HAVANA (AP) — The cost of cleanliness will rise in Cuba after its cash–strapped, communist government announced Wednesday that soap, toothpaste and detergent will be slashed from monthly ration books.
Cuba's official Gazette said that effective Jan. 1, "personal cleanliness products" will join a growing list of products cut from the ration books that islanders have come to rely on for a small but steady supply of basic goods.
Cubans currently pay about 25 centavos, or about a penny, for a rationed bar of soap. They'll soon have to fork out four to six pesos, according to the gazette.
The list of products available with the ration books has shrunk in recent months as the government trimmed items deemed nonessential. Cigarettes, salt, peas and potatoes have been cut. Sugar, beans, meat, rice, eggs, bread and other products remain.
"It's already hard to make ends meet as it is and this is only going to make it harder," said Elias Conde, a 38–year–old father of two who works in a cafeteria. "But we're used to them taking things away, today it's soap and tomorrow it'll be something else."
The ration program began in 1962 as a temporary way to guarantee food staples for all Cubans in the face of the United States' then–new embargo. Designed to tide people over, it has long provided a measure of food security in a country where average wages hover around $20 a month.
Authorities say the cuts are necessary to free the state — which pays for or heavily subsidizes education, health care, housing and transportation — from a crushing economic burden.
Other, more drastic cost–cutting measures have also been announced, including the layoffs of about half a million state workers.
Critics contend that by slashing the ration books, the state is breaking with what has been a sacred covenant of the island's 1959 revolution: to provide all Cubans with at least the basics.
Associated Press (News - Alert) writer Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.