Price of toothpaste to soar amid ration cuts

Cuba will cut soap, toothpaste and liquid detergent from its ration card on Saturday to slash subsidies, according to a government ruling published Wednesday.

A list of the new prices showed the cost of some products will soar as much as 12-fold -- a burden that Havana dissident Darsi Ferrer called "draconian for a people already at the limit of their survival."

The Raúl Castro government has been trimming the ration card over the past year to cut state spending and overcome an economic crisis. Cigarettes, potatoes and peas were dropped from the list, and quantities of several items have been cut back.

Interior Commerce Minister Jacinto Angulo Pardo signed the Dec. 17 ruling removing the three items from the ration card. It was published in the Official Gazette and the blog Penultimos Dias.

A bottle of liquid detergent is rising from 3.75 Cuban pesos to 25, and a roughly 4.2-ounce tube of toothpaste that now sells for 65 cents will rise to eight pesos. Bathroom and laundry soap will rise from 25 cents and 40 cents to four and five pesos, depending on size.

The ration card, launched in the early 1960s in what Fidel Castro described as a "temporary'' way to ensure all Cubans had equal access to goods, provides a monthly basket of food and other items at steeply subsidized prices.

Cubans complain these goods barely stretch for 10 days, but acknowledge that the ration book helps them make ends meet in a country where the average monthly salary stands at 429 pesos -- or about $20.

Most Cubans, already facing a slew of price hikes as the government cuts other subsidies, "are not going to be able to buy those soaps," said Ferrer, who has studied the impact of the vanishing state subsidies over the past year.

Comments by some government officials that the ration card will be eliminated in the future have sparked deep concern in Cuba, especially among the elderly who live on meager pensions.

"No one can survive eating only what's on their ration card," popular Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote this week. ‘‘But the very low salaries and high prices in the (open) markets mean that the end of this subsidy will be dramatic."

However, the demise of the ration card may benefit Cubans in the long run, she added, comparing it to the seeds owners give to caged birds. "Perhaps the most important change will occur in the thinking of Cubans, when they realize that the small portion of birdseed is no longer being delivered to the cage, when they begin to feel the real pressures of each one of the bars.'