Cuba Officials ‘Wrapped Up in Nonsense’

Fernando Ravsberg

A Cuban state-run restaurant. (Photo: Raquel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 2 — Cuba refutes those who believe that Latin Americans lack Germanic accuracy. But it would have to import thousands of precision scales for their food stands, to verify the portions meet the requirements right down to the gram.

Making no attempt to brag on behalf of the island, I don’t think there is a restaurant in Germany that can ensure their fried-rice dish weighs exactly 348 grams, or that their Neapolitan spaghetti will be served up at 406 grams, or when the customer wants an extra slice of ham it will supposedly weigh in at precisely 58 grams.

But things don’t stop there; Cuban vendors manage to bake 406 gram pizzas and I found a street stall selling popular pan con lechon (roast pork) sandwiches that were said to weigh precisely 123.5 grams – not a half gram more or a half gram less than what is required.

I can only imagine the debates between food industry leaders, in the ministries and institutions where they establish such commercial standards. I can almost see them arguing scientifically why a salad should come with 116 grams of vegetables.

That explains the staggering number of work meetings that these agency heads have to attend, and also why every time you ask to see the manager of a restaurant, bar or cafe, the answer is invariably: “Sorry, the comrade is in a meeting.”

But the truth is that while the bosses are engaged in calculating the exact weight of each plate, the food stands lack proper hygiene and napkins, customers are often mistreated and the actual portions are reduced as tons of food disappears through the back door.

Cuban customs marked the bag becuase it contained a pair of tennis shoes. Photo: Raquel Perez

Of course, food service doesn’t have a monopoly on this nonsense. I recently took a trip abroad, and upon arrival my luggage failed to appear. After several days, the airline admitted that my belongings had been withheld by the Cuban customs office.
No one could explain the reason, but the report sounded the alert that a pair of shoes had been detected. I was surprised they had found this suspicious; I can’t imagine that I’m the only passenger traveling with a pair of tennis shoes in their luggage.

Nobody would respond to me, so I went to the main Customs office asking for explanations. I provided them with a letter explaining everything, which they promptly accepted, recorded in a huge logbook of complaints and never responded.

Bad luck at the Havana airport has become a family tradition for us. My younger son’s suitcase also disappeared, never to be seen again, while my older son was questioned just as he got off the plane for having the last name “Ravsberg.”

They’ve now spent four days checking over my “suspicious” pair of shoes, with such dedication making it clear why they don’t have time to stem smuggling, the unauthorized transport of commercial goods, payments under the table, “untouchable” luggage carts or the artificial chaos around baggage handling.

Street venders draw the attention of the official press. Photo: Raquel Perez

Surely it would be useful to the country for the press to investigate these facts instead of wasting space, time and personnel to attack pushcart vendors as if street sales of meats and vegetables were a question of national security.

While most Cubans awaited the outcome of the Conference of the Communist Party, the newspapers as well as the TV news devoted space to criticizing young people who push carts loaded with vegetables through the city’s neighborhoods under the tropical sun.

We will have to see whether they’ll now try to make these vendors out to be culprits behind the nation’s agricultural disaster, its un-served markets, rises in prices, the shortage of food production, delays in seed imports or the irrational system of produce distribution.

These stories reflect a short summary of how some people and institutions are focusing more on the mundane problems instead of seeking solutions to those that really matter. This is what Cubans call being “estar en la boberia” (wrapped up in nonsense).
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.