Eric Caraballoso

Eric Caraballoso

Corresponsal acreditado de OnCuba en La Habana.

Rainier Bonne Espinosa and his baby girl Ambar Bonne Barcelay. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Rainier’s and Ámbar’s gaze

Help us keep OnCuba alive here Amber doesn’t know why Rainier looks at her over a piece of cloth, or why that cloth stands between their faces and her father’s words collide with the cloth, and they become strange for her. She also doesn’t know why when he comes home from work, or from the street, he first goes to take off his clothes and bathe to leave behind any dirt from the outside world, before hugging and kissing her as any father would like to do. She doesn’t know and can’t ask him, at least not in words, although sometimes she opens her curious baby eyes wide and Rainier thinks he sees more than one question in them. Those questions that also distress him and that he tries to answer silently, between one hug and another, when he finally knows that he is clean, sure that he won’t infect his daughter with the coronavirus or any other illness that he may have accidentally picked up in his hands. Ámbar was born a month ago, just a month ago, in a Havana that became the epicenter of COVID-19 in Cuba; in a city that 30 days after her birth continues...

Why has Cuban biotechnology been successful against COVID-19? (II)

Help us keep OnCuba alive here The biotechnology sector has been fundamental in Cuba’s successful battle against COVID-19. Thanks to a more than 30-year-old structured and recognized industry, the talent and dedication of its scientists, and the results obtained over decades, the island’s biotechnology has been able to quickly make available to hospitals a battery of products, converted by their effectiveness into pillars of the Cuban medical protocol against the pandemic. The recombinant interferon alpha 2b, of proven antiviral efficacy, the monoclonal Itolizumab and the CIGB 258 peptide, the latter two used in the treatment of patients who reach the severe phases of the disease, have been key in reducing the mortality rate from COVID-19 in Cuba, which has remained below 4%. They are not, logically, the only medicines produced on the island now redirected as part of this battle for life, but they are bulwarks of that effort, the most visible fruits today of a leafy tree still growing and with many challenges ahead. “There are 70 ongoing research protocols in Cuba related to COVID-19, which in these months have been approved by the joint scientific committee. It may be difficult for someone to believe, but it is so,”...

Why has Cuban biotechnology been successful against COVID-19? (I)

Help us keep OnCuba alive here Although Cuba has not completely defeated COVID-19, as evidenced by the outbreaks and positive cases detected in recent days, the island has undoubtedly successfully managed to cope with a disease that has become a pandemic, which has already spread to some 8 million people and killed more than 430,000 worldwide. The island’s figures, although they have maintained a progression since the first cases were reported on March 11, have not suffered an exponential jump, as has happened in many nations, and have managed to remain within a favorable scenario. This has prevented hospitals from overloading, victims from multiplying—to date, just over 2,260 infected have been confirmed and 84 patients have died—and for the country to carry on its shoulders the weight that an uncontrolled epidemic would represent for its already hit economy. The key to this achievement, the Cuban authorities assure, has been the implementation of a comprehensive strategy that combines active epidemiological surveillance, isolation measures for the population—although without decreeing quarantine, except where there have been localized transmission events—, the compulsory hospitalization of positive cases, contacts and suspects—even asymptomatic—, and medical attention that has not spared all the resources at its disposal for...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Risk perception

The perception of risk, I read in a synthetic scientific definition as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is “a subjective assessment of the probability of having an accident or a disease.” The key concept here is “subjective assessment,” that is, what each one interprets, analyzes, thinks on the matter; but that subjectivity, it is already known, is separated by many objectivities. Or by one, which contains the others: life itself. A line is objective. Having the fridge empty, too. The refrigerator is never “subjectively” full or empty: it either has chicken or it doesn’t; or it has mincemeat, hotdogs, eggs, sausage or―a miracle―meat, or it doesn’t have them. Yolanda is a big mulatto woman, one might say plump, who paces from one side of the line to the other, controlling, putting order, imposing her character even behind her facemask. No one chose her for that, she decided to do it herself. And she carries out his task with the discipline of a Tibetan monk, although not with his silence and restraint. People acknowledge her will, they abide by it, although from time to time someone questions it, their spirits rise, and the whole delicate balance of the line is...

Photo: 65ymas

Cuban medicines against COVID-19 (II)

Cuban science, particularly that linked to the pharmaceutical industry, has been decisive in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic on the island and beyond its borders. Its contributions, according to executives and specialists, have been concentrated in three main directions. In a first work, we addressed the development of medications that seek to prevent vulnerable people from contracting the disease and becoming seriously ill. Drugs such as Biomodulin T and the vaccines to increase people’s innate immunity can be mentioned in this direction. https://oncubanews.com/en/cuba/cuban-medicines-against-covid-19-i/ A second course is that of the products used for the usual treatment of those who become infected with the virus. This is a key line of work since, according to Dr. Eduardo Martínez, president of the BioCubaFarma business group, “patients whose immune system fails to respond effectively to infection can have a viral load up to 60 times greater than that of those who go through the disease asymptomatically or mildly, so it is very important to have antiviral agents that reduce this load.” Treatment of COVID-19 patients Recombinant Alpha 2B human interferon Of this drug, a pioneer in the Cuban biotechnology industry, “there is plenty of evidence of its antiviral action” and it has...

Photo: The Conversation

Cuban medicines against COVID-19 (I)

Although they are widely recognized inside and outside the island for the proven quality of their products and research, Cuban scientists aren’t usually in the spotlight or press headlines. Their work is mostly anonymous; it goes unnoticed by most people. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has come to change, like so many other things, that reality. In the midst of the fight against a disease that has conquered the world in a few months, with a fierce balance of thousands of lives and millions in economic losses, Cuban science has suddenly and deservedly jumped into the spotlight, and its medicines and research centers have become part of the daily events of those who live on the island. https://oncubanews.com/especiales/especial-sobre-la-covid-19/ Products such as recombinant Alpha 2B interferon, CIGB 258 and Biomodulin T, and entities such as the BioCubaFarma business group, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) and the Finlay Institute, are systematically mentioned in the media, and their executives―who have become spokespersons for those who remain working in the shadows―have become public figures at a time when the true contributions to life are gaining ground compared to the usual celebrity of the frivolous. https://oncubanews.com/en/cuba/the-famous-cuban-interferon-vs-the-sars-cov-2-coronavirus/ It is a work-in-progress that until today...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Havana in times of coronavirus: (un)common scenes with facemask

Orlando walks slowly down Reina Street. At more than 70 years old, his legs don’t allow him to walk too much, but, although he could now, he tells me, he prefers to walk without haste and save his energy for the return, or for when he needs to evade some crowds or group of passers-by who continue as if nothing were happening, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging the world and has an increasing number of cases on the island. He is going to the bakery. He is wearing a cloth facemask and carries a bag, also made of cloth, in one hand. “It was made by my wife,” he explains, “who knows how to sew and has also made facemasks for several neighbors and friends, even though she hasn’t been shown on television.” The bag, for the moment, is empty, but Orlando is confident that it can change that situation. In addition to bread, he plans to buy vegetables and tubers from a man selling them from a cart and some meat product in a store that is on his way. “Even if it’s mincemeat or sausages,” he says, “because to buy chicken you have to face a...

Variation on a photo by Nuria López Torres.

Old ink: Mariblanca Sabas Alomá and Cuban feminist journalism

Although less known ―and recognized―than their male colleagues, several women have made history within the Cuban press. Theirs has certainly not been an easy path; particularly for those who chose this path at a time when intellectual work was an (almost) exclusive fief of men. To prevail they had to demonstrate talent, will and courage, and leave behind the many prejudices that weighed on women who preferred the heat of public life to the subdued tranquility of the family and home. Domitila García, Ofelia Domínguez, Renée Méndez Capote, Loló de la Torriente, María Collado and Mirta Aguirre are some of the most well-known pioneers of women's journalism on the island, a list that would be incomplete without Mariblanca Sabas Alomá. Sabas Alomá, who was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1901 and died in Havana 82 years later, began her career in the press in 1918 in her hometown, where she collaborated with two of the main publications of the time: El Cubano Libre and Diario de Cuba. Already in Havana, where she would move in the 1920s, she would gain relevance for her work as a journalist and, especially, for her ardent support for the emancipation of women, both...

Slide of sound waves related to the suspicious sonic attacks suffered by North American diplomats in Cuba, presented during the debates of the Is There a Havana Syndrome? event held at the Cuban Neuroscience Center on March 2 and 3, 2020. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Is there a “Havana Syndrome”?

When Dr. Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, one of the directors of the Cuban Neuroscience Center (CNEURO), is asked about the so-called “Havana Syndrome,” he replies without hesitation that he doesn’t believe it exists. “We believe that there really is no ‘Havana Syndrome’. What we think is that there are people who got sick from different causes and that we must continue the investigations to verify this or any other hypothesis,” he said about the health incidents reported by North American diplomats in the Cuban capital, which have been the source of the most diverse theories and speculations. Several of these hypotheses were the subject of analysis this week at the CNEURO, during the holding of the Is There a Havana's Syndrome? lthe holding of the Is There a Havana Syndrome?” event, which, according to Valdés-Sosa, sought to promote an “open and frank” debate about what happened. For this, the debates were attended by researchers and academics from several countries, including Cuba, United States and Canada, the main countries involved in this plot with hues of mystery and with an unquestionable political repercussion. After the first U.S. reports in Havana, three years ago, the Trump administration―wanting to dismantle the “thaw” promoted by Barack...

Habano Festival 2020. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

A festival for the Habano culture

When Luis Sánchez-Harguindey, Spanish co-president of the company Habanos S.A., lists the values ​​of the Habano Festival―whose 22nd edition opened this Monday and will run until next Friday in the Cuban capital―, he mentions experience, innovation and luxury, but also identity, tradition and culture. That is precisely the event’s fundamental focus: the promotion of a centuries-old culture, of a tradition rooted in the island since the time of the colony, which has become an indissoluble element of national identity that has consolidated its prestige and global character thanks in good measure to the work of the Cuban-Spanish joint venture founded 25 years ago and today the world leader in the marketing of Premium cigars. This is why this festival is the most important event of its kind on the planet, capable of bringing together in 2020 around 2,200 participants from more than 70 countries, interested not only in acquiring the famous Cuban cigar and enjoying the novelties conceived for the occasion, but also to know firsthand its most diverse aspects, from its planting in the Vuelta Abajo tobacco plantations to its elaboration entirely by hand and the manufacture of boxes, humidors and the identifying images of its brands and vitolas....

Animal rights activist in Cuba Violeta Rodríguez and her dog Segundo, during an interview with OnCuba. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Animal protectors in Cuba: the voice of the voiceless

Violeta has been dreaming of dogs and cats for months, she posts on Facebook about abandoned animals and does not stop fighting in Zoonosis to save those who wait there for their last hour. Yoanne, although she already was a civil engineer, decided to study Veterinary Medicine to help all the animals she could and created a dog shelter on a farm outside Sancti Spíritus. Camila and Paola have hidden their cats for years so that their landlords don’t discover them and have had to accommodate their schedules and even their professions to their activity as animal advocate. Sahily, who has not stopped collecting animals throughout her life, has been infected more than once by some of those she had rescued and has had, like them, to comply with the quarantine. These are just a few examples of the personal costs that Cuban animal advocates assume daily. To this must also be added the impact on their families and personal relationships, the perception that many have of them in their communities―“that you’re told that you are the crazy cat lady,” says Paola smiling, although very seriously―, and the suspicions with which they are seen by the authorities, which presume there’s...

Press conference of the delegation of businessmen and politicians from Michigan visiting Cuba, at the Hotel Nacional, in Havana, on February 6, 2020. From left to right, Gary McDowell, Director of the state’s Department of Agriculture; Chuck Lippstreu, current president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association (MABA); state Senator Daniel Lauwers; and James E. Byrum, outgoing president of the MABA. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

From Michigan to Cuba: in search of new opportunities

Even when relations between Cuba and the United States are experiencing a marked setback since the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House, the interest in maintaining and even fostering relations with the island remains on the agenda of various sectors of U.S. society. One of the most persevering, even against the policy of the Trump administration, is the agricultural sector, which sees business opportunities go to waste just 90 miles from U.S. territory due to embargo regulations, and has bid for approval of laws that benefit export and trade with Cuba. And although at the country level the links are very limited and there are still barriers such as the impossibility of selling to the island agricultural products on credit, there are several U.S. states that insist on maintaining contacts with the Cuban authorities and producers, both to find niches in the current state of bilateral relations as well as for a possible future scenario of normalization of relations. This is the case of Michigan. A delegation of politicians and agricultural businessmen has arrived in Cuba from that U.S. state―the latter led by Chuck Lippstreu, current president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association (MABA)―to strengthen years of ties, even...

Photo: Alejandro Ernesto.

Aged ink: Martí, from the cloud to the microbe

One hundred and sixty-seven years after his birth, José Martí is still an expanding universe. His immense, portentous work, still amazes for its innumerable nuances and teachings, for the depth and passion that unifies Cubans―and non-Cubans―from here and there, of all creeds, colors and ideologies. It is not gratuitous praise or patriotic rhetoric to call him “the most universal of Cubans”―although by force of repeating it to many its real meaning is blurred―because that is what he precisely was: a man of universal significance who, with his mind on Cuba, gazed at and embraced the world, and recorded it in his very vast written work. Quoted and revisited over and over again―not rarely uncritically or opportunistically―, Martí remains untouched by the passage of time. Both his brilliant poetry, which ranks him among the greatest Spanish-American writers of the 19th century, as his arduous and sacrificed political work, crowned with his death and that exalts him today as the National Hero of Cuba, would be enough to revere him. But they are joined by his outstanding and comprehensive journalism. “The journalist must know, from the cloud to the microbe,” he wrote about his most constant profession, and he was able to...

Practical lesson on Cuban regional cuisine during the Cuba Sabe 2020 International Culinary Workshop. Photos: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Cuba Sabe 2020: between Cuban cassava and gourmet cuisine

Between the very Cuban cassava and world-famous Italian pastas, between the excellence of gourmet cuisine and the interaction of the culinary with the visual arts; this is how the 2nd Cuba Sabe International Culinary Workshop, which concluded last Saturday in the Cuban capital, took place. Around 200 delegates and guests from nations such as Spain, the United States, Italy―the guest country in this second edition―, the United Kingdom and Cuba shared three intense days at the Iberoestar Grand Packard Hotel, the venue since the first edition of an event that transcends the field of gastronomy to highlight cuisine’s cultural resonances. Cuba’s culinary art, with its traditions, regional recipes and contemporary stylizations, was the main protagonist of the event, which shared its knowledge and flavors between lectures―among them, one on food sovereignty by Brazilian theologian Frei Betto, and another dedicated to the history and present of cassava, given by Cuban researcher Domingo Cuza―, practical lessons, tastings, exhibitions, concerts and book presentations. More than a “rescue” of Cuban cuisine, the workshop became a celebration of its recent declaration as a cultural heritage of the nation. “This is not an event to rescue Cuban cuisine, but to appreciate its values, its traditional knowledge,...

2nd Cuba Sabe Culinary Workshop. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Cuba Sabe: from the farm to the table (going through the kitchen)

In less than a decade, Osmel Corrales turned an eroded and low-yielding plot of land into a paradigm of organic farming in Cuba. The goats and his perseverance were the key so that El Olivo farm, in the tourist valley of Viñales, not only improve the land, but also gain fame for the variety and quality of its cheese. This was confirmed by the participants at the 2nd Cuba Sabe International Culinary Workshop, which began its sessions this Thursday at the Iberoestar Grand Packard Hotel in Havana, with the presence of chefs, producers, sommeliers, academics, artists and specialized journalists. Corrales was one of the Cuban farmers who exhibited their artisanal organic products during the opening day, which was attended by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, among other invited personalities. Cheese with paprika, rosemary, a la guayabita del pinar, yogurt and cream made by him and his workers were shown―and tasted―along with cheeses and sausages from other independent producers, as an example of the potential of a movement still insufficiently known and exploited on the island, and of which Cuba Sabe aims to showcase. The cheeses, milk and other products of...

People line up at the Galerias de Paseo shopping center, in Havana, where on October 28, 2019, electrical appliances started being sold in foreign currency through debit cards associated with bank accounts. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / EFE.

Havana stores start selling in dollars

Monday, October 28, 10:30 in the morning. A hundred people, perhaps more, are grouped inside the Galerias de Paseo shopping center, in Havana. The line, which goes up the ramp that connects the ground floor with the upper floors, becomes thicker and more agitated as it approaches the door of the store where as of today different electrical appliances are being sold in dollars. The store is downstairs, at the back of the mall, at the beginning of the ramp. It is one of the 13 that opened its doors on Monday in the capital and in Santiago de Cuba, as part of the new economic measures announced days ago by the Cuban government. One of those that sell through debit cards associated with bank accounts in foreign currency. Many people look through the store windows. Others remain standing, or sitting on benches or on the edge of the ramp, waiting for their turn to go in. Some onlookers wander among those who wait. New buyers continue arriving and asking who the last person is on the line. Those in front crowd around the employees who answer their questions and try to organize the entry. There are also police officers...

Chef Eddy Fernández, president of the island’s Federation of Culinary Associations and a tireless defender of Cuban cuisine. Behind, a statue of chef Gilberto Smith, founder of the Federation and one of the essential figures of culinary art on the island. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Chef Eddy Fernández: “Cuban cuisine deserves being recognized as a national heritage”

The mother of Eddy Fernandez, as well as of his three brothers, would not let him into the kitchen "because of the machismo of that time." However, more than four decades later he is one of the most recognized chefs in Cuba, president of the island’s Federation of Culinary Associations and a tireless defender of Cuban cuisine, who aspires that it be recognized as a national heritage. He’s been working for several years to achieve this from the institution he presides over. He has already delivered a report, the result of a thorough investigation and "with more than 40 national and international references," to the offices of the National Council of Cultural Heritage and is awaiting its opinion. It’s currently studying the proposal following the established standards for these cases. For Eddy, that this aspiration becomes a reality would be, above all, an act of justice, a victory that, beyond the Culinary Federation, all Cubans deserve. "I think all of Cuba deserves that our cuisine be recognized as a heritage," says to OnCuba the 58-year-old chef, 16 of them at the head of the Federation. "We are not seeking to exalt it for our benefit, because ultimately any organization or...

Going to the beach on this island is like going to a party. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / EFE.

Let’s go to the beach

The beach in Cuba generates unlimited affection. Sometimes it seems like a principal religion, above all the divine, black, white, Chinese and mulatto heads. In Cuba, where it is hot the year round, and increasingly more with global warming, going to the beach in July and August is the right time. For Cubans, it is anguishing if the water isn’t warm. For us neither March nor October are good for going to the beach. Group psychology dictates, then, that to take a dip the main thing is that there be a lot of sun and many people. The more, the better. It doesn’t matter if the compass leans towards the elitist Varadero or the proletarian beach of 16 in Miramar, Havana's Guanabo or Santiago de Cuba’s Siboney, what cannot be postponed is going to the beach in summer, to feel the whiplash of the saltpeter in the middle of the afternoon and the impact of the sea on the retina. All that surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people. There’s nothing like it. Big families all get under the beach umbrellas to get away from the sun for a bit. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa / EFE. To...

Rum Santiago of Cuba. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Rum Santiago de Cuba, to Europe and beyond…

The rum Santiago de Cuba, the second most important Cuban premium rum after the famous Havana Club and for many connoisseurs the highest-quality rum of spirits produced on the island, is headed toward the growing European market. And also beyond. This Monday, a subsidiary of the British firm Diageo―world leader in the premium alcoholic beverage segment―and the Cuban state corporation Cuba Ron S.A. formalized the creation of a joint venture to distribute the renowned spirit internationally. The new venture, named Ron Santiago S.A., will have the exclusive global distribution rights, with the intention of multiplying the sale of Cuban rum throughout the world. "The specialized publications consider that the Cuban premium rum represents approximately 9% of the sales of premium rum worldwide. And the main objective of this joint venture is to make this number grow and more," said David Cutter, president of global production and purchases at Diageo. https://www.facebook.com/UKinCuba/posts/2344629945591515 Two reasons support, according to Cutter, the commitment of his company―which markets such renowned brands as Smirnoff vodka, Johnnie Walker and J&B whiskeys, Tanqueray gin and Guinness beer―to the rum Santiago de Cuba. The first of these is the unquestionable quality of this Cuban drink. "The Santiago de Cuba is...

Mexican Ambassador to Cuba Miguel Díaz Reynoso. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Cuba and Mexico at an “exceptional moment”

Cuba and Mexico are living an “exceptional moment” in their bilateral relations. This is the opinion of the new Mexican Ambassador to the island, Miguel Díaz Reynoso, who argues that the turn to the left of the Mexican government with the arrival to the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has opened a new range of opportunities strongly rooted in historical and cultural links. "It is not only about the temporary coincidence of two new administrations: that of López Obrador and that of Miguel Díaz-Canel, but also the coincidence of visions and objectives, the interest of each government in improving the living conditions of its people, to meet their daily needs and promote their well-being," says Díaz Reynoso in an exclusive interview with OnCuba. For the diplomat, appointed last March and who still hasn’t presented his credentials before the Cuban authorities, a convergence "also of politics" is now added to the "long centuries of relations" between the two nations. "It cannot be overlooked that next to López Obrador on the day of his ‘Taking of Protest’ in Mexico was President Díaz-Canel, as a clear sign of the link between the two countries and the two new governments. And that marks...

Eduardo del Llano. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Eduardo del Llano: Nicanor O’Donell for president

In Eduardo del Llano’s ideal Cuba, Nicanor O'Donell should be president. At least "I’d vote for him," he says. For 15 years, the writer and filmmaker born in 1962 in Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, has made a series of short films with Nicanor as a central character, as an archetype of the common Cuban who, with mordancy and humor, reveals the contradictions and absurdities of contemporary Cuban society. The shorts, starring Luis Alberto García and Néstor Jiménez, have gone from flash memory to flash memory like hot cakes on the island, even though distrust and official silence have sidelined them from the state distribution circuits. However, despite the underground popularity of the "Nicanor" series, Del Llano has decided to end his successful saga. Last week he officially released in Havana Dos veteranos, short number 15 of the series, which according to its author will be, once and for all, the last. OnCuba talked with the also screenwriter of films like Alicia en el pueblo de Maravillas and La vida es silbar about this closure and its meanings, and about his remaining career in film and literature. He also revealed his reasons for not emigrating and for continuing to...

Five of the members of the MSK private enterprise. From left to right: Gretel Garlobo, Michel Hernández, Gilberto Grave de Peralta, Mirsa Martínez and Dayron Avello. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

MSK, a private enterprise for Cuban music

The catalog of MSK, an undertaking dedicated to the promotion of Cuban music in the digital sphere, includes from son musician Manolito Simonet to the Cimafunk phenomenon, from jazzman Alejandro Falcón to the Conga de Los Hoyos, from singer-songwriter Luis Franco to the Golpe Seko rappers. When it began just six months ago it had only three names in its catalog; today it has around 40. And not only from Havana; also from Matanzas, Villa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Pinar del Río. And even from outside the island. "The goal is to promote good Cuban music, wherever it comes from and regardless of the genre," explains to OnCuba Gilberto Grave de Peralta, a computer scientist and project director, who, along with his wife, the designer and musician Mirsa Martínez, had a previous experience in artistic marketing with the now extinct Habana2Go magazine. MSK was born with this and other antecedents, but with a more comprehensive and ambitious idea; an enterprise for which they had been preparing more than half a year until its launch last December 13. MSK logo. It hasn’t been an easy road, but it’s very comforting, according to its members, only six and...

Photo of the historic visit of former U.S. President Barack Obama (left) in March 2016 at Havana’s San Cristóbal Restaurant, where he is greeting its owner, chef Carlos Cristóbal Márquez (center). The image is kept in the restaurant. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

San Cristóbal, from Obama to Trump

Three years ago, Havana’s San Cristóbal Restaurant became a symbol of the new era that Cuba and the United States were living. During his visit to the island, in March 2016, then President Barack Obama dined with his family in the "paladar" founded in 2010 by Chef Carlos Cristóbal Márquez and the entire world had its eye on the spot. "It was a unique moment. That he chose us over other excellent restaurants in Havana has been very important for us," recalls Márquez, who has a recognized experience as a chef in emblematic Cuban hotels such as the Riviera, the Capri and the Nacional, and also outside the island. It’s not the only famous visit to the restaurant on San Rafael Street, in Centro Habana, where politicians like former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and former Brazilian President Lula da Silva have eaten, as well as celebrities such as Kardashian and music stars Beyoncé and Jay-Z. However, Obama's dinner, as explicit support for the island's private sector, marked a before and after, and left a trail that many foreign visitors have tried to follow. Above all, from the United States. But today’s reality is very different. [gallery jnewsslider_title="Private Restaurant San Cristóbal....

Photo: jocymedina.com

Special Period’s heraldry

The memories of the “Special Period” in Cuba have been engraved in cast iron for those of us who lived it. More than 20 years have passed, at least since its crudest stage, and it is still hard to freely speak or laugh about all its shortages and vicissitudes. At some point in the dialogue, it does not matter whether at the beginning or at the end, the shadow of the trauma takes over, and what was a simple list of experiences ―many, logically, similar― becomes an act of exorcism. In a spiritual cleansing so that those dark times don’t return. Now that the ghost of that period is again soaring over Cubans and that the long lines and other "symptoms" seem like an ominous prediction, many rescue the stories of that time to give themselves courage for what they suppose is coming and to teach the younger people ―who didn’t live or don’t remember the hardships suffered― about the crisis using the most acute list of words. Cuba, certainly, is not the same as in the 1990s and whatever the times that will come ―if they’re not already here― they wouldn’t have to be the same. But in any...

Cuban railroad. Photo: Abel Rojas Barallobre / Cubahora / Archive.

Cuban railroad’s slow journey

After decades of lurching and putting on the brakes, the Cuban passenger railroad is trying to recover. The recent arrival of 56 Chinese cars, as part of the 240 agreed between Beijing and Havana for the next months, worth 150 million dollars, has started to materialize the intention of giving back the lost dignity to this means of transportation. Or at least, some of that dignity. These are the first cars with zero mileage that have arrived to the island in 44 years. They will be joined by another 24 within a few days to complete the first batch of 80 that, according to Cuban Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodríguez, "will be in service this summer." Since 1975, long before the fateful “Special Period” and even the "golden" 1980s, did such "brand-new" wagons disembark in Cuba. Not even those of the trains popularly known as "Locura azul" ―because of the color of their cars reminiscent of the film about Los Zafiros― and "the French" ―because of their country of origin―, were brand new. The most "luxurious" Cuban travelers remember in the last three decades already had quite a bit of mileage when they began being used in Cuba. And because of...

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