Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

24 de Enero del 2000

MILK? DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! By Adalberto Yero, Cuba Free Press.

Santiago.- For more than 40 years since the communist regime was imposed on our island in 1959, Cuban children received milk until they became seven years old. The state-owned rationing stores sold the product to the general public. At the current rate, the manager of each child may buy a kg. of powdered milk for 2.50 "pesos," the national currency, every 10 days. This powdered milk was and is produced or imported exclusively by the government monopoly. It has always been so under socialism.

During the first 20 years of communism, the milk sold for children at the ration stores was relatively fresh in a one-liter bottle. One bottle was allowed per day, at first. There also were cans of condensed and evaporated milk for those unable to digest fresh milk and who had the medical certificate required. Past age seven, a minor was able to enjoy the product only as part of a medical diet, but only if the child suffered a chronic condition such as diabetes or ulcers.

During the first 30 years of communism, the older people had a right to milk rations. Many people still living may remember those days. That right was taken away about 10 years ago, when the Soviet socialist bloc collapsed.

Since 1995, more or less, those between seven and 14 years of age have the right to two liters of "soy yogurt" a week at the state-run stores at the cost of one peso per liter. This amounts to a glass of yogurt a day. Soy yogurt is not a milk derivative but comes from the soybean. It is sold in large quantities.

When the trucks carrying the soy yogurt arrive, lines form quickly. Mothers, relatives able to devote the time to the "colas" (lines) wait to buy any extra product after they get their own rations taken care of.

During the last 10 years nobody (children, the old...any age) has had access to dairy products such as butter, cream cheese, yogurt, let alone fresh milk. These products are never sold at the ration stores. They also are not found in the cafeterias where national currency is used. Rarely does one find butter in a private "paladare" (home-restaurant) where a small tidbit of bread and butter sells for two pesos. These are usually sold through the front windows of a private home, not at a restaurant table.

In the majority of state-run "farmers'" markets, opened for the last six years, there are no dairy products. One wonders, are there no cows? Where are the cows? Actually there are few. In 1959 Castro decided to replace the cattle we had on the island and create a new breed. Before that, there were 6,000,000 animals (about one per inhabitant). Castro's efforts did not work out. The "old" breeds we had are now gone and the new ones are not here yet. Socialism put an end to Cuba's cattle.

Yet the dollar stores always have fresh milk and dairy products, especially since having dollars was 'decriminalized' five years ago.

Here in Santiago, the country's second city with more than 500,000 inhabitants, the majority of families with children between seven and 14 years of age try to prepare a drink, adding water and sugar to the soy yogurt. That way they "extend" the soy material and have something to offer their children.

At the dollar stores throughout the country a one-kg. milk package sells for $5. On the black market, where one rarely sees the product, 900 grams sell for 10 pesos. In Santiago, the only state-owned money exchange outlet trades one dollar for 21 pesos. If you note that the "salary" most people get is 200 pesos, you can do the numbers.

One final note: Before 1959 Santiago was bordered by a series of dairy farms which daily and without failure provided fresh milk to the city population for all ages, not just for those under age seven. A liter of milk sold then for 10 cents at 6 a.m. Two liters cost 15 cents by 10 in the morning.

Adalberto Yero, Cuba Free Press.

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