Cuba delivers first export to US in 50 years of artisanal charcoal

Cuba

Cuba has been unable to export anything to the United States for the past 50 years because of the U.S. trade embargo. That changed this week with the first legal delivery from Cuba of sacks of artisanal charcoal.

CGTN’s Michael Voss visited one of the suppliers.

Cuba delivers first export to US in 50 years of artisanal charcoal

Cuba delivers first export to US in 50 years of artisanal charcoal

Cuba has been unable to export anything to the United States for the past 50 years because of the U.S. trade embargo. That changed this week with the first legal delivery from Cuba of sacks of artisanal charcoal. CGTN’s Michael Voss visited one of the suppliers.
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The Jocuma Charcoal co-operative in Cienfuegos province is one of dozens of small traditional charcoal makers on the island. Now there is a potential new market for their produce.

In 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama eased the trade embargo to allow goods made by private rather than state-owned businesses to be legally exported to the United States.

On Thursday, the first shipment, bringing Cuban charcoal, arrived at Port Everglades in Florida.

“This is a really significant event for all of us here. Now with the United States we have a market much closer to us. If it takes off, as we hope, we can increase production and it will bring economic benefits to use and the country,” charcoal producer Roheli Gonzalez said.

The man behind the arrangement is U.S. attorney Scott Gilbert, the U.S. lawyer who represented the jailed American aid contractor Alan Gross, who was eventually freed in a prisoner swap.

Earlier this month, Gilbert signed a deal in Havana to purchase 40 tons of Cuban charcoal; a small but symbolic first step to build economic ties between the two countries.

This way of making charcoal has barely changed for centuries. The Cubans are hoping that the fact that it is made by hand is what will prove attractive to the American market.

Cuba already sells around 80-thousand tons of charcoal a year, mainly to Europe. It’s made from a wood called marabu, which produces what is claimed to be a high quality, clean burning fuel used in pizza ovens as much as BBQ’s.

“Marabu is very difficult to cut and work with because it has lots of spines but we do it. Marabu charcoal is the best, its solid and burns well,” head of charcoal production Jose Garcia said.

Marabu is a thick invasive shrub with sharp thorns which grew out of control in Cuba taking over large tracts of arable land. This prompted Cuban President Raul Castro to offer state-owned land to private farmers on the condition that they clear the marabu.

Now they have discovered it makes great charcoal, and these worker-run cooperatives hope to create a growing export market, provided new U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t close the door.