The Mandarins Come by Boat

It is a mesh bag, a reddish woven net with five mandarins inside. They’ve been carried here — from Europe — by a reader who discovered where I live thanks to the tracks left in the blog. After I brought him a glass of water, he took the citrus fruits out of his backpack — a little embarrassed — as if he’d come to give me something too common on this island, even more common than the invasive marabou weed, or intolerance. It’s inexplicable, then, why I grabbed the bag and buried my nose in every fruit. Within a few seconds I was shouting for my family to let them know about the orange globes I was already beginning to peel. Sinking my nails into their skin and smelling my fingers, I have a celebration of orange zest on each hand.

A trail of peels covers the table and even the dog is enthusiastic about the scent that is wafting through the whole house. The mandarins have arrived! The almost forgotten scent, the extravagant texture, have returned. My niece celebrates their appearance and I have to explain that once these fruits did not arrive by boat or plane. I avoid confusing her — she’s only eight — with the history of the National Citrus Plan, and the large expanses on the Isle of Youth where oranges and grapefruits were harvested by students from other countries. Nor do I mention the triumphalist statistics thrown out from the dais, or Tropical Island brand juices, initially made from pulp extracted from our own crops, but now made from imported syrup. But I do tell her that when November and December rolled around, all the children in my elementary school smelled like oranges.

What days those were! When no one had to bring us, from a far off continent, what our own land could produce.

24 thoughts on “The Mandarins Come by Boat

  1. The saddest , and most condemning, fact is that Cuba imports Ketsup from Spain and Mexico. Ketsup! It’s not rocket science- tomatoes, water, a little salt and vinegar.
    Yet on the largest tropical island in the Caribbean they cannot produce this most basic of staples. For me this pretty much sums up the failings of the Socialist Paradise.

  2. How the Castros regime can explain the reasons why they have to resort to a sugar importing country like the United States, to procure a product that traditionally exported the island. Who would have imagined that Cuba would become an importer of food, even importing sugar, from the United States, of all places?

  3. Don’t worry friends … “vamos bien” said the leader of the rebolution … “vamos bien”
    Thanks to our children’s promise to “be like che”
    Don’t fret … we are free from exploitation, we are free from dictators, we are free …

  4. REUTERS: Cuba says still investigating jailed American -Nov-23-By Nelson Acosta
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Nearly a year after he was detained at the Havana airport on suspicion of spying, U.S. contractor Alan Gross remains behind bars in Cuba, still under investigation and awaiting charges, Cuba’s top legal official said on Tuesday.

    The case that has stalled progress in U.S.-Cuba relations is moving ahead at its own pace, with no clear date for conclusion, Attorney General Dario Delgado told reporters at a Havana conference.

    “It remains in the same situation. It still hasn’t concluded. It’s still being worked and when it finishes, the answer will be given,” he said when asked about Gross, who is being held at a Havana military hospital.

    Gross, 61, was detained by Cuban authorities on December 3 as he prepared to board a flight back to the United States.

    Cuban officials have said he was illegally bringing in satellite communications equipment and may have been spying.

    The United States government has said Gross brought in satellite phones to expand Internet access for Jewish groups in Cuba but was not a spy.

    His wife Judy Gross told Reuters in a recent interview her husband had been in Cuba five times in the nine months prior to his arrest.

    He was working for a Washington-area company contracted under a U.S. Agency for International Development program to promote democracy in Cuba.

    Cuban leaders consider the USAID programs to be an attempt to overthrow the communist-led government.

    According to Western diplomats in Havana, Cuban law required that Gross be charged with a crime within 90 days of his arrest, but that 90-day extensions could be granted.

    Reportedly, Cuban authorities have requested and obtained at least three extensions.


    Delgado said the long wait for charges was not unusual.

    “This adheres to Cuban law. There’s no problem. Everything moves ahead as was foreseen,” he said. “It’s a normal case.”

    U.S.-Cuba relations had warmed modestly under President Barack Obama, but progress halted with the arrest of Gross. The U.S. has said there would be no major initiatives with Cuba until he is freed.

    Havana has suggested in various ways that it would trade Gross for five Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States, but the United States has said that is not being discussed.

    Cuban authorities permitted Judy Gross to visit her husband in July, when she said he had lost a lot of weight and had various physical ailments.

    When she arrived home from the visit, she learned that one of their daughters had breast cancer.

    She has appealed to Cuban authorities to free her husband on humanitarian grounds so that he can help the daughter.

    Also, she revealed to Reuters a letter she had written to Cuban President Raul Castro saying she and her husband were remorseful for the work he had done in Cuba.

    She criticized the White House for not doing enough to free her husband.

    Alan Gross also has offered to pay bail so that he can go home to be with her and to return to Cuba when required.

    (Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)

  5. Dr. Freud

    Welcome back, I am always glad to see your comments. You mentioned in your post that you would withold explaining why industries are no longer present in Cuba because of some objection I might have. Please do not censor yourself my friend, we live in a free market of ideas, and yours like everyone elses will stand on their own merit. My disagreement with your thesis of a castro/US “collaboration” should not disuade you from voicing your opinion. Others will agree or disagree with you based on the merits of your argument and the tangible facts you present.

  6. FREEDOM RINGS! LOVE THAT SARCASM!! MY FAVORITE TYPE OF COMEDY/TRUTH! Desperate times calls for desperate CASTROFACIST/CAPITALIST PIGS measure! When will the left in this world figure that they have been DUPED by a DICTATOR/FACIST/CAPITALIST dressed in the “AURA” of Communism? How long can their DENIAL last?

  7. MANDARINS BY BOAT, and CUBAN BASEBALL PLAYERS BY PLANES. Today has an interview with 2 recent defector basaball players. At the same time Fidel Castro’s son is working out a “plan” to “sell” Cuban baseballs and talent to other countries for cash. Kind of like what Cuba does with its MILL DOCTORS. Yes Sir, YOUTH UNITE, STAND UP AND BE HEARD. PICK A DATE AND RALLY.

  8. The Cubans who harvest the mature coffee beans in the mountains of Guantanamo are school children around the age of 10. With no gloves,hats, apropriate cloth or shoes, nor sunscrean to protect them. GO FIGURE WHAT THE PROBLEM REALLY IS. Do the parents have a say in the matter?. When will the voices of the youth unit? When? and where(Santa Clara)?

    Internet is Great, I wish everyone had access.

  9. Simba Sez: sandokan, assuming everything you say is true, and I certainly have no reason to doubt it, why do you suppose it is true? It’s not likely good for the Castro government. It doesn’t seem good for the Cuban citizenship. It wouldn’t seem to be beneficial to anyone to produce less sugar unless the sale price of sugar was less than the cost of production. If it isn’t good for anyone, why would it happen? When I ponder such things I always come back to poor methods of production or planning, but if that were so then why wouldn’t the government put people in charge that could plan or devise methods of production more beneficial to the country? The results seem to prove plain stupidity, but the Cuban population does nothing about it? Why?

  10. Cuba sugar production was 1.1 million MT in 2010. The estimate for 2011 is close to one million MT with a population of 11.4 millions. In 1894, one year before the War of Independence, the island produced over one million MT with a population of 1.7 millions. More than 117 years later the Castros regime will be producing even less.

    In 1959 Cuba exported 5.0 million tons. In the years just preceding the 1959 Revolution, Cuba has been the larger exporter of sugar cane in the world. Who would have imagined a few years ago that the world’s largest exporter of sugar would have to resort to external supplies to meet its needs?

  11. UPI: Cuba cutting everything but security -Nov. 22, 2010

    HAVANA, Nov. 22 — Cuba is making drastic cuts in public employment and spending but not in its security apparatus, Communist Party documents show.

    A party directive issued in September spelling out layoffs in 26 ministries and state-owned enterprises made no mention of the Interior Ministry or armed forces, El Nuevo Herald of Miami reported.

    Vladimiro Roca, a dissident and former air force pilot, told the Herald by phone from Havana, “They are set on maintaining the repression at a very high level.”

    Police are recruiting officers, the military and security budgets are increasing and the government has bought riot-control and light military equipment abroad, the report said.

    The new gear could be designed to “put down … rioting in the event the Raul Castro government’s experiment in economic liberalization goes awry,” said Armando Mastrapa, a Cuban-American academic expert on the Cuban military.

    Ukraine reportedly sold military equipment to Cuba in 2004, China sold it vehicles and Spain exported riot equipment to Havana in 2008.

    A well-equipped riot squad made its public debut in September, quelling Pakistani medical students who were complaining about the quality of their training and limited Internet access, the Herald report said.

    YOUTUBE:Tropas antimotines entran a una escuela cubana.asf

  12. @ 20,- Hmmmm, ain’t that some shit,,,,, Eliminating the ration card & the subsidies for home repair materials which means the population with have to pay an exuberant price for food and materials, half a mil will be laid off (with the exception of the ass kissing police and military), more cut backs on imports and OH also some medical treatments available now will be eliminated……… there is a big, ugly plan behind all that, and to think there are blind fools that still believe in the “revolution” , it is sickening. I thought I was going to fall back when a visitor from Cuba had the gall to make a comment in favor of the Castro regime after hearing an anti-castro comment on TV, in MY house, Oh HELL NOT, I went off, then my husband told me to let it go, I shut up in respect of this mans 80 years of age, what a blind fool, I bet he will never make a comment like that in my house again.

  13. SACRAMENTO BEE: Cuba keeps security forces well-stocked-By JUAN O. TAMAYO-Nov. 21

    MIAMI — A brutal economic crisis is forcing the Cuban government to lay off half a million workers, slash imports and subsidized food sales and even trim its keystone health services.

    Yet the government has given no sign it will reduce its domestic or national security agencies – the Ministries of Interior and Revolutionary Armed Forces – and appears instead to be expanding them.

    A Communist Party document issued in mid-September laying out the timetable for the layoffs in 26 ministries and state-owned enterprises made no mention of the security agencies.

    Canadian Hal Klepak and Cuban-American Armando Mastrapa, both academic experts on the Cuban military, said they have seen no hint that the military-security sector would be cut.

    Regina Coyula, a Havana blogger who worked in the Interior Ministry’s counterintelligence section, said employees there have been privately assured that the cuts will not affect them.

    And Vladimiro Roca, a dissident and former air force MiG pilot, said have not even been rumors of cuts.

    “They are set on maintaining the repression at a very high level,” Roca said. Like Coyula, he spoke by phone from Havana.

    The criminal and traffic police, meanshile, have launched unusually public recruitment drives, Cuba’s defense and security budget has been rising and the government has bought riot-control and light military equipment abroad.

    The new gear, said Mastrapa, could be designed to “put down . . . rioting in the event the Raul Castro government’s experiment in economic liberalization goes awry.”

    Klepak said he did not expect the military-security sector “will bear any significant (job) cuts” because it shrank notably after Soviet subsidies ended in the early 1990s “and could not take much more and still be viable.”

    The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies reported in October that Cuba’s military stood at 49,000 active personnel in 2009 – 38,000 in the army, 3,000 in the navy and 8,000 in its air forces. That compares with 60,000 a decade earlier.

    The military has been cannibalizing its equipment and faces some shortages of fuel and training, said Klepak, who teaches history at the Royal Military College of Canada.

    Yet Cuba’s defense spending remains relatively high, with the CIA’s World Factbook putting it at 3.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 – 29th highest in the world. The United States ranked 25th.

    A report this year by Cuba’s National Statistic Office showed the budget for “defense and internal order” rising steadily from 2004 to 2009, from 1.3 to 2.08 billion pesos. In comparison, it reported the government budgeted 3.7 billion pesos for education in 2009.

    The report did not include the 2010 budget.

  14. MIAMI HERALD: New reforms another masquerade-By Jose Azel-Sunday, 11.21.10
    The VI Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba — now scheduled to meet April 2011 to ratify Gen. Raúl Castro’s economic directives, including the firing of 500,000 state employees — is viewed by some with hope that finally Cuba is moving toward a market economy, by others with substantial skepticism and by Marxists with horror as a betrayal of communist orthodoxy.

    So where is Cuba headed?

    Most likely, nowhere fast.

    Ironically, the official announcement of the firings was made by the Cuban Workers Union (CTC) — the Communist Party-controlled labor union. Anywhere but in repressive totalitarian regimes, an announcement dismissing 10 percent of the government’s workforce would have been met with the massive protests and international indignation usually associated with reforms required by the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. In Cuba, there was nary a peep on the streets.

    Add to this Fidel Castro’s apparent Freudian slip that the “Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” and you have a textbook recipe for ideological bewilderment, bureaucratic paralysis, opportunism, uncertainty, incongruous policymaking and more.

    In the Cuban version of Orwellian doublespeak, the dismissals are labeled as an “actualization of socialism,” where government will grant permits for those fired to seek to make a living “outside the state sector.” It is unspeakable to talk of a private sector.

    The firings reveal changes anchored not in a desire for political-economic reforms to help the Cuban people, but rather focused on the regime’s survival. In an economy with developed private competitive markets, employees dismissed from one firm have a fighting chance of securing employment in another. But in Cuba’s economic system, there is no private sector to absorb the unemployed. Where will they find employment?

    Perhaps most bizarre is that the dismissal measure seems to assume that everyone is suited to be an entrepreneur and able to make a living in fields that may be far from their work experience and professional training.

    The Cuban government is betting on the resourcefulness and entrepreneurship of the Cuban people to somehow make up for the inefficiencies of the state sector and to do so without access to cash, credit, raw materials, equipment, technology, or any of the inputs necessary to produce goods and services. Ironically, the likely source for these inputs will be the Cuban diaspora, eager to help their jobless relatives and friends.

    Cubans will somehow make do, but in terms of actual economic development, these measures will not work; they are not designed to. Allowing Cubans to read tarot cards or to make paper flowers — two of the now permitted activities — are not serious economic development measures. But just in case, the government is ready to collect onerous taxes of 25 percent for social security and up to 40 percent on income depending on the activity (e.g., food production will be taxed at 40 percent, artisans at 30 percent, and so on).

    If the intentions of the Cuban government were truly to undertake a major shift toward a market economy, it would not seek to limit the permitted economic actions to some 178 mostly individual activities (fruit-peeling, shoe-shining, etc.) and then impose stifling regulations and taxes. It requires a vivid dreamer’s imagination to see in this announcement by the Castro government a move toward a free-market economy.

    One lesson to be learned from the transitions of former Soviet-bloc countries is that the success of reforms hinges on placing individual freedoms and empowerment front and center. This is not where Cuba is headed with its “actualization of socialism.”

    For now, the firings only highlight the dismal state of the Cuban economic model succinctly depicted by the old Soviet joke that described their centrally planned economic system as one in which “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” The bankrupt Cuban system cannot even pretend to pay its workers anymore. So it is now changing its maquillage to make-believe capitalism.

    José Azel is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of the recently published book, “Mañana in Cuba.”

  15. 1Simba

    Noviembre 20th, 2010 at 16:48

    Simba, it has nothing to do with socialism or liberalism or whatever other political system you want. Bad examples about disastrous economies can be found at both wings of ideological spectrum. Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala, North Korea, are examples of right and left systems that does it horrible. When you tie the productive forces of a country you kill the economy. That is exactly what castro did in Cuba. The type of totalitarian system chosen by castro is one that is grounded in the economic dependence of the people to the state. To achieve such dependence you have to limit the productive forces by forbidding all independent economic activity that can make people economically independent. In such way you impoverish the country, kills the internal market and of course impoverishes the people too…. That is the goal. Now you have poor people that depend of you to survive and buy the survival giving to you political power …. And you have also a country that does not work economically. That’s why all major industries in Cuba perished. Citric industry is just one of them. I will not tell you where and when those by castro killed industries reborn because my friend Yubano does not like me to talk about it. Regards

  16. To many fail point for the Castro’s economic system . look even F. Castro doesn’t want to be first sec of the PCC. It is time for him to start paying the Cuban people for his own mistakes.

  17. Simba: In other words pointing what Castro said . The Cuban economic system doesn’t work, and repeating myself Socialist doesn’t work needer .
    Is the tale that has been painted w/ the blood of to many countries including the Cuban.

  18. Simba Cuban they don’t refuse to grow our own food let me put this in other way ; the paternalistic society of the Castro’s ,have made the Cubans adapted to survive with what the state provide for them .
    Any Cuban found to grow a crop no sanction by the Castro’s and they strategy of economic grow paid a penalty to the government even w/ confiscation of the land they own. That was Castro’s policies from 1961 after the law of agrarian reform until 2010.

  19. Agriculture in Cuba has played an important part in the economy for several hundred years. Agriculture contributes less than 10 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP), but it employs roughly one fifth of the working population. About 30 percent of the country’s land is used for crop cultivation.[1]

    The inefficient communist system that shackles the agriculture sector was ridiculed by Raúl Castro in a July 2007 speech.[2] Cuba now imports about 80% of the food it rations to the public.[2] The rationing program accounts for about a third of the food energy the average Cuban consumes.[3]


    Cuba is the world’s third largest producer of grapefruit. Sixty percent of the citrus production are oranges, 36% grapefruit.[5] In the citrus production the first foreign investment in Cuba’s agricultural sector took place: In 1991, the participation of an enterprise from Israel in the production and processing of citrus is the Jagüey Grande area, approximately 140 km (90 mi) east of Havana, was officially recognized.[17] The products are mainly marketed in Europe under the brand name Cubanita.


    Rice plays a major role in the Cuban diet. Rice in Cuba is mostly grown along the western coast. There are two crops per year. The majority of the rice farms are state-farms or belong to co-operatives[18]. Cuba has been a major importer of rice. Recently, the annual rice imports have approached 500 000 tonnes of milled rice. The production of rice is limited due to the shortage of water and similar to other industries in Cuba the lack of fertilizers and modern agricultural technology. The yield per hectare remains lower than the average of Central American and Caribbean countries[19].

    Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba*
    Introduction-In the 1950’s Cuba was, socially and economically, a relatively advanced country, certainly by Latin American standards and, in some areas, by world standards.
    Cuba’s infant mortality rate was the best in Latin America — and the 13th lowest in the world.
    Cuba also had an excellent educational system and impressive literacy rates in the 1950’s.
    Pre-Castro Cuba ranked third in Latin America in per capita food consumption.
    Cuba ranked first in Latin America and fifth in the world in television sets per capita.
    Pre-Castro Cuba had 58 daily newspapers of differing political hues and ranked eighth in the world in number of radio stations.

    Cuba’s infant mortality rate of 32 per 1,000 live births in 1957 was the lowest in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, according to UN data. Cuba ranked ahead of France, Belgium, West Germany, Japan, Austria, Italy, and Spain.
    In 1955, life expectancy in Cuba was among the highest at 63 years of age; compared to 52 in other Latin American countries, 43 in Asia, and 37 in Africa.
    In terms of physicians and dentists per capita, Cuba in 1957 ranked third in Latin America, behind only Uruguay and Argentina — both of which were more advanced than the United States in this measure. Cuba’s 128 physicians and dentists per 100,000 people in 1957 was the same as the Netherlands, and ahead of the United Kingdom (122 per 100,000 people) and Finland.

  20. Cuba was one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America before 1959. Under the Castrofacism the island economy has been ruined beyond recognition, transforming it into a third world country. After 51 years of failure still there are people who defend this regime. Unbelievable!

  21. Simba, I would say that Mandarin are not grown in Cuba because Cubans cannot afford it. How much is a teacher paid montly ? Can he afford paying 2-3 CUC for a bag of mandarins ? It takes money to run an orchard, it takes people who worked hard in the orchard and those people deserve a fair salary ? Who will pay them ??

    In regards to Yoani’s post I wonder how it possible to sneak in those fruits. Once I had 4-5 grapefruits with me. As I was leaving from home I’ve realized I had them in the fridge and I did not wanted them to get spoiled. I was flagged while entering Cuba, searched and they took away my fruits. I hope the guards ate them and not tossed them in the garbage

  22. Simba Sez: I wonder when humanity stopped thinking of “The common good of the people,” and exchanged the idea for “What’s in it for me?” When greed was born. Yoani says that Mandarin Oranges were once grown in Cuba, but apparently no longer are. I’ll take her word for it, but I wonder why that is? Do the Cuban citizens actually refuse to grow their own food because the government wants to distribute it for the common good of all citizens, but the population is so greedy it wants more than a fair share, or it refuses to work in the fields?
    The root question then becomes, why does Socialism not work? What part of the system breaks down? In theory, how could there be a better system than everyone takes an equal share of the labor, and everyone gets an equal share of the crop? Yet, it doesn’t appear to work in actual practice. Has humanity gotten so greedy they would rather starve than take a chance that they might be doing more than their fair share of the work? Do Mandarin oranges not grow because the Cuban population is greedy?

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