Amid Reforms, Cubans Fret Over Food Rations Fate In Cuba, every person receives a basic monthly food ration from the communist government. It's not enough to survive on, but no one starves, either. Now, with changes coming to the island's economy, this hallmark of Fidel Castro's revolution is also in doubt.
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Amid Reforms, Cubans Fret Over Food Rations Fate

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Amid Reforms, Cubans Fret Over Food Rations Fate

Amid Reforms, Cubans Fret Over Food Rations Fate

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

In Cuba, everyone gets a basic monthly food ration from the communist government. That's not enough to survive on, but the idea is that no one starves either. Now, with changes coming to the island's economy, one of the hallmarks of Fidel Castro's revolution is in doubt. Nick Miroff reports from Havana.

NICK MIROFF: In every Cuban neighborhood, there's a government food pantry called a bodega. A blackboard lists the available items and their prices. Government clerks weigh out portions of rice, sugar, beans and other basics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ITEMS BEING POURED)

MIROFF: This dismal bodega in Havana's Vedado neighborhood is set up in the ruined shell of a former supermarket that was long ago nationalized. Cubans wander in carrying little booklets called libretas. Every household has one. While the items aren't free, prices are so low they're affordable even to ordinary Cubans earning less than $20 a month on average. The government provides milk to pregnant women and children up to age seven.

MONTAGNE: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: Raul Castro's government now says it can't afford to maintain this system. More than 70 percent of the island's food is imported, costing the cash-strapped government $1.5 billion a year. Castro has been turning over idle state land to private farmers and cooperatives, hoping they'll produce more, but so far the experiment hasn't delivered.

U: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: Raul Perez, a 78-year-old retired pediatrician, says he can no longer muster the energy to argue.

D: They never sell you the right weight for what you are buying, so they are stealing your money. Before you go to buy it, you know they will rob you - you know it - but you really can't do anything.

MIROFF: A major editorial last October in the Communist Party newspaper Granma called for abolishing the ration system outright, a signal that it may be only a matter of time.

MONTAGNE: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: University student Patricia Rodriguez said she's heard the rumors that coffee rations will be cut next.

MONTAGNE: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: For NPR News, I'm Nick Miroff in Havana.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Can't do without the coffee here. If we did, this show would already be over.

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