Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quote of the day

"In Cuba, he said, more than 90 percent of the 11.5 million people support 'the genuine revolution' that began in 1959 when Castro toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista."
Edith Lederer, United Nations correspondent for Associated Press, quoting the Cuban Minister for Foreing Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque. You can read the article here.


As you may have read elsewhere, a new exhibition has just opened at the Palau de la Virreina in Barcelona looking at the "use and abuse" of that now-ubiquitous Alberto Korda photograph of Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Taken in March 1960 in Havana, the photograph only came to public attention in 1968 following Guevara's death in Bolivia, where he'd gone (or been sent) to foment revolution - with little success.

Since then, the Korda image has become one of the most reproduced photographs in history. Which says a lot about the power of propaganda ... and the power of consumerism.

So, here is my favourite take on the image, from the exhibition:

Diplomatic news

Another year, another diplomatic "victory" for the Castro regime at the United Nations.

Just as expected, international media are reporting that UN members overwhelmingly voted in favour of a motion calling on the United States to lift its trade and commercial embargo, which has been in place since 1962.

This time around, 184 member countries voted in favour of the motion, with four voting against: the US, Israel and the Pacific island nations of Palau and the Marshall Islands. Micronesia abstained.

This is the 16th year in a row such a non-binding motion has been carried by the world body.

They will be celebrating in Havana. Again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Quote(s) of the day

The great Bebo Valdes has given a typically upbeat interview to the Madrid daily El Pais, talking about his music, his family and a new documentary on his life, titled "Old Man Bebo".

And he talks about Cuba. Of course.

Asked why he has not returned to Havana since he left in 1960, he replies:

“All my life I have wanted to return to Cuba but I promised my mother on her deathbed that I wouldn’t while [the Castro regime] remains in power. We disposed of Batista, who was dictator of the Right, only to end up with a dictator of the Left, who also oppresses his people. Well, que se vayan al carajo todos los dictadores!”.

Spoken I think, with all the wisdom of an 89 year old.

In Cuba today

The caption for this Associated Press photograph reads as follows:

“A woman shows off her tattoo at the Metal City Festival in Santa Clara, Cuba, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007. The 10th annual hard rock and heavy metal festival brings together musicians and fans across the island for four days of concerts, a tattoo convention and music conferences.”

The question is: has anyone alerted El Comandante en Jefe?

Business news

As you may have read previously, the Castro regime has a less than exemplary record when it comes to paying off its international debts.

In fact, Havana owes at least USD8 billion to Western banks and businesses but has refused to pay a single cent back since 1986. In short, it's defaulted on the debt.

And this does not include the country’s debt to the now-disappeared Soviet Union, estimated to be worth at least USD20 billion, which, of course, will never be repaid.

Well, there is more. According to this news report, the Castro brothers also owe the Czech Republic more than 214 million Euros, making Cuba the country’s number one debtor.

And the likelihood of Prague ever recouping any of this money from their one-time "fraternal" Communist allies? That's right - zero.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Quote of the Day

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

Fidel Castro, quoting Abraham Lincoln, in his latest reflexion, published on Sunday by the official newspaper Juventud Rebelde. I know ... the man has no shame.


The left-leaning London weekly The Observer published a surprisingly lukewarm review on Sunday of Ignacio Ramonet’s “biography” of Fidel Castro, which has just been published in English in the United Kingdom under the title, "My Life".

And once again, the supposed biographer is revealed for what he is: a Castro apologist of the worst kind.

As the reviewer, Jason Burke, points out, Ramonet secured “astonishing access” to the ailing 81-year-old dictator but ended up producing a 700-page hagiography of the worst type - too long, too dull.

“To say that Ramonet is an uncritical interviewer would be an understatement,” writes Burke, who then goes on to point out numerous instances of Ramonet’s unquestioning admiration for his subject.

“For Ramonet, like millions of others, Castro is not a controversial dictator with a mixed record who has traced an interesting historical course, but the figurehead of opposition to the global hegemony of the United States and the other great, related bogeyman of the European left, 'neoliberal globalisation'. And wreathed in legend, he can do no wrong.”

You can read the review here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

In Havana

We’ve been so busy reading the media’s reaction to George W Bush’s speech on Cuba (largely negative, it seems), that we missed a big event currently under way in Havana.

Believe it or not, the Castro regime is hosting something called the 2nd International Workshop on Financial Management.

That’s right, folk – financial management. In Cuba.

According to this report in the official Cuban media, the workshop is being attended by 140 economists from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Venezuela.

Quote of the day

From today's edition of The Economist magazine:

“We have a system in which anything you do is either forbidden or compulsory."
Miguel, described as "an academic and member of Cuba's ruling Communist Party", referring to life under the Castro brothers.

Read the article here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You say embargo, I say ...

Ah yes ... the US commercial embargo.

As you would know by now, George W Bush made it clear in last night’s speech that his administration has no intention of lifting the trade restrictions imposed on the Castro regime by John F Kennedy back in 1962.

Not until there is democratic change in Cuba, the US president said.

Now, regardless of your view on the effectiveness or otherwise of the embargo, this was very much as expected. After all, did anyone really believe that Bush would announce he’d be lifting (or even relaxing) the existing sanctions? Hardly.

Still, the presidential comments have upset a few Cuban “experts” in the US, including our old friend Wayne Smith, the often-quoted former diplomat who was once head of the American mission in Havana.

One of those Americans who has long promoted “active engagement” with the Castro brothers, Smith told The International Herald Tribune that “the idea that our embargo, after 47 years, is going to bring down the Cuban government, or even force it to do anything, is absurd”.

“They have trading relations with almost every other country in the world,” he added. “They can get whatever they want."

Well, in this case, Smith is dead right.

And as a bonus, his views run counter to those of the Castro regime and its apologists outside the island who blame the restrictions on trade with the US for the many economic and social ills that sadly beset the Cuban people.

Will Havana ever forgive him?

Useful idiots 2

Speaking of useful idiots …

Within minutes of the Castro regime delivering its response to the speech by George W Bush, the dictator’s merry band of well-fed, freedom-loving apologists outside Cuba set to work.

I am sure you'd be surprised to hear that the
old Stalinist “solidarity” groups are once again parroting the same old lines fed from Havana.

Here is just one example, from the self-styled Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the United Kingdom, which appears to count among its members a handful of parliamentarians. You know, democratically-elected representatives of the people who think multi-party elections are fine. In Britain.

And if you go here, you will see how these pro-Castro groups attempt to do the regime’s bidding online.

And the view from Havana ...

It hasn’t taken long for the Castro regime to respond to yesterday’s speech by George W Bush on Cuba.

And much as expected, the reaction has been negative.

The regime rolled out its most orthodox and least attractive spokesman, Felipe Perez Roque, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to tell local and international media that the speech was a further example of “aggressive” American interference in Cuban affairs.

There was plenty of the usual rhetoric from the Minister about the “criminal” US commercial and trade embargo, about “mercenaries” in the pay of “the Empire” and about American “tyranny”, according to media reports.

But interestingly, Perez Roque appeared to be particularly annoyed at remarks by the American president calling on the Cuban military and police apparatus to help efforts to transform the island into a multi-party democracy.

"Cuba categorically rejects the stimulation of violence and the invocation of the use of force," Perez Roque said, apparently with a straight face. "You will never force us to our knees."

Interesting response.

Could there be some substance to those persistent suggestions that sections of the powerful (and hugely profitable) Cuban military machine are indeed pushing for some form of change?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Useful idiots corner

If you have ever wondered why so many supposedly Left wing politicians in Western Europe and elsewhere deserve to be treated with nothing but utter contempt, here is an explanation.

According to this report by the official Cuban news agency, quasi-communist parties in the European Union have just issued a statement calling on the US to lift its "criminal" commercial and trade embargo on Cuba.

They want Western European countries to vote against the embargo at the forthcoming United Nations meeting to debate the issue.

While such a call may or may not be legitimate on its own, it raises the obvious question: when was the last time you read of Left wing politicians anywhere forcefully calling for an end to Castro's dictatorial regime?

The view from Washington

Nearly 50 years after Fidel Castro came to power, there are new moves in Washington to hasten the demise of the seriously ill 81-year-old dictator – and his decaying regime.

According to media reports, US President George W Bush will today announce a set of initiatives designed to encourage democratic change in Cuba.

The initiatives will apparently include the creation of an international "freedom fund" to help the rebuilding of the country, which sounds like a reasonable idea even though details are still hazy on how this would actually work.

Other initiatives will include the licensing of private groups in the US to provide Internet access to Cuban students and the establishment of some sort of scholarship program for young people on the island. Again, not sure of the details.

Of course, it’s good to see the White House talking again about the need for real change in Cuba and encouraging others around the world to do the same.

But will it make any difference?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fashion items

No doubt you have come across endless variations of that ultimate symbol of the triumph of capitalist entrepreneurship over communist orthodoxy - the Che t-shirt.

But this is the first time I have seen Che underpants. Or boxer shorts, as we call them here in Australia.

I spotted this pair at a small souvenir stall in the Trastevere neighbourhood in Rome, just across from Santa Cecilia Church, a magnificent building where Mass has been celebrated since about the fifth Century.

The old Stalinist must be spinning in his grave.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Back to work

After a much-needed (and thoroughly enjoyable) six week break, it’s time to get back to work.

Plenty of news about Cuba during my absence.

There was confirmation of sorts that Fidel Castro is still alive but in seriously bad shape. The great dictator, who so adored the sight and sound of his own televised reflection, is now reduced to writing (or dictating) increasingly silly “editorials” for the official media from his hiding place.

Then there is Hugo Chavez, the epitome of the dangerous Latin American buffoon, proposing a political merger between Venezuela and Cuba, an idea so silly and antiquated not even the higher echelons of the Cuban Communist Party seem to have taken it seriously.

And of course, today there is coverage in the world media about the highly orchestrated and totally predictable municipal “elections” being held by the Castro regime. No prizes for guessing the outcome, folk.

I know ... it’s all very sad. But by far the one piece of news that saddened me most in recent weeks was the death in Miami from cancer of Carlos Victoria, the exiled Cuban writer.

I had the pleasure of meeting Carlos only a couple of times.

The first was when he visited Australia some years ago to see his aunt, who lives here in Sydney and is a family friend of my parents. I was working at The Sydney Morning Herald at the time and knew little about his work but was pleased to show him around Sydney and buy him a typically Australian meal, which is to say a meal that combined cuisines from all over the world.

The second time was during a visit to Miami when he reciprocated by taking me on a tour of El Herald, introducing me to some of his editors and then buying me a typically Miami meal – macitas de puerco, congri and yuca at the Versalles, of course.

We corresponded regularly since then.

His last email arrived about three or four months ago – he was trying to get a writer at The Miami Herald interested in writing a feature story about my book, which had just been published in North America.

It was a generous and totally unexpected gesture from a true gentleman.

Typical of Carlos Victoria.