The Cuban reality revealed
Cuba. How do you describe this island that’s only 90 miles off the coast of Florida? You could describe it as tropical island paradise with stunning beaches and year-round warm weather. However, you could also describe it as one of the only oppressive socialist regimes left in the Western Hemisphere.
This Spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba and experience the economic, social, and political realities of Cuba. I learned many surprising things about Cuba that much of the world doesn’t know about. Here are two of the most shocking realities I experienced during my visit to Cuba.
1. Cuba uses a food rationing system.
The government in Cuba has decided to provide for the food needs of the people by providing Cubans with a rationing book, called a libreta, with which they can go to a store and pick up certain food items for free or reduced prices. This rationing system was fully implemented after the revolution of Cuba when the United States began to impose heavy restrictions on Cuba in the early 1960’s. This libreta book is what many Cubans depend on to supply all their dietary needs.
While I was in Cuba, I visited a town in the countryside and talked to a man named Alfredo about the rationing system. This town only has one store that people are able to go to with their libretas in order to get their rationed food for the month. However, Alfredo informed me that the food that the government provides, that is supposed to last a whole month, in reality only lasts about 9 days. During the rest of the month, these people who live in this village need to supply their own food by growing food on small plots, typically near their dwelling, any keeping farm animals in their backyard for meat. I was able to tour the backyard of one of the homes, and I saw a huge pig and a chicken running around in the backyard. The lady of the house informed me they were going to be food.
In effect, the government is not fully providing for the nutritional needs of the people. Even President Raul Castro realizes that the rationing system is unsustainable as was stated in a recent article and he has begun to effect changes to eliminate this rationing system. Only time will tell, however, whether the system will be fully eliminated or whether change will take place.
2. The Cuban economy contains a monetary duality.
In Cuba, there are two currencies of money, the Cuban peso and the Convertible Cuban peso (CUC). The Cubans that I talked with told me that almost every Cuban gets paid in the Cuban peso. Unfortunately, the Cuban peso has no convertibly and there is a significant discrepancy between the two monetary units. It takes 24 Cuban pesos to obtain a CUC. However, the CUC is the type of money that tourists to Cuba use and is the currency required to buy things in all the government stores I went to.
This creates problems for local Cubans. It is very sad because the average Cuban can’t afford any of the goods found in a typical Cuban store. During my stay in Cuba, we visited different clothing, food, and appliance stores that sold goods exclusively in the CUC currency. However, the prices of the clothes and toys are out of reach for the typical Cuban family. For example, we saw a plastic children’s tricycle that was $58.75 CUC’s. However, the Cubans told me that the typical Cuban family makes about the equivalent of 30 CUC’s a month. One new tricycle costs almost two months of salary! To put it in US equivalent terms, the cost of that trike for an average low income American family would be more than $1000 USD.
In Sum, the Cuban literature we read and the true Cuban reality that exists in Cuba sometimes tell two different stories. I am glad that I have was able to uncover the truth – hopefully Cuba will be able to make changes soon that will benefit the beautiful people of this beautiful country.
Disclosure: The name Alfredo was used to protect identity.