Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – I’m from the countryside; the Guayabo community in the Mayari River valley. My neighborhood is named after one of its tributary streams, which creates the highest waterfall in Cuba when it comes down off the mountains. There is really good land here, among the most fertile in the entire country and with the distinctive feature of being exceptional for tobacco cultivation. Maybe lots of you don’t know this, but any old land isn’t good for producing quality tobacco.
The recent strains are a lot less demanding, but there is still land that isn’t suitable, where tobacco “doesn’t burn”, like we say when you roll the cigar and it dies out. In our beautiful valley we grow top-quality tobacco which burns right through, smells great, has a strong flavor and creates white ash. It competes with the best plantations in Vueltabajo in Pinar del Rio.
I grew up among tobacco and corn fields, as well as yokes of oxen. However, my father wasn’t a farmer by trade, neither was my grandfather. They were salaried workers. My grandfather using to work at a United Fruit Company sugar mill, then at the Guatemala Mill; and my father worked in retail, in a bodega store. Yet, farming was always very present in our lives. Even though studying was my thing, I would sometimes help out my grandfather once he retired with his garden.
I became a biologist, then a citizen journalist. A strange professional leap, but politics and sociology always caught my attention. Once I was mixed up in this, I became a farmer too so I didn’t need to depend on a public sector job which would make me more vulnerable to State repression.
By a twist of fate, something unexpected happened and my father came to own a small plot of land, a little more than 1 hectare of the family farm where we live. However, don’t go imagining a isolated place because families have grown so much that the suburban rural neighborhood seems like a town now.
We have many fruit trees, such as mango, avocado, guava, canistel, tamarind, lemon, Seville orange and cherimoya, banana trees and plantains as well. In their shade, we have some malanga plants.
Behind the house, there is a palm grove with twelve plants that produce palm fruits for the pigs. We always have some, to eat or solve a problem. Underneath, we have some banana plants and coffee bushes. My father planted them for our own consumption at home. There is robusta coffee (Brazilian) and peaberry (caracolillo). A climbing bean plant on the gates called caballero, which is great for congri rice, but not for stews.
We had a well next to the house, but about a decade ago, there were strong rains and it collapsed because the groundwater rose really high and it seems there were ruptures in the casing. Up until recently, we suffered great water shortages because the State’s aqueduct provides an irregular service, it is always failing, and it doesn’t have very much electricity allocated under the new energy savings scheme.
Luckily, in the furthest part of our property, where there was once a house, there is another well fit for use. Just two months ago, I managed to put in a pump and a conductor carrying the precious liquid to the family homes, over 100m away. It’s excellent water, like all the water in the valley is.
I also use the pump to water the fields. The arable part of land, that I plant on, is just half a hectare. Right now, I have red beans for salad and cassava planted. In October, I will also plant a few tobacco plants, but not too many.
You might be able to make a lot of money with a plot of land like this one on the outskirts of Havana. There, all farm products are good business. But they aren’t here. The good thing about having a plot of land is that you have a lot of food available and you don’t need to buy them, thus saving money. You can also make a little extra cash. However, the cooperative is always on the lookout, inspecting everything you plant so that you sell to them and you earn very little. They have very effective coercive methods; it’s not voluntary.
I really do like cultivating, it isn’t a punishment for me. I am a happy person and enjoy everything I do, more so if it is to share and maintain my family. However, I believe that I find it easier to do because of my journalistic work which I alternate my time with, because I feel like I’m doing something intellectual too. I really do need it; I find it essential.
So I move about among my cassava, tobacco and bean plants, and my laptop, cell phone and WIFI points. A symbiosis of a farmer and journalist; or father or a family and citizen; who is concerned about and takes on the sacred struggle of fighting for democracy for Cuba. To win all the justice possible, while always a father, husband and son. That’s my life.