Oiled Mechanism

A drop slid down my leg, I maneuvered it into the hollow between my ankle and my shoe and did a thousand pirouettes so my high school classmates wouldn’t notice. For months, my family had had only mineral oil for cooking, thanks to pharmacist relative who was able to sneak it from his work. I remember it heating to a white foam in the pot and the food tinged with the golden color of a photograph, ideal for food magazines. But our bodies could not absorb that kind of fat, made for creating lotions, perfumes or creams. It passed right through our intestines and dripped, dripped, dripped… My panties were stained, but at least we got a break from food that was just boiled, and could try another, slightly roasted.

We were quite fortunate to have that semblance of “butter” that someone stole for us, because in the nineties many others had to distill engine oil for use in their kitchens. Perhaps that’s why we Cubans are traumatized by this product extracted from sunflowers, soybeans or olives. The price of a quart of oil in the market has become our own popular indicator of well-being versus crisis, in the thermometer that takes the temperature of scarcities. With an ever shrinking culinary culture, from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo, most stoves know only recipes for fried foods. Hence, pork fat, or buttery liquids with high-sounding names such as “The Cook” or “Golden Ace,” prove essential in our daily lives.

When, a few days ago — with no prior warning — the price of vegetable oil in hard currency stores rose by 11.6%, the annoyance was very strong, even more so than when fuel prices rose. Many of us don’t have cars to show us that convertible pesos are continually turned into less and less gasoline, but we all face a plate every day where the prices of staple foods have soared. That this happens with no accompanying public protest, no discontented housewives raising a ruckus beating on their pots and pans, no long articles in the press complaining of the abuse, is harder to swallow than a meal with no fat. I’m more embarrassed by this tacit acceptance of rising prices than I was of the thread of mineral oil snaking down my calf before the mocking eyes of my classmates.


24 thoughts on “Oiled Mechanism

  1. I am so sorry to hear about this situation. I loved Cuba and its people after visiting your country for a week. People were so nice to me. I think the Cubanos deserve better. I am sorry for any part my country (USA) has played in this farce of a situation. I am sorry that the embargo has been used as a scapegoat for all problems by the policial leaders in your country. People in all countries deserve a right to earn enough money to feed their families a nutrious meal and keep themselves clean (with soap and tooth paste). My wish is for positive change in the very near future.

  2. Perhaps I meant to say Dickens’ London, where rich and poor lived in such close proximity, but all such parallels have their limits. Some of my Cuban friends would consider Oliver’s porridge a 5 star dinner.

  3. @21, Cuba is definitely a country of haves and have-nots, except the gaps you can see between slums and rich neighborhoods in other third world countries, you can see in the same apartment building in Cuba. In some ways Havana reminds me of the London of a hundred years ago (not that I’m that old), with the difference being that begging for food was for a long time a counter-revolutionary crime in Cuba, so the poor did their patriotic duty and starved quietly in their homes.

  4. According to FAO the average is 3,000 per capita daily calories. Those that can afforded, buy products at overpriced government supermarket and the black market to balance the daily intake of calories.

    The domestic food crisis is characterized by low productivity and a great lack of liquidity in hard currency. Who would have imagined that Cuba would become an importer of food, even importing sugar, of all things, from the United States, of all places?

  5. In March 13, 2011 the “temporary” introduction of rationing in Cuba, the so-called ration book, reached its 49 anniversary.

    The Castro regime in his Second Report on Implementation of the Millennium Goals sends to United Nations, July 2005, said of the ration book: “it guarantees approximately half the per capita calories consumption of the Cuban population”

    The ration book provides only 1,000 per capita daily calories, good for 10 to 15 days of monthly food requirements, depending on eating habits.

    Cuban Ration Book

    Monthly Ration per person:

    1- Ground soya beef 8 ounces plus 8oz of other meats (hot dogs, mortadella)
    2 – Eggs 10 units
    3 – Fish 10 ounces
    4 – Bread one roll daily (3 ounces)
    5 – 1 liter of milk daily for children under 7 years
    6 – 1 liter soya yogurt for children between 7 and 13 years
    7 – Rice 5 lb
    8 – Potatoes 4 lb (dropped from the ration book November 2009)
    9 – Sugar 5 lb
    10 – Coffee 4 ounces (mixed with peas)
    11 – Chicken half-pound
    12 – Vegetable oil 16 ounces
    13 – Spaghetti (dried pasta) half-pound
    14 – Beans 10 ounces
    15 – Peas 10 ounces (dropped from the ration book November 2009)
    16 – Salt 6 ounces

    Source: Distribution list at the retail stores run by the MINCIN.

  6. YOUTUBE: Conferencia de prensa de James Carter en La Habana- Press Conference of James Carter in Havana.


    YOUTUBE: Entrevista a James Carter, por Arleen Rodríguez- Interview of James Carter by Cuban television w’ Arleen Rodriguez

  8. Thanks Rick! Some context and analysis by experts always helps me to understand the situation. In addition, information comes out is some of these articles and programs that I never knew about, thus I can piece together a better picture of events and people.

  9. Thanks Humberto for your continuing to disseminate the responses in articles and commentaries from respected national and international sources to the recent visit of former President Jimmy Carter to our Yoani and the other dissidents in Cuba.

    As brief and unfulfilled as the promise of that part of the visit may have been in the overall scheme of things the very fact that Mr. Carter spent time with Yoani, the Ladies in White and the freed political prisoners as well as other dissidents has lent some exposure to our cause and by contrast to the manipulations of the regime to capitalize on certain comments that they were able to elicit from Mr. Carter, which was their goal from the beginning, will not in the end gain them the advantage they so badly desire, a way out of the economic morass that their failed system has put them in.


    Yoani Sanchez (La Flaca) Followers = 122,739
    Fidelreflexion (The Mummy) Followers = 109,671

  11. YOUTUBE: Comer en Cuba, por Dr. Hilda Molina- To eat in Cuba- She explains how the government uses food and access to food to control and abuse the population. In spanish, sorry to sub-titles.

    Dr. Hilda Molina (born Hilda Molina y Morej on in 1942 in Ciego de Avila, Cuba) is the former chief neurosurgeon of Cuba. Molina was also a deputy in the Cuban National Assembly but has been a critic of the Cuban government since the early 1990s. Her criticisms focus primarily on Cuba’s state-governed healthcare system.
    In 1987, Molina founded the neurosurgery center in Havana. By 1991, her center had become one of the most important scientific centers in Cuba. The same year, Molina claims she was informed by the then Minister of Health, Julio Teja Perez, that her center was henceforth to treat foreigners paying in U.S. dollars. Previously, the center had treated only Cuban patients. Dr. Molina subsequently resigned her position at the center and her seat at the National Assembly. Molina claims that she and her son were subjected to mob retaliation in what are termed “acts of repudiation”. She had continuously been denied a visa to travel for personal as well as professional reasons until June, 2009 when permission was granted to visit family in Argentina.[1]

  12. ***
    Jose R. Cadenas–see #8–hits it out of the park. Dummy Jimmy Carter is the second worst President in my long life. Only Comrade Obama is worse.
    Jose R. Cadenas–vea #8–pega la pelota del parque. El Tonto Jimmy Carter es el segundo peor Presidente en my vida larga. Solamente es peor Camarada Obama.
    John Bibb

  13. ***
    Jose R. Cadenas–see #8–hits it out of the park. Jimmy Carter is the second worst President in my long life. Only Comrade Obama is worse.
    Jose R. Cadenas–vea #8–pega la pelota del parque. Jimmy Carter es el segundo peor Presidente en my vida larga. Solamente es peor Comarada Obama.
    John Bibb

  14. ***
    HELLO HUMBERTO CAPIRO–#7. Good article on Jimmy Carter’s visit to Cuba. Castro has made prisoners of most Cubans. And Yoanni’s story on how poverty causes illness for Cubans is very sad. Many people die by using poisonous cooking oils in the kitchens. Thanks for nothing, Fidel! Life was better under Batista. Free Cuba!
    HOLA HUMBERTO CAPIRO–#7.–Buen articulo del visite de Jimmy Carter a Cuba. Castro a puesto prisioneros de la mayorea de los Cubanos. Y la historia de Yoanni de como la pobreza causa enfermed por Cubanos es muy triste. Mucha gente mueran porque usan aceite envenenada in las cocinas. Gracias por nada, Fidel! La vida fue mejor abajo de Batista. Cuba Libre!
    John Bibb

  15. FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: What did Jimmy Carter accomplish in Cuba?-By José R. Cárdenas

    The continuing momentous events in North Africa and the Middle East understandably overshadowed former President Jimmy Carter’s trip last week to Cuba. That is unfortunate, because rather than compel any rethinking of U.S. policy towards Cuba — as was the trip’s purpose — it only provided another salient lesson on the futility of attempting to appease tyranny.

    For the record, here is a short accounting of what President Carter did in Cuba:

    He denounced the U.S. embargo of Cuba and called for unilateral changes in U.S. policy, including immediate repeal of the Helms-Burton law.
    Called for the unconditional removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
    Called for the unconditional release of five Cuban spies jailed in U.S. and criticized the U.S. judicial system under which they were convicted.
    Denounced Cuban American members of Congress, such as the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), as “radicals” determined to keep Cuba and the United States “apart.”
    Blamed the U.S. government for the infamous 1996 incident in which Cuban MiGs shot down two small civilian aircraft in international airspace.
    Referred to dictator Fidel Castro as his “personal friend.”
    Criticized the U.S. for not doing enough to combat “the problem of Global Warming” and praised Fidel Castro’s “activism and wisdom” on the issue.
    Apparently to balance out these activities, lest no one suspect where his sympathies may actually lie, President Carter also met with Cuban dissidents and religious leaders and did otherwise recognize Cuban human rights by saying that he hoped that “in the future” all Cubans have the freedom to speak, assemble, and travel.

    But this was all merely backdrop to what was widely considered the objective of Carter’s trip: securing the release of the unjustly imprisoned American aid worker Alan Gross, with whom Carter also met. In this light, Carter’s obsequious behavior toward the Castro regime could otherwise be dismissed as the “price” that had to be paid for Gross’s freedom.

    (Even as Carter tried to dampen prospects for Gross’s release — “I am not here to take him out of the country” — given the nature of Cuban totalitarianism, such Orwellian doublespeak is meant to pave the way for such a release, since it would allow the Castro regime to “surprise” and reward their pliant guest with a magnanimous gesture before leaving the country.)

    But President Carter left Cuba empty-handed and Alan Gross remains imprisoned for the “crime” of bringing internet equipment to Cuban Jewish groups.

    So a trip that began ostensibly to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, instead only wound up focusing the spotlight on the regime’s continued intransigence. Not only did President Carter not return with Gross, but, for all his supplicating efforts, he returned with no concessions, no overtures, no indication the Castro regime was prepared to do anything to warrant a change in U.S. policy; only the standard Castro line that what are needed are changes in U.S. policy.

    It is not surprising then that President Carter’s trip placed in bold relief why U.S.-Cuban relations will continue to remain as they are. Absent any true commitment on the Castro’s behalf to allay any U.S. concerns about their treatment of the Cuban people, the fact remains that no U.S. president is going to compromise their standing on some wooly process that may (but more likely not) lead to some “future” improvements in respect for the Cuban people’s fundamental rights.


  16. AMERICAS QUARTERLY BLOG: Jimmy Carter: Pleasant Visit, Missed Opportunities in Cuba-April 4, 2011-by Frank Calzon

    Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn are back in the United States after enjoying the hospitality of Fidel and Raúl Castro in Havana and visiting with Alan Gross, an American serving a 15-year sentence for giving away a satellite telephone and a laptop to Cubans. They also met with Cuban dissidents, notably mothers and wives of political prisoners and Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban blogger who has received substantial international attention in recent months.

    Of course there are already some who have expressed their outrage at what they say was President Carter’s emphasis on the need to lift the U.S. trade embargo and his “feeble efforts” to bring home Alan Gross, who Carter reports lost 88 pounds during more than 15 months in Cuban jails.

    Nevertheless, the Carters should be given credit where credit is due. While the eyes of the world are focused on the struggles against dictatorship in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and the nuclear disaster in Japan, the Carters’ journey helps remind international opinion not only about U.S.-Cuba policy but about the 52-year-old Cuban dictatorship, Havana’s political captives, and the courage of Cubans who continue to face harassment, beatings and imprisonment for their desire to bring to an end the last dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere.

    Yet, there is something to the idea that President Carter believes in “dictatorships and double standards,” a phrase made famous by Jeane Kirkpatrick, who later became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in her critique of the Carter’s foreign policy.

    In August 2010, the former president was invited by Kim Jung-Il, North Korea’s tyrant, to visit Pyongyang, where he obtained the release of Aijalon Gomes, an American who had been sentenced to eight years for entering North Korea illegally. Gomes spent a total of four months in prison, and Carter, who has taught Sunday school, no doubt knows of the ancient Talmud teaching that “he who saves a life, saves the world.”

    While in Havana, Carter made several efforts to lower the expectation that he would bring home Mr. Gross, who is a subcontractor for the USAID democracy program. Mr. Gross has already spent 15 months in prison for “crimes against the security of the state,” the terminology used by the Cuban government to describe giving away communication equipment to Cubans.

    Aijalon Gomes’ stay in a North Korean prison was no picnic, but no one denies that he had entered North Korea illegally. Gross, on the other hand, entered Cuba legally and his draconian punishment is unheard of in any normal country around the world.

    By lowering expectations, Carter removed any substantial pressure on the Cuban authorities to release Gross.

    Pleading with the Castro brothers to release political prisoners is nothing new. The old joke in Havana is that when an important leader visits France, he is given a work of art and a bottle of wine; that when you visit Queen Elizabeth of England you might receive a handsome book signed by the Monarch, and that politicians visiting Havana take home one of Castro’s captives.

    Reverend Jessie Jackson went to Cuba and brought back a couple dozen long-term political prisoners. In response to pleadings from French President Francois Mitterrand, Havana released Armando Valladares, who had spent 22 years in prison. When Senator Edward Kennedy asked Castro, the regime allowed poet Heberto Padilla to emigrate and the Senator, who had not gone to Havana, received Padilla upon his arrival in the United States.

    The Carters had in their pocket the key that could have sprung Alan Gross out of prison. Kennedy, Mitterrand, or Jessie Jackson were not more important to the Havana leadership than the Carters’ campaign to end unilaterally the U.S. embargo.

    Tragically President Carter has yet to comment on the arrest and harassment of several human rights activists during his visit to the island, or whether he mentioned their plight during his encounters with the Castro brothers.

    Just like President Carter did during his administration when he made efforts to improve relations with Cuba by opening a U.S. interests section in Havana while Cuba opened its own in Washington, President Barack Obama wants to have normal relations between the two countries. Obama offered “to extend an open hand” of friendship expecting Havana to reciprocate by “unclenching its fist.” Obama has ended restrictions on Cuban-American travel and Cuban-American remittances to Cuba; but helping Cuban families can also help the state to maintain repression and its military and security forces.

    The U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba today is the largest diplomatic presence on the island. There are more diplomats from the United States in Cuba than there are from France, Russia, Spain, or any other country. And the much maligned embargo is but a pale reflection of its former self. Today, U.S. companies sell hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural products to the island, including the newsprint used by the regime to publish anti-American diatribes.

    Carter’s well-meaning efforts in the 1970s were perceived by Fidel as a sign of weakness. President Carter was confronted by the deployment of Cuban forces in the horn of Africa under the command of Soviet generals and a refugee crisis of great proportions.

    Now fast forward to today. Obama’s Cuban outreach has yet to be reciprocated. In the words of the White House, “the ball remains in Havana’s court.” The Castro brothers know very well what President Obama has requested: the release of political prisoners, the return of Alan Gross, and the implementation of political and economic reforms. The Carters’ visit may end up being an unnecessary distraction, since Obama just a few days ago raised his concerns about Cuba while visiting Chile.

    Obama will do well to remain steadfast in his position, and to refuse to be intimidated and blackmailed. Havana would like the United States to release Cuban spies serving prison terms in the United States despite the evidence presented in the trial, in which one of them was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, of Havana’s instructions to them to find suitable sites in South Florida for the landing of Cuban weapons and personnel.

    Former President Carter said that there was no basis to compare Gross and the five Cuban spies, but while in Havana, Carter accepted the Cuban government’s decision to not release Alan Gross, while calling on the United States to release the five Cuban spies.

    In a way, their behavior in Havana could be understood to reflect President Carter’s upbringing. He and the former First Lady are the epitome of Southern gentility and good manners. They are not the kind to raise impolite issues with their hosts.

    *Frank Calzon is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is the Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington DC.


  17. If anyone needs to talk politics or “business” with the USA, they should talk to the current PRESIDENT, OBAMA, not some OLD FART who was president years ago and does not have all his faculties.

  18. 4 <- Many people from Venezuela warned us about this visit from Carter “don’t trust him, and don’t expect anything good from him”, and they were right. His accountings of his visit are an apology to the Cuban dictatorship and a betrayal to Cuban dissidency. Shame on you Carter!

  19. . No ven todo lo que se esta cocinando?. Primero la invitacion de Raul a Carter, ahora Kerry quiere cortar la ayuda a los grupos disidentes, pueden leer el reporte de viaje de Carter en http://cubaldirect.posterous.com/040111-the-carter-center-atlanta-trip-report
    Esto es lo unico que dice Carter que trato con los disidentes, blogueros y expresos.

    “Wednesday morning we met with a group of active dissidents, bloggers, and
    others and then hosted 10 of the 12 recently released political prisoners
    and their wives, who reported that they were still insisting that those
    exiled to Spain be permitted to return to Cuba. They complained about their
    difficulty in getting renewed ID cards and drivers’ licenses. ”

    Esto es de “apaga y vamonos”

  20. Yoani, once again I congratulate you for your courage and sincerity. This is journalism at its finest. This type of reporting is what will put you over the top and earn you many more awards the world over.

    The bearded monster takes the Cuban people for granted just like the old dictators of yesteryear in the old Soviet Union. I remember news reports of long ago, when a few protesters in Red Square tried to publically request freedom for Sakharov (who was in jail) in Red Square. They were removed by agents as people walking by called them traitors. No one joined in the protest, instead Russian spectators who were interviewed by the press all showed their faithfulness to the communist regime. This was in the middle of the cold war back in the late seventies.

    Today look at Russia. Although not perfect, it has relative freedom and people are allowed to develop and open their businesses. Latest reports indicate significant economic achievements. The same will happen in Cuba sooner than we all think.

  21. @Sra.Yoani Sánchez
    Tal vez aquí sea visible para usted, le llegue mi comentario-petición.
    Le he mandado un correo, no desde el correo-nickname, sino desde un correo personal, rogándole me diga por qué no pone usted un contador en su blog. Alojado también en desdecuba.com está el blog SinEvasión de Miriam Celaya y ahí sí hay uno.
    ¿Por qué mi interés? Pues sencillamente, porque mantengo un blog Acerca de Cuba, y realizo seguimiento de blogs de interés, entre ellos el suyo.
    Usted mencionó hace unos días que recibe 10.000.000 de visitas mensuales, pero su editor Random House Mondadori afirma en Youtube, que son 10.000.000 diarias.
    Como verá vale la pena poner un contador.

    @ Sra.Yoani Sánchez
    Perhaps here is visible to you and my post-petition reach.
    I’ve sent an email, not from e-nickname, but from a personal email, asking you to tell me why do not you put a counter on his blog. The blog SinEvasión Miriam CelayaDesdecuba.com is also housed in desdecuba.com and this blog, yes there is one.
    Why my interest? Quite simply, because I keep a blog about Cuba, and track blogs of interest, including yours.
    You mentioned recently that receives 10,000,000 hits per month, but your publisher Random House Mondadori said on YouTube, which is 10,000,000 daily.
    As you can see worth to put an accountant.
    PD Sorry for my bad English

  22. Economics 101 says that when you devalue your currency then imported goods will cost more. Albeit in this case by more than the devaluation but this certainly won’t be the last example of this very predictable outcome.

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