Friday, March 28, 2008

Party ... like it's 1984

How is this for Orwellian newspeak?

The president of the Cuban Union of Journalists, Tubal Paez, has told a conference of left-wing “media workers” in Caracas that there is “absolute respect” for the personal safety of journalists under the Castro regime.

Mr Paez, whose organisation is supposed to represent journalists but is in fact, nothing but a mouthpiece for the Communist Party, said Cuba was constantly being defamed by the “imperialist” media.

The reality, he said, was very different, adding, without even a hint of embarrassment, that “since the triumph of the Revolution”, no journalist has been attacked, murdered, or gone missing in Cuba “for exercising the profession".

Quote of the Day

"I've seen changes in my father since I was a child. I saw him as macho and homophobic. But as I have grown and changed as a person, so I have seen him change."

Mariela Castro, who continues to (very successfully) downplay the woeful treatment of homosexuals under her uncle’s regime, speaking to the BBC about her father, Raul.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Promises, promises

This will come as no surprise to those of us who follow Cuban affairs but I thought I'd share the news with you regardless.

You may or may not recall that back in 2005 Fidel Castro made another one of his (many) grandiose promises – the same type of grandiose promises he has been making to his 11 million subjects for the past half century. Most of which inevitably failed to become reality.

This time around, the ageing dictator promised that the regime would build 150,000 new homes during 2005 and 100,000 new homes in subsequent years.

That’s 100,000 new homes built every year by the State until the well-documented housing "crisis" on the island was finally solved, a "crisis" that incidentally, has lasted for at least four decades, which must be a record of sorts.

Well, the dictator's stated target was met in 2005, which is as you'd expect. At least according to the regime’s own statistics, which are always inflated.
And the target was met again in 2006.

But guess what? The 100,000 target was not met last year when only 52,600 new homes were built. And there is news today in the official media that the number of new homes expected to be built in 2008 will be only 50,000 – half of Castro's promised total.

And just so you don't get your hopes too high, the Communist Party apparatchik who heads the National Housing Institute, Victor Ramirez, told reporters that this new, more modest target would be met only "if conditions are right".


Our old pal Jean Ziegler has just been elected one of 18 “experts” on human rights whose job is to advise the United Nations on, well, human rights.

The election is good news for the Castro regime.

After all, as readers of this blog would be aware, the Left-wing Swiss academic has a thing for dictators, especially those of the “revolutionary” variety such as Muammar al-Gaddafi. And Robert Mugabe. And of course, our very own Fidel Castro.

Here is the announcement of his election. And here is some background.

Totally shameless.

(More) wish you were here

No wonder our Canadian friends continue to flock to Cuba.

Of the two million or so tourists who visited Fidel Castro’s island paradise last year, about 600,000 were from the other side of the Niagara Falls.

They are largely attracted to the island by the relatively cheap air fares and accommodation deals – and by travel articles like this one, published in the Canadian regional paper, The Windsor Star.

As you can see from the article, the writer, Joseph Kula, was quite smitten by the newly developed all-inclusive, luxury resorts at Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Santa Maria, two “gorgeous little islands” that have been linked to the city of Santa Clara by a 48 kilometre causeway.

He loved the Latin music (from “strategically placed hidden speakers”), the food, the exotic cocktails (they helped “ease inhibitions”), the sand, the surf … you get the picture.

Being luxury resorts, Joseph also enjoyed having his own private butler whose job was to "pick me up in her golf cart or to take me to one of two beaches, one of several specialty restaurants or to the main hub on this far-flung tropical retreat for an evening of top-quality entertainment”.

But lest you think he is just another pampered tourist, our writer booked himself an excursion to Santa Clara to learn about “the real Cuba”, where he ended up being taken to a cigar factory, local craft shops, the local plaza and … the Che Guevara memorial.

It doesn’t get better than that, does it?

Quote of the Day

"Raul's style is completely different from Fidel's. He's discreet, methodical and more domestically oriented, but just as red."

An unnamed "local Communist Party militant" speaking to Reuters about the differences (or not) between the Castro brothers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Waiting for Fidel

It’s been a couple of days now since the Castro regime started to rather clumsily censor access to what has been described as Cuba’s most popular blogger, Yoani Sanchez of Generacion Y.

The attempt to effectively shut down the sometimes critical blog has received wide coverage in the international media, in outlets as diverse as The Sun Sentinel and the Left-leaning London daily, The Guardian.

The general tone of the coverage is echoed in the Guardian article, which speculates that the crackdown is an attempt by the regime to "keep tight control despite some cautious moves towards economic reform and greater openness" since Fidel Castro stood down as head of the Council of State.

Surprisingly, there has been no response so far from the regime to the furore in the world media.

No strident denunciation in the official media; no accusations about “mercenaries” in the pay of those evil imperialists; and certainly no commentary from the usual suspects, such as Felipe Perez Roque or the equally dreadful Ricardo Alarcon.

And nothing from that semi-retired, obsessive web-surfer, Fidel Castro. Yet.

Photo: Javier Galeano, AP

Quote of the day

"There are two shipping companies that are bringing products from Panama and travel to Panama twice a week. Before they used to bring eight or 10 containers, now they are bringing 25, 30 or 40 containers."

Panamanian Ambassador to Cuba Luis Gomez, explaining how the Castro regime is getting ready for the expected surge in demand for computers and computer accessories. Computers will be “freely” available to ordinary citizens from today - assuming customers can afford to pay the inflated prices charged in State-owned stores.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dime con quien andas ...

It's nice to see the Castro regime remaining loyal to its Chinese Communist friends. And those nice, cuddly North Koreans Communists, too ...

While much of the rest of the world has been horrified at the way in which the Chinese authorities have quashed protests in Tibet in recent days, Havana has issued a statement supporting Beijing.

The Castros are blaming the Dalai Lama and his supporters for fostering what is described as a "malicious media campaign" against poor, defenceless China.

According to this statement published in the official Cuban media, the "revolutionary" government is firmly opposed to "any attempt to meddle in China’s internal affairs, or to attack its sovereignty and territorial integrity".

And the Cubans will not put up with any talk of an Olympic boycott, claiming calls for such a protest are an effort "aimed at undermining this noble undertaking."

At last count, more than 100 Tibetans had died during the protests against Chinese rule.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Federation of Cuban Women, the Communist Party-controlled organisation that is supposed to represent the views and aspirations of Cuban women but is really just another mouthpiece for the Castro brothers, is visiting that beacon of democracy and openness, North Korea.

The delegation, headed by Surina Acosta, who is a member of the Council of State, is meeting with their North Korean counterparts, which is laughably known as the Korean Democratic Women's Union.

Of free speech and toasters

News over the Easter break that the Castro regime has restricted (and in some cases, blocked) access to semi-critical blogs written from inside Cuba.

The principal target appears to be Generacion Y, the widely-publicised blog by Yoani Sanchez, who has been described by news agencies as Cuba's "most popular blogger".

And the prize for the best headline so far on this latest attempt by the regime to block any views other than its own? It goes to The New Zealand Herald, which headed its story, "Cuba locks down blog access, restricts toasters".

Friday, March 21, 2008

Light blogging ahead

Rome, October 2007

Quote of the Day

"Anyone who thinks there will be a 'for sale' sign up by a bankrupt Cuban government is wrong."

The manager of a Canadian company with business interests in Cuba, speaking to Reuters about futute opportunities (or lack of them) under Raul Castro. According to the news agency, the manager "spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of doing business in Cuba". Naturally.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gusanos no more

When my family left Cuba in 1971 because my parents had had enough of Fidel Castro, his politics and the economic mess he had managed to create in a little over a decade, we were called gusanos - parasites.

We were also told that since we had "betrayed" the Motherland, we would never, ever be welcomed back - and be careful of what you do and say en el exterior because there may be "repercussions" for family members left behind.

And much as it hurt initially to be called a gusano - I was 11 or 12 at the time - I became rather fond of the term over time and wore it with a certain amount of pride. After all, we had nothing to lose.

Well, it seems I was wrong all along.

According to the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque, the 1.3 million Cubans who, like my family, have left the island one way or another over the past 49 years are not gusanos. Not even exiles. Now, we are "economic migrants".

Nice one, no?

This handy redefinition was raised by the minister during a meeting with a group of about 130 Cubans living outside the island - "economic migrants" one and all - who have been invited to Havana by the Castro regime to discuss pressing issues ... No, no, not the need for democratic change in Cuba, say, but really pressing issues like the US commercial embargo, the five spies currently in prison in the US, etc, etc.

In exchange for accepting the invitation, the thoroughly cynical Perez Roque has promised the "economic migrants" now in Havana that the regime will look at ways of simplifying the extensive (and expensive) paperwork required currently to visit family and relatives in Cuba.

Thanks for the offer, but no, thanks.

Consumerism, Castro style

Under the terrific headline, "The inalienable right to a toaster—but not quite yet", the London-based magazine The Economist concludes in this week's edition that while some changes are starting to emerge in Cuba under Raul Castro they are at best, modest.

According to the magazine, the Castro regime has been able to lift restrictions on the sale of some consumer goods such as DVD players and even computers because Venezuelan aid has allowed it to overhaul the electricity grid.

"Officials also know that the grid will not immediately be overwhelmed: monthly wages average $17," the magazine says.

"For those who don't receive remittances from relatives abroad, electronic gadgets will remain unaffordable. Even for those who do they will be expensive: they will only be available in state-owned shops that apply a mark-up of around 200%. "

Which kind of hits the nail on the head, I think: the regime not only has a monopoly on the sale of just about everything on the island, but it has no qualms about profiteering in a manner that would put even the most greediest of capitalist to shame.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sugar, sugar

After nearly a decade in serious decline, sugar production in Cuba has increased by 29 per cent so far this harvesting year, according to official figures released today by the Castro regime.

Assuming the figures are accurate, the increase is substantial, at least at first glance. Except that the increase
comes off a very low base: sugar production in 2006-2007 was just 1.2 million tonnes, one of the the lowest production figures on record, as you can read here.

And it seems not all is going according to plan this time around, either.

Sugar ministry officials pointed out that production was 15 days behind schedule due to what were described as “breakdowns” and “operative interruptions”. Oh, yes, and those evil Americans who have made it difficult to "get spare parts from abroad due to the US economic blockade”. Of course.

Friends in London

Some times it seems as if no one of any note out there gives a fig about what really goes on in Fidel Castro's tropical island paradise.

It's rare to see writers or playwrights, for instance, taking a stand against the many abuses and excesses of the Castro regime - even though these very same writers and playwrights were always ready and able to take a public stand against say, Augusto Pinochet. Or George W Bush.

So, here is some much-welcomed news: a group of prominent British intellectuals, all members of PEN, have written a letter to The Guardian calling on the Castro brothers to release the 55 dissidents still behind bars on the island following the Black Spring arrests of five years ago.

The letter also calls on Havana to lift all restrictions on freedom of expression.

For the record, the signatories are: Lisa Appignanes (President, English PEN), Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Rosie Boycott, Jonathan Heawood, Hanif Kureishi, Philip Pullman, Carole Seymour-Jones and Tom Stoppard.

H/T Penultimos Dias

Havana, here we come

Like the good Stalinist that he is, Fidel Castro has traditionally divided Cubans living outside the island into two groups: the “bad” Cubans and the “good” Cubans.

The bad Cubans, which are in the majority, are normally referred to as the “Miami Mafia”, a generic term that covers anyone who has ever dared criticise the regime, regardless of where they live, their background or their politics.

Bad Cubans are invariably portrayed by the official media as supporters of Fulgencio Batista (seriously!). Or as greedy “mercenaries” who can’t wait to return to the island so they can rape and pillage at will, forcing children to beg in the streets, encouraging prostitution and barring working class Cubans from the best and most luxurious hotels and resorts ... Hmmm, sounds like Cuba today, no?

Anyway, the good Cubans as far as Havana is concerned, are a small but active minority that engages directly with the regime’s hierarchy and who are careful never, ever to criticise the Castro brothers.

Well, you will be happy to hear that the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just announced that about 150 good Cubans have been invited to Havana later this month to discuss matters of mutual interest with representatives of the regime.

According to Carlos Zamora, head of consular affairs at the Ministry, the good Cubans will come from all over the place, including the United States, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

Among the topics for discussion: the US trade and commercial embargo and its impact on the island (tick); plans supposedly drawn up secretly by George W Bush to invade Cuba and rape and pillage, etc (tick); and ways of countering the “lies” and “fabrications” told about the regime by those nasty imperialists and their lackeys, like the BBC and The New York Times.

It should be a fun meeting and we look forward to the deliberations and the inevitable communique.

PS: One interesting figure revealed by the Ministry: about 20 per cent of Cubans living outside the island visited Cuba last year which, the officials claim, is about the same number as in previous years.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


This week marks the fifth anniversary of what has become known as Cuba's own Black Spring - the decision by that great humanitarian, Fidel Castro, to jail 75 dissidents for daring to peacefully challenge the supremacy of his Communist regime.

Of the 75 originally sent to prison, 55 remind behind bars, serving sentences of up to 25 years.

You can get all their details, including names, photographs and the prisons where they are currently held, by visiting our friends over at Uncommon Sense.

That nice guy Raul

While his older, semi retired brother spends his days locked up somewhere in Havana furiously writing apocalyptic articles about “the blood-thirsty Empire”, Raul Castro has been busy showing off his sensitive, family side.

Castro II has been visiting what the official media describe as sites of historic, economic and military interest in the provinces of Holguin and Granma, in eastern Cuba, where the Castro brothers hail from ... as does this blogger ... but let's move on ...

The newly enthroned president of the Council of State visited an army base and hydraulic works, quizzed local officials about drought prevention programs and then told reporters that everything seemed to be going just dandy in the area but that “we all now need to get to work”.

In fact, Castro II even had time to pay a well-publicised visit to the large estate in the Biran district owned by his Spanish father, where the Castro brothers were born.

The estate, which is now a national shrine to the Castro family, includes the handsomely-preserved big timber family house you see in the photograph above. Yes, the same house Fidel Castro says he threatened to burn to the ground when he was just 11 - all so he could spite his parents.

According to the official media, Raul Castro toured the estate, visited the small school where the Castro children used to be taught by private tutors (of course), and then deposited fresh flowers at the graves of his parents, Lina and Angel.

Travel advice

"Street hawking is big, everyone seems to have something to sell; cigars, places to stay, restaurant and taxis. 'No' only seems to encourage them, and they will try to find another thing to sell to you. Despite this, the streets are very safe as there is usually a policeman on every corner."

Travel writer Mel Varley, writing about Havana in the London-based South African, which describes itself as the number one newspaper for South Africans living abroad.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Business news

Don’t you just love the way the share market works?

Speculators in the United States have been getting all excited lately over news that things may finally be changing in Cuba – you know, like the generous decision b y the Castro brothers to allow their 11 million subjects to purchase electric toasters. By the year 2010.

Such news has prompted investors and their advisers to look more closely at businesses that could benefit if things really do change across the Straits of Florida.

For instance, the day after Castro I announced his “retirement” as president of the Council of State, shares in Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) rose by 2.5 per cent, according to this report in the New York daily Newsday.

That’s because the cruise ship operator would be expected to benefit from any decision to relax trading (and tourism) between the US and Cuba.

Mind you, shares in RCL dropped again within days when it became clear that Castro II was, well, not all that different to Castro I.

Still, it seems that those investors with what is described as “a longer investing horizon” could do well to stay the course, according to the paper.

The other publicly-listed companies identified as probable winners include Imperial Sugar Co (IPSU), Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) and Altadis, the European group that owns half of the Cuban tobacco industry.

Quote of the Day

“Cuba's regime has remained in power, the same ways that communist governments did in the former Yugoslavia, Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - by using propaganda, censorship and violence to create a climate of fear.”

The former president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, in a characteristically courageous commentary published in recent days in several international newspapers, including this weekend’s The Observer.

On the line

Now that the Castro brothers have kindly decided to allow Cubans to buy computers and DVD players without the need for written government permission, there is growing speculation the next step is likely to be free access to mobile (or cellular) phones.

According to publicly-available figures, only about 0.2 per cent of the population currently have access to mobile phones – and most of these are government officials.

However, as this report by online technology magazine The Inquirer notes, the Cuban mobile phone company - known as Cubacel - has an extensive network in place already.

Of course, the network is currently reserved largely for tourists, who are able to dial home from the comfort of their poolside deck chairs in any of the major tourist sites and resorts dotted around the island.

As you can expect, the likely opening of this network to ordinary Cubans (or at least those able to pay for the connection and the handsets), is eagerly awaited by handset manufacturers such as Nokia, Samsung, Erickson, etc.

As The Inquirer concludes, “it’s a market ripe for exploitation”.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Consumer news

In what some observers believe will be the first of a raft of minor economic changes in Cuba under Raul Castro, the regime has announced that in future, Cubans will be able to buy a range of electronic consumer goods without restrictions.

According to media reports, Cubans will now be able to purchase computers and DVD and video players without first requiring written permission from the government.

Of course, the equipment will be available only from State-owned shops.

And to buy say, a new computer, Cubans will need to pay for them with convertible pesos rather than with ordinary pesos – the currency the State uses to pay wages.

Given that a covertible peso is worth 25 of the ordinary pesos, and that the average monthly wage in Cuba is about US$15.00 … well, there is unlikely to be a stampede.

And don’t forget that access to the Internet remains forbidden, except for foreigners or for trusted members of the nomenklatura.

Still, the international media think the change is a major political development.

They reckon this is a sure sign that Castro II is about to do away with some of the (many) petty restrictions that have been in place on the island in some cases for nearly half century.

We shall see.

Quote of the Day

"This was a very irresponsible act of cowardice by these … players. They have betrayed their homeland."

Antonio Garces, a Cuban Football Association official, speaking to Reuters after news that as many as eight members of the Cuban under-23 football team defected while playing in pre-Olympic matches in the United States.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Literary news

Here is some good news for those of you who are fluent in Hindi, Farsi or Sinhalese.

The official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the ever-faithful Granma newspaper, has just announced plans to translate Fidel Castro's much-publicised "biography" into these three ancient languages.

The book, which was supposedly co-written by the also ever-faithful Ignacio Ramonet, consists of about 700 pages of questions and answers, with Castro sharing his views and thoughts on issues as diverse as French cheese and solar panels. No, it's not a fun read.

Under the grand title of "My Life", the book has already been published in Spanish, French, Turkish, Galician and English, among other languages. More recently, it was published in China, complete with a prologue written by the semi-retired dictator specially for the Mandarin edition.

So, my Hindi friends, don't say you weren't warned - the big tome is on its way.

And anyway, who is entitled to the royalties? Ramonet? Or Castro?

Quote of the Day

"We're going to have a great time; it'll be fun in the sun, that's for sure."

A delighted Anne Moussea of Timmins, Canada, after being told that she and her husband had just won a trip to Cayo Coco, in Cuba, as part of a promotion organised by the local paper, The Daily Press.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Quote of the Day

“The Cuban Revolution is and always has been a brand. Its face has changed over time -- from the barbudo rebels of the Sierra Maestra to Che Guevara's piercing stare, from Cuba's graying salsa legends to its globe-trotting medics -- but incredibly, its essence has survived.”

Journalist and author Michael Casey, explaining the improbable success of Fidel Castro’s “brand Cuba” in this highly readable article in The Wall Street Journal.

It's the Americans, stupid

Our old friend Jean Ziegler is at it again.

As readers will recall, the left-wing Swiss academic who counts Muammar al Gadaffi among his friends goes by the grand title of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

It was in that very capacity that he visited Cuba last year to check on how the Castro regime was feeding its people.

Well, Professor Ziegler’s report on his visit has now been presented to the UN, according to this report.

And as you would expect, he says the reason food is so expensive on the island is because of the US trade and commercial embargo. Of course.

Professor Ziegler says the “illegal blockade” forces up prices and restricts imports, which will come as a surprise to those American farmers and primary producers who last year exported more than US$437 million in foodstuffs to Cuba.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quote of the Day

“At the root of that is a great belittling of Cubans. It’s like we are some sort of little animals who only need a veterinarian and someone to teach us tricks and we’ll be fine.”

Enrique Del Risco, who left Cuba in 1996 and now teaches Spanish at New York University, explains to The New York Times how he feels when people tell him that while Cubans may not enjoy political freedoms under the Castro brothers, they should be grateful they have “universal health care” and “free education”.

In Madrid

Much as predicted by most opinion polls, the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been returned to office in Spain.

According to the latest counting, the Socialists have won 169 of the 350 seats in the Parliament - up from the 164 seats they won at the 2004 elections.

The opposition Popular Party has so far won 154 seats, compared to 148 seats at the last elections, with the rest going to a swag of nationalist parties and coalitions.

Which means the Socialists will continue to govern but without a majority.

It also means that we can expect no significant change in the Spanish position regarding the Castro regime – a case of more of the same “dialogue” on the basis of what the Cubans describe, usually with a big grin on their faces, as “mutual respect”.

In other words, the Spaniards will politely refrain from mentioning political prisoners. Or dissidents. Or the need for change. Or multi-party democracy. You know what I mean ...

Still, there is one great positive out of the Spanish vote.

As our friends at Penultimos Dias have pointed out, the left-wing coalition known as Izquierda Unida – the old Communist Party – has been thoroughly trounced, reduced to just one or possibly two seats in the Parliament.

The Izquierda Unida coalition and its current leader, Gaspar Llamazares, have been among the most enthusiastic (and shameless) apologists of the Castro regime in Western Europe.

For more on the count, you can visit or
Photograph: Associated Press

Profit and Loss

When it comes to paying its quite considerable overseas debt, the Castro regime has what could only be described as a shocking repayment history.

In fact, the regime has simply refused to make any substantial repayments to anyone anywhere in the West for at least 20 years.

As a result, Cuba currently owes about US$13 billion to capitalist countries and another US$22 billion to the old Soviet Union.

So, here is an intriguing story: a
ccording to this media report, representatives of the Korean Export Insurance Corporation are travelling to Havana this week to recoup US$ 31 million that had been owing to a South Korean tyre manufacturer.

The tyres had been delivered to the island in 2001 (more than seven years ago!), but despite many attempts by the Koreans to “persuade Cuban bureaucrats to pay”, the boys in Havana refused. Until now.

And the reason the Cubans are paying at this stage?

The media reports say it's because they need Korean companies such as LG and Samsung to continue to sell them energy-efficient whitegoods, such as refrigerators and washing machines, on credit.

They also need the Koreans to continue delivering portable power generators – the same generators that are supposed to keep Cuban’s ageing and resources-starved electricity grid from collapsing entirely.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Quotes of the Day

"To improve relations, what needs to change is not the United States. What needs to change is Cuba."

President George W Bush, arguing that Fidel Castro "is still influencing events from behind the scenes" - and confirming no change to the US commercial and trade embargo.

"I've noticed a lot of changes in Cuba."

A very different take from European Union Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, speaking to reporters during his visit to Havana over the weekend.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Quote of the Day

“That’s far too dangerous …. Daddy State doesn’t want you to get informed, so it preventively keeps you from surfing.”

Ricardo, identified as a 28-year-old student at the University of Havana, quoted in this very readable article in The New York Times, on why he thinks the Castro regime will not allow Cubans free (and affordable) access to the Internet.

Business news

Sherritt International, the publicly-listed Canadian conglomerate that has been in bed with the Castro regime for years, has announced a 6.2 per cent increase in its fourth-quarter profits.

Which is terrific news for Sherritt and its shareholders.

The company has a joint venture with the regime which mines and processes nickel in the Moa region, in eastern Cuba, as well as producing some oil and gas off the island's coast.

According to a statement issued today by the company, Sherritt, has also been given the go-ahead by Havana to expand the power plant it also owns at Boca de Jaruco, taking the plant’s output to 526 megawatts.

The company’s thinking, it appears, is that by becoming directly involved in building up Cuba’s pretty lousy infrastructure – electricity, roads, etc – Sherritt will be “protected” from “any change in the political regime”.

And just how involved is Sherritt with the Castro brothers? Check out the map below, published by the company on its website, to get some idea. The answer is, Plenty.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Quote of the Day

“So a year from now Cuba is likely to still be a police state with a centrally planned economy, and the United States will still have an embargo.”

An obviously pessimistic Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a “political risk consultancy”, predicting the future in The International Herald Tribune.

Our friends in the Vatican

You will be happy to hear that relations between the Castro regime and the Vatican appear to be improving by the day.

According to this report, the Catholic Church has been “invited” to open a new monastery on the island, including what has been described as a "spiritual centre."

Four monks from the Missionary Benedictines, an order that has its headquarters near Munich, in Germany, will travel to Cuba to take charge of the new facility.

The report states that the arrangement had been “requested” by the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and “expressly approved by Fidel Castro before his retirement last month as Cuban leader”.

The announcement comes just days after the number two man at the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, completed his much-publicised visit to the island.

During his visit, the good cardinal found time to publicly and very strongly condemn the US trade and commercial embargo as “unethical” and "unacceptable", much to the delight of the regime.

Still, I am sure it’s all purely coincidental.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Polling news

A new Gallup poll published today by USA Today has found that a majority of Americans wants Washington to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

No surprise there, I suspect, although it's interesting to note that the proportion of those polled who were in favour of normalisation dropped from 67 per cent to 61 per cent in the past three months.

The reason for the drop is unclear.

Asked whether they thought Fidel Castro’s resignation as president of the Council of State would “change the situation for people in Cuba”, 51 per cent saying the situation would stay the same.

Another 37 per cent said the enthronment of Castro II would change the situation for the better, six per cent said for the worse and a further six per cent said they were unsure.

Quote of the Day

"A lot of these guys, after they come off the island, after living under Communist rule, they can't handle the abundance of freedom in America."

Veteran trainer Joe Goossen, quoted in this ESPN article referring to what supposedly happens to some Cuban boxers when they defect to the US.

Books, etc

In this month’s edition of The Australian Literary Review, my two cents' worth about "My Life", the supposed political testament of Fidel Castro, with the help of his old friend Ignacio Ramonet. Unfortunately, the review itself is not up on the ALR’s website yet.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Swan Lake and memoirs - it's a busy day in Havana

As Cubans have learnt over the past 50 years, Fidel Castro has an opinion on everything and anything … from nuclear medicine to cheese-making, and from sharp-shooting to French politics.

In fact, there are very few subjects on which Castro is not an expert of sorts.

We now discover through our friends at Penultimos Dias that the man who changed the lives of 11 million Cubans forever, is warming up to ballet, too.

In his latest rambling “editorial”, dutifully published with great fanfare by the official media, the dictator-in-retirement reveals that he has spent some time watching a taped performance of “the well-known ballet Swan Lake”.

And he liked what he saw.

While modestly claiming that he is “far from being an expert” on the topic, Castro writes that watching dancers on his television screen “is an agreeable form of almost completely losing track of time”, especially “under the current circumstances”.

In other words, he is not allowed to do much else by his doctors.

The old man also uses the article to reveal (or threaten?) that he is considering writing his memoirs, if he can find the time … and a generous publisher.

This will come as a surprise to those of us who thought Castro had already written his memoirs in the form of “My Life”, the 700-page “biography” put together by the ever-loyal Ignacio Ramonet.

Not so.

“As I write these lines … I reiterate the idea, if time allows me to do so, of writing some memoirs,” he writes, adding that he would like to be paid for them.

Not that he’d keep the money, you understand. True humanitarian that he is, Castro says he would use all royalties to print medical books for Cuban health professionals.

Quote of the Day

“As a food snob, I respect Castro for not allowing KFC, McDonald's and those ubiquitous coffee shop chains to soil his principles.”

Travel writer Jill Hartley writing in The Times about the hit and miss state of Cuban food – from a tourist’s perceptive, of course.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Quote of the Day

"The new Cuban President, Raul Castro, earned the top job through hard work - being the brother of Fidel Castro was a mere coincidence."

The Cuban ambassador to Pakistan, Gustavo Machin Gomez, paraphrased in an interview with The Daily Times.

Number crunching

If you believe the Castro regime and its apologists, the Cuban economy is far from perfect but doing alright, powering along on the smell of subsidised Venezuelan oil and Chinese investments.

Well, perhaps not.

According to this article in The Financial Times, economists outside the island are highly sceptical about the statistics issued by the regime, which claims the economy has been growing at somewhere between seven per cent and 12 per cent over the past three years or so.

“History also suggests the value of formerly communist countries’ assets is often grossly overestimated,” the article says, pointing out that East Germany’s economy was considered by the United Nations to be the 10th largest in the world before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In fact, it soon became clear that the East German economy was not worth the USD1,000 billion claimed by its Communist rulers but had a net liability of USD280 billion.

So, what about Cuba?

Based on the current exchange rate for the convertible peso, the paper estimates that the Cuban economy could be worth about USD2.3 billion – or about half the worth of Haiti’s economy.