Thursday, July 13, 2006

One more bright idea ...

Saludos desde Sydney - and thank you for your visit to the blog.

The previous post regarding just some of Fidel Castro’s many bizarre and inevitably ill-fated schemes over the past 47 years has obviously stirred a few memories.

In his comment, Albert Quiroga recalls being told by a Cuban who left during the Mariel boatlift about Castro’s great coffee growing project back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Albert, I remember it clearly, too, and mention it in my book ... along with the giant pineapples, the super-cow experiment and Castro's very own tropical version of French brie cheese.

The great coffee growing project came about when Castro decided that Cuba would become the world's number one coffee producer. Just like that. Unlike the Colombians or the Brazilians, who grew their coffee high up in the mountains, Cuba would be planting a type of coffee called, from what I recall, cafe caturra - a magical coffee plant that grew just about anywhere. Or so El Comandante en Jefe claimed. These magical plants would produce massive amount of the beans so that Cubans would never want for coffee. Ever. In fact, there would be so much coffee, Cuba would sell mountains of the stuff to the entire world at hugely inflated prices, etc, etc. Sounds familiar, right?

And so, these magical coffee plants were planted all over Havana as one of the key crops in what became known as El Cordon de la Habana - a ring of coffee and other plants to be grown around the capital city. In the process, hundreds of hectares of "useless" bushland were wiped out and replaced by the coffee plants. But it wasn’t just bushland: Habaneros were told by Castro to dig up their gardens, the media strips, their local parks, every bit of greenery - and plant the coffee instead. They did. Within months it became clear that the coffee plants were dying because of the lowland heat and the generally unsuitable climatic conditions. So, after months of feverish propaganda (there were endless reports on television, in the official newspaper, Granma, and even songs on Radio Progreso about the magical coffee plants), the whole idea was quietly shelved, never to be heard of again, at least not in the official media. The damage to the green areas around the capital were massive and in many ways, the city has never recovered.

Like I said, it’s like something of a Woody Allen movie. Except it’s not a movie.

PS: Albert – I enjoy your blog, too, especially those great pictures of Havana prior to 1959. Talk about the “lost city”.

PPS: Thank you, Henry, for your assistance in setting up the look of the blog. Much appreciated.


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