Friday, November 30, 2007

In Caracas

Somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 people have marched in Caracas in opposition to Hugo Chavez's proposed changes to the constitution, as you can see from the AFP photograph above.
If approved, the new constitution would eliminate presidential term limits, create forms of communal property and give greater powers to Chavez and his cronies.
Not surprisingly, many Venezuelans think the changes go too far - turning the oil-rich nation into "another Cuba".
The vote is on Sunday.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Our European friends

This is what you get for trying to be nice to the Castro brothers: a kick up the backside.

As you know, the European Union has been trying hard for the past couple of years to “repair” its relations with Havana, which went into a nosedive in 2003 following the Castro regime’s violent crackdown on 75 prominent dissidents.

Largely at the insistence of the hapless Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, most EU members have been careful not to upset the regime too much as part of their "repair" strategy.

Member nations have generally toned down their criticism of human right abuses, with some members going as far as stopping all contact with the small but active Cuban dissident movement.

Well, if the EU was expecting the regime to give them a big thank you hug, they are sadly mistaken. Again.

According to media reports today, the Cuban deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eumelio Caballero, has told reporters that the EU is nothing but a pawn of those nasty American imperialists.

"Sadly it has been impossible for the EU to develop its own Cuba policy because it is vulnerable to pressures from the United States," Mr Caballero said.

And like the good apparatchik he is, he singled out for criticism the three EU member nations who have bucked the trend and continued to criticise the Castro regime: the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.

For the record, let's repeat that: the three EU nations that have continued to take the Castro regime to task are the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary - and Cubans everywhere, in and outside the island, should be eternally grateful.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Official figures

Speaking of shonky figures, the Castro regime has just announced that it expects the Cuban economy to grow by at least 10 per cent this year.

According to this breathless Reuters dispatch, the official Cuban media claim the predicted growth is being fuelled by “a jump in factory and farm output”.

For the record, the regime reported growth in 2006 of an amazing 12.5 per cent, placing the island’s economy then (and now) well ahead of the economies of places like China and India, for instance.

The catch? Well, the figures are based on what Reuters coyly describes as a “locally devised formula” that is supposed to take into account such valuables as “free” social services and “subsidised” goods and services.

In fact, not even the UN recognises this inventive formula.

Still, the yarn will get wall-to-wall, unquestioning coverage in much of the Western media, as you can see from this report. And this one ...

Human development (Updated)

Those jesters at the United Nations have just released the grandly titled Human Development Report for 2007-2008.

The media-friendly report includes an annual table – the Human Development Index – ranking all members nations on a range of indicators, including life expectancy, educational levels and per capita income.

In other words, the higher the ranking, the better the place.

And sure enough, Cuba has been ranked at number 51 – one spot below last year's ranking.

This places Fidel Castro’s island paradise ahead of countries such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation, Brazil, India and even Venezuela, which won’t make Hugo Chavez all that happy.

However, there are four other Latin American countries ahead of Cuba on the ranking table: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and once again, Costa Rica.

That’s right: Costa Rica. A small, spectacularly beautiful nation in Central America, with limited natural resources that was poorer and less industrially developed than Cuba was in 1958. And it has a functioning, multi-party democracy, a lively press, freedom of association …

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

You can read the UN report here.

But be warned: as with most other UN reports, you need to take these figures with a pinch of salt, at least when it comes to Cuba. Why? Because the UN relies on data supplied to it by the member countries. Now, I have absolutely no doubt that the data compiled and provided by say, Australia, or the UK, or New Zealand … or Costa Rica … is fair dinkum. The data supplied by the Castro regime? Hardly.

By the way, Australia once again ranked number three on the table, just behind Iceland and Norway.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Che: He's dead

Obviously miffed by recent claims to the contrary, the Castro regime has taken the highly unusual step of announcing that the remains of Ernesto "Che" Guevara buried in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara are not fakes.

According to this Reuters report, Cuban officials held a press conference yesterday to reveal that they had undertaken extensive DNA testing on the buried bones.

And sure enough, the officials said that the tests confirmed the Santa Clara remains do in fact belong to the middle-class Argentinian who’s launched a million cheap, Chinese-made "revolutionary" t-shirts.

The bones were returned for burial in Cuba in 1997, three decades after Guevara was killed in the Bolivian countryside, having failed spectacularly to turn South America into “another Vietnam”.

Monday, November 26, 2007

And it's goodnight from him

As you would have read elsewhere, we have had an election in Australia.

After more than 11 years in power and despite a strong economy, continuing growth and record low unemployment, the centre-right coalition led by prime minister John Howard was comprehensively defeated on Saturday night.

Mr Howard, who has been in politics for more than 30 years, was going for a fifth consecutive election victory - a big ask, to be sure, but not inconceivable given his past electoral successes.

It wasn't to be.
Instead, the voters have opted for Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat and public servant who leads the centre-left Labor Party.

In the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Labor Party will hold at least 83 seats, a very healthy majority.

It’s not the result I wanted and voted for but heck, that’s what democracy is all about.

The new Rudd government, which will not be sworn in until later this week, will make some changes to Australia’s foreign policy, as you can see in this piece published today in The International Herald Tribune. But not by much.

On the question of relations with the Castro regime, well, it’s fair to say that it’s never been what you’d regard as a pressing issue in Australian politics. Far from it.

Both sides have had a fairly bi-partisan approach to Cuba, calling for democratic change and respect for human rights while invariably opposing the US commercial and trade embargo on the regime.

Still, the demise of Mr Howard will be seen as good news in Havana, given the outgoing prime minister’s close links to US president George W Bush.

We’ll keep you posted.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Literary corner

We bring you some bad news: the English language edition of Ignacio Ramonet’s “biography” of Fidel Castro has made it to Australian bookshops. By the bucketload.

Obviously expecting brisk sales during the holiday season, all major booksellers in Sydney have stocked plenty of copies of "My Life", including the US-owned chain Borders.

At the Sydney flag store of the Australian group Dymocks, they have a huge pile of the 700-page volume under the sign “Inspirational Reading for Christmas”. Really.

Anyway ... not all is gloom and doom.

If you want to read the most accurate and devastating review of "My Life", you will need to turn to this knock-out piece published by The Daily Telegraph in London this week.

Under the headline “Soft-soaping Fidel Castro”, reviewer George Walden describes the book variously as “violently hagiographic”, “kooky” and “like treading molasses”. And Ramonet? Nothing but a “slimy toady”.

As for Castro himself, Mr Walden concludes: “If this man is the only inspiration of the destitute millions of South America, God help them.”


Senior Cuban officials are confident the US commercial and trade embargo, which has been in place since 1962, is about to be lifted. What's left of it, that is.

At least that’s what they have been telling the respected and normally well-connected British weekly The Economist.

The magazine claims in its latest edition that with Fidel Castro on his deathbed and a Democrat likely to win next year’s presidential election in the US, economic relations between Havana and Washington are about to improve.

“The Cuban ministries that deal with foreign investment … have recently been putting the word out to foreign investors that tenders are welcome for a raft of projects,” the magazine reports. “Theme parks, super-yacht marinas, golf courses, even airlines—all apparently geared to a future American market too—feature prominently on the list.”

According to the report, the first major project is expected to be funded by Dubai Ports World, a partly State-owned company in the United Arab Emirates that is looking at investing USD250 million to convert the “decrepit” port of Mariel into a “modern container facility”.

The attraction? Mariel is within spitting distance of major US handling facilities.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


As you would have read elsewhere, Ian Smith, the former prime minister of what used to be known as Rhodesia, has died in Cape Town at the ripe old age of 88.

Smith led a white minority government in what is now Zimbabwe for 14 years, spending much of the 1970s fighting a bloody guerrilla war against black insurgents.

The black guerrillas were trained by the Castro regime, which in turn was being financed by the Soviet Union as part of its Cold War plans to turn much of the Third World a shade of red.

So you would have thought that relations between Smith and the Cubans would have been a little tense, even after his retirement from politics.

Not quite, according to this fascinating article in today’s edition of The Australian.

Journalist Graham Davis recounts a visit he paid to an elderly Smith in 2000, at his home in one of Harare's better suburbs. To Davis’ surprise, the Smith residence was right next door to the Cuban embassy “and I wondered how he got on with his revolutionary neighbours”.

"I get on very well with my Cuban friends," the former prime minister replied. "From time to time, they actually pass me cigars through the fence."

By the way, as Davis points out, Smith is remembered by “many blacks with nostalgia and a surprising degree of affection”.

On the shelves

Time for some self-promotion, folks.

I am happy to report that the Portuguese edition of Child of the Revolution: Growing Up in Castro’s Cuba, is now on sale in Brazil, where it is published by Editorial Landscape.

As you can see from the photograph above, the cover treatment is very different to the English language edition.

I have no idea where the Brazilians got the photograph from but I am pretty sure it wasn't Banes.
Still, I like it.

Should you be that way inclined, you can buy a copy of the Portuguese edition of the book (critically acclaimed, must-read, blah, blah, blah ...) here. Or stick to the English language version, available at all good bookstores – or via online booksellers such as Amazon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Canadians and Cuba

There is a terrific (and highly unusual) editorial in today's online edition of the Canadian daily The National Post that will undoubtedly upset our friends in Havana.

Under the no-nonsense heading, "Tropical Tyranny", the Post explains how the 600,000 or so Canadians who fly to Cuba on holidays every year have played a huge part in helping keep the Castro regime afloat, especially following the disappearance of Soviet aid in the late 1980s.

As the paper says, Canadians spend about one billion Canadian dollars in Cuba every year - or about a quarter of all income from tourism. A lot of money.

"So with winter travel season beginning, we would like to ask one question: Do [tourists] know what happens to political dissidents beyond the resorts and tourist beaches?," the paper says.

"While you're basking in the warm tropical sun, give some thought to the many political prisoners in Cuban jails for such crimes as demanding democracy, speaking with foreigners without permission or criticising dictator Fidel Castro."

You can read more here.

Old friends

Remember the World Peace Council? Of course you do.

It was a supposedly independent international organisation established in the late 1940s, at the very beginning of the Cold War, to “struggle for peace”.

In reality, it was a Soviet-financed front whose principal task was to mount extensive (and successful) anti-American publicity campaigns across much of Western Europe and the Third World.

Curiously, given its supposed charter, the WPC never, ever criticised Moscow - and yet, it still managed to get plenty of very positive coverage in the Western media.

Well, you will be happy to hear that the WPC is still alive and kind of kicking, although truth be told, it is a shadow of its former self.

According to this report in the official Cuban media, the executive committee of the WPC is meeting in Hanoi (where else?), and still passing resolutions attacking Washington.

In this case, the WPC is calling on the Americans to lift the “criminal” trade and commerce embargo on the Castro regime. The general secretary of the WPC, Thanasis Pafilis, from Greece, said the embargo was “absurd” while reaffirming “their solidarity with Cuba”.

Just like old times.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quote of the day

"The only difference is that sardines come with olive oil and tomato sauce."

Rafael Martinez, a 34-year-old Havana commuter, referring to the infamous camellos, a type of bus that is still used to transport Cubans to and from work. Quoted in this article published by the International Herald Tribune.

Friends and enemies

That decision by the United Nations to effectively give the Castro regime a clean bill of health when it comes to human rights has been declared a "historic victory" by Havana, as you would expect.

In reality, it's nothing less than yet another shameful abdication of its responsibilities by the very body that is supposed to protect and enhance human rights.

As prominent dissident Oswaldo Paya says in this interview with the Spanish news agency Efe, the decision by the UN rewards the regime "while punishing ordinary Cuban citizens".

Cuban speak

As you may have read elsewhere, a Washington-based group called the International Republican Institute has just unveiled the results of a "secret" poll conducted in Cuba on the likelihood of political and economic changes in the future.

Asked to nominate the most serious problems facing ordinary Cubans, over 42 per cent identified low salaries and a high cost of living, with another 18 per cent or so naming the lack of political freedoms.

Curiously, 6.3 per cent of respondents said they thought there were no problems at all on the island. Everything was just fine ...

I suspect they are the ones who know very well that regardless of whom is asking the questions, there is no such thing as a "secret" survey in Cuba.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Great moments in bureaucracy

Over the past few days, the BBC has been publishing a series of online “postcards” from Cuba, written by its correspondent in Havana, Fernando Ravsberg.

Mr Ravsberg had dealt with a number of topics that are all too familiar to most Cubans, inside and outside the island.

Like the increasing number of desperate professionals looking for a means to escape the low wages, everyday shortages and repression that are part and parcel of life in Fidel Castro’s paradise.

Or the way tourists with hard cash can stay in luxury hotels while ordinary, hard-working Cubans are barred from even entering the premises – in direct contravention of Castro’s own constitution.

His last instalment looks at public transport.

And his conclusion? It stinks. Which is hardly surprising given the regime owns and manages (or mismanages) all the trains. And all the buses. And all the official taxis.

But Mr Ravsberg does reveal that the regime has now found a way to deal with State taxi drivers who fiddle with the taxi meter so they can make a few extra dollars and feed their families.

In characteristic style, they has installed weight sensors in all taxis to detect when passengers get in and how many.

Read about it here (in Spanish).

Quote of the day

"Cuba remains a place of parallel existences. People have their state existence – the face they show the officials; and they have their hidden lives, full of black market dealing, political whispers, access to foreign ideas, culture, books and CDs. And whoever I spoke to, people are waiting for change".

Travel writer Laura Parfitt, in The Courier Mail, Brisbane, Australia

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Diplomatic language

Oh, dear … isn’t it terrible when the people you thought were your friends turn out to be something entirely different?

Since he unexpectedly won office in 2004, Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his Socialist Party have gone out of their way to “repair” relations with the Castro regime.

Such repair work involved turning a blind eye to the many failings of the regime, not least the lack of democracy on the island and Castro’s appalling record on questions of human rights.

To be fair, the Spanish leader was doing what so many other Western and Latin American leaders have done over the past 50 years or so – dance to Castro’s well-rehearsed tune.

Their argument goes that by engaging with Castro and his thugs, by being accommodating towards Havana, by being cordial and understanding, the dictator will be encouraged to soften his hard line and accept change.

Well, yes, and pigs might fly, too.

So, after three years of accommodating Castro, of doing absolutely nothing to offend the regime, Mr Zapatero has just got a swift kick in the backside this morning from Havana. Talk about ingrates!

Following the highly publicised clash at the Ibero-American Summit last weekend between King Juan Carlos of Spain and that dangerous buffoon Hugo Chavez, the official Cuban media has let loose on the hapless Spaniards.

Using the characteristic vile that has made the Cuban official media such a joy to read, the newspaper Cuba Ahora has published a lengthy and officially-endorsed article describing King Juan Carlos as an arrogant and ignorant imbecile, among other things.

As for Mr Zapatero, the paper describes him as colonialist jerk, etc, etc.

Let’s see how Madrid reacts. If at all.

H/T Penultimos Dias.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Undercover agents

Regular visitors to this blog will no doubt recall our commentary on the recently-completed visit to Cuba by Jean Ziegler, the supposedly independent United Nations special rapporteur on “the right to food”.

Here is the latest.

According to the International Herald Tribune, the UN has “expressed regret” that undercover Cuban officials attended a press conference held by Mr Ziegler in Geneva before he flew to Havana for his action-packed 10-day visit.

The undercover officials were at the press conference to keep an eye on any media representative who dared ask questions even remotely critical of the Castro regime. It seems the agents were particularly interested in an unidentified French journalist who had a lively exchange with Mr Ziegler about human rights on the island, or lack thereof.

Well, no surprises there, of course - that’s exactly how Havana has always dealt with dissidents inside or out.

But it’s a big deal in Geneva. You see, under UN rules, government officials are strictly prohibited from attending news conferences unless they are explicitly invited and included among those presenting.

As for Mr Ziegler, he is back home in comfortable Switzerland, having concluded from his visit, as we knew he would, that heck, the Castro regime is OK after all. In fact, he thinks the way the regime provides food for Cubans is a “model” for the world to follow.

Not surprisingly, the regime has just published this glowing report about the life and times of our intrepid UN rapporteur in Granma, the official mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Two weeks after 70 or so young people were detained by police in Havana for wearing a plastic wristband with the word “change”, the Castro regime has provided its official version of the incident.

And as always, it’s a ripper.

According to an unsigned article published by the official Cuban Journalists’ Union (UPC), the protest was not a protest at all, you see, but an “act of provocation” by a handful of American-financed “mercenaries”. Naturally.

More disturbingly, the article says the incident was designed to "provoke" loyal Castro supporters into understandable acts of violence.

The message here is obvious: if a loyal, normally peace-loving Catro supporter was to be "provoked" into intimidating or bullying or even assaulting one of the "protesters", well, that's OK, isn't it? Of course, it is!

As for the use of the word “change”, the journalists' union, which is no union at all, concludes that there is no need for change in Cuba because, as we all know, “the Revolution is the mother of all change”.

Quote of the day

"We were so happy, because it showed we are recovering from the big crisis.”

Yairma Perez, a teacher from Cienfuegos, speaking to Reuters about the 227 grammes of beef per person handed out last month through the rationing system – the first time beef has been available through la libreta since 1991.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Multi-party elections bad. In Cuba.

As we all know, there is no shortage of otherwise intelligent and socially aware people in Western democracies who somehow continue to have a soft spot for Fidel Castro and his nasty, little regime.

Take Seamus Milne, a columnist and associate editor with the left-leaning British daily, The Guardian.

Mr Milne has just written a review of Ignacio Ramonet’s authorised “biography” of Castro, which is published in the UK under the title “My Life”. A steal at just 25 Pounds, by the way.

The reviewer gives the book a pretty good wrap, describing it as a terrific reference source.

“For some, Cuba's resistance to multi-party elections, its clampdown on those who work with the US against the regime, its shortages and bureaucracy mark Castro down as a failed dictator, even if the only prisoners tortured and held without trial on the island are in the US base at Guantánamo,” Mr Milne writes.

“But for millions across the world, Cuba's resistance to US domination, its internationalist record in Africa and Latin America, its achievements in health and education and its pursuit of an independent, anti-capitalist course remain an inspirational point of reference.”

Get it? Multi-party elections are good. In Britain. Or Pakistan, perhaps. But in Cuba, they are bad. A luxury. Who needs multi-party elections when you are busy attacking capitalism?

As for those who risk their lives working against an oppressive regime ... In Burma, say, they are regarded as honourable and courageous dissidents, which they are. In Cuba, however, they are nothing but US-backed mercenaries.

You can read the review here.

Quote of the day

"I listened with great sorrow to the speeches pronounced from traditional Left positions at the Ibero-American summit.”

An angry Fidel Castro, seemingly referring to the presidents of Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, who have defied the dying dictator by advocating a mixture of social democracy with capitalism.

Bring it on

It seems I was partially wrong about the Ibero-American summit held over the weekend in Santiago de Chile when I said the talk fest would be nothing but a predictable joke.

The joke bit remains valid - after all, the summiteers passed a grand resolution calling on the US to lift its commercial embargo on the Castro regime without even making reference to the painfully obvious need for democratic change on the island.

As for predictable ...

This time around, at least one of the participants had the courage to stand up to that dangerous buffoon Huge Chavez, who has taken over as the "star" media attraction at such meetings now Fidel Castro is otherwise indisposed.

As you may have read elsewhere, King Juan Carlos of Spain did what no Latin American leader has ever dared do: he told Chavez to shut up and stop interrupting.

As the Spanish daily El Mundo said in an editorial, the monarch’s unexpected rebuke was "something that should have been said to Chavez a long time ago”.

Can’t wait for next year’s summit.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Yes, we do have bananas

Courtesy of National Geographic, comes news of a shipload of Cuban bananas washing up this week on the shores of the Dutch island of Terschelling, about 100 kilometres North of Amsterdam.

It appears the hundreds of green bananas (platanos?) came off six crates that fell off a cargo ship near the island during a storm.

You can see the photograph here.

In Santiago

The Ibero-American Summit is on again this weekend.

Every year since 1991, the heads of government of all Latin American nations join their Spanish and Portuguese counterparts (plus King Juan Carlos of Spain and the President of Portugal), for a highly publicised get together in some exotic location or other.

This time around, the Summit is being held in Santiago de Chile.

At one level, these meetings are pretty harmless exercises – an opportunity for mostly obscure politicians to make grand public statements about investment, the environment, poverty and assorted social justice issues.

But they are also a joke. A big joke.

After all, this is the same crowd that happily allowed that grand master of cynicism, Fidel Castro, to sign a Summit declaration in support of democracy and respect for human rights in Latin America. That's right, Fidel Castro. Why, the organisers even agreed to hold one of the summits in Havana, back in 1999.

The dictator used to love these "talk fests" because inevitably, he would always be the star attraction – even before he arrived, there would be endless media speculation across the continent on whether he would or would not attend.

Perversely, the media would then spend the next few days hanging on the old man’s every word and gesture, like a pack of ever-vigilant hyenas watching an old and decrepit elephant stumble through the savannah.

Of course, Castro won't be in Chile this weekend. He is far too ill to go anywhere.

Instead, the regime has sent two “supplementaries”: the seriously colourless Carlos Lage in his capacity as Cuba's vice-president; and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the moronic Felipe Perez Roque.

True to form, these two stooges have spent the few hours since arriving in Santiago answering questions about Castro’s health with inane responses about how the dictator is “improving all the time”.

Asked on Chilean television what exactly Castro was up to, Lage replied, apparently with a straight face, that his one-time boss was "working very, very hard".
Doing what? "I'd say he is reading, studying, analysing, offering his views and giving us lots of ideas on how continue the struggle for justice,” he said.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Quote of the day

"People have a right to rebellion and revolution when they are oppressed."

Bolivia's self-styled socialist president Evo Morales, interviewed by the Spanish daily El Mundo. Perhaps he was trying to send a message to his friends and mentors in Havana? Perhaps not.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Food, food everywhere

We reported earlier on the current visit to Cuba by Jean Ziegler, the Swiss-born academic who is also the United Nations' special rapporteur on “the right to food”.

And much as we expected, Mr Ziegler appears to have said and done all the right things during his 10-day "investigative" visit to the Castro brothers' island paradise.

According to this Reuters report, he told reporters that the Castro regime “has the best record among developing countries in ensuring no one goes hungry”.

"We cannot say that the right to food is totally respected in Cuba,” he said, sounding surprisingly critical for a moment before quickly adding: “But we have not seen a single malnourished person.”


Anyway, the UN rapporteur also visited two prisons near Havana as part of his brief to report back to the UN on how the inmates are treated and fed in Castro’s extensive and highly-secretive jail system.

We can hardly wait for his report.

Mind you, as Reuters confirms in its dispatch, Havana does not allow the International Red Cross to visit its prisons, where human rights groups say some 250 political prisoners live in "subhuman" conditions that include rotten food and undrinkable water.

Spy vs Spy

You may recall that back in early October, the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the appointment of a new “mission manager” for Cuba and Venezuela.

His name is Timothy Langford, a 48-year-old who has spent the past 25 as a Latin American specialist with the Central Intelligence Agency. His job is to keep tabs on what’s going on across the Straits of Florida (and in Caracas). In a low-key kind of way, of course. No grandstanding.

But they do things differently in Havana.

There, the official propaganda sheet of the Castro regime, Granma, has just published a lengthy article (in Spanish) about the supposedly well-connected Mr Langford, describing him as the “new Bush super-spy” whose job is to “continue the dirty war against Cuba”.

You know, the usual stuff we get from the regime.

But the article also includes what most probably can be read as a crude, old-fashioned warning to the new appointee: your movements have been watched very closely.

That is why Granma reports with considerable glee that Mr Langford visited Havana - as a diplomatic "guest" of the US Interest Section - during the historic 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II, but that his activities were "anything but saintly".

Cryptically, the paper says that Mr Langford “had plenty of time to enjoy the Havana lifestyle … try out our legendary rum and smoke our inimitable cigars”.

In other words, the highly-efficient and all-pervasive Cuban intelligence services kept a close eye on the visitor during his stay on the island.

All very Cold War, isn’t it? And characteristic of the way in which the Castro regime, even in its death throes, deals with those it perceives as its enemies, inside the island or out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Religious affairs

The international head of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Jan Paulsen, is currently on a visit to Cuba, where the church is hosting a meeting of its Inter-American division.

As is usually the case, Mr Paulsen has given the obligatory interview to Prensa Latina, the Castro regime’s official news agency.

And sure enough, he has been most enthusiastic about his official hosts.

According to the Prensa Latina dispatch, Mr Paulsen said he had been impressed by the level of religious freedom he had encountered in Cuba, not just for his fellow Seventh Day Adventists, you understand, but for all religions.

"I am very happy to have been able to visit Cuba because now I can travel around the world telling them that the perception people have of religious persecution in Cuba is not true,” he said.

Further proof, I think, that being a man of God does not necessarily make you wise.

Quote of the day

"His example is a rebuke to the tyrants and secret police of a regime whose day is passing."

US president George W Bush, referring to Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, who has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A doctor by training, Dr Biscet founded a human rights group on the island - and was given a 25-year jail sentence in 1999 by the Castro regime for his "mercenary" activities.

In an embargoed island?

The US trade and commercial embargo against the Castro regime, which has been in place since 1962, has never been applied “with such viciousness” as in the past year.

At least that is the claim made by Havana, as you can read in this article published today in Granma, the regime’s official propaganda sheet.

Then again … the viciousness of the embargo seems to be news to the Governor of the American state of Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman.

According to local news reports, Gov Heineman will lead a 17 member delegation of Nebraska agriculture representatives to Cuba next week.

“I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish during this short visit,” the governor said.
“We’ve enjoyed a good relationship with the Cuban import authority during the past two years, and this trade mission is an opportunity to explore ways to expand those ties.”

In fact, over the past two years the Cuban authorities have purchased USD60 million worth of commodities from Nebraskan farmers alone, including dry edible beans, corn, wheat, turkey, pork, beef, soybeans and other soy products.

That seems like a lot of viciousness.

UPDATE: According to this Associated Press report just in from Havana, Cuba will sign contracts worth about USD450 million with "firms from the US and dozens of other countries" today, as part of the annual Havana Trade Fair. Last year, the regime signed deals worth USD432 million at the Fair.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Quote of the day

“It’s like living in a suspense novel: everyone is waiting for something to happen but no one knows when or how it’s going to happen.”

Leonardo Padura, Cuban journalist and writer, speaking to El Pais in Havana about what’s going on in the island at present.

Our East German friends

In case you have not seen it, there is a fascinating feature in Sunday’s edition of The Miami Herald on the very close (and very disturbing) ties between the Castro regime and the now-defunct Stasi.

As has been documented already, the highly efficient and much feared East German secret police spent the 1970s and much of the 1980s training their Cuban counterparts, the equally feared Ministry of the Interior (the MINIT).

You know, little things like how to become more efficient at spying on your own people, how to trap visitors and tourists, how to arm and fund "liberation movements" elsewhere in the Americas and Africa ... and how to thoroughly crush all forms of political dissent at home.

In fact, the Herald article says, the Stasi was still training the Cubans just months before the demise of the Berlin Wall and the spectacular collapse of Communism in the old Soviet bloc.

The Stasi is no more, of course, but I am sure the old spies in Berlin will be please to hear that their legacy lives on. In Cuba.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Modern life

First there was the t-shirt. Then the funny hats. And the underpants.

Now, there is something truly special for all you laptop-carrying road warriors out there: the Revolution! laptop skin. See it here in all its glory.

Here comes the UN

You’ve gotta hand it to the United Nations ...

As you may recall, the UN’s human rights council took an unusual (and unusually brave) decision about five years ago: a majority of countries on the council voted to appoint a special human rights rapporteur for Cuba.

This special rapporteur - a highly respected French magistrate by the name of Christine Chanet - would visit the island regularly and report back on how the Castro regime was dealing with dissenters and opponents.

In characteristic style, Castro simply refused to let Ms Chanet into the country, accusing her of being nothing more than a “mercenary” in the pay of the US, blah, blah, blah.

Eventually, the UN did what the UN often does: it just gave up and so, in June this year, it abolished the role, much as Castro and his apologists had demanded.

Instead, we now have a special UN rapporteur on “the right to food” – a kind of world expert on hunger.

His name is Jean Ziegler, a Swiss-born academic who has been described by the media as “left wing”. Which means he is certainly outspoken on issues close to the Left, having attacked the US for promoting biofuels while describing Israel as the "worst colonial power in the world.

Sure enough, the erudite Mr Ziegler has been welcomed with open arms this week in Havana by the Castro brothers.

And why not? No sooner had he landed that the special rapporteur started praising the “extraordinary” work of the regime in finding what he described as “creative” ways to feed Cubans.

And yes, he blamed the food shortages on the island on ... the US trade embargo.

On cue.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Diplomatic rows

Relations between the Castro regime and the current Australian Government led by prime minister John Howard have been tense for quite some time.

You know, disagreements over little issues like human right violations in Cuba and the Castro brothers' insistence in poking their noses in South Pacific affairs, which makes the Australians understandably nervous.

Still, it was a little surprising to see the following headline in this morning’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald: “Cuba slams Australian critics”.

After all, despite the very close relationship between Canberra and Washington, Australia was one of the nations that voted at the United Nations this week in favour of lifting the American trade and commercial embargo on the island.

So what's the problem?

Well, the Australian ambassador at the UN, Robert Hill, used the opportunity to call on the Castro brothers to do the right thing at home by freeing political prisoners and respecting human rights.

Mr Hill said that supporting moves to lift the commercial embargo should not be seen as endorsing the Castro regime's internal policies, adding:
"Holding political prisoners and failing to comply with international human rights standards is not an internal matter - it should be of concern to all of us."

The response from Havana wasn’t long in coming. A spokeswoman is quoted in the Herald as saying: "A government like Australia has no moral authority to criticise Cuba."

I beg to differ, miss.