CubaBrief: The Castro dynasty’s day of reckoning is approaching as coffee makers and croquettes continue to explode in Cuba due to inferior ingredients

Cuban coffee makers have been exploding for years on the island due to “the mixture of peas or wheat, badly roasted and ground, added to increase the volume of coffee in envelopes sold to the population by government stores is, according to technicians in the field, one of the main causes” of this phenomenon. The Castro regime has prioritized that its coffee production be exported, and they have failed to meet domestic demand, and continue to mix coffee provided to Cubans with roasted and ground peas or wheat. This has been going on in Cuba for over 20 years.

Explosive combination in Cuba: Cuban coffee and croquettes

Explosive combination in Cuba: Cuban coffee and croquettes

Now another traditional Cuban staple, croquettes, sold by government stores in Cuba are also exploding, raising questions of how this is possible. According to NBC News, “Cubans say that in practice, they have little or no guarantee when they buy food in government establishments and that they are rarely compensated for having bought food that is in poor condition or otherwise defective.” Considering what Cuban officials did to coffee, the obvious question that arises is what have they substituted in the croquettes that is causing them to explode? The NBC News article quotes “Verónica Cervera, a Cuban American chef and cookbook author, told Noticias Telemundo that she can’t find any culinary explanation or logic to the ‘explosive croquettes,’ which, according to the company, contain only wheat flour, water, fish mince, vegetable oil, spices, salt and sugar.”

Prior to 1959, “Cuba’s foreign trade, the overall value of Cuban exports to the United States surpassed her imports throughout the 1950s. Cuba’s exports amounted to $780.4 million while her imports only reached $277.4 million,” reported Professor José Alvarez of the University of Florida‘s Department of Food and Resource Economics in a research publication.

According to the Cuban Studies Institute between 1952-1958 there was “a successful nationalistic trend aimed to reach agricultural self-sufficiency to supply the people’s market demand for food.” Despite the efforts to violently overthrow the Batista regime in the 1950s, “the Cuban food supply grew steadily to provide a highly productive system that in daily calories consumption, ranked Cuba third in Latin America.

All of this came crashing down when the Castro regime seized and collectivized properties at the start of the revolution, and the rationing of food began in 1962 and has continued over the next 60 years with 80% of Cuba’s food now imported. This included the years when Cuba was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union, and was part of the East Bloc, and also during the peak years (2011 – 2014) when it received massive amounts of assistance from Venezuela’s Chavez regime.

The secret that Cuban communists seek to maintain hidden is that the result of “decades of strict government control left the island dependent on food imports and farmers unable to earn a decent living.” Their only recourse is for them to blame the United States Embargo, but the claim rings hollow when it is domestic production that has imploded, and Havana now depending on tons of U.S. agricultural sales and donations to feed Cubans.

Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy in his Diario de Cuba April 21, 2021 OpEd, “Cuba’s Day of Reckoning is Fast Approaching,” cites that the embargo is a factor but that there are others in escalating order of importance: “Venezuela’s economic collapse dried up more than $5 billion a year in economic aid, and the pandemic gutted the tourism industry that was a principal source of hard currency.” However he is clear that the most important are “the structural inefficiencies of Cuba’s command economy have caused chronic currency and export shortages that Raul has failed to address over the last decade.” This command economy and regime priorities also explains how a coffee producer fails to provide sufficient coffee to the Cuban populace.

Ambassador Otto J. Reich responding to a question in the Latin American Advisor on the departure of Raul Castro from head of the Cuban Communist Party, explains that “Díaz-Canel is no Gorbachev, but there is hope despite him: Cubans are losing fear of the secret police and challenging the party’s iron rule; they are aware of the fact that Cuba was not ‘a poor country’ before Castro, contrary to what Raúl repeated at the party congress; that their brethren who have escaped or managed to reach free, capitalist societies have thrived and that ‘with a little more sacrifice everything will be better soon’ is a worn-out communist lie.”

Anselmo Lopez Galves shared on social media the burns he suffered after frying croquettes from Prodal.Courtesy of Abel Yadiel Arrieta Valdespino

Anselmo Lopez Galves shared on social media the burns he suffered after frying croquettes from Prodal.Courtesy of Abel Yadiel Arrieta Valdespino

The Castro regime has been incredibly successful in its propaganda campaigns, organizing terrorism on an international scale in the 1960s and 1970s through the Tricontinental [an international gathering of revolutionaries from all over the world held in Havana for the first time in 1966] , sent thousands of troops to wage war in Africa and overthrew the Somoza regime in Nicaragua and backed the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and managed the succession of Nicolas Maduro, following Chavez’s death. Despite these “successes”, there have been many failures, but the most glaring have been and continue to be “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” These failures are a feature, not a bug of communism.

The Castro dynasty’s day of reckoning is approaching as coffee makers and croquettes continue to explode in Cuba due to inferior ingredients that are given to Cubans in order for the Castro regime to export domestic production for profits that are not seen by everyday Cubans.

NBC News, April 22, 2021

Cubans denounce sale of exploding croquettes that have caused severe burns

People have been complaining about exploding croquettes on social media for months, posting photos of people with burns on their faces, eyes and torsos.

A Cuban establishment selling croquettes to the general public.Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket via Getty Images

A Cuban establishment selling croquettes to the general public.Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket via Getty Images

April 22, 2021, 8:27 AM EDT / Updated April 22, 2021, 8:35 AM EDT

By Jorge Carrasco, Noticias Telemundo

Ricardo Pimentel bought croquettes at a state-owned establishment in Cuba at the beginning of March to make for his 12-year-old daughter.

Pimentel, 54, brought his own container to take them home in, and as can be the case with other foods sold on the communist island, the food had no packaging listing ingredients, cooking instructions or nutrition information.

He put the familiar croquetas, as they’re called in Spanish, in a frying pan with oil on the stove, waited for it to get hot and put some of the croquettes in to cook. Soon after, the croquettes disintegrated like dynamite, shooting sparks of oil into the air.

“I fried them as usual and let them toast a little bit, because my little girl likes them that way. But when I got closer to look at them, one exploded and bathed my face and chest in boiling oil. Then all the others began to explode,” he told Noticias Telemundo from the province of Camagüey, in the center of the island. “I still have the burn marks.”

On Facebook, Daysel Pimentel, his son, posted pictures of his father’s burns with some sarcastic remarks that at first poked fun at the incident — he joked that CIA “commandos” had infiltrated a Cuban food factory and put highly explosive ingredients in croquettes — but he then accused the government of selling croquettes that were not appropriate for human consumption as people went hungry.

Pimentel’s culinary accident isn’t unique.

Dozens of Cubans have been complaining about exploding croquettes on social media for months, posting photos of people with burns on their faces, eyes and torsos.

Specifically, Cubans pointed on social media to Prodal, a state company based in Havana. After complaints and pictures of people with burn marks were publicized, the company responded on Twitter by publishing specific instructions about how to fry its croquettes to avoid “violent” incidents.

“The oil should be at about 180°, the croquette should be at room temperature and do not fry many at the same time. In the case of Croqueta Criolla, as they have a denser dough, they open with more ‘violence,'” Prodal said in a tweet, responding to a user who had complained that the croquettes exploded and stained the wall of her kitchen.

Prodal told Noticias Telemundo by email that the company, which sells almost half a million croquettes a day in the Cuban capital, has opened telephone lines to the public and wants to collaborate, although it hasn’t paused any commercial activities or said whether it is formally investigating the possible causes.

“We are able to individually address any complaints from customers who provide the information needed to reach them,” the company said. “Everything that has happened has strengthened and perfected us.”

The exploding croquettes are the most recent tragicomic turn for those with fewer resources on the Caribbean island, which imports 60 percent to 70 percent of its food, according to official figures, because national production can’t meet the needs of its 11 million inhabitants.

Anselmo López Galves of Havana reported last month on social media that he suffered burns all over his body when he tried to fry Prodal’s Creole croquettes, which the company refers to as its “star product.” He says he bought them March 24 at a state market.

“To my surprise, these croquettes started exploding in my face, causing burns all over my body and disfiguring my face,” he said on Facebook. 

López Galves claimed to have gone to a hospital in the capital, where health personnel reassured him that his wasn’t the first case of serious burns after frying the “explosive croquettes,” as they began to call the product.

Last year, Raúl Rodríguez, a journalist in Cuba, reported the burns on a friend’s face for the same reason, warning people that some croquettes are explosive.

“They were croquettes bought legally,” Rodríguez said on Facebook, describing the friend’s injuries and writing that he wanted as many people to know — “but especially those who are responsible for making the product.”

In another complaint, a Twitter user shared a home video showing the croquettes exploding even after they have been taken out of the pan and are resting on a plate.  

According to official data, Prodal produced 20,000 tons of food last year, most of it sausages and croquettes, which are sold in government stores. The company’s chicken croquettes have won quality awards at international fairs such as ExpoCuba and FIHAV, the Havana International Festival.

The country’s Ministry of Food Industry, known by its Spanish initials as MINAL, didn’t respond to a request for comment from Noticias Telemundo.

Cuba’s consumer protection arm, part of the country’s Ministry of Domestic Trade, said by telephone that it hasn’t investigated the complaints, saying the complaints “must be presented formally,” not through social media.

“We are investigating an incident with croquettes, but not with those of that company,” said an official who asked not to be identified by name, adding no further details.

But Pimentel said filing a claim wouldn’t change “nothing.”

Cuba’s official press agency said in an article March 15 that “consumer protection is a priority for Cuba,” citing laws, decrees and resolutions approved by the government, but it didn’t mention the croquettes or the consumer complaints.

Cubans say that in practice, they have little or no guarantee when they buy food in government establishments and that they are rarely compensated for having bought food that is in poor condition or otherwise defective.

‘How can we not keep buying them?’

In a phone interview from Havana, Delvis Rosabal, 55, said people continue consuming the “explosive croquettes” not because they have the “great acceptance” that Prodal boasts, but because it is their only option.

“How can we not keep buying them? What are we going to eat?” said Rosabal, who said she walked to several towns earlier in the week in search of food, only to return with empty bags.

“I went out to the streets Monday morning to get food, and I returned at 6 in the afternoon with nothing. … People are in the queues who can’t take it anymore,” she said. “The day goes by, and sometimes you can’t buy anything.”

The government has blamed the food shortages on U.S. sanctions and travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has reduced tourism — Cuba’s second-biggest source of income after medical missions — by up to 90 percent. Government critics blame the inefficiency of the communist system and its leaders, as well as corruption and inflation.

‘A terrible mystery’

In the absence of an official explanation, Cubans on social media have taken to posting funny memes or theorizing about why the croquettes explode, positing that they could have air pockets or pieces of ice. Others say that they have too many preservatives or that the company is replacing wheat flour with lower-quality ingredients.

Verónica Cervera, a Cuban American chef and cookbook author, told Noticias Telemundo that she can’t find any culinary explanation or logic to the “explosive croquettes,” which, according to the company, contain only wheat flour, water, fish mince, vegetable oil, spices, salt and sugar.

“This is a terrible mystery,” said Cervera, the author of “La cocina cubana de Vero.” “Normally, a croquette doesn’t explode.”

She said that while croquettes may open up if the oil isn’t hot enough or splatter or jump if a drop of water falls on a hot pan, “the truth is that it’s hard to explain why they explode.”

Cervera said the government should alert the public and take the croquettes off the market while it investigates, and she urged consumers to demand action.

“Imagine burning your face,” she said, “and being disfigured for life by a croquette.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/cubans-denounce-sale-exploding-croquettes-caused-severe-burns-rcna739?cid=sm_npd_nn_tw_ma

Diario de Cuba, April 21, 2021

Opinion

Cuba’s Day of Reckoning is Fast Approaching

Raúl Castro’s exit and the severity of the crisis set up the first realistic possibility for a political transition since his brother Fidel seized power in 1959.

Carl Gershman

Washington 21 Abr 2021 – 22:32 CEST

A woman in Havana. REUTERS

A woman in Havana. REUTERS

Raul Castro’s announcement at the 8th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) that he is stepping down as the party’s Secretary General marks the formal end of an era in Cuban history.

The 89-year-old Raul took over as Secretary General a decade ago pledging extensive reforms to repair the country’s moribund economy. But those reforms have failed miserably, and power now passes to Castro’s handpicked successor, President Miguel Diaz-Canel, at a time when Cuba faces its worst economic and political in the six decades of communist rule.

Diaz-Canel’s charge is to maintain continuity and party control, but Castro’s exit and the severity of the crisis set up the first realistic possibility for a political transition since his brother Fidel seized power in 1959.

As usual, the Cuban government blames U.S. sanctions for its economic troubles, but they’re just one of many factors. Venezuela’s economic collapse dried up more than $5 billion a year in economic aid, and the pandemic gutted the tourism industry that was a principal source of hard currency. Most importantly, the structural inefficiencies of Cuba’s command economy have caused chronic currency and export shortages that Raul has failed to address over the last decade.

The result has been an economic crisis more severe than the “special period” of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuba is running out of food, according to one report; there is no medicine in the pharmacies; and the Cuban health system, considered “the jewel in the crown of official propaganda,” is now “on the brink of collapse.”

The regime has responded by imposing a system of monetary reform called Tarea Ordenamiento, or the Ordering Task, that has made the crisis even worse. Market analyst Emilio Morales reports that one of the “disastrous” effects of this reform has been to wipe out the savings in dollars that citizens have deposited in Cuban banks, while another has been to sound “a death knell” for the cuentapropistas, the self-employed small entrepreneurs legalized under Raul’s reforms who have been the most productive part of Cuba’s economy.

According to Pavel Vidal, a professor at the Javariana University in Colombia who once worked for the Cuban central bank, the monetary reform “will sink the real value of short-term workers’ wages between 15 and 50 percent.” He also predicted a “historic” inflation of between 474 and 952 percent.

The terrible hardships Cubans are now experiencing have caused an upsurge in protests that is unprecedented in the communist country. The Cuban Conflict Observatory reports that the monthly number of protests has steadily increased, from 42 in September to 159 in in February. The rise of cell phones and social media since 2018 have been important mobilizing tools that also led to scores of citizen-recorded videos–including one shot on Sunday, April 4, which showed neighborhood residents yelling “abusers” and “killers” at the police.

On April 10, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the island’s largest opposition group, called off a collective 21-day hunger strike, declaring victory after the regime ended a police “siege” of its headquarters. Priests and lay Catholics across the island then produced a short video of solidarity calling for respect for life and greater freedom in Cuba.

The spiritual core of the Cuban uprising has been the San Isidro Movement (MSI), which emerged spontaneously in 2018. Many of its members are also of Afro-Cuban descent. On November 26, its headquarters were raided by State Security agents to interrupt a hunger strike that MSI members were carrying out to demand the freedom of rapper Denis Solis.

A day later, on November 27, 300 artists and musicians met in front of the Ministry of Culture to protest the arrest of Solis and repression against artistic freedoms. Those artists today constitute the 27N Movement.

Internationally acclaimed Cuban artists based abroad and members of the San Isidro Movement have produced Patria y Vida, a rap-song anthem of resistance against “your evil revolution,” declaring that “we are the dignity of an entire people trampled.” The anthem has been viewed on YouTube over 4.5 million times since it was released on February 17, the song’s title has been spray-painted on street walls and houses, and now people often confront the authorities by saying, “I’m with Patria y Vida.”

In anticipation of the 8th Congress, the 27N movement issued a manifesto calling for political and civic freedoms, the release of political prisoners, the legalization of independent media, and economic reforms, including private ownership and initiative. These same demands are contained in the petition of the Varela Project –signed by more than 11,000 Cuban citizens– that Oswaldo Paya delivered to the Cuban National Assembly in May 2002. Paya’s leading associates on the Varela Project and other dissidents were arrested ten months later during Cuba’s Black Spring, and Paya himself was killed on July 22, 2012, when a government vehicle rammed his car when he was traveling in eastern Cuba. The time has come to revive these demands and end Cuba’s nightmare of dictatorship.

This is This is the context for the development of the Biden administration’s Cuba policy. Juan Gonzales, the principal director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, signaled earlier this month in an interview with CNN that human rights will be a priority for the Administration. “Joe Biden is not Barack Obama in policy towards Cuba,” he said. “The Cuban government has not responded in any way” to the Obama opening in 2014 that normalized relations between the two countries, and “the oppression against Cubans is even worse today than perhaps it was during the Bush administration.”

With Raúl Castro’s departure and Cuba in a deep and irreversible crisis, the time is ripe for change.  A focus on free elections and a democratic transition in Cuba is now both timely and urgent.

As the Patria y Vida anthem declares, “it’s over” for the regime: “The people are tired of putting up with it. We are all waiting for a new dawn.” It can’t come too soon.

Carl Gershman is the President of the National Endowment for Democracy.

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1619037143_30561.html

Latin America Advisor: A Daily Publication of The Dialogue, April 21, 2021

Screen Shot 2021-04-23 at 1.53.54 PM.png

Q

The Castro era has come to an end in Cuba as Raúl Castro, at age 89, stepped down on Friday as the head of Cuba’s Communist Party. As expected, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded him in the post on Monday. What will change in Cuba with Raúl Castro’s departure from the party’s leadership? To what extent will the younger generation of Cuba’s leaders be willing to make further market-style reforms to the country’s economy? To what extent will the Covid-19 pandemic accelerate political or economic changes in Cuba?

A

Otto Reich, president of Otto Reich Associates LLC and former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs:

“ ‘Cuba to be led by someone not named Castro for the first time in six decades,’ breathlessly proclaim many news headlines. That is also what they said three years ago, when Miguel Díaz-Canel replaced Raúl Castro as ‘president.’ Nothing changed in Cuba in the intervening three years, except that political repression and economic stagnation increased, and shortages of food and of every other basic human need intensified. This past weekend, the world media repeated those headlines.

Their memories are short. Cuba remains a totalitarian dictatorship that forcibly stifles dissent and individual initiative in the name of ‘socialism’; the succession remains mean-ingless. By brute force, Fidel Castro tried to build a communist society in the mold of the former Soviet Union. The Cuban Communist Party’s designation of Díaz-Canel as Raúl’s successor in the most important post in the land, secretary general of the Communist Party, is as inconsequential as the Soviet Communist Party’s designation of General Secretaries Andropov and Chernenko to replace Leonid Brezhnev in the early 1980s. Not until Mikhail Gorbachev arrived to ‘save Communism,’ which the Russian said was his objective, did any real changes begin in the USSR. But Castro, Inc. knows that was the beginning of the end of the USSR, because communism cannot be reformed, only replaced, which is why Fidel, while he lived, prohibited talk of Glasnost, Perestroika or any such ‘nonsense.’

Díaz-Canel is no Gorbachev, but there is hope despite him: Cubans are losing fear of the secret police and challenging the party’s iron rule; they are aware of the fact that Cuba was not ‘a poor country’ before Castro, contrary to what Raúl repeated at the party congress; that their brethren who have escaped or managed to reach free, capitalist societies have thrived and that ‘with a little more sacrifice everything will be better soon’ is a worn-out communist lie.”

https://www.thedialogue.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/LAA210421.pdf