With his sticking-out ears and Groucho Marx moustache, Lucio Parada Camenate makes an unlikely revolutionary hero, but as the face of Fruit Passion, his mugshot appears on juice cartons across the world, wherever Fair Trade products are marketed – much to the evident amusement of his colleagues, who tease him mercilessly for being famoso.

Lucio is one of several guest-star guides featured on Fair Trade’s “Meet the People” tour of Cuba – part holiday, part crash course on the culture and society of Fidel Castro’s economically disadvantaged island. Visiting coffee plantations, citrus orchards and juice factories – not to mention primary schools and maternity wards – may not sound as alluring as slurping mojitos by the poolside in Fuertaventura, but the reality turns out to be just as much fun as it is instructive.

Being pitched into the middle of ordinary people’s lives lets you experience first hand the pervasive impact of the US trade embargo, and the ways in which Fair Trade initiatives have been able to circumvent it. Holiday pleasures of a more conventional kind are also included in the packed itinerary – from visiting salsa bars in Havana to trekking across mountains draped in rainforest – but it’s the encounters with Cubans themselves that stand out.

One evening, we were trundled on an ox cart down five kilometres of bumpy track to a small wooden farmhouse for a typically Cuban family hog roast. Everyone from the 96-year-old patriarch, Clemente, to his great-grandchildren scampering around after the chickens, was delighted to share a meal with visitors from Canada and Europe. Afterwards, while the women were given an impromptu salsa lesson indoors, the rum and guitars appeared on the veranda, and glasses were raised in a toast to “Libertad, Independencia y Comercio Justo!” – “Freedom, Independence and Fair Trade!”.

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