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020. sugar, sugar, how did cuba get so fly?

* this is an automated transcript, please excuse the typos

[00:00:00] Fryda: Carmen hey honeybun.

[00:00:08] Carmen: Hey, sugar puff a little, sweetie. How you doing?

Did anyone get the hint?

[00:00:20] Carmen: What are we talking about today?

[00:00:23] Fryda: oh, I wish we could do a whole episode on casquitos de guayaba, how the canned ones are no good

[00:00:26] Carmen: ones are. No good. No, they have to be made from scratch. They have to be made from a shit ton of sugar, sugar, sugar. What are we talking about today? It's

[00:00:36] Fryda: sugar folks. It's sugar cane. It's sugar mail.

It's sugar, sugar, Cuba.

[00:00:41] Carmen: Welcome back to take it easy. A podcast that celebrates and educates on all things. Cuban American today's episode is all about sugar.

[00:00:49] Fryda: We're touching on sugar today because a sugar cane and the whole industry of sugar has shaped. Over the years over

[00:00:58] Carmen: the centuries, you can actually argue that sugar is what built Cuba and we'll get there.

But first we have to start off by saying that sugar is not native to Cuba. Sugar was brought over to Cuba by the colonizers. And we can't exactly tell who it was. Exactly. Um, some people say it's Christopher Columbus. Other people say it's Diego Velasquez. And we can't find exact confirmation, but we do know that sugar first arrived in Cuba in the 15 hundreds.

[00:01:25] Fryda: It's wild to think that something so connected to Cuba and Cuban identity of course was imported, but there was purpose behind this. I mean, sugar cane became a slave crop, a crop that led to plantations, slave masters, and a whole entire ecosystem dependent on the slave trade.

[00:01:47] Carmen: The Haitian revolution in 1791 made it so that thousands of refugees and I'm doing comillas here, quotation marks because actually these people are slave masters who are fleeing the slave rebellion and they're fleeing to Cuba. So that's how we ended up with a bunch of French people and Camaguey. Also, a lot of patients were immigrating there as well for the same reason. And what the Haitian revolution happening.

This meant that Cuba's biggest competition in sugar production was now totally wiped out. Also in 1791, Spain lifted all limitations on the slave trade and this allowed Cuba to start importing slaves and it made sugar production way cheap. So this trifecta makes it perfect for Cuba to enter the stage as a major sugar.

And be evil. Another notable thing that happened was that in 1830, and this is one of my favorite stories in 1830, where there was a ship called Lemmy stat that was brought over full of slaves that were kidnapped from Sierra Leone all the way to Cuba. And as soon as they got to Cuba, the slaves rebelled demanded to be taken to the U S where they were actually freed.

So those are just some cool stories that happened in the. Of setting up a sugar slave trade in Cuba. So that's how it started.

[00:03:06] Fryda: As the 1860s came around, Cuba produced one third of the world's sugar. And so these plantations were not just a little of enslaved Africans. There were also Mexican Indians and Chinese folks that were coming in to handle all of this increased production around 1865.

When we know that the African slave trade was ending. It wasn't yet illegal in Cuba. And there was huge demand from Cuban sugar plantation owners to keep the slave trade going because. Um,

[00:03:35] Carmen: the sugar, cause money, money. Um, also in the 18 hundreds, we begin to see not only in Cuba, but all over the world, the beginnings of the industrial revolution sugar is what brings the industrial revolution to Cuba with steam powered mills and highly mechanized systems.

So sugar was also seen as a catalyst for innovation and technology in Cuba. At least that time.

[00:04:00] Fryda: It wasn't just the steam powered mills that were part of this industry. But when we get into how these mills were structured, it also led to the development of railroads. And so, yeah, it was entirely changing the terrain.

Cuba. It was also eating up Cuba's hardwood forest, but you know, the environment ecosystem, whatever who cares, you know, you gotta make money, sugarcane, you know, priorities.

[00:04:24] Carmen: Right. And because Cuba was producing one third of the world's sugar, it was called the sugar bowl of the world. Imagine the entire world one third of the sugar is being produced by a tiny island nation in the Caribbean.

I mean, that's big. I just want to paint that picture during the 1800. Cuba is under Spanish rule. And this is really important because the Spanish are dictating exactly how land can be transacted. And during this time, the Spanish are not allowing anybody new or anybody from the outside to come in and buy land.

They can only be inherited. This changes in the 1890s was a new mortgage law that made it possible to buy land. And this made it really attractive for us capitalists to come in and buy very cheap real estate. That is prime land for growing sugar.

[00:05:07] Fryda: The U S military even stepped in, there was a military order that divided estates into privately owned tracks that could be freely bought and sold.

So basically they were just like dividing out land, selling it, selling it, selling it. And then the people who used to live in it were displaced. And so the sugar corporations were just taking full advantage of this, like slicing and dicing of land that changed the landscape of Cuba again. And it also changed a lot of.

Social stratification of Cuba's classes.

[00:05:36] Carmen: It meant that a lot of people who are already there farming that could not afford to farm sugar, had to go farm stigmatized crops, such as cocoa. It became a lot harder for them to make a living. And so of course the poor get poor and the rich get richer. We all know the name of the game here, and it is called capitalism. So by the early 1900s, we have an entire hybrid capitalist society that is budding in Cuba. And this is where the ship really goes down. And, you know,

[00:06:07] Fryda: the U S had been trying to literally buy Cuba. For so many years. And now after the Spanish war of independence ended and Cuba one quote unquote, in many ways, the U S was able to swoop in and fill a bit of a vacuum, a power vacuum that existed in Cuba with the plat amendment of 1903.

Basically the United States had an open field to be able to interfere in Cuban affairs. When it determined as daddy that Cuba security, political stability or ability to protect property was at risk. Does that sound like

[00:06:47] Carmen: independence to, you know, it does not sound like independence. To me, it sounds like a sugar daddy sugar baby situation where one person AKA the sugar daddy.

Facilitates the sugar babies life and makes it so that the sugar baby cannot live without the sugar daddy. And to properly explain this, we need to explain a really quick treaty, the Cuban us trade reciprocity treaty, which gave Cuba a 20% discount on the full sugar duty. So basically the US said, Hey, listen, we're going to buy all of your sugar.

You sell to us first. We have. And we're going to give you a 20% discount and also you belong to us now. So because you're our investment, here's a Platte agreement, which means that we can do whatever we want with you. Cool. That's how we started off the 19 hundreds. Yay. And this marks the start of what many historians call the period of us had Germany, and the reason why they call it, this is because what happens over the next 50 years is a series of.

Favorable trade agreements favorable toward the us. Never Cuba. Of course. Remember, we're talking about the sugar daddy here. This has to work for the sugar daddy. And the first of this was the institution of quotas. Quotas were really important because it was a way that the US was able to. Set the terms of the sugar demand for Cuba.

So basically they estimated how much sugar that they would need every year and would tell Cuba, you need to produce this much. And then they would also tell them the prices for the sugar. And then they were also like, by the way, this is a good deal, because remember we're giving you 20% off of the duty.

So this forced Cuba into economic servitude, and they would amend this every three to five years to get worse and worse. So this force is Cuba into a rock and a hard place. They can't really break free because they need this, but also they're enjoying a preferential treatment. They always have a guaranteed buyer.

That's very attractive for Cuba. Also, despite the price is being set by the U S Cuba was still enjoying a better deal than the rest of the world because they were getting that 20% off and duties.

[00:08:45] Fryda: Okay. Even as we talk about this trade agreement between Cuba and the United States, it's not explicitly Cuba that is working with the United States.

There are, as we've mentioned, United States capital Owning, overseeing and profiting from these plantations in Cuba. And so even the trade agreement is still like largely filled with American United States players, even those that are stepping on Cuban soil. And also during this time, US is seeing the rise of companies like Hershey, Coca-Cola Pepsi, they have something in common.

They're very sugary. Okay. They require a lot of sugar. on top of that. The plant, the actual sugar cane actually requires milling within 24 hours. And so with all of these constraints, the whole industry ends up becoming very centralized. So there are sugar mills, enormous sugar mills, often at the very center of town called Centrales. And they're also directly amongst the cane fields so that the production can happen pretty instantly. the same cane farmers who previously owned their lands are now tenants and they're called colonos.

[00:09:55] Carmen: a lot of the people. Previously primed to excel because now there's this huge demand for this crop that they've been farming have lost all of their independence.

And basically it's like having the rug pulled out from under you. You see something that's really cool. And then you're like, womp womp. I actually can't have it. It's a big bummer. And so a lot of the risk involved with sugar cane production gets transferred onto the cane farmers because they're the ones that are stuck with crop that they either can't grow or can't sell. Unfortunately, all of this system contributes to a lot of political instability because every single president that comes in before about these stuff. Cause we only hear about these that, and Fidel Castro. But there were so many presidents before that and they couldn't get any of their shit together.

And one of the reasons is because every single president that comes in has to deal with the U S being a giant bully. If you're the president of Cuba at this time, and you make a wrong move and mess it up with your sugar daddy, you're fucked. And if also you don't make aggressive moves to sever the ties. And even at the playing field, you are essentially continuing in perpetual serfdom.

So that's, what's going on at the political sphere.

[00:11:04] Fryda: How many parts of this Frankenstein are United States pieces and what, what parts of it are Cuban anymore? Like it's a, it's a Frankenstein operation where the United States has brought in like their credit, their capital, their capitalists, like their plantation owners, all of it.

This is just the early 19 hundreds dude. We're just in the early nineties. Here. I can't believe it. Okay. So there was a sugar crash in the 1920s. You think of the roaring twenties while it wasn't so roaring over in Cuba where the price of sugar dropped, because the European sugar beet industry was out here recovering after WWI.

[00:11:44] Carmen: which of course was really bad for Cuba and it caused inflation to soar. And during this time, the U S again saw a really good opportunity to come in and be a bully again.

[00:11:59] Fryda: So US politicians pushed a banking bill through Cuban Congress. The terms of this banking bill were so restrictive that Cuban banks couldn’t meet it. They then folded. And in that vacuum, American banks swooped in and Cuba now had increased dependence on us banks and us capital.

[00:12:22] Carmen: I also want to mention that sugar cane is seasonal. This makes it so that the Cuban economy runs on credit and this makes banks even more influential than usual. So everyone's in debt to the us.

Yay. So you can start to see the, the reasons and the things that are happening that start to lead to a radical revolution in the future. Hyper capitalism is so bitter.

[00:12:50] Fryda: When anything is hyper, you tend to kind of see a big old swinging effect. And so we'll start to lay the groundwork for that. though 1930s started to look a lot better, at least economically for Cuba. There was a little bit of a flip side to Cuba's, highly specialized production of sugar as a monoculture. Cuba was actually during the 1940s and early 1950s, had the highest per capita income of all tropical countries. though how this per capita income was distributed along like social and racial lines, I cannot say, but it was still a better economic outcome than other tropical countries at the time.

[00:13:28] Carmen: And of course this means that rich people are chilling in Havana. And so that's when you start to see the legacy of Cuba forming this idea of this Havana splendor with the casinos and the cabarets and the nightlife and the beautiful houses. I'm telling you, Cuba was built, the Cuba that you all know and love and don't want to change so you can go back, that was built off sugar.

[00:13:49] Fryda: So right before the revolution, There are a lot of groups that came out in opposition to Batista style and a lot of groups that were anti-imperialist, we've described many components of this Imperium. And so it's almost only natural for all of this frustration to start brewing, all of this inequality, to turn into something larger. And, and here we are and

[00:14:17] Carmen: boom, it pooped out Fidel Castro.

[00:14:19] Fryda: And so, um, what are some things that Fidel Castro thought about Sugar?

[00:14:22] Carmen: He's rallying around Cuba criticizing the monoculture, that sugar represented, which is essentially like the idea that there's an industry that dominated the Cuban economy, which makes it super vulnerable to market swings.

And it never gets a say in those markets wings and it's completely being dominated by foreign investors. And a lot of the workers and laborers are living under unjust conditions, living under serfdom. So. Castro is beginning to appeal to all of these people. And all of these people are looking at Castro and thinking, well, this is the answer to our problems.

This is the answer to an autonomous nation. And of course Castro comes into power. But the big problem with all of this is that he didn't really know how to lead the exit strategy, right? So you have a country that is entirely dependent on one commodity. And now suddenly out of nowhere overnight, you're saying.

No more, there wasn't a solid plan to restructure the Cuban economy. There's a really good story about how El Che, it was appointed to become the minister of industries and the president of central banks. And I don't know if this is true. I read it in a book. But I just wanted to mention it. They were in a room and they were talking about the Cuban economy and they said, lo que hace falta es un buen economista.

And then che raised his hand. What they said is what we really need is a really great economist and che raises his hand. And then later when che was askedwhy he raised his hand not having any economic background or finance background. He said, oh, I thought they were asking for un buen comunista . I thought they were asking for a good communist.

[00:15:58] Fryda: sounds like one of my grandfather's jokes, but it's really good. It really, you know, even if it didn't happen, it drives home. The point that the people that were placed in positions of power were not people who necessarily had experience in these realms and, or could not precisely navigate that sphere as it existed.

[00:16:17] Carmen: And so to illustrate how little Fidel and Che knew about how to restructure the Cuban economy. I want to tell a story about el che and a man called Julio Lobo, who is known as the sugar king of the world and not just of Cuba.

This is the richest man in Cuba, before the revolution, he was entirely self-made and he was Cuban. So I bring him up because we're talking about all of these tycoons and all of these sugarcrats. And we're talking about them being foreign investors and capitalists, and like these bonafide bad guys. And not that Julio Lobo was a good or bad guy, but he definitely was Cuban.

And he at his core had the Cuban economy in his interest because it literally was his interest. This man had an incredibly impressive ability to compete with and beat the American capitalist at their own game. He was pulling short squeezes left and right. He was using futures to drive up the prices of sugar in his benefit over and over and over again.

I mean, he beat the system over and over again. He became the richest man in Cuba on, on purpose. Like it wasn't by accident guys. This man was such a big name and sugar that he had his eldest grandchild christened with cane juice..

[00:17:27] Fryda: This is Cuba's biggest player in sugar that is still Cuban. And so of course Che thinks it makes sense to go up to him.

[00:17:33] Carmen: And first he thinks we'll, I'm going to catch him, right? I'm going to go through all of his balance sheets and I'm going to catch him on something. But this man was so buttoned up. It was impossible. This is how incredible he was. And so che calls him up at two in the morning and tells him come over.

And he does with his lawyer and he walks them through the door and says, listen, I've been looking through your balance sheets and I can't find anything wrong. I need to nationalize resources and you're the guy that I need to talk to. So what's going to happen is I am going to take away all your entire empire.

It's all going to belong to the Cuban state. I'm going to give you one house and $2,000 and you are going to help me run this entire economy. Cool. And Julio was. Uh, first of all, it's two in the morning. Um, second of all, I need to think about this third of all. Um, can I get back to you? Bye bye. And so he goes home and he finds that his house has been locked up and that was the end of Julio Lobo in Cuba.

He was like, cool. I got the message. I wanted to tell this story because this properly illustrates the magnitude to which Fidel and che had no clue what they were doing. They drove out the person who moved the entire markets with a nod of his head.

[00:18:41] Fryda: You wish that you didn't have to work with the magnates to get these things going, but you have to acknowledge the fact that the magnates are in power. And if you get them out of the way, you don't just, you don't obtain their power. Clearly you don't just nationalize sugar and then the same amount of production, the same amount of riches, wealth, everything falls on the nation. You actually need connections, resources, and an entire structure to function.

[00:19:09] Carmen: There's a bit of irony in this because Julio Lobo had begun to incorporate some vertical integration into the industry, which is kind of in line with the nationalization of resources. vertical integration For those of you who are not familiar with the term is an arrangement in which the supply chain of a company is integrated and owned by that company. So to illustrate that in this example, we're talking about sugar, it would mean that you don't just own the mill or the actual sugar cane fields, but then you also own say the manufacturing of byproducts. You also own the transportation. You also own the distribution.

All of that belongs to you so that you can further control. This is how monopolies are built basically. it can also translate into the nationalization of industries because that is what nationalization is, is taking all of this and making it belong to the state instead. So Julio Lobo had already begun incorporating some of these elements to maximize and make his industry a lot more efficient.

And so the fact that the nationalization of resources aimed to do something very similar and then it failed to do so. It's just very ironic to me.

What happens after Julio Lobo leaves the last sugar tycoon of Cuba leaves. And now the country is left in the hands of the communist regime. What happens now?

[00:20:34] Fryda: So the revolution happened and the United States was not happy with that.

Obviously we know that we know that we know that the United States is not. The communist takeover, the Castro regime. And on top of that, one of the first things that Castro did when he came to power was de-emphasized sugar production for Cuba

[00:20:55] Carmen: and sugar daddies do what sugar daddies. they were like, you know what, since you're not going to play nice with us anymore.

We're going to slap you with an embargo.

[00:21:03] Fryda: We would normally in discussions of Cuba, talk about the embargo on its own, the purpose of the embargo, what it does to affect Cuba's economy, its intention to cause a transition of power, all of those things, right. It seems to exist as a singular act. But when you look at the embargo, as a continuation of the relationship between Cuba and the United States, as you can see, there's, there's been economic regulation on the part of the United States for so, so many years.

[00:21:38] Carmen: Yeah. But yeah, but then, you know, There was another sugar daddy behind him being like, Hey, you know what? That guy sucks. Right. But look, look, look, I have a preferential trade agreement for you and it's going to be great. How about that? Right. Like my name is Soviet union and I'm here to help you.

[00:21:52] Fryda: That's just like, you know what?

We were deemphasizing sugar and all, but you know what? This sounds a little too tasty, a little, too sweet to be true. And everything again, changed to pivot towards u a sugar Daddy. policy shifted in 1960. To return sugar to its central position in the economy with the Soviet union. and the way the Soviets ran, things were a little bit different from Cuba's previous sugar daddy.

There were huge areas of land that were under one administration. So rather than having various capitalists and sugar magnates, it was all under one administration. Everything was done in such large. Huge quantities of fertilizers pesticides, the Soviet union also subsidized the whole sugar industry and set the goal of the sugar industry as simply increasing production by any means necessary.

So you don't have to become more efficient. You don't have to lower the cost of sugar production. You just have to make more. And with that in the 1970s came la zafra de los 10 millones, which is a big Marketing campaign by Fidel Castro and his regime to get 10 million Ton sugarcane harvest all in the name of sovereignty on the name of saying, we can do this together, but really on the underside of it all in the name of producing as much sugar for the Soviet block as possible, of course.

[00:23:16] Carmen: And now you have a new sugar daddy, and you want to make sure that you look good to them. Course. I mean, by

[00:23:21] Fryda: marketing campaign, there was music, there was a whole scene called . There were like a bunch of slogans. It was in the, you know, in Cuban media.

[ Castro speech on zafra de 10 millones ]

[00:23:32] Carmen: the New York times wrote about it. This was a big deal. It was such a big deal that actually my father recalls watching TV in the seventies and watching his favorite band form under the name Los Van Van, which comes from the slogan, los 10 millones Van, which is the 10 million tons of sugar are coming.

[Los Van Van interview on how their name was created ]

so this whole there's a whole Cuban band. That's very popular. That is named after this whole campaign.

[00:24:56] Fryda: And did this 10 million harvest succeed. Nope, it didn’t, but they got pretty close. You know, they got like to 8.9 or like they were in the eight millions or so,

[00:25:15] Carmen: but still it really crushed morale, you know, you'll have the entire country being like we're the sugar people. Yeah. And then it's like, whoops, just kidding.

[00:25:21] Fryda: Like though they shouldn't have made the goal so high when their usual production was like 7 million, even when, like, they were still like the sugar bowl of the, you know, the whole world.

[00:25:30] Carmen: And the interesting thing about this is that when I was, when I was trying to research this particular campaign and this particular.

Like, I, I couldn't find anything that said that they surveyed the landscape of Cuba and like properly determined the output that was poss like

[00:25:45] Fryda: that you think they ran projections off of a particular model? Well, that's what it sounds like. Well, and I was like, Carmen, Carmen, you know what they did? They were just like 10, that's a round number.

[00:25:54] Carmen: That's a good number,

[00:25:54] Fryda: 10 million. That's impressive number. We can do this. Yeah. Oh my

[00:25:59] Carmen: goodness. I'm telling you, this is what happens when monkeys run a country. Actually, I think monkeys would have done a better job.

[00:26:06] Fryda: Oh, hot take.

okay. And now we're moving on to the next big, big rumble of events, the fall of the Soviet union in 1989. So with the fall of the Soviet union, as one can guess that would be a big sugar crash for Cuba, Cuban sugar production dropped. And you're just like, oh, why would Cuban sugar production dropp? Isn't it a thing domestic to Cuba?

Well, if we remember, like Cuba had a large mechanized sugar industry, so the Soviet union, which had supplied sources of tractors, fuel, fertilizers for the production of sugar.

[00:26:48] Carmen: Not to mention your subsidies. Yeah. Not to mention the

[00:26:51] Fryda: subsidies, like all of that ceased to exist and really Cuba domestically couldn't stand itself up for sugar production.

[00:26:57] Carmen: When your sugar daddy. You fall with him. You

[00:27:01] Fryda: fall with him,

[00:27:02] Carmen: you fall with him because now you have this entire industry and system that is supposed to fit to the specific customer who no longer has the demand. And now you're not able to pivot. And you know, that that is economic crisis

[00:27:16] Fryda: it’s been downhill from there.

I mean, not consistently downhill, but generally downhill since the fall of the Soviet union, because Cuba has not been able to become a large supplier of sugar. in 2002, the industry was severely downsized. They were like half of Cuba's, 156 sugar mills were closed and. Cuba actually like imports sugar now.

[00:27:40] Carmen: Yeah. The sugar industry has changed so much. The demand has changed so much. A point that we haven't mentioned yet is that throughout this entire time, we're talking about Cuba and sugar. We're talking about them producing raw sugar, not refined sugar. And so the demand for raw sugar has decreased and the demand for refined sugar has increased.

Another thing that happened is that other players have entered the market with highly efficient systems. And have usurped this sort of throne that Cuba used to hold, namely Brazil is now currently the largest exporter of sugar. It's kind of difficult to see Cuba competing with that Considering that their industry is outdated, inefficient and not even producing the product that the world wants.

A lot of things have happened that have flicked Cuba off of that high horse right now, when it comes to sugar.

[00:28:29] Fryda: Today sugar fields are abandoned and sick. Yep. They are.

[00:28:34] Carmen: Yeah. So a big question arises, right? Like, is it possible for Cuba to ramp up its ante and sugar production enough to become a competitor in the world market again?

considering it no longer receives any subsidies from any sugar daddies. Like now it has to be its own sugar daddy. So is it possible?

[00:28:51] Fryda: There are some problems and we're going to go through some of them. So like a majority of. Cuba's mills were built before 1925. So it's very outdated technology and outdated mills.

Most of the sugar that Cuba's able to provide is, is raw. I mean, that's, that's what the Soviet union wanted. So there's like no industry or mechanism in place to refine the sguar.

[00:29:16] Carmen: Another issue is that because sugar has been a commodity that has been subsidized for most of the 20th century, including a lot of the formation of this new regime.

I really doubt that there's anybody in the regime who can call the shots and really understands how to trade in free markets versus government to government centralized negotiations. Sugar is In Cuba's context regulated way more than any other commodity because of this long history of imperialism and then with the Soviet bloc as well.

And also there is a loss of these, of the traditional preferential market So people are no longer demanding raw sugar. Now there is a higher demand for other sweeteners and there are other people fulfilling that already. So I don't know, based on the information available, I kind of feel like it's just that ship sailed that ship sailed, maybe Cuba.

Compete as a sugar producer again, but I will say that I was reading about some really interesting uses of sugar. By-products specifically a big-ass I think that's how you say it, but gas, which is the pulp from sugar cane. After you press it, it can be used to make paper pulp. It can be used to make compress boards for construction, as an ingredient in animal fee. The, it can be used as a source of renewable energy that can be processed, which is a really big deal.

[00:30:41] Fryda: this is Key. This is key.

[00:30:42] Carmen: Cuba has an energy problem.

[00:30:44] Fryda: It's continued to import fuel and oil from the Soviet union and venezuela. Continues to cause a dependency

[00:30:53] Carmen: and it's sitting on a resource that can fulfill that.

So, you know, there are some interesting things that can happen. It's just that the government would need to make moves to, you know, employ. it would need to be different. It would need to be different.

[00:31:06] Fryda: We also have the tourism industry pretty much supplanting, many other industries in Cuba. As we can see that can be volatile with pandemics and all who know, but, you know, just, just carmen and i sitting down in our virtual Versailles is trying to, you know, think of how Cuba can come back, come by me.

Right? No, no, no. I think the moral of this story, the part of the moral of this story is that all your eggs in one basket, not yet. First of all, he was been putting eggs in one basket. But, you know, not only was like independence, never independence, free trade was never free trade. Like there was always something, someone, a bigger force putting its dirty little fingers, all over Cuba and Cuban people and it hasn't changed yet.

It continues.

[00:31:57] Carmen: To be the same. I think it really sucks at something really sweet. That was never Cuba's was forced onto the island, along with many terrible things, imperialism, slavery, et cetera, in a way it's always tethered Cuba to a sort of colonization effort, whether or not we're calling it that this whole concept of having sugar daddies and never being able to stand on your own.

I mean, it robbed Cuba of an autonomy. It's one of the reasons why Cuba has never been able to be an autonomous nation and sometimes I can't help but think what would have happened If they could have figured it out, um, who knows, which is kind of a sad story, but now we can get into some fun parts. Sugar is incredibly important to Cubans.

Not only because of this long complicated history, which is a big, big bummer, but sugar is so it's the it's delicious. We all have sweet tooths. I grew up understanding so clearly the importance of sugar. I have never had Cuban coffee without espumita. I mean, that is blasphemy. Um, what is espumita.

[00:32:56] Fryda: Espumita is a beautiful concoction that you make out of sugar. And the strongest bit of coffee that's brewed out of your mocha pot. And so you pour that strongest bit onto some Cuban sugar of whatever sugar you can find. You beat it with a spoon. Once you pour the rest of the coffee over this, this little concoction, it creates a little foam over the top and it makes your coffee nice and sweet is good. It's good. It is the cherry on top of of Cuban coffee.

[00:33:26] Carmen: This is such a thing that the libreta de abastecimiento, which is a booklet that dictates the rations that irregular Cuban person is able to go and obtain from their store. We have seen in various periods of time, not one but Two lines for sugar. That means that during periods of famine and during periods of hardship, when there is nothing else, Cuba is still giving people a lot of fucking sugar.

[00:33:53] Fryda: mean, honestly, like, you know, if you got nothing else, you can just make with some leaves that you find and like in the middle of the yard or in your street, and you'll add some sugar and you just survive to the next day.

[00:34:05] Carmen: Yeah. Got a little sugar to tide you over. We also have a delicious. A delicious drink called guarapo.

[00:34:13] Fryda: It is made directly from sugar cane. I think if you're in Miami and you go to el palacio de los jugos, you can get some guarapo, okay. Folks. So just make sure to get some guarapo, today.

[00:34:22] Carmen: Absolutely. All Cuban desserts are super, super sweet.

[00:34:28] Fryda: They are like three-fourths sugar. And then. The remaining ingredients are in that last fourth.

Yeah, pretty much our panetelas our cakes have albibar, which is like just a sugar syrup that drenches all of it. Like our meeting is our merengues are very, very sweet and sugar there's , which is again, very, very sugary. Like we can just name all of our desserts and they are very sugar.

[00:34:55] Carmen: I mean most of source of sugar, but keeping desserts even more, you have no idea.


[00:34:59] Fryda: if you, if you're just, if you're one of those people, it's just like, this tastes too sweet to me. Like then don't try. I'm going to struggle

[00:35:05] Carmen: with Cubans. Yeah, seriously. Seriously. We also have Celia Cruz that we just covered. Celia Cruz who has made azucar, literally, Her brand.. And also there's rum, Cubans are known for rum.

The legacy of Bacardi is at this point, they're just stealing out of Puerto Rico for other reasons, political and economic reasons. But Bacardi started in Cuba and it was all made possible by, in part, by. I mean Cuba,

[00:35:30] Fryda: Cuban rum is Cuban rum in general is a big deal. It's not just Bacardi. It's like all of it, you know?


[00:35:37] Carmen: Yeah. And also sugar was so heavily involved with the economics of Cuba. We actually sometimes use caña, which is sugar cane as a word for Fiat currency. Yeah, like

[00:35:51] Fryda: dame cinco cañas

[00:35:53] Carmen: means gimme five bucks, five bucks. Tell me that you're Cuban without telling me that you're Cuban. I grew up with a machete in your house and it wasn't fucking creepy.

It's just the way it is. I knew exactly where it was at the age of three. That thing was bigger than I was. And I was like, yeah, this is my life.

[00:36:12] Fryda: We all grew up with machetes. I mean, you can use machetes for sugar cane. You can use machetes to cut down that Guarapo. You can use machetes to intimidate another family.I don't know guys.

[00:36:21] Carmen: I find it funny that even, even us growing up in Miami, like after having left Cuba and all of its uses for it's like all of the machetes uses, we were still like oh no, we got to have a machete. You cannot live without one.

[00:36:33] Fryda: Yeah. It's a, it's a vestige of, of our culture and con eso I think we can get into our cubanismo. Ese muele mas que un central.

[00:36:45] Carmen: that one chomps more than a mill. It basically means you eat a lot.

[00:36:50] Fryda: Like, you know, you're always chewing on something like a sugar mill does with the production of sugar and then the sugar cane.

[00:37:01] Carmen: So this is how you use it. All right. Hey, Frieda, I'm planning a dinner party. Will you bring Ryan?

[00:37:06] Fryda: Ryan ese no, ese muele mas que un central. He's going to eat all of our food. Basically. I can't bring Ryan over because he is eating. More than a sugar mill, and that is how you use it. And it's amazing that Cubans in their familiarity with sugar mills bring it into their language.

[00:37:26] Carmen: We don't just say that people eat a lot. We say ese muele mas que un central and I think that's beautiful.

Thank you so much for listening to our episode about sugar. It was a really fun one. Sweet! Thank you. So much to our patrons got Olina Lauren Gianni. Christine D Derek, Andy Ryan, hostiles, Susan Salita Catherine Lauren, Kaylee. I'm already Kristen, Sarah Carina and Jason, Josh, Yvette, and Jesse. We are at Daikin easy pod on all social media.

You can email us at Our website has a store. Go check it out. And that is they could either be And we still have our NFT, I think on crypto, per sale on opensea, hoping to get to check it out and we will see you in the next one. Take it easy folks. Take it easy!

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