Fidel Castro’s Passion for Ice Cream

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Never would you expect such an ambitious Prime Minister/President, of his claim to have such a soft spot for something so globally beloved. Yes, I’m talking about dairy. If anything filled his heart, it was a gallon of milk. Anything dairy was Fidel Castro’s treasure, it was of priceless value to him. If he could obtain the Mida’s touch for dairy, he would joyfully accept the power with likely no regret. If his child was born lactose-intolerant it’d be a stab in the heart for him. Yes, it’s easy to joke about such an odd passion, but how exactly did it start, and how did it exponentially burrow into the roots of his lifestyle? Biographies about Castro are packed with rather odd stories, awkward diplomatic meetings and eccentric plots involving cows, milk, cheese, icecream, and an array of other dairy products.

‘The dictator’s dairy crush led him to argue with a French ambassador about cheese, breed a race of super cows and on at least one occasion … it was nearly the death of him.’ “One Sunday, letting himself go, [Castro] finished off a good-sized lunch with 18 scoops of ice cream,” famed novelist Gabriel Garcia Márquez wrote in his essay, A Personal Portrait of Fidel. The writer was a close friend and supporter of the dictator. He would occasionally recall that comment in conversations. Castro ate insane quantities of frozen wonder to say the least, and this type of treat wasn’t uncommon for him either. He would eat similarly to this after every breakfest, lunch, and dinner, keep in mind most of his meals were heavy ones. Sometimes, his after-meal treat would be even larger in quantity, sometimes eating 26 scoops, and other times it was 28, equaling 7 whole pints of ice cream! Which would sound crazy, if not for all the other strange spiels spun about Castro’s love for the creamy treats. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. The French Camembert Fracas There are few regimes in the world as invested in dairy as communist Cuba.

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Milk is now considered a staple of the Cuban diet, and its production is a vital industry and relevant economic indicator. Throughout Fidel’s reign, his creamy obsession betrayed both personal and political motives when touched upon. For him, Cuban dairy was a symbol of the country’s “ongoing revolution” in opposition to Western and Capitalist interests. When Castro took power in 1959, he implemented a series of commercial reforms. He oversaw many of them himself, and salvaging Cuba’s troubled milk and cattle industries, of course, became top priorities. One of his first projects was to produce the superior Camembert cheese. The soft, creamy cheese is an iconic French food… and Castro wanted to out-do it. When French agronomist and diplomat Andre Voisin visited Cuba in 1964, Castro insisted that Voisin acknowledge the Cuban Camembert was in fact better than French Camembert.

This was too much for Voisin. He slammed his fist down on the counter, intensely disagreeing, and making a point in comparison, that the French had spent centuries of experience with cheese, and Cuba had spent their centuries with the cultivation of their world-reknowned cigars. ‘You can’t beat tradition’. Andre Voisin declared. The Dictator remained certain that “with intense effort and revolutionary awareness, the Cubans could surpass any country in the world in any field of endeavor.” But the efforts to outdo the French Camembert quickly faded, and Castro focused his attention on another front.. making sure Cuba had more flavors of ice cream than America. The Prolific Bovine An underlying issue with the impact and evolution Cuba (but mostly Castro himself) wanted to strike with the field of dairy, was the fact that the cows that lived in Cuba, the ‘La Reinas’ and the ‘Zebus’, weren’t great milk providers.

In response, Castro had thousands of Holsteins imported from Canada, which although were amazing milk providers, were not in any way prepared for the scorching weather that Cuba endured. The hot temperatures of the Carribean caused distress for the cows, causing their milk production to suffer more. Many might have given up on the project altogether, however Castro was willing to use whatever resources he had to make it work, it was afterall, neccesary to strengthening his Revolution. Yes, he ordered to construction or a giant, air-conditioned building to keep the bovines comfortable. Unfortunately, they were still anxious, now not because of the heat, but because of the dark facilities themselves. It wasn’t the same as living in green, far-reaching pastures, instead the bovines were all crammed together within the limited size of the establishment, and after a while their living conditions became poorer in quality as his project dragged on.

Due to the costs of the facilities, and the poor output of milk, the project was eventually abandoned. This did not destroy Castro’s passion for his Milk Empire, but rather fueled the fire for another success. If the Cuban cows were poor dairy cows, and the Holsteins were stressed out by everything, there was one back-up plan to be used. A Breeding Program was initiated, to breed a Holstein calf that could take the Cuban weather. Amongst the length of the trials, only one successful calf in Castro’s eyes was born. Ubre Blanca (translated. White Udder!) produced record-breaking amounts of milk, maxxing out at over 30 gallons per day! Every day, updates about the cow were written in Cuba’s National newspaper. With this solitary success, Castro was sure to brag about he had beat America at something, breeding the perfect dairy cow, his ‘Tropical Holstein’. She even had her own pair of bodyguards. When she passed away in 1985, it was a national affair, earning a full-page obituary in the state newspaper, as well as full military honors, a eulogy from the poet Laureate, and her own marble statue. Her statue still stands in the rural town of Nuevo Gerona, her hometown, near a spot where she once grazed.

DNA was preserved, to one day be cloned again by Cuba, and Cuban scientists have been working on cloning her since 2002! Potbellied-Cows With the passing of Ubre Blanca, no other Cow bred in the experiment met her prodigial supply, including Ubre Blanca’s seven offspring, so from then on, the project lingered in results. He blamed these failures on alledged U.S. interference, such as poisoning the cattle via American spies. Instead of setting his sole attention on the lukewarm project, he came up with another idea, that could help grow the population of dairy cows in all of Cuba. The plans Castro had for the Dairy Industry, became increasingly baffling.

One plan he discussed with a team of his scientists, was to breed cows the size of potbellied-pigs, or large dogs, with a good milk supply so they could produce milk for their entire family, and small enough so people could keep them in their houses. This would also include planting grass in cupboard drawers (put under flourescent lights) so the cow could graze whenever it liked. Nothing really ever came out of this frame, even though it was his next #1 plan for future milk production. The Milkshake that Nearly Took Castro’s Breath Away As the U.S. loathed Castro’s anti-American, anti-Capitalist views, and according to Castro’s bodyguard, the CIA plotted 638 times to sabatoge, some attempts including; – throwing chemical powder on his boots – a bacteria-lined scuba suit – spiked cigars, laced cigars, and explosive cigars! – a poisoned pen The closest plan that ever came to killing Castro? Operation Milkshake.

As relations soured with the US, CIA plots kept in mind Castro’s famous appetite for ice cream. When Castro lived in the Havana Libre Hotel in the early ’60s, he would often enjoy a chocolate milkshake from the hotel’s lunch counter. But in 1961, the CIA hired Mafia assassins to poison the dictator’s milky meal. Richard Bissell, then the CIA deputy director for plans, arranged to offer Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante, Jr., heads of the Chicago and Tampa crime families $150,000 to help assassinate Castro with a poison pill. Trafficante and Giancana held grudges against the dictator because he shut down Havana’s casinos, which had been lucrative businesses for them prior to Castro’s ouster of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

A waiter at the hotel planned to slip one of the pills into Castro’s daily milkshake. Legend suggests the pill contained arsenic, but the CIA opted for a slower-acting botulinum toxin to allow the would-be assassin enough time to escape, according to CIA documents declassified in 2007. The waiter stored the pill in the hotel kitchen’s freezer, but it froze to the freezer’s interior lining. When the waiter tried to remove the pill, it split open and its poisonous contents spilled out. The failed assassin abandoned the operation. La Coppelia Forget old cars, mojitos, and cigars. Forget Hemingway, the embargo, and palm trees. If there are two things to remember about real Cuban life, it’s queues and ice cream.

After tasting ice cream on a visit to the U.S., Castro asked the ambassador of Canada to send all 28 flavors of Howard Johnson’s ice cream. After Castro tasted all 28 containers, he declared that the “Cuban revolution must produce a quality ice cream of its own.” Castro ordered the construction of an enormous icecream complex, taking up the space of two entire city blocks with five different enterances. In contrast to the surrounding, leafy area, this complex was a piece of architecture, and today is known as a monument in Cuba. It was named ‘Coppelia’, which translates to ‘ballet’ in Spanish (ballet was something else Castro adored). Built on the site of a former hospital, Coppelia was made to accommodate 1,000 guests at a time and served up 26 different flavors of ice cream in its early years. Coppelia was, and still is the city’s best-known ice cream parlor.

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