Wednesday, May 15, 2013

El Mercado

Madison Horner
reporting from Havana, Cuba

El Mercado
Wednesday, May 15th

Ripe guava, plump mangos, bananas, bananas, and more bananas. —these are some of the fruits you can find in a Havana style farmer’s market. We made a quick stop at small shaded tent on our way to las terraces.  Inside, Cubans shopped through rows of fruit and vegetables, more dogs rested in the shade and two parakeets sang in the background.  I reached above my head for a banana and quickly learned the long yellow variety, that look like the ones I would typically buy at home, are no good to eat.  They’re called “platanos machos” and are used for fried desserts and banana chips, as are the shorter green variety called plátano burro. A third variety, lantanidos, are sweet, soft and good to eat.

            At home, I would expect a similar collection of granny smith, honey crisp and pink lady apples, however at this market in Havana, there were none. Since the Obama administration made a clause in the trade embargo allowing exportation of agricultural goods, Thomas Palaio at the U.S. Interests Section told us the state of Virginia now supplies Cuba with most of the country’s apples. Apparently they’re carried in on large crates, but don’t seem to account for much. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen the empty boxes, but not a single fruit.  Most the Cubans I’ve talked to say these goods are difficult to find and don’t last on store shelves for long.

         While it’s easy to wonder if the Cubans understand what they’re missing, the general consensus is that all of the people here, including American diplomats who hold Cuba close to their hearts, are ready for the embargo to end. The embargo limits trade to certain agricultural and medicinal goods. The Cuban government is required to buy these goods in U.S. dollars. This deal is very expensive for Cuba, who has a reputation of owing debt to other nations. American imports amount to very little. Open trade with America would not only improve international tensions, but the sale of certain novelties, such as cigars and coffee, could become very profitable for Cuba. For America, a stake in the tourism and agricultural markets could also be beneficial.

Other specialties imported from Latin America lined the counter at the checkout. A cloudy corona bottle filled with a garlic paste from Mexico, plastic bags filled with oil and vinegar, and various treats wrapped in wax paper. I purchased a peanut bar to eat with my lantanidos.  Sweeter than peanut butter but lacking the sugary crunch of peanut brittle, this was a special greasy treat. 

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