Understanding Cuba

Understanding Cuba

Adam Norris ‘17

It’s been a whirlwind of a week here in Havana, jam packed with incredible speakers, paladares, and experiences (not to mention Mojitos and Cuba Libres #welcomedrinks). Here is a summary of some of the most interesting topics we’ve learned about so far, and some travel trips for anyone planning their own adventure to Cuba in the future.

Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical: Unlike most Caribbean countries, Cuba has a productive and successful pharmaceutical sector focused on the diseases most common to Cuban citizens (specifically diabetes and cardiology). The origination of this success was Fidel Castro’s interest in healthcare as he dedicated over $1B in government funds since the 1990’s, and would often visit research facilities to check in on their progress. In 1998, to facilitate drug development, doctors in Cuba were granted permission to get internet at work, a rare benefit for Cubans. Unfortunately, this has not been enough to keep the most promising talent from immigrating abroad for higher paying opportunities.

Rum: What would a visit to Cuba be without a trip to a rum museum. The most famous rum in Cuba is Havana Club, closely followed by up-and-coming Santiago de Cuba. Fueled by the ‘Special Period’ of post-USSR Cuba, the food industry was opened to foreign investment that allowed locally-owned HCI (Havana Club International) to partner with French-owned Pernod Ricard. In 1993, Havana Club produced rum for export only, as the delicious nectar was not available for local consumption until 2003. Today, HCI employs over 500 Cuban employees, produces over 4M 9-liter cases per year, and boasts a vibrant social media marketing campaign.

In case you are unfamiliar with the rum creation process, it begins with sugar cane, which is run through a machine that essentially squeezes all the juice (guarapo) from the stock. The guarapo is then heated to separate sugar crystals from the molasses light Cuban rum comes from. From there, the molasses is fermented and distilled, creating aguardiente or an unaged distilled liquor. Next, aguardiente is stored in 15-year-old barrels for at least three years before being bottled and distributed. Finally, whenever you open a new bottle of Cuban rum, it is customary to pour out the first drops ‘for the saints’ before enjoying.

And now, for some travel tips…

  1. Places to eat: Overall, the food in Cuba was underwhelming (especially among state-run restaurants), but a few gems really stick out.
    1. La Guarida is a can’t miss restaurant with delicious food served in an old home that is slowly being refurbished. Don’t forget to roll through the roof-top patio bar for breathtaking views of Havana after dinner as well.
    2. Chansonnier also stands out among the rest with solid meat and fish offerings in a renovated multi-room paladar.
    3. Finally, Rio Mar was a big hit for lunch if you’re in the mood for seafood. Try to get a table outside for lunch and enjoy the water-side view.
  2. Things to do: While our trip was primarily academic in nature, we were able to get out of the meeting room for a few can’t miss sites.
    1. In case this wasn’t clear in an earlier post, Viñales is a must-visit if you’re traveling to Cuba. With large caves and tobacco farms along the way, it’s a great opportunity to get out of Havana and experience the Cuban countryside.
    2. If you like live music and over-the-top costumes, Tropicana is a must. While it’s a bit pricey at 85cuc per ticket, it does include a bottle of Havana Club for every four patrons, along with cigars for men and flowers for women.
    3. We also went to Buena Vista Social Club, but this show caters towards an older crowd or families with children. Even so, the music here is also great.
    4. Spend the 50cuc for an hour driving around Havana in an American-made convertible from the mid-1900s. If you ask, the driver will pump up the local tunes as you navigate the city streets and earn the jealous eye of everyone you pass.
    5. While I haven’t been there yet, I plan to stop by Floridita later today to get Ernest Hemingway’s token drink: The Double Pappa Daiquiri. According to my tour guide, this is essentially a daiquiri with twice as much rum, making it easier for the diabetic Hemingway to tip ‘em back at his favorite spot. A huge tourist attraction, try it at an off hour to get your picture with Hemingway’s stature before moving on to other activities.

It’s been an absolute pleasure writing you all from Havana, Cuba and I look forward to passing along the largest lessons learned and opportunities for economic, political, and social growth in Cuba in my final post from the US.

#whycbs #havanagoodtime #cbschazen #GIPCubatropicana17

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