Coppelia, the Cathedral of Ice Cream, Is Melting / Somos+, Manuel Diaz Mons

When it first opened, it offered twenty-six flavors. Now Cuba’s most famous ice cream parlor leaves only a bad taste in customers’ mouths.

Cubanet, Manuel Diaz Mons, Havana, 17 December 2015 — Nestled into the corner of 23rd and L streets — the busiest corner in Cuba — and known to many Cubans for its reasonable prices, the Coppelia ice cream parlor has not been meeting consumer expectations for several years. Customers, looking for a place to cool off, take refuge in this poorly stocked and visibly corrupt state institution that next year will mark its fiftieth anniversary.

Designed by architect Mario Girona, it has been under the continuous control of the country’s most powerful directors since it opened in June 1966. Named for a famous ballet, it initially offered twenty-six flavors and had 250 tables that could seat up to 1,000 people simultaneously. continue reading

Over the years those numbers gradually diminished to the point that now it has only 172 tables seating 688 people. There are often never more than one or two flavors available. The situation has led to customer dissatisfaction and has forced the island’s government to try to explain why operations at the “Cathedral of Ice Cream” — a name it acquired because its role in the film Strawberry and Chocolate — are inefficient and a source of “national shame.” Someone who shares this view is Junior Ferro, a Havana student who visits the establishment on a daily basis because of its proximity to the university and its low prices, features he cannot find at privately owned and state-run ice cream parlors, which sell their products for hard currency.

“The U.S. blockade is to blame for the low inventory and lack of raw materials,” claim many of the company managers when questioned by a journalist who managed to get past the obstacles created by a government that would like to avoid any situation in which this or another state institution could be subject to ridicule. However, to the more than 12,000 Coppelia customers who daily wait in line to satisfy a sweet tooth, the reality is quite different.

“Of course there’s only one flavor available. That’s because they sell whole tubs of ice cream through the front door for all the customers to see,” observes a visibly annoyed Ferro. “What’s even worse is that both the store security and the company management are part of a candy and ice cream mafia. But in my opinion this will change the day Coppelia gets an owner.”

Better but more expensive

“I have a producer/vendor license,” says Yoan Torres, a young entrepreneur who in the next few days will try to open his own creamery in the town of Arroyo Naranjo on the outskirts of the capital. “This license authorizes me to sell ice cream and other products made at home. It’s the prices that are the problem. Competition is fierce and there is no wholesale market where you can buy supplies.”

Yoan’s license allows him to sell either homemade or factory produced ice cream but both options are costly.

“Selling ice cream in Cuba is a good business. In this country it is hot year round, which means the product is always in demand. But it is difficult to get and making it at home is not an option. It is very expensive and I would never be able to sell it. That leaves buying it in a store or buying from a source at an ice cream factory, either a state-run or clandestine operation. Or I could buy a tub from Coppelia for five CUC (roughly equivalent to five dollars). Either way, I would have to charge at least 0.25 CUC a scoop to turn a profit at the end of the month,” explains the young businessman.

The state’s version of excellence

“When it first opened, coming to Coppelia was great, a real pleasure,” says Virginia, a Cuban grandmother who in a few words makes it all too clear how she really feels about her experiences there. “A scoop of strawberry like in the film (Strawberry and Chocolate) had bits of strawberry in it, to say nothing of the employees. They were the best. Then it all went downhill. I remember when they even locked away the spoons. I bring my grandchildren here because I have no other choice. On my pension this is all I can afford. It’s gotten really bad, my son.”

Within the organization, the management has completely failed at fostering a positive image. Glasses, “canoes” (dishes), spoons and even employee uniforms are dirty. Many of the staff treat customers badly. What the rest of the world associates with a scoop of ice cream has become associated with corruption. All this only confirms what people waiting in line to get inside have been saying: “The Cathedral of Ice Cream is melting.”

Dialogue… If They Allow Us / 14ymedio and Somos+, Manuel Mons

Pope Francis meeting with the youth of the Felix Varela Cultural Center and University Students Federation in Havana Sunday. (Manuel Mons / 14ymedio)

14ymedio and Somos+, Manuel Mons, Havana, 22 September 2015 — Several months ago, when the young students of Father Felix Varela Cultural Center learned about the Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, joy spread among us. Especially when we learned that the Pope’s agenda also included a private meeting with all the students. However, the joy was short lived and the concept we had at that time was completely transformed. continue reading

It became a public event where young students at the Center would have no special deference in comparison with the rest of the guests. But still the excitement of meeting in person the Bishop of Rome and hearing from him, meant that from two in the afternoon on Sunday, hundreds of us gathered near the place on the Malecon, waiting for the permission to come in.

Metal barriers blocked the way and security guards repeated to each question: “Until prior notice, no one can enter.” After a long time outside, the students of the Center got together and decided to contact the rector, Father Yosvany Carvajal. In this way it was made possible that there would ba at least a small advantage for the students of the Center and that we would be the first to go enter in order to be as close as possible to Pope Francis.

We had still long hours ahead under the heat, standing and thirsty, but they were borne with great joy. Bishops from Haiti, Mexico, Spain, United States and Cuba, went up to the podium to thank everyone for their presence, and in addition to introducing themselves, they expressed their best wishes towards the people and the Cuban youth.

An excellent concert by Martin Valverde made the hours pass quickly and also helped to cope with a last-minute rain which delayed the meeting with Pope Francis.

Finally there he was. I confess I expected a happier Pope and a longer and more intense exchange with those present, but the experience of that afternoon filled me with satisfaction. Concepts such as reconciliation, hope and dialogue with the opponent made me feel free, as I had not felt for a very long time. His main message about understanding and talking with those who think differently brought tears to my eyes. Especially because, when Pope Francis uttered that phrase, a chorus resonated out of the crowd saying: “If they allow us.”

To the Diaspora / Somos+, Manuel Diaz Mons

”  . . we are a family, a team, our duty is to look out for each other . . . that is the only way to achieve the objective for which we struggle . . .”
Carlos, Somos+

Somos+, Manuel Diaz Mons, 9 September 2015 — I’m sure if Maceo and Agramonte had achieved this feeling during the Ten Years’ War, there would have been no need for a war in 1895, much less the political upheavals that followed. The lack of unity and the failure to gather enough support has cost many lives in this country. But today, despite everything we have lived through, there are those who indulge in dividing, marginalizing, and forgetting.

“Divide and rule” or “divide and conquer” is a control technique of the ruling class that has yielded excellent results in Cuba. The current government does it, Batista did it, and so did many before. This political tactic allows the central power, no matter how small it may be, to dominate millions of people very easily: just by creating disputes between factions a significant deterioration can be provoked between them, thus hindering alliances and and collaborations.

Born in Cuba and organized by Cubans, Somos+ is one of the social movements that has for a little while escaped the government’s virus of unfounded suspicion, and all because we Cubans here inside the island decided to remove the blindfolds from our eyes and reach out to those outside, to the diaspora that we had viewed as enemies, but who are mostly just young people who have learned from the mistakes of Maceo, who above all have read and understood the importance that Martí placed on unity, and who for a long time have been reaching out to us.

A diaspora willing to create, collaborate, and even to sacrifice everything in order to support those inside, a diaspora with modern names like Carlos, Nelson, Titina and Iliana. A diaspora that deserves the respect of all and that Felix Varela would be as proud of as I am.

Translated by Tomás A.

Open space for all Cubans / Somos+, Manuel Diaz Mons

Somos+, 18 July 2015 — Many times I heard about the existence of this “Espacio Abierto” (Open Forum) however, from the beginning I decided to enclose it in quotes; in Cuba, there is nothing so inclusive! Used to the constitutionally legal and obligatory silence, lack of spirituality and double standards, it was impossible for me to believe in a respectful dialogue among the diversity, and much less if it was about Cuban dissidents; those who, according to the official press, do everything for money. With Fidel everything and without Fidel nothing! Or at least so I thought.

Being a member of the Somos+ movement, has definitely been a real transition in my life, it has been like being reborn in a different Cuba, where everything is possible as long as courage and desire walk together. continue reading

Last July 16, I had the honor of representing Somos+ in a forum called Espacio Abierto de la Sociedad Civil Cubana (Cuban Civil Society Open Forum) and to my surprise, the quotes were not necessary. Organized at the headquarters of 14ymedio and with representatives of a large majority of independent political, social and cultural organizations, this meeting was held with the healthiest and friendliest of the intentions, a better Cuba.

With Miriam Celaya as moderator and a down to earth agenda, the meeting took place with interventions from people who could easily be classified as experts: Dagoberto Valdes, Director of the magazine Convivencia, José Conrada, a Catholic priest, the young Saul R. Quiala, from the Social Democratic Party of Cuba and the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, among many others.

As a result of this important and respectful event, three important agreements were reached:

  • To call for a National Dialogue where all Cubans can participate.
  • To request by official letter to His Holiness, Pope Francis, an agreement to receive one by one, every representation of the Cuban Civil Society on his next visit to the island, and act as guarantor in the calling for a National Dialogue.
  • To speak out with an official statement of Espacio Abierto de la Sociedad Civil Cubana, against the repression of the independent civil society.

At this meeting, where is not forbidden to think differently, and unanimity is almost impossible, I learned that a democratic alternative is what we all want and respect and good listening are the main ingredients to achieve it.