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Posted June 12, 2007 by publisher in Cuban Culture

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By ANITA SNOW |Associated Press

Customers shout orders to a terrace kitchen atop a 1930s-era two-story building and the pizza is lowered to the street in a rattan basket.

Pizza Celina is among the more inventive places that Cubans go for street food to augment government food rations. Elsewhere in Havana, self-employed street vendors hawk peanuts, popcorn and a snack known as “chicharrones de macarones” &#xu2;014 macaroni pork rinds &#xu2;014 made by boiling pasta, drying it the sun, then frying it.

Near the University of Havana, students line up at lunchtime outside a building with peeling pink paint to shout orders for pizza with tomato sauce and cheese for 8 pesos, which is about 38 cents. A little bit more buys a ham or sausage topping.

Minutes later, a basket on a rope drops for payment. Money collected, the basket comes down again, bearing hot pizzas, grease soaking through butcher paper wrapping. There is no soda, or napkins.

The basket-on-a-rope delivery method is popular among those who share and sell goods in apartment buildings without working elevators.

“We come here because it’s good, it’s fast and it’s cheap,” said Laura, a 20-year-old history student. Like many Cubans, she wouldn’t give a last name, uncomfortable talking with a foreign reporter about an issue as political as food.

She said she often eats for less money at the university cafeteria, but the food there isn’t as good as at the privately run Pizza Celina.

“This is a bit expensive for us but we come when we can,” she said. A recent increase in the monthly government stipend for students, from 20 to 50 pesos (about $1 to $2.50), means she can now afford to visit the pizzeria once a month.

Laura lives on the other side of Havana, and it’s impractical to go home to eat. There are few nearby places to buy cheap food, save for a nearly empty state-run vegetarian restaurant. “I’ve never gone in there,” Laura says.

The only thing close to a fast-food chain in Cuba is the state-run Rapidito or the food counter at Cupet gas stations, which both sell hot dogs and fried chicken most Cubans cannot afford because they are priced in the “convertible pesos” used by foreigners.

Government workers are paid in regular pesos, which trade at about 24 to the convertible peso or 21 to the U.S. dollar. A Rapidito hot dog at 1 convertible peso costs more than a day’s pay for a Cuban earning a typical monthly salary of 350 pesos ($16.60).

Under the communist country’s 45-year-old universal ration system, Cubans get a heavily subsidized monthly food basket of beans, rice, potatoes, eggs, a little meat and other goods. That, along with other subsidized meals such as workplace lunches, provides about two-thirds of the 3,300 calories the government estimates Cubans eat daily.

Cubans use their salaries and any other income to buy the rest of their food at farmers markets and overpriced supermarkets or through black market purchases and trades.

If they have enough money, or no way to get home for lunch, Havana residents go to the street for low-priced snacks. That often means bustling Obispo Street, the capital’s largest concentration of stands and vendors selling food for pesos.

Elderly men walk down the cobblestone street hawking 1-peso (5-cent) paper cones of raw peanuts, clutched like floral bouquets.

A teenage boy at a weathered wooden cart asks 2 pesos for “granizados,” small plastic cups of ice drizzled with strawberry-flavored syrup. Another vendor sells homemade popcorn in plastic bags for 3 pesos.

Many street vendors are licensed, and the government runs storefront stands selling pizzas, hot dogs and pork burgers for 10 pesos. And government stands offer a cold glass of “guarapo,” or sugar cane juice, for 1 peso.

Similar foods are sold at Obispo’s “tencen” &#xu2;014 poorly stocked government shops that evolved from American-style five-and-ten stores of the 1950s and whose nickname is an adaptation of “10 cents.”

The “tencen” are among the few places Cubans can buy food and other items in the national currency they earn. The shops also have lunch counters serving fried chicken or pork steak and a bakery offering sugary cookies.

Then there is the “frozzen,” a 1-peso cone filled with a smooth, cold vanilla mixture with a synthetic taste &#xu2;014 a snack sold at the “tencen” and government storefront windows.

Just a block away, a convertible peso store sells imported frozen treats made from dairy products most Cubans cannot afford. There, the Nestle’s Crunch chocolate ice cream bar is 1.10 convertible pesos &#xu2;014 about 26 regular pesos, or $1.20.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on June 12, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I almost hate posting this non-news story but it is interesting about the enterprising Cuban people.

    The odd or even sad thing is the LACK of news. Anita Snow is a good writer but she must be locked down by the Cuban government to write such a fluff piece when she should be writing about Fidel, Raul and others.

    What do you think? Is she being held back, watched and even censored?

    I think yes and this story is SO about nothing that this is all she can write.

    Almost seems like a cry for help to me.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on June 13, 2007 by abh

    I don’t doubt that Ms. Snow has been frustrated by a lack of access to top govenment officials.  However, I believe that stories like this can often give foreigners a glimpse into the daily lives of Cubans.  This can be more effective in bringing about changes than predictions about how much longer Fidel will live.  After all, this country of 12 million has a lot more going on than the activities of the two brothers in power.  For those hoping that change comes to the island nation soon, I believe these snapshots of daily life can be more powerful in presenting the problems that average people face than stories about Fidel or Raul.  After all, I think the typical Cuban is more concerned with having to scrape enough coins to buy something relatively nice to eat than the daily schedule of the Castro brothers.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on June 13, 2007 by abh

    Here’s the article Snow wrote about Chavez’ arrival:

    Associated Press
    Chavez Visits Castro in Cuba
    By ANITA SNOW 06.13.07, 8:10 AM ET

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met for six hours behind closed doors Tuesday with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the close allies discussed energy issues and a regional trade pact during an emotional visit, state television reported.

    State TV showed Chavez being greeted at the airport by Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, but no images of the Venezuelan president’s meeting with the convalescing 80-year-old Castro were immediately released.

    A television announcer described the visit as “emotional” and said the pair discussed efforts to improve their countries’ energy programs. They also talked about the socialist-leaning regional pact they created, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, known as ALBA.

    State TV said earlier Tuesday that Chavez would also meet with Castro’s younger brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, who has been acting president since his older brother temporarily stepped aside in late July following emergency intestinal surgery.

    “Long live Cuba! Long live Fidel!” Chavez shouted to official media at Havana’s airport before he was whisked away in a black sedan.

    Chavez was scheduled to be in historic Old Havana early Wednesday to inaugurate a statue of South American hero Gen. Francisco de Miranda. Afterward, Chavez was to visit the nearby San Geronimo College, which opened in recent years with a focus on historic renovation and art restoration.

    Other details of the visit were not immediately announced.

    Chavez’s visit came just five days after Bolivian President Evo Morales made a daylong trip to Havana and spent three hours with Castro, later saying the Cuban leader looked “very recovered.”

    Although Castro has not appeared in public in the 10 months since announcing his illness, he has become more active recently, writing more than a dozen essays on international affairs.

    He has been seen only in still photographs and videotapes released by the government, including a 50-minute taped interview that appeared on state TV last week. No images of his visit with Morales or Chavez were immediately released.

    Senior officials have repeatedly said Castro is on the mend, although the bearded revolutionary recently acknowledged in one of his essays that his recovery has been delayed because one of his first operations did not go well.

    Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

  4. Follow up post #4 added on June 13, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Thanks for posting that. Another fluff piece.

    Seems like she does not want to get her visa denied so she is writing articles with a pro-Cuba slant.

    Cuba consulting services

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