Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Mar 29 2013 7:54AM

Cubans hold their noses and get used to eating fish

They live on an island, yet don't like fish. But in Cuba, where times

are always hard and food precious, people are holding their noses and

getting used to eating farm-raised tilapia and catfish.

"By nature Cubans reject fish, as they are used to eating pork or other

meat, when they can," said Eduardo Diaz, head of the state fisheries

research agency.

Indeed, one of Cuba's national dishes — with the wonderful name of

'ropa vieja,' or old clothes — is a sort of shredded and stewed beef

with a tomato-based sauce, served on rice.

Diaz works at a fishery plant in El Cotorro, 15 kilometers (10 miles)

south of Havana, which breeds tilapia and catfish. They are also being

raised in ponds and lagoons around the country.

The campaign is going pretty well, but production still needs to rise,

he told AFP during a recent visit with foreign journalists.

He said Cuba is now producing 24,000 and 25,000 tons of the two kinds of

fish per year.

Cuba's regular fishing fleet, by comparison, took in 24,500 tons in

2011, according to government figures.

Until 30 years ago Cuba had Latin America's biggest fishing fleet, one

that operated in three oceans. But it was hit hard when the country

signed an international fisheries convention in 1982 and the areas where

the fleet could work were severely limited.

The coup de grace for the security of not going hungry was the collapse

of the Soviet Union in 1991. The dismemberment of communist Cuba's main

benefactor and supplier of fuel and other essentials triggered an

economic crisis that brought Cuban industry to a standstill.

Today, Cuba imports 80 percent of the food it consumes ($1.6 billion

worth in 2012), which is a huge burden for the government's meager

coffers. So producing more food and importing less is a top priority for

the government of President Raul Castro.

Food supplies have become more abundant in recent years but shops still

tend to run short on some basics. Cuban families subsist in part on

ration books that give them food at subsidized prices. But they do not

live high off the hog by any means.

They can also buy food at regular supermarkets but have to pay much

higher prices and do so in hard currency, which is tough when the

average salary is equivalent to about $20 a month.

So the authorities are trying to boost production of food that is sold

at subsidized prices.

Diaz said that in order to satisfy demand, production of freshwater fish

should be "four, five or six times" what it is now.

But introducing Cubans to catfish, for instance, has not gone all that

smoothly. Here, the creature has a reputation as being a predator.

Comedians make jokes about it and a lot of people do not like the fish,

which was introduced from Malaysia and Thailand in 1999 and 2000.

"People say catfish eat anything it runs into, so they turn their noses

at it. Actually, it is a matter of having a bad reputation, more than

anything," says Natalia Diaz, an industrial engineer. But she admits she

has never eaten it at home.

But national TV anchor Agnes Becerra sings the fish's praises.

"Catfish is delicious, and my son loves it. There are people who say it

does not taste good, but many of those who criticize it have not tried

it even once," said Becerra.

Diaz says the fish does get bad press, but the real problem is that his

compatriots just don't like fish, period.

"Cubans have no real habit of eating freshwater fish, or fish from the

sea for that matter," he said. Nor do they eat fish during the

pre-Easter period of Lent as do people in other Catholic countries of

Latin America, he added.

And although production of freshwater fish is rising each year, there

are no plans for now to export, because domestic needs are great and

barely met, Diaz added.


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