When was the last time you wondered if you would be able to feed your family?
Fortunately, for the majority of Americans, that thought never occurs, or is rarely a problem. If mom can’t cook the meal, there is always the local grocery store, fast food joint, or sit-down restaurant. Not so in Cuba.
Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban blogger and author, has dedicated herself to shedding light on the day-to-day trials and tribulations in Cuba. Her newest book, Havana Real, lifts the veil on everyday life in Havana, painting a vivid picture of the hardships of life under the Castro regime.
One of the biggest struggles in Cuba is the government-inflicted food shortage. According to Sanchez, Cubans have an obsession with food. Not like America—where people can eat three hamburgers in a sitting or an entire pizza in one meal. Nor does this obsession include fine wine and perfectly seared steak. Instead, it is merely the dire necessity to have something to eat.
Sanchez says that a Cuban meal often consists of rice with a beef or chicken bouillon cube. One little cube, she reflects, “make[s] me believe that my rice contains a tasty rib or a piece of chicken.” This simple bouillon cube is almost a delicacy in a market where spices and meats frequently run out.
Why the shortage in food? The Cuban government promises to take care of every social need—including food. From cradle to grave, the Cuban government rations out food to its people, allowing only miniscule portions per family. Sanchez noted, “[I]f the 66 million pounds of rice they distribute every month, through the ration, were available to the free market, prices in the latter would go down.” But the government monopoly leaves prices high and food out of reach of hungry Cubans.
In fact, the government-issued wages rise in accordance with increases in food prices. Since both prices and wages are set by the State, an increase in wages is generally offset by an increase in food prices.
The state micromanagement of the Cuban agricultural sector causes the island to import 80 percent of the food it rations. Government rationing has been in place since 1962, and, “Contrary to popular belief, the Cuban ration system does not provide Cubans with ‘free’ food…Rations are limited to a paltry amount of a meager number of pathetic food-stuffs.” This forces many Cubans to find roundabout ways to acquire food.
Another fact of Cuban life under socialism: Everyone except the upper echelon of the government heads for the black market.
Purchasing from the Cuban black market is not done out of a desire to buck the system, but out of pure necessity. Sanchez wrote, “I can’t live a day without the black market.” Since the government refuses to provide certain services, such as repairing a washing machine or fixing the oven or shower, Cubans are forced to use or become underground workers. Sanchez noted that obtaining products as basic as eggs, milk, or cooking oil require a visit to the black market.
A popular joke says Cuban communism has solved all but three problems: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In reality, this is no joke. Life in Cuba is not easy, and it forces many to take extreme measures just to maintain their existence. But the Castro regime holds its citizens in the jaws of a dilemma where they “cannot both survive and comply with [Cuban] law, at the same time.”
Want to see a government that promises to care for your every need? You don’t need to look farther than 90 miles south of the Florida Keys.
This is the first of three blogs based on the writings of Yoani Sanchez.
Olivia Snow is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm