By Ivana Stolnik
First, I would like to begin by explaining the meaning of my title. “Arroz con mango” is a popular Cuban expression and it literally means “rice with mango.” However, it translates to a sticky mess or situation. Nothing goes the way you originally plan it in Cuba. And that expression ideally captures the beginning of our day.
One of the first things we’ve learned in Cuba is that you can make plans, but you should always take “Cuban time” into consideration. People will be late and scheduled events will get canceled. All the time. The meeting with journalist Cristina Escobar Dominguez at UPEC got canceled and the panoramic bus tour of Modern Architecture in Western Havana was as well. Instead, the entire group went to La Lonja to meet with Christopher Gillette, the Associated Press’ correspondent in Havana.
Gillette has been working for AP in Havana since July of 2014. He graduated from University of California at Berkeley in 1983 and he started his journalistic career in radio. Gillette has previously written for the San Francisco Examiner, he worked for NBC in Miami and he was given the opportunity to cover the First Gulf War.
We learned a lot from Gillette about how reporting is done in Cuba. He explained how challenging it is to be a journalist here because Cuba has been closed for so long and it is very difficult to talk to somebody. Institutions are by and large unresponsive. Additionally, Gillette said that “some of the best journalism we have done here was the ones we did alone avoiding the government.” Also, many people say that crime is virtually non existent in Cuba, but Gillette told us otherwise. He said that there are many poverty related crimes in Cuba, fueled by alcohol and ignorance. Also, surprisingly, domestic violence is a big problem in Cuba, according to Gillette.
Lunch was scheduled at noon in a lovely private restaurant called Mediterraneo. Delicious local food was served. Meats, pasta and cheese that were served are all made in the house. We all enjoyed clean Italian based meals with fresh well balanced flavors. Even during lunch time, we didn’t stop learning about Cuba. We had the honor to meet with Camilo Garcia Lopez Trigo, a former Cuban diplomat, and an opportunity to ask him questions about the changes that are currently occurring in the U.S. – Cuba relationship. Trigo told us that the worst period between the two countries was during the George W. Bush administration. Regarding the upcoming presidential elections in the U.S., Trigo said that Cubans are hoping that Hillary Clinton becomes the new president because her standpoints are most similar to Cuban. He also said that Cuba should follow its own development model in the upcoming years.