Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Picture of the day
Friday, December 21, 2007
As you may have read elsewhere, the international super-wealthy supermodel with a penchant for dictators (of the Left, naturally), has been commissioned by the British edition of GQ Magazine to interview her old pal Fidel Castro.
And it seems both gutsy Naomi and her commissioning editor, Dylan Jones, are pretty confident they can convince the ailing 81-year-old dictator to go along with the idea.
"She'll come back with something because she always does," Mr Jones told The Daily Telegraph in London.
"Who's going to say no to Naomi Campbell? The problem is that Castro is obviously quite infirm, so this will be tricky to secure ... even for her. Notionally he's agreed to it, and she's very tenacious - she'll spend Christmas out there if she has to."
Oh, dear. It's a tough life ...
Quote of the day
Editorial in The Irish Indepedent.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
From where I am, it would appear that there have indeed been some minor changes. Very minor.
For instance, now that Castro is bed-ridden, his long-suffering subjects no longer have to listen to the dictator’s endless and increasingly erratic harangues about everything from the evil Americans to the correct use of rice cookers.
Defections by artists and others who were until recently untouchable are also up - a sign of a sinking ship. And the small group of dissidents that brave the regime thugs day in and day out appear to have become much bolder in their opposition to the Communist Party.
At a personal level, some of the people I regularly correspond with in Cuba via email seem to be much more open in their still-veiled criticism of “the system”.
As I said, minor changes.
Then again, perhaps I am missing something.
Here is a different perspective from Tom Fawthrop, a London-born journalist with a soft spot for “the Revolution”, who writes regularly on the “developing world” for left-leaning papers in Britain and Australia, such as The Guardian.
As you can read in this commentary, Fawthrop is of the view that things are changing in Cuba and changing pretty fast – that the country has entered its own period of glasnot, although he is not too sure whether perestroika will follow.
He provides a detailed argument for his assessment: from the arrival of new Chinese-made buses to more open debate in workplaces about low wages and appalling working conditions, to directions supposedly given to the official media by Raul Castro to start reporting "accurate" production figures.
Fawthrop's conclusion: Cuba is “on the brink of change”.
Time will tell.
Dime con quien andas ...
Surprising because motions attacking human right abuses by totalitarian regimes of the supposed Left are rarely adopted by the world body.
Still, the resolution is welcomed, especially since it was passed 101 votes to 22, with 59 abstentions, according to this Associated Press report.
Support for the motion came from the European Union, the US and most other democracies.
It was opposed by the usual suspects: countries such as Iran, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe. And Cuba, of course.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Just not cricket
Reuters reports that the Cuban cricket team will not make its international cricket debut next year as expected.
At least that’s the explanation provided by the businessman sponsoring the competition, Allen Stanford, who happens to be an American citizen.
Sir Allen told the media that when he approached the US authorities for permission to invite the Cubans to the competition, he was told that this would be in breach of the embargo - even though the competition is being held in Antigua.
Quote of the day
White House press secretary Dana Perino, referring to Fidel Castro’s cryptic statement yesterday that after 48 years in power, he "won’t cling to office”.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Hilarious headline of the day
How AFP in Havana interpreted Fidel Castro's remarks overnight, seemingly oblivious to the fact Castro has been "in office" for the past 48 years.
Just days after Fidel Castro was unanimously "nominated" as a delegate to the rubber stamp National Assembly, there are reports today that the ailing dictator, who has not been seen in public for 18 months, may be about to "retire".
The reports follow a letter read on national television in which Castro "hinted" for the first time, we are told, that he may be about to give up his many and varied titles and positions.
At least that's the way his comments have been interpreted by international news agencies, such as Reuters.
For the record, what Castro actually said was this: "My elemental duty is not to hold on to positions and less to obstruct the path of younger people".
Which may or may not be a hint that he may or may not retire from public life. And retire to do what? A life of reading, fishing and gardening? Macrame, perhaps? Highly unlikely. Unless the man is truly near death or under strong pressure from within to step aside once and for all, it's not in Castro's nature (or style) to retire. That's why he has been in power since 1959.
In any case, would "retirement" mean a change in direction politically and economically for the nation he has controlled with an iron fist for close to half a century?
We shall see.
... and those dreadful "traitors"
In the past week alone, we have had the defection of Carlos Otero, an entertainer who was generally regarded as the best-known and most popular television presenter on the island.
As you can read here, Otero said he wanted to see his children grow up “with the opportunity to study what they want, without having to agree with the system”.
In return, the regime has issued a note, duly published by the official media, describing the once untouchable comic as a “traitor” - and axing his prime time television spot. Of course.
Then there was news that three Cuban folk musicians - Miguel Angel Costafreda, Arodis Verdecia Pompa and Juan Alcides Diaz – were “missing” somewhere in Brazil, presumably seeking asylum.
Now, the Miami Herald reports that three Cuban ballet dancers, identified as Taras Domitro, Hayna Gutierrez and Miguel Angel Blanco, have defected after crossing the US-Canadian border at Buffalo.
The dancers, all members of the touring National Ballet of Cuba, disappeared after a double joint presentation with the Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble of The Nutcracker Suite, which sounds well, most appropriate.
At this rate, we fear that Granma will need to publish a daily column on its pages devoted exclusively to attacking the defecting “traitors”.
Those pesky "mercenaries"
First, they send in their fascist goons – the euphemistically named "rapid response brigades" – to intimidate and harass, as happened last week in Havana in separate incidents involving the Damas de Blanco and Dr Darsi Ferrer.
Then they use their extensive (and very successful) propaganda machine to discredit the “mercenaries”.
Which is why the official propaganda sheet of the regime, Granma, has today devoted no less than one and a half pages to attacking one of the “mercenaries”.
But curiously, the target is neither Dr Ferrer nor the Damas de Blanco. Not even Osvaldo Paya.
Instead, the target is Elizardo Sanchez, the high-profile head of the illegal Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
The claims? According to the Granma piece, Sanchez is an egotist, a liar and a media tart ... as well as a fully-fledged “mercenary” who uses donations from evil foreign organisations in the United States to enrich himself.
It’s quite a virulent attack, as you can read here (in Spanish) or here (in English).
This is not the first time the regime has attacked Sanchez, a one-time professor of Marxism who has spent more than eight years in prison in the past for distributing “enemy propaganda”.
In recent years, the regime has bizarrely accused him of being both, an ego-driven US ”mercenary” AND an agent for State security, informing on his fellow "mercenaries".
Friday, December 14, 2007
According to a new survey by the Madrid-based Real Instituto Elcano, the ailing 81-year-old dictator has lost the title to his acolyte, Hugo Chavez.
The loopy but dangerous Venezuelan strongman has a “value” rating among Spaniards of just 1.4 points, compared to Castro on 1.9 - and George W Bush on 2.2.
By the way, the two most popular or "valued" Latin American leaders are Michelle Bachelet, the moderate Chilean president, on 4.9 points; and the equally moderate Lula da Silva, of Brazil, on 4.8.
According to this report, enthusiastically headlined “Made-in-China products shine in Cuba”, trade between the two countries grew by nearly 31 per cent in the period between January and October this year.
During that time, China exported goods to Cuba worth USD921 million – mostly domestic appliances, transport and communications goods – while Cuban exports to China amounted to USD948 million.
Not surprisingly, the article states that “the two countries are enjoying one of the best times of their 47-year long diplomatic relationship”.
It’s certainly a long way from the so-called “rice wars” of the mid 1960s, when Fidel Castro tried to gain favour with his Moscow paymasters by blaming the Chinese for failing to provide his regime with the amount of rice he said they had promised.
The Chinese leadership, which was then engaged in a nasty ideological war with the Soviets over control of the Third World "revolutionary" movement, described Castro as a liar.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Gael Garcia Bernal is plugging his first feature as a director, a film called Deficit, which is supposed to tell the story of a group of young, bored middle class kids who spend their time drinking, taking drugs and being racists, although not necessarily in that order.
The actor told the official Cuban newsagency Prensa Latina that presenting his own film at the Havana festival had been “like a dream come true”.
Apparently, this is Garcia Bernal’s ninth visit to Fidel Castro’s island paradise.
That’s right – visit number nine. Perhaps it's time for someone, somewhere to ask the film star what he thinks about his hosts?
And as we have come to expect from the Cuban bishops, the missive can best be described as being carefully worded. Very.
In other words, the text can be read in any one of several ways, as you can see from this Associated Press report (in Spanish).
For example, the bishops refer to the need for “the transformation of national live” after years of “difficulties”, which may or may not be a call for political and economic change.
It also talks about the Church praying for “real solutions” that lead to “necessary changes” that "bring about hope", without spelling out what they mean by real solutions, necessary changes or hope, for that matter.
It's that kind of statement.
Most disappointing of all, there is no mention anywhere of last week's incident in Santiago, where State security police stormed a local church and using a tear gas-like spray, assaulted a small group of protesters inside before taking them away for questioning.
Not a word.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Regular guys. Regular fascists.
The small demonstrations held on Sunday by the Damas de Blanco and yesterday by Dr Darsi Ferrer were organised and funded by the United States, according to an article published in Granma, the regime’s official propaganda sheet.
The article, written by someone by the name of Pedro de la Hoz, claims that the marchers were US “mercenaries” who wanted to “destroy the Revolution” and ensure Cuba is “annexed” by the Americans.
In other words, the usual crap we have come to expect from Havana.
As for the fascist thugs organised by the regime to violently break up the demonstrations, Mr de la Hoz describes them as honest, hard-working every day Cubans who were “provoked” by the marchers.
Somehow, he fails to mention the walkie-talkies and the plain clothed State security agents.
You know, just like those happy-go-lucky, regular guys who used to peacefully and ethically burn books in Germany and round up “undesirables”.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
And by reliable eyewitnesses, I don’t mean those ungrateful “mercenaries”, who insist on challenging the iron rule of the Communist Party. No, no, I mean those most unbiased of all observers: the foreign correspondents.
From the Associated Press:
“Cuba said Monday it would sign an international agreement on civil and political rights while a few blocks away government supporters shoved and shouted down activists calling for improved human rights on the communist-run island.”
“Dissidents ... were mobbed, insulted and forced into unmarked sedans.”
“They were shouted down and pushed by a pro-government group of more than 100 people, guided by men with walkie-talkies.”
“When government supporters started to get rough, several young men who appeared to be leading the counter-protest called them off, saying, ‘Easy, comrades, easy. Don't hit. Don't push. That's what they want.’”
From Ray Sanchez, of The Sun-Sentinnel:
“The marchers were quickly surrounded by dozens of government supporters and plainclothes security agents who pushed and shoved the protestors.”
“One demonstrator, an elderly man with a cane, was dragged away by security agents.”
“Another demonstrator, a young woman in her late teens or early 20s, was assaulted by a female government supporter who had to be pulled away by security agents.”
From Anthony Boadle of Reuters:
“Government supporters, apparently coordinated by state security agents, booed dissidents and shouted ‘Viva Fidel’ for ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public in 16 months.”
Monday, December 10, 2007
Quote of the day
A 34-year-old cinema goer identified only as Miguel, speaking after the once-only showing of the German film The Life of Others as part of the Havana Film Festival. The award-winning film about Communist repression in the old German Democratic Republic attracted hundreds of people, according to this report in the Spanish daily El Pais.
Human Rights Day 2
The very accommodating Mr Ortiz told Prensa Latina that in his humble opinion, the Castro regime is the number one defender of human rights in the world.
"For those Argentinians like me who are friends of Cuba, it is pleasing to note that in the homeland of Jose Marti, 11 million Cubans are enjoying their human rights," he said.
Human Rights Day 1
A group of women stage a peaceful march through the streets of the Miramar neighbourhood in Havana. They are the wives, sisters and daughters of men who have been sent to prison after being found guilty by "revolutionary tribunals" of being “mercenaries” - the term used by the Castro regime to refer to anyone who dares question the absolute rule of the Communist Party.
The march is illegal since no one can march in Cuba unless they have permission from the authorities, which only approve marches in support of or organised by the regime. As you do.
In response, the regime organises a group of its own supporters to stage a loud and intimidating counter-demonstration, shouting abuse and generally harassing the women marchers.
And that Reuters photograph above shows what those regime supporters look like.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Quote of the day
Steve Rose, a journalist with the Kansas Community Newspapers group, after a “fact finding” 10 day trip through Cuba. Although Mr Rose says he did not tell anyone he was a journalist, he had a Government-appointed guide, who dutifully told him that Cubans live in misery "because of the embargo". Of course.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Great moments in "spin"
Here is a gem of a story published in today's edition of the International Herald Tribune about the terrific job the Castro regime has done in restoring parts of Old Havana, the historic centre of the city. For the benefit of tourists.
The article salutes the work of Havana’s “official historian”, our old friend Eusebio Leal, who has spent the past 40 years, according to the paper, restoring the area to its former glory.
In a wonderful example of “spin”, the article reveals that Dr Leal’s hard work has made him such a loved figure in the area that when he walks the streets of his little kingdom, “people treat him like a rock star” and “ladies kiss him on the cheek and whisper they love him”.
To be fair to the journalist, he does mention that the renovation of parts of Old Havana has had no benefit whatsoever for ordinary Cubans living just a couple of streets behind this “Potemkin village for visitors”.
Apparently, the ordinary Cubans interviewed rather churlishly pointed out that “few Cubans can afford the USD7 drinks at the Floridita" and that "by law, Cubans cannot stay in the restored hotels, even if they could afford the USD150 a night rates.”
Ungrateful bastards, aren't they?
So, what does the hard-working Dr Leal think about that?
"It pains me to see every day the border that divides what has been restored and what remains to be restored, and every day it is more urgent and harder,” he told the journalist. "And it pains me a lot that many people still cannot receive any benefit.”
Which is all very well – we feel his pain, too. A lot.
But geez, it would been nice to point out that apart from a rock star historian, Dr Leal also happens to be a high ranking member of the Communist Party nomenklatura. And a member of several Government bodies and associations - check the official list.
Oh, yes, and he is also a Communist Party-approved deputy in the rubber stamp National Assembly, where, you will be surprised to hear, Dr Leal appears to have failed to raise all those painful issues on behalf of his constituents.
In other words, he has been a trusted (and pampered) member of the Castro inner-circle for the past 45 years - the very same inner-circle that draws up laws that forbid ordinary Cubans from staying in those beautifully restored hotels in Old Havana.
The more things change
Reuters confirms this morning that plainclothes police kicked their way into a Roman Catholic church in Santiago, beat up a group of dissidents attending Mass inside and then took them away.
According to the local priest, Jose Conrado Rodriguez, seven people were arrested on Tuesday when police entered the parish church of Santa Teresita in search of what are coyly described as “government opponents”.
"I thought the church was on fire when I heard all the shouting," the priest said, adding that police had used pepper spray on the dissidents. "I told the police they acted like barbarians. They kicked their way into the parish, beating people and spraying gas in their eyes.”
The incident appears to have upset the normally somnolent Catholic hierarchy in Havana.
A spokesman for the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference told Reuters the incident was “serious” but added: “We hope it is an isolated thing.”
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
According to the ailing 81-year-old dictator, Chavez behaved as you would expect from a true Latin American “socialist” - with great dignity and ethics. An example to us all ...
Well, that’s one side of the story.
The other, much more credible side of the story is published today by the Spanish daily El Mundo, which reveals that far from dignified, Chavez went berserk when he was told the preliminary results of the vote.
An incredulous Chavez lashed out at his advisers, who had assured him that the constitutional amendments would get through without any problems – even before a single vote had been cast.
“This can’t be right,” the Venezuelan president yelled at the advisers when they had to admit that in fact, the proposals had been rejected by a majority of voters. “This is an illogical result.”
Which is exactly the type of response you'd expect from a Latin American "socialist" who counts Fidel Castro as his mentor.
How is that for dignified and ethical?
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
An airy, comfortable room somewhere on the first floor of the Palace of the Revolution, with big windows overlooking a lush inside patio. A big bed in the middle of the room, surrounded by modern medical equipment. A brand new, barely used exercise treadmill in one corner. Dozens of books litter the floor. The small desk against the window is covered with papers, more books, newspaper clippings … A television on the wall is tuned to CNN, with the sound turned off.
There, to the side of the desk, an old man sitting in his favourite rocking chair, wearing a pair of fine Italian silk pyjamas and hand-made Bally leather slippers. He is speaking on the phone, as he rocks back and forth.
“I warned you, chico,” the old man says, his voice raspy and almost inaudible but still recognisable. “I warned you that all this democracy business is shit, even when you think you control the numbers. Una mierda.
“I never made that mistake. Never. No elections. No referendum. No opposition. No nothing. Why do you think I am still here, Hugito?” the old man says, raising his voice, stabbing the air with his index finger.
A male nurse in white uniform rushes in and takes the phone away from the old man’s hands.
“No, no, Comandante,” the nurse says. “You know the rules: you cannot get too excited. I am sorry … come on, back to bed. Your brother is coming to visit this afternoon …”
Bad news for Chavez. And Castro Inc.
Despite a massive propaganda campaign by the Chavez government, intimidation by his thuggish supporters and all sorts of behind-the-scenes irregularities with the counting, a majority of Venezuelans categorically rejected the proposed constitutional “reforms”.
In other words, they rejected the Chavez brand of populist, neo-Castroite “socialism”.
Of course, Chavez remains in office until his term expires in 2013. And like the bad looser he is, he has warned that he may have another go at another referendum. He is not going to go away in a hurry, to be sure, but the truth is that his position and his prestige among voters has been severely dented.
It is a huge blow.
As for his pals in Havana, they must be in a state of absolute shock. After all, the very notion of free and (relatively) fair elections, let alone the prospect of electoral defeat, is unknown in Fidel Castro’s island paradise.
Which may explain the subdued response from the regime thus far.
Apart from a characteristically inept attempt by Granma to "spin" the result as a positive for Chavez and his the "Bolivarian Revolution", the only official comment at time of writing has come from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the moronic Felipe Perez Roque.
Perez Roque told reporters he did not think the referendum result would have any impact on the existing ties between Cuba and Venezuela, whose petrodollars continue to prop up the otherwise moribund Castro regime.
"It’s not as if Chavez has lost the presidency,” he said.
“All that has happened is that the reform project has been defeated, by a small margin. Chavez remains the president and he will remain in office until 2013, so we have plenty of time to think this through.”
Monday, December 03, 2007
The news from Caracas: it's No!
Despite a massive (and expensive) government campaign calling for a Yes vote, 51 per cent of those Venezuelans who voted in the much-hyped referendum this weekend have given the thumbs down to the proposed amendments to the constitution.
As you can read in this report, the proposed changes would have allowed Chavez to run for re-election indefinitely, control Venezuela's foreign currency reserves, appoint loyalists over regional elected officials and censor the media if he declares an emergency.
Clearly, most Venezuelans think Chavez has gone one step too far, especially following his comments that he wanted to "rule for life" - and turn the country into a socialist state, along Cuban lines.
It's enough (almost) to restore your faith in the good sense of Latin American voters.
And yes, we await with great interest for the Castro regime's response.
Quote(s) of the day
An indignant Fidel Castro replying to claims he and his supporters are becoming far too cosy with the Communists, 17 July, 1959.
"I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall be one until the end of my life."
Fidel Castro, 2 December, 1961, in a televised address declaring Cuba a Communist state.
Surprise, surprise ...
Local officials in Santiago, the second largest city in Cuba, have just nominated Fidel Castro as a “candidate” for the grandly-named National Assembly of People’s Power.
The National Assembly, whose members are elected every five years by municipal delegates, sits just twice a year. And although its members are supposed to be independent and fearless representatives of the People, they always seem to vote in accordance to instructions from the Communist Party hierarchy, giving a whole new meaning to the term rubber-stamp parliament.
Despite this, the news that Castro has been “nominated” has sent the foreign media based in Havana into a frenzy.
The general consensus among them is that by being nominated for a seat, Castro is likely to be re-elected Head of State for the next five years - despite the fact that 81-year-old dictator is so sick he has not made a public appearance for 18 months.
Still, you’ve got to admire the way the Western media have managed to give the impression ordinary Cubans actually have a say on whether Castro gets to be re-elected or not.
Guys, the whole thing is a well-orchestrated charade, played out by highly experienced actors at the top and a reluctant but resigned cast of 11 million badly-paid extras.
The fact is that Castro would not have been nominated by those poor buggers in Santiago unless they had been told to do so.
As for whether Castro will get "elected" to the National Assembly ... I leave you with this quote from the Cuban vice-president, the colourless Carlos Lage, who has told reporters apparently with a straight face, that now the old man had been nominated, "I am sure he will be elected."
You can put your house on it.