Rationing in Venezuela – A ‘Déjà vu’ for Cubans
14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 March 2015 — Commissar Nicolas
Maduro, president of Venezuela to the misfortune of its people and –
let’s admit it – also for the prolongation of our own misfortune, has
just announced recently the installation of 20,000 digital fingerprint
readers in state food markets and in several private sector retail
chains that, according to him, adopted the initiative “voluntarily”
after meetings held with the government.
Let’s draw a merciful veil over the aforementioned secret meetings and
imagine the atmosphere that must have reigned there in the midst of the
“permanent economic war” that Venezuela suffers, the successive “soft
coups” that have been provoked almost bi-weekly in that South American
nation – according to the president’s denunciations – and the growing
repression of opposition factions and civil society that demonstrate
publicly and openly against the government. It is not very hard to guess
what caused the “voluntariness” of these businessmen, who are
definitively representatives of the “oligarchies” constantly defamed in
official speeches and press.
But returning to the topic of Comrade-President Maduro’s above-mentioned
fingerprint readers, his lofty purpose is, while guaranteeing the
feeding of the people, to counter smuggling, or more exactly, “the
smugglers” since smuggling can exist without socialism but socialism has
never existed without smuggling.
This way, the fingerprint readers – which will limit the purchase of
foods and other products in high demand whose supply has been greatly
depressed causing lines, hoarding and disturbances in the stores – now
are added to the prior rationing through magnetic cards established in
2014. It is clear that the Bolshevik Nicolas has not the least ability
to overcome his country’s economic crisis, but at least in contemporary
times the new technologies permit digital management of the misery. It
is without doubt a real contribution of Socialism in the 21st Century
which the late Hugo predicted in his glory days, before being planted in
the Mountain Barracks and turned into a tiny little bird dispensing bad
Decades later, the Venezuelan government model – if it is possible to
call it that – is dragging the country in a sort of reverse race through
experiences similar to those that we Cubans have gone through under
Those of us born before or in the years immediately following the
catastrophic accident of January 1959 remember clearly some of the
bureaucratic variants created to manage poverty, an ill that the older
ones among us believed had been almost overcome with the economic boom
experienced in the 50’s.
This administrative strategy, typical of war and famine economies, was
first established for food products, and a little later, with the
decline of Cuban industries due to the extreme nationalization of the
economy, it was rapidly extended to other consumer products, such as
clothing, footwear and other goods. Then came the industrial products
book, popularly known as the store booklet, which currently functions
only for the acquisition of school uniforms.
This version of control not only indicated the limits of access to the
said articles, but it also reached the point of establishing shopping
schedules for groups, with subsections inspired in the strongly sexist
standards of the Revolution, which assigned two days a week – Monday and
Thursday – on which only women workers could shop; an enviable privilege
in the widespread poverty that, moreover, took for granted in a
Revolutionary way that trifles like shopping were not worthy of men.
Decades of shortages, manipulated in detail by those in power, sowed in
ordinary Cubans an extreme dependence on the State – an always
insufficient provider but the only one possible – and a whole culture of
systematized poverty that includes a peculiar glossary with phrases that
we drag around even today in popular speech: “what they are offering” in
this or that establishment, “what’s assigned to you,” “what’s expiring,”
“plan jaba**,” “chicken diet***” and many similar ones that reflect the
national acceptance of misery as the common destiny, something that one
day – hopefully not too distant – should embarrass us.
Rationing in Cuba has been quite an institution that has played a role
in the socio-economic realm and also in the political, functioning more
as an instrument of subjection of the people by the Government than as a
true guarantor of a just distribution of consumer goods, established
with a vulgar egalitarianism that annulled individual initiative and
turned the citizen into dough.
The ration book has constituted a mechanism of social control, even to
the point that currently the Government has not been able to eliminate
it, on pain of absolutely abandoning the most disadvantaged social
sectors, especially the elderly without filial protection and the many
humble homes which receive no remittances from abroad nor have any other
hard currency income. In spite of that, the food products rationed and
subsidized through the book – that artifact that constitutes a complete
leftover of the Cold War – are today fewer than a dozen, and they barely
cover precariously some of the most pressing food needs while the rate
of inflation keeps increasing and wages hardly have even symbolic value.
That is why, when I now witness the Venezuelan rationing process, when I
hear the openness with which Comrade-President Nicolas Maduro disguises
in modernity the cataclysm of misery that looms for his people, I cannot
escape a kind of jolt, like déjà vu. We Cubans already traveled that
path, we walked half a century over its thorns and we are convinced that
it only leads to disaster. We have painfully and abundantly proven that
misery is the only thing that, divided among many, touches more.
Personally, I hope that the poor Venezuelans, who lately pursue their
food anxiously and stand in long lines at stores with empty shelves,
manage in time to avoid that serious confusion that sometimes leads
people to interpret as justice that which is the manipulation and burial
* Nicolas Maduro says that Hugo Chavez appears to him as a tiny little
bird, and dispenses advice. In this video, otherwise in Spanish, he
imitates the sounds the bird makes flying around his head and then
imitates the bird whistling a message.
** “Plan jaba” is literally “sack plan” and can mean one of two things:
(A) you leave your bag and come back and pick it up at a convenient time
so you don’t have to wait in line all day, which is allowed for some
working people; or (B) you get a “special bag of extras” because of age,
illness or pregnancy, and again, you just pick it up.
*** “Chicken diet” means that you get extra protein because of age,
illness or pregnancy.
Translated by MLK
Source: Rationing in Venezuela: A ‘Déjà vu’ for Cubans / 14ymedio,
Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba –