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.