Cuba's Food-Rationing System and Alternatives


Andrea Carter


Andrea Carter (2013). Case Study #4-6, "Cuba's Food-Rationing System and Alternatives". In: Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng (editors), "Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies." 15 pp.


The global financial crisis of recent years has prompted a review of Cuba's economy—one of the most enduring aspects of Cuban society. Led by reform-minded President Raúl Castro, Cuba is embarking on some of the most sweeping social and economic transformations enacted since the Revolution began in 1959.

Since the announced layoff of 500,000 state workers in 2010, the government has taken a number of steps to reduce local subsidies and introduce new taxes in order to diminish the fiscal deficit. Though the economy will continue to be based on central planning, the country is privatizing and liberalizing key economic sectors. These reforms are being implemented slowly and cautiously, but they are expected to significantly affect the social, economic, and political landscape of the Caribbean nation (Perales 2011).

The economic future of the island took center stage at the last congressional meeting of the Cuban Communist Party held in April 2011 (Perales 2011). Among the proposed reforms was the discontinuation of the libreta de abastecimiento or family ration book. Implemented in 1962, the ration book provides Cuba's 11.2 million citizens the right to purchase a basket of basic foodstuffs at subsidized prices. The libreta was introduced in response to production shortages occasioned by the postrevolutionary agrarian reforms and increased food import costs attributable to the U.S. embargo (Alvarez 2004). Though the availability and allotment of rationed goods has decreased over the years, much of the population remains highly dependent on the libreta system, and it has long been a pillar Cuba's socialist economy.

The proposed discontinuation comes at a time of great uncertainty regarding the future of Cuba's hallmark social welfare programs. As the government seeks to scale back its near-total dominance of the economy, President Castro has given notice that the cradle-to-grave entitlements that are keystones of Cuban socialism–including free education, free health care, and subsidized electricity–can no longer be supported given current levels of productivity (Castro Ruz 2010).

In light of public dependence on subsidized foodstuffs, discontinuation of the libreta was overruled by the members of the Communist Party's congressional congress. Nonetheless, its proposed termination has called into question the government's ability to maintain the principals of social equity established by the revolutionary government.

Cuba's superior health indicators–highly ranked both regionally and globally–are attributed to the country's universal primary healthcare services. Having reduced national undernutrition levels to less than 5 percent among the total population, the current regime nonetheless recognizes that it can no longer support the substantial annual cost of the rationing system, estimated at US$1 billion in 2011. On the cusp of economic transition, the question of whether to discontinue the libreta has become a heated policy debate (ONEI 2012; Messina 2012).

Your assignment is to suggest an appropriate food policy for the Cuban government that is both fiscally and socially responsible.

Download PDF (547 KB)