Cuba’s Adulterated Products

Carlos Fraguela


HAVANA TIMES — A friend told me about something that happened to her at a private cafeteria in Alamar, the peripheral neighborhood where she lives in Havana. She was served what was supposedly a glass of watermelon juice. When she had finished drinking it, they told her that what she had drunk was actually 90 percent cucumber juice. The way she’d been had angered her and made her want to throw up on the counter.

She had enjoyed the juice and saying how tasty she thought it was apparently encouraged the clerk to reveal the truth: “Girl, I used one tiny slice of melon and about ten cucumbers to make this. See how much melon juice I got out if it?” My friend looked at the lady as though she wanted to kill her.

She left without saying anything to the adulterator. It would have been good to tell her that it was unacceptable to cheat people that way, selling cucumber juice as watermelon juice. My friend likes cucumber only in salads. Vendors also adulterate pineapple juice, adding rice water to it. At cafeterias, my friend always asks whether the juice has any rice in it, so as not to buy it. She likes rice only with chicken, or with an avocado and omelets.

There’s a danger inherent to providing people with false information about food contents. We know there are people who are allergic to certain food products and reactions to these can be deadly. One must have an adequate amount of information to do anything, really, for, as someone once said, “ignorance kills.”

A few days ago, I met someone who’s allergic to peanuts. As chance would have it, I was holding a paper cone with peanuts when he told me of his allergy. We were standing dangerously close to one another when I lost my balance (I was barefoot) and I almost rubbed his arm with my hand, which was covered with the allergen. He jumped backwards and landed far away from me, looking at me as one does a murderer. I thought he had to eat it for it to do him harm, but no, he told me that rubbing a peanut on his skin was enough to put him in danger.

Many products have been adulterated in Cuba as a result of shortages: minced meat, coffee, milk and other things. This is a dangerous habit, as consumers can never be sure whether they’re ultimately purchasing food or poison.

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s Adulterated Products

  • Ironically, the Castro’s have been selling fake watermelon juice for 55 years. The phoney watermelons Fidel & Raul use are those mutant inside-out watermelons: Red on the outside and Olive Green on the inside. And they don’t get the juice from the watermelons, instead they use the inside-out watermelons to squeeze the juice out of Cuban people.

  • Human nature such as it is encourages desperate people to do desperate things. Anywhere where folks believe that the only way to survive is to lie, cheat or steal from other people will provoke behaviors such as adulterating food and personal hygiene products. This is a problem in Cuba because after 55 years of Castro tyranny, many Cubans see no other way to make ends meet except by cheating fellow Cubans and worse yet, foreigners. There is a scene in the pilot movie for a TV series, cancelled several years ago, about a wealthy Cuban family in Miami. In the scene, the lead actor and son-in-law of the family patriarch, catches a new employee and recent Cuban émigré stealing from the family company. Rather than fire him on the spot, he reminds him that he is no longer in Cuba and that he doesn’t have to steal to get ahead, just work hard. It seems even Hollywood understands what 3 generations of Castro-rule has done to the Cuban people.

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