Holy Chocolate: On Agro-Industrial Speculation in Cuba

Yenisel Rodríguez Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Drinking hot chocolate in Cuba is almost a privilege, an exotic experience, an act denoting social prestige. Few Cubans would believe that, for the longest time, hot chocolate was one of the most popular breakfasts in the country. Once the companion of people’s morning toast, it has become a true culinary luxury.

So what happened?

Just about everything, particularly over the last 24 years.

For instance, when the price of cocoa butter skyrockets in the international market, local state investors, blinded by their thirst for hard currency, deprive the confectionary industry of the raw materials it needs. This way, the production of chocolate bars and other sweets aimed at the domestic market decreases considerably.

In other cocoa-producing Caribbean countries, this problem is solved using alternative oils, like coconut or palm oils. For Cuban decision-makers, however, the profits generated by cocoa butter are enough and no additional time or effort is devoted to the matter.

Cocoa production suffices to supply the domestic market, and the prices offered producers are low enough so as to allow them to set a retail price that is affordable for the population. Low production levels persist, however, as a result of misguided macro-economic policies.

Here’s where the issue of speculation comes in.

The price of chocolate manufactured domestically is well above the economically rational, which is why chocolate is advertised as a luxury item, under the formula of “after the feast comes the reckoning.”

Perhaps without being entirely aware of it, decision-makers use and strengthen the high prestige this product enjoys in the Cuban collective imaginary in order to speculate with people’s money and demand, selling it as though it were an imported item that belonged to the family of socially prestigious and glamorous articles.

Suffice it to mention the well-known Casa del chocolate (“Chocolate House”) cafeterias, baroque culinary cathedrals designed for the veneration of the dark elixir.

The other face of the coin is Cuba’s Chocolatin, instant chocolate whose production is subsidized by the State, born back in the days of messianic speeches. Its dubious quality varies with the highs and lows of Cuba’s social policies, consolidating the exotic and sacred reputation of chocolate sold in hard currency. Who, after all, would ask their government to subsidize the production of caviar and French wine?

And so, we are left like our Aztec brothers. They were deprived of Mexican maize, when they were the civilization that produced it most widely, and we must pay for a Cuban product as though it were imported.

As the popular song says, “drink your chocolate and pay up what you owe.”

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.

2 thoughts on “Holy Chocolate: On Agro-Industrial Speculation in Cuba

  • I saw a bar of chocolate from Baracoa only slightly larger than a cigarette packet on sale for just under two pounds sterling. This should make it unaffordable to actual residents of Baracoa.

  • Cocoa production plummeted in Cuba under Castro.
    another disaster.

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