14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 July 2022 — The debacle of Cuba’s sugar sector, which recorded catastrophic harvests in the last two years, is affecting an entire cultural tradition in Cuba: the guaraperas, selling guarapo — sugar cane juice.
Instead of guarapo this Friday, they sold mango juice at the premises of Neptuno, between Belascoaín and Lucena, Central Havana. “There is not even a little piece of cane to grind,” the employee told a customer who went in to cool off in the middle of the hot morning in the capital. “The harvest hasn’t even given enough to tie a goat,” the man commented ironically, having to settle for mango juice and complained that it was acidic.
Not far from there, the guarapera located on Infanta and Carlos III, one of the ones that sells the most products in the capital, dispatching it even in bottles, is completely closed. An old woman who came to quench her thirst, turned around, disappointed: “This Revolution gives neither sugar, nor water, nor ice nor shame.”
Traditionally, guarapo has been a drink to quench thirst in the midst of high Cuban temperatures. Served with plenty of ice, it helps to cool one down, in addition to providing enough energy to continue on the road. However, it is also a fragile liquid, which quickly becomes acidic and must be consumed as soon as the cane is ground.
Guaraperas were very frequent in Havana, but in recent years they have disappeared and, currently, there are only a few scattered throughout the city. Given its rapid deterioration, the guarapo is not sold on an itinerant basis nor is it stored in cans or bottles. Although in other countries it has been preserved in containers, in Cuba it is still an ephemeral drink.
Therefore, going to a guarapera was, in addition to a necessity to relieve the heatwave, a cultural experience: the press crushing the cane, the liquid between yellow and milky coming out of the stalks, the fragments of ice served loudly in the glasses that were then filled with a sparkling and sweet drink. The first sip was like an energetic jolt that ran through the body.
The first blow to the guaraperas was a matter of hygiene, with the lack of detergent to wash the glasses. Then, the supply of ice and, later, the cane began to diminish. The blackouts have given the final blow to many of these places that need electricity for the cane presses. At the counters where a few years ago impatient customers waited while they watched the guarapo flow from the grinding mill, now there are only flies and silence left.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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