ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | Los Ángeles | 10 de Julio de 2017 - 10:40 CEST.
If you were told that in a Latin American country almost 60% of the
fertile land available for agriculture is not even cultivated, producing
nothing at all, you would think they were pulling your leg, because in
the 21st century this is impossible.
But, alas, it is. The country in question is Cuba, a beautiful tropical
island covered with lush, fertile lands that astonished Columbus when he
first saw them 525 years ago.
How is this possible in a country that the FAO, in the 1950s, cited as
one of the greatest producers and exporters of food in Latin America in
proportion to its total population?
One of Fidel Castro's proselytizing pledges during his anti-Batista
movement, after causing the death of dozens of young people in the
disastrous assault on the Moncada barracks, was the promise that when he
came to power he would implement profound agrarian reform, handing over
lands to the peasants who worked them, and eliminating Cuba's sprawling,
General Batista fled the Island, Castro rose to power, and proceeded to
renege on those promises, seizing 77% of the nation's agricultural land
for the State. In this way he created his very own unproductive
latifundia, the largest in the country since Spanish colonization.
As a result, in the first two years of the statist "Agrarian Reform" the
production of sugar plummeted from 6.8 million metric tons to 3.8
million in the 1962-1963 harvest. The island ceased to be the leading
producer and exporter of sugar cane in the world, a title it had boasted
since the end of the 18th century. In 2017 Cuba produced 1.7 million
tons of sugar – three times less than the 5.1 million tons produced 92
Cuba devolved into one of the weakest of Latin American food producers,
with some of the lowest agricultural yields in the Americas, including
in sugar cane, in which it once was the world leader. If there were no
fatal famines it was because Moscow began to subsidize the dictatorship
to turn the island into a giant Soviet aircraft carrier, poised right
next to the United States, and to expand Communist ideology throughout
Even with the subsidies from the USSR, in March of 1962 the commander
had to implement a food ration card, which is now 55 years old, the
longest-lasting in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
With the "Agrarian Reform" the production of foodstuffs basic to the
Cuban diet tanked: meat, rice, milk, vegetables, fruits and vegetables.
From nearly seven million heads of cattle in 1958 for six million
inhabitants (one cow per inhabitant), today the figure is 3.6 million
undernourished cattle, for 11.3 million inhabitants (three inhabitants
per cow). This is why in 2016 it produced three times less meat and less
milk than in 1958, with twice as many inhabitants.
In the 1950s Cuba was self-sufficient in beef, milk, tropical fruits,
coffee and tobacco. And it was almost self-sufficient in fish and
seafood, pork, chicken, meats, vegetables, and eggs. It was the Latin
American country with the highest fish consumption, and third in
calories, with 2,682 daily. And it ranked seventh in the world in
average agricultural wages, at 3 pesos a day (equivalent to dollars),
according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Before 1959 Cuba imported 29% of the food it consumed. The Communists of
the time (the PSP) complained that figure was too high for such a
fertile country. Today, with the Communists in power, 80% of food is
State property vs. private
The regime refuses to hand over land to those who work or want to work
it, and forbids them from freely cultivating and selling their crops on
the market. It forces them to hand over the crops to the State, at
To make matters even worse, in the state distribution under the
monstrosity dubbed "Acopio," 57% of the harvested food is lost,
according to the ONEI (National Office of Statistics). The regime itself
admits that 56% of Cuba's agricultural land is idle, overgrown with
marabou. These last two statistics are more than enough to justify
General Raúl Castro's resignation tomorrow.
There is a total of 6.2 million hectares of agricultural land, of which
46%, or 2.8 million hectares, are owned by state companies (sovjoses in
the former USSR). 31%, or 1.9 million hectares, are also state-owned,
but delivered in usufruct to individuals under abusive contracts. The
remaining 1.4 million hectares, 23%, correspond to individual farmers,
working on their own or in cooperatives.
To appreciate their production, one stat suffices: according to the
ONEI, in the first half of 2015 state-owned enterprises, including the
state cooperatives dubbed "Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC)
" produced only 10% of the 5.7 million tons of the vegetables, rice,
beans and fruits grown throughout the country. That is, 570,000 tons.
The other 90% (5.1 million tons) was produced by private farmers and
Incredible, but true. With about half of the land, the best in the
country, the socialist state produced one tenth of the total national
crop yield, while the other half, cultivated by private workers,
accounted for 90%. This manifests the absurd idiocy and arrogance of the
Castro elite, which refuses to accept the wisdom of the Creole saying:
"the master's watchful eye fattens his cattle." And it now spends $2
billion importing food.
Bonfires to burn ration cards
The evidence demonstrating the superiority of private property in the
agricultural sector - and in every other - is overwhelming. The military
regime has the obligation to deliver the Island's fertile lands to those
who wish to work them, and with their corresponding property deeds. Even
in China and Vietnam, under Communist governments, peasants are free to
harvest and sell what they produce.
Despite the fact that the Venezuelan crisis has exacerbated food
shortages in Cuba, due to the lack of money to import them and acquire
the supplies and equipment to render the land productive, Castroism,
instead of freeing up the island's productive agricultural forces,
tightens its grip.
At a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers, according to Granma,
"it was confirmed that the lands granted in usufruct are
non-transferable State property." In other words: let one get their
hopes up, because the land is owned by the State, and is only lent for a
time, which now will be extended to 20 years.
At the meeting, Marino Murillo, czar (somewhat obscure lately) of the
"updating of the Cuban model" revealed that interest in obtaining state
land in usufruct has declined. Of course, peasants and potential farmers
do not want to work on lands that are not even theirs and that they
cannot sell or leave to their children. Neither can they freely produce
and sell crops. And the regime can seize their land at any time, as has
already happened in Holguin.
Cuba is the only western country where agricultural and livestock are
not entirely in private sector hands. If agriculture were privatized and
the rights of citizens to economic freedom, and all the other rights of
modern man, were respected, Cubans would soon make bonfires to burn
their ration cards in the streets, and feed themselves properly, and
Cuba would once again be cited as an example by the FAO.
Source: Food scarcity, another Castroist crime | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1499676007_32457.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales, 27 June 2018 — At the entrance to Calle
Obispo a guide explains to her customers the restoration works in the
historical center of Havana. A few yards away, the line to exchange
currency is full of foreigners and in the corner bar one hears English,
French and German. Tourism is shaping the face of several areas of Cuba
and becoming a problem for their residents.
"In this neighborhood you can't even walk," complains Idania Contreras,
a resident of Obrapía Street in Old Havana and a law graduate. "At first
people were happy because the area improved economically, but little by
little the tourists have been taking over all the spaces and this is
less and less like a neighborhood where people live."
As a consequence of the increase in tourism, prices have also
risen. "Now buying fruits in the markets is a headache because they are
hoarded by the people who rent to tourists," adds Contreras. "A
pineapple never costs less than 20 Cuban pesos because the private
restaurants in the area can pay that amount, because they sell the
tourists a piña colada for three times that price," she explains. In her
view, those mainly affected are the citizens themselves who can't afford
Contreras, who worked for a few months in a real estate management
office, says housing prices are also up in the area. "The price per
square meter has exploded around the Plaza de la Catedral, the Plaza de
San Francisco and the streets where it is most profitable streets." She
also says that these areas are beginning to look like the center of
Barcelona or Venice, where fewer and fewer families are living.
However, she acknowledges that "the problem has not yet reached the
point of other cities in the world that receive many more tourists," but
she is concerned because there are no "public policies to alleviate the
problems we are already experiencing."
Contreras's biggest fear is that there is only talk of the positive side
of tourism, while some streets in the area are already showing symptoms
of congestion and tourism activity aggravates the problems of waste
treatment and water supply.
Several regions of the island face the challenge of absorbing an
increasing number of travelers despite the precariousness of their
infrastructure. Among the areas most affected by the avalanche of
visitors are the Viñales valley, the city of Trinidad, the Varadero
resort area and the Cuban capital.
"It is very difficult for a Cuban to rent a room because homeowners
prefer to rent only tourists," warns Gustavo, a handicraft seller near
the Casa de la Trova in the city of Trinidad, which was declared a World
Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and is now an obligatory stop on many of
the package tours.
"This whole area is focused on foreigners," he says. The salesman, born
on the outskirts of Trinidad, believes that there are many people who
benefit from tourism, but on the way he has lost the city he knew as a
child. "Now it has been commodified and everything has a price, even
people," he laments.
In all the tourist hubs, along with an increase in private businesses
there is also an increase in prostitution. "At night the discos are full
of yumas, foreigners, with young girls and it is a really pitiful show
for our children," notes Gustavo.
"[Tourism] is more positive than negative because 30 years ago this city
had old and beautiful houses, but nothing more," says the seller despite
his reservations about this economic sector.
Carlos and his two children live on the road to Viñales. Coming from a
family of farmers, they now sell fruit at a stand by the side of the
road. "Most of our customers are foreigners coming and going from the
Valley," says the farmer. He hasn't gone into town for two years
because, he says, "you can't take a step with so many tourists."
The winding road that leads to Viñales also suffers with the increase of
vehicles. "It's a rare week that there is not an accident in this
section," recounts Carlos while pointing to one of the curves near his
house. The number of travelers interested in the area seems to have
grown, but the seller points out that the streets and roads remain the
same and that no expansion has been undertaken.
Carlos's closest neighbors have a thriving business that offers
horseback rides to travelers. They gain much more from
these "ecotours" than they could sowing beans or tobacco, another change
that is due to the avalanche of visitors. "Before this was predominantly
a farming area with strong traditions, but now everything is being
lost," he says.
A few yard away, a tobacco drying shed stands with its gabled roof and
its walls made of logs. In the interior, a peasant shows a dozen
tourists how the leaves re dried. "This shed has been set up for groups
who want to see how the process is done, it's pure showcase," says
Carlos. "In this town everything is already like this."
Source: The Dark Side Of Tourism in Cuba – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-dark-side-of-tourism-in-cuba/ Continue reading
A trip to Santiago de Cuba should start with dinner at a paladar
(family-run restaurant) and end with drinks on the roof of the Hotel
By JENNIFER BAIN Travel Editor
Wed., June 21, 2017
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CUBA-Ramon Guilarte welcomes us to his home and
restaurant with a cocktail full of vitamin R. Will it be a Cuba Libre,
rum and cola, or Estacazo, rum and lemonade? Rum is ridiculously cheap here.
Esta Caso seems more fun, thanks to our host's animated explanation
(some of it lost in translation) about how drinking this is like getting
whacked with a stick. As we dig into platters of mango, papaya and
pineapple, Guilarte opens a bottle of rum and pours a little on the
ground as an offering to the saints for good luck, and then asks us each
how big a "stick" we want in our drinks.
"Don't expect a common restaurant," he warns with a theatrical flourish.
"Everybody that comes to the restaurant is a friend. I think it's
important that you feel like home — and these are not empty words."
La Fondita de Compay Ramon is a paladar, a family-run restaurant that
boosts the economy and gives tourists and locals the chance to connect.
At this farm-themed paladar we sit in cowhide "taburete" chairs found in
typical farms and our host is dressed like a traditional farmer.
In between a stunning red kidney bean soup and unpretentious platters
full of rice, pork, cabbage, shrimp, chicken and plantains, we learn
that Guilarte is a painter and empty nester with two daughters and two
"Painting, and the life of a painter, is very lonely. Painting is
totally opposite to this business." He opened Compay Ramon in 2012 in
the Ferrerido neighbourhood of Cuba's second largest city. His
neighbours don't mind the nightly commotion, maybe because they often
get to share the leftovers.
"Best food in Cuba," according to "the Intrepid Group" in one of the
many accolades scrawled artfully on the wall and dated Dec. 16, just
weeks after Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro died and weeks before my
first visit to Canada's favourite Caribbean island.
You'll find plenty of online accolades for our enthusiastic host. "Ramon
is a character," allows our Cubatur guide and translator Ricardo
Zaldivar Rodriguez, "but this is not a show."
I duck down the hall into the tiny kitchen to meet Guilarte's smiling
wife Mayra Gayoso Romaguera and her helper, who is washing dishes by
hand. I peek at a modest bedroom.
My first night in Cuba ends with a stewed green papaya dessert and
Guilarte showing how to roast coffee beans and brew coffee the
traditional way and then sharing a cigar.
Santiago de Cuba, with half a million people, is often described as "the
hottest city in Cuba" because of its temperature and charm.
We cram a lot into a whirlwind day — historic sites like the Santa
Ifgenia cemetery, where Castro's ashes are marked by a large rock from
the Sierra Maestra mountains, and where national hero/poet Jose Marti
has an elaborate mausoleum. People bring them red and white roses
We hit Antonio Maceo Revolution Square, a former fort/prison called
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, and a Catholic church with a sacred
Virgin of Charity statue called El Cobre near a copper mine. I buy a
bundle of copper-tinged rocks from a guy in the parking lot.
Cubans make the most of what they are given. There is virtually no waste
here — public garbage cans are nearly always empty.
I'm more curious about the present than the past and so relish the
chance to wander down Calle Enramada, a pedestrian street where I don't
have time to join the lineup for hot churros.
"If you don't mention this street name," says Rodriguez, "it might be
said that you have never been to Santiago de Cuba."
At La Barrita Ron Caney, a bar by a rum factory, I sample seven-year-old
rum, smelling it with closed eyes, tilting the glass to see the body and
holding a sip in my throat while the house band plays traditional Cuban
There is music everywhere, in Plaza de Dolores, in Casa de la Trova Pepe
Sanchez, and at Tropicana, an outpost of Havana's famed cabaret.
"When we hear music, we start dancing," says Rodriguez, who sings and
dances throughout our week together.
At Restaurante Matamoros, the chef pops out of the kitchen to join the
band while we enjoy a soupy meat and vegetable stew called ajiaco. After
dinner we have coffee nearby at Café Constantin, where my Bembito Bomban
is a cheeky reference to Afro-Cuban women and combines coffee, cacao
liqueur and cinnamon.
Cuba is changing, so you will mix and match old and new.
Melia Santiago de Cuba is new, glitzy and a short drive from the
historic centre, with decent Wi-Fi (a very big deal), a pool, and a
breakfast buffet, where I wrapped thin slices of cheese around chunks of
In the heart of downtown, Hotel Casa Granda oozes colonial charm, with a
breezy rooftop restaurant and sweeping city views. For my last meal, I
had a Cuban sandwich (an American invention) and a local spin on
pepperoni pizza (forgive me).
It was no Fondita de Compay Ramon, but it was still equally, magically
Jennifer Bain was hosted by the Cuba Tourist Board, which didn't review
or approve this story.
When you go
Get there: I flew Cubana de Aviacion airlines (www.cubana.cu ) direct to
Santiago de Cuba and flew home with a stop in Camaguey. WestJet, Air
Canada, Air Transat and Sunwing all fly to various spots in Cuba.
Get around: It's easy to take taxis around Santiago de Cuba, but if you
have a driver and guide (like I did with Cubatur), you'll have the bonus
of a translator/fixer.
Stay: I stayed at the modern Melia Santiago de Cuba (melia.com).
Eat: Find La Fondita de Compay Ramon on Facebook.
Know: You can only buy Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) in Cuba and can't
exchange them at the end of your trip. Get them at the airport and
foreign exchange shops. Wi-Fi is limited to public squares and some
hotel lobbies. Buy a 60-minute Wi-Fi card for 2 CUC (about $2.75
Canadian) at the airport or your hotel. North American plugs don't work
so bring an adaptor for the European 220-volt system.
Source: How to get off the eaten track in Santiago de Cuba | Toronto
https://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2017/06/21/how-to-get-off-the-eaten-track-in-santiago-de-cuba.html Continue reading
BY BRIANA ERICKSON
Men sit on the steps and play a hand of cards, women chat outside barred
windows, stray dogs missing tufts of fur trot by.
Taxi drivers call it the last stop in Havana.
The locals call the neighborhood El barrio de Jesus María.
Up the steep concrete steps, a multi-generational family of seven shares
a pastel blue apartment and the basic rations common in Cuba — including
a sparse and potentially unclean water supply that sloshes around in a
dark, old cistern just inside the doorway.
Cuba seems like a water-rich country, with abundant rainfall, rivers
crisscrossing the island and groundwater that bubbles up in turquoise
But it has always struggled to provide enough fresh water for its people.
Part of the problem is that the water isn't where the people are. While
Cuba's capital city is in the wetter western part of the country, its
population of over 2.1 million means that it has less water per capita
than many other regions. Atop distribution problems, Havana and other
parts of the nation also lack sufficient infrastructure and
water-quality treatment. The strain has worsened in recent years due to
Back inside the fading blue apartment, a bouncy 3-year-old cheers to the
sound of Spanish-speaking trolls on the television.
The little boy, called Diandro, grabs his stuffed Spiderman toy.
"Es mi favorito," he says.
His neighborhood, made up of 120 to 150 blocks, has an open-air market
for meat and fruit and a mini supermarket. The outdoor market opens at
10, but locals get there at 9 to make sure they can get enough food for
They live in southern Havana, on a street about a 20-minute drive from
where tourists usually venture.
Those who live here don't have cars, and the buses don't come to this
neighborhood. Residents walk 16 blocks or more to work, or ride their bikes.
The water in their makeshift well comes from government trucks, "las
pipas," when the neighborhood is in need.
The family rations 10 buckets a day per person.
Every workday, Yan Alvarez picks up a stack of white papers labeled
Each signifies at least 10 places where he must pump water throughout
Old Havana. Each home takes 20 to 30 minutes to fill.
"No llueve," says the 40-year-old who has worked the job for seven years.
It doesn't rain.
The hefty man says he worked 18 hours the day before: 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
He pulls up his old truck to a pink apartment. Number 109 on a street
called Aguacate. His wife Leonida guides him from the passenger side.
He drags the long hose from the blue tank into the home, snaking around
the truck and into the house of Yanin Amaga, who stands graciously at
Along with neighbors around the city, she says she looks forward to the
day the water truck comes. Sometimes she must stretch her meager fill-up
for as many as seven days before she sees Alvarez again.
"Café?" She asks, bringing him a small mug with a saucer.
As he sips his coffee, his 3-year-old son Alejandro, shirtless and
wearing plaid swim trunks, hops out of the truck and trips in his blue
In the home at El barrio de Jesus María, Diandro's Aunt Elena Rodriguez,
her son Fabio and her spouse Eduardo Torres live downstairs.
All three share a room and a twin bed. Together, they make the
equivalent of 20 Convertible Cuban Pesos a month as dance teachers.
(About $23 USD at a recent exchange of $1 USD to 0.87 CUC).
Outside the family's room, natural light floods from a roofless hallway.
To the right is the area the family calls the well, a crumbling cistern
where they fill buckets of water for their daily needs: Cleaning.
Cooking. Showering. Hand-washing. Dishes. And on Sundays, laundry. They
boil water for drinking.
If the pipas come when they aren't home, they must call and bribe the
truck people with money to come back, Torres says.
Producing safe drinking water for his family has become a daily ritual.
Although Torres has had to boil water since he was a child, he says it
never gets easier.
"Aquí no vivimos, acquí solo sobrevimos," he says.
We don't live here, we only survive here.
In addition to their fill-up from the water truck, water also trickles
in from the streets every day, topping off their supply.
Torres, dark haired and charismatic, crouches into the well. Placing a
red bucket into the hole, he tugs up the splattering water. When the
water level gets too low, the family members hoist it up with a cable.
To have running water, the pipes would cost the family $150 to $200 CUC.
(About $172 to $230 USD). That's more than Torres and Rodriguez make in
a year as dance teachers.
He fills a pot and lugs it to the stovetop, turning the knob. As the gas
kicks on, the blue light flickers. The gray water sizzles; floating
specks of sedimentary rock, calcium and chloride swirl around.
Las Pipas drivers
Outside the Aguas de la Habana, where Yan and the other Las Pipas
drivers refill their water tanks, workers in rain boots and long pants
twist a rusty wheel.
Water spouts into four trucks simultaneously. It cascades down the sides
and drips onto the road. Not all fills the yellow, blue and green tanks;
some is lost in mud puddles on the street. All over Cuba, water is also
lost through leaking pipes, adding to the problems with water supply.
The smell of gas permeates the air as a blue truck with a dolphin on the
back hums by. It holds 8,000 liters. The other trucks hold 10,000. Some
12,000. Each heads throughout the city to homes in need of water.
Families are encouraged to boil it for safe drinking.
Outside a home down the street, two men wear navy shirts that read
"Aguas de la Habana." Prying up a sewer hole with a lit cigarette
between his teeth, one of the men shakes his head. There are
20,000-liter pipas, too, and they go straight to the hotels, he says.
While Cuban residents ration, tourists drink bottled water by the liter
and take hot showers as if they're at home.
The Cuban government has been working to build new water supply
infrastructure around the country. But it hasn't been enough for people
in Havana and other cities.
The more important strategy long-term is to protect Cuba's natural water
resources and ensure the growing tourist industries use water wisely and
help fund sustainable solutions, says Roberto Pérez Rivero of Cuba's
Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, a scientific
"Taking the water from here to there, that can solve the problem. But
for a while," he says. Without a more holistic solution than the pipas,
"soon everyone will be in scarcity."
Boiling water at home
Back at the apartment, the water is still bubbling on the stove.
Rodriguez grabs a handkerchief and carries the steaming water to the
cement staircase to cool. They can drink it in two hours.
She grabs a lid to one of the water buckets and uses it as a cutting
board. She wraps her fingers around a handle-less knife and chops
tomatoes with the blade, her curly dark hair framing her face.
She tosses a tomato slice into the air. Her pit bull Mentira jumps up to
"Ella Italiana," Rodriguez jokes.
She grabs a handful of black beans and dips them into the water to wash,
holding them out in her palm. The color contrasts with the turquoise on
"Me encanta mi país," Rodriguez says.
I love my country.
"Pero… a Cuba le falta todo," she says.
But... Cuba lacks everything.
THIS STORY IS PART OF A "CUBA: OUTSIDE IN" MULTIMEDIA STORYTELLING
PROJECT DONE BY STUDENTS FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA COLLEGE OF
JOURNALISM AND COMMUNICATIONS.
Source: Safe drinking water is a commodity in Cuba | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article152407904.html Continue reading
Iván García, 2 May 2017 — On an afternoon like any other, an underground
seller of beef, living in the southeast of Havana, bought flank steaks
wholesale from a slaughterer, to then sell them to private restaurants
and neighbours who could afford them.
He filleted the chops and started to offer them for the equivalent of
three dollars a pound. "They flew off the shelf. By night time I didn't
have an ounce of it left. If any red meat comes my way, I can sell it
immediately. The thing is, Cubans like to eat a good piece of steak with
fries, washed down with a glass of orange juice. But, my friend, that
dish has become an extravagant luxury in Cuba," says the vendor, who
knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Havana black market.
Even though a pound of beef costs three days' of a professional's
salary, you don't always find it in the profitable black market.
In the island there is a network of butchers, slaughterers and sellers
which makes sufficient money selling beef. "Everything starts when
someone spots a bullock or a cow not properly protected in some odd
corner in the Cuban countryside. That's when they start to plan how get
it to end up as stew (kill it) and transport it to Havana, which is
where they can sell it for the best price. They can get between 1,300
and 1,600 chavitos (CUCs) for a 1,000 pound bull, and the slaughterer,
the transporter and the sellers get a few kilos of meat free", according
to a cattle slaughterer, a native of the central region of the country.
And he explains that they will just as happily kill a calf, a grown up
cow, or a horse, "whatever has four legs and moves, gets what's coming
to it. Of course, a slaughterer who knows what he's doing takes care not
to kill a cow which is sick or has brucellosis, because if the police
catch you, along with the twenty years the District Attorney goes for on
account of killing a cow, he adds another five or six on top for
endangering public health.
In 2013, the Granma newspaper reported that more than 18,400 cattle were
dying of hunger or disease in the province of Villa de Clara. In April
2014, the Communist party organ highlighted that something over 3,300
cows died in the first three months of that year in the province of
Holguin, and another 69,000 were found to be under-nourished. The
authorities blamed the drought and, according to Granma, 35 thousand
head of cattle were receiving water from water tank trucks in order to
alleviate the effects of the months without rain.
According to Damián, an ex-employee of a sugar mill, who now survives
selling home-made cheese on the Autopista Nacional, "what has happened
to the cattle here is irresponsible and those officials should be behind
bars. But they carry on like that, carrying their Party card and talking
Mario, a private farmer, says, jokingly, that "Cuba is an unusual
mixture of Marxism and Hinduism. Seems like a religious prohibition on
eating beef, which is what Cubans like to eat. Although the leaders
carry on eating it — just look at their faces and stomachs; they look as
if they are going to explode. If you gave them a blood test, their
haemoglobin would be around a thousand".
During the time of the autocrat Fidel Castro, when people wore Jiqui
jeans, Yumuri check shirts and very poor quality shoes, all made
locally, the old ration book which, in March 2017, had been in use for
55 years, authorised half a pound of beef every nine days for people
born in the country.
"Then the cycle was lengthened to once a fortnight, then once a month,
until it was quietly disappearing from the Cuban menu. Along with many
other things like milk, fresh fish, prawns, oranges and mandarines",
recalls a butcher, who made plenty of money selling beef "on the side"
for four pesos a pound in the '80's. In the 21st century he survives
making money from selling soup thickened with soya.
In the last week of February, some "good news" was announced. Because of
poor agricultural output, the state started to sell potatoes through
ration books again.
"It's one step forward, one step back. Five years ago potatoes were
rationed. Until one fine day, the bright sparks in the government
decided that, along with beans, they should be sold by the pound. So
that, everyone was fucked, with potatoes becoming a sumptuary good. If
you wanted to eat potato puree or fries, you had to wait in a queue for
four hours and put up with fights and swearing just to buy a bag of ten
potatoes for 25 pesos. And now that it is rationed once more, the news
channel tells you that they will sell you 14 pounds a head, two in the
first month, and six after that. But in my farmers' market they don't
give you a pound any more. Five miserable spuds and you have to take it
or leave it", says Gisela, a housewife.
If you fancy a natural orange juice, get your wallet ready. "Green
oranges with hardly any juice cost three pesos, if you can actually find
any. A bag of oranges costs between 140 and 200 pesos, half the monthly
minimum wage. I keep asking myself why it is that in countries with a
Marxist government, or a socialist one, as invented by Chavez in
Venezuela, getting food has to be such torture", says Alberto, a
In Cuba, you can't eat what you want, only what turns up.
Before 1959, in many Cuban households, eating fried steak for lunch or
dinner, with white rice and fries was not a luxury. In the fast fried
food places anybody could buy a steak sandwich with onion rings and
Julienne potatoes. Taken by Casavana Cuban Cuisine.
Translated by GH
Source: Eating Steak and Fries is a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/eating-steak-and-fries-is-a-luxury-in-cuba-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 4 March 2017 — Another crazy initiative…a bit
picturesque, perhaps interesting, but totally absurd. Representatives of
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) arrive at the José
Martí Airport in Havana with the express intention of combatting animal
abuse and creating vegetarian habits on the Island.
The idea of watching young activists dressed in lettuce leaves attached
to green bikinis makes for an attractive attention-getter–and it
surprisingly reveals the enormous ignorance of many about Cuban history,
politics, culture, laws, and society.
Perhaps the authorities, as part of a "considered" neo-diplomacy, allows
these young ladies to promenade with gossamer lightness through Old
Havana, dispensing souvenirs, feeding homeless dogs, or handing out
introductory pamphlets on vegetarianism with recipes for beans and rice.
But there exists, and it is good to know this, (1) a cautionary,
provincial ordinance that more or less says the following: Anyone who
publicly goes around the Cuban capital dressed in swimwear, even when we
all know that it is a coastal city, commits a violation and could be fined.
Regarding beef, somebody should explain to the PETA activists that, ever
since July 12, 1963–creation date of the sadly famous OFICODAS (Offices
of Food Control and Distribution)–(2) Cubans have been forced to
exchange beef for chicken, 'hotdogs' and/or fish [see (4) below, there
is no fish], depending on which series is listed on the ration booklet.
In the greatest of the Greater Antilles, (3) there is as much beef
consumed as in India, where cows are considered sacred. And, besides the
facts that Cuba is (4) the only island in the world whose diet does not
feature fish and that Cubans born in that time euphemistically called
the Special Period (5) grew up without a culture of beef consumption,
(6) one pound of vegetables, in the agricultural market, competes with
pork in terms of price.
It would be useful to know who will offer lettuce to these young
lovelies because, even though Raúl Castro in 2008 started leasing
out 1.7 hectares of land in usufruct for agricultural use, (7) Cuba
still imports more than 63% of the food it consumes and the (8) fresh
lettuce offered in the restaurants of tourist hotels is not cultivated
on the Island.
A misguided plan which, save for the level of risk, is very similar to
that of the Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma–who even knowing the
fate of his ex-comrade and mentor, the Venezuelan Hugo Chávez–still
decided to travel to Havana this past 1 March to receive urgent medical
care in Cuba.
The principal enemy of people who waste time creating publicity stunts
is common sense. Now is the time for momentum, determination, and
awareness-raising about real matters, such as the disturbing rise in
the crime rate, gender-based violence, and the innumerable cases of
domestic violence. To name just a notable few.
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: Eight Truths About Cuba That the Bikini-Clad Girls Don't Know /
Juan Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/eight-truths-about-cuba-that-the-bikini-clad-girls-dont-know-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 March 2017 — A few minutes after noon,
the Lettuce Women stood on the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes streets
in Old Havana. They came with their unique message that promotes healthy
food and a love of animals. Under the March sun, their lettuce bikinis
generated more curiosity than their environmentalist discourse.
From a lime-green suitcase, activists pulled out magazines and ad
sheets to promote a vegan diet. A campaign that does not stop generating
confusion in Cuba, a country obsessed with meat and where the dream of
many people is to eat a steak every day.
At first the activists were surrounded by more press than public, but
their scanty clothing soon caused an uproar. Under the eyes of some
policemen the Ladies responded to questions from journalists and those
who wanted to know what it's like to be a vegan.
The women declared that, since their arrival on the island, they have
viewed the situation of the animals with "a lot of sadness," according
to Yerica Sojo, a Puerto Rican who has been doing this for more than ten
years, "there are many [animals] abandoned in the street who need help."
Some national groups do "a very good job of caring for them and
promoting compassion," like the Association for the Protection of
Animals and Plants.
This Friday the Ladies in Green plan to go to different schools to chat
with the students.
With regards to the Cuban diet they said it "contains a lot of animals"
but also "there are many fruits, vegetables and grains that can be
eaten" and that one can be vegan and "keep the Cuban culture of eating
rice, beans, bananas."
Among the recipes they distributed to the public, there were some to
prepare potato croquettes or mango ceviche.
Near the place where the activists engaged with the public is the San
Rafael street market. This week a head of lettuces cost about 10 Cuban
pesos (CUP) in the market, which is equivalent to the amount of money a
retiree receives on their pension for a full day.
Eating vegetables and legumes is often a luxury that many Cubans cannot
In the final minutes of the presentation the women took out some pens
shaped like fruits and vegetables from the bottom of their suitcase and
tried to distribute them among those present. However, a dozen people
rushed over the suitcase and grabbed all that were left.
The Lettuce Women promised to "warm up Havana" with "advice on how to
save animals, be healthy and protect the environment while being
vegans." But there were more lewd looks at their bodies than interest in
Source: The Ladies In Green Can Not Sell Their Lettuce / 14ymedio,
Havana – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-ladies-in-green-can-not-sell-their-lettuce-14ymedio-havana/ Continue reading
REPORT from World Food Programme Published on 31 Jan 2017
WFP is providing food and logistical assistance to the populations
affected by Hurricane Matthew in eastern Cuba.
WFP supports the strengthening of drought-related early warning systems
at provincial level and the inclusion of vulnerability indicators for
food security and nutrition in drought risk assessments.
WFP continues strengthening the bean value-chain stakeholders through
trainings, technical support and equipment.
WFP continues assisting the populations affected by hurricane Matthew in
eastern Cuba through distribution of rice and beans. WFP is also
strengthening food storage capacities in the two hardest-hit
municipalities with mobile storage units and lightning.
WFP is supporting the Government in strengthening its food-based social
safety nets. This includes the promotion of studies to assess trends in
the population's dietary habits. Data collection for the National Food
Consumption Survey is underway in all targeted provinces.
As part of the process to strengthen the bean value-chain in six
provinces, WFP facilitated a workshop in Pinar del Rio province
involving nearly 40 stakeholders. It validated the findings of the bean
value chain assessment conducted in November 2016. WFP also produced and
printed 1,000 manuals on sustainable bean production, which will be
distributed next month to farmers and cooperatives in all target
provinces. In addition, WFP organized a field mission to present its
training programme for 2017 to key value chain stakeholders in four
eastern provinces (Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin and Las Tunas). The
programme entails strategic thematic areas such as production
technologies, management skills and cooperativism, institutional
framework and gender.
As part of the EU-funded drought resilience activities, WFP hosted a
workshop in Havana with all government counterparts at the national
level, focusing on communication tools for decision making. This process
will be replicated at the local level in February. WFP is also following
up on the drought early warning system pilot phase, which is being
implemented in 20 target municipalities from November 2016 to April
2017, under the supervision of national institutions. The objective is
to strengthen provincial drought early-warning systems in eastern Cuba,
and to include food security and nutrition vulnerability indicators in
drought risk assessments.
WFP urgently needs 0.4 m for its response to Hurricane Matthew.
The Cuban Institute of Hydraulic Resources recently stressed that
drought continues to represent a challenge to public water supply and
agricultural production in the whole country, particularly in the
Mid-Term Evaluation of the Cuba Country Programme:
The Country Office is preparing for a visit by the independent team that
is conducting a mid-term evaluation of the Cuba Country Programme. A
debriefing will be organized at the end of the mission to share the
preliminary findings with WFP and its government counterparts.
Source: WFP Cuba Country Brief, January 2017 - Cuba | ReliefWeb -
http://reliefweb.int/report/cuba/wfp-cuba-country-brief-january-2017 Continue reading
introduced in Senate
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Two farm state senators reintroduced a bill Thursday aimed at making
U.S. agricultural exports more competitive in the Cuban market by
allowing private financing of ag exports.
It was the first Cuba-related bill introduced since President Donald
Trump has been in the White House. Three Cuba-related bills were
reintroduced in the House in January before he took office.
North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and John Boozman, R-AZ, and
a bipartisan group of 12 senators reintroduced the Agricultural Export
Expansion Act, which would lift a ban on private banks and companies
offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba.
Current law requires upfront cash payments for agricultural exports to
the island, which farm state legislators say puts them at a disadvantage
when competing against exports from other countries whose exporters sell
to Cuba on credit.
"This small step would help level the playing field for American farmers
and exporters while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals,
values and products. This bill is a win-win for American farmers and the
Cuban people." said Boozman.
"Our farmers rely on exports, and exports help create more American
jobs," said Heitkamp. "Cuba is a natural market for North Dakota crops
like dry beans, peas, and lentils, and there's no good reason for us to
restrict farmers' export opportunities—which support good-paying
American jobs—by continuing this outdated policy."
Since 2001 when the first exports of agricultural and food products were
allowed under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act,
more than $5.3 billion worth of U.S. agriculture products have been sent
to the island, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
In recent years such exports have dropped off from a high of $710.1
million in 2008 to $202.1 million last year. The main U.S. products
exported in 2016 were frozen chicken, corn, and soybeans and soybean
Cuba imports about $2 billion worth of food annually.
"Being able to sell our commodities to Cuba just as easily as we sell to
other markets like Mexico and Canada would be huge, especially for
U.S.-grown rice," said Jeff Rutledge, a Newport, Ark. rice farmer and
president of the Arkansas Rice Council.
Other factors that have impacted the level of U.S. food and agricultural
sales to Cuba have been Havana's lack of foreign exchange, shifting
commodity prices, restrictions based on an avian flu outbreak in the
United States that affected poultry exports in 2015, and a Cuban
government policy that at times has rewarded companies that lobby for
the lifting of the embargo.
Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy
Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Debbie
Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner
(D-VA), Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) joined in
cosponsoring the agricultural financing bill, which was first introduced
FOLLOW MIMI WHITEFIELD ON TWITTER: @HERALDMIMI
Source: Bill introduced to allow private financing of ag exports to Cuba
| Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article130376499.html Continue reading
By Agweek Wire Report Today at 10:29 a.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and John
Boozman (R-Ark.) on Thursday reintroduced their bipartisan bill to help
American farmers and support good-paying jobs in North Dakota, Arkansas
and across the country by lifting restrictions on private financing for
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.
The biggest barrier for producers in North Dakota, Arkansas, and beyond
as they seek access to Cuba—a market with high demand for U.S. crops
like beans and rice—is a prohibition on providing private credit for
those exports. Heitkamp and Boozman first introduced their bipartisan
Agricultural Export Expansion Act in April 2015 to lift the ban on
private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to
Cuba, and to help level the playing field for exporters across the
country and support American jobs.
"Our farmers rely on exports, and exports help create more American
jobs. Any North Dakota farmer or rancher could tell you
that," said Heitkamp. "Financing restrictions are the number one barrier
facing North Dakota farmers who want to sell their crops to Cuba, and
this bill would do away with that obstacle. Cuba is a natural market for
North Dakota crops like dry beans, peas, and lentils, and there's no
good reason for us to restrict farmers' export opportunities—which
support good-paying American jobs—by continuing this outdated policy."
"It's time for Washington to enact commonsense reforms so Arkansas
farmers and agriculture producers across the country can compete fairly
for the Cuban marketplace," said Boozman. "Current law prohibits
the financing of agricultural exports to Cuba and requires cash payment
up front, essentially preventing U.S. farmers from being able to export
their products to Cuba. Lifting the ban would allow private banks and
companies to offer credit for the sale of U.S. agricultural commodities
to Cuba. This small step would help level the playing field for American
farmers and exporters while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American
ideals, values and products. This bill is a win-win for American farmers
and the Cuban people."
"North Dakota farmers rely on exports to make ends meet. This bipartisan
bill would make it easier for us to sell our top-notch black beans and
pinto beans to Cuba—a market with high demand for North Dakota
crops," said Dan Fuglesten, of Central Valley Bean Cooperative in
Buxton, N.D. "Lifting these outdated and self-imposed restrictions will
open a critical market for American farmers and support good jobs right
here in North Dakota—and it's time Congress acted. With commodity prices
what they are, we appreciate Senator Heitkamp's work to expand market
access and help American farmers."
"Being able to sell our commodities to Cuba just as easily as we sell to
other markets like Mexico and Canada would be huge, especially for
U.S.-grown rice," said Jeff Rutledge, of Newport, Ark., a rice farmer
and president of the Arkansas Rice Council. "Senator Boozman's bill
would strip away the regulatory red tape and allow us to compete in the
Cuban market just like we do everywhere else."
U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin
(D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Susan Collins
(R-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Ron Wyden
(D-Ore.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) joined in
cosponsoring the bill.
In January 2016, the previous administration loosened export
restrictions to allow companies to sell non-agricultural products to
Cuba on credit, but statutory restrictions on financing agricultural
products are still in place.
For years, Heitkamp and Boozman have pushed to improve agricultural
export opportunities to Cuba and make it easier for farmers to sell
their crops to this high-demand market. Currently, all U.S. exports to
Cuba require cash up front, while other nations around the world offer
credit to Cuban importers, in effect preventing farmers and ranchers
from being able to ship their products to Cuba. The change in U.S.-Cuba
policy would provide at least some relief from low American commodity
prices by opening new markets.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill as an
amendment to a financial services spending bill last year, as well as in
Source: Heitkamp, Boozman reintroduce bill to expand exports to Cuba |
http://www.agweek.com/policy-and-politics/4210568-heitkamp-boozman-reintroduce-bill-expand-exports-cuba Continue reading
By Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 31 2017 (IPS) - "You have to have good and varied seeds to
test which one adapts best to each kind of soil," says 71-year-old
farmer Rubén Torres, who on his farm in central Cuba harvests 1.6 tons
of organic beans every year, among other crops.
The importance that Torres places on seeds in order for the agricultural
sector to meet local demand for beans, a staple of the Cuban diet,
coincides with the assessment by researchers consulted by IPS, who
propose promoting genetic improvement and the production of other kinds
After two decades of selecting seeds, Torres produces and sells four
varieties of black beans, four kinds of red beans and one kind of white
bean. "And I have eight varieties for family consumption and for
scientific research," he told IPS.
Located in a livestock farming area on the outskirts of the city of
Santa Clara, 268 km east of Havana, Torres' plot of land is unusual in
the area because he devotes most of his 17 hectares to growing beans and
rice, which form the basis of the diet of the 11.2 million people in
this Caribbean island nation.
Baños de Marrero, as his family farm is called, also has avocado and
coconut trees and crops of maize and tomatoes. Other portions are
covered with seedbeds and garden beds badly in need of repair where
Torres produces 20 tons of ecological fertiliser from worm castings.
"When farmers go to plant they often don't have seeds. That's why I
always give some of mine to those who need them. Without quality seeds,
you can't succeed," said Torres, a participant in the Programme for
Local Agrarian Innovation (PIAL), which since 2000 has helped empower
farmers in 45 of the country's 168 municipalities.
"There is a public company that sells seeds," but in his opinion, "to
get really good ones farmers have to guarantee them themselves."
With the support of the Swiss development cooperation agency and the
coordination of the state National Institute of Agricultural Science,
PIAL started to teach family farmers in western Cuba how to obtain and
select their own seeds. It has expanded and now is promoting
participation by women and young people in farming.
"Without quality seeds, you really can't make progress in terms of
productivity," agronomist Tomás Shagarodsky told IPS about a key aspect
in raising yields in bean crops in Cuba, where there is potential for
growing many more beans.
As part of the government's agricultural reforms implemented since 2008,
incentives were put in place for the production of beans, with the aim
of boosting the surface area devoted to this crop in the different kinds
of agricultural production units: state-run farms, cooperatives, and
small private farms.
Between 2009 and 2014, the country grew on average 126,650 hectares per
year of beans, obtaining an average of 118,830 tons. In 1996, 38,000
hectares yielded 9,000 tons of beans.
Now, the Agriculture Ministry's Agro-Industrial Grains Group seeks to
increase bean production between 15 and 20 per cent a year, in order to
meet domestic demand and lower the high cost of beans in the farmers'
markets that operate according to the law of supply and demand.
"Cuba currently has extensive bean crops, but it hasn't reached its full
yield potential," said Shagarodsky.
To achieve better harvests, he said the sector must solve "structural
problems" such as shortages of resources, labour power and equipment,
and more complex issues related to climate change and water scarcity.
In that sense, Shagarodsky, an agronomist and researcher at the state
"Alejandro de Humboldt" Tropical Agriculture Research Institute
(INIFAT), pointed out a vulnerability that is rarely discussed.
"We need young professionals devoted to improving seeds," he said at
INIFAT headquarters, located in the poor outskirts of Santiago de las
Vegas, 18 km south of Havana.
"The stock of improved seeds has shrunk because the breeders who used to
do this job have retired, have died or have left," said Shagarodsky,
surrounded by the unpainted walls and deteriorated ceilings of the
INIFAT central offices. "That has to change and more attractive salaries
have to be paid," he said.
In live collections and cold chambers, INIFAT preserves the largest
quantity of genetic resources in Cuba. In its germplasm bank it keeps
3,250 of the 18,433 samples safeguarded in the entire national network
of institutions that share this mission. Legumes constitute 46 per cent
of the resources preserved by INIFAT.
The institution safeguards 1,465 varieties of pulses, including pigeon
peas (Cajanus cajan), peanuts, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, peas and
green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).
In recognition of the important work it carries out, INIFAT was chosen
in December to host the activities to end the International Year of
Pulses, as 2016 was declared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture
FAO representative in Cuba Theodor Friedrich pointed out at this event
that pulses contribute to food security in two senses: they have high
protein value and they naturally fertilise soil with nitrogen.
In addition, he said "growing pulses is the only way to add nitrogen to
the soil without resorting to fertilisers. And they have important
nutritional properties," such as zero cholesterol and gluten, and high
content of iron, zinc and other nutrients.
For these and other reasons, FAO promotes the cultivation of pulses in
the western provinces of Pinar del Río and Artemisa, in a project aimed
at strengthening local capacities to sustainably produce biofortified
basic grains adapted to climate change, including several kinds of
pulses, by 2018.
"We eat all kind of pulses, from beans to chickpeas and lentils. They
are very important for children because they fall under the category of
vegetable proteins," Misalis Cobo, who lives with her six-year-old son
in the Havana neighbourhood of Cerro, told IPS.
"We get beans from the ration card and the rest I buy in markets and
stores," said the 37-year-old self-employed worker. "I can afford these
purchases although they are expensive because they stretch a long way
for us since it's just my son and me. But large low-income families
they're expensive," she said.
Each person in Cuba receives a small monthly quota of beans at
subsidised prices through the ration card. But to feed the family for an
entire month, more beans and other pulses are needed, and must be bought
at the state and private agricultural markets, and stores that sell
Prices range from 0.5 cents of a dollar up to 1.2 dollars for half a
kilogram of pulses, in a country where the average income is 23 dollars
a month in the public sector, Cuba's biggest employer by far.
Source: Seeds Are Key to Improving Bean Production in Cuba | Inter Press
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/seeds-are-key-to-improving-bean-production-in-cuba/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 January 2017 — The hectically busy
residents of the areas bordering Havana's Malecón, on Tuesday, tried to
repair the damages left by seawater flooding over the seawall the
previous day. The strong northwestern winds associated with an extensive
extratropical low pressure over the state of South Carolina have
submerged the dreams of many families.
"It was strong and very fast, not as moderate as they said on
television. There was a lot of water flowing," says Lázaro, a resident
of Arcos Passage on 3rd Avenue and A Street in the Vedado district.
"It was not like other years because this time they did not warn us in
time and the team of people who always help with the evacuation did not
Victoria, a resident of the same street, is sweeping the sand that
reached to her doorway. At the same time last year there was something
similar in the area, "but not so intense," she says, tired of all the
hustle and bustle.
Wet mattresses, refrigerators damaged by salt and humidity, and the
lamentations of the unprepared state, are part of the scene along the
While taking a break, Victoria tells her neighbor that the water once
again reached Calzada but this year it also got as far as Linea Street.
She says that in her house "all night I couldn't sleep because of the
beating of the waves," and regrets that "they have not cleaned the
streets as they are doing in front of the Meliá Cohiba hotel."
The floods went from moderate to strong in a few hours on the north
coast, including the Havana Malecon, taking many unawares. Just after
four in the afternoon one could see cars drifting on the water, and the
sewers were black holes where the currents swirled.
On A and B Streets water penetrated more than four blocks into the
city. Several warehouses, like the one at 3rd and C, lost part of
their merchandise because the workers did not have time to raise up all
the sacks of rice, sugar or beans.
One family has lost everything because their house was a garage turned
into a home because of the deficit of housing. "We didn't see it coming
and by the time we realized, everything was underwater," was all that
the woman managed to repeat, as she rescued swollen chairs from a
mixture of seawater, mud and garbage.
In front of the Labiofam offices at 1st and B, cars "had all four tires
in the air," explains Ramiro, a resident, while pumping out the water
that entered his garage. The man, who lives in the 110 building behind
the Presidente Hotel, complains that those in charge of decontaminating
the water tanks are "delayed" and in similar situations "they let some
three days go by to force the residents to solve the problems on our own."
In many private businesses the employees were busy from the early hours
of the morning cleaning, getting the water out, and trying to save what
wasn't washed away with the current, while repairing the damage.
A group of people who had approached the seawall to enjoy the waves
breaking over it were alerted by the whistles of police officers who
guarded each block; the law enforcement officials explained to the
reckless that it is very dangerous because "a stone can fly up and hit you."
As reported by the Forecast Center of the Institute of Meteorology,
coastal flooding began to decrease "gradually" from this morning, but in
the early hours of the afternoon there were still heavy tidal waves.
Source: Taking Stock of the Flood Damage in Havana / 14ymedio –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/taking-stock-of-the-flood-damage-in-havana-14ymedio/ Continue reading
MANUEL ALEJANDRO LEÓN VELÁZQUEZ | Guantánamo | 7 de Enero de 2017 -
Three months after Hurricane Matthew hit, the inhabitants of Baracoa and
Maisí are complaining about the Government's sluggish response to aid
those who lost everything, and criticizing the still-strong military
presence in the affected areas.
"All this is controlled by special troops, 'black berets' and 'red
berets.' The situation has been like this since the passage of Matthew,
and in recent days some 300 or more of them showed up to relieve those
who are here," explained Wilder Frómeta Romero, who lives in Balatrera,
"They control the lines to buy building materials and other things. They
go around armed with batons, tear gas, and pistols. People are scared."
Oversight at locations selling materials for the repair of homes is
meant to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.
"It's where there are the most dissatisfied people, because they give
the materials to people who aren't supposed to get them, there are long
delays in the allocations, and, moreover, they don't give people what
they really need," said Frómeta Romero. The military "is trying to avert
a protest," he said.
He explained that at the end of the year the authorities "slashed the
prices" of some items "and the streets were packed."
"Several people, mostly youths, got into fights, and the 'black berets'
went up there, I think to prove their supremacy to the people," he said.
Frómeta Romero's wife complained that many basic necessities, like
"rice, peas, soap, toothpaste and sugar, are expensive."
"The prices of agricultural products, such as vegetables and meats, are
sky high. Chicken abounds, but at the TRD (stores), where you cannot go,
due to the lines, and, in my case, my fear of military dogs," said the
"They said they were going to give rice and beans free of charge for six
months, and since the Hurricane they have only given out these products
free once, and that was during the month of the tragedy. What they have
you done with that, I do not know," she complained.
Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz, a dissident leaving in Jamal, said that
in the town "they've installed security cameras everywhere."
The authorities put "a checkpoint in Yumurí and another on the Toa
Bridge. The soldiers have taken over Baracoa in such a way that some
don't even want to go outside, they're so scared," said Manzanet Ortiz.
"The reinforcements are brought in Jeeps, and guarded by patrols, with
their sirens blaring, so that everyone knows that more guards have been
sent. A few days ago they got into it with some kids, and, with what
those black berets know about personal defense, imagine how they ended
up," he added.
Manzanet Ortiz complained that "the repression against dissidents has
increased" because "people come to us to report the injustices that are
"When we try to leave the town they stop and inspect us to see if we
have any recorded information or images on us. They take our USB drives,
cameras, phones, everything that they believe serves to conduct
independent journalism," said the dissident.
In Maisí, one resident affected by the hurricane, who asked not to be
identified, said the situation there "is similar to that in Baracoa."
"The authorities claim that it is 80% recovered, but the truth is that
most of us are living in 'temporary' shelters made out of cardboard
sheets and tar to craft walls and roofs sheltering us from the rain,"
said the woman, a resident in the town of El Veril.
"I myself have begun spending time in an office they want to get me out
of," she said.
"They are leaving for last those of us whose houses were razed by the
hurricane, and giving priority to those who suffered partial damage;
according to the State, to build us a complete house," she said. But
"I'm not going to leave (the office) until I see what happens, because
with them you never know."
A young man from Los Llanos, who, like his neighbor in El Veril,
preferred not to reveal his name, said that the town is also "militarily
"Since Matthew swept through that place, the special troops have not
left," said the youth.
"No one has ever seen so many soldiers here. I can even understand that
they have mobilized those doing their Military Service as a labor force
for the recovery process, but the only thing the special troops do is
sow fear among the peasants," he said.
Source: 'Special Troops, batons, guns and dogs' to control the people in
Guantánamo | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/cuba/1483748301_27940.html Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 24 November 2016 — Two trucks with trailers, full of
reddish-brown earth, park in a narrow street, next to the agricultural
market in Mónaco, a neighbourhood thirty minutes from the centre of Havana.
Four men with teeshirts and dirty overalls lug sacks of yucas and sweet
potatoes, and boxes of tomatoes to a store with a door made of metal
bars. A chap with an enormous stomach cups his hands to his mouth and
shouts "Get your yucas here! A peso a pound. Three-cane tomatoes,
In a few minutes, in the hot sun, a queue was formed of twenty or thirty
people, each with their own basket. A few yards away from the
agricultural market, in a state market, there is an even longer queue,
to buy pork.
Rubén, a retired chap, joined the queue at five in the morning. And by
mid-day, "I still haven't bought two legs of pork, one for the 24th and
the other for December 31st. It's because pork is cheaper in
the government markets. They sell loin of pork at 21 (Cuban) pesos a
pound, and it's 25 pesos in the private ones."
You can hear murmuring and complaints. The legs have an odd colour. A
lady said, "They don't look like pork. It's because they keep it for so
many months in the fridge that the meat gets a strange colour. They say
when you eat it, it tastes like fish or game. Maybe it isn't even pork.
You never know with those people (the government). They sell coffee
thickened with chickpeas, cigarettes sold in Cuban pesos with bits of
wood in them."
But it's the cheapest option for Cubans who have coffee without milk and
bread without butter for breakfast. Diana, a housewife, is optimistic.
"At least tomatoes were much cheaper this year, 3 pesos a pound. Last
year at this time they were going for 25 baros (one of many terms for
Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC))" she recalls, and adds:
"Cubans are born to work. Three days before New Year's Eve, many
families have not yet bought their pork. And not very many can buy
nougat. Look at those prices", she adds, indicating a selection
of nougats displayed in the counter of a foreign currency shop.
Prices may be cheaper than in Miami. Jijona soft nougat costs the
equivalent of four dollars. Ones with fruit, nuts, almonds or chocolate,
around five dollars. "Yes, but in 'Mayami' people get eight dollars an
hour, while in Cuba, people earn 20 dollars a month. And the average
pension is 12 CUC. There's no comparison", replies a man waiting
angrily in the government market queue.
Let's take the Rodriguez family as a microcosm. Six people live in a
two-bedroom apartment in La Víbora. "My wife, daughter and I sleep in
one bedroom. My in-laws and our son sleep in the other one," says
Rodriguez. His wife and he are professionals and together earn the
equivalent of 2,500 Cuban pesos, if you add in the 25 CUC she is paid as
a salary incentive.
"My parents' pension is 570 Cuban pesos. We have a total of 3,070 Cuban
pesos coming into the house, which converts to 125 CUC" (about the same
in dollars), notes Mrs Rodriguez, as she goes over their expenses once
more. "Ninety per cent of the money goes on food. The rest on
electricity, telephone and other services. Buying clothes, going
anywhere or celebrating Christmas means inventing stuff."
All Cubans know what "inventing" means. Pinching things from where they
work, or running a business on the side which provides some extra cash.
Christmas Eve dinner at the Rodriguez house will include a leg of pork,
four fricasseed turkey thighs, rice, black beans, lettuce, cabbage and
tomato salad, yuca with mojo sauce, Jijona nougat, cut into twelve
pieces, two for each one of the six family members.
The kids drink pop and the adults half a dozen canned Cristal beers and
a bottle of red wine. As well as the nougat, the dessert also includes
doughnuts prepared by grandma. "We eat and drink the same at New Year's,
except that, instead of red wine, we drink rum. The cost of the dinners
for the 24th and 31st of December adds up to around 120 or 130 CUC,
which is about the same as what we both earn in a month. Cuba is a crazy
country, don't you think?" asks Sr. Rodríguez.
Quite a lot of Cubans don't celebrate Christmas. Not because of Fidel
Castro's death, but because they can't afford to. "If all the butcher
has is chicken, because fish is hard to come by, I get annoyed and buy
two boxes of cheap Planchao rum to celebrate Christmas Eve. Right now, I
don't have any plans for parties," says René, a construction worker.
But a small minority, between 7 and 10 per cent of the population, have
enough cash. Augusto, a musician, has already bought a frozen turkey for
60 CUC, six different nougats, three crates of beer, and six bottles of
mature rum. For the 31st, he plans to buy El Gaitero cider and some
bunches of grapes (traditionally eaten at New Year's). And he has put up
an enormous Christmas tree in his living room, covered in balls and lights.
Mario, an independent furniture designer, is planning to spend 60 CUC a
head for his wife and himself on 24th December at Meliá Habana, a hotel
in Miramar, which also offers lunch at 25-27 CUC for adults and 15 CUC
for children up to 12 years old, and evening meals on the 31st for 145
CUC for adults and 55 for children up to 12.
The generals, ministers and government officials with sufficient
seniority receive a basket with a turkey, fruit, bottles of rum and
wines, nougats and other delicacies. Even during the hard times, when
Fidel Castro prohibited parties at Christmas and Three Kings Day, the
olive green middle class never failed to celebrate Christmas Eve.
"The first time I saw so much food was in the house of Enrique Lusson,
who was then Minister of Transport. There were tables overflowing with
meat, seafood and drink", recalls a MININT (Ministry of the Interior)
The story of having to scrimp and save is about the other people, the
ones lower down. The higher-ups are different. Their lives are hardly
affected by the rules. Although, maybe, this 31st December, they will
see in 2017 with moderation, since they should show discreet mourning
for the death of their commander-in-chief.
Photo: A typical Cuban Christmas Eve meal for 24th December, is some
variation on pork, whether it's roast, as in the picture, or a suckling
pig, and fritters.
Translated by GH
Source: Cuba: Christmas for Rich People and for Poor People / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-christmas-for-rich-people-and-for-poor-people-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
By AZAM AHMEDDEC. 8, 2016
HAVANA — For Lisset Felipe, privation is a standard facet of Cuban life,
a struggle shared by nearly all, whether they're enduring blackouts or
hunting for toilet paper.
But this year has been different, in an even more fundamental way, she
said. She has not bought a single onion this year, nor a green pepper,
both staples of the Cuban diet. Garlic, she said, is a rarity, while
avocado, a treat she enjoyed once in a while, is all but absent from her
"It's a disaster," said Ms. Felipe, 42, who sells air-conditioners for
the government. "We never lived luxuriously, but the comfort we once had
doesn't exist anymore."
The changes in Cuba in recent years have often hinted at a new era of
possibilities: a slowly opening economy, warming relations with the
United States after decades of isolation, a flood of tourists meant to
lift the fortunes of Cubans long marooned on the outskirts of modern
But the record arrival of nearly 3.5 million visitors to Cuba last year
has caused a surging demand for food, causing ripple effects that are
upsetting the very promise of Fidel Castro's Cuba.
Tourists are quite literally eating Cuba's lunch. Thanks in part to the
United States embargo, but also to poor planning by the island's
government, goods that Cubans have long relied on are going to
well-heeled tourists and the hundreds of private restaurants that cater
to them, leading to soaring prices and empty shelves.
Without supplies to match the increased appetite, some foods have become
so expensive that even basic staples are becoming unaffordable for
"The private tourism industry is in direct competition for good supplies
with the general population," said Richard Feinberg, a professor at the
University of California, San Diego, and specialist on the Cuban
economy. "There are a lot of unanticipated consequences and distortions."
There has long been a divide between Cubans and tourists, with beach
resorts and Havana hotels effectively reserved for outsiders willing to
shell out money for a more comfortable version of Cuba. But with the
country pinning its hopes on tourism, welcoming a surge of new travelers
to feed the anemic economy, a more basic inequality has emerged amid the
nation's experiment with capitalism.
Rising prices for staples like onions and peppers, or for modest
luxuries like pineapples and limes, have left many unable to afford
them. Beer and soda can be hard to find, often snapped up in bulk by
It is a startling evolution in Cuba, where a shared future has been a
pillar of the revolution's promise. While the influx of new money from
tourists and other visitors has been a boon for the island's growing
private sector, most Cubans still work within the state-run economy and
struggle to make ends meet.
President Raúl Castro has acknowledged the surge in agricultural prices
and moved to cap them. In a speech in April, he said the government
would look into the causes of the soaring costs and crack down on
middlemen for price gouging, with limits on what people could charge for
certain fruits and vegetables.
"We cannot sit with our hands crossed before the unscrupulous manner of
middlemen who only think of earning more," he told party members,
according to local news reports.
But the government price ceilings seem to have done little to provide
good, affordable produce for Cubans. Instead, they have simply moved
goods to the commercial market, where farmers and vendors can fetch
higher prices, or to the black market.
Havana offers stark examples of this growing chasm.
At two state-run markets, where the government sets prices, the shelves
this past week were monuments to starch — sweet potatoes, yucca, rice,
beans and bananas, plus a few malformed watermelons with pallid flesh.
As for tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic or lettuce —
to say nothing of avocados, pineapples or cilantro — there were only
"Try back Saturday for tomatoes," one vendor offered. It was more of
question than a suggestion.
But at a nearby co-op market, where vendors have more freedom to set
their prices, the fruits and vegetables missing from the state-run
stalls were elegantly stacked in abundance. Rarities like grapes,
celery, ginger and an array of spices competed for shoppers' attentions.
The market has become the playground of the private restaurants that
have sprung up to serve visitors. They employ cadres of buyers to scour
the city each day for fruits, vegetables and nonperishable goods,
bearing budgets that overwhelm those of the average household.
"Almost all of our buyers are paladares," said one vendor, Ruben
Martínez, using the Cuban name for private restaurants, which include
about 1,700 establishments across the country. "They are the ones who
can afford to pay more for the quality."
By Cuban standards, the prices were astronomic. Several Cuban residents
said simply buying a pound of onions and a pound of tomatoes at the
prices charged that day would consume 10 percent or so of a standard
government salary of about $25 a month.
"I don't even bother going to those places," said Yainelys Rodriguez,
39, sitting in a park in Havana while her daughter climbed a slide. "We
eat rice and beans and a boiled egg most days, maybe a little pork."
Mrs. Rodriguez's family is on the lower end of the income ladder, so she
supplements earnings with the odd cleaning job she can find. With that,
she cares for her two children and an infirm mother.
Trying to buy tomatoes, she said, "is an insult."
Another mother, Leticia Alvarez Cañada, described what it was like to
prepare decent meals for her family with prices so high. "We have to be
magicians," she said.
The struggle is somewhat easier now that she is in the private sector
and no longer working for the government, she said. She quit her job as
a nurse to start a small business selling fried pork skin and other
snacks from a cart. Now she earns about 10 times more every month.
"The prices have just gone crazy in the last few years," said Mrs.
Cañada, 41. "There's just no equilibrium between the prices and the
While many Cubans have long been hardened to the reality of going
without, never more than during what they call the "Special Period"
after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new dynamic that has emerged
in recent months threatens the nation's future, experts warn.
"The government has consistently failed to invest properly in the
agriculture sector," said Juan Alejandro Triana, an economist at the
University of Havana. "We don't just have to feed 11 million people
anymore. We have to feed more than 14 million."
"In the next five years, if we don't do something about it, food will
become a national security issue here," he added.
The government gives Cubans ration books to help provide staples like
rice, beans and sugar, but they do not cover items like fresh produce.
Tractors and trucks are limited and routinely break down, often causing
the produce to spoil en route. Inefficiency, red tape and corruption at
the local level also stymie productivity, while a lack of fertilizer
reduces yield (though it keeps produce organic, by default).
Economists also argue that setting price ceilings can discourage farmers
and sellers. If prices are set so low they cannot turn a profit, they
argue, why bother working? Most will try to redirect their goods to the
private or black market.
"From the point of view of the farmer, what would you do?" asked Dr.
Feinberg, the California professor. "When the differentials are that
great, it requires a really selfless or foolish person to play by the
Paladares sometimes go directly to farms to buy goods, and even provide
farmers seeds for specialty products that do not ordinarily grow in
Cuba, like arugula, cherry tomatoes and zucchini.
Most acknowledge that they distort the market in some ways, and this
year the government stopped issuing licenses for new restaurants in
Havana. But some restaurant owners argue that it is the government's
responsibility to create better supply.
"It's true, the prices keep going up and up," said Laura Fernandez, a
manager at El Cocinero, a former peanut-oil factory converted into a
high-priced restaurant. "But that's not just the fault of the private
sector. There is generally a lot of chaos and disorder in the market."
On the outskirts of Havana, Miguel Salcines has cultivated a beautiful
farm. Rows of tidy crops stretch toward the edge of his modest 25 acres,
where he employs about 130 people.
Though he grows standard products on behalf of the government, there is
no product he is more excited about than his new zucchini. A farmer for
nearly 50 years, he had never grown the crop before, but planted a batch
two months ago.
Now, the vegetables are coming into shape, the spots of bright orange
flowers visible amid the green plumage. He knows this crop is not for
the regular market, or for the government. It is like the arugula he grows.
It is for the tourist market and, by extension, the future.
"We are talking about an elite market," he said. "The Cuban markets are
a market of necessity."
Hannah Berkeley Cohen and Kirk Semple contributed reporting from Havana,
and Frances Robles from Miami.
Source: Cuba's Surge in Tourism Keeps Food Off Residents' Plates - The
New York Times -
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/world/americas/cuba-fidel-castro-food-tourism.html?_r=0 Continue reading
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 24 November 2016 — The seller doesn't
even need to advertise his wares. He just stands at a corner with
several strings of onions and buyers crowd around him. Six months after
the imposition of price caps for more than twenty farm products,
shortages and the high cost of food continue to mark Cubans' daily lives.
The measure, approved in May of this year, for state markets and those
managed by cooperatives, regulates the prices of 23 products, to avoid
"the enrichment of intermediaries." In practice, however, this
government decision had not managed to curb rising prices, which are
expected to reach historic highs by the end of the year.
At the intersection of 19th and B Streets, in the Vedado neighborhood,
one market has earned the epithet of "the rich people's market." Some
also call it "the museum," because it's "look but don't touch," due to
its high prices. The place has a variety of products far beyond the
average offered by markets across the island.
The capped process still have not yet reached these kinds of markets,
where private producers sell their merchandise. A pound of boneless pork
has varied between 40 and 50 Cuban pesos for months, two days' salary
for an engineer. "We sell the meat here depending on how it comes to
us," explains Yulian Sanchez, the market's administrator.
Opinions among customers are divided on the government's measure.
"There's no one here who eats beef or even cracklings," an old woman
complained this Tuesday at 19th and B, while looking for oregano to cook
some beans. "These prices are unthinkable for people," she said,
expressing her support for price caps on all the markets of this type.
Other customers fear a possible extension of price regulations. "What
will happen is that the best things will disappear," says Roberto, a
self-employed workers who regularly buys fruit at 19th and B. "The
minute they capped prices, onion disappeared," he said.
Among the foods with regular prices are also beans, taro, cassava,
bananas, yucca, sweet potatoes, lettuce and pumpkin. In markets where
price controls are already in place, products cannot be sold for more
than the prices established in a resolution of the Ministry of Finance
An army of inspectors verifies that the stands display the regulated
prices and apply fines to offenders that can range from 100 to 700 Cuban
A few yards from Havana's Capitol building, the Egido street market
still displays prices based on supply and demand. Four tomatoes can cost
50 Cuban pesos, a third of the monthly pension of Oscar Villanueva, a
retired construction worker looking over the market stalls on Tuesday.
"With Christmas and New Years it is normal to raise prices, but since
these are already quite high, we have to prepare for the worst," he says.
Anxiety in anticipation of these holidays is apparent among the stands
of the central market. The government has informed the sellers that as
of this coming January there will be a system of price regulation for
"This is the only place where you can find a variety of fruit. If they
cap the prices it will be like the others," says Villanueva.
The quality of the products at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market at 17th
and K, run by the Armed Forces, is very different from "the rich
people's market," a distant relative of the Egido Street market.
Many consumers agree that price caps are often at odds with the quality
of products. "The fruits they sell are always green and the root
vegetables are covered with dirt," says a regular customer of the market
in Vedado. The woman recognizes, however, that the prices in other
markets "can't go on like this, because soon we'll need a wheelbarrow
full of money to buy food for a week."
"Now they have one-thousand peso notes to fix that problem," a nearby
vendor jokes with the woman.
The hopes of many are pinned on the reopening of El Trigal market in
January, the only agricultural wholesale market in al of Havana, which
in the middle of this year was closed for "irregularities" in its
operation. But it is still unknown if the government will maintain the
price caps, sustain supplies in the market stalls, and improve the
quality of the offerings.
Source: Food Prices Rise Despite Price Caps / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/food-prices-rise-despite-price-caps-14ymedio-zunilda-mata/ Continue reading
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Matthew's winds had scarcely subsided in eastern Cuba Wednesday when
Msgr. Wilfredo Pino Estévez, bishop of the Diocese of
Guantánamo-Baracoa, set off at 5 a.m. to see what the hurricane had
wrought on Cuba's northern coast.
Representatives of Caritas Guantánamo, a Catholic charitable
organization, accompanied him, but they could only make it about halfway
to Baracoa because of the muddy, impassable roads. The bishop continued
on in a Jeep over a mountainous road where Matthew's heavy rain had
loosened mudslides before reaching the city of about 82,000 residents.
Father José Espino, left, pastor of San Lazaro Catholic Church in
Hialeah, is a liaison for Caritas Cuba, a Catholic charitable
organization. He's shown at an Archdiocese of Miami news conference with
Father Reginald Jean-Marie, pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti in the
background. C.M. GUERRERIO firstname.lastname@example.org
The journey took him 16 hours — even though a trip between the city of
Guantánamo and Baracoa usually takes about two hours and 15 minutes.
What he found in Baracoa, where Matthew's eye exited Cuba early
Wednesday, was a city with ruined roads, a damaged communications
system, and neighborhoods up to three blocks away from the sea reduced
to rubble by storm surges and high winds.
The devastation along Cuba's eastern tip prompted the Catholic Church to
issue an immediate call for aid to help Cuba recover from Matthew's
"Right now we're trying to negotiate a point of entry for aid," Father
José Espino, of San Lazaro Church in Hialeah, said Friday at an
Archdiocese of Miami news conference. He was in touch with Pino by phone
Friday morning when the bishop returned from Baracoa. Both the airport
and port in Baracoa were damaged. The seaport at Santiago, which wasn't
damaged during the storm, is the nearest major port.
The Archdiocese of Miami is asking for money and food donations, as well
as offers to transport goods by air or sea, for hurricane victims in
both Cuba and Haiti. The most immediate needs are canned goods,
especially proteins, and rice and beans — preferably on pallets and
ready to go, Espino said.
"Crops have been affected [by Matthew], and food is critical," he said.
In Cuba's Caujerí Valley, 448,000 banana plants and eight million tomato
seedlings were damaged.
Contributions can be made through the Miami Catholic Charities website
by clicking on the "you are supporting" option and selecting Disaster
The archdiocese is also asking its Miami pastors to hold a special
collection this weekend during all Masses to aid those affected by
Matthew in the Caribbean and the United States.
Mirta Kaulard, resident coordinator of the United Nations Development
Program in Cuba, said the U.N. also is coordinating with the Cuban
government to offer humanitarian aid.
On Thursday, helicopters carrying Cuban authorities and journalists
arrived in some of the towns that had been cut off by impassable roads
and downed communications systems since the hurricane passed through
Aerial images from Maisí showed that the majority of homes had lost
their roofs, and those from Baracoa showed flooded areas, destroyed
homes and fallen trees. Entry to Baracoa is limited by mudslides along
La Farola highway, a ravaged coastline and a partially collapsed bridge
over the Toa River.
"When we saw the helicopters, it filled out hearts with joy because it
was a sign aid was arriving. We hope that they give us every
assistance," a woman in Baracoa told Cuban television.
Some residents of Maisí put up a Cuban flag amidst the rubble. They told
the Guantánamo newspaper Venceremos that they raised the flag because
they were revolutionaries and wanted authorities to know they were there
and needed help.
Despite heavy damages, so far there have been no reports of
storm-related deaths in Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of residents of
eastern Cuba were evacuated to storm shelters or sought refuge with
family and friends. The Civil Defense system even evacuated some
residents of Maisí to caves in the nearby mountains where they sought
shelter for three days.
"Thanks to this we are alive, because when we returned to our homes,
they were half full of water, and all of them, except mine, had no
roofs," Julio César Romero told a reporter from the Juventud Rebelde
Maisí, Imías and Baracoa remained without power and telephone service at
midday Friday. Government efforts focused on restoring fiberoptic cable
service to the communities. About 112,000 residents of Guantánamo
remained without running water.
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gámez Torres contributed to this report.
Source: Residents of hurricane-ravaged eastern Cuba say they need help |
In Cuba Today - http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article106789277.html Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 September 2016 – At the dining room
table the grandparents are playing with their two granddaughters. They
ask them what they would ask the genie for if they happened to stumble
on a magic lamp in the corner. "I want a plate full of chicken and
French fries," the littlest one said immediately, while the older said
she wanted it to rain candy. Their second wish included ice cream by the
ton and the third wish concentrated on endless cheeseburgers.
National television broadcasts a report about a popular camping site
that has been renovated and reopened to the public this summer. One
customer smiles at the camera and says, "The food is good." The
administrator of the recreation spot enumerates the dining options and
promises that culinary offerings "suited to all pocketbooks and well
prepared" await whose who book one of the cabins scattered in the
Education Minister Ena Elsa Velázquez, calls for moral and material
respect for teachers to avoid the exodus that profession is suffering as
teachers quit for other—more lucrative—jobs in other areas. The official
recommended holding agricultural fairs next to school buildings, with
sales of pork and produce, so the educators can buy food after work.
An opponent of the Castros visiting a market in Miami recorded a video
in which he says the only way his compatriots would be willing to
"overthrow the dictatorship" would be if they were promised that the
shelves would then be full of the same variety of beers on offer in
Miami. The well-known dissident lists the prices, the quantity of food
available in pounds and the high quality of the products that star in
A nouveau riche couple books two nights all-inclusive at a Varadero
hotel. They manage to polish off a lunch with two pork steaks each, a
serving of fried beef, several helpings of rice and beans, along with a
pile of succulent shrimp and lobster. Returning home they fail to
describe a single example of the scenery they admired during their trip.
When was it that we Cubans came to be ruled by our stomachs? At what
moment were we conquered by a mouth that swallows and a brain that
thinks only of food? Can our dreams and desires be reduced to filling
our bellies, whetting our appetites and cleaning our plates?
Unfortunately, yes. Decades of shortages and economic hardships have
brought us to a plane of survival where food is the center, obsession
and goal of millions of people who inhabit this island. That obfuscation
often does not allow us to see beyond, because "with an empty belly, who
will think about politics," as any materialistic philosopher would say.
The problem is that "hungry once, always hungry." When a tongue of flame
rises into the esophagus, when a few grains of rice are at the center of
wet dreams and some crumbs of bread are the be-all and end-all, it is
immoral to talk about something beyond whetting the appetite.
We have been condemned, as a people, to mastication, gastric juices and
digestion. In the process we have lost what makes us human and become
creatures of the feedlot, more focused on the dinner bell than on our
rights of free association or expression.
We are like Pavlov's dog, whoever brings us a plate of food will make us
react and salivate. How sad!
Source: Thinking With Our Stomachs / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/thinking-with-our-stomachs-14ymedio-yoani-sanchez/ Continue reading
BY CARLOS FRÍAS
If you live in Miami, you've probably had Cuban coffee — but have you
had coffee from Cuba?
Starting today, you can. Nespresso has begun selling a limited supply of
coffee sourced from Cuba for its OriginalLine of Nespresso home coffee
makers. The Nespresso capsules, dubbed Cafecito de Cuba, are filled with
Cuban Arabica beans harvested by small farms in the Granma and Santiago
de Cuba regions of Cuba, the company said. Nespresso purchased the
beans, then roasted and packaged them in Europe, according to a
"Cuba is known for producing some of the greatest Arabica coffee in the
world," a Nespresso representative wrote to the Miami Herald. "With
fertile soil and ideal climate conditions, the country offers an
excellent coffee growing environment."
That Cuba can now essentially sell coffee to the United States is thanks
to the evolving relations between the two countries. The U.S. State
Department added coffee to the list of goods America can now import from
Cuba. Nespresso importers based in Europe wasted no time in purchasing
and packaging the coffee, though it will be offered only in small
batches as farms in Cuba ramp up production, the company said.
The first batch of Cafecito de Cuba is expected to sell out quickly.
Another batch is expected to be released in late September, the company
said. Cafecito de Cuba is available at the Nespresso website.
Nespresso said it hopes to work with the small farms to ensure that they
are producing the coffee in "environmentally sustainable" ways that
"benefit the farmers themselves and their communities."
"Nespresso is thrilled to be the first to bring this rare coffee to the
U.S.," Nespresso told the Herald. "Ultimately, we want consumers in the
U.S. to experience this incredible coffee and to enjoy it now and for
years to come."
Source: Nespresso begins selling capsules of Arrabica coffee grown in
Cuba | In Cuba Today - http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article96193092.html Continue reading
By Jonathan Kauffman August 15, 2016 Updated: August 15, 2016 12:00pm
Shona Baum had lived in San Francisco for 20 years. Paver Core Broche
had left Cuba with the intention of never returning. Yet, a few years
ago, the San Francisco couple decided that new laws allowing Cubans to
own their own businesses offered them a rare opportunity, and they moved
to Havana. In May 2015, the couple, along with Paver's brother Ibrham,
opened California Cafe, a restaurant in the Vedado neighborhood. With a
casual-boho vibe and a bar that looks over the Malecon, Havana's
picturesque esplanade, the cafe has become a destination for tourists
and Cubans alike. The Chronicle recently interviewed Baum about the
restaurant while the couple vacationed in San Francisco.
Q: How did you decide to open a restaurant in Cuba?
A: Our idea was to bring California-style dining to Havana. We basically
designed the cafe around what we wished we could have (had) when we were
going down to visit. Everything's local and sustainable — everything
that's important to European and American people who go down there now.
Q: What does it take to operate a private restaurant in Cuba?
A: You get a license from the state. That's not as complicated as it is
here, from what I hear. A lot of the (problems) we have to deal with are
food shortages, so we focus on a menu that's composed of items that are
always available. Food is very expensive. Probably more than 50 percent
of our money goes back into buying more food. It's a very tough
environment. We look at ourselves as pioneers.
The other thing I should mention is that we employ all Cubans. For them,
it's a big deal to have a regular income. There, it's traditional to
have shifts that are 20 hours long. We have two shifts, and we pay
people a reasonable wage for each shift.
Q: Are you serving Cuban standards or California-style dishes?
A: We serve some California-style dishes. We had a friend living in Cuba
for six months who is a vegetarian and helped us make a vegetarian
burger and a couple of vegetarian entrees. That has become sort of our
niche, because there are very few vegetarian restaurants there. We also
do fish tacos, which are a big California thing, though they're also
Mexican. We do hummus.
Then we do traditional Cuban food, again focusing on fresh, local foods.
We don't want to have just tourists, so we see ourselves as a bridge for
the emerging Cuban middle class. There are young people who are
vegetarians now, or who have different ideas about what they want to
eat, so we're giving them different ways of experiencing cuisines.
The economy is not good, but when Cubans go out for a birthday or
anniversary, they go out and party. There are a lot of Cubans in Havana
who are starved for things that are different. They're excited about
being in a place where the service is better, so we do a lot of training
of our waitstaff in terms of how to provide American-style service.
Q: I've heard over the years that Cuba farms organically. How does
farm-to-table work there?
A: It's funny, because there's only farm-to-table there. Everything is
inherently local and organic, except for the chicken. They import it.
Q: What's the most exciting thing about food in Cuba?
A: People generally go to Cuba and come back saying, "The food is
horrible!" Since there's no advertising, the only places that get
promoted and are easy to get to are the state-run places. Cuban cuisine
is really delicious but plain — no spices, all natural flavors. I don't
think it's conducive to a large restaurant trying to serve 100 people
pork loins and the way Cubans cook rice and beans.
It's exciting, though, that the actual products and what you can cook
with them, if you do it right, (the food) comes out amazing.
Maybe because Cuba is an island, anything that's packaged or imported is
very exciting. My brother-in-law does the shopping, and one day he came
to me and said, "Shona, look what we've got!" He brought me to the car,
where he had a box of prepackaged butter packets imported from Europe.
We already have a girl who comes from the country and brings us fresh
milk, fresh butter and homemade yogurt every day. (So to my
brother-in-law), I was like, "Why did you buy that?"
We're introducing to Cuba the concept that what they have is really great.
California Cafe: Calle 19 (between N and O, near the Hotel Nacional),
Jonathan Kauffman is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:
email@example.com Twitter: @jonkauffman
Source: Meet the San Franciscans who opened a restaurant in Cuba - San
Francisco Chronicle -
http://www.sfchronicle.com/restaurants/article/Meet-the-San-Franciscans-who-opened-a-restaurant-9143666.php Continue reading
July 22, 2016
By Pilar Montes
HAVANA TIMES — It's a well known fact that there are declarations for
the grandstands, rigid and resounding, while others are different,
they're more flexible and can be negotiated, which are normally dealt
with by a smaller circle of people.
In May, the US government put forward a proposal to buy Cuban coffee, as
long as it came from independent producers which, of course, Havana
angrily and definitively rejected, since only the State is allowed to
However, in July, everything seems to have worked itself out.
On July 14th, reports were published by the US-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council, Inc., an organization based in New York, which confirmed that
US customers would be able savor a "Cafecito de Cuba" this autumn,
offered by a Swiss company that both countries already know very well,
By way of their subsidiary in the US, Nespresso USA, Inc., the Nestle
group took out an ad on June 26 in the New York Times (on the back cover
of the first section of the newspaper), announcing they were offering US
customers their new Cuban Nespresso Grand Cru Cafecito de Cuba.
The ad cost the Nestle group US $175,110 so it could reach over a
Nestle Nespresso bought a container of approximately 18 tons of Cuban
coffee beans, which were certified as coming from the 2015-2016 coffee
harvest in Cuba, for US $90,000.
After roasting the beans and processing, coffee loses 20% of its volume,
leading to the production of 180,000 packets for every ton of this
Cafecito de Cuba limited edition, which will bring in approximately
$3,564,000 in revenue for the corporation.
In order to carry out the transaction between Nespresso USA and the US
Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the latter accepted letters
from Cuba's Ministry of Agriculture, Nestle Nespresso USA, Cuban
companies based in London, Cubana Coffee and Roastery and Cuba Mountain
Coffee Company Ltd. certifying that all of the coffee purchased had been
produced by independent farmers in Cuba.
In this way, demands from both parties were met and a precedent was
established that will surely lead to future negotiations.
In conclusions made from this deal, the US-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council values the fact that the Obama administration is focussing on
creating trade opportunities rather than directly or immediately
influencing this activity with Cuba's independent farmers.
This focus is founded on the belief that in the last 190 days of Obama's
presidency, a bilateral trade agreement is on the horizon, even when it
isn't the kind of involvement for State companies that the Cuban
government and its institutions want, may be seen as preferable than not
having one at all.
The Economic Council said that June 26, 2016 will go down in history as
the day that the Republic of Cuba returned to the map not only as a
tourist destination but as the origin of consumer products too.
In the current climate, many US company could benefit from the words
"Made in Cuba" to add value to their products on the market, which is
backed up by Nestle Nespresso USA, Inc.
With the embargo still in place, the coffee deal is the second operation
authorized by OFAC since the diplomatic relations were restored between
the US and Cuba in July 2015. The first contract to be authorized was
that of Alabama's Cleber firm to assemble small tractors in facilities
located in the Mariel Special Development Zone, in the western province
What does this coffee trade agreement represent?
None of the two governments involved have officially recognized this
three party deal Cuba-Nestle-USA, possibly because Congress would
strongly oppose any attempt to dissemble the trade embargo's legal
framework, and secondly, the Cuban government won't want to go back on
their statements made against the condition imposed by the US to buy
coffee only from private producers.
Nestle is now getting ready to sell in the USA, candy, ice cream, drinks
and other consumer products made in Cuba.
This Swiss food group, with offices in Havana, has a business
relationship with the island that dates back several decades. Since the
'90s, Nestle has been involved with other state-run companies in order
to develop the candy industry, has invested in producing bottled mineral
water (Ciego Montero) and other soft drinks. In 2014, Nestle Nespresso
presented a limited edition coffee range named Cubania, which was
inspired by the passion and intensity of the Cuban coffee ritual;
however it wasn't made with coffee grown in Cuba.
The Cuban government has preferred not to get involved with companies
who have business relations with the US. However, the Obama
administration authorized one company of European origin based in the US
to take on the task of directly importing Cuban agricultural products
(until now it's just been coffee).
This coffee transaction is unprecedented and has now established a
precedent for the future to slowly break down the regulations of the US
trade embargo, while the presence of something "Made in Cuba" could lead
to sales of other traditional products like rum and cigars, which the US
market is already familiar with.
Maybe in the future Cuba could export healthier products, such as the
vaccines developed against cancer and Heberprot-P to treat diabetic
feet, which are renowned the world over for their effectiveness.
The coffee deal won't generate much revenue for the Cuban State, but it
will give a boost to Cuba's growers and should satisfy customers in the USA.
Source: Nestle Helps Cuba Skirt the US Embargo - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=120137 Continue reading
July 19, 2016
By Regina Cano
HAVANA TIMES — Sitting in a flower bed, his feet facing the pavement, a
40-year-old or so man was making conversation with some shining red
beans that lay scattered on the ground before his eyes, which had fallen
out of a bag, where the rest of them sat next to a pack of spaghetti,
while he was saying to them: "…you're always trying to confuse me…".
I kept on walking, away from the Cobadonga Hospital located in the Cerro
neighborhood of Havana, unable to interrupt such an unusual conversation
and intimate relationship, while I asked myself if these people who seem
to have another reality where they can withdraw themselves and find
shelter will soon become regular pedestrians on Havana's streets again,
when the "confusion" comes to hit us all.
There won't be any magic beans to help the Cuban people put up with
another "Special Period" – economic crisis – like the one we had before,
in spite of ordinary Cubans hoping that now that their financial
positions are slightly better, different to the position they were in
before, will soften the blow a little, and protect their families from
And when I say different kinds of financial situations, I include those
of independent sellers, people who have contracts in places that have
foreign investment or new contract arrangements with State institutions
or people who leave the country and work abroad. Nonetheless, there are
still a good number of State workers who depend on their salary – as
well as all of the informal channels in which they can get hold of
money, which are very diverse- from various sources- which includes
money that is sent from abroad by relatives of those who still live in Cuba.
Word is spreading about the upcoming economic shortages we'll suffer in
the near future here in Cuba, which confirms the clear preventative
measures that the government is enforcing to protect the remaining oil
reserves that they have, so it seems.
There are already some state-run stores and workplaces that close before
the end of the working day, which work in the dark or don't switch on
the air conditioning, with closed buildings designed for it because of
this unbearable heat.
On the other hand, transport services have decreased, although the
residential sector still hasn't been affected that much.
People are already talking about the much hated and fearful 8 hour
blackouts returning, as if they were already happening and some people
are even beginning to buy candles for when the lights go out and other
things that may run out soon, investing what little they have in their
pockets on detergent, soap and other important items.
A cousin phoned me from Santiago de Cuba and told me that people were
"hoarding" everything that could run out immediately.
And from what we've learnt in the past, people are afraid that this will
become an irreversible reality, soon prices will increase on the black
market that will also hoard things. If Cuba stops receiving oil from
Venezuela, it probably won't be able to establish a stable oil supply
contract that will allow the country to continue to function.
Unfulfilled dreams will pass all through all of our minds again, always
cautious so that we can get double or more out of something.
And there's probably a lot of people here praying to their gods that we
don't have to ride bikes again everywhere, or that we end up with the
famished appearance we had thanks to those bikes and all of the cooking
and non-cooking inventions that we had to concoct.
Yep, fears are a growing in relation to a "Second Special Period", like
some people are already calling it, while others announce that they
don't think they'll be able to live through it all over again and others
are convinced that they won't live to see it. Will they die or leave the
country? The latter is the most likely to occur.
Source: Jack's Magic Beans Still Haven't Come to Cuba - Havana Times.org
- http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=120072 Continue reading
The U.S. State Department added coffee to a list of products
entrepreneurs within Cuba are permitted to export to the United States.
However, Cuban policies on the exportation of goods are making it
difficult for Cuban coffee farmers to utilize this change in policy.
BY EMILY WILLIAMS
In another step toward normalizing relations with Cuba, coffee grown on
independently owned farms can now be exported to the United States.
Nespresso, a Swiss coffee company owned by Nestle Group, announced last
month that they will be selling Cuban coffee in the United States. The
product,Cafecito de Cuba, is currently being sold as a limited edition
On April 22, the U.S. State Department added coffee to a list of
products entrepreneurs within the Republic of Cuba are permitted to
export to the United States. According to the U.S. State Department,
those who can prove that they operate a business outside of the state
sector, as well as meet a variety of other requirements pertaining to
the business and its product, can sell their goods to American companies.
However, Cuban policies on the exportation of goods are making it
difficult for Cuban coffee farmers to utilize this change in policy.
"There is no way," said Karell Acosta Gonzalez, professor for the Center
for Hemispheric and U.S. Studies at the University of Havana. "All
exports must go through state-owned companies. It's in the Constitution."
The United States' embargo on Cuba, put in place during John F.
Kennedy's presidency, restricts trade with Cuban state-owned and
operated businesses. These sanctions were initiated when Fidel Castro,
who seized power in 1959, publicized private land and companies, imposed
heavy taxes on U.S. imports and nationalized $1 billion in American assets.
"We cannot predict what the Cuban government will or will not allow, but
we hope that it makes this and other new opportunities available to
Cuba's nascent private sector," reads a summary and explanation of the
decision on the U.S. State Department's website.
Since the State Department announced this change in April, the National
Bureau of Small Farmers Association (ANAP), a group of government
officials who represent Cuba's farmers, published a statement about the
updated policy last month.
WE ARE FACING UP TO THE INTENTIONS OF IMPERIALIST POLICY, TO BRING ABOUT
DIVISION AND DISINTEGRATION IN CUBAN SOCIETY, WHICH IS WHAT THEY WOULD
SEEK WITH THE RECENTLY ANNOUNCED MEASURE.
Cuba's National Bureau of Small Farmers Association (ANAP)
"Next to the workers and our entire people, we are facing up to the
intentions of imperialist policy, to bring about division and
disintegration in Cuban society, which is what they would seek with the
recently announced measure," ANAP wrote in their statement.
In Nespresso's case, the company is working with TechnoServe, a
nonprofit that works to form competitive businesses in impoverished
countries, in order to make the sale of Cafecito de Cuba possible.
Currently, Nespresso is buying Cuban coffee beans from European
importers before roasting and selling the beans, thus circumventing the
limitations of both the embargo and the trade policies of Cuba's government.
In the future, Nespresso and TechnoServe intend to assist Cuban coffee
farmers in improving their business and farming practices.
From plantation to collaboration: Cuba's coffee history
Cuba has one of the best coffee-growing climates in the world.
Conditions for growing coffee are best in warm tropical climates with
rich soil and limited pests, according to the National Ocean and
Atmospheric Administration. Cuba and other equatorial nations like Costa
Rica, Brazil, Ethiopia and Indonesia fall within what is referred to as
the "Bean Belt."
Cuba's coffee history goes back to the late 18th century, when hundreds
of French plantation owners fled to eastern Cuba during the Haitian
Las Terrazas, now a designated UNESCO biosphere located about an hour
outside of Havana, used to be one of the areas with the highest coffee
production on the island.
According to Anais Tomayo, a guide at the park, there are 70 ruins of
coffee plantations in the 5,000 hectares that make up the park. Only one
has been restored for use as a museum and restaurant, the Buenavista
On the plantation, the ripe coffee beans would be picked by hand and set
out to dry on circles marked on slabs of concrete. Every half hour, the
beans would be turned from side to side and, once dry, covered with palm
fronds. After 30 days, the beans were layered 30 centimeters deep in a
mill where the wooden wheel was used to crack the shells of the beans.
Until 1850, when the slaves started to escape, coffee was exported by
the tons to the United states. After hurricanes from 1844 to 1846 nearly
halted production, most plantations sold their slaves back to the
Spanish and ceased operations.
Today, the coffee beans brewed in the village come from coffee trees
that line the winding roads of the village.
"They harvest it themselves in their own version of the French method,"
Instead of circles marked on slabs of concrete on a plantation, the
coffee beans are strewn throughout the mountainous streets of Las
Terrazas to dry in the sun.
After the revolution in 1959, the Cuban government seized all
privately-owned coffee farms for operation through the state. This
change saw a dramatic decrease in production, and, starting in the
1990s, the government moved toward moving coffee farming from the state
to the private sector. Today, Cuban coffee farms are operated as
collectives—everyone who works on the farm owns and controls its operations.
A taste for Cuban coffee
Although coffee production has increased in the past several years,
international demand for Cuban beans forces most coffee farmers to
export much of their harvest. Many Cuban restaurants and coffeehouses,
though serving coffee in the Cuban style, are brewing with beans from
Similarly, many cafes, coffeehouses and restaurants in Miami and other
areas of Florida with large populations of Cuban Americans serve "Cuban
coffee" on their menus. However, due to the embargo, these
establishments are serving coffee beans from other countries that is
prepared in the Cuban style.
Cafe Bustelo, a popular brand among Cuban Americans, is advertised as a
"Cuban-style" espresso since its beans, too, are not harvested on the
island. The company, founded in 1931 by two Cuban Americans in East
Harlem, is owned by Rowland Coffee Roasters, a Miami-based corporation
that was acquired by J.M. Smucker Co. in 2011.
The way coffee is served in Cuba, usually called café Cubano, a strong
shot of espresso sweetened with sugar as it is brewed, originated when
Italian espresso makers were first imported there.
According to Robert Thurston, a former history professor at Miami
University and managing partner of the Oxford Coffee Company, the Cuban
style of serving coffee is more similar to that of European than Latin
"In Latin America, you find less preference for espresso whereas in
Europe you'll find a huge preference for espresso and espresso-based
drinks," said Thurston.
In other countries, though, authentic Cuban beans are starting to find a
place in the market. One British company, Alma de Cuba, exclusively
sells Cuban brew. In a deal made in 2014, the company pledged to invest
$4 million into coffee farming in the southeastern part of the island
over the next five years.
According to its website, the primary goal of their fair-trade business
is to "help restore Cuba's coffee crops to their former glory."
This article is part of the series Stories from Cuba, produced by
students from Miami University.
Source: Cuba making it difficult for farmers to export coffee to the
U.S. | In Cuba Today - http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article88165802.html Continue reading
By EDITOR • JUN 16, 2016
They call her Cuba's Julia Child.
You may not have heard of Nitza Villapol, but for millions of Cubans
both on the island and abroad, her recipes offer an abiding taste of
home. In many Cuban-American homes, dog-eared, decades-old copies of her
cookbooks are considered family treasures.
Villapol rose to prominence as a national cooking authority in the
summer of 1948 (though some sources put it at 1951), when she began
hosting one of the first cooking shows of the modern television era,
Cocina al Minuto, teaching viewers how to cook mostly classic Cuban
recipes — like picadillo, vaca frita and arroz con pollo.
Even after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Villapol remained on air.
She would continue to be a steadfast TV presence into the 1990s — her
recipes and cookbooks changing to reflect the realities, and scarcities,
of life under the revolution.
"The first thing I think about is, 'What does the Cuban homemaker have
and what can be done with it?' " Villapol told an interviewer in 1991.
"We're not starving here."
Her first book, Cocina Criollo, was published soon after her show went
on the air. She followed up in 1950 with Cocina al Minuto, named after
her popular TV show, which became an instant best-seller. Both books
came out at a time when America was a primary trading partner. And so,
early recipes called for a variety of both Cuban and American
ingredients — the latter were often easily available, sent via daily
cargo ships from the U.S. in exchange for keeping much of Cuba's
farmland dedicated to sugar cane.
And while many in Cuba had very little — including those whom Castro
courted as he rallied support in the late 1950s — most Cubans of the era
could afford to provide what Villapol cited in Cocina al Minuto as the
basic format of a meal: "appetizer, plate of protein, plate of starches,
veggies, raw or cooked, bread and butter, dessert, coffee."
For many Cubans, Villapol's cookbooks became the sacred texts of
traditional Cuban cuisine — though they also offered guidance on making
fashionable foreign dishes of the era, like spaghetti and "Lobster
Newburg," an American seafood dish made with butter, egg yolks, cream
Within a few years of their publication, however, there came vast
political and economic change, as Castro rose to power. Many of those
who opposed his government — and had the means to — left the country.
Next to the family photos in their sparse luggage, they tucked in copies
of Villapol's cookbooks.
For those who left Cuba — many bound for the United States — beef and
seafood-heavy dishes like vaca frita and camarones enchilados were the
tastes of home. These recipes, as well as others that featured
ingredients not native to the island, like mushrooms and flour, were
abundant in the first edition of Cocina al Minuto and easy to re-create
in their new homes. However, those who remained in Cuba were faced with
a more dire reality.
"Certain ingredients began to disappear," Villapol recalled in Con Pura
Magia Satisfechos, a short documentary filmed in the early 1980s. "Some
disappeared all of a sudden, others disappeared little by little. The
first notable thing to go was butter, fats." Staples like pork, bread
and milk were often scarce or expensive, making it difficult to prepare
some traditional dishes.
So, Villapol got creative. On her show, she began to cook with what was
available that morning in the market, with the help of her longtime
assistant Margot Bacallao, teaching Cubans how to make do without
certain ingredients while instructing them on how to use once-eschewed
produce and cuts of meat in new ways.
And to reflect the reality of life amid chronic shortages, she
continuously revised Cocina al Minuto. She simplified recipes that
called for foods that were expensive or hard to find and deleted large
sections of chapters, such as many of the flour-based cakes and pastries
in the 70-plus-page dessert section. She erased the "Sandwiches and
Snacks" chapter altogether, cutting the line: "Sometimes we have a piece
of meat or fish or other food and one or two days pass in the
refrigerator without eating it; after it is dry and old, and we just
throw it out." There was little wasted food in post-revolutionary Cuba.
These were replaced by recipes that taught Cubans how to use root
vegetables in desserts (sugar was one ingredient still readily
available) and encouraged them to cook a wider variety of native produce
that was becoming more available, as farmers began growing
long-neglected foods, like cassava, in greater quantities. Other classic
recipes were simplified to include cheaper cuts of meat and less oil and
butter, both of which were rationed.
Gone, too, were references to brand names and even some English food
words. A note in one revised edition says, "The vocabulary word 'pie'
(pronounced pai) is an English word and it translates like pastel. It is
used in Cuba to describe a class of pastry that was popular during the
years of 'pseudorepublic' influenced by North America. It is not
accepted in our language and if it is used, it is only so our readers
can identify the type of pastry to which we are referring."
Newer editions of the cookbook also included veiled signs of solidarity
with the communist state — for instance, by arguing that congri, or rice
and beans, which had previously been considered peasant food, was a
cornerstone of Cuban culture. And updated nutrition information urged
Cubans to consume less meat and fat and more carbohydrates and vegetables.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, food security in Cuba became
even more dire, and Villapol took her lessons of improvisation to new
levels. In one oft-cited episode of Cocina al Minuto, she even taught
viewers how to use plantain peels in place of meat. She is fondly
remembered as inspiring Cubans to culinary inventiveness in the face of
scarcity. As Sisi Colomina, one of the stewards of Villapol's estate,
told me, "she was very conscious of teaching through her work, and
always prioritized it."
Villapol went off the air in 1993 — after 4 1/2 decades of cooking in
front of the camera. She died in 1998. Even today, her cookbooks are
considered to be the standard-bearers of Cuban cuisine.
Cuban-American chef Ricardo Barreras, owner of the Brooklyn-based
restaurant Pilar, told me Cocina al Minuto was the first cookbook he
ever cooked from — his grandparents carried it with them to the United
States at the dawn of the Cuban Revolution. He remarked, "Any Cuban chef
who doesn't have her book is not thinking seriously about being a Cuban
But Villapol's legacy is so much more than a collection of recipes, says
Hanna Garth, an anthropologist at the University of California, San
Diego who has studied Cuban food culture: "Cuban household cooks tell me
Nitza Villapol inspired them to be bold in their cooking, to invent
variations on traditional dishes, given the changes in food availability."
Villapol not only taught her fellow Cubans to cook — she also taught
them to reinvent themselves in the most dire of circumstances.
Source: Nitza Villapol: The Woman Who Taught Cubans To Cook With Just
About Anything | WLRN -
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