Organic Cooperative Proves that Agriculture Can Prosper in Cuba By Ivet González
Continuous upgrading and a “vocation” for farming are two keys to the success of a cooperative that could serve as a model for boosting agriculture in Cuba.
HAVANA,… Continue reading
Santiago de Cuba Six Months after Hurricane Sandy April 30, 2013 By Dariela Aquique
HAVANA TIMES — Many people have taken an active interest in seeking out information about the real situation that the inhabitants of Santiago de Cuba have… Continue reading
Beyoncé and Jay-Z stroll in Havana
By Juan O. Tamayo
Dozens of Cubans crowded around R&B diva Beyoncé and husband-rapper
Jay-Z as they toured Old Havana on Thursday after celebrating their
fifth wedding anniversary with island staples like daiquiris, and rice
and black beans.
"People outside were desperate to see them and we had to call security,
we had to call the police," said La Guarida restaurant waitress Vivian
Aimerich, who helped serve the superstars during their anniversary
dinner Wednesday night.
The couple drew even bigger crowds Thursday as they strolled the streets
of Old Havana like any other tourists, with Beyoncé wearing a short
summer dress and big sunglasses and Jay-Z smoking a cigar and wearing a
straw hat, shorts, and sneakers.
They visited the Havana Cathedral, built between 1748 and 1777, and
walked around the cobblestoned streets of the colonial-era neighborhood,
declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z spoke with several Cubans during their walk but
declined to answer journalists' questions on their visit to the
The government-run CubaSí website reported the couple is on a tourist
visit, although that would be illegal under the half-century old U.S.
embargo. Washington does issue special licenses, however, for cultural,
religious, academic, and other types of visits.
ICM talent agency in Los Angeles said it had no information on the
visit. Beyoncé's publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure in New York, did not
return El Nuevo Herald calls.
The superstar couple was first spotted in Cuba on Wednesday night as
they entered La Guarida, "The Hideout," a restaurant on an upper floor
of a crumbling early 1900s palace where the hit Cuban film Strawberry
and Chocolate was filmed.
"They were recognized downstairs and the whole street filled up with
people shouting her name until she went out on the balcony and waved to
them," Aimerich told El Nuevo Herald by phone from the restaurant.
"We knew that someone important was coming, but we had no idea," she
added. The restaurant, which has become an almost obligatory stop for
tourists in Havana, is known as a "paladar" because it is privately
owned. Most restaurants in Cuba are state-run.
Beyoncé, Jay-Z, their mothers, and some of their bodyguards spent nearly
three hours in La Guarida celebrating the couple's fifth wedding
anniversary, Aimerich said. They were married April 4, 2008 in France.
They drank daiquiris, rum, and wine, snacked on shrimp and shared a big
plate of white rice and black beans, the waitress reported. Beyoncé had
the chicken roasted in honey and lemon, and Jay-Z finished off a fish
filet with tomato-based sauce.
Restaurant staffers had their photos taken with the visitors before they
left, she added, escorted by police.
The 32-year-old Beyoncé Giselle Knowles has won 17 Grammys, performed at
the Super Bowl halftime show this year, and sang the national anthem at
President Barack Obama's inauguration in February. Jay-Z, born Shawn
Corey Carter, has created a business empire that stretches from fashion
to a part ownership of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.
La Guarida, in the Havana Centro neighborhood, flourished when it opened
in 1996, when a bankrupt Cuba was allowing some private enterprise and
Western tourism to make up for the loss of the Soviet Union's massive
It closed in 2009 as the island's economy recovered and ruler Fidel
Castro cracked down on the private sector with tax and health inspectors
but reopened a few years ago and has been attracting a steady stream of
U.S. and other visitors.
It now displays photos of famous visitors, such as Will Smith, Jack
Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, Naomi Campbell, Jodie Foster, Danny Glover, the
queen of Spain, and Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
Anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone wrote in his blog, Capitol
Hill Cubans, on Thursday that the Cuban government had "seized on the
trip's propaganda value" by posting pictures of Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Old
Havana on the CubaSí pages.
Will they also meet with dissident musicians or jailed opposition
activists, asked Claver-Carone, who is also executive director of the
U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee in Washington.
"Or will they just wine and dine at the Castro regime's hotels,
restaurants, and nightclubs … fulfilling a propaganda dream for Cuba's
brutal dictatorship a la Dennis Rodman," he added, referring to the
retired basketball star's recent trip to North Korea.
It's unclear whether their trip to Cuba will impact Beyoncé's Miami
concert at AmericanAirlines Arena on July 10 as part of her Mrs. Carter
Show World Tour. Jay-Z will perform Aug. 16 at Sun Life Stadium as part
of the Legends of the Summer tour with Justin Timberlake.
The news of their visit came in the same week that famous Cuban blogger
Yoani Sánchez made several well-attended appearances in Miami to talk
about human-rights abuses and lack of basic freedoms on the
Communist-ruled island. Miami is home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban
exiles who fled the Castro regime starting in 1959.
Jay-Z at times has mentioned Cuba in his raps. In Otis, with Kanye West,
he raps, "Welcome to Havana smoking cubanos with Castro in cabanas." And
in his latest hit with Timberlake, Suit & Tie, he raps this line: "Green
card for the Cuban linx."
Miami Herald staff writer Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.
http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/04/v-fullstory/3323992/beyonce-and-jay-z-in-havana-to.html Continue reading
March 28, 2013
HAVANA TIMES — I've never understood people's addiction to coffee. I
love its smell, and I find it delicious with milk or cream, but it's
almost impossible for me to drink it by itself.
No matter how much sugar I add, there's no way for it not to be
unbearably bitter to me. That's what I thought until this past Sunday.
Now I think I might become addicted to that black nectar.
That evening, a few of my Havana Times co-workers and I met at the El
Aljibe restaurant with two professors and several of their journalism
students from the United States.
The students wanted to meet writers from HT to learn about our work on
the website and our diverse vision of life here on the island.
None of the four of us who attended the meeting (Veronica Vega, Yasser
Castellanos, Francisco Castro and I) had ever eaten there before – nor
will we probably do so again.
Actually, we didn't even know the place existed. Can you believe that I
had to send an email to the US teachers asking for the address of a
restaurant in my own country, in my own city?
Despite transportation difficulties, the four of us managed to get there
on time. In fact, we got there too early, a half an hour early. When we
have arranged to meet with someone from abroad, we Cubans do our best
(more than usual) to arrive early.
Among us, foreigners are known for being on time (especially Germans).
Perhaps it's easy to be punctual in their countries, here it's an
odyssey. Because of this, if you have a meeting with someone from here
and you're late, you can expect them to understand and wait for you.
Sometimes the reason for our delay has nothing to do with
transportation; but that's our excuse, and the other person will believe
you since transportation problems are our daily headache.
As it turned out though, the teachers and students from the US arrived
half an hour late, when I was about to suggest we leave. In fact, I had
already started doing something that's become customary with me in the
wake of some recent events in my life: speaking poorly of "Americans."
They arrived fearing that we had left and apologizing that their plane
had been delayed. They had barely had time to drop off the luggage at
their hotel before heading out to meet us.
In circumstances like these, sitting at the table in an expensive
restaurant, one runs the risk of forgetting who you are. Since the food
situation is so difficult for most Cubans, normally we wouldn't think of
going to a restaurant like this. But there suddenly appeared a noble
soul that refreshed our memory. Who? Another Cuban.
It was the Cuban guide who accompanied the US group. He explained that
everyone was going to get a welcome drink, adding that they could also
have another included in the meal price.
I made the mistake of asking if the drink contained any alcohol, so the
guide explained that the welcome drink was for the group (which didn't
include my friends and I). What was I thinking? This was a welcoming
toast, and I hadn't come from (or gone to) any place outside this country.
In the end, though the waiters also offered us drinks, but I didn't want
Outside of this insignificant incident (and another one later on, when
Veronica saw that the driver of the bus for the Americans, also a Cuban,
didn't wave back or respond when we thanked him for dropping us off in
Vedado), the night was very pleasant.
Our hosts were friendly, young, and intelligent, plus each had sense of
humor. They were eager to learn about Cuba: the society, sports,
culture, fashion… and bad words.
We also liked the food a lot. The specialty of the place is chicken, but
Veronica, Yasser and I are vegetarians. Nevertheless they prepared a
rich dish of rice with vegetables for Veronica, while Yasser and I ate
some wonderful black beans.
Just when I was thinking it would be worth returning to that restaurant
if only for the beans, they brought us some coffee. I decided to try a
sip of Yasser's, which was a strong, frothy, very aromatic espresso with
a slightly bitter aftertaste. Divine.
What's rationed monthly in our neighborhood stores for the subsidized
price of five pesos (about 25 cents USD), is one four ounces pack that
obviously doesn't last the month. Therefore people are forced to pay ten
or fifteen pesos per pack on the black market, though this coffee has
nothing to do with what I drank on Sunday at the restaurant.
What we get is a bitter drink that almost scratches your throat. It's
the chicharo (crushed peas) Veronica explained to me the next day.
Generations of Cubans have become so used to having this chicharo in
their coffee. It's to the point that when their cup doesn't have any,
they actually miss it.
It might seem that I'm using coffee as an excuse to criticize the
government, that the writers for HT do nothing else, and that we spend
all our time looking for something to attack.
But no. There are much more serious issues, more important demands to
make on the government than to think about something as insignificant as
coffee that tastes like coffee.
What happens is that when you realize you've never drank coffee, or
quality coffee, in your whole life, and that your wage doesn't permit
you to buy it — much less consider inviting your family to a restaurant
like El Aljibe even once a year — you wonder what you can aspire to in
your own country.
I always remember that question Eliecer Avila posed to Ricardo Alarcon
in 2008: "How long are we going to have to sacrifice?" Now I wonder: For
what? Why did my parents work? Why do I work?
Some people might think that we Cubans are fortunate. We have the luxury
of complaining about coffee when there are people all around the world
who have to settle for one meal a day – if they're lucky.
They would be absolutely right if the political elite in power hadn't
boasted for years with comparisons about our being at the level of
developed countries…or if that same elite that demanded sacrifice and
austerity in the nineties didn't enjoy the privileges from which we are
so far removed.
I don't know if there's true equality in any society on this planet, but
they promised it to us. That was the society that our parents believed
they were building.
I can understand that to achieve such a society it was worth giving up
the freedom of the press, speech, association, and being subject to the
leadership of a single party in the name of unity. But now that that
bright future has faded on the horizon, what's our goal?
Did I need a sip of good quality coffee to think about these things? No.
After all, there are people who love coffee from the bodega, as well as
people who don't drink coffee. It's a matter of taste.
But it happens that routine sometimes makes us forget that we're second
class citizens in our own country; that our aspirations are increasingly
reduced to daily bread, and we're used to it.
Something relieved me: I'm not going to become addicted to coffee like I
feared on Sunday. This is for the simple reason that it's going to be a
long time before I'll be able to afford the luxury of having coffee with
the flavor of coffee.
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=90282 Continue reading
Group of Americans explores modern Cuba during 10-day journey
Mar. 10, 2013 2:19 AM,
When it comes to Cuba, the label inside my jeans describes it perfectly:
Visiting this island nation, so close to us but such a world apart, was
a study in contrasts: What once was, what is now and with some
imagination, what might be again someday.
My husband, Barry, and I went on a 10-day people-to-people exchange,
visiting Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad, with the Grand Circle
Foundation. There were 20 of us on the trip: five couples plus an
additional 10 solo travelers, some married and some single.
Americans have snuck through the back doors of Canada and Mexico into
Cuba for years, but since November 2011, the Obama administration has
eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, and our group left not from
Cancun, or Toronto, but from Miami on a scheduled Delta flight.
We spent the first three nights in Havana, the next two in Cienfuegos,
three more in Trinidad and the final two back in Havana. Those last two
nights were spent at the Hotel Nacional, the old landmark frequented by
Bugsy Siegel, Frank Sinatra and others back in the glory days.
We saw the city, the countryside, the beach and the mountains. We
visited artists' colonies, dance groups, pottery works, a print making
studio, a basket weaving center, two nursing homes, a Catholic preschool
and several musical performances.
Although in many ways we only scratched the surface of this somewhat
mysterious island nation, we learned a lot, including that Cuba's
infrastructure, once grand, is crumbling. Beautiful facades, Greek-style
columns, fine old mansions: With a few exceptions, they all need a lot
of work, starting with a good coat of paint.
Everywhere we went, the accommodations were first class, but we were
able to go into a number of homes, which were a far cry from the sort of
places we stayed.
Dim lighting, no air conditioning, one or two fans and little furniture
were the order of the day — and these were the people who wanted you to
see what they had.
Every citizen gets a ration book, which allows them a bare-bones amount
of goods: a little meat, a few eggs, some beans, rice, flour and cooking
oil per person per month. The one exception seemed to be sugar — every
man, woman and child got four pounds of sugar monthly.
Less than 5 percent of Cubans own cars, but they've devised some
ingenious ways to get around. One of the most interesting was the use of
the "Yellow Man," a uniformed official who stood at busy highway
intersections waving cars over and instructing drivers with empty seats
in their vehicles to give rides to others.
Long lines of riders formed anywhere a Yellow Man was working, and even
on the streets of Havana, people stood with their hands out, hoping for
passing cars to pull over and take them to their destination for a
small, agreed-on fee.
There wasn't a lot of panhandling (technically, begging is against the
law), but Cubans have ways of supplementing their incomes, which on
average total less than $20 a month. One woman whose house we visited
was raising three pigs in a pen on the roof. Almost everywhere we went,
musicians seemed to materialize out of nowhere and play for us, hoping
for tips. Street artists followed us from place to place, drawing our
caricatures and trying to sell them to us for whatever we'd pay.
The U.S. government doesn't allow anyone to bring back cigars or rum (so
we tried them there!), and we were also told not to buy souvenirs like
refrigerator magnets or T-shirts. We were allowed to bring back
artworks, crafts, books and music, so we returned with woodblock prints,
pieces of pottery, compact discs and handmade jewelry.
Finally, those old American cars from the '50s and early '60s were
great, especially for us baby boomers. They make up probably half the
cars on the road in Havana, and many of them are taxis. Lots of them
have a ton of bodywork — look closely and many of them are covered with
filler, then painted with a paintbrush — but plenty of them also look
like they're really well-kept.
One of the highlights of our trip was getting to ride in a '58 Edsel
convertible with white leather interior, a cucaracha horn and loud pipes
along Havana's Malecon (seawall) our last night.
From visiting paladars, tiny private restaurants that people have
opened in their homes, to learning how to make the perfect mojito, we
had a fabulous time. And while we developed a new appreciation for these
neighbors to our south, we also developed an even deeper appreciation
for our own nation and just how fortunate we truly are to live here.
http://www.news-leader.com/article/20130310/LIFE/303100003/Group-of-Americans-explores-modern-Cuba Continue reading
Posted on March 7, 2013 |
By John Flowers
MONTPELIER — Organic vegetable farmer and independent state Rep. Will
Stevens of Shoreham has always sought to widen his horizons when it
comes to agriculture.
He did that in a big way this past month during a 10-day trip to Cuba,
where he got a first-hand glimpse of how farming is conducted on an
island nation with scant resources and without a profit motive.
Stevens was one of six participants in the "Vermont-Cuba Sustainable and
Organic Agricultural Exchange Program." It was a research tour organized
by the Vermont Caribbean Institute, aimed at promoting and developing
relationships and sustainable projects in organic agriculture, food
security, community health and resilience, appropriate technology and
land stewardship to "improve human well-being and the health of the
It was a travel opportunity that intrigued Stevens, who with his wife,
Judy, owns and operates Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham. Cuba has been
off-limits for American tourism since Fidel Castro came to power more
than 50 years ago. Stevens had heard about organic farming in Cuba and
how agriculture had to be done on a shoestring due to the directives of
the communist regime and as a consequence of the longstanding U.S. trade
"It's a highly regulated economy and society," Stevens, a member of the
Vermont House Agriculture Committee, said.
Stevens — who paid his own way — and five other Vermonters headed to
Cuba on Feb. 3 for an educational experience that would include seven
days in Havana and a few days in the communities of Santa Clara and
Trinidad. They visited a half-dozen farms, mostly urban organic gardens
known as "organoponicos." These urban gardens — very small, basic and
labor intensive — came to the fore out of necessity around 20 years ago,
after the fall of the Soviet Union, noted Stevens. The Soviet Union had
been heavily subsidizing Cuba's agricultural industry through low-cost
gasoline and pesticides. But that assistance largely evaporated with the
fall of the Iron Curtain, forcing Cubans to reinvent their farming
industry with few resources.
"They had to adapt, or die," he said.
Stevens saw farmers tend to crops with implements that were jerry-rigged
or welded together. Since necessity is the mother of invention, the
Spartan conditions have forced the Cuban farmers to be more resourceful.
Stevens took photos of a farmer who had forced methane from his on-site
manure into an air-tight bag, using it to fuel his gas stove. Farmers
are breeding livestock that can provide them with milk as well as meat.
He noted that many of the organoponicos engage in vermicomposting. The
farmers place their food waste into a trough and add red wiggler worms,
which feast on the waste and generate fertile compost for the crops. The
primary crops grown on the organoponicos, according to Stevens, were
sweet potatoes, green cabbage, beans, beets, tomatoes, lettuce and bok choi.
A U.S. farmer would take that produce to the market in hopes of getting
top dollar. Not in Cuba, Stevens said, where there is a different
economic paradigm prescribed by the ruling regime.
"Economics for them is the socialist model of 'Everyone should have
something to eat,'" Stevens said.
The Cuban government owns all the land and is trying to get more of it
into agricultural production, including areas that are still idle after
being abandoned by people who fled the nation during the revolution. The
government also regulates and parses out seeds, Stevens said. There are
few free enterprise opportunities for farmers, who can count on a wage
of around $20 per month, he said. Citizens survive by living frugally in
a marketplace with low prices and because the government provides basic
necessities such as health care and education, he noted.
While Western society preaches one can always be better or do better,
the Cuban culture is more about being grateful for what you have,
according to Stevens.
"Their mission was to feed people in a way that was environmentally
beneficial and in a way that allows prosperity for everyone," Stevens said.
The visiting group wasn't regulated or barred from speaking with anyone
during the trip, according to Stevens. And while Cuba has a different
culture, climate and political system than Vermont, Stevens said he
could see some similarities between the two lands. Both have had to
adapt to a scarcity of resources and both have people imbued with a
spirit of helping one another.
Stevens said he greatly enjoyed the trip to Cuba and would definitely go
back. He hopes that at some point, Cuban farmers can come to Vermont and
see how agriculture works in the Green Mountain State. The trip has
prompted Stevens to think more about his farming priorities, especially
as they relate to workers.
"My take-home message is, 'It's about the people,'" Stevens said.
And while governmental relations between the U.S. and Cuba remain
frosty, Stevens said most Cubans are looking forward to the day when
they will see more Americans coming over to visit.
"They said, 'Let Americans know we want a normal relationship with them.
Let them know we are just people, too,'" Steven said of a common refrain
from Cubans he spoke with.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.
http://www.addisonindependent.com/201303rep-stevens-surveys-farming-cuba Continue reading