Monday, Dec. 08, 1947
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.
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