Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Plantain seller. Photo by Lina Marcela Lasso Silva

HAVANA TIMES — The recent call by Fidel Castro for people to eat moringa plants was the buffoonish version of a past tragedy. It’s as if with his ramblings he’s refusing to depart from this world without leaving us irrefutable evidence of his obstinate will to hang on.

Obviously the issue of the moringa plant, like many other natural foods, is important in a world whose resources are becoming exhausted and its population growing. What’s pathetic though is that a country is required to serve as the stage for the senile contrivances of a person who is now telling Cubans to become herbivores without bothering to ask them if they want to.

It is repulsive, and yet with that said, it’s still less onerous than when Fidel Castro made the decisions about everything.

I’m saying this because if this had happened a dozen years ago, acres of land brimming with agricultural produce would have been plowed under to make way for this “magic bush,” students would have been deployed en masse to cheerfully plant moringa and wild mulberries.

TV chef Nitza Villapol (who was alive then) would have prepared a salad with the product, the minister of Labor would have inaugurated provincial workshops on how to spin silk from the plant, and finally talk-show host Reinaldo Taladrid would have eaten a plate of moringa on the “Mesa Redonda” news program, which was indeed already in existence back then.

Perhaps one day some economic historian will calculate how much the ignorant and voluntarist schemes of the Cuban leadership have cost us – particularly Fidel Castro’s.

Maybe then we will know how much we have had to pay in wasted time over our lives, how much in squandered resources and how many unfulfilled hopes and fanciful speculations have come from a man who thought of himself as standing above his species, not to mention the hordes that followed him unconditionally.

Cowboy in the Valley of Viñales, Pinar del Rio. Photo: Liset Cruz

That is probably when we’ll perceive the extent of damage caused by the “Cordon de la Habana” (the Havana coffee corridor), by the special plans for the extermination of cattle in the search for a superior breed, by the environmental destruction of the Che Guevara Brigade, and by the schools in the countryside program, the constantly watered “microjet bananas,” ecologically damaging causeways to cays, the “defensive” tunnels under Havana, the Energy Revolution and so many other initiatives that became uncontested and unquestioned policy.

I remember one of those mini-occurrences: the massive planting of a vegetable for feeding cattle, one that was supposedly rich in protein and calories, and whose name sounded something like “kufru.”

I was a teenager back then when my peers and I were mobilized to join a “special unit” in a “mission for the commander-in-chief.”

At that time I imagined myself in the heat of battle alongside Che Guevara in the jungles of Bolivia. However, when I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere (someplace in western Cuba) I found myself stuck there with hundreds of other young men pulling up tubers.

A supervisor, who oversaw us all the time, explained the historical significance of the mission being directed by the commander-in-chief, who appeared there one afternoon with an impressive entourage.

Some of us were reassigned to planting newly plowed fields with “kufru,” while others were redirected to weeding tracts that had been already been sown with the novel crop.

They were dreadful days, since added to the usual discomforts was work that involved crawling along vast rows sowed with the little plants that were already buried under all types of weeds that had to be pulled out with our bare hands.

The only pleasant memory is that of a girl who worked beside me — or who I always tried to be beside — who with a missionary’s passion tried to convert me to the Baptist faith that she professed. And I went along so as to contemplate her unforgettable green eyes.

Two months later we completed our mission and never again did I hear a word about that wonderful vegetable – what was worse, nor did I ever learn about the owner of those green eyes.

Canasi. Photo by Agnese Sanvito

But some time later I ran into our old supervisor in an orange grove in Jaguey Grande, where I asked about the “kufru.” Languid due to circumstances, he explained that the plan hadn’t progressed because the cows refused to eat the pods. “It seems it was too bitter for them,” he said. And the cows, he must have thought, weren’t revolutionaries.

This is why when I read the twittered “Reflections” of Fidel Castro concerning moringa plants and silk worms, I thought about “kufru,” the green-eyed Baptist girl, and other details of those days that I can now hardly remember.

I’m glad that the country is now moving in other directions, and that the only consequences have been a couple of articles in the Granma newspaper praising moringa and El Comandante, in addition to a lecture on the “Mesa Redonda” by Taladrid, who it seems — like Fidel — aspires to immortality.

Still, even in the middle of all the troubles that aren’t worth going into right now, I think it’s preferable to support Taladrid praising Hindu culture, el comandante and his moringa than being sent to western Pinar del Rio Province to plant it.

I’ll let you…“draw your own conclusion.”

(*) An authorized Havana Times translation from the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com


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