Cuba Today

Cuba Diary Day Three -- April 27
Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Organic Farms

On Friday, we traveled to Vivero Alamar, a state-owned research garden, to learn more about urban gardening in Havana.  The effects of the "Special Period" (as the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union is called) and consequent food shortages have had the greatest repercussions in the city of Havana. Havana's urban agriculture has taken on many forms, ranging from private gardens to state-owned research gardens.  We learned about how these gardens, located near urban areas, grow and distribute their freshly-grown produce.

Vivero Alamar

Customers at Organic Farm

Later, we returned to Havana for a briefing at the "United States Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana, Cuba" or "USINT Havana" (a mouthful, but continue reading!).  USINT Havana represents US interests in Cuba, is staffed by US Foreign Service personnel and local staff employed by the State Department.  The USINT is formally a section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Cuba, although it operates independently of the Swiss in virtually all but protocol respects.  Cuba and the United States do not have formal diplomatic relations, but their respective Interests Sections function as de facto embassies (Cuba has Interest Sections in Washington and New York (the New York location because of the UN)).  In January 2006, USINT began displaying messages on a scrolling electronic billboard in the windows of the top floor. Messages included the George Burns' quotation "How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair."  Following a protest march, the Cuban government erected a large number of poles, carrying black flags with single white stars (also known as The "Mount of Flags" in "Anti-Imperialism Park") to obscure the US Interests Section's electronic billboard.  In June 2009, the electronic billboard was turned off, because it was determined to no longer be effective in delivering information to the Cuban people.  While the billboard and flags are no longer to be seen, the flagpoles are still quite prominent.

Flagpoles in front of US Embassy


US Embassy

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba modified its constitution to reflect that the country was secular rather than atheist, and recognized and guaranteed freedom of religion. After these changes, there was a resurgence of interest in Judaism (today, there are perhaps 900 Jews who live in Cuba).  In turn, this has had interesting consequences for the Jewish community, which now confronts a peculiar challenge as to who is a Jew.  The challenge emantes from the Cuban government allowing Jews to emigrate to Israel and entrusting the Jewish community's leadership with identifying who is a Jew, and who is not.  Interestingly, there are now Cubans who have want to pass themselves off as Jews because they desire to leave Cuba and go to Israel, to which the Jewish community leadership has said "we are not a travel agency!!

Reform Jewish Synagogue in Havana

We went to the ballet that evening at the Gran Teatro. The ballet was excellent, but the music was recorded music!  The orchestra pit was empty, and judging from the dust on the seats, appeared not to have been used in some time.

Gran Teatro de La Habana



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