Thursday, March 26, 2009

Minor Interruptions

Apologies to those of you popping by every now and then for being so lax in my posting duties recently. In fact, this will be my last post for a few weeks. Off on a (much-needed) break. See you soon and once again, thank you for your visit!

Quote of the Day

"They are two of the Western agencies closest to the imperialist policy of the United States."

Fidel Castro, who seems to be spending his final days trawling through wire copy, attacking Reuters and the Spanish newsagency EFE in his most recent “reflection”. Apparently, the agencies have been spreading misleading information.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quote of the day

"If the travel ban is lifted, we might have a stampede of [American] airlines [wanting to fly into Cuba]. After all, there are more than 11 million people in Cuba - and my guess is, a lot of them would be interested in traveling to the United States as well."

Rick Seaney, a travel consultant and columnist for the American ABC television network, predicting much air traffic between Havana and Miami if travel restrictions for US citizens are lifted by Washington. He is probably serious, too.

News from nowhere

It’s been nearly a week since those lovable Castro brothers stomped all over the once-stellar careers of Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque, sending the two relatively young men into the Cuban equivalent of political death row.

And we still have no real idea what they are supposed to have done wrong – or when.

But it’s been fun watching the international media trying to explain the process by which two men that were until recently regarded by Western correspondents in Havana as logical heirs to the grand Castro dynasty become “counter revolutionaries” literally overnight.

They've tried hard but the the fact is that there is no rational explanation.

This is the way Fidel Castro and his slightly younger brother have always behaved, since the days in the Sierra Maestra. In their twisted, dictatorial paradise, there is room for only one and half tall poppies: the Castro brothers themselves. Sooner or later, everyone with even the slightest smell of ambition gets cut down, whether in a light plane on its way to Havana, in a jungle in Bolivia or in the utilitarian confines of the Palace of the Revolution in Havana.

No one is safe.

And guess what? The Castro brothers have always worked on the assumption that since they are in charge, they don't need to explain anything to anyone. Not to the Cuban people. Not even to that small but merry band of Castro apologists outside Cuba, who make a living out of unswerving support for the "revolution".

From these apologists – those who only the other day lauded the great work undertaken by Lage and Perez Roque - there has been nothing but silence. Stunned silence. And sadly for them, no instructions from Havana.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Havana, 2009

Back in the good old days, high-profile Soviet officials who fell out of favour with the old men in the Kremlin would be forced to publicly admit their mistakes and offer their continuing loyalty to the Communist Party and its geriatric leadership.

Then, they would disappear from public view, sent into internal exile, if they were lucky (hello, Vladivostok!), never to be heard from again.

Well, you will be happy to hear that these essentially Stalinist tactics are still in use in Cuba in 2009, as we have seen overnight in the continuing (and increasingly intriguing) case involving Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque.

In separate but near identical letters published by the regime’s official propaganda sheet, Granma, the two one-time golden boys of the Castro regime admit to having made “mistakes” and announce their immediate resignation from all Communist Party and government posts.

According to the letters, the all-powerful Politburo of the Communist Party met sometime over the past few days, inviting Lage and Perez Roque to supposedly hear the charges labelled against them before sentencing them to oblivion.

And of course, both men have dutifully followed the script, rounding off their letters with loyalty pledges not just to the Communist Party but more importantly, to the Castro brothers.

In his note, Lage, once regarded as the third most powerful man in Havana, wrote: "I recognise the errors committed and I assume the responsibility. I consider that the analysis made in the past meeting with the political bureau was just and profound."

For his part, the obnoxious Perez Roque, a hard-line Castroist that was Minister for Foreign Affairs for about a decade, wrote: "I fully recognise that I committed errors ... I assume my full responsibility for them."

Yes, it’s a sickening display but one that doesn’t surprise most ordinary Cubans – it’s the way the Castro brothers have operated for more than five decades.

And the message is as clear today as it was in Moscow 40 years ago: No one is safe.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Literary corner

We have blogged previously about Leonardo Padura, a Cuban novelist whose best known work outside the island is a series of police procedurals featuring a Havana police inspector by the name of Mario Conde.

Padura is a rare beast: an internationally-known Cuban writer who still lives in Cuba.

His writing is often quite critical of conditions in Cuba today although Padura is careful enough never to criticise the Castro brothers directly or to question the “revolutionary process”, which may explain why his work is tolerated (if not necessarily promoted) by the Communist regime.

Anyway, to publicise his latest novel to be translated into English, “Havana Fever”, Padua has provided The Guardian newspaper in Britain with a personal list of his top 10 Cuban novels of all time.

And what becomes immediately obvious is that the majority of the novels highlighted by Padura were written before Castro came to power, or by writers such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Alejo Carpentier or Reinaldo Arenas who were either forced into exile by the regime or fell out of favour big time with Fidel Castro.

You can read the list here.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Fidel Castro has a long history of mentoring younger leaders, giving them important portfolios and then basically banishing them once they began to feel secure in their own power."

Daniel Erikson, of the Washington think thank Inter-American Dialogue, speaking to Associated Press about the unexpected dismissal of Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque.

Big news in Havana 3

As is usually the case, the official Cuban media have failed to explain (let alone question!) the reasons why Raul Castro unexpectedly sacked several of his senior ministers yesterday, in particular two high-profile ministers who were often described as potential successors: Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque.

In any other country, the head of the government would have been hounded by reporters for an explanation and the dismissed ministers themselves would have almost certainly held a press conference and provided their own commentary.

Not in Cuba, where disgraced officials simply disappear from public view, normally for decades ... just as it used to happen in the old Soviet Union.

Mind you, Fidel Castro has provided a glimpse of what might have gone wrong for the officious Lage and the odious Perez Roque in his latest “reflection”, which was published overnight in Havana.

According to Castro I, he was fully consulted about the changes and approved of them, describing the changes as “beneficial”.

And in characteristic style, he attempts to rewrite history once more by claiming that he had nothing at all to do with the promotion of Lage and Perez Roque to senior positions, which of course, is absolute crap.

As for their dismissal, the semi-retired dictator says they got the flick because they had become too “ambitious” for their own good and had started behaving in an “undignified” manner.

Intriguing, eh?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Big news in Havana 2

Have you been wondering what's likely to happen to that awful Felipe Perez Roque now he has been sacked by Raul Castro from his high-flying job as Minister for Foreign Affairs? Perhaps not. Here is a possible clue, anyway.

Cast your mind back to 1999 when the then thirtysomething Perez Roque was appointed to the his new position to replace Roberto "Robertico" Robaina, another young Communist Party brown-nose who had been a favourite of Fidel Castro.

There was never any official explanation for the unexpected demotion of Robaina, who was not only stripped of his job but in due course was also kicked out of the Communist Party, effectively becoming persona non grata in his own country.

Unlike his successor, Robaina was a colourful character by Castroist standards. he enjoyed wearing fashionable jeans, pastel-coloured sports coats over his t-shirts, and not surprisingly, spending time in capitalist cities. Why, he even paid a visit to Sydney in the mid 1990s, where he told a group of Castro apologists (sigh ...) that the Cuban "revolution" remained highly popular among Cubans.

Before too long, Robaina was tagged by the international media as yes, a "reformer", a description he apparently started to take rather seriously, which more or less sealed his fate with the Castro bothers.

Last we heard, he was still living in relative obscurity in Cuba, pretending to be a painter and trying to sell his work over the Internet.

Cuban humour

It seems the grand dame of American newspaper publishing, The New York Times, has fallen for that old story about a convalescing Fidel Castro exercising on the streets of his Havana neighbourhood.

You might recall that the original source for the story was the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, a man who has what most independent observers would regard as a credibility issue.

Not that this has stopped the Times, which reports from Mexico City (that's right, Mexico City), that the semi-retired dictator has been spotted by neighbours in the Siboney area of Havana "ambling along the side of the road", followed closely by a black Mercedes.

Castro I was supposedly wearing shorts, white socks "pulled up high" and a track jacket, and surrounded by security guards.

The paper admits that there has been no confirmation of the sighting by the official Cuban media, before adding: "Some of the Havana residents who have spotted him insisted that their names, genders and even the exact day in which they saw Mr. Castro not be published to avoid running afoul of the government, which has declared Mr. Castro’s illness to be a state secret."

In happier days

Big smile, everyone ... Raul Castro with the two men often spoken of as possible successors, both of whom have been dropped without explanation from their positions, according to the Cuban media. In the middle is Carlos Lage. On your right, Felipe Perez Roque. Photograph: AFP.

Big news in Havana ...

The official Cuban media has just announced a major reshuffle of the Council of State, the body that is supposed to govern the island, although in fact, it’s nothing more than a bunch of colourless Communist Party apparatchiks who owe their loyalty to the Castro brothers.

The unexpected shake-up involves the removal of a truckload of ministers, most of whom would be little known to ordinary Cubans.

However, there are two noteworthy demotions, involving two senior ministers who have had a very high public profile outside Cuba: Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque.

Lage, 57, a doctor by training, is a one-time economics adviser to Fidel Castro and vice-president of the Council of State who was seen until recently as a possible contender for the top job in a transitional scenario.

The odious Perez Roque, 43, used to be chief of staff to the now semi-retired dictator back int he late 1990s and early 2000s, and later became minister for Foreign Affairs and thus, the public face of the regime internationally.

The announcement does not explain why the two men have been removed from office but then again, this is not unusual - the regime never officially explains why it moves its senior people around.

Intriguingly, both Lage and Perez Roque were always seen as protégés of Castro I.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Per-capita-wise, Cuba qualifies as the world's biggest debtor nation with a foreign debt of close to $50 billion, a credit rating nudging Somalia's, and an uninterrupted record of defaults."

Author Humberto Fontova writing in The American Thinker magazine about Fidel Castro's new Republican allies.