A stray monosyllable

In the ‘90s, a poem satirized the disappearance from Cuban tables of several agricultural products.*  Its author never signed the friendly verses, but the caustic style pointed directly to a well-known writer.  Those were the years when CAME [Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, or Comecon] was going to hell in a handbasket along with the socialist camp, and our navels were painfully close to our spines.  Food seemed to have gone into exile, leaving us a poignant reminder of its sweetness.

The sweet potato, banana and yucca returned later, when the social explosion of 1994 forced the government to open the demonized free markets.  At their stalls we found varieties of tubers that had regularly graced the plates of our grandparents, but at a price that didn’t match the symbolic salaries we received.  Still, they were there.  By “squeezing our nickels” we could have a smooth puree of malanga to introduce a baby to solid food.

While these indigenous products were returning, some foreign ones arrived to replace the domestic.  The hotels began to buy oranges and mangoes from the Dominican Republic, flowers from Cancun, and pineapples from other islands in the Caribbean.   In the kitchens, it was common to find imported lemon extract replacing the lost citrus used in sauces and marinades.  Sugar was brought from Brazil and a package of frozen carrots was easier to find than the lanky ones that grew in our own dirt.   Only the guava found no competition among the misguided imports and stood—with dignity—as a replacement for all the other lost fruits.

For me, the ultimate was when, a couple of weeks ago, I received my quota of rationed salt and noticed it comes from Chile.  I can’t manage to reconcile our 5,746 kilometers of coastline with this white and blue packet transported from the South.  If our sea is just as salty, what happened to its minuscule crystals that no longer come to my salt shaker.  It was not mother nature—we can’t put the blame on her again—but rather this dysfunctional economic system, this production inertia, and the tremendous underestimation of everything native and domestic that is embargoed to us.  Neither has it been the blockade.

Now, we would have to rewrite the sarcastic poem about the extinct products, and add a brief and missing monosyllable: salt.

*

The yucca, that came from Lithuania

the mango, sweet fruit of Krakow

the yam, originally from Warsaw

and the coffee that is planted in Germany.

The yellow malanga of Romania

the honeyed Moldovan sweet potato

from Liberia the fine-textured mamey fruit

and green bananas grown in the Ukraine.

All this is lacking and through no fault of ours

for to fulfill the food plan

one wages a fierce intense battle.

And now we have the first sign

that the necessary effort is being made:

 There is food on television and in the newspapers.

 

Translator’s notes:

CAME/Comecon:  Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.  Founded by Stalin in 1949 with the Soviet Union and five Eastern European countries, it was eventually expanded to ten full member countries, including Cuba, which joined in 1972.

Social Explosion in 1994:  The “Maleconazo” which was a protest/riot on August 5, 1994, along Havana’s waterfront seawall, which is called the Malecón.

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9 thoughts on “A stray monosyllable

  1. hi there

    in my last post I said” you are cuban but I do not find you anywhere interested in showing people the worst of it”

    it should have been “you are cuban but I do not find you anywhere interested in showing people any thing good about it, only the worst of it”

    I am sorry for the mistake

  2. Hi,

    this criticism about the salt from Chile just brings to my mind the phrase “palo porque boga y palo porque no boga” in English it would be ” A blow because they do and a blow because they don’t”. Somehow I have come to realize that yoani’s job is to hunt for flaws in her country. You got your salt so why making all this fuss about it. I know for instance that Cuba is importing sugar from other countries but because it is cheaper to buy it than to produce it, the same as the salt you got from Chile. I also know that several sugar factories were closed years ago because they were very inefficient but workers continue to receive a substantial part of their salary until they find something else. It is true it is not enough but where else in the world can anyany other country boast about something like this, paying people about 60% of their salary for nothing until they find another job.

    Yoani, you are cuban but I do not find you anywhere interested in showing people the worst of it. Is it your purpose to make people run away from Cuba, to hate Cuba. In that way do you think you are fighting for a better life for Cubans?

  3. This piece prompted me to drop a line to the International Herald Tribune English translation of the Spanish EL PAIS, to commemorate (emphatically not “celebrate” – below) the 50th anniversary of the revolution. An edited version (missing the link, sadly, but I guess those interested can “Google”) of this was published on Dec. 16th.
    Dear Editor,
    Given the vast plantations and verdant orchards inherited by the Cuban revolution, I thought that Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez (http://www.desdecuba.com/generationy/) must have been exaggerating when she wrote of sugar being imported from Brazil. On checking, however, I discovered that Pedro Alvarez, from the Cuban food import agency Alimport, has even approached the United States for the commodity. Fruit is now imported from elsewhere in the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic, while, despite abundant sunlight shining on more than 5 000 KM of coastline, salt now comes from Chile. Apparently, the estates whose riches did so much to provoke the revolution now lie derelict. One wonders how many of the jubilant villagers portrayed in the current Madrid exhibition “Revealing Looks” (13/12/08) would have waved “Victory” banners had they known what the Castro dynasty had in store. To misquote Tacitus, “To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call ‘revolution,’ and where they make a desert, they call it ‘socialism.'”
    Sincerely, Iain Salisbury, Edgbaston UK.
    My covering note to Guy, the editor:
    Dear Guy,
    As I’m sure you know, the original Tacitus translates as, “To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.” – a quote, in turn, from the English, apparently. It’s often shortened (e.g. Byron – a similar “modification” :-)) to, “They made a desert and called it peace.” The “Generation Y” account was on December 4th. The Alimport approach was on the 5th of November. I capitalised “Looks” because I thought it looked more “English,” but, by all means, revert to the original. I hope the Wednesday edition will have something about Castro’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As it is, I thought I’d get my “celebration” of his 50th in early :-))
    Best, Iain
    Sadly, the “Wednesday edition” made no mention of the arrests.

  4. Antoaneta dice: 10 Diciembre 2008 a las 21:56

    “The other two people that put comments here don’t have a clue what they are talking about. ”

    Could you be more specific? I admit I’ve never been to Chile, nor have I ever researched their methods of salt production there. Have you?

    Why do you say that cabroncito doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about? What error has he committed?

  5. My Cuban boyfriend sings me songs from Russian cartoons he saw during his childhood, we even share some Romanian cartoons knowledge. As well as a pioneer past and memories of short food supply, we went through it at the end of the 70’s and in the 80’s, since I was born and until communism fell.

    The other two people that put comments here don’t have a clue what they are talking about. As I cannot send them to socialist Romania, I would send them to live in Cuba, with the same means as most Cubans, and let them to the talk afterwards.

    Bravo, Yoani!

  6. It is very easy to look at something superficially and come to a wrong conclusion.
    Cuba produces salt by the evaporation method from sea water, that involves much time and labour for very little product. (0.160 mil tons per Yr) Chile mines the salt in an open pit mine with machines. It is 99.7% pure, covers an area of 49 square kilometers, they produce 6,000,000 tons per yr and they have a 5000yr reserve. Who is going to produce salt more cheaply?

  7. “I received my quota of rationed salt and noticed it comes from Chile. I can’t manage to reconcile our 5,746 kilometers of coastline with this white and blue packet transported from the South. …. It was not mother nature…but rather this dysfunctional economic system, this production inertia, and the tremendous underestimation of everything native and domestic that is embargoed to us.”

    And what should Canadians blame, when we find spaghetti manufactured in Italy from wheat grown in Canada is less expensive than that manufactured here? Or when those rare products manufactured here in Canada can be bought much less expensively across the border in the USA?

    Here’s an extreme example. A book, “Poor Man’s Justice”, published by a Canadian in Canada, can be bought by a resident of the USA from Amazon.com with free delivery in five to nine days for $28. For five dollars more, the buyer can also purchase the ability to do online text searches of the book.

    However, Canadian residents are not allowed to buy the book from Amazon.com, only from Amazon.ca. Here, the book costs substantially more ($35) shipping costs an additional $7 , the book is “out of stock” with no ETA, and the online search option (the most valuable feature – as the book lacks an index) is not available to residents of Canada at any price.

    This is just one of the benefits to Canadians of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement

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