Yenisel Rodríguez Perez

Baracoa, Cuba. Photo: Lázaro González

Baracoa, an exotic city in Guantanamo Province, is known as Cuba’s capital of cocoa and chocolate. There are many historical facts that earn this remote community this title.

It was the first solid ground on which colonizer Christopher Columbus stepped when he arrived in Cuba, and for many years was the greatest exporter of bananas in the Caribbean.

And as if that weren’t enough, it possesses our national heritage for the production of cocoa and chocolate for industrial processing in all their various forms.

The official media like to highlight the exoticism of Cuba’s far eastern city of Baracoa. It suits them to talk about the past disembarkations of colonial explorers, today’s chocolate and coconut sweets.

The realities omitted by this image are related to the precariousness of cocoa production in that region and the inaccessibility to chocolate consumption by those who produce the most cocoa in the country.

The production of chocolate for domestic consumption has disappeared even on farms where cocoa is directly produced.

The chocolate traditionally consumed in Baracoa was a thick and strong drink that was known in the area as “chorete.” This was is a chocolate drink that has just a little milk, a lot of cornstarch and a touch of cinnamon to the taste.  It was drunk for breakfast and as an energizer to face exhausting days of heavy physical labor.

But not only has chorote disappeared, it’s also difficult to find “modern” chocolate in Baracoa. The country’s largest industrial processing plant of chocolate and its derivatives is located a few miles from the city of Baracoa.  It gets its cocoa beans at extremely low costs, while its products are marketed at exceedingly high prices – the perfect business.

Cocoa pods on the tree. Photo: Lázaro González

As a result, we find paradoxical situations in which a visitor who comes to the city of Baracoa and offers a local chocolate bars bought in Havana but made in that very same city of Baracoa.

There’s also another inexhaustible source of agricultural production and commercialization in Baracoa: coconuts. Thousands of trees loaded with huge coconuts, each with excellent masa (flesh), can be found in any area around the city.

In this case, what has not functioned has been the large scale production of the product, which could otherwise supply the rest of the country with this nutritious and healthy fruit.

In the region exists stable and quality hand-made production, specializing in the famous cucuruchos de coco (coconut cones) sweetened with honey and assorted tropical fruits. Due to the characteristics of the process of preparing this product, the industry has managed to survive until today.

Sugar, the most expensive ingredient, is now recognized as being an unhealthy food, conditioning a shift toward tastes demanding less sweetness in the natural products.  This has led to a lower demand for sugar or its replacement by honey in the preparation of the cones.

The production of bananas is now past history for Baracoa.  Now the disembarkations are of European tourists from buses, leaving a few economic dividends to the people due to tourism.

So the image of paradisiac exoticism returns to find refuge in the online pages and broadcasts of our media and in the clouded lens with which our government journalists observe Cuban life.

Meanwhile the producers of cocoa eat big chunks of sweet potatoes with a garlic sauce for breakfast, to save the little flour they have, which substitutes for the cornstarch, so they can give their grandchildren a drink similar to chorote.

At the same time the grandchild of a campesino drinks the tasteless bitter drink that lacks sugar or milk, he/she dreams of Nestlé chocolates or chocolates from Baracoa, both equally far away…each in their own way.

 


Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

One thought on “Baracoa Chocolate Dreams

  • This brings back memories. The coconut cones are a delicassee, beautifully wrapped up. One of the few things the locals can afford. I have never seen them outside Baracoa. If you have not been to Baracoa you have not been to Cuba. Unless you fly from Havana it is a long treck from Santiago by coach. See the last surviving cross Columbus brought over. ‘La perla de Cuba’
    However, it has saddened me many times to see beaches littered with rubbish. When people are poor they often do not appreciate ecology, sustainability and similar concepts. Baracoa is a paradise that could be lost in no time. For all its tropical beauty it can also be a harsh environment as the spring 2008 underreported tsunami in Baracoa showed.

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