was under the dictatorship of Batista, even tough he was a dictator; if you have a piece of land you were able to grow whatever you like; no one interfere with what you wanted to grow. Now under the “Communist Paradise”, things are totally different, the agricultural system is run by a bunch of inefficient communists that have no idea of what can grow in your soil, therefore if they tell you to plant beans, you better plant beans, it does not mean that it will produce a single plant, but those are the orders.

  6. Do Cubans ever try to grow their own potatoes? In the photo, there are some nice eyes started on a few of those spuds; cut them off, plop them into a bucket of dirt with a few drainage holes, and you’d soon have 5 lbs of pototes or more, I think. It wouldn’t be enough to feed a family, certainly, but maybe it would help a little?

  7. Hey anonimo you are like the dog w/ two liver that got w/out any. Freedom is something that you don’t add quire , is something that you fight for. And i tell you as Cuban and citizen of the word i enjoy my freedom.My Brother does the same!

  8. The Castro regime imports up to 40,000 tons of seed potatoes annually from Canada, U.S., and Holland. Since the year 2000, has been a declining trend in the production of potatoes, in spite of the fact of the priority in the supply of inputs given to the crop.

    The inefficient Cuba regime now imports about 85% of the food it rations to the people. The rationing book accounts only for 1,000 daily calories per capita, a third of the calories recommended by FAO. In 1958 the consumption in Cuba was 2,870 daily calories per capita (source: UNO Demographic Yearbook, 1955-1959. FAO).

    The ration book provides only between 10 to 12 days of monthly food requirements. To make ends meet, Cubans are force to buy food to supplement the monthly diet at overpriced government markets with prices in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), and with regular pesos at farmer’s markets, a luxury for most people.

  9. LATIN AMERICAN HERALD TRIBUNE: Yoani Sanchez Says Cuban Government Seeks to Silence Bloggers

    HAVANA – “Blogger Yoani Sanchez said Wednesday that Cuba’s president, Gen. Raul Castro, has begun to understand that he must eliminate or intimidate the creators of blogs in order to silence them, because he cannot bribe them with “a week in Varadero,” a coastal resort near Havana.

    “To stop bloggers, you have to eliminate them or intimidate them, and the government, the party, the general have begun to understand that equation,” Sanchez said in the latest entry of her Generacion Y blog.

    “It has taken them some time to understand it, but they’ve begun to realize it. They now know that to silence a blogger they can’t use the same methods they have used to silence so many journalists,” the winner of prestigious international press awards said.

    “No one can fire these impertinent people on the Web from the pressroom of a newspaper, nor promise them a week in Varadero or a Lada auto as compensation, much less can they win them over with a trip to Eastern Europe,” she said.”

    http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=350334&CategoryId=14510

  10. Nice try, Anonimo!

    Nothing will make me shut up. I am sick with a virus called freedom and I am not afraid to spread the decease to others! :-)
    As for country

    I am a citizen of the world.

    Maybe the reason we get into all this wars and all this problems is because of the existence of national boundaries. Any country that promotes excessive nationalism (Example Cuba) is suspect of doing something very wrong to their citizens.

  11. hey julio shut up ………………i was thinking a bit …jjajaajajshut up you are useless go back where you came from.haiti ………….

  12. I was thinking a bit about the situation of teachers in Cuba where the old teachers did not want to teach but go to other positions where they could earn more money in the tourist sector.

    Realized that the whole economic system they have before opening tourism was a close economic system without too much outside influence.

    Hey that’s not true anymore so people working in the tourist industry are able to fetch better salaries (in tips) that the rest. Therefore the attraction of working on the tourist industry.

    It’s then unfair very unfair to the rest that do not even have enough to make ends meet.

    Few solutions come to mind

    *One is stop the tourist from coming to the island prison. (Can not do that otherwise they will not get the hard currency produced by dollars)

    *Another is to pay more to everyone else (Can not do that because the government does not have the money)

    * Another is to let people with money pay a sales tax (Use the tax to compensate the very poor’s salary) (this is social engineering requires lots of work and a new corruptible bureaucracy) (the problem with this is that the people who are pay more as a result of the tax system may not still be able to afford to buy in the dollar stores and even worst if they also have to pay the tax then they are left with exactly the same amount they were pay!)

    I will keep thinking in other solutions but the one that I will think will solve the problem right from the root is freedom.

    Free Market economy.

  13. Cubans were entitled to buy up to four pounds of potatoes a month at one cent per pound through the ration book. Potatoes were almost impossible to get without buying them “under the table.” They were dropped from the ration book on November 7, 2009. Now Cubans must pay 5 cents a pound for potatoes, five times more, if and when they are available at regular markets.

    The per capita consumption of potatoes in Cuba amounts to 50 lb per year, a modest consumption according to FAO. Dropping the potatoes from the ration book is a way to test the reaction of the people, since they are not central to the Cubans diet, before making the move with rice and beans which they are. It is an attempt to test people reactions before more drastic changes are made.

  14. REUTERS: Venezuelans yell “Welcome to Cuba” as lights dim

    CARACAS (Reuters) – School children studied in gloomy classrooms and shopkeepers strained their eyes to count cash as electricity rationing began in Venezuela on Wednesday, presenting a challenge to President Hugo Chavez’s popularity.

    “A long drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon has caused a sharp fall in water levels at the hydroelectric dams that provide the bulk of Venezuela’s electricity.

    But coming hot on the heels of a sharp devaluation of the bolivar currency that hurts savers, the staggered four hour blackouts every 48 hours have angered Venezuelans used to plentiful energy in one of the world’s top oil exporters.”

    “The blackouts are supposed to follow a schedule, hitting each neighborhood every two days until at least May, but on the first day authorities seemed to follow little pattern.

    Officials said some schools and small health clinics will be affected, but that large education centers, hospitals, media outlets, trains will not suffer the cuts.

    Street lights in some zones may go off but Javier Alvarado, who runs the Caracas Electricity corporation, said not in poor neighborhoods where crime is highest.

    The cuts, which trapped some people in elevators, have also forced the baseball league to reschedule games, disrupting an activity only matched as a national pastime by shopping.

    That too is hit, with most malls being ordered to open later in the morning. Government workers are among the few to benefit from the rationing, with public offices opening only between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. for the next few months.”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60D06G20100114

  15. Apologies. What I meant to say was that, those of us who speak English as our first language, can make the drafts shine.

    There is a lot of work for us to do. If I understand correctly, the number of bloggers is increasing on a daily and weekly basis. It would be interesting to see this plotted on a graph. Time vs number of bloggers. Is it linear or exponential? Julio?

  16. Three cheers for our Friendly English Translator and the wonderful job done in creating the translating site! Thank you so much for your hard work and dedication!

    I have been actively translating as much as I can in my not-so-spare time. The site is easy to use and very user friendly. Translating is also very rewarding — my observations so far are the following:

    Many of the expressions and descriptions used on the blogger’s posts are uniquely Cuban. My experience has been that it would be very helpful if more people from Cuba who are familiar with these expressions could help out by doing first rough drafts of the translations. Rough drafts are just that, Rough. They don’t have to look pretty. You can use Google translate and then look for things to correct as best as you can. Don’t worry what the drafts look like. Those of us on the team who speak English can make your rough drafts shine, but we need your help to get the meaning right.

    I offer this as an idea — maybe there is a better way — but I have found that when I am revising a first draft done by someone from Cuba, it is much more efficient and the final product is mcuh more accurate than if I do the whole translation myself. I am a second generation Cuban who has never even been to that Island. So please don’t be shy. Get into the translation site and do it!

    Thanks again to all, and especially our Friendly English Translator.

    Respectfully,
    -Hank

  17. Simba her complain have to do with the fact that she is not able to see potatoes at all. So something is wrong. What is still wrong is the government setting up prices for farmers. They need for the prices to set themselves up in Free Market fashion and then competitive pricing will make the price come down on its own. The government should only make sure there is no price fixing or monopoly.

    Some people in Cuba will be able to afford potato at the prices we pay here in the US and even higher prices. Many of the ones that have their own business or the corrupted government employees that steal from the government. The problem is like Yoani said

    Where are the potatoes?

  18. Pingback: Tweets that mention Generation Y » Unrationed Potatoes -- Topsy.com

  19. OK, folks, the cooperative translation site is up and running and working like a charm.

    Please make it your New Year’s Resolution to:

    1. Go there yourself, even if only 15 short minutes a day, and do at least a LITTLE translating. One paragraph per person per day moves us forward and pushes the wall!

    2. Find ONE friend you can rope in who will agree to do the same.

    Together we can do this. We have 18 (EIGHTEEN!) blogs in English now — a month ago we had only 5. In a few more days we’ll have more than 20.

    http://hemosoido.com/

    THANK YOU
    Your Friendly English Translator

  20. I have been reading this site for quite some time, but there are certain things I do not understand. This is another one. Removing potatoes from rationing seems to be a good thing as it is a small step toward a free market and the removal of government meddling in agriculture which they seem to have no great ability in administering. However, is it not really a bad thing in that without rationing the price may rise to where no one can afford them as the people’s wages will not rise to make up for the potatoes cost rise?

  21. Now the Castros try to blame the tension on the American on Obama just in case the do no want the embargo liffted. How i said before on the 90 they brought down brothers to the rescue plain , on the 2000 they blamed on Bush , and now in 2010 they blamed on the American Social Worker .

  22. Seeing what is happening in Haiti , let me look on the past 51 year in that earthquake that is call Castros Brothers . Reading this blog met me remember thing that happening went I was a little boy . How they force the cooperativaisation of the private farm. How the Agro production fell down in lest than 10 years. That is between the first congress and the second congress of the P.C.C. That was no the fall of the American how the Castros brother try to blamed.

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