Friday, June 01, 2007

Just like a Cuban

In my previous life as a journalist for one of Australia’s oldest and best known newspapers, I once spent a day working in a busy restaurant pretending to be a kitchen hand.

Another time, I spent a whole week (five days!) working as a teacher’s assistant in a large public school.

It's an old journalistic stunt that is supposed to allow you to learn first hand how other people live and work, so that you could then go away and write about it.

It’s a lot of fun but in the end, pretty meaningless, of course.

I mean, how much can you really learn about the hard work of a kitchen hand after a day? Bugger all. And let's face it; at the end of the day, the reality is you always go back to your comfortable cocoon.

And so we come to Anita Snow, now in her eighth year as AP bureau chief in Havana.

In her latest dispatch, Ms Snow has announced that she will spend all of June trying to eat like an ordinary Cuban – as opposed to a foreigner with ready access to hard cash and well-stocked supermarkets.

This means our intrepid reporter will rely on the food rations doled out every month by the Castro regime as part of a rationing system that has been in place for 45 very, very long years.

So far, she has explained what’s included in the monthly kitty and it’s not much, as you can see here.

Ms Snow has also told us that the basket of goods provided by the regime costs Cubans the equivalent of just USD1.30 a month, which sounds like a bargain, until you discover the average monthly wage is just USD16.00.

We have also been told that the basket is “a safety net for basic food needs” that will last for 10 to 15 days.

Safety net? Not if you are an ordinary Cuban with no access to hard currency.

You see, once the rationed food runs out after a week or two, your options are to either find food on the black market, which is illegal and costly, or to visit a government-owned “shopping” where you can buy whatever is on offer freely but only if you have hard currency.

And at prices that are well above what we would normally pay in the West.

We will see how Ms Snow copes but so far, there is one important point she has failed to mention.

When the rationing system was introduced by Castro in 1962, the dictator-in-the-making promised Cubans that the ration book - la libreta - was a temporary measure that would last at most 12 months.

It's been a long 12 months, alright.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Healthier eating habits?? Has she really spoken to anyone in Cuba? Has she ever eaten lunch from a worker's kitchen? I hope this reporter is prepared to fail in her "experiment" and write about it too. The conditions will be entirely false since the wheeling and dealing most Cubans do between neighbours will be impossible for her to mimic as an obvious foreigner and a journalist watched by the government.

7:42 am  
Blogger Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Anita Snow is probably an anorexic or bulimic who will complain that she cannot handle (let alone consume) such vast quantities of food and may actually call for a less-caloric intensive diet for Cubans, and for making use of such widely available resources as seaweed and herbal extracts from traditional plants. Yes, let them eat grass. It's advice that was offered before during the 1990s "Special Period."

The one bar of lye soap will no doubt impart a reddish tint to her complexion which is the closest that she's come to a healthy look since she first started to eat like a parakeet and speak like a parrot.

8:00 am  
Blogger Mark Rushton said...

"You see, once the rationed food runs out after a week or two, your options are to either find food on the black market, which is illegal and costly, or to visit a government-owned “shopping” where you can buy whatever is on offer freely but only if you have hard currency."

Ummmm... No. That's the silliest thing I've ever heard. Government shops (beyond the libreta shops) sell food in national pesos. And the farmer's markets are also available, in national pesos.

Just more disinformation to ensure that Cuba remains, in the eyes of the world, an "evil communist dictatorship". What other country guarantees basic food supplies to the population?

I have little faith in Anita being able (or willing) to accurately portray life in Cuba. It's far more complex than any foreigner can understand, and far less the "tropical gulag" its critics allege.

Cuba isn't perfect - but it's a helluva lot better than the places where millions of people on this planet live. At least the government - the people - have basic human rights as a priority, rather than the rights of corporations to buy and sell your country.

2:45 am  
Blogger Agustin Farinas said...

Dear Mark,
so why don't you visit Cuba and while you are there, please stay a year and live as a regular Cuban. Not as a tourist mind you, but please as a regular Cuban. Do you shopping at the stores where you can buy all those articles in national currency to supplement your diet. Basic human rights? Obviously you are from another planet. What rights are you talking about? Maybe the right to travel, to read what you want, to speak your mind as a free citizen? Are those the rights you had in mind? It is very easy to defend the Revolution from the comforts of your well stocked home, with acccess to the Web, without fear of repercusions for what you write or say. We Cubans have a name for you folks: you are called "cafe revolutionaries". It is a good description for the folks who sit around cafes discussing and defending the system without ever setting a foot in Cuba and sharing our hardships and daily sufferings. You are easily identified by your Che tee shirts and parroted words of support for a system under which you could never live or survive for a month. Ah, but for those Cubans yeah, for those people over there, it is wonderful. Ignorance is bliss, and also daring.

9:42 am  
Blogger Mark Rushton said...

"so why don't you visit Cuba and while you are there, please stay a year and live as a regular Cuban."

I've been visiting Cuba at least once a year for 15 years... and have NEVER stayed as a tourist. My first visit was educational, and on every subsequent trip, it has been for research, to deliver workshops in technology development, and for solidarity events. My longest in-country stay was four months, living in a bare-bones apartment that my friends, recently married, were fixing up (and for which I traded my labour for accommodation). I've travelled the island end-to-end, from San Luis in Pinar del Río to the port of Moa. I don't fly, I don't take tourist buses. I've spent more than enough time driving through the Sierra Maestra in a Lada without headlights.

And I would never, ever claim to be an expert on Cuba. But I have seen enough and experienced enough to know that Cuba is not the hell-hole that some peope think or wish it to be.

"Do you shopping at the stores where you can buy all those articles in national currency to supplement your diet."

When in Cuba, I survive on pesos where possible, and my "other" pockets are far from deep. I shop at the farmer's markets for veggies and meat. I've become quite a fan of the pizzas en la calle...

"Basic human rights? Obviously you are from another planet. What rights are you talking about?"

Universal health care. Free education. Shelter. Social security. Guaranteed income, even if unemployed. There are quite a few....

"Maybe the right to travel,"

Ah, so all of my Cuban friends who are studying or working throughout Latin America, Canada, Europe - those are all figments of my imagination? The most difficult part of international travel for Cubans is not the Cuban government - it's the countries who withhold travel visas for Cubans, for fear that they might "defect" -so pervasive is U.S. propaganda that no-one can believe that Cubans actually LIKE to live in their own country. Sheesh!

"to read what you want,"

Oh, I see. You must be one of those close friends of Robert Kent and his CIA libraries front group. I guess the presence of libraries all across Cuba, in every town and village, don't count? This is a red herring, another effort to demonize Cuba.

"to speak your mind as a free citizen?"

You're kidding, right? Have you ever walked down a street in Havana, or Santiago, or anywhere else on the island, or are you 2nd-generation Miami? Cubans are many things, but they are definitely not shy of their opinions. Unless, of course, you've come across a jinetero/a who likes to sell sob stories about how horrible life is, and oh by the way, please buy me some Nikes?

"It is very easy to defend the Revolution from the comforts of your well stocked home,"

Hmmm. Well.. I do have a can of frijoles in the cupboard, and there is some powdered milk on the shelf. I could probably scratch up an egg or two for breakfast... I don't actually own a home - I'm working on development projects in Latin America. Trying to fix the world that the right-wingers and free-marketeers have f***d up for decades...

"with acccess to the Web,"

Ah, yes, it's very important for the average Cuban to know that Paris Hilton started serving her jail time yesterday. Puh-leese! The Internet is not a "human right" regardless of how much people would like to portray it as such. Cuba is developing its technological capacity in a manner appropriate for national development goals. And since the U.S. economic blockade forbids upgrading of the crappy copper lines that connect the island to Florida, Cuba has to buy *expensive* satellite uplink capacity via Italy. A developing country with few resources has better things to do with its money -and broadband- than to allow teenagers to download MP3s all day.

"without fear of repercusions for what you write or say."

Tell you what. You talk the Yanquis into giving up their stupid efforts to create dissent (well documented, for those who can put down the National Review long enough to read something that doesn't come out of the neo-con library), and then we'll talk about freedom of speech. Anyone who calls upon the U.S. to "liberate" Cuba, or for foreign investors to stop investing, is asking for trouble.

"We Cubans have a name for you folks: you are called "cafe revolutionaries""

Oh, man, do I miss Cuban coffee. They can't make coffee worth sh** here in México. I'm sick and tired of "café Americano". Damn yanquis.

"You are easily identified by your Che tee shirts"

I wouldn't denigrate Che's image in that manner.

"and parroted words of support for a system under which you could never live or survive for a month. "

Sigh. Yeah, life in Cuba is just the worst. Gee, wonder why my Cuban pals, some of whom married, emigrated to Canada and later divorced, moved BACK to Cuba? If life in Cuba is so horrible, why doesn't every single one of the 65,000 Cuban doctors who are working in impoverished communities around the world, stay abroad? Why do they go home? Ah, that's right, I forgot, because there are 65,000 evil Cuban state security agents standing in every one of their homes, threatening to shoot their parents / wives / children if they don't come home. The stuff you guys think up is just ridiculous....

Cuba isn't perfect. Cuba has serious problems. But until people stop holding it up to a different standard than any other developing nation, the disinformation will continue to take hold and U.S. policy toward Cuba will continue to retard the economy, divide families and prevent normal and productive relations.

End the Embargo. 183 countries in the United Nations have told the Yanquis that their policy is wrong, stupid, cruel and illegal. But as usual, the USA doesn't allow anything like law, or morality, to interfere with its corporate interests.

Hasta la próxima.

2:06 pm  
Blogger El Güinero said...

Oye marquito, no vengas aquí a hacer cuentos de que tu vives en Cuba como un cubano ni un carajo. Cuando yo te e visto has estado bien mezclado con dirigentes de todos lados, y abrazadito con tu sabes quien. Y cuando se te acaba el dinero te largas pal carajo. Comemierda.

5:45 am  
Blogger Mark Rushton said...

Seguro que no dije nada de esto - sólo que no soy una turista que vive en la playa y busca a las jineteras. Tengo mis dudas que me has visto, como tengo dudas que estás verdademente en la Habana. Pues, no importa - tengo ninguna vergüenza en los que llamo amigos - son gente honorable, no son amantes de los yanquis.

Yo inicié mis comentarios en este foro para identificar decepciones en el artículo original (lo de la comida sólo disponible en CUCs, cuál es una mentira). Si quieres atacarme más, bueno, sigue... pero yo sé la verdad.

Y cuando se te acaba el dinero te largas pal carajo. Comemierda.

5:45 AM

6:13 am  
Blogger El Güinero said...

Oye marquito yo no ataco,solo expongo.

6:21 am  
Blogger Agustin Farinas said...

no solo Mark/Marquita (hasta ahora no sabemos cual de los dos es quien) compra la carne de vaca (que carne de vaca?) en los mercados campesinos (donde no se vende) y tambien dice que no se ha enterado de los cientos de medicos que se quedan en el exterior (En Namibia en Africa solamente hay 11 esperando visa de USA para irse de Namibia y ese gobierno no quiere dejarlos salir) en Venezuela otras docenas se fueron a Colombia para huir de Venezuela, en Bolivia lei en la presna argentina de otro tanto y aqui en Argentina yo conozco a 6 medicos por medio de otro amigo medico, que salieron de visita y nunca regresaron. En una visita a Chile conoci a 3 medicos cubanos que no regresaron tampoco. Pero el/ella nos dice que ninguno de los 65,000 medicos se ha ido de Cuba!!! Maravillas de la ideologia!!Ademas de comer muy bien utilizando solo pesos cubanos y usando la libreta de racionamiento. Cuando le conte esto a mis esposa me pregunto que de que planeta habia aterrizado este/esta comemierda! Marquito/Marquita en el pais de las Maravillas o el tipo/tipa es Harry Potter!!

6:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The phoniest thing about Anita's project is the worker whose income she is limiting herself to -- an entry level first-year civil servant, the lowest category in Cuba. (It's not the "poor peasants" -- they make around 1,000 pesos a month and up.) And even that tweenie civil servant may get merit and other bonuses I doubt Anita is including. Overall, bonuses in Cuba contribute roughly the same amount as wages to workers' incomes.

These were some of the prices in the last survey I have from the farmers' markets:

Staples & vegetables, per lb.: Rice, 5 pesos; black beans, 6; corn meal, 6; sweet potatoes, 1; carrots, 4; squash, 2; yucca, 2; string beans, 5; malanga, 4; tomatoes, 3; onions, 8. Fruit, per piece: oranges, 2/1 peso; grapefruit, 1; bananas, 2/1; papayas, 4; limes, 1; pineapple, 10. Meat, per lb.: lamb, 22; pork, 22; boned ham, 35.


9:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, why do you assume tourists are rich. I do not understand the exigencies of international exchange, but most tourists are only rich in Cuba. My dollar will buy me one orange at the convenience store across the street, but in Cuba it will buy 4 dozen oranges.

I'm hoping I can afford dentistry for tourists in Cuba -- I have six missing and two broken teeth and it would take my life savings to fix all my dental problems here.

9:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's common for people to give tourists special
treatment, even if the recipient of the largesse
is unaware of it. cubans, even before the revolution, were reputed to be extremely generous
with foreigners, so it's no surprise mr rushton feels
things are far from dismal. also, he failed to
mention the vast surveillance apparatus. do you
REALLY think the regime would not be constantly
monitoring his every move? i feel sorry for anyone
who is that naive. do you think ordinary cubans would trust somebody who is there to work on
"development"?...only a fool would think they would divulge their true's much more
likely they would be"testing" him...let's grow up!

3:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This "Mark" is a plant, placed by the massed hordes of ignorant and mindless altruists and armchair "revolutionaries" who STILL believe in forcing the concept of massed party-mandated "equality" down the throats of already spiritually impoverished and morally oppressed Cubans. All men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, bestowed by God and not by Fidel or el otro maricon Raul. Among them is life, LIBERTY and the pursuit of happiness........not FEAR, early death/imprisonment and hopelessness. Oh.......and by the way "Mark" order to secure these rights, governments are created amongst men, deriving their just powers by THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.........Maricon!!! Who the hell do you think you are. NEVER did an article of human dreams ever ring so clear. Furthermore, that magic document which bore fruit in what is now these glorious United States, created a country without equal, where people are dying to get into and not dying to get out. Without this "yanqui" presence, we would all be speaking German, Japanese or Chinese today. God bless our flag and may it gloriously wave forever. I have pitty for people like you. You just don't get it or perhaps you do know the issues well, but your bread is buttered on the side of evil, and the cost of upholding truth is just too much for you to endure. Like I said, Maricon.

I suggest we have bigger fish to fry..........move on and don't stop the truth from getting out!!! Viva una Cuba unida en libertad!!

1:55 pm  

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