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Cubans face up to life without free lunches

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Cuba cuts benefits amid crisis
  • Cuban government cuts back on nearly free lunches and food items on ration book
  • President Raul Castro: "ration book has become an impediment to collective decisions the nation must take"
  • The ration book was created in 1962 and provides millions of Cubans with basic provisions
  • Cuba
  • Raul Castro

London, England (CNN) -- Since it was created in 1962 the ration book has been an integral part of life for millions of Cubans giving them access to cheap food basics which they would otherwise be unable to afford.

But in recent weeks, Cubans who rely on the ration book to provide themselves and their families with basic provisions like rice, chicken, beans and sugar have become fearful that its days may be numbered.

In a recent speech President Raul Castro announced the elimination of free services, with the exception of those established by the Constitution, and unnecessary subsidies.

In September, nearly free lunches were eliminated from some state-cafeterias which provided cheap hot meals and helped supplement meager salaries of around $20 per month.

Worse was to follow when the Communist Party's Granma newspaper declared: "The ration book was a necessity at one time, but it has become an impediment to the collective decisions the nation must take."

And in November, peas and potatoes were taken off the list of rationed foods.

The government hope that the changes imposed will encourage more productivity and help relieve some of the burden currently shouldered by the state -- they currently cough up more than a billion dollars a year for food subsidies alone.

Government subsidies are handed out for many of the basic services including healthcare, housing, transportation and education.

Despite its isolation, Cuba hasn't been immune to the effects of the global economic crisis and the government is feeling the pinch.

But so are the citizens of Cuba. Pedro Guerrero has used the ration book to buy food since its inception. Now that he has retired, the ration book provides him and his wife with most of their food.

"It's enough to survive for about one month. To survive, not grow a belly," Guerrero told CNN's Shasta Darlington.

Despite the recent cut backs, Guerrero trusts the state to make sure that those who depend on the ration book to survive will be taken care of.

But the removal of peas and potatoes from the ration book may signal the start of wider changes to life in Cuba.