Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ctrl, Alt, Del

Now for some good news from Cuba.

The official media is today reporting exciting new plans by the Castro regime to encourage older Cubans to become computer literate.

The plans apparently involve the establishment of locally-based computing clubs to be known as GeroClubs, so that people aged 60 or over can become familiar with the use of computers, including accessing the Internet.

Now for the bad news.

Ordinary Cubans are still strictly forbidden from owning home computers.

Before they can buy a computer, those Cubans lucky enough to have access to hard currency (as opposed to worthless Cuban pesos) must first obtain permission from the Communist Party - much in the same way Romanians needed permission back in the 1980s to own typewriters.

Needless to say, very few ordinary Cubans get the OK.

As for accessing the Internet freely ...

Capitalism at work

Regardless of whether you agree or not with the US commercial and trade embargo on Cuba, one thing is abundantly clear: the policy has more holes than a kilo of Swiss cheese.

And here is the proof.

Reuters reports this morning that the Castro regime has just signed contracts with American food growers to import food products worth up to USD150 million, including Cuban staples such as pork, corn and soybeans.

Even Spam.

The announcement followed a visit to Havana by a delegation of some 200 very eager American food producers, exporters and minor political celebrities, who are thrilled at all that cash rolling in.

Just as pleased is the head of the Castro regime’s food importing agency, Pedro Alvarez, who told reporters that the Americans were merely "recovering the market" they lost back in the 1960s with the imposition of the embargo.

"The active and massive participation of the American business community makes us very happy," Alvarez added.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Brian Latell, the former CIA analyst and author of “After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader”, has been interviewed by Newsweek on developments on the island over the past few months.

Among other questions, Mr Latell was asked for his opinion of the recent “editorial” supposedly written by Fidel Castro in which the dictator gives sketchy details of his current state of health.

Mr Latell’s conclusion: Castro remains gravely ill.

“It’s not cancer as many of us thought initially, but whatever caused the bleeding that necessitated the first surgery could happen again,” he says.

“I wonder whether he is preparing the Cuban elites and the Cuban people for the other shoe to drop, possibly on July 26.

“The other shoe could be another statement that he or his brother Raul would utter at a mass event on July 26, in which he would announce his permanent abdication from power.”

So, here is a prediction: Castro will retain the purely ceremonial position of president of the Council of State as well as Comandante en Jefe, but will give up his other posts to his brother Raul, who will become head of the Communist Party, and to technocrat Carlos Lage, who will become president of the Council of Ministers.

Then again … like all good Cubans, I reserve the right to change my mind. Again.

Diplomatic lessons

This week’s much-anticipated visit to Spain by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is likely to produce a few diplomatic fireworks.

And yes, some of them will involve our old pal Fidel Castro.

According to this Reuters report, Ms Rice has already made it clear that when it comes to dealing with the ailing 80-year-old dictator, she doesn’t see “eye to eye” with the Spaniards' policy of dialogue with the Communist regime.

Speaking in Berlin before her trip, she said she had hoped that a country like Spain - which had overcome its own "authoritarian past" - would be well aware of the need for democracy in a nation such as Cuba.

"The Cubans deserve better,” she added.

We shall see.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cuban health

The Cuban health system, repeatedly described as one of the great "achievements" of the Castro regime, has come under scrutiny from The New York Times.

And the result is surprisingly even-handed.

That great newspaper of record points out that even if the official figures provided by the regime on infant mortality and life expectancy are accurate (a big "if"), they fail to take into account other factors, such as the extraordinarily high abortion rate on the island.

Furthermore, the paper acknowledges what Cubans have known for decades - that there are in fact, two separate health systems in Cuba.

The first system, which has the best hospitals, the best medicines and the best doctors, is reserved for senior Communist Party officials and important foreigners. That's the system depicted in Michael Moore's controversial new film.

The second, parallel system is the one used daily by 11 million ordinary Cubans.

As the paper points out, this second system involves ill-equipped, run-down hospitals, poorly-paid and over-worked doctors and patients having to bring their own food, soap, bed sheets — and even their own medications.

Read the article in full here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In Madrid

You may have read elsewhere that the Spaniards have just completed voting in regional and municipal elections.

And the news is good for the right-leaning Partido Popular (PP), which is currently out of office at the national level.

According to the latest results, the party was ahead of the Socialists by a small but decisive margin across the board.

The most outstanding result for the PP was in the Madrid region, where Esperanza Aguirre managed to further increase the party’s lead in the regional parliament.

Which is bad news for the Castro brothers, who loath the no-nonsense Ms Aguirre with a passion because of her open support for democratic change in Cuba.

The president of the Madrid region infuriated the regime last December when she questioned why a Spanish public hospital was sending special medicines to the ailing 80-year-old dictator when ordinary Cubans were not allowed such privileges.

Now for the news ...

Oh, dear … more trouble ahead for foreign correspondents in Havana.

As you may recall, the Castro regime has been cracking down in recent months on those few foreign correspondents on the island who refuse to toe the Communist Party line and insist on filing stories deemed to be “too negative”.

You know the type of stories we are talking about: negative yarns about nonexistent transport services, crumbling buildings, inequalities, the arrest of dissidents …

Now the official propaganda sheet of the regime, Granma, has published an ominous “commentary” accusing foreign correspondents in Havana of being nothing but US lackeys. Of course.

In an article that is depressingly similar to the stuff we used to read in Pravda back in the early 1980s, the newspaper says foreign correspondents are spending too much time interviewing “mercenaries” - the term used by the regime to refer to anyone who opposes the Castro brothers.

Instead, the paper says, the corespondents should be writing more “good news” stories on the great “social achievements” of the Revolution.

Stay tuned.
Photograph: Adalberto Roque (AFP).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Yeah, baby

It’s taken the best part of 40 years but The Beatles have finally arrived in the part of Cuba where I grew up. Officially, that is.

According to this article in the Buenos Aires daily La Nacion, a replica of the tavern where the Beatles first found fame has opened up in the city of Holguin, on the eastern side of the island.

It’s quite a development.

As I recount in Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro’s Cuba (available now at all good bookshops, etc, etc), the Fab Four were banned from Cuban radio by Fidel Castro for years.

At the time, we were told that such capitalist tunes as I want to hold your hand, A hard day's night, and Love me do, were far too decadent and subversive for revolutionary Cuba.

The manager of the replica tavern, identified as Xiomara Escalona, told the paper that the idea for the venue had been put forward by none other than the head of the provincial Communist Party, who had seen photographs of the original on the Internet.

How the worm turns ...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I am not dead, just resting

Hold the presses - Fidel Castro has written yet another one of his “editorials”.

But this one is not about ethanol. Or about those nasty Americans. Or even the poor old Brits.

This one is about his own health, confirming for the first time what everyone outside Cuba has known for months: that he underwent a number of serious operations, that some of the operations were a failure, that he has had to use a catheter for months and that he is still in recovery.

The 80-year-old dictator claims he is a lot better now but he is far, far too busy writing newspaper articles and reading documents and talking on the phone to have any time at all to cut his hair or to trim his trademark beard.

And that, he says, is the reason why he has not appeared in public.

So, now you know.

Believe it or not. Believe it.

Like the good spinners they are, senior ministers in the Castro regime have been hinting for weeks now that this year’s sugar harvest would not be all that spectacular.

Talk about understatement.

According to figures compiled by Reuters in Havana, the 2006-2007 sugar harvest is nothing short of an absolute disaster.

It’s so bad, there is now every likelihood that the Castro brothers will have to import sugar. That's right – a country that used to export millions of tonnes of the stuff every year will be forced to import sugar.

As my father would say, Le ronca ….

Reuters says the total harvest is likely to be as low as one million tonnes.

Sounds like a lot of sugar to you?

Well, the rather modest “target” set by the regime for this year's harvest was 1.6 million tonnes – and this is well below the average in the good old days of between seven and eight million tonnes. Or the nine million record set in 1969-1970.

In fact, just 17 of the 51 sugar mills on the island met their production targets.

A disaster.

You can bet your shiniest convertible peso that the blame game will start soon enough in the official media: the regime will blame the heavy rains. Or the drought. Or climate change. Or the workers for not being “revolutionary” enough. Or that old favourite, the CIA ….

Then again, perhaps we will see one or both of the Castro brothers address the nation, announce that the minister responsible for the sugar industry has been fired and that they, too, are stepping down immediately, such is their shame …

Oh, yes, and pigs will fly.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yes, but is anyone listening

Just how out of touch is Fidel Castro with what’s going on in his own misgoverned little kingdom?

As you will recall, the official Cuban media have published a number of “editorials” in the past weeks in which the ailing 80-year-old dictator has attacked plans for the mass production of biofuels, such as ethanol.

In truth, Castro used to be a big fan of ethanol as an alternative fuel … until someone whispered to him that US president George W Bush was a strong supporter of the idea, too.

Since then, he has railed against ethanol use, warning in typically apocalyptic style, that growing crops for fuel will result in the death from hunger of hundreds of million, etc, etc.

Now comes a story from the Associated Press in Havana revealing that contrary to what you may have read, the Communist regime is quietly modernising its own ethanol-producing facilities.

According to Conrado Moreno, a member of the Academy of Sciences, 11 of the country’s 17 ethanol refineries are being seriously upgraded to increase the production of ethanol from sugar cane.

Dr Moreno, who has obviously failed to read his copy of Granma carefully, told a conference on alternative fuels that while the refineries currently produced alcohol for use in rum and medications, the upgrade would give Cuba the capacity to “one day produce fuel for cars”.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Media news

Here is one news story you won't read in the Communist Party-controlled media outlets of the Castro regime. Not in full, anyway.

Thousands of journalists and other media workers carried a huge banner through Caracas yesterday to protest at a decision by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, to close down one of the few remaining independent television stations in the country.

Coincidentally, the Chavez announcement was made at about the same time as Abel Prieto, who goes by the title of Cuban Minister for Culture, arrived in Venezuela to attend a meeting of leftist "journalists".

The meeting was due to discuss such important issues as "ownership of means of communication" and "the impunity and power of the huge corporate media".

Wish you were here

I am sure you have caught up with the controversy surrounding that Iberia online promotion featuring half-naked Cuban mulatas bottle-feeding a baby tourist …

Well, it seems the Spanish airline has now decided to withdraw the ad, as you can read here.

The decision follows public complaints from a Spanish consumer advocacy group which argued that the promotion was sexist and demeaning to Cuban women, and promoted “sex tourism”.

Curiously, though, there has been no comment about the ad from the authorities in Havana, as far as I can tell.

This is highly unusual, given the Castro regime’s well-developed sense of fake outrage whenever it comes under attack in the media.

You know, the old ploy about defending the “dignity” of the Cuban people …

Perhaps the silence from Havana has something to do with reports showing a serious decline in the number of Western tourists visiting the island?

According to figures quoted by the Associated Press, tourist numbers declined by about 100,000 last year "hitting the communist nation's leading source of income".

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sycophant of the week

In Cuba,there is no such thing as an independent view, especially when it comes to the writing (or re-writing) of history.

Like all other academics, Cuban historians are employed by the Communist regime and their first and most sacred duty is and has always been to “defend the Revolution”, which really means to defend Fidel Castro.

It's the way it's been for the best part of 50 years.

So, it comes as no surprise to read that the Cuban Institute of History has just unveiled a new multimedia work about … Fidel Castro.

According to an article in Granma, the regime’s official propaganda sheet, the new project is supposed to contain all the speeches delivered by El Comandante en Jefe over the past 50 years, along with photographs, video footage and audio recordings.

The multimedia was officially launched in the city of Matanzas over the weekend by the head of the Cuban Institute of History, the suitably named Dr Raul Izquierdo.

And as you would expect, Dr Izquierdo did not mince his words when referring to the man who pays the bills.

Describing Castro as a “genius” whose thinking went well beyond the confines of the island, the good doctor added: “In my opinion, he is the most significant global figure in the entire history of the 20th Century.”


Friday, May 18, 2007

Recommended reading

As you would expect, quite a few books were published late last year to mark the 50th anniversary of what became known as The Hungarian Revolution.

For less than two weeks in October-November 1956, Hungarians openly rebelled against their Soviet masters, demanding the departure of all Russian troops, a free press, the legalisation of political parties other than the Communists, and democratic elections.

Caught by surprise, the Soviets were relatively slow to react but when the time came they reverted to type, using tanks to crush the short-lived Revolution.

The Communists would remain in power, unchallenged, for close to 40 more years.

I am telling you all this because I have just finished reading Twelve Days, a terrific account of the Hungarian Revolution by British journalist Victor Sebestyen, whose own family fled Communist Hungary.

The author, who has relied not just on personal stories and extensive newspaper coverage but also on recently-declassified Soviet and Hungarian archives, exposes the way the Soviet leadership lied about its intentions and the true motives behind the decision to send in the tanks.

But he also exposes in convincing detail the way in which the US and its Western allies effectively turned a blind eye to what was going on in Hungary - for fear of upsetting Moscow and provoking an armed confrontation in Europe.

Highly recommended.

In the South Pacific

First, it was Nauru.

Then, the Solomon Islands.

Now, the Castro regime is attempting to expand its ties in the South Pacific even further by making overtures to the military government in Fiji.

According to local media reports, Cuban representatives have offered to provide “free” scholarships to an undisclosed number of Fijian students to study medicine in Havana.

As well, the Fijians have been offered a trainer or two to help the local boxing team, plus a team of agricultural “experts” to help with the sugar harvest, which is hilarious, I know, given the woeful state of what little remains of the once-great Cuban sugar industry.

So, what’s all this about, you ask?

Simple - it’s called rank opportunism.

You see, with a population of about 900,000, Fiji is one of the largest of the South Pacific island states, a truly idyllic spot with a well-developed tourist industry and traditionally close ties to the West.

Sadly, the country is currently under an “interim” military government, led by one Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who took power last year after forcing the democratically elected prime minister to step down.

To be fair, Commodore Bainimarama is not in the same league as Augusto Pinochet, let alone Fidel Castro.

In keeping with the way of the South Pacific, this is a "light" version of a military dictatorship but a military dictatorship it most certainly is.

Since the coup, the two largest and wealthiest nations in the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, which together provide millions of dollars in aid to Fiji, have been working hard to isolate the military administration.

Along with the US and the European Union, Australia and New Zealand have repeatedly called for the military to get back to their barracks and for Fiji to return to democracy.

Right on cue, enter the Castro brothers …

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

With friends like these

I am sure you will remember that much-hyped visit to Havana some weeks ago by the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos.

The Castro regime was certainly thrilled by the visit.

Not surprising, given that Moratinos made it abundantly clear that relations between Madrid and the Castro brothers were now “back to normal”.

Well, the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque, has just given his interpretation of this new relationship.

In an interview published today in the Spanish daily El Mundo, Perez Roque heaps praise on the Spanish administration for wanting better relations with Cuba and “not mimicking” American policy towards the island.

But he leaves his best comments for last.

Asked whether this all-new, all-improved relationship means there will be discussions on the possibility of freeing up at least some political prisoners from Castro’s gulag, the minister responds that there is nothing to discuss since “there are no political prisoners in Cuba”.

“What we have,” Perez Roque says, “are mercenaries in the pay of the US Government, who want to help entrench the American blockade, even when this hurts Spanish companies.”

As the man said, it’s back to normal.

Monday, May 14, 2007

News from an embargoed island?

You know that “immoral” US embargo on commercial and trade links with Cuba?

Sure you do.

It’s the same embargo that is always used by Fidel Castro and his apologists to explain what’s wrong with the Cuban economy. Which is plenty.

Well, here is a different perspective on the American embargo.

According to the Associated Press, American brands such as Nikes, Marlboro, Jordache and even Bausch & Lomb are freely available in Cuba, despite all the huffing and puffing in Havana.

And they are not on sale in some black-market back alley, either.

As the article reveals, all these capitalist goods are on sale in the lobbies of “gleaming Government-run hotels” and in "supermarkets and pharmacies that answer to the Communist government”.

There is one glitch, though: the goodies are out of reach of ordinary Cubans, who get paid an average wage of just USD15.00 a month.

Instead, they are available to tourists carrying hard currency - and to those Cubans with access to the so-called convertible pesos.

You know, like regime officials and senior Communist Party functionaries.

On the box

Once again, the Castro regime has used its own tightly controlled media to warn Cubans they face hefty fines and up to five years in prison if they are caught using “illegal” satellite dishes.

According to the latest edition of Granma, the propaganda sheet for the regime, the rooftop reception dishes and satellite access cards are being sold by “unscrupulous” profiteers.

Of course, what worries the regime is not that Cubans using illegal dishes may be breaching copyright laws, let alone the safety or reliability of the normally home-made contraptions.

Far from it.

As the article makes clear, what worries the Communist Party hierarchy is the fact that Cubans use the dishes to watch “subversive” or “enemy” programming from overseas, mainly the US.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Asian lessons

First it was the Chinese. Then came the Singaporeans. And the Japanese …

In recent months, the Castro regime has gone on something of a charm offensive to encourage Asian governments to consider investing big dollars in the island.

According to this article by AFP, recent visitors have included the Chinese Minister for Defence, the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, and a rare visit from a senior Japanese delegation.

Earlier, the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque, had paid official visits to India, Vietnam and China.

It’s all becoming very chummy.

Of course, the Cubans have plenty to learn from Asian nations, including Communist-ruled China.

And lesson number one is this: the reason places such as Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Thailand, to name just a handful, have thriving economies is because they have all embraced the market.

You know, they have all embraced capitalism. With a capital C.

It’s working for them.

Unlike Cuba.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Here we go again

Remember that old story about how the Castro regime has generously offered several dozen university places to American medical students who are apparently too poor to pay for an education at home?

Well, it’s doing the rounds again.

This time, it’s a column in The Orlando Sentinel under the heading, “Cuba's offer to U.S. students should be a lesson for us all”.

It’s written by Tammy L Carter, who has just returned from a visit to Cuba, where she seems to have seriously misplaced that old journalistic ability to recognise when you are being fed a big pile of horse manure.

Ms Carter, who described her visit to Cuba as an “eye opener”, says the 90 American medical students on the island are really getting a “free” education, thanks to that great humanitarian, Fidel Castro.

No strings attached.

And the students just love it, according to one of those interviewed, a 26-year-old from Tallahassee identified as Amanda Haynes.

Sure, Amanda has some minor reservations about the fact that there is no running water all the time. And there are electricity blackouts. And the food is not what she’d eat at home. And accessing the Internet will cost her USD10 for five minutes.

But she is undeterred because, well, “you have to get used to how Cubans do things”.

As for those little extras like a free press and the freedom to access other people’s opinions and to be able to say whatever you want about the government you elected without the fear of being locked up ... she won’t have a bar of them because she knows that “with democracy comes greed, guns, drugs, focus on money”.

Get it? Democracy is bad.

"Here, we don't really watch TV,” Amanda says about her undemocratic life in Cuba. “We don't get much radio. The only music that we have is what we bring from home. It's a really peaceful vibe here. It's an isolation, but a good isolation. This is the simple life."

Ah, yes, the simple life.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Looney tunes

When it comes to nasty, deluded dictators, it’s hard to go past Kim Jong Il, best known to his oppressed, brainwashed and malnourished North Korean subjects as “The Dear Leader”.

Not surprisingly, Kim, pictured above, doesn’t have too many friends in the real world.

But you’ll be happy to hear that he still has Fidel Castro.

According to the official Cuban media, the North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister, Kim Jyong Jun, is currently visiting Havana for talks with the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque.

And the two sides are getting on like a house on fire. As you would expect, having so much in common.

Predictably, Perez Roque told his visitor that Cuba categorically rejected “the aggressive attitude of the US against North Korea”, while recognising North Korea’s “right” to nuclear weapons. Scary stuff.

For his part, the North Korean visitor announced that he had brought with him
a “message of greetings” from Kim Jong Il “expressing joy” at Castro’s reported recovery.

In Madrid

And now, for some good news …

Spanish politicians, television celebrities and assorted hangers-on turned up overnight in Madrid for this year’s presentation of the prestigious Ortega y Gasset prizes for journalism.

As you will recall, one of the top prizes went to Raul Rivero, the exiled Cuban writer, poet and journalist.

Aged 62, Mr Rivero has been living in Madrid with his family since 2005 following his release from prison by the Castro regime – but only after considerable international pressure.

He was one of the 75 independent journalists, opposition politicians and other activists arrested in 2003 during the “Black Spring” and sentenced to prison terms of up to 25 years on trumped-up charges.

Described by the Havana propaganda machine as a “mercenary”, Mr Rivero was praised by the judging panel for his "tenacious and committed battle” for journalistic freedom in Cuba.

And that’s one piece of news you are unlikely to see published in the Castro media.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cuban truths

Could this be true?

A card-carrying member of the Left calling for democratic change in Cuba?

About bloody time, I hear you say …

So, I recommend this article in the Australian left-leaning webzine New Matilda by Antony Loewenstein, a Sydney-based author and blogger who is not what you’d call a great supporter of current US policy.

Loewenstein has recently visited Fidel Castro’s island paradise and it seems he has returned home feeling a little disappointed. To say the least.

True, he still repeats those old lines about the great health care system and “free” education - and he refers to the US trade and commercial embargo as “immoral”, etc.

But his conclusions can’t be faulted.

“Cuba is a police State,” Loewenstein reports.

“After spending time in Cuba, it is clear that revolutionary fervour is virtually non-existent among the younger generation; and that the genuine successes of the country … are compromised by the Castro regime’s repression of its citizens and its isolating them from information that is freely available in the West.”

And when it comes to the international Left’s silence on what's really going in Cuba, his messages are equally clear.

“If the international Left wants to do itself any favours … they should be calling for reform of the Cuban system,” he concludes.

“A truly open media, unfettered freedom of speech, and freedom of association are not merely Western indulgences. They are essential for any country to join the ranks of respectable nations.”

Buy the man a beer, I say.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Literary matters

In case you are in Sydney on Sunday, 3 June, and have nothing better to do ...
Here are two opportunities to practice your heckling at the forthcoming and always well-attended Sydney Writers' Festival.
Heckling at this one will cost you AUD10.00, but this one is for free.
Hope to see you there.

Capitalism at work

Thinking of investing your hard-earned cash in Cuba?

Well, here is some handy advice from the experts: it may be better (and safer) to simply buy stock in companies that are already entrenched on the island.

That is the view of Dale Baker, who is described as a private client portfolio manager and former US diplomat.

Writing in the online stock advisory newsletter The Motley Fool, Mr Baker argues that there are more “creative” ways of making money “from the inevitable demise of Fidel Castro and his 48-year stranglehold on Cuba's economy”.

And that’s by putting your money in Sherritt International, the publicly-listed Canadian energy giant.

The very optimistic Mr Baker says Sherritt has been in Cuba since 1994 when the company signed one of those ever-popular joint venture agreements with the Castro regime, to mine nickel.

The company then moved into power generation and other metals, such as cobalt.

In fact, Sherritt is now the largest foreign energy producer on the island – with 40 per cent of its revenues last year coming from its extensive Cuban operations.

Unfortunately, no word on such little details as how much the company pays its Cuban workers. Or whether they get paid in hard currency or worthless Cuban pesos. Or whether the company is free to publicly comment on Cuban policy issues, much as it would comment on Canadian matters.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Church vs State

Much has been written in the past few weeks about the recent decision by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Cuba to effectively close down one of its own magazines, Vitral.

As you no doubt recall, the magazine was published by the Church in Pinar del Rio province but it was distributed nationally, although in minute numbers.

It seems that Vitral had become too “polemical”, making not-too-subtle references to human rights violations on the island, poor pay and conditions for workers, and widespread economic deprivation and inequality.

So, you may want to have a read of this opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal today.

The author, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, argues that in shutting down Vitral the Church has "yielded to pressure” from the thugs in the Castro regime.

“What is more troubling for Catholics, both inside and outside the country, is what the gag order says about the Church's leadership, which has long been accused of preferring collaboration over confrontation with the dictatorship,” Ms O’Grady says.

“Considering what happened in Poland, many had hoped the Church might lead the Cuban people to freedom. But now Catholics on the island are expressing a painful sense of betrayal. Whether out of fear of or sympathy with the regime, the Church seems to have capitulated.”

Well, it’s one way of looking at the demise of the feisty publication. Iam sure there are others.

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Calling Dr Castro ...

Rarely does a week go by that we don’t read an article in the Western media about the great humanitarian work undertaken by Cuban doctors in Third World countries around the globe.

If you believe the normally unquestioning coverage, such as this article, there are so many excellent doctors in Fidel Castro’s island paradise, the Communist regime can afford to send hundreds of them off to help the poor elsewhere.

Thanks, Fidel.

Of course, the truth is very different.

While there are indeed hundreds of Cuban doctors working around the world, only a few are there on humanitarian missions.

In fact, the vast majority of the doctors are earning much-needed currency for the Castro regime, either in the form of cheap oil (as in Venezuela, for instance), or in hard cash. American dollars, no less.

In other words, the doctors are a commodity, as far as the regime is concerned.

Want proof?

Here is an interesting article that appears in the latest edition of the Fiji-based publication Islands Business.

As you can see, it involves a deal signed recently between Havana and the Solomon Islands, a small South Pacific nation with a population of about 570,000.

To tackle an acute shortage of qualified doctors, the government of the Solomon Islands is bringing in 10 Cuban doctors this month to work in local hospitals, with another 40 expected later in the year

But here is the interesting part: according to the
article, the Solomon Islands will “fork out US$300 per month for the doctors’ allowance while the Cuban government will pay for their salaries”.

Get it? The Castro regime will pay the Cuban doctors their normal Cuban salary – most likely the equivalent of between US$30.00 and US$40.00 a month. If they are lucky.

And guess who gets to keep the rest of the money?

Why, those great humanitarians, the Castro brothers.

It’s enough to make you sick …

Friday, May 04, 2007

In Havana today

A couple of (belated) observations on today’s big news story from Havana – the attempted hijacking of an airliner by as many as three Cubans wanting to escape the island.

1. The men involved were all aged between 19 and 21. In other words, they are not a bunch of nostalgic, unreconstructed Batista-loving “mercenaries”. They are for all intends and purposes, true children of the Revolution.

2. The three young men were undergoing compulsory Military Service, which meant they had access to Russian-made weapons. They were not afraid to use them, either, from all accounts. This suggests that security within the Cuban military is not as tight as we have been led to believe.

Now, ask yourself this question: what would possess three men in the prime of their lives to take such drastic action?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Reagan and Castro

The diaries of former US president Ronald Reagan are due to be published in book form later this month.

But some pre-publication excerpts have made it into print already, courtesy of the latest issue of the magazine Vanity Fair.

According to news reports, the diaries show Reagan at his most candid - about his own private life as well as affairs of State.

Including events in Cuba …

"Intelligence reports say Castro is very worried about me,” the late president wrote in February 1981. “I'm very worried that we can't come up with something to justify his worrying.”

More than 25 years later, has anything changed?

Self-assured, smiling, all is well

You probably thought that Fidel Castro’s absence from the much-hyped May Day “celebrations” in Havana this week was probably bad news for his 48-year-old regime, right?

Well, you are wrong, mate.

According to Anthony Boadle, the indefatigable Reuters correspondent on the island, the fact that the 80-year-old dictator did NOT show up at the Plaza de La Revolucion is actually good news for the regime.

It means Castro is getting better.

Under the headline, “Castro recovery lifts Cuban government's spirits”, our correspondent argues that the mood at the top is “upbeat” about Castro’s survival chances.

In fact, Mr Boadle claims that Communist Party leaders are “looking self-assured again” as “evidence mounts” that the man who has ruled Cuba since 1959 “has survived his health crisis and the country has seen no upheaval during his nine-month absence’.

“Even without Castro by their side,” the correspondent adds, “smiling Communist Party leaders waved confidently from above a high podium at half a million Cubans who marched through Havana's Revolution Square on Tuesday to show support for acting president Raul Castro.”

Mounting evidence? Self-assured? Smiling leaders? Confident waves?

Makes you wonder what the story would have read like if Castro HAD turned up.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

It's time, gentlemen

It is true that sometimes we can read way too much into a single photograph.
But I thought the picture above, taken by Claudia Daut for Reuters, deserved a special mention.
By the way, the original Reuters caption reads as follows:

Raul Castro (R), head of Cuba's armed forces and brother of Cuba's President Fidel Castro, and minister of communications Ramiro Valdez check the time during the May Day parade in Revolution Square in Havana May 1, 2007.

No show

So, just how sick is Fidel Castro, I hear you ask?

Obviously, Castro is well enough to write those increasingly erratic and totally apocalyptic "articles" for Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party.

And he is well enough to be allowed to have his picture taken every now and then with visiting dignitaries.

But he is still not well enough to be allowed out in public - not even for a brief appearance at the May Day rally held in Havana yesterday.

Despite the feverish speculation in the international media over the past few days about Castro's imminent return to the spotlight, the 80-year-old dictator was a no show at the Plaza de la Revolucion.

Still, you have to admire the ability of those hard-working foreign correspondents in Havana to get to the bottom of the story.

Like this Reuters yarn, which quotes at length the views of a number of supposedly ordinary Cubans when asked about Castro's absence from proceedings.

“I had hoped to see him," Zoraida Gonzalez, who is described as a 73-year-old retiree, told reporter Anthony Boadle. "But even though he is not here, he is still with us. The important thing is that he gets better."

Of course.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The more things change

In Cuba, nothing ever seems to change.

Once more, the Castro regime is urging all Cubans to join the carefully-orchestrated , Government "celebrations" to mark May Day, as you can see from this excruciatingly silly story in Granma, the official propaganda sheet of the Communist Party.

In Havana, thousands of ordinary Cubans will be given a day off work - but it's not a day off in the real sense of the word.
Instead, the holidaying workers will be bussed to the Plaza de la Revolucion to "celebrate" international workers' day, standing in the sun for hours, waving revolutionary placards and patiently listening to endless speeches about the evils of imperialism.

Who knows? They may even get a glimpse of a supposedly recovering Castro, according to the international media, although this is by no means guaranteed.

Predictable? You bet.
In fact, that's the way it's been since 1962 when Castro decided, without consulting anyone, as far as I can tell, that Cuba would join the Soviet Union's sphere of influence and become a fully-fledged, Russian-style Communist state. In the tropics.

And that meant that Cubans had to start copying everything their Soviet paymasters did.
Like introducing a State-planned economy that was a total failure from the word Go, establishing a KGB clone to keep en eye on trouble-makers, closing all non-Communist newspapers, confiscating all private property ...
And celebrating May Day with an extravagant "people's parade" in the capital, complete with military displays, goose-stepping soldiers, and visiting foreign dignitaries.

I can't imagine there will be much by way of an extravagant anti-imperialist display in capitalist Moscow today. The old Soviet Union itself has since disappeared into the dustbin of history. Where it belongs.

But in Cuba ...