Alia Karim

Research and reflections on Cuban agriculture

February 9th: Camagüey

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Camillo Cienfuegos

Camillo Cienfuegos

Camagüey is where my newfound friend, Fernando Funes was born. It has about 300,000 inhabitants—much bigger than the other cities I’ve been to thus far, and quite a mix of lower income neighbourhoods and streets with quite nice infrastructure. Here we had lunch at a gorgeous restaurant. The meal was quite simple—rice, yucca, cabbage, and black beans on top—but it was by far the most delicious meal I’ve had here. It all complemented each other so nicely.

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Fruits and vegetables are now often sold directly in the street

We visited an organopónico that specializes in ornamental plants, fruits, and special woods. It is actually a part of Fernando’s organization ACTAF that employs about 5 people. This organopónico is like others—very efficient because they really focus on environmental protection—they implement vermi compost using organic waste from a nearby market, grafting, and my favourite thing is that they educate people who buy plants from them—they tell their customers where the plant came from! They also have great biodiversity—50 varieties of ornamental plants; woods that are being preserved because they’re otherwise becoming extinct; 18 types of avocado (18!!!).

In the city we visited the Museo Provincial Ignacio Agramonte y Loynaz that was established in 1955. This museum had a modest but diverse body of Cuban paintings and installations. I was so impressed!! Some of the artists include: Eduardo Laplante, Armando García Menocal, Tomás Goul, and Wifredo Oscar de la C. Lam y Castilla. I was excited to see revolutionary art—one painting by Antonia Eiriz (“El Jurado”, 1995) was influenced by German expressionism, as seen in her use of dark colour and abstract shapes which also defied the image of women as frail and soft (so needless to say, I like her work). The images in her paintings looked like the figure in “The Scream”.

Farmers' markets reopened in 1994

Farmers’ markets reopened in 1994

Another painting I really admired was by Agustín Guadalupe Bejarano Cabellero (“Los Ritos del Silencio”, 1964). This painting basically depicted what he considered to be important moments in Cuban history—a rural worker, sugar factories and objects inherited from the Soviet Union. He also included many ‘ordinary’ objects that he considered to be art—this is an important statement because he was trying to show that you can find beauty in what are considered to be ‘ugly’, ‘ordinary objects. He also used a technique I’ve never really seen before—he added plaster to the canvas and led it dry, during which it made cracks—this was to symbolize human decay.

Abel told us about the Cuban education system:
– Education is free from primary school to university
– Usually, kids start going to school at 4 or 5
– Primary school classes don’t have more than 20 students, which is important for the children because it’s easier for them to focus with smaller numbers; but when they enter secondary school/university the class sizes increase.
– The kids receive lunches until secondary school, but sometimes it’s not of high quality so they also bring their own food
Student loans do not exist in Cuba—something we should tell the Canadian government…!

We ended the day by getting lost in Camaguey while trying to get to our apartment. Later, we passed by a city square that had a least a thousand or so people all enjoying a free concert. Then we saw some Cuban music performances at a house of artists. I met one of the singers and Fernando’s 80-year-old brother—so awesome that they still go out and enjoy Cuban music on weekends.

Fernando outside the home of his birthplace

Fernando outside the home of his birthplace

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Amazing detail in this painting–symbolizing decay

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Author: aliakarim2013

Master of Environmental Studies candidate at Dalhousie University ('14).

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