The Stylized Shape of the Island and Its Islanders

Osmel Almaguer


HAVANA TIMES, Feb 18 — I’ve always heard that the island of Cuba is shaped like a crocodile. Alligators too have that long, narrow body, but they eat and sleep a lot. Though we Cubans also possess that quality of thin shapes, it’s not because we share those eating habits or those sedentary lifestyles.

Neither is it because we have a healthy eating culture. On the contrary, our appetites are affected by the hunger of our great-great African grandparents, by the folk customs of our Spanish colonizers, and by the consumerist ideology partly imposed by the Americans during the period of “the republic” (under US dominance).

Likewise, our being thin is due to us having suffered successive crises over the course of our revolution – those periods when neither the Soviets nor the Chinese nor the Venezuelans were there to help us.

In other words, if we don’t consume more meat, rice, beans, sugar, salt, fat or flour, it’s simply because we don’t have enough of those items.

Our lives unfold in a tropical Caribbean environment, where we live as a hot-blooded people. In addition, we have to run behind buses, just like our predecessors — the independence fighters in Bayamo — had to run when they heard the bugle, as is recalled in our national anthem.

We have to stand and wait in long and repeated lines, and we suffer that constant “batting around” (we are a baseball country at the core) by the country’s bureaucratic class. This is why we’re never static, even when we want to be.

All these various aspects of our lives cause permanent and collective stress that prevents us from getting fat.

So how can they tell us on the Cuban news that obesity and sedentary lifestyles are a threat to us? Isn’t that a threat experienced by the Americanos, who we criticize so much but whose standard of living — apart from the social injustices that exist there — is infinitely superior to ours?

The fact is that this disease is only characteristic of the major powers. Although there might be isolated cases in any one country, we cannot call an entire people obese. Although their older citizens tend to put on a little tummy fat, as is logical, we cannot call countries obese.

I flatly refuse to accept this Cuban news claim that offers no statistics or credible sources of any kind. Unfortunately, I don’t I have the figures either, but I live in Cuba, and fortunately I don’t need an “Operacion Milagro”* here.

* “Operacion Milagro” (Operation Miracle), set up in 2005, is a Cuban health care program serving Venezuela and a number of other less developed countries with eye operations and treatment.



Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.