Friday, June 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

"What is certainly true is that those who argue for constructive engagement as a way to bring change in Cuba have little to show for it so far. But the American trade embargo has failed even more manifestly, as well as inflicting harm on ordinary Cubans. So far, change in Cuba has come in tiny, glacial movements. Many outsiders are betting that over the next year or two the pace will increase."

The British weekly
The Economist editorialising about the European Union’s decision to lift its (largely symbolic) sanctions against the Castro regime. The very appropriate c
artoon above is also from The Economist.

Evil search engines

We are indebted to our friends at Penultimos Dias for this link to a most curious article that appears in today’s edition of Juventud Rebelde, the official newspaper of the Cuban Union of Communist Youth (UJC).

It’s a lengthy attack on trusty old Google.

Now, Google may seem to you and me like a pretty nifty search engine, used by millions of Internet surfers every day to get around the Web. Sure, we know it can be manipulated and we know it has some faults and we know they pay way too much attention to the Chinese government but overall, it's kind of harmless, no?

No way, according to the author of the article, Amaury del Valle, who says
Google is nothing but a dangerous imperialist tool used by the United States administration and other “powerful interests” to ... yes, to quash the many great “achievements” of Fidel Castro’s “revolution”.

It’s a long and convoluted argument about how the US trade embargo against the Castro brothers means that those few Cubans with access to the Internet (mainly officials of the regime), cannot legally download Google Earth, although they download the program nonetheless.

Mind you, what appears to have really upset Mr del Valle and his fellow young communists most is the fact that Google is not a "humanitarian" enterprise but rather a company that makes filthy capitalist money. And that for better or worse, appears to comply with US laws.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Senior citizens

Just as we always suspected, Fidel Castro is spending his days in enforced semi-retirement making a nuisance of himself.

According to the official Cuban media, the ailing dictator told a visiting senior Chinese official, He Guoqiang, that he dedicates "almost all the hours of the day" to reading news reports, pressumably on the Internet (hello, Fidel!).

He then analyses the material before sending off regular reports to senior Communist Party and government officials, whom no doubt jump for joy everytime they get delivery of a bundle of documents carefully stapled together by El Comandante.

As my dear old Mum likes to say, "que vejez!".

Moros y cristianos

Some days ago, the Cuban deputy minister for agriculture announced with great fanfare exciting "new" plans by the Castro regime to substantially increase rice production on the island.

The announcement failed to attract much media attention outside Cuba … until now.

Under the headline, “As import prices soar, Cuba pushes to produce more rice”, that grand dame of English-language journalism, The International Herald Tribune, today reports that the Castro regime is planning to double rice production over the next five years.

According to the report, the regime is concerned that soaring rice prices in the world market will place at risk what the reporter describes as “the national dish of beans and rice”.

After all, we are told that "rice-obsessed Cubans” go through an average of 60 kilograms of rice a year – more than double the US average.

In other words, let's hear it for those clever, pro-active guys in Havana, who are promising to double the current crop of 200,000 metric tons of milled rice a year, thus ensuring Cubans don’t go without their beloved plate of congri.

Which is all very well, except for the fact that the announcement is nothing but media spin from the masterful Castro brothers.

Assuming production is doubled in the next five years - which is a big, big assumption - Cuba will still produce less rice in 2013 than it did in the late 1980s, when the annual rice production was more than 425,000 metric tons a year.

You see, under the Castro brothers, the Cuban rice industry has gone backwards. Big time. Forcing the regime to import more and more rice, which is fine when you have Moscow picking up the tab but not so fine when you have to find the money from your own reserves.

Now, that’s a story worthy of the Herald Tribune.

Quote of the Day

"It is clear of course that Cuba is far from being a liberal democracy, but to suggest the Raul Castro government reforms are without consequence is difficult to defend.

"Opposition groups, though closely watched, are tolerated, prisoners are being freed, same sex marriages are being legalised, Cubans living in social housing have received titles to their homes, the salary cap has been eliminated, agriculture has been decentralised and hundreds of thousands of hectares of land are being distributed to private farmers.

"In addition, 30 death sentences have been commuted, and capital punishment has been suspended with a view to abolishing it in the long term. Cubans are now allowed to own computers, mobile phones and other consumables and they are also free to stay in tourist hotels. There is talk of cars being put on sale and a market in housing being established.

"Taken together, these changes do amount to more than something cosmetic."

Stephen Wilkinson, from the International Institute for the Study of Cuba at London Metropolitan University, writing in The Guardian about the winds of change in Raul Castro's new Cuba.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

You say potato ...

While some of us think that the economic changes introduced by Raul Castro in the past couple of months are cosmetic at best, others appear to be more optimistic. A lot more optimistic.

Take the Council for Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based lobby group that has been highly critical in the past of US policy towards Cuba, in particular the trade and commercial embargo.

Under the title, “Cuba under Raul Castro: 25 Reasons to be Hopeful”, the council has just published a lengthy summary of what has been happening on the island since Fidel Castro stood aside from the top job due to ill health.

The council seems to think that old-fashioned fidelismo is more or less dead in the water, explaining that while Raul Castro “has not been overly aggressive in transforming the state created by his brother", he has taken "meaningful steps towards the possibility of a very different Cuba”.

You can read their assessment here.

Monday, June 23, 2008


A very senior member of the Chinese Communist Party, He Guoqiang, has just arrived in Havana for a four-day “goodwill” visit that is likely to include a meeting with Raul Castro.

The much-hyped visit is the latest in a series of visits by high-level Chinese officials over the past four or five years as part of the “new relationship” between the two supposedly Communist countries.

Of course, it wasn’t always so.

After an initial burst of back-slapping camaraderie at the beginning of his reign, Fidel Castro was ordered in the mid 1960s to stop dealing with the Chinese by his paymasters in Moscow. And loyal to a fault, Castro did as he was told for about 20 years.

Still, it seems the Chinese are a very forgiving lot, as you can see from this handy backgrounder on Sino-Cuban relations published by the official Chinese newsagency Xinhua.

Referring to Castro's big freeze in relations, Xinhua notes tactfully: “There were little substantive contacts between China and Cuba during the period of Cold War from the middle of the 1960s to the early 1980s.”

Great moments in free speech

Here is further proof, should further proof be needed, that just because someone makes you a university professor it does not necessarily mean you are smarter than the average bear.

I give you Peter Phillips, described as a Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University in the United States and director of a grand academic project going by the name of Project Censored.

Professor Phillips recently returned from a five day tour of Cuba where he was studying media censorship - an important issue, given the many negative reports published about media freedom on the island by such groups as Amnesty International, PEN, Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch, etc.

So far, so good.

Except that it seems the professor was in Cuba as an “invited guest” of the Cuban journalists’ union, which he should know as well as we do, is not really a trade union but an arm of the Communist Party.

And sure enough, the intrepid Professor Phillips finds that all that stuff you read in the capitalist media about censorship and harassment of journalists by the Castro regime is, well, absolute rubbish.

In an article published by the Cuban official media under the give-away headline, “Cuba supports press freedoms”, he reveals that he interviewed dozens of Cuban journalists, all of whom told him that "they have complete freedom to write or broadcast any stories they choose”.

In fact, he found that Cuban journalists "strongly value freedom of the press and there was no evidence of overt restriction or government control", which is "a far cry from the Stalinist media system so often depicted by US interests.”

See? All is OK.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Back to the drawing board

Oh, dear ... Remember all that time and effort spent by the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and his officials trying to convince the European Union to lift its (largely symbolic) sanctions against the Castro regime?

Despite concerns from several member nations, in particular the eastern Europeans, the EU agreed to lift the sanctions on Thursday as a way of effectively rewarding Raul Castro for introducing a number of "reforms" since taking over officially from Fidel Castro.

But if Mr Zapatero and company were expecting a big thank you from Havana, they are in for a big surprise.

In an article published by the official Cuban media, Fidel Castro has resurfaced from semi-retirement to lash out at the EU's decision, describing it as "an enormous hypocrisy".

According to the BBC, the semi-retired Castro thinks the decision is "disparaging" and should be treated with contempt because it was conditioned on Cuba improving its shocking record on human and political rights.

So, it's back to the drawing board for the EU ... as is always the case when it comes to well-meaning Westerners who try to appease dictators.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Quote of the Day

"We haven't softened our approach. It's a repressive regime. ...Now we are very explicit on what we want. We want democratic changes."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt explaining why the decision by the EU to lift sanctions should not be seen as a victory for the Castro brothers.

In Brussels

Despite scepticism from some member nations, in particular the Czech Republic and Sweden, it seems the European Union has agreed to lift its (largely symbolic) sanctions against the Castro regime.

You may recall that the sanctions were imposed in 2003 following the regime’s crack-down on dissidents.

According to reports from Brussels, the EU seems to think that the semi-retirement of Fidel Castro and the fact that Cubans can now buy mobiles phones (but no toasters until 2010!), is reason enough to restore full diplomatic relations with Havana.

"We see encouraging signs in Cuba and I think that we should show the population in Cuba that we are ready to work with them," the EU’s commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldne, told reporters.

Well, that's her view ... as the Swedish foreign minister said before the vote, the “reforms” introduced by Raul Castro since taking over officially from his brother earlier this year are at best cosmetic.

Perhaps I am missing something here, but "giving" Cubans the "right" to window-shop for outrageously over-priced DVDs or to enter the lobbies of hotels once reserved for tourists hardly amount to major political change.


It’s good to see that while Fidel Castro has been forced to spend the rest of his days wearing an Adidas jogging suit and writing whatever nonsense comes into his mind, his band of happy apologists in the West continue to fly the flag on his behalf.

Take Dr Helen Yaffe, who is described as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, in the United Kingdom, and author of a forthcoming tome titled, “Ernesto Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution”.

In this letter to the London daily The Guardian, she takes the Left-leaning newspaper to task for assuming that Cuba’s economy is “moribund” and that the island is “impoverished”.

Not so, says Dr Yaffe: the Cuban economy is positively thriving, with annual growth of up to 12 per cent, wages rising rapidly for all and pensioners getting more in their pockets every month. Oh yes, and all those old-fashioned electric washing machines are being replaced with energy-efficient machinery!

As for impoverished, she asks: “How can you dismiss Cuba's first-world standard, free, universal education and healthcare services - luxuries gradually being withdrawn in our own country?” Ah, yes, health and education ...

But the most bizarre claim is that “Cuba has never claimed to be communist”, which I suspect will come as something of a surprise to most Cubans, including Fidel Castro.

Go figure.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Still here

For the first time in over five months, Cuban television has broadcast new images of Fidel Castro, looking thinner but seemingly "animated", according to Reuters.

Since stepping down in July 2006 due to a serious medical condition that inexplicably remains a "State secret", the old dictator has made no public appearances at all, confirming that whatever ails him is indeed quite serious. Instead, he occasionally surfaces in these carefully stage-managed videos and still photographs, wearing his new "uniform" of an Adidas jogging suit in Cuba's national colours.

His rare reappearances tend to coincide with speculation in the international media that the man who ruled Cuba with an iron fist for close to half a century has died ... or is close to death or ... you know what I mean.

For the record, the last time Castro I was seen on television was back in January during a meeting with visiting Brazilian president Luis "Lula" da Silva.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

(Another) quote of the day

"We have not seen much change in Cuba. We made an offer last year to the Cubans to start a dialogue and then the Cubans slammed the door in our face. ... They were not interested in dialogue if they had to discuss uncomfortable things like democracy and human rights. They had very little interest in that."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt explains to BusinessWeek why the European Union should think twice about lifting sanctions against the Castro regime.

And in Warsaw ...

Meanwhile, further proof that when it comes to understanding the real nature of the Castro regime, the eastern Europeans deserve our everlasting gratitude.

According to this report, a group of Polish parliamentarians from various political parties have established a working group to support democratic change in Cuba, starting with a demand that Raul Castro release of all political prisoners.

In Europe

More fun and games in Europe.

As you know, the Socialist Government of Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is shamefully continuing to push for the European Union to lift its (largely symbolic) sanctions against the Castro regime.

The meeting to discuss the lifting of the sanctions, which were imposed by the EU in 2003 following the regime’s savage crackdown on dissidents, was supposed to be held on Monday, as you can read here.

However, the Germans asked for the debate to be postponed, so the issue will not be discussed by the foreign ministers of the 27 member nations until later this week.

As well as the Spaniards, those supporting a lifting of the sanctions are believed to include the British and the French .. who should know better.

Those opposing the lifting of the sanctions and calling for greater political freedoms in Cuba, including the release of all political prisoners, are the nations that used to be part of the Soviet bloc, led by our old friends the Czech.

The Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, also has some doubts, insisting that the Castro brothers need to improve their human rights record before the EU consider changes to its policies.

"What is very important is to reaffirm the full respect of human rights in Cuba," Mr Frattini said. "We cannot accept the idea that we'll lift the sanctions and they don't liberate prisoners."

Ring, ring ...

Despite all the hype, the decision by Raul Castro to allow his loyal subjects to buy mobile phones freely (but no toasters until 2010!) appears to have had little impact, according to the French international television news channel, France 24.

It seems that two months after the grand announcement, the State-owned telephone monopoly, Cubacel, still has just 10,000 or so mobile phone subscribers on its books.

The reason? Cost, of course.

As France 24 explains, the Castro regime pays Cubans salaries that average the equivalent of about USD20.00 a month, and yet, the State mobile phone company charges as much as USD5.00 for a short call abroad from a mobile phone. Nifty, no?

In any case, says the French television station, owning a mobile phone is far from being top-priority for the Cuban people, adding: "More freedom is what they want.”

And cheaper mobile rates.

Question of the Day

"Fidel is sitting there, alive and well, thinking, writing and dictating important strategies for Cuba and our Latin America."

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, speaking to reporters after visiting his old mentor in Havana. Or so he says.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Future leaders

Elian Gonzalez is back in the spotlight.

The official Cuban media reported on the weekend that the boy who made headlines around the world eight years ago following his miraculous rescue at sea and his eventual and highly controversial return to Cuba, has been chosen to join the Union of Communist Youth.

He is one of 18,000 teenagers across the island hand-picked by the regime to become "militants"
in the organisation, known by its Spanish initials as UJC.

It means Elian, who is now 14, joins a very exclusive club: the next generation of Communist leaders to be indoctrinated by the Castro regime.

Not that any of this should surprise anyone, of course.

It was obvious from the very beginning that having won the propaganda war surrounding the world’s most famous balserito - with some help from the US judiciary - Havana was going to milk the Elian victory for all it was worth.

They have been doing it for years, ensuring that the boy is photographed regularly with one or another of the Castro brothers and other senior Communist Party officials at birthday parties, school functions and political events.

In line with expectations, the teenager told a ceremony held in his home town of Cardenas that he was thrilled by the "great honour" of being invited to join the UJC, and promised to be an outstanding example for other young Cubans.

“I won’t let Fidel and Raul down,” Elian was quoted as saying.

It sure is a long way from Disney World.

Quote of the Day

"I go for Obama ... Obama wants to look for a way to have relations, and that would be good for Cuba. To have a bit of hope is what we Cubans want."

Manuel Echevarria, described in this Reuters dispatch as a 55-year-old hospital supervisor, speaking about the future of relations between Cuba and the US. Or perhaps just wishing there were US-style primaries in Cuba ...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Voting with their feet

After weeks of breathlessly reporting about Raul Castro's "unprecedented reforms" in Cuba, it seems some international media outlets may be beginning to reconsider.

According to an article in today's edition of The Times in London, it appears that "initial optimist" about Castro II and his supposed economic changes "is fading as his new freedoms make little impact on the poor".

Really? Who would have thought?

"The younger Castro has won international attention for a series of eye-catching reforms that seemingly marked the beginning of the end of the rigid communist orthodoxy bequeathed by his 81-year-old brother," the paper says.

"Yet the lifting of bans on mobile phones, improved access to computers and other consumer goods, and the removal of unpopular restrictions on wages and foreign currency have so far had a limited impact on a poor population reeling from the effects of rising fuel and food prices."

In fact, the number of Cubans fleeing the island illegally is on the rise, prompting The Times to conclude that, well, Cubans are still "voting with their feet".

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Described as “the world’s hottest male ballet dancer”, Carlos Acosta is currently visiting Melbourne for three performances with the Australian Ballet – and to promote the recently-published English language version of his autobiography, No Way Home.

The book, which is about to be turned into a film, tells the story of Acosta’s spectacular trajectory from a "poor neighbourhood in Havana" to principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London.

It’s quite a story and not surprisingly, it’s been lapped up by Australian media, as you can see from this article in The Age.

Inconvenient truths

After nearly half a century of telling Cubans to work harder but not to expect any “capitalist” monetary rewards in return, the Castro regime has quietly changed its mind. Just like that.

According to an article published by the regime’s official propaganda sheet, Granma, all State enterprises on the island will be allowed to eliminate salary caps from next month.

The change was announced with little fanfare, as you can imagine, by Carlos Mateu, a deputy minister, who said the salary cap system that has been in place since the 1960s was “outdated” and “inconvenient”.

Under the old “socialist” system, introduced by Fidel Castro as a way to build his communist paradise, workers got paid a standard wage by the State regardless of where they worked, how long or how hard.

Needless to say, it has been a total disaster. Just as it was in the old Soviet Empire.

On the other hand, the new payment system will be based on productivity, which means workers who meet their targets will be entitled in theory at least, to a bonus of up to five per cent of their base salary.

Which sounds like a sensible thing to do except for the fact that the extra money will be paid by the State in ordinary Cuban pesos, which are pretty much worthless since with few exceptions, most consumer goods are sold by the State in convertible pesos.

And yes, you need at least 20 to 25 ordinary pesos to buy one convertible peso.

Still, it seems the new system (or at least its intent), will get the big tick from some workers, as you can see from this article in The Sun Sentinel.

A restaurant worker in Old Havana identified only as David - he asked that his full name not be used “for fear of reprisal” - told the paper that the old socialist system imposed by the Castro brothers was, not to put too fine a point on it … a joke.

"There was never any incentive to break my back because in the end you're still paid $15 a month," the 32-year-old said. "People came to work and did what they wanted. They stole food and bottles of wine and resold them. They came in late, left early. Maybe things will change now."

So far, there has been no explanation from the regime as to why they have ignored such obvious logic for close to 50 years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

... and Fidel's children - or Quote of the Day

''I hate Fidel Castro, but does that mean I should work in a cafeteria? I am 44 years old, and the first and only time in my life I went hungry was in the United States. Here, I live in a four-bedroom house and have a car. Over there, I had to live in an apartment the size of a table.''

Silvia, described as the daughter of (obviously high-ranking) officials of the Castro regime, explaining to The Miami Herald why she returned to Cuba after living just six months in the United States. For someone aged 44, Silvia sounds like an absolute f…wit.

Mr Hemingway's children

As you may recall, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) recently broadcast an item on the “desperate” need for funds by the Castro regime to preserve the villa outside Havana that used to belong to Ernest Hemingway.

… and how those nasty Americans are refusing to come to the rescue of what is now a government-owned museum.

Now there is an excellent if thoroughly depressing account of what’s going on at Finca Vigia (what's going on in Cuba!), from Adrian McKinty, an Irish writer who was recently in Havana.

In an article published in The Times under the headline, “Any book in Hemingway’s library for $200”, McKinty reveals how during his visit one of a "secret policeman" at the villa attempted to sell him books and other artifacts from the collection.

It seems such offers are not uncommon, with tourists also being charged USD10.00 for having their photographs taken sitting at Hemingway’s desk or browsing through the library, which is said to contain hundreds of rare and highly valuable tomes.

Whether these under-the-counter offers to visiting foreigners are known or encouraged by others higher up the Communist Party pecking order is not clear.

As McKinty points out in his lengthy piece, it could be a case of poorly-paid policeman trying to make ends meet in Fidel Castro’s island paradise, a place the Irish visitor describes with considerable sorrow as both sad and sordid.

In particular, he is shaken by the parade of older European and Canadian men who openly flaunt around Havana their latest Cuban sexual “conquests”: black and mulato girls and boys aged as young as 14.

“Apologists for the Castro brothers talk about Cubans uncomplicated attitudes towards sex and money. Why not get paid for a night with a stranger when both parties gain from the experience? We Westerners, they say, are so hung up on morality that we are suspicious of the free-spirited, lusty Cubans,” McKinty writes.

“It’s nonsense of course. It’s nothing to do with Latin expansiveness and Western repression. It’s about a mis-managed economy, the embargo, endemic corruption, poverty and desperation.”

H/T: Babalu; Picture: Enrique de la Osa, Reuters

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

All change

Well, there is no stopping the pace of "reforms" being introduced by Raul Castro.

First, he allows ordinary Cubans to window-shop in State stores for outrageously over-priced DVD players and clunky old personal computers. Then, he gives them the right to buy mobile phones ... and to walk into the lobbies of the luxury hotels that had previously been reserved for rich capitalist tourists.

Now, Castro II has given the go ahead for a sex change operation to take place in Havana - at no expense to the patient!

It seems this historic decision follows pressure from his media savvy daughter, Mariela Castro, who heads the National Centre for Sex Education, which like all such organisations in Cuba is actually an arm of the Communist Party.

Pressured or not, it's a clever move.

Despite decades of discriminating, harassing and often terrorising homosexuals under the guise of "revolution", the decision to allow for sex change operations means that the historically homophobic Castro regime is all of a sudden, being lauded for its "far reaching reforms".

And not just by the regime's apologists abroad but by otherwise sensible, conservative newspapers like The Daily Telegraph in London.

According to the paper, the sex change initiative is only the latest in a series of "eye-catching reforms" introduced by the regime, which is also considering recognising same-sex unions and inheritance rights. "If those changes are approved," says the paper, "Cuba will have the most liberal sexuality laws in South America."

As I said, clever move.

For a different take, however, I point you in the direction of Zoe Valdes, an exiled Cuban writer now living in Paris, who is not only a terrific novelist but for her troubles, is thoroughly loathed by the regime.

As the mighty Ms Valdes points out in her blog, the absolute hypocrisy of the Castro brothers, Mariela Castro and their followers on this issue is nothing short of breathtaking.

Quote of the Day

“Cuba has balanced a rising standard of living with practices that are ecologically sustainable.”

Derek Walls, described as a spokesperson for Green Party of England and Wales, gets it wrong on both counts in the Australian weekly, Green Left.

Special visitors

Just what Cubans need: a visit by Vanessa Redgrave.

The Oscar-winning British actress with a soft spot for “progressive” and other assorted nutty causes is due to visit the island in July for the premiere of a film directed by her son, according to reports from Havana.

It will be her second visit to Cuba – the first was back in 1961.

In the intervening period, the woman who is often described as British "acting royalty", has become something of a celebrity socialist in her homeland, taking a prominent role in a range of issues that could best be pigeon-holed as well, fringe.

You know, predictable Left-wing causes such as attacking Israel, marching against the Iraq War, demanding that capitalist banks cancel all Third World debt, describing George W Bush as a war criminal ...

Along with her brother Corin, the actress even set up her own political party, although that turned out to be a less than successful enterprise.

Still, given Ms Redgrave has described the US base at Guantanamo Bay as a “concentration camp”, we have no doubt her impending visit to the Castro brothers' tropical paradise will most likely result in a truckload of officially-approved headlines in what passes for the Cuban media.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Quote of the Day

"We don't want money, we demand respect.”

Havana-based Aleida Guevara, daughter of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, complaining about capitalists who make money from her father’s image. As this AP article points out, the Castro regime has also “worked hard to make money off of the revolutionary's image, stocking tourist shops with T-shirts, postcards and other trinkets bearing his face and three-letter signature”.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Bread and butter

A new study conducted secretly inside Cuba by a research group associated with the US Republican Party has found that most of those interviewed "considered their economic woes to be their chief concern".

At least that's how The New York Times has interpreted the findings, which are due to be released today by the International Republican Institute.

The study found that less than 10 per cent of Cubans polled listed a lack of political freedom as being the main problem facing the country, which makes sense when you consider average Cubans spend much of their time trying to make ends meet on State wages of less than USD20 a month.

According to those who conducted the study, such results are not unusual - when pressed, most people tend to list "bread and butter" economic issues at the top of their concerns, regardless of whether the questions are asked in Cuba, the US or elsewhere.

Mind you, the study also found that nearly 70 per cent of Cubans aged between 18 and 29 said that give a choice, they would support a democratic system with multiparty elections, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

The old man and the villa

That old story about Ernest Hemingway’s villa just outside Havana has made it on to Australian television.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship current affairs program, The 7.30 Report, last night broadcast a report from its North American correspondent on the “political battle” over the restoration of the house and its historical contents.

And sure enough, guess who is to blame for the state of repairs of Finca Vigia …

No, no, not the Castro regime, which confiscated the property in 1961, neglected it for decades and only in the past few years decided to turn it into a (lucrative) major tourist attraction, as you can see

According to the ABC report, the Cubans want to restore and maintain the villa and the 9,000 or so books and manuscripts inside, if only they could get some financial help from the US.

But you know those nasty Americans … they are refusing to help “thanks to the trade embargo” and that silly George W Bush.

You can read the transcript

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rich bastards

And you thought the principal reason for the recent rise in the price of food was the insatiable demand for raw materials from a rapidly-growing Chinese market ...

Wrong, according to Jose Machado Ventura, the dour but loyal army official that is now the official number two in the Cuban hierarchy.

The Cuban first vice-president has travelled to Rome to attend a United Nations meeting on the international "food crisis", and has used his speech to blame the situation on "developed countries".

As you can read in this report in the official Cuban media, Machado told delegates that hunger and malnutrition were the results of "an international world order that maintains and deepens poverty, inequalities and injustice". In other words, the US and its capitalists pals.

There is nothing new in this kind of rhetoric from the Castro regime, of course, but you have to wonder whether anyone in Havana has mentioned this theory to their new friends in Beijing.

Quote(s) of the Day

Taken from an article written by a Reuters correspondent in Havana, Jeff Franks, to mark Raul Castro’s “first 100 days in power”.

"I can see the change in my own life because now I have more work. There are more cars in the street, more tourists, people go out more. Raul wants to know what people think and want, and we have seen change in very little time."

A 62-year-old parking attendant in the Cuban capital, identified only as Ismael as he “preferred not to give his full name”.

"Nothing has changed for most people. They're just trying to hold on to power."

Pedro, identified as a 60-year-old hotel worker.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I have been going to Cuba for 12 years now. Since Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel, he has made a lot of changes. For the first time the Cubans that I spoke to are looking to the future with confidence."

Donald Goodspeed, a seemingly optimistic Canadian who travels to Cuba every year to take donated goods, such as school supplies, for distribution in local churches, writing in The Northern Light.

Chinese cooking

So, is there any truth to that old story about Raul Castro wanting Cuba to follow the “Chinese model”? You know, lost of capitalist economic activity (dollars!) combined with tight political control by the Communist Party.

According to a commentary published in the latest edition of Latin Business Chronicle, the Chinese certainly think so.

The article is written by Loro Horta, a Singapore-based graduate of the National Defence University of the People’s Liberation Army, who appears to be well connected with the Chinese hierarchy.

Mr Horta argues that Castro II became a convert to the Chinese model during an extensive, nine-day visit to China about three years ago when the would-be dictator was gobsmacked by the frenetic economic activity he witnessed.

Since then, relations between the two countries have grown rapidly and the Chinese have been sending hundreds of economic advisers to Cuba to help out in transport, finance and construction.

“The main objective of this arrangement is to prepare Cuban bureaucrats to run Cuba’s ailing state enterprises in a more effective manner while also giving them the skills to limit the fall-out of privatisation and its resulting workers layout,” Mr Horta writes.

At the same time, he adds, advisers are also helping the Cuban Communist Party to “re-brand itself”.

It appears the apparatchiks in Havana have been advised to “put more emphasis on issues such as nationalism and economic growth instead of ideological rhetoric and anti-American tirades that harm business”.

But perhaps the most telling aside in the article comes in the revelation that during his Chinese study trip, Castro II became quite a fan of Peking duck – he ate it all the time, including for breakfast.

Read the article here.