Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cuban-American History 901: The Virginia Ham

From TIME MAGAZINE,
Monday, Dec. 08, 1947

Good Will

Flying a stripped-down P-51, Pilot Woodrow ("Woody") Edmondson had rushed the gift from Washington to Havana in a record-breaking 3½ hours. A palace photographer was on hand to snap the presentation — of a fine 15-lb. ham from Virginia's Governor William Tuck to Cuba's President Ramón Grau San Martín. Unwittingly, Virginia's Tuck had given habaneros their joke of the month.

When Cubans want to say a politician has been grafting, they say está en el jamón—he's in the ham. That was why last week's picture of Grau receiving the Virginia ham was good for Page One of Prensa Libre. Other papers and the radio joined the fun. So did Grau himself. Said he to his friend Congressman Primitivo Rodríguez: "Primitivo, I'll give you a good slice."


***

Grau was famous for his dry wit in Cuba and beyond, as this "news bite" from Time Magazine shows. A thousand anecdotes in a similar vein could be told about him and some like this one would actually be true. But Grau was more than just a colorful personality. When he took the oath of office in 1933, Grau, a university professor installed as president by his students, refused to swear allegiance to the 1901 Constitution because it contained the Platt Amendment and instead swore allegiance to the Cuban people. 28 U.S. warships in Havana Harbour waited the order to land. It never came. Instead, a year later Cuba and the U.S. signed a protocal abrogating the Platt Amendment.

Grau's first (and only) "Hundred Days" in office were the most productive in Cuban history in terms of social legislation thanks to his minister of the interior Antonio Guiteras y Holmes, who created Cuba's version of the "New Deal" before Roosevelt coopted Mussolini's programme. The other signal event of Grau's administration was the promotion of a sergeant named Batista to colonel-in-chief of the Army. Batista then removed Grau.

Ironically, after losing to Batista for president in 1940, Grau became his successor four years later when Batista presided over free elections that saw his own handpicked candidate defeated. Grau's second administration, which his followers believed would be a continuation of his first, was instead rife with corruption and anarchy. But even the venality of public officials and the unchecked lawlessness of gangsters like Fidel Castro could not slow down the progress that was already integral and self-perpetuating in Cuba. Nothing, indeed, could ever have stopped it except the destruction of the republic and imposition of a communist regime on the island.

Jamón of all kinds was plentiful in Cuba before the Revolution and was not the limit of a man's aspirations in life but the foretaste of bigger and better things to come. Jamón was never as literal then as it is today. When one says that someone "está en el jamón" today it literally means that ham is not a figment of imagination as it is for most Cubans. Before 1959, practically everybody was "en el jamón" in Cuba if we limit the definition to the pork product. Cubans were also the third-largest per capita consumers of beef in the hemisphere, after Argentina and Uruguay, the world's biggest. So, yes, neither ham nor beef were the rarities on the Cuban table that they are today and eating a bistec was not punishable by 10 years in prison nor eating a ham an existential experience in the Cuba of yesteryear.

I find it alike unacceptable to hear Cubans from the island speaking resentfully of the ham which exiles consume here (as if the governor of Virginia sent us all hams) as I do when Val Prieto asserts that Cubans on the island are not supposed to want ham much less eat it, which, true to form, he does in a post entitled "Everybody Wants Ham." It is Val's fantasy that Communist Cuba is some kind of voluntary "Club Unfed" where nobody works but everybody wants ham. His ham.

Val is especially angry with Cubans who return to the island of their own volition because they were not able to acclimate to life in this country as some birds return to their cages even after having been freed. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the Republic of Cuba was an original signatory, guarantees to everyone the right to enter or leave his country of birth without restrictions whatsoever. We cannot demand that the Castro regime recognize that inalienable right and at the same time ostrasize Cubans who choose to avail themselves of it to return to Cuba whatever their reasons (even if to their detriment). We are no more master of them than Castro is.

Yoani Sánchez and her husband are among those who returned. From Switzerland. With their young son. Will Val impugn their character or allege that they did it for the "jamón," as the regime does in fact claim? He is nobody to judge them. Neither does he have the right to judge any other Cuban for what in every case is a private decision.

And what is this curious chant and declination of jamón?

"Jamon jamon jamon. Jamas jame jamon."

Some kind of personal mantra?

The Prieto family motto?

Or a petty and puerile taunt directed at starving Cubans for wishing to eat above their station in life?

We must not forget that Val believes that (more) starvation is a necessary imposition on them if Cuba is ever to be free.


POSTSCRIPT:

LittleGator again unmans Val, as is becoming customary in the "Comments" section:

People returning permanently to Cuba, particularly from the U.S., is an extremely rare event. Although, I guess the guy in the video made what to him was a logical choice. He has his entire family there. He missed them. He is a musician, and apparently got no gigs here. He was born and raised in the revolution, and found it difficult (impossible) to adapt to life here.

I have one question though, what is the point of this post? What is the "larger lesson" you seek to impart? Why
"jamon"? Are you suggesting that all Cubans in Cuba are lazy and don't want to work?
Posted by: LittleGator at June 11, 2008 06:54 PM

Geez, LG, were you born a sanctimonious asshole, or do you have to work at it?
Posted by: Val Prieto at June 11, 2008 07:36 PM

So, what was the point Val?
Posted by: LittleGator at June 11, 2008 08:32 PM

The point is that your an asshole. Anything else? You need me to cut your steaks and spoon feed you your compota as well?
Posted by: Val Prieto at June 12, 2008 11:25 AM

33 comments:

Agustin Farinas said...

MAT,
interesting bit of history. As a coincidence, when I went to school as an intern (pupilo) in Guanabacoa at a catholic school there, Primtivo Rodriguez's son was a classmate of mine. He was a nice kid, good friend and a good ping-pong player.

Vana said...

Good history lesson Manuel, us Cubans are sure to coin a good phrase from almost anything.

Anonymous said...

Mr Prieto has a post abour el jamon tambien . What is this? Now you both use the same title in a post to confuse the readers

Vamos muchachos comportensen como adultos

Simon the Deli Owner said...

The founding editor in chief posted the story of a Cuban who got the real Cuba nostalgia and went back to Cuba, leaving my beloved Miami Beach behind to live in less than average conditions in my old quarter of la Calle Muralla.
Still, the founding editor in chief, thinks that the man moved back to Cuba because he didn't want to work hard in the U.S. and wanted "el jamon" in Cuba. In Cuba there's no jamon, kosher or not.
By the way, I should give Mr. Schwartz (Prieto) some of my kosher "jamon" now that he's afflicted of gout.
Come on, Mr. Prieto, "I am gonna give you a good slice".

Ms Calabaza said...

MaT,

what do you think are the reasons these folks go back?

Anonymous said...

what do you think are the reasons these folks go back?


Easy calabaza,

THEY HAVE TO WORK MAYBE FOR THE 1 TIME IN THEIR LIVES

the fast life is not for them

cant speak english well

the standard of living here may not be good at the beginning

here they have to pay for everything hasta por un vaso de agua

here they dont receive remmitannces and have to work 2 or 3 jobs

for someone older than 44 is not easy

other miss Cuba and their relatives

en fin some muchas las razones

Papa Boza said...

Didn't Yoani also go back?
Is she after the "jamon" too, Val?
I think that the one who wants it "de jamon" is you, always asking for freebies....

Ms Calabaza said...

anonymous,

I'm sure it's not just one simple reason and a lot more complicated than to just say "they don't want to work".

Fantomas said...

I'm sure it's not just one simple reason and a lot more complicated than to just say "they don't want to work

El problema Calabazza es que no hay una base solida de valores, eticos, morales, de disciplina

La revolucion misma destruyo todo eso.

Todos somos victimas , especialmente los que se han tenido que chupar aquello por mas tiempo que nosotros

Si hay muchos vagos no tengamos miendo en decirlo, pero no podemos culparlos del todo , el sistema los hizo asi

El sistema nos enseño a robar, a mentir, a matar animales prohibidos para comer, a tener doble moral, a prostituirnos en las calles, a tener doble valores, a chantagear, a intercambiar productos robados al gobierno , a chivatear , a odiar la iglesia , odiar la vida, odiar la esperanza, la fe

Esa es nuestra legacia castrista Calabazza y necesitaremos de 10 a 20 años quizas mucho mas para recuperarlo todo, como debio haber sido desde un principio de Castro no haber llegado al poder

Ms Calabaza said...

Fantomas,

me parece que eso te salio del alma. Thanks for your explanation and honesty.

Agustin Farinas said...

Fantomas,
if you were to read Winston Churchill quote below you would understand why Cuba is what it is today.

"Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery."

All of these things we owe Fidel and his gang of thieves and murderers.
By the way try to polish your Spanish a little bit, will you?. It is not:
"Esa es nuestra "legacia" castrista".
The word is legado not legacia.

serafin el carnicero said...

anon said:

"THEY HAVE TO WORK MAYBE FOR THE 1 TIME IN THEIR LIVES"

quien fue el estipido que escribio esto? everyone in Cuba has to work... metiendo cabeza por aqui y por alla..... resolviendo esto y resolviendo lo otro....

Ms Calabaza said...

Agustin,

thanks for that quote. I have actually searched for it but didn't know it entirely. Boy is that ever the truth in a nutshell. . .

Anonymous said...

Val's Work is not respected by his peers or enemies. Only the cadre of writers follow him with the blinkers on

Arre azno

Big Cayman said...

Val is consistent with all he has said at all times is his blog about Cubans: according to his own view they are lazy and undeserving of anything, other than meager salaries for their hard work and the only thing they deserve is to be exploited -by him or his equals. By the same token he seems to despise every newcomer, as made patent in his numerous writings on the subject. On the other hand, he feels entitled to ask for donations, help in kind, and to demand people to work for free for him.
That is 100% coincident with the views of Fidel Castro on Cubans. In his blog, the majority of his hard core writers dismiss all Cubans who do not conform to the template they have established as the golden rule and patron of Cubanness.
It would be interesting to see how these opinions are taken outside of Miami, or by Cubans in Cuba, or by some of these very same returnees or newcomers.
A totalitarian discourse of hate is just a totalitarian discourse of hate. That is a political practice on which both Fidel Castro and Val Prieto seem to be very well versed.

Fantomas said...

THEY HAVE TO WORK MAYBE FOR THE 1 TIME IN THEIR LIVES"

quien fue el estipido que escribio esto? everyone in Cuba has to work... metiendo cabeza por aqui y por alla..... resolviendo esto y resolviendo lo otro....


Serafin resolver no es trabajar. tu resuelves como sea a la hora que sea sin salario, sin obligaciones de llegar temprano de llenar uns expectativas de trabajo , no comparemos una cosa con la otra . Esta claro que muchos cubanos, un gran numero no tiene el conocimiento ni la experiencia de lo que significa mantener un puesto de trabajo como lo conocemos nosotros aqui. Estoy hablando de trabajo de oficina mayormente no de freelancer, ni cuenta propista.
Por eso muchos se regresan cuando se dan cuenta que aqui hay que partirse el lomo trabajando limpiando camas y toilets en los hotles y aeropuertos al principio aunque tenagas tremendo titulo en gavetado como mismo hicieron familiares mios en la epoca del 60,70,80 que despues resultaron ser exitos enpresarios capaces de amasar fortuna y oportunidades para darle trabajo a miles de personas

Fantomas said...

"Esa es nuestra "legacia" castrista".
The word is legado not legacia.

I was close thanks for the correction

Slip of the tongue , no cojas mucha lucha con la ortografia mia fariñas

mejor concentrate en que yo escriba bien esta frase siempre

ABAJO FIDEL, ABAJO LA REVOLUCION CUBANA

esa es la que importa, lo demas es boberia

Anonymous said...

fantomas,

Es "cuenta propia" no "propista."

Fantomas said...

te repito lo mismo , no cojas lucha muchacho

serafin el carnicero said...

"un gran numero no tiene el conocimiento ni la experiencia de lo que significa mantener un puesto de trabajo como lo conocemos nosotros aqui"

fanto: estoy constantemente en contacto con dozenas de familiares/amigos en Cuba... y todos tienen o han tenido trabajo "como lo conocemos aqui" ...

por supuesto siempre existen los bagos pero son la minoria ... esto pasa en todas las parte incluyendo aqui y en PR ... lo que me encabrona es que algunos comentaristas estan generalisando mucho

PS: no me has dado la bienvenida..

la voz de raul said...

A mí me gusta el jamón también, pero más me gusta la cherna.

Fantomas said...

te dare la bienvenida cuando escriba bien la palabra vago

Asi le dicen en HK?

serafin el carnicero said...

un ypocryta deejo...


mejor concentrate en que yo escriba bien esta frase siempre

ABAJO FIDEL, ABAJO LA REVOLUCION CUBANA

esa es la que importa, lo demas es boberia



te repito lo mismo , no cojas lucha muchacho

Fantomas said...

lol

serafin el carnicero said...

fanto:

I visited your "blog" from HK...
your first international visitor..

Fantomas said...

noooooooo

Fantomas said...

no digas mentira que te crecera la nariz como a pinocho

la entrada tuya de HK era la 102,519 entrada internacional en mi blog out of 200k plus

dont be spreadin lies in the blogosfera

serafin el carnicero said...

fanto:

trabajabas en Cuba ?

Vana said...

Val would begrudge those in the island even the air they breath, for to have stayed there is tantamount in his eyes to being a commie, therefore they deserve the pressure cooker system and nothing else, ham is only for the priviledged ones at Villa Valentina.

Big Cayman said...

Cuenta propista is a correct term, too.
What happens in Cuba doesn't stay in Cuba.
People there are mostly employed, and they work hard be it on their own or as employees of the big farm and the man, to use terminology that is easily understood.
Some of them even work in both the state owned system and on their own after hours.
What was implied is that Cubans who do not want to live in the states are a bunch of lazy idiots, without seeing that one has the right to like or not to like a certain place. Aren't they always haranguing everyone who doesn't think like they do to go back to Cuba? Then, when one of those Cubans go back to Cuba he's accused of not trying to work hard. At least that man was not asking for freebies publicly.

Alex said...

"Jamás jamarás jamón" was the punchline to a joke in Cuba. People who belonged to many organizations (MTT, CDR, FMC, PCC, UJC) were also said to belong to the JJJ, because they were destined to remain in Cuba. Typical usage: "Pepe took a trip to Spain and came back? La verdad que está en las JJJ"

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