The Rebirth of Flavors


Timid colored awnings spring from nowhere, under newly opened umbrellas fruit smoothies and pork rinds are sold, the doorways of some homes are turned into improvised snack bars with striking menus. All this and more grows in the streets of my city these days because of the new flexibility for self-employment. Some of my neighbors are making plans to open a shoe repair, or a place to repair fridges, while avenues and plazas are being transformed by the efforts of private initiative. The straitjacket that gripped individual initiative seems to loosen. Some remain cautious, however, waiting to see if this time the economic reforms will really take hold and not be shut down as happened in the nineties.

In just the few months since the announcement of the expansion in the number of licenses for independent work, the results are encouraging. We have begun to recover lost flavors, longed-for recipes, hidden comforts. More than 70,000 Cubans have taken out new licenses to work for themselves and at their own risk, and thousands more are seriously considering the advantages of opening a small family business. Despite the caution of many, the still excessive taxes, and the absence of wholesale markets, the brand new businesses have started to be noticed in a society marked by stagnation. You see them building their little stands, hanging colorful signs announcing their merchandise, rearranging their homes to accommodate a snack bar or to offer haircuts or manicures. Most are convinced that this time they are here to stay, because the system that so suffocated and demonized them in the past, has lost the ability to compete with them.

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76 thoughts on “The Rebirth of Flavors

  1. Regarding the debate below as to whether it is appropriate to past articles here. On the one hand, it would be nice now that people in Cuba can read the blog (and there are many there who speak english, or are learning it) were made aware of news items as they arise.

    On the other, it can become kind of tiresome to scroll through all the information as if going through a book, especially for people like me, who sometimes read the stuff on my smartphone. Besides, I think Yoanni means for this area to be for her readers comments and to get feedback on her postings.

    Therefore, with all the humility of someone who has no power to affect any changes here, and with all due respect to all sides, I suggest a compromise: How about if the articles are partially pasted, say just the first one or two paragraphs, followed by the link, so that people get the jest of the article, and if they want more they can click the link. This would allow the poor souls who have 2×3 inch screens to skim through the material that much quicker.

  2. Re: Post #70
    Humberto that was a great article regarding the bread situation in Cuba.
    A major point would be the need to import wheat. Below is a link to an article published by the World Bank about the efforts of the CIMMYT [Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo] in trying to develop heat resistant varieties of wheat. While the article may be dull to some, I find it particularly interesting.

    Here is the link to it:
    http://www.worldbank.org/html/cgiar/newsletter/Oct94/HotWheat.html

    Also here is a link to CIMMYT in case anyone might be interested:
    http://www.cimmyt.org/

    Although it won’t stop the import of wheat it may lessen the need to import so much of it.

    I think idea of a government running bakeries is purely idiotic, the exceptions would be the kitchens of state institutions and armed forces. The people would be better served if their government focused it’s efforts on the scientific development of agriculture instead. On the dark side this too will be failure if the government continues to run state owned farms as nobody will care about it and it will again be business as usual.

  3. COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS BLOG- (of released Cuban political prisoners in exile):After the Black Spring- THEIR VOICE ARE STILL MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

    A Cuban journalist in exile: Unkept promises-By Julio César Gálvez/CPJ Guest Blogger

    CLICK LINK FOR SERIES
    http://cpj.org/tags/after-the-black-spring

  4. COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Press Cuba to keep promise to free journalists-February 9, 2011
    José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
    President of the Government of Spain
    Palacio de La Moncloa
    Madrid, Spain

    Via facsímile: 34-913- 900-217

    Dear President Rodríguez Zapatero:

    The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that the Cuban government has yet to fulfill its promise to free all journalists imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown on dissent. We urge your government, which was a key party to the agreement to release the prisoners by November 2010, to hold President Raúl Castro to his word.

    We are further concerned by reports last week that imprisoned journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán and Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández have initiated a hunger strike to call attention to their continued incarceration and that of other political prisoners. Argüelles, 63, who has been in prison since 2003, is in poor health.

    After negotiations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, President Castro’s administration agreed on July 7, 2010, to release “within three to four months,” all 52 prisoners who were still jailed from the 2003 crackdown, the church said in a statement issued that day. Your government played an important role in facilitating those talks. Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Moratinos announced the same month that “the agreement with the Cuban authorities is that all political prisoners will be released from prison.”

    CPJ welcomed the subsequent release of 17 journalists, and wishes to thank you and your government for your sustained efforts in securing the freedom of the journalists and in offering them safe harbor in Spain with their families.

    However, with nine of the 52 political prisoners still behind bars three months after the deadline for their release, the Cuban government has so far failed to fulfill its commitment.

    These detainees have expressed a desire to stay in Cuba upon release and have refused immediate deportation to Spain, the reporters’ families told CPJ. Exile from the island was not stated as a condition of the Cuban government’s agreement to release political prisoners; however, CPJ research indicates that all of 17 freed journalists were immediately flown to Spain with their families. (At least three have since relocated, one to Chile and two to the United States.)

    In July, Moratinos announced in the Spanish parliament that Spain would receive “free people who freely choose to come to Spain,” but noted that “the commitment we have from Raúl Castro is that [former prisoners] would be able to return to the island.” On Friday, a dissident imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown, Guido Sigler, was permitted to remain in Cuba upon his release, the BBC reported. While CPJ considers this a positive development, President Castro should respect his commitment to release all political prisoners without exile as a condition.

    Those still jailed from the 2003 crackdown include three journalists: Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Iván Hernández Carrillo, and Pedro Argüelles Morán, all of whom suffer chronic health problems. CPJ has also called for the release of Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, who was jailed in 2009 on charges of “disrespect” and distribution of enemy propaganda. Du Bouchet Hernández, who is serving a three-year sentence, has been subjected to beatings in prison. (Detailed capsule reports on each detained journalist are available on CPJ’s website.)

    Three months have passed since the November deadline for Cuban authorities to free the remaining dissidents. Without signs of an imminent release, the journalists in prison are putting their health in jeopardy to draw attention to their plight. The extended delay in their release not only undermines Cuba’s credibility; it erodes Spain’s grounds for calling on the European Union states to normalize relations with Cuba. CPJ urges you to press President Castro to release all jailed journalists without further delay.

    Thank you for your attention on this urgent matter.

    Sincerely,

    Joel Simon
    Executive Director

    http://cpj.org/2011/02/press-cuba-to-keep-promise-to-free-journalists.php

  5. GLOBAL POST-Cuba: Bread running short at bakeries-Entrepreneurs may be buying up flour on the black market, causing bread shortages-By Nick Miroff -February 9

    HAVANA, Cuba — Like air and water, or free health care and education, state-subsidized bread is regarded as a natural right in socialist Cuba. Neighborhood bakeries across the island churn it out in blanched, spongy loaves and two-foot torpedoes so rigid they could practically whack a baseball.

    Every Cuban is entitled to at least one bun-sized piece per day as part of the island’s ration system, and bread is such a staple of the Cuban diet that long lines form outside government outlets for those wanting to buy more.

    But with tens of thousands of new Cuban entrepreneurs opening up private snack bars, cafeterias and pizza stands as part of President Raul Castro’s economic reforms, the island’s state-run bakeries have been coming up short lately. Suspicions have fallen on the new small businesses, which may be buying up more and more flour on the black market.

    At several locations around the capital, Cubans grumbled about diminished bread availability at state stores, though workers said they were still meeting the minimum output required for the ration system.

    “We’re making about 60 percent as much as we used to,” said one employee at a government bakery in Havana’s Playa neighborhood, where customers who queued up on a recent morning were turned away. “We don’t have the flour,” he said.

    The shortage at the state shops points to an emerging problem with the Castro government’s plan to shed hundreds of thousands of government employees and create a new class of private entrepreneurs. In the absence of a formal wholesale market to supply the upstart businesses, pilfering employees with access to state supplies and stockrooms become the island’s de facto wholesalers.

    While global wheat prices have risen sharply lately, workers at several bakeries said they were receiving the same amount of flour, and denied that supplies were being stolen. Instead, they said that the new entrepreneurs were simply buying up more bread, for use in making sandwiches.

    “It’s all these new snack bars,” said a clerk at a bakery in the city’s Vedado neighborhood, who, like other state employees asked about the shortages, did not give her name. Attempts to reach the Ministry of Food Production, which oversees the state bakeries, were unsuccessful, as the phones at its main offices went unanswered.

    Government planners have said they will set up a supply system for the new small businesses, with $130 million set aside toward the effort this year, including $36 million for foodstuffs. But they caution it could take years to implement. Since most of the wholesale supplies will have to be imported, it is not clear if the government will sell items at or around cost, as most other goods shipped from abroad and sold in hard currency stores at a hefty markup.

    With the government pledging to lay off or reassign 500,000 state workers in the coming months, and possibly hundreds of thousands more after that, it is looking to cut costs by shrinking the size of the state and allowing more private sector and non-state activity. Since October, officials have issued some 80,000 new self-employment licenses, of which roughly 30 percent are for food or food-service related activities.

    While the new licenses have created a sense of optimism among some enterprising Cubans at a time when other government subsidies are being cut back, the licenses are limited to a list of 178 occupations. The government has yet to authorize others, citing the lack of a wholesale market for raw materials, such as auto-body repairman, upholsterer and welder — jobs that are now widely performed on the black market anyway.

    Late last year, as the reforms were being announced, the communist party newspaper Granma urged patience with the creation of the wholesale system, explaining that officials couldn’t set up such a network overnight. “To think that the State is allowing new small businesses without creating a market for their supplies would be irresponsible, especially since solid planning has been one of the basic principles of these updates to our economic model,” the article said.

    “But we can’t rest on our laurels, nor expect the materials to appear from one day to the next,” it continued. “The new economic landscape requires us to increase our levels of production, direct our efforts to the most urgent tasks, and better allocate our resources. These small business can’t subtract from what is available for the people — they must do the opposite.”

    But until such a wholesale supply system exists, the island’s budding entrepreneurs — food vendors, mechanics, plumbers — will likely do just that, relying on black-market suppliers for their businesses, even though inspectors can confiscate items that aren’t matched to a receipt. And while some government stores sell imported baking flour and other materials in hard currency, under-the-table providers at state bakeries can offer a more reliable and cheaper supply.

    Wheat does not grow in Cuba’s tropical climate, so the country’s entire supply is imported, along with about 70 percent of the rest of the Cuba’s food, a cost of more than $2 billion a year.

    The Castro government wants to reduce that heavy dependence on imports, granting no-cost leases of state-owned land to Cubans who want to farm. But so far the effort has brought only modest productivity increases.

  6. Love Cuba, your words say it all to me and made me realize that not everybody is an avid surfer as I am. Thanks for revisiting the article by Regina Coyula “Mazorra y el secretismo”
    http://lamalaletraen.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/mazorra-and-secrecy/
    Humberto, Keep on posting as you will as others have me convinced that I might just learn something as well. Pedro Pan made me who I am today, but do get the facts right. take a look here: http://pedropan.org/content/history-operation-pedro-pan I still think you would be a great blogger, you might want to give it a try.
    Mazzora, If I got folks “going” by throwing gasoline on the barbeque then it achieved the desired effect. I needed to know what it was all about, since I never commented or read the comments during my years of reading this blog. You should be at our family’s dinner table sometime I think you’d enjoy the conversation.
    Damir, I could not leave you out, keep those posts coming as we all know you are just doing your job at MINIT. Prensa Latina and Granma are such dull reading and I think your PCC approved posts provide a humorous note for everybody.

  7. #46 “I’m an editor not a writer,..”
    Doesn’t an editor have to do at least some thinking though?

  8. SO BOYS AND GIRLS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, GUSANOS AND REVOLUTIONARY RATS! THIS MEANS THAT AT THIS TIME SOME OF THOSE IN CUBA CAN READ YOANI AND OUR POSTS! YIKES, WHAT WILL MY COUSINS THINK!

    REUTERS:Cuba unblocks access to controversial blog

    – Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said on Tuesday the Cuban government apparently has unblocked access to her blog, which had been off limits on the island’s Internet since 2008.
    In a posting on Twitter, she wondered how long Cuban Internet users would be able to view her Generation Y blog, (www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/), but exulted in the opening, however brief.

    “In the long night of censorship, a small hole has opened. My blog Generation Y returns to the insular light,” the 35-year-old blogger said.

    Her blog, which criticizes the Cuban system and the difficulties of daily life on the communist-led island, is little known in Cuba, where Internet access is limited, but she has an international audience.

    Sanchez has become the new face of political opposition in Cuba, replacing an old guard less conversant in new technologies, and she has earned the enmity of the Cuban government, which frequently criticizes her on its websites.

    She was mentioned prominently last week in a leaked videotape of a government meeting about the Internet as the new battlefield in Cuba’s ongoing ideological conflict with the United States.

    Sanchez has won a number of international prizes and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2008.

    Her blog is translated into 15 languages and she has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

    A Cuban government official did not respond to questions about why Sanchez’s blog has been unblocked, but it came as Cuba hosted an international computer science conference.

    (Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Esteban Israel; Editing by Jeff Franks and Paul Simao)

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/08/us-cuba-blogger-idUSTRE7175YG20110208

  9. Love Cuba! Love you! Mazorra, youre not crazy and I think I lost your “number”!
    Julio, will take your suggestion into consideration but most likely will continue as I do unless the moderators say otherwise!Pedro Pan! That is the name given to the children that were sent out of Cuba in the early 1960’s without their parents so they would not end up in the CASTROFACIST HELLHOLE! Many never saw their parents again so you dont deserve that name! Damir, there are no words to describe how utterly useless you are!Albert, is too late to think something for you but give me time! and FREEDOM you are what we all want to be in!

    Your “Postmaster General” in the cyber wars against facism!

  10. Julio, it’s no big deal, but I have a preference for reading everything without clicking to external sites. Besides, Humberto’s posts provide a nice counterbalance to the long posts of a character I believe is from Monty Python.

  11. Not one of you knows what the post is all about anyway.

    One “genius” said it was about “favors”.

    Need I say more…???

    Actually I do: it is “flavoUrs” and “favoUrs”, illiterate losers.

    The ommited U (also “harboUr) and “coloUr”, among a few other words) were born in the slums of equally illiterate immigrants flooding the continent with their ignorance and lack of basic knowledge of english.

    As you would expect of a primitive immigrant from non-english speaking background. Many even today still speak with their fathers’ accent, even if they were born in the usa.

    But the lack knowledge goes from a generation to a generation.

    It is the only thing that we know it is passed on no matter what conditions are.

    The ignorance. And many posting here to “support” the team”yoani” are permeating this endless ring of evil over and over…

    The Duke University had studied the brains of people from 2 and 3 thousands of years ago and compared the findings with modern humans.

    Old people had bigger brains than 70% of todays people.

    That means that they must have been capable of more brain activity than most people today.

    Reading comments from “democrats” here, the study is dead-right spot-on.

  12. Not one of you knows what the post is all about anyway.

    One “genius” said it was about “favors”.

    Need I say more…???

    Actually I do: it is “flavoUrs” and “favoUrs”, illiterate losers.

    The ommited U (also “harboUr) and “coloUr”, among a few other words) were born in the slums of equally illiterate immigrants flooding the continent with their ignorance and lack of basic knowledge of english.

    As you would expect of a primitive immigrant from non-english speaking background. Many even today still speak with their fathers’ accent, even if they were born in the usa.

    But the lack knowledge goes from a generation to a generation.

    It is the only thing that we know it is passed on no matter what conditions are.

    The ignorance. And many posting here to “support” the team”yoani” are permeating this endless ring of evil over and over…

    The Duke University had studied the brains of people from 2 and 3 thousnads of years ago and compared the findings with modern humans.

    Old people had bigger brains than 70% of todays people.

    That means that they must have been capable of more brain activity than most people today.

    Reading comments from “democrats” here, the study is dead-right spot-on.

  13. Great read today!!!

    Been a while, whole month and a half, since the “geniuses” (and it is written with sarcasm, huge does of it) last took on each other.

    Keep sticking it to each other, all three of you.

    By hte way, how come your children are not contributing?

    Oh, of course!!! They are born usanians and couldn’t really give a rats arse about that little island where they know nobody and the last time they were there, they starved and had nothing to do…

    Guess, the three of you octogenarians will have to continue your fight.

    As long as you keep belting each other, justly as I may add, the critique was spot on about boring and useless copy and paste from other sites, I’m happy.

    Keep hitting and attacking each other!!! Do not allow anyone tell you what you can or cannot write here!!!

    Bloody wannabe Castros!!! There are so many of them around!!!

    Dictators!

    Don’t let them get to you!!!

    Kick back and go for the teeth!!!

  14. I was only suggesting for him to shorten the post nothing else. I even say some of his post are valuable. I did not said at any moment he should stop posting.

  15. Here’s my two cents:

    I don’t have much time to read news or politics on the web. When I have time, I try to read Yoani’s blog and if I have more time, a few other writers I like, like Regina Coyula. I quickly scan the comments, so when people post stuff like #22, or #25, I feel they are doing me a favor and I am better informed as a result. I read this blog for 3 years without posting a thing, and maybe there are other readers like me out there.

    Julio, I’ve always enjoyed reading your comments. I’ve even checked out Havana Times and read a good interview with you there. But I think Humberto’s posts add to this site, not the opposite. The people who read this blog have widely divergent points of view, and probably only share amazement that honest writing is coming out of Cuba. Most are probably not inclined to the type of discussion that occurs at HT, where readers with very similar points of view discuss (at extreme length) the merits of Che versus Trotsky, but know nothing about Cuba. On the other hand, a reader at Regina’s site, added very interesting information below her article “Mazorra y el secretismo” even if it didn’t lead to any discussions with other readers.

    Just my opinion.

  16. Humberto, please, keep on posting and don’t pay attention to what other people say. Thanks.

  17. If I’m understanding spanish and the tweet column correctly, looks like the regime has unblocked Yoani’s blog and the whole desde Cuba portal. This is great news. Hope this holds up for the long haul.

    This means cubans in Cuba with internet accessibility can now get some serious news.

  18. Pedro, there are many cars on the road, not all are going in the same direction, and you are not obligated to follow anyone’s lead. Marching in lock-step is not in the cards and neither are your attempts at moderating. I’m sure Yaoni doesn’t lose any sleep because our conversation strays to other Cuba related issues. This blog didn’t start yesterday but you are a relatively recent arrival and yet here you are telling everyone what they should or shouldn’t post. We all know this is Yoani’s blog, I don’t see anyone saying otherwise. Ironically it is you who seems to be trying to steer the wheel without the captain’s approval.

  19. In capitalism people are ALLOWED to disagree and argue.Even a fist fight is sometimes refreshing. In Cuba if you are disagree with the Government you are deadbeat. Understand Dumbir ?

  20. I think the rebolutionaries are affraid of retribution, of the people around them, of the gosts of all the people they killed in the mame of the rebolution. in the name of their cuba not my Cuba.
    The new “freedoms” while good are a last ditch effort to erase the memory of the last 50 years of lies, of blood & sacrifice for nothing.
    The rebirth of favors? favors? the hell w/favors!!! the reclaiming of rights, even if one by one, that is what’s comming & among all the rights: the right to a FREE vote in a FREE election w/multiple candidates & points of view …
    VIVA CUBA LIBRE !!!

  21. Pobrecito Damir,

    Was your lunch not good at MINIT today? Was the ham not ham again? Well, Los Abuelos have to cut back where they can even at your office.

    The exchange today was a friendly difference of opinion. That’s what freedom of expression is all about. Just because I completely disagree with someone doesn’t mean I would not buy a beer for them and still be friends.

    Tsk… Tsk… Tsk… Mazorra, this is Yoani’s blog not mine not yours it’s Yoani’s. The commentary one would think would it would be about the subject at hand written by Yoani. My comments are just trying to put the car back on the road when some tries to keep driving into the ditch.

  22. Interesting how the two aspiring pseudo-moderators have teamed up to try to steer the content of the blog in the direction they prefer. Pedro Pan and Julio/a (Roberts); didn’t they work together on a Disney film? Not surprising they are collaborating again. I don’t recall reading anywhere that discussion in this forum should be restricted solely to what Yoani has written about. Most of us are here because we enjoy reading what Yaoni has to say but this is also a forum about Cuba. Throwing my two cents in, I think the articles Humberto posts are not only relevant but important. They paint a broader picture of the situation in Cuba and provide much needed perspective. If you don’t want to read his posts, my comments, or anybody else’s simply just skip over them, no one is obligated to read every single post. Far be it from me to come to your rescue Humberto, I don’t agree with a good many of the things you have to say outside of your cutting and pasting. But don’t be dissuaded, please carry on.

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