6 responses to The Cuban Revolution: Fifty Years On and Still No End to Food Rationing

  1. It is 10 years since my husband and I visited Cuba, and your article has shown me how so sadly,it has not improved for the Cubans. At that time we found it the saddest country we had ever visited and it still holds that title for us. Somehow it is so much worse than other poor countries, as in the past they had supplies shipped in, and could purchase lots of the things we take so much for granted. We took lots of pencils, rulers, pens, crayons, rubbers, sharpeners, etc etc, to give to a school. Unfortunately we forgot one very important item – paper to write and draw on. How sad when a school doesn’t have such a basic commodity. We were glad a lot of the clothes we had taken hadn’t cost us very much, as most were bought in charity shops, so we could give them away, as well as all the toiletries that we had left over.

    We took an internal flight to Santiago where a local kindly showed us where they went to buy food, clothes etc. One stall had one pair of men’s brown shoes size 11, another had 6 hairgrips and one pair of little girls pants. Others were similar. Then there was the shop that other countries had filled with what looked like to us, items that hadn’t sold in the charity shops from years ago. These had been donated, but the government were selling them to the locals. Food, as you said, non existant. It made us feel guilty that we were eating in the hotels when we learned people gathered at the kitchen doors, in the hope that the tourists had not devoured everything, and maybe they could enjoy the leftovers.

    How can anyone suggest that eating rice and beans is a better diet than our rich countries enjoy? It is not surprising that the population has become lethargic.

    Perine

  2. Thanks to you both for your comments and for highlighting one of the most central issues: choice.

    Cubans have almost no choice about anything – what they eat, what they can read (no foreign newspapers or magazines or internet is allowed into Cuba), where they work, who they can talk freely to and, most significant of all, whether they can leave their little island paradise, even if just for a visit.

    While I understand Tim’s comment about preferring rice, beans and veggies (if they were available in Cuba, which they are not) over Macdonalds and fast foods, the truth is that even in North America, whole foods like a bag of potatoes are cheaper than fast foods.

    Poverty is no fun anywhere, and the poor are often malnourished. But at least in capitalist countries, or even ‘soft communist’ countries like Vietnam and most of Eastern Europe, people have the opportunity to work hard and better their lives. That opportunity does not exist in Cuba, where free enterprise is almost absolutely verboten, and whether you work hard, or not at all makes no difference.

    With respect to the McKibbon article, I read it with great interest, thanks. And what he said was true – emphasis on WAS. Unfortunately many of the agricultural initiatives he describes have gone by the wayside. Many of the agriponico community gardens in particular have been abandoned. Of those that are left, many seemed to be growing mostly lettuce, presumably for the all-inclusive hotels as we saw few Cubans eating lettuce – not that it matters as lettuce really has little food value.

    McKibbon also does point up the obstacles created by the Cuban government’s policies to increased agricultural production, and the extent to which ‘Fidelism’ (iron-fisted communism) has deadened Cuban motivation.

    Regarding which policies are most holding Cuba and Cubans back, I would have to say it’s the policies of the Cuban government – because they have killed, and continue to kill, Cuban initiative and spirit. If the embargo is lifted, I am concerned that the main result will be that Cuba and Cubans will become even more dependent on welfare – money and goods coming from relatives and friends outside the country.

    It will be interesting to watch as things unfold over the next few years. I hope they will get better for Cubans. They’ve had a very long wait.

    Thanks again to both of you for your comments. I hope there are others!

    Ruby

  3. thanks for pressing me eva but i stand by what i said. i think the typical diet of poor cubans is generally healthier than the typical diet of poor north americans, so it’s not a choice between malnutrition and big macs. check out the mckibben article i linked to above – it’s a neat perspective.

  4. Fascinating stuff, thanks!!

    I’ve always been inclined to blame a lot of Cuba’s problems on the embargo, and certainly it has a role to play here, but it also seems clear from what you observed that Cuban government policies (that have nothing to do with some sort of defense against encroaching capitalism) have done an awful lot to contribute to the food situation on the island.

    In my (limited) exposure to Caribbean sugar economies, it seems that access to affordable fresh produce, dairy and meat is a common problem; imports are often too expensive for the locals. But other islands have certainly handled it better! In Barbados, for example, there are free range chickens wandering everywhere. And certainly no shortage of fish!

  5. “personally, i would rather eat rice, beans and garden veggies than industrial foods like McDonalds or Tyson meats.”

    Tim, that’s a little flippant, don’t you think? You’d really rather wake up every morning worrying about how you’ll feed your malnourished children, than live in the agro-industrial complex? Personally, I’d rather have the choice to avoid McDonalds and give my (theoretical) children a healthy, balanced diet, than to be forced to watch them struggle with hunger and malnutrition.

    There’s a third option between McD’s and rationed rice and beans… For those of us lucky enough to have choices.

  6. smooth writing, funny, informative. well done!

    personally, i would rather eat rice, beans and garden veggies than industrial foods like McDonalds or Tyson meats.

    there are a lot of problems with Cuba’s government, but it seems lifting the embargo will be the best way to get babies the nutrients they need.

    wonder if Whopper Virgins will go to Cuba…

    here’s a good article about Cuba’s food economy by Bill McKibben

    http://www.harpers.org/archive/2005/04/0080501

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