Three generations


The new ration book surprised us at the end of December, just when speculation was growing about the demise of this booklet with its grid-paper pages. It arrived, like every year, surrounded by anxiety and annoyance, submerging us in that approach-avoidance conflict generated by the subsidized. In its little pages I notice the absence of many products that once made up the monthly quota, now reduced to just a monotonous repertoire with insufficient nutritional values and rising costs.

For the first time in our house we are all in the same age bracket among the five defined by the Ministry of Internal Commerce. Exactly in the box for 14 to 64 years my son appears, together with Reinaldo and me, but at least three generations of Cubans have seen the store clerks mark down what we can put in our mouths. Trapped in poverty, millions of compatriots depend on price assistance to survive. Rationing is a trampoline and falling is certain, a dependency we all wish would end, but that almost no one can let go.

I see my name written next to Teo’s and I’m afraid that his children, too, will receive milk only until the age of seven, be allotted washing soap every two months or a tasteless toothpaste to clean their teeth. I shudder imagining that in thirty years we will still have to prove, with a doctor’s certificate, that we have an ulcer to have the right to a few ounces of meat or a container of soy yogurt. With its minimal quantities and doubtful quality, the ration market has also instilled in us an unhealthy gratitude and a guilt complex that cannot be our legacy to those yet to come. If another December arrives and we receive a new ration book, it will not be because we have avoided the economic cuts, but rather because we have fallen another step lower in our citizen autonomy.

89 thoughts on “Three generations

  1. I do not know if this is appropriate or not, but I had not heard of this blog until someone on tripadvisor had recommended it. What I am wondering is what items do people need in Cuba. I am going soon again and often take items there for people, tylenol, duct tape, etc. What I would like to know from someone with more knowledge than myself is what to bring. I do not typically give gifts to hotel workers but rather to people away from the hotels. I do not look at this like charity, rather I am coming to the country anyways and would like to do something to make peoples lives easier somehow. I would truly appreciate any suggestions. Some people on trip advisor are now saying do not take gifts to Cuba, I would appreciate advise from people who live there or have lived there. Thanks

  2. Tracy let me explain a bit. It’s been 20 years I lived in Cuba but I still remember.

    They give you this rationing book on the OFICODA is the name of the office to give you this. So it is assign one per household. All occupants of the household are in it. As you can see they are also classify depending on age.

    They are classify by age because to children they give milk but the rest can not drink milk. (they cut age is 7) older than 7 the child does not get milk.

    Then they have lines per month for beans, rise, poultry or fish allowances
    if you check in some other post here someone listed how much of each of this things they may get. The food they buy using the rationing book is not free. In fact some older retired people are only able to afford this. Their salaries are much lower than working people. They will earn if they are lucky about 200 Cuban pesos a month (7 dollars a month). That’s about half the standard salary for working Cubans.

    That is barely sufficient for them to buy the food from the rationing book. Then they this food is not really sufficient as we computed the amount of calories supply does not satisfy the needs of a normal human. They will have to fence for themselves and find by whatever means the food at market prices. Since they make so little money for many it means they will have to steal from the government or do something consider illegal. Needles to say many of the transactions of selling and buying happen in the black market.

    I remember going to visit and their normal chicken was really small like a Cornish hen.

    Many of the items in the list they may not get them at all. Also if you are not in the move when they arrive to the distribution center you may not get it at all since the people that works at this distribution centers are very corrupted and will try selling some of it to people paying higher prices. They have found also many instances of people not even getting the assign portions just because the bodeguero will like to keep some for himself in order to make some extra money.

  3. for Julio and Juan, if that’s a decission cubans will make why the government don’t stop interfering on it, why not to make a referendum without the typical cheating socialists and communists make. Socialism is not to get stuff been made on a wimp of a leader, modern socialism is democratic, that style of socialism from last century where everything is controlled on society is dead (even though some crazy guy in Venezuela is trying to revive it).

    And US embargo is just a mere justification, Cuba can perfectly negotiate and trade with other countries, the issue is that Cuba never pays back what is owe, plus is a reality the regime in in bankruptcy.

  4. Juan, you sound very much like some low-level Cuban government official looking to suck up to gain some sort of favor. And should you be successful in gaining it, I’d guess you’ll use your few extra dollars to buy extra goods on the black market so that you can continue to eat the rest of the month.
    Yubano, self-expression is far more effective if it is polite; I support and agree 100% with Julio. When someone screams and yells, no message gets communicated. If you want to bark out insults, come to America and you will find plenty of opportunity to shout out nothing. Freedom of speech may be an inalienable right, but as “the word is mightier than the sword”, you should use words responsibly.
    Julio, would you or someone be able to describe this rationing a bit more? I understand books are issued, and I assume they’re stamped or something when presented to a merchant. Are you really supposed to live on that amount of food? If I wanted to buy broccoli or some other vegetable (assuming I could find it for sale), am I legally allowed to buy it? I mean, you have spaghetti on the list, but no sauce to put on top of it. There’s no flour to bake anything with. Seriously, as a fat-n-spoiled American, I’m not seeing how this could possibly work.

  5. That is a nice comparison Jason. Good to meet another skippie!

    #83″..that will be a decision that cubans should make”.
    But that doesn’t stop any one of us having opinions however it is a
    pity that the USA which spends millions of dollars each year on self-professed “regime change” doesn’t adhere to this message.

    And there is of course the embargo which prevents you Jason from achieving a bank transfer to Cuba using the ANZ. Why the ANZ and not the other 3 big banks? Ask the ANZ!

  6. I think Juan has made some good points.
    Speaking from the other side of the world (Australia), one thing that impressed me about Cuba was its ability to look after its most vulnerable citizens in the wake of natural disasters, particularly in comparison with the dismal efforts of its wealthy neighbour following Hurricane Katrina.
    I applaud Cubans fight for more democracy – but don’t think this means that socialism needs to be abandoned.

  7. #80 just as earlier when I asked for evidence of ‘lies’, ‘misinformation’etc with no response I would similarly ask where I have been ‘insulting’ , ‘bristling’ or ‘defensive’?
    Interesting that noone has addressed any of the substance of my comments. This really is a closed society

  8. Juan:
    Why so defensive?
    Things seem ok when you are postulating your truths yet when they are questioned you brisle.
    Arguing a point with insults in any form devalue the idea.
    Perhaps that is the way you think conversations go with you & around you in the world you live in.
    To be constructive I think one needs to be able to listen to & respect others ideas.
    If there is a disagreement, then in a civil manner (not imposible if tried) the facts & ideas can be explored and we can all learn.
    From what I see you have no problem expressing yourself in very good english.
    Your thoughts are well structured but your emotions get the better of you.
    Add to it: for you & your ideas to be respected, you have to start by respecting yourself otherwise: how can you give what you don’t have within you?
    Start over friend, I really want to listen to your point of view, see what you have to offer, not raising your voice but calmly.
    By the way … I meant the wish for you to enjoy your gifts …

  9. #78 I am not really sure what you are asking or what point you are trying to make?

    I wrote in #23 “Julio and Sigmund your knowledge of Cuban money is somewhat sparse.
    ICUC is equivalent to approx.90UScents(not 80 unless you are exchanging USD cash)
    1 CUC will buy 24 CUP. 25CUP are required to buy 1CUC. In Cuban Cadecas.”

    #33 “Andy you couldn’t have done much research prior to your trip to Cuba if it came as a surprise that USD CASH has a 10% penalty. USD TC’s and ALL other cash currencies are converted at a rate equivalent to 90USD to 1 CUC.”

    I responded very specifically to the relationship b/n the USD and CUCs.

    And actually strictly speaking the extract is not accurate on 2 counts. US Dollars are and always have been accepted. See above.
    Secondly there isn’t and never was a “20% commission”. As before 1CUC = $0.90. That is the exchange rate plus an approx. 3% commission. There is a 10% penalty for usung US dollar notes(not TCs). If you go to Europe with USD you will pay an exchange rate plus commission if changing USD into Euros. I agree that there is no additional penalty for cash but have not hidden that.

    1Euro will buy 1.28CUC. That is the exchange rate plus the same 3% commission. If you look up Forex rates you will see that the relationship b/n the CUC-USD-Euros is similar.

  10. Juan

    read this

    Note: US Dollars are no longer accepted in Cuba and visitors will be charged 20% commission on exchanging them. In the 1990s, Cuba decided to slowly get rid of its Dollar reserves, banning the currency from general use and introduced the replacement CUC as a ‘tourist dollar’ under its control. Cuban nationals continue to be paid in the Cuban Peso (CUP). In some tourist areas, the Euro is also accepted. Hard currency (ie CUCs not CUPs) must be used in most transactions.


    You are saying this was never true?

  11. #72…..From #33 “And Anónimi to imply that NONE of those services exist rather than to more appropriately hone in on the adequacy of those services is both dishonest and is truely stupid.”

    And from #69 “Are those services, standard of living good enough – No. Are they better than a substantial part of the world – Yes. Should one be satisfied with this – No.”

    The lies are???

    #70 what “statistics” bogus or otherwise did I post? And can you be just a wee bit more specific about the “pretend knowledge” and “misinformation”. Be delighted if you were to factually refute anything I have stated. Always happy to correct anything I have wrong – that’s what learning is all about.

  12. concubino
    Enero 7th, 2010 at 18:09

    Take a look at appendix 1 in the same link.

    Very interesting, very interesting.

  13. Julio

    If have a right to do as you wish. I have not violated anything. If you don’t agree with my comments you can ignore them just as you suggest I ignore yours. This not a contest. You have chosen to inject yourself into every issue including telling people what to do, that is not your place…

    “I rest my case. Did you actually read what I wrote in e.g #33? What are the ‘lies’ you refer to?”

    “What people conveniently forget when talking about the low salaries is the low(subsidised) telephone/water/gas/electricity/health/transport/education available to all. Probably 50% of the rest of the world as well as many poverty stricken US citizens would love to as “poor” as the average Cuban!”



    Reporters Without Borders: Going online in Cuba – Internet under surveillance

    Reporters Without Borders:Authorities block websites, detain 26th journalist

  15. Yubano, I have to disagree with your assessment.

    I do try to engage people and also try to be fair. Like to treat people the same way I like to be treated. I do have my own blog. But I prefer posting here. If it bothers you, you can simply ignore me. I again disagree with the approach you take with regards to propaganda and lies I think it will be more telling if we are able to reasonably argue that they are wrong. Otherwise this becomes attacks after attacks.

    That is just not meaningful to me.
    On the other hand when I have requested others here to adhere to no attacks I have been very polite and they have done so. Every one for the sake of keeping the conversation civilized has complied. If this forum becomes a place for attacks like you have describe. I have to say I will not like to participate any longer.

    Just to keep things in perspective take a good look at the rules stated by Yoani herself. After all this is her blog not yours or mine
    Can you read the first rule?

    On the other hand since you have brought this up maybe we should ask everyone else and see what they think. I will abide to what the majority here thinks.

    *Serán borrados los comentarios que contengan injurias a cualquier persona, incitación o apología a la violencia.

    * Los comentarios que contengan más de dos enlaces pasarán a moderación hasta tanto se verifiquen las páginas web recomendadas en él.

    * Los filtros de WordPress borrarán automáticamente todos aquellos comentarios que contengan palabras obscenas o textos que estén repetidos.

    * Si se quieren agregar largos documentos para apoyar un comentario, lo mejor será escribir solamente el enlace a la página web donde se puede leer el texto del mismo.

    * Se excluirá de los comentaristas a aquellos que usurpen la personalidad de otros.

    * No se podrán publicar comentarios que no usen el alfabeto latino.

    * Se recomienda enfáticamente no incluir comentarios escritos todos en mayúsculas, pues se considerará como un grito o un alarido.

  16. Most people ignore you Juan because rational dialogue is not an option. You spoke before of hidden agendas, look in the mirror. Anyone who has any sense sees your BS for what it is, misinformation masked in bogus statistics and pretend knowledge.

  17. #49 “What is really “insulting” is statements like his when we all know that they are lies and tries to twist the truth.”

    I rest my case. Did you actually read what I wrote in e.g #33? What are the ‘lies’ you refer to?

    #41 “ Juan you say 1 CUC is .90 us dollar? That is without including the 20 percent tax that the Cuban regime imposes on the dollar?”

    Yes I not only say it is fact. There is no 20% tax. The only reason I keep correcting this misinformation – is that if such basic facts are distorted it does call into question other assertions. Re-read #33.

    #39 apologies for appearing to assume that all such 1950s US centric rheteric emanates from Miami. I do know better.And anyone – not necessarily you – who wants to hark back to the good old days of pre-1959 does tend to lose my attention. To be slavishly uncritical of those days diminishes the substance of any criticism of today.

    As for your and others very interesting statistics but given that I wrote “…rather than to more appropriately hone in on the adequacy of those services” I am not sure how it is all supposed to be some sort of refutation of my thoughts? Are those services, standard of living good enough – No. Are they better than a substantial part of the world – Yes. Should one be satisfied with this – No.

    #52 I do wonder at what the attitude of the land of the unfree would be to a foreign national distributing in the USA illegal(irrespective of whether you agree with the law) equipment in the interests of ‘regime change’?

    #43 That was a very thoughtful and useful contribution. As I said previously “It is ironic that many regular commentators here avoid any rational dialogue – a critism they rightly or wrongly ascribe to the Cuban government.”

  18. Julio

    I ask because it seems to me that while you are well meaning, and I respect your support for what Yoani is doing, you have co-opted this blog as if it was your own. You inject yourself into every discussion often times imposing your views as if you are the final arbiter for everything that is spoken here. Your opinions are always right regardles of how many times you contradict yourself, you tell people how they must comport themselves and the justification is that we must be civil and resist ad hominum attacks (one of your favorite terms). Have you considered starting your own blog? My god man take a breath.

    The one over-riding factor in a blog is that it is an open forum for opinion, debate and counter-debate. Not everyone is going to be polite and want to tip-toe around some of the rediculous statements that are made here. If you choose to take the “civil” approach and try to convince the unconvinceble that is your right. Not all of us wish to contribute in that manner. When I see propaganda or outright lies I characterixe them for what they are. I obviously do not speak for anyone else but I will continue to express my self stridently when necessay without apology. Finally, you are not the judge of what is meaningful debate, no one is. This a forum for ideas and if you choose to participate you must be prepared to defend your points of view, in whatever fashion.

  19. Yubano, I am not moderator (official or unofficial) and I know where you are going with this. I think the statement I have made are very reasonable to make a reasonable debate here.

    To engage in fight does not produce any meaningful debate.

    Would you like to argue that what I have propose with regards to not use of ad hominen attack and attacks without arguments should not be so?

    If you like we can ask the rest of the frequent contributors here and see what they think.

  20. I was just reading this post by Fernando of BBC

    and in the comments section found a very interesting comment by a Cuban who the government did not allow to study abroad so he migrated to Argentine and later to Mexico to pursue his Studies in Physics. Now he will like to return to Cuba to form a research group in the topics he has learned but the Regime is refusing his entrance in Cuba. So he continues talking about what the Cuban regime calls the pillage of Brains by developed nations.

    Here is his complete post

    Hola Fernando:
    Me ha gustado este artículo, así como la mayoría de los que escribes. Te escribo para contarte una historia personal que quizás emplees para hacer un artículo.

    Resulta que soy graduado de Física en Santiago de Cuba. Hace unos años me gané una beca para realizar estudios de maestría en Argentina. Como es natural me negaron la salida en la Universidad donde trabaja (la UO). Por ese motivo renuncié a mi puesto en la Universidad y me agencié los trámites para irme del país con mis propios recursos.

    En argentina estube dos años, con lo cual perdí mi “residencia” cubana. Debes saber que si un cubano está más de 11 meses fuera de cuba (a menos que esté casado/a con un extranjero) pierde la referida “residencia”. Ésta es la que en otras palabras te permite viajar en “Astro”, tener tu cuota racionada, acceder a los hospitales sin pagar nada, etc…

    Actualmente, estoy haciendo el doctorado en México y terminaré en unos años. Debo agregar que lo que he aprendido en estos años en Argentina y en México, son temas avanzados de física que no se imparten en ninguna universidad del país. Más aún, los grupos de trabajo en estas líneas (física teórica de altas energías) virtualmente NO EXISTEN en la isla.

    Ahora bien, he preguntado en las oficinas del DIE en Cuba (Departamento de Inmigración y Extranjería) sobre los trámites que debo hacer para regresar a mi país. La razón es que me gustaría crear un grupo de investigación en la misma UO que me negó la salida. Así, ayudo a que no se desperdicie tanto talento con la imposición de temas de trabajo mediocres y poco creativos cuyo único fin es perseguir dinero y poder hacer estancias en el extranjero.

    La respuesta que me dieron fué simple: …”usted es cubano solo por los artículos 11 y 12 de la constitución”…sépase que he buscado los mencionados artículos y no hay nada referido a mi pregunta. Lo que es peor: la única opción que existe para el regreso debe ser valorada, colegiada, etc… por la embajada y el MinRex.

    La pregunta que hago es ¿donde queda entonces el discurso del “Robo de Cerebro”?. En Cuba, no se “roban los cerebros”, se REGALAN. Si yo me gano un premio de importancia internacional, ya sea el premio Dirac, Novel, o cualquiera, de seguro que sería para el gobierno cubano un cubano sin lugar a dudas.

    Yo no estoy interesado en política ni pretendo pararme en “ismos” de ninguna índole. Soy un científico y estoy convencido de que la sociedad moderna está llena de defectos y de mecanismos que inhiben la libertad personal pero, es demasiado absurdo todo esto.

    Ya no busco respuestas. Seré ciudadano del mundo como decía Albert Einstein hasta que elija un palmo de tierra donde pueda vivir lo más parecido a mi yo. Esta historia que le cuento bien podría ser la de muchos colegas del mundo de la ciencia. Ellos no tienen vos en ningún lugar de la isla.


  21. Julio

    Do you have an official or semi-official relationship with Generation Y? Are you a moderator for this blog?

  22. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  23. 56
    Enero 7th, 2010 at 15:52

    Click to access


    Concu….. very good find…… I could learn of this the following:

    Havana city has 210.000 telephonic access lines according this document……. Havana’s inhabitants are 2.200.000 ….. that means only 10% of Havana’s population has telephonic access ……. I know Havana is the favored city in Cuba, then, we can assume only 10% of Cuba’s population has telephonic access, what means 120.000 cuban homes has telephon….. it is 12 telephones for each 100 persons….. not 15 for each 100 as I said before.

    I could learn also that fast telephony in Cuba is in “Cave age”…… and Cuba only need freedom to has a huge source of income of telephony.

  24. Humberto

    I was suspecting the Cuban government will doing something like that. They are basically trying to get their spies in exchange for this NGO.

    Since the guy the Cuban government got was only distributing cells and computer and communication equipment I think is impossible to charge him as spy because there is no connection with the US government intelligence. Therefore we should not trade in this case either.

    The Cuban 5 are spies.


    BBC NEWS: US denies contractor held in Cuba was spying

    “Washington has labelled “false” Cuban claims that an American contractor arrested at Havana airport last month was a US spy. The US state department said the man did not work for American intelligence.”

    “Those comments are false. Cuba has a history of mischaracterising what Americans and NGOs in Cuba are doing,” said state department spokesman PJ Crowley. “This person is not associated with our intelligence services.” ”

    “This is a gentleman hired by a company that hires for the American secret services and is now the subject of an investigation,” Mr Alarcon told reporters in Havana.

    He described it as an example of the “privatisation of war” by the US, which hires people to be “agents, torturers, spies”.”

  26. Albert
    Enero 7th, 2010 at 12:47

    Siggy (w/all my respect please allow me the use)
    I put down some thought about the guevara fellow in comment #119

    Very good comment this #119, Albert.

  27. #52 Regarding Alarcón.

    Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban National Assembly among other titles he had in the hierarchic of the Robolution. When this guy dies, he should donate his scarce brain for research.
    Not to long ago this brainless guy, held a meeting with University students and he was confronted with the following question: “Why is it that Cubans are not allowed to travel freely outside Cuba.”
    “Well, (not knowing what to answer)if the whole world is allowed to travel, I mean the 6,000 millions of inhabitants were able to travel wherever they wanted, it will create a bottleneck in the skies”
    He probably thought these students were so stupid as to believe his childless answer.

  28. @#53
    Siggy (w/all my respect please allow me the use)
    I put down some thought about the guevara fellow in comment #119 at “The Last Moon of 2009.
    In it I tried to mention a few of things which thru the years have “bother” me about the mythological che.
    Creator of the “new man” and money making object for the tourist industry of the castro & co. business.
    From hero of the revolution to having his name on a condom pack :-( or :-)

  29. 46
    Enero 7th, 2010 at 10:55

    Food for thought …
    What makes Cuba such a valuable target for a US attack?

    I totally agree and I would like to add:

    Each time I hear some one talking about the “dispute” USA-Castro I repeat the same speech.

    One of the first disgrace castro brought to Cuba was the capital escape….. and not only castro…… each time a political problem affects a country the capitals of this country leave temporary or permanently to a more quiet place….. to where leave the capitals??? well, they use to leave to a rich and stable country…. in America this rich and stable country is USA. It was the first “present” of castro to USA: Both human and economical capitals left Cuba to USA after castro started his madness. Then came the turn of the tourism industry…… castro needed to isolate the cuban people in order to indoctrinate it and keep it away from “bad influences”, so he closed the country for more than 20 years and killed the huge tourism industry cubans had built with american investors help. It was the second big present of castro to USA. The cuban tourism industry went to engross the already huge tourism industry in Florida and Puerto Rico. Eventuely Dominican Republic, Bahamas and Mexico also got a piece of the pie.
    The third present were the commerce industry. Spaniards spent 5 centuries building the Singapore of America in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. When political differences started between castro and USA the huge commerce that went between North America and South America trough Cuba despaired. When castro drove Cuba to the orbit of the soviets and tied the country to the commerce with the communist countries, the huge commerce between Europa and central-south America that went through Cuba despaired. Then Miami took the place of Havana and became what is today: the center of commerce between north and south america and Europa and America.
    Who does not remember Che Guevara saying in a crazy speech: “Cuba’s economy is like a dwarf, with a big chest, big and strong shoulders but short legs and arms….. we need to transform this situation, we can afford no longer to have a big “light industry” fabricating consumption items and do not have a “adequate” “basic industry” that is the ground of the industrialization…… we can no longer afford to depend of the Sugar industry, the agriculture and some cultivations ……..”
    Who the hell said to Guevara he was economy master!!!!!!!
    Well, the result of all this madness were 3 or 4 presents more to USA. The cattle industry gone, the Citric industry gone, the media industry gone, the “light” industry gone (of course, no “basic” or heavy industry were built in Cuba). The last presents????…… The Sugar Industry, the alcohol industry!!!!!
    Bacardi is today a gigantic american multinational that fabricate since a pen to rockets parts…………. even the classic Tobacco Industry is on its way of disappearing off Cuba and relocate in Miami. Emigrated cuban growers smuggled cuban tobacco seeds and tarted to grow up the plants in fields with similar chemical composition of cuban soil in Honduras, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic. In few years these growers got to produce a tobacco ranked among the first in the world.
    What’s next???….. Who knows.
    Conclusions……. why would USA wants to change so beneficial state of things????
    I ma sure that as long USA continue to get so precious presents “the country of the free” will not allow nothing bad to happens to its preferred dictator.

  30. ENGLAND’S GUARDIAN UK: Cuba claims jailed US contractor is secret service agent (Computer specialist’s imprisonment marks latest setback in attempt to thaw relations between US and Cuba)

    “Cuba has accused a US contractor it jailed last month of being a secret service agent, in the latest spat to sour Havana’s brief honeymoon with the Obama administration.”

    “”This is a man hired by a company that contracts for the American secret services and that is the object of investigation,” Ricardo Alarcon, the head of Cuba’s parliament, told reporters.

    The American, a 40-year-old computer specialist who has not been publicly named by Washington or Havana, was part of the US’s “privatisation of war”, Alarcon added.”

    “”Cuba in recent months seems to [be] determined to ratchet up the tension with the US, whether by roughing up the blogger Yoani Sánchez or staging military exercises to defend against a supposed US invasion,” said Dan Erikson, author of The Cuba Wars and an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank.
    “The result is that the US-Cuba deadlock continues unabated, and the rhetorical gestures on both sides calling for improved relations have done little to budge this lingering cold war standoff.””

  31. UTV-England: Forgotten CubaStephen Kinzer: Cuba’s revolution once inspired the world, but political stagnation has left it a poor, hungry backwater © Guardian News and Media 2010
    “Vestiges of revolutionary enthusiasm survived into the 1980s, when I last visited Cuba. Millions had already lost faith in the promise of Caribbean communism, but millions still clung to it. Today believers are hard to find. People I met told me that they had a burst of hope two years ago, when Castro retired from active politics and turned the regime over to his brother. But life remains much as before, and the island has slipped into paralysing lassitude. “Finding enough food for our families and a roof over our heads is the extent of our dreams these days,” one man sighed.”

    “Who would have imagined that Cuba would become an importer of food – even importing sugar, of all things, from the United States, of all places? Or that an entire generation of Cubans – those born in the early 1990s, when the end of Soviet subsidies brought a plague of hunger to the island – would be born malnourished and grow up stunted? Or that the birth rate would plummet, leaving the prospect of an aging population without working people to support it? Or that most groceries would be for sale only in hard currency, which is unavailable to most Cubans? Or that fishing would be all but forbidden because the regime fears that anyone with a boat will make straight for Florida? Or that the country Americans once treated as a giant bordello, a hotbed of degradation that Castro set out to wipe away, would once again become the hemisphere’s leading destination for sex tourists?”

    “”We have three successes: education, health care and social equality,” one Cuban told me. “And we have three big problems: breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Another put it more directly. “In 51 years of revolution, we have not learned that agriculture is what keeps a country alive.””

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