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Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

Hershey, Cuba

October 18, 2009 | Print Print |

By Dmitri Prieto

Hershey, Cuba

Hershey, Cuba

Not long ago, I watched an interview by Havana Times writer Alfredo Prieto with US historian Louis A. Perez Jr. who specializes in the subject of US influence on the development of Cuban nationality.  Perez’s thick book entitled On becoming Cuban was recently translated into Spanish and published in Cuba, with the first printing selling out quickly.

As I was listening to the interview I couldn’t help but think about the town of Hershey, located a mere 2 km from my home.  The town is famous for its old sugar mill, for its ties to the famous chocolate brand and, more than anything, for being the midpoint of the only electric railway in Cuba.

The “Hershey Train,” an unmistakable part of Cuban patrimony, runs between the cities of Havana and Matanzas, stopping at several remote towns surrounding the nation’s capital.

To ride in the train’s slow but welcoming wagons between the hills and sugarcane fields is an unforgettable experience; a journey that requires a dose of patience and one that is often repeated by numerous workers and other Cubans in the course of their daily “struggles.”  If you, dear reader, ever visit Cuba I highly recommend a ride on the Hershey Train.

Cuban historian Amarilys Ribot has written a recently published a book in staunch defense of Hershey’s place in the history of Havana.  What follows is taken from her book, entitled Hershey, and from conversations with my friend Amarilys and other Hershey residents, and from my own experiences.

Hershey is the last “model town” in Cuba.  It has a twin town in Pennsylvania also founded and conceived by US businessman Milton S. Hershey.  When walking through the town of Hershey (Province of La Habana, Cuba) and admiring the homes -their green roofs with chimneys, and unique windows-, the urban design, dense vegetation and green spaces, one can’t help but get the impression that their walking through Hershey Chocolate Town (Pennsylvania, USA).

It’s as if they transported a piece of the United States to the Municipality of Santa Cruz del Norte in the Province of La Habana.

But make no mistake; this is Cuban land, inhabited by Cubans (from diverse backgrounds from Jamaica to Czechoslovakia). It even officially changed its name to Camilo Cienfuegos, although everyone knows and calls it by its old name, Hershey, which is also the name of the local train station.

It is also called El Central, the Spanish word for sugar mill, and the chimneys of Hershey’s old mill can still be seen jutting out over the landscape.  Hershey’s company required the best quality sugar possible and so he built a town in this beautiful setting located on a hill top with views of the Caribbean ocean and just a few meters from the Santa Cruz River and several springs which now form part of the beautiful park called Jardines de Hershey (Hershey’s Gardens).

For some reason I am always filled with sadness when I pass through Hershey: the mill closed down several years ago after changes were made to the Cuban sugar industry.  The shutdown did not lead to unemployment as the sugar company and workers moved over to agriculture, but all the old traditions and experiences inexorably passed into the realm of memory.

We who know Cuba realize the strong association sugar production has on the island, connected to a different way of seeing and feeling the world, a unique spirituality and disposition towards history, nature and destiny.  In Hershey, all of these associations have turned into history’s pastureland.

To be continued…


What's your opinion?

  • Michael N. Landis

    Thanks for this article, Dimitri! I took the Tren Hershey in 2006, and during brief stops took several fotos of the town, the train station, and abandoned centro, copies of which I sent to my wife’s Uncle Harlan, who worked for Hershey for many years, and lived in Anneville, Pennsylvania, (near Hershey). He loved those fotos and, during a visit in 2007, a year before he died, I was able to tell him about my journey on the “Toonerville Trolley.” Had I known Hershey was that close, I would have visited in 1969-70, when I was cutting cane in nearby Aguacate with the Venceremos Brigade, during the “Zafra de los Diez Millones.” Incidentally, there was a brief feature–not a very good one–in last month’s Atlantic Magazine about a trip on the Tren Hershey. If you google Barbarito Diez on YouTube, in a film clip illustrating the narrative of one of his danzones there are scenes of the Tren Hershey.

  • Fermin Esson

    Hi my name is Fermin and my grandparents on mother side and mother lived in Hershey town in Cuba. My Grandfather was a very smart man. He was born in Trinidad, and my grandmother in Jamaica. My mother was born in Cuba in 1941, but her parents been living there for many years before her birth. I am tring to find a way how to get some info on Milton S. Hershey and his company. I have pictures of my grandfather at the train station, he was an engineer there. We know that my grandfather and co-workers bought into stocks for the Hershey’s company for penny’s on the dollar back in the days. Now the company is a monster. I really think is not fair for all these people who worked hard and lived in Cuba lost all this wealth. I understand that the company was sold to (CASC) Cuban Athlantic Sugar Company, so they are responsible for the pentions, but not the stocks. Can someone please help me out, because is families from Cuba that are ole millions if not billions of dollars over the past…

  • Julio

    I am no stranger to that are since as a child I used to go to Hershey ,Cuba where my father, a cousin of mine and many neighbors from a nearby town called Jaruco , where we lived, In 1961 I fled Cuba to the USA snd in the mid ?60′s found myself visiting Heshey, Pennsylvania it is amasing of the similarities of both towns, of couerse Hershey ,Pa has developed with time while Hershey, Cuban fron some photographs which I have seen in the internet seems to have been abandoned by the current regimen that governs the country, it is a shame to have lost such a paradise from back in the 50′s.

  • N Claudius

    I was born and raised in my beautiful Central Hershey, which along with the rest of my country has descended into a mere and pitiful shadow of its past greatness. My grandparents settled in Hershey after arriving in Cuba from Spain – my father and I attended the excellent Hershey Primary School and in fact, had the same kindergarten teachers. Living there was magic, and along with the bitter knowledge of the loss of our freedom, I will take to my grave the sweet memories of that early part of my life and the precious people in Hershey that formed part of it.

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  • Robert B. Tippett

    I was born in Havana at the old Anglo-American Hospital on October 24, 1927. I was in high school, at Candler College, with Leonard Magruder, a boarding student whose home was in Central Hershey. His father was the chief chemist at the sugar mill. Leonard and I frequently caught the boat across Havana Bay to go to Regla where we would take the electric train to Hershey. It was open-air as I remember it, a regular Toonerville Trolley. You could smell the sweet scent from the mill for miles before arriving. Those were happy days before Castro.