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Food scarcity, another Castroist crime
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,
unproductive plantations.

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
years ago.

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
the Americas.

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
meager prices.

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
usufruct workers.

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 - Continue reading
How to get off the eaten track in Santiago de Cuba
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
Casa Granda.
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
guava paste.

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 ( ) 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 (

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
Star - Continue reading
Will Congress pass bills to encourage Cuba trade, farm labor changes?
The view from the Louisiana Secretary of Agriculture
David Bennett | Jun 12, 2017

With crop prices low and too many rural communities economically
sluggish, recent news out of the White House hasn't helped disperse
lingering dark clouds. The Trump administration put forth a budget that
would slash USDA programs, has made rumblings that trade advances made
late last year with Cuba would be rolled back and hasn't seemed to focus
on continuing calls from the U.S. agriculture sector for more foreign
farm labor.

Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain – who also heads the
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) –
admits the cuts to USDA are troubling but something the White House is
open to revisit.

"If you look at the budget cuts to USDA, those are slated at 20 percent
discretionary and 8 percent overall. We're just starting the discussion
on some of the things like the Market Access Program (MAP) and the
program for farm market development. We're going to work to have money
put back into these programs. If you look at MAP, for every dollar spent
we get back almost $50 in sales. That's all about trade.

"So, we'll be working with (Agriculture Secretary) Sonny Perdue on that.
We already visited on this about two weeks ago when I was in Washington.
That was a topic of intense discussion along with Ray Starling, the
president's advisor on agriculture and trade. Starling and I will talk
again (June 8)."

At the end of the day, "especially since the commodity section of the
agriculture budget is such a small portion of the overall federal
budget, we'll make significant strides in putting some of those dollars
back. When you look at the value of those programs, they spur rural
economic development and that enhances the overall commerce of the
entire United States.

"Look at the Office of Rural Development. Producers will remember when a
number of offices were shut down a few years back. Right now, the
offices have to be within 30 miles of each other on average. Get farther
apart than that and people won't take advantage of their services. They
don't want to have to drive an hour.

"They're also talking about cutting 970 positions from the Farm Services
Agency. But this is only where the discussions begin and the next farm
bill will likely take more than a year to draft. We all understand our
money must be invested wisely because the farm bill impacts agriculture,
which is the largest industry in America."

As for Cuba, Kurt Guidry, an LSU agricultural economist, says there is
"definitely potential for trade impacting the Mid-South. For fiscal year
2014/2015, Cuba's total agriculture imports were at $1.9 billion. The
United States had about a $300 million share of that, mostly in poultry.
We sold them about $30 million each of soybeans and corn."

While no U.S. rice was sold to in 2014 "if you look at it historically,
we used to sell a lot to Cuba. In 2014, of that $1.9 billion in Cuban
imports, about 11 percent of that was rice. That would mean about a $200
million to $250 million market for our rice. That's significant and
would mean a nice opening for Mid-South rice growers.

"If you take the ag commodities we were exporting in the late 1950s and
consider it in current dollars, it would about a $600 million market for
us. The credit restrictions are really hampering our export efforts. We
can't sell to them on credit so they go elsewhere to find what they need."

Strain's belief agricultural trade with Cuba won't be pushed back is
buoyed by action in Congress. "There has been a potential compromise
reached with (Arkansas) Rep. Crawford's bill. That would allow private
institutions, not government, to enter into agreements and more
normalization of trade with Cuba.

"In return, there would be a 2 percent surcharge or export tariff or
duty paid for by the seller. That would go into a fund at the U.S.
Treasury for reparation claims to draw from. That's on the table and
both sides are working on it.

"If we can start trade through that mechanism then I'll support it. My
understanding is that is gaining strength in Congress."

What about immigrant farm labor?

"There's also a bill in Congress introduced by (Louisiana) Rep. (Clay)
Higgins addressing farm labor," says Strain. "It would provide for a
three-year returning guest worker. The first year, the worker would
count against the cap (on numbers of workers allowed into the country)
and the last two years they wouldn't count.

"I'm a supporter of that approach. I've long been an advocate of a
returning guest worker provision where you would have to go through all
the red tape only one time."

Is the White House amenable to greasing the skids for farm labor?

"I think so. I don't think it's the White House's intent, at all, to
restrict labor for agriculture. I think the White House understands that
without those laborers the work simply won't get done. We all know that.
Those returning guest workers actually protect American jobs. They
average guest worker protects four American jobs."

Source: Strain Louisiana Mid-South Cuba trade farm labor H-2B - Continue reading
OPINION. Cuba: Brzezinski, Castro, perestroika y cabezas pensantes Tania Quintero LUCERNA, Suiza – Cuando el 2 de junio en Martí Noticias leí Cuba en la órbita de la eminencia gris que fue Zbginiew Brzezinski, de Armando de Armas y Álvaro Alba, a mi memoria vino aquella etapa de los años 80, cuando la perestroika y […] Continue reading
A Tough 5-Years Since Hurricane Sandy Hit Eastern Cuba
May 31, 2017
Rosa Martinez

HAVANA TIMES — It is truly difficult to make any project come to light
on my beloved island. The self-employed know this well enough, those who
began a long time ago and those who have started up their own businesses
right now. Likewise, those who decide to build their homes by themselves
can't get everything they need even with cash in hand.

However, we ordinary Cubans are the ones who suffer the most, because we
can barely live on our super low salaries; much less get involved in
another business.

Ever since Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, which almost destroyed Santiago
de Cuba and caused severe damage in the other eastern provinces
including Guantanamo, and left my house trembling as it nearly tore off
the roof all of a sudden, we haven't been able to take a break.

The most urgent thing we had to do, which was clearly the first thing we
had to do, was to repair the roof, which we luckily received government
support for as the State put up half of the money for materials –
fibreglass tiles, nails, cement – and also allowed us to pay the rest
back in installments, via the Bank, which we are still paying.

Later, we found ourselves forced to buy a rice cooker, plates, cutlery
and glasses, among other things, as the kitchen had collapsed and nearly
all of the glass kitchenware and other kinds of kitchenware were
destroyed when the roof fell through.

We also bought a new mattress, because no matter how much we tried to
fix the one that had got wet in the middle of that terrible disaster,
there wasn't anyone who could get rid of the awful smell that was
brought on by the damp, not to mention that we had been told that even
though it might seem dry, it might have bugs.

It has been a long five years of many shortages, more than one loan from
the bank, "inventing" on the side to try and collect a bit of money, and
the worse thing is that we still have so many things we need to take
care of.

I would say it has been a grey five-year period, not to say black. Only
my family and I, especially the girls, know how much we have had to
sacrifice in order to make a little bit of progress. Weekends stuck at
home, entire holidays without going on holiday; clothes and shoes, only
when we have no other choice; even our diets have been affected in one
way or another.

It was an extremely hard five years, but it's over now. My husband and I
have said that we WON'T make any more extreme sacrifices; we'll fix
whatever needs to be improved or changed gradually over time. However, I
have to ask myself, if it took us five long years to do just a little
bit with the rope so tight that we almost strangled ourselves, how much
more time has to pass before my family and I can live the dignified life
we deserve!

Source: A Tough 5-Years Since Hurricane Sandy Hit Eastern Cuba - Havana - Continue reading
Eating Steak and Fries is a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García

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
annoying rubbish".

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
construction worker.

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 - Continue reading
Rice Without Pebbles For The Tourists

14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 13 April 2017 — I still have a clear
memory of the Cuban TV show Cocina a minuto, every Sunday before
noon. It disappeared, of course, when it was no longer possible to make
the recipes with what the people had at their disposal in the
refrigerator or the pantry and and what they were still given – although
with a few more alternatives than now – on the ration book.

It was ridiculous that they would broadcast it on television and we
would see the host and chef, Nitza Villapol, preparing some exquisite
dessert with a can of condensed milk and twelve eggs, when Cubans were
only given five eggs per person per month. At home we would say, "But
what planet is this woman living on?" Surely this is what provoked the
cancelling of the show.

In June the Varadero International Gourmet Festival will be held, with
the participation of ten countries.

The magazine affirms that it will focus on the
search for excellence in tourist services, and will celebrate two of
Havana's most famous establishments, the 200-year-old the Floridita
restaurant and the 75th anniversary of La Bodeguita del Medio. This is
because Washington and Havana enjoy excellent relations at the moment.

Innovations in culinary techniques and vegan recipes, which are trending
around the world, will surely grace the tables; but ordinary Cubans,
once again, will not know this.

Dinner table conversations will be enlivened with quality cocktails
prepared with the real Cuban rum, which enjoys international prestige,
none of those rotgut brands that Cubans drink like Chispa Del Tren
(Train Spark) or Hueso De Tigre (Tiger Bone). Fine Habano cigars,
chocolates and coffee – real coffee, not the one Cubans get that is half
crushed peas – will also be part of the feast, enjoyed and appreciated
by the experts.

According to data from the Department of Commerce, collected by the
United States-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, the island bought a
considerable amount of rice (about 700 tons) in February, something that
hadn't happened for nine years.

We already know who is going to taste that exquisite rice and how many
dishes will be made with it. It is for tourists, who can enjoy rice
pudding or rice with chicken. Instead, the people will continue to eat
the rice filled with pebbles and rubbish that you have to spend hours
picking out before you cook it.

Source: Rice Without Pebbles For The Tourists – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
El Gobierno compró en cargamento de arroz a EEUU por primera vez en casi
una década
AGENCIAS | Washington | 5 de Abril de 2017 - 10:54 CEST.

El Gobierno compró en febrero pasado un cargamento de arroz a Estados
Unidos, algo que no sucedía desde 2007, indicaron datos del Departamento
de Comercio recogidos por el Consejo Económico y Comercial EEUU-Cuba,
reporta EFE.

El cargamento salió del puerto de Galveston (Texas) y que tuvo un coste
de 252.000 dólares, detalló el Consejo, con sede en Nueva York y que
cada mes analiza las exportaciones a la Isla. Llevaba dos clases de
arroz distribuidas a partes iguales de 126.000 dólares, precisó.

La fecha exacta del envío, el puerto de llegada, así como la cantidad de
arroz que contenía el cargamento son datos que se conocerán en los
próximos días, cuando el puerto de Galveston haga públicos sus registros
de febrero, dijo el presidente Consejo, John Kavulich.

El precio de la tonelada de arroz en febrero —unos 368 dólares, según el
Banco Mundial— sugiere que el cargamento podía contener cerca de 685
toneladas de arroz.

Kavulich explicó que, pese a la relevancia de este envío, que en lo que
a negocios se refiere "es una gran noticia" para la industria arrocera
estadounidense, que no lo hayan publicitado respondería a que podría
"perjudicar" esfuerzos a nivel político para aumentar el flujo.

Entre 2002 y 2007 las ventas de arroz de Estados Unidos a Cuba superaron
los 190 millones de dólares, siendo en 2004 la principal exportación a
la Isla, con más de 64 millones de dólares, de acuerdo con el Consejo
Económico y Comercial EEUU-Cuba.

Sin embargo, en 2008 el Gobierno cubano priorizó la compra de arroz de
China y Vietnam, que ofrecen mejores condiciones y términos de pago.

El año pasado, el entonces gobernador de Misuri, Jay Nixon, donó a la
Isla 20 toneladas de arroz de la empresa Martin Rice, como "gesto de
buena voluntad" en el marco del proceso de deshielo entre Washington y
La Habana.

Pese a que la producción de arroz ha aumentado en los últimos años en
Cuba, en 2016 todavía importó unas 300.000 toneladas de este cereal de
las 700.000 que demanda su mercado interno, según datos oficiales cubanos.

Source: El Gobierno compró en cargamento de arroz a EEUU por primera vez
en casi una década | Diario de Cuba - Continue reading
Eight Truths About Cuba That the Bikini-Clad Girls Don't Know / Juan
Juan Almeida

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 - Continue reading
The Ladies In Green Can Not Sell Their Lettuce / 14ymedio, Havana

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
their message.

Source: The Ladies In Green Can Not Sell Their Lettuce / 14ymedio,
Havana – Translating Cuba - Continue reading
WFP Cuba Country Brief, January 2017
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.

Operational Updates

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
eastern region.

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 - Continue reading
Cochran backs bill to expand ag exports to Cuba
The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi 1:54 p.m. CT Feb. 11, 2017

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran is supporting a new effort to help create more
export opportunities for Mississippi farmers by lifting a U.S.
restriction on private financing for American agricultural exports to Cuba.

The Mississippi Republican is an original cosponsor of the Agricultural
Export Expansion Act legislation, which would eliminate the prohibition
against providing private credit to finance agriculture sales to Cuba.
Financing such exports is limited to upfront cash payments, effectively
blocking American farmers from the Cuban market.

"Removing this barrier would help open the door for more Mississippi
rice and other agriculture exports," Cochran said in a news release.

Agriculture is a $7.6 billion industry in Mississippi and supports
approximately 29 percent of the state's workforce. In 2013, agriculture
exports totaled an estimated $2.3 billion, with soybeans, broilers and
cotton being the leading exports.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and John
Boozman, R-Arkansas, would allow banks and companies to finance the sale
of American agricultural commodities to persons or entities in Cuba. The
statutory restrictions on financing of these products remain in place
despite the former Obama administration last year acting to remove
restrictions on non-agricultural products.

Source: Cochran backs bill to expand ag exports to Cuba - Continue reading
Bill allowing private financing of food/agriculture exports to Cuba
introduced in Senate

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
in 2015.


Source: Bill introduced to allow private financing of ag exports to Cuba
| Miami Herald - Continue reading
Heitkamp, Boozman reintroduce bill to expand exports to Cuba
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
July 2015.

Source: Heitkamp, Boozman reintroduce bill to expand exports to Cuba |
Agweek - Continue reading
Seeds Are Key to Improving Bean Production in Cuba
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
of legumes.

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
Organisation (FAO).

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
imported goods.

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
Service - Continue reading
Ag to Trump: Help trade with Cuba
January 28, 2017 8:00 am • By Agriculture Coalition(0) Comments

On behalf of the undersigned U.S. agriculture, trade, commerce related
businesses and associations, we urge you to continue to show your
support for American agriculture by advancing the relationship between
the U.S. and Cuba and building on the progress that has already been made.

Net farm income is down 46 percent from just three years ago,
constituting the largest three-year drop since the start of the Great
Depression. This strain on the farm economy is felt across all sectors
of the industry and the thousands of small communities that make up
rural America.

The importance of trade to America's farmers and ranchers cannot be
overstated. The share of U.S. agricultural production exported overseas
is 20 percent by volume, with some sectors being much higher. For
example, exports account for over 70 percent of U.S. production of tree
nuts and cotton, over 60 percent of soybeans and over 50 percent of rice
and wheat. Positive farm income throughout America would not be possible
without increasing access to foreign markets, like Cuba.

Mr. President-elect, as an international business icon, you understand
how difficult it is to be competitive without the ability to extend
credit to your customers. We need the administration's support for
legislation that would remove these arbitrary and archaic restrictions
on extending credit for the purchase of agricultural commodities and

Your support in removing outdated financing and trade barriers for
exporting agricultural products and equipment to our island neighbor
could significantly strengthen a U.S. industry which supports 17 million
jobs across the country, and can provide the Cuban people with
high-quality American-grown food.

Cuba imports nearly 80 percent of its food to feed a population of 11
million people and upwards of 3 million tourists annually. Cuba's $2
billion agriculture import market could provide tremendous benefits for
farmers across the country and help American agribusiness offset recent

In addition to the size of the Cuban market, its proximity to U.S. ports
allows for considerably lower shipping costs and shorter delivery times
than our foreign competitors. The logistical advantages alone should
make Cuba a common-sense partner for two-way commerce.

Instead, the federal government overreach has put American farmers at a
global disadvantage. U.S. agriculture continues to lose out to our
foreign competitors and our net sales have been steadily declining since

As a result of trade restrictions, the U.S. has fallen from its position
as the No. 1 supplier of agricultural products from 2003 to 2012, to now
the No. 5 supplier after the European Union, Brazil, Argentina and
Vietnam. The U.S. needs to be No. 1 again. Especially given many of
Cuba's imports, including rice, poultry, dairy, soy, wheat and corn,
make up more than 70 percent of what they import and they're all grown
right here in the U.S. by hardworking American farmers.

As a broad cross-section of rural America, we urge you not to take steps
to reverse progress made in normalizing relations with Cuba, and also
solicit your support for the agricultural business sector to expand
trade with Cuba to help American farmers and our associated industries.
It's time to put the 17 million American jobs associated with
agriculture ahead of a few hardline politicians in Washington.

We look forward to working closely with you and your team, and please
let us know if we can provide any assistance moving forward.

These comments are from a letter sent to President-elect Donald Trump by
a coalition of more than 100 U.S. organizations representing farmers and
agribusinesses. Full text of the letter is at

Source: Ag to Trump: Help trade with Cuba - Continue reading
Havana 'Paladares', Between Glamor and Poverty / Iván García

Ivan Garcia 25 January 2017 — In the poor and mostly black neighborhood
of San Leopoldo, cradle of the picaresque, clandestine businesses and
the sex trade in Havana, is found La Guarida, probably the best private
restaurant in Cuba — which are known as "paladares."

The business is run by Enrique Nunez, a telecommunications engineer
converted into an empresario of the ovens, and dinner for four people,
wine included, is no less than 160 dollars, from the wallets of some
tourists dazzled by the opening of small family businesses on the part
of the Communist regime.

Folklore, poverty and glamor at times click. La Guarida is flanked by a
rundown tenement of narrow rooms and an ostentatious central staircase
with hints of art deco.

On the same street, where the neighbors sit in iron armchairs and on
little wooden benches in the doorways of their houses, brand new cars
with diplomatic plates park, with tourists or government heavyweights.

Romello, 65, born and raised on Virtudes Street, very close to the
prestigious paladar, remembers when "the Queen of Spain, Maradona and a
ton of famous people have come here to eat."

But asked if he has ever dined or had some drinks in La Guarida, the guy
smiles and shakes his head. "What it is man, this paladar is for
millionaires. They tell me a beer costs five bucks and a plate of shrimp
is no less than 15," he says, while walking over to the wall of the
Malecon with an improvised fishing pole.

Reservations at La Guardia can be made on the internet. "But it's a
hassle to book a table. It's always full," says a Spaniard. In paladares
like San Cristóbal, La Guarida or La Fontana, recommended by
international haute cuisine magazines, and where a family dinner can
cost more than 200 dollars, it is almost mission impossible to reserve a
table the same day.

There is a route in Havana, inserted into the usual tourist itineraries,
whether it is the area of the old city, El Vedado or Miramar, where
lunch in a private restaurant is at least 25 dollars a person.

The success of the paladares on the island is a combination of the
tenacity and creativity of their owners. Despite the scarcity of
supplies, traditional or international cuisine is given a touch of the
gourmet with a certain level of quality.

They have been catapulted to success thanks to the thunderous failure of
the state food service, full of idlers and thieves who are profiting
from the food they can steal from the diners.

Thomas, a Swiss tourist, says that in the Parque Central Hotel
restaurant, supposedly five stars, "a dinner for four people, with
tomato soup and sirloin steak which did not stand out in its
presentation, cost me 120 dollars. So when I visit Cuba I prefer to eat
in the paladares. Although the prices go up every year and sometimes the
quality doesn't. But it is always preferable to the state restaurants."

According to information published on 20 October 2016 in the state
newspaper Granma, in Havana there are more than 500 private restaurants.
But around 150 of them would be classified in the category of most
demanding and successful paladares.

And it is precisely in this category where the prices have increased by
30 percent in the last six years. "And if we compare the prices to 15 or
20 years ago, then it's an increase of 50 percent. In 2000, a person
could eat in a good quality paladar for 8 or 10 dollars. Now there's
nothing under 20 or 25," says an Italian married to a Cuban.

If a segment of tourists, businessmen and diplomats complain about the
rise in prices in the private restaurants of the capital, imagine the
Havanans. Most have never sat at a table in a five-star paladar. Many
can't even go to the smallest cafe. In Havana there are private food
businesses in classes A, B and C, depending on one's wallet.

Anselmo, retired, sells loose cigarettes in a nursing home just a
stone's throw from Villa Hernandez, a paladar next to Parque Córdoba, in
the populous neighborhood of La Viñora. "I've never bothered to look at
that paladar. What for, with my shitty pension I could never eat there.
What remains for us old people and those who earn miserable wages is
eating bread with a speck of fish or death-like pizzas from the little
stands run by the state."

In state coffee shops, almost always dirty, with poor service and poorly
prepared food, a pizza costs five Cuban pesos (about 20 cents US) and
it's fifteen pesos for a serving of congrí rice with a chicken
thigh. "That's the food bought by beggars, alcoholics, the old and
retired. Quality leaves a lot to be desired," says Mildred, a high schoo

In the food businesses further away from Old Havana, Vedado or Miramar,
the areas most visited by tourists, the menu is usually cheaper but the
choices are very limited.

In general, plates are based on smoked chicken and pork. "But it is
common that the waiter, taking your order, tells you that 'off the menu'
there is seafood, beef, good fish, lamb and even loggerhead," says
Dianelis, a hairdresser, who usually eats at paladares in Santos Suarez,
Lyuano and Lawton — Havana neighborhoods farther from the center.

And there is a wide sector of private businesses, who, to improve their
profits, use double bookkeeping or financial tricks as a way to avoid taxes.

To eat even medium quality food in Cuba it is recommended you visit a
private restaurant. At special dates — birthdays, weddings,
quinceañeras, families go to paladares to celebrate. If they are short
of money they go to the cheapest ones or places that serve more food.

"Gourmet food is for foreigners. When we Cubans have to eat on the
street, we want to fill our bellies," says Ignacio. But there are not
many who can afford to do so.

Source: Havana 'Paladares', Between Glamor and Poverty / Iván García –
Translating Cuba - Continue reading
Taking Stock of the Flood Damage in Havana / 14ymedio

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
show up."

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 - Continue reading
USA Rice Federation, more than 100 others push for ag trade with Cuba
Posted Jan 16, 2017 at 3:38 PM

"With less than one week until the Trump administration takes the reins,
it's important that the agricultural community voices its support for
policies that will allow us to sell our crops and products in a free and
open market," Ben Mosely, vice president of government affairs for USA
Rice, said. "Trade with Cuba is not just a priority for U.S. rice but
the dozens of other organizations and businesses that represent nearly
every sector of our vital industry that signed-on in support of reduced
trade and financing barriers for agricultural commodities."

By Peter Bachmann / USA Rice Federation

USA Rice, along with more than 100 state and national
agriculture-related organizations and agribusinesses sent a letter to
President-elect Trump and his team asking his administration to
prioritize the removal of private financing and trade barriers for
agricultural commodities and equipment.

"With less than one week until the Trump administration takes the reins,
it's important that the agricultural community voices its support for
policies that will allow us to sell our crops and products in a free and
open market," Ben Mosely, vice president of government affairs for USA
Rice, said. "Trade with Cuba is not just a priority for U.S. rice but
the dozens of other organizations and businesses that represent nearly
every sector of our vital industry that signed-on in support of reduced
trade and financing barriers for agricultural commodities."

While the needed fixes fall under the jurisdiction of Congress, the
letter asks the administration to consider "progress made in normalizing
relations with Cuba, and also solicit the administration's support for
the agricultural business sector to expand trade with Cuba to help
American farmers and our associated industries.

The groups highlighted the fall of the U.S. as Cuba's go-to for food,
"The U.S. has fallen from its position as the number one supplier of
agricultural products from 2003 to 2012, to now the number five supplier
after the European Union, Brazil, Argentina and Vietnam. The U.S. needs
to be number one again. Especially given many of Cuba's imports,
including rice, poultry, dairy, soy, wheat and corn make up more than 70
percent of what they import and they're all grown right here in the U.S.
by hardworking American farmers," Mosely explained.

The letter was organized in part by USA Rice and the dozens of state
agriculture organizations and businesses that make up Engage Cuba's
state councils for Cuba.

Source: USA Rice Federation, more than 100 others push for ag trade with
Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba's next chapter? Not so fast
Politics and Cuba's own challenges make the island a distant prospect
for tree fruit growers.
Casey Corr // Jan 11, 2017

Cuba has an outsized presence in American culture.

The reminders begin when you step off the airplane at Havana's José
Martí International Airport.

Blasted by hot, moist Caribbean air, you see things that are new and yet
at the same time seem rooted in memory: Drivers of 1950s American cars
beckon with a honk.

That familiar portrait of Che Guevera, dashing in beret, looks skyward
for his next revolution, or at least a place on somebody's T-shirt.

Reaching Havana's downtown, you see waters that trigger thoughts about
Cuba's shared history with the U.S.: the battleship USS Maine, the Bay
of Pigs, the CIA's plots to kill Castro, and the famous Americans who
drank and partied in Cuba, from Ernest Hemmingway and Meyer Lansky to
Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Elegant mansions, most now pitted and crumbling from neglect, remind you
of Cuba's past prosperity as the world leader in sugar production and
its lucrative exports of rum, tobacco and nickel.

But that prosperity, limited to Cuba's landed class, ended in 1959 when
the late Fidel Castro took power, triggering hostility with the United
States and dependency on subsidies from the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, so too did Cuba's economy.
Without Soviet cash, Cuba could not afford to buy enough food for its
people, nor could its inefficient state-owned farms grow enough food.
Rationing began and hasn't ended.

I went to Cuba last fall as part of a tour, sponsored by the American
Association of Agricultural Editors, to assess the prospects for Pacific
Northwest tree fruit growers. Our group came from publications and
organizations throughout the U.S., representing livestock and different

We met farmers, ministry officials, biotech researchers, importers and
others. We wanted to learn about Cuba's agriculture, especially changes
that began when the country's central planners decided to give their
economic model an "update:" that is, allow free market forces to take
hold in certain areas.

The sense of change accelerated in 2014, when President Barack Obama
took steps to normalize relations with Cuba. The election of Donald
Trump, however, has put a giant question mark over U.S.-Cuban relations;
during his presidential campaign, Trump pledged to reverse Obama's Cuba

The sense of uncertainty deepened in November when Fidel Castro died.
Some have speculated that Fidel Castro's death would accelerate
democratic reforms within Cuba.

When I was preparing to travel to Cuba, many friends said they wanted to
go before traditional Cuba was gone, as if Obama had triggered the quick
arrival of a thousand Starbucks. Miller Lite would push out rum.

That didn't happen, nor will it soon. The reasons are complex, having as
much to do with Cuba's internal politics and culture as with
unwillingness in Congress to unknot U.S.-Cuban trade.

Obama could only get so far by tinkering with regulations. Without
changes in U.S. law, Cuban importers cannot get financing for the
purchase of American goods. What Americans call a trade "embargo,"
Cubans call a blockade.

Whatever liberalizations that may have occurred, it's not yet, to
misapply one of Obama's own phrases, change we can believe in. Cuban
hardliners distrust the U.S. and work to dial back reforms, including
steps to allow growers to buy supplies and sell crops at prices that
reward investment.

Roughly 80 percent of Cuban farmland is controlled by the state; with
certain exceptions, government sets prices and quantities for buying
seed and other supplies.

Cubans take pride in the excellence of their free education and health
care systems, but they pay a price for imperfections in socialism:
Farmers at times cannot get fertilizer and chemicals, nor gas for aging
tractors or trucks.

Economists who track Cuba say the country imports 60 percent or more of
food needed for its 11 million people.

Before the revolution, Cuba was the ninth-leading destination for U.S.
agricultural exports, amounting to $600 million annually in
inflation-adjusted dollars.

The biggest U.S. shipments to Cuba were chicken parts, rice and
vegetables. When trade rules began to loosen, exports of all goods to
Cuba grew but only to $365 million per year.

The U.S. law requiring cash payments before shipment to Cuba places an
enormous barrier to expanded trade with the U.S., said Aurelio Mollineda
Martinez, one of the most senior Cuban officials we met on our visit.

Martinez, director general of the import-export agency Geocomex, said
the proximity of U.S. ports to Cuba, plus the quality of its products
such as grain and rice, would make the U.S. a natural trading partner.
Cuba can work around credit rules using third parties, but only to a
limited extent.

For purchases of rice and other goods, Cuba often turns to countries
that will provide financing such as Vietnam, China or Brazil, he said.

Martinez said he'd like to increase purchases of U.S. goods and
services, including equipment and chemicals from Monsanto and other
suppliers. (As if to underscore that point, the president of Iran and
the premier of China visited Cuba while we were there, prospecting for
trade deals.)

At our visits to government offices, typically bland monoliths done
Soviet style, we heard the same refrain: Credit is the problem. The
message gets repeated in the U.S. by organizations hoping to undo the
embargo for cultural, humanitarian or economic reasons.

Last February, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Cuba
and said he would expect strong sales of U.S. products, especially
soybeans, rice, poultry and biofuels.

The U.S. hoped to eventually provide 50 percent of Cuba's food and
agricultural needs, up from less than 15 percent now. Just how big could
the market become, near term? For some insight, many point to the
Dominican Republic, which has a comparable population and standard of

The Dominican Republic today gets about 45 percent of its agricultural
imports from the U.S. That's $1.2 billion compared with Cuba's U.S.
agricultural imports of $262 million.

Cuba has such a vivid place in American imagination, it's easy to get
bullish on the market there. But when you take into account other
factors, the buzz from Cuba Libre starts to wane.

For starters, Cuba's purchases of U.S. agricultural goods have not gone
up during normalization; imports of U.S. agricultural goods fell 62
percent since 2008.

Even with credit, the average Cuban's wages of $20 to $30 a month will
remain a damper on growth, even with the additional income some Cubans
receive from private-sector wages or remittances from relatives in the U.S.

Moreover, any growth in agricultural imports will be constrained by the
explicit Cuban policy of increasing domestic agriculture; in other
words, the state will continue to direct resources and policies toward
improving the weak farm sector.

Increased trade with Cuba would certainly benefit American farmers who
already grow what Cuba buys, such as rice, chicken, wheat and animal
feed. I'm not bullish about tree fruit, though.

It's hard to see a humid country with unreliable electricity and
inadequate chill facilities buying apples, pears or cherries from the
Pacific Northwest.

On my visit, I didn't see apples for sale in any of the markets I
visited. Some Washington apples were shipped to Cuba years ago, with
much fanfare and expectations, but there's been little activity since.

"Our focus is really Asia," Rebecca Lyons, international marketing
director with the Washington State Apple Commission, told me in an
interview. She ticked off all the challenges with Cuban trade, such as
credit restrictions. "If those things are overcome, there's potential
there in the medium- and long-term," she said. "One of the greatest
things is economic development of the Cubans themselves. They have to
have money to buy things."

Change is coming to Cuba, but not quickly. •

– by O. Casey Corr

Source: Cuba's next chapter? Not so fast | Good Fruit Grower - Continue reading
Cuban lechón can be ordered in Miami but roasted and eaten on the island

René Mesa, better known as Piro, is said to be one of the best cooks in
Cuba for the coveted roasted pig.

At his farm, located about 30 miles east of Havana between the towns of
Jaruco and Santa Cruz del Norte, Piro and his helpers roast in special
kilns and the pigs they raise eat a diet of palmiche, the fruit of the
royal palm, which gives the meat a unique flavor.

But those who want to treat family, friends or potential business
clients in Cuba with the tasty pork morsels don't have to travel to the
island. Orders can now be done from Miami.

Just call a local number, say where you want the food delivered and pay
the fee. The roasted pork will be prepared in Cuba, accompanied by side
dishes, and delivered to the intended recipients on the island.

"We work with seriousness and respect, and we have no complaints from
our customers," the cook said in a telephone interview.

Piro has more than 10 years of experience in the business, and is so
well known that famous American Chef Emeril Lagasse recorded part of
episode six of his series "Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse" on Piro's

"I really haven't had a more tastier pig ever in my life," Lagasse says
in the episode, "Forbidden Cuba." "It's not over-seasoned. You can taste
every bite of the pork. It's just fantastic."

An order that serves 25 people, including a roasted pig weighing about
65 pounds, congrí rice, cassava with mojo and salad, costs about $100,
delivery included.

Deliveries extend from Piro's farm to Havana province in the west and
Matanzas province in the east.

But Piro is not the only Cuban cook taking orders from abroad.

Several private restaurants, known on the island as paladares, have
begun to offer a similar service. Ads for the meals can be found on
various websites.

"Full pigs roasted on charcoal. Free shipping throughout the capital.
Call in Miami for reservations and payment. Possibility of payment
abroad to surprise your family in Cuba," reads an ad in the Cuba
classifieds site Revolico.

The restaurant, named Mi Sofía, also offers "buffet for events, weddings
and parties in general."

To place an order, the advertisement has a telephone number in Havana
and another in Miami.

A person who answered the phone in Miami declined to comment on the ad
offers, stating that "everything in Cuba gets distorted."

But with phone rates to call Cuba at $1 per minute, on average, the
possibility of placing an order by calling a number in Miami is both
convenient and cost-saving.

Piro's niece, Norei Mesa, who lives in Miami, is one of the people who
takes orders for his roast pork.

"If there is no special date, I get two to three orders a week," she
said. "On special dates like Christmas or New Year, orders are sold out
since mid-November."

Piro also offers empanadas and mutton stew known as chilindrón. But he
is famous for his pig.

His meals often make it to other provinces across Cuba, hauled by
customers on the island.

Mesa said some customers have taken her uncle's roasted pig by ferry to
the Isle of Youth or by train to the eastern edge of Cuba. An Angolan
ambassador once took two cooked pigs home on a plane.

Besides Mesa, Piro "has people all over the world" who take orders, she

Payments are handled in cash, although for a while Mesa tried to accept
credit cards: "It was very complicated with the bank account."

Piro said he accepts various forms of payment in Cuba.

So far, the business relies solely on word of mouth. But Piro's son, who
also lives in Miami, "wants to put it on Facebook," he said.


For more information on ordering Piro's roasted pig, call 305-392-1461.
Ads for other roasted pig orders available in Cuba can be found at

Source: Order a roasted pig in Miami and get it delivered in Cuba |
Miami Herald - Continue reading
'Special Troops, batons, guns and dogs' to control the people in Guantánamo
MANUEL ALEJANDRO LEÓN VELÁZQUEZ | Guantánamo | 7 de Enero de 2017 -
01:18 CET.

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
being committed."

"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 - Continue reading
Cuba: Christmas for Rich People and for Poor People / Iván García

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,
knock-down prices."

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)
security guard.

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 - Continue reading
Arkansas congressman to reintroduce legislation to ease trade
restrictions with Cuba
By Frank E. Lockwood
This article was published today at 5:45 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- A congressman from northeast Arkansas will reintroduce
legislation to ease trade restrictions with Cuba, and says he's hopeful
that barriers to agricultural sales will be addressed early in 2017.

But there's plenty of uncertainty after the Nov. 8 presidential election
and the Nov. 25 death of Fidel Castro, the 90-year-old former Cuban

It's unclear whether President-elect Donald Trump would be willing to
support the bill, which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, a
Republican from Jonesboro.

The federal government currently bars farmers from extending credit to
Cuban purchasers. As a result, Cubans must provide "cash in advance"
whenever they purchase U.S. agricultural products. Crawford's
legislation would allow credit to be extended, a change favored by many
of the state's farm groups.

H.R. 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, also would have allowed
Americans to invest in Cuban agricultural businesses that are not
controlled by the government there.

Arkansas produces roughly half of the nation's rice. The state, along
with Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, also is one of the largest
poultry producers.

Chicken and rice are dietary staples in Cuba, population 11.3 million,
and Natural State farmers are eager to do business there.

Crawford's bill had 48 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman,
a Hot Springs Republican. But it encountered fierce opposition,
particularly from the Cuban-American community.

"There were a whole lot of folks that just wanted to make sure Fidel
Castro was dead before they considered anything," Crawford said.

Now that the Cuban revolutionary leader is gone, it may be easier for
the legislation to advance, he said.

"We're not trying to do anything that would empower the regime,"
Crawford said.

But America shouldn't surrender the Cuban market to communist
competitors from China and elsewhere, Crawford said.

"We can play a positive role there, fill that void, give them a cheaper,
safer more readily available food supply or we can continue to view this
through the lens of the Cold War and allow them to continue down that
communist road that doesn't work for anybody," he said.

Before the rise of Castro, the U.S. was a major supplier of rice to
Cuba. But the trade ended with the implementation of an economic embargo
by the United States in the early 1960s.

Restrictions on the sale of certain agricultural products were eased
during the Clinton administration and by 2004 U.S. rice sales reached
$64 million. The exports ended, however, after the U.S. government
barred farmers from extending credit to Cuban purchasers.

Over the past two years, President Barack Obama has taken steps to
normalize relations between the United States and its communist
neighbor, opening an embassy in Havana, adding daily flights, removing
barriers to travel and allowing increased imports of Cuban cigars and rum.

The prohibition on agriculture credit, however, remains.

Despite the thaw, critics say the Cuban regime has done little to
improve human rights or to allow political dissent.

Castro's demise hasn't altered conditions on the island, they say.

"Fidel Castro may be dead, but the regime is still well alive," said
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers who has opposed the
farm credit legislation. "I've got some very serious concerns about what
we do that serves to funnel more money into the hands of what I believe
is a very corrupt ... and oppressive regime."

U.S. Rep. French Hill said there's no evidence that Cuba is embracing
free enterprise or freedom of speech, assembly and religion now that
Castro's brother, Raul Castro, is at the helm.

In fact, conditions may be worsening, he said.

"We clearly want our farm goods to get to Cuba. It's a small but close
market to us," the Little Rock Republican said. "But the conditions have
to be right for that to happen in Cuba."

Trump has also been critical of efforts to normalize relations with Cuba
and is threatening to reverse course once he takes office.

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the
Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the
deal," Trump tweeted in late November.

Westerman isn't sure what to expect once the new administration arrives.

"I don't know how willing the Trump administration will be to deal with
Cuba on trade," he said. "The fact that Fidel Castro's dead now, I think
makes it a little more palatable, but I haven't seen them make any big
changes in the government down there yet. Maybe trade is a way to spur
those changes on."

Westerman said he continues to support efforts to facilitate the sale of
farm products.

"I hate to use food as a negotiating tool anywhere. I think that's been
a foreign policy mistake in the past. When we had the grain embargo with
Russia, the only people that were hurt out of that were American
farmers," he said.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, who has co-sponsored legislation to ease trade
restrictions with Cuba, said he remains hopeful that barriers to
agricultural sales can be removed in 2017.

"We've heard some rhetoric, but we don't really know how" the Trump
administration will react to Cuba, Boozman said.

The Rogers Republican said the U.S. should have consistent trade
policies, noting that the U.S. trades freely with most other
non-Democratic regimes.

"We trade with Saudi Arabia, we trade with Vietnam. We trade with
everybody, I think probably, except for the North Koreans, so there's no
reason that we shouldn't start moving in that direction," he said.

Improved trade relations with Cuba "would be good for America, good for
Arkansas," he added.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson favors allowing farmers to extend credit to Cuban
buyers, but says legislation allowing the change may be "on a slower
path over the next six months than the trajectory we were on before."

"The death of Fidel Castro significantly changed the environment. ...
The United States, in my judgment, is waiting for a signal of greater
openness and a willingness to change," he said.

If that message is transmitted, trade between the countries will likely
accelerate, he added.

Members of the Engage Cuba Coalition's Arkansas State Council, which
promotes U.S-Cuba trade, are hopeful closer ties will develop.

Ben Noble, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Federation, said
access to the Cuban market will be a priority in 2017.

"If ever there was a time for full engagement with Cuba, it is today,"
he said.

Another member, Newport farmer Derek Haigwood, agrees.

"I do grow rice, and, oh, it would just be a wonderful thing if we could
open up that market," he said.

If Arkansas farmers make inroads in Cuba, "it's just something that
would lift this economy up," he added.

Source: Arkansas congressman to reintroduce legislation to ease trade
restrictions with Cuba - Continue reading