Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I know this will come as a total surprise to most of you: the Castro regime has hinted that it may not be able to pay the country’s foreign debt.

According to an article published in the official media, the regime may have some "difficulties" in meeting its obligations and repaying the USD7.8 billion owed to an assortment of Western governments, banks and other businesses.

Of course, this is on top of the many more billions the Castro brothers still owe (but will never repay) the old Soviet Union and its once loyal satellites in Eastern Europe.

And the reason why Havana says it may not be able to meet its repayments? The embargo, of course ...

Quote of the Day

"Price have already gone up ... They say there will be more punishments, but they have been saying that for dozens of years and everything stays the same."

Susana Delgado, described by the Associated Press as a 40-year-old office worker, responding to an official announcement by the Castro regime of a crack down on growers who lift their prices as a result of the food shortages due to hurricane Ike.

Fellow travellers

More than 100 “celebrities” have joined forces in the United Kingdom to protest against the continuing imprisonment in the United States of five Cuban agents who were found guilty of spying by an American court.

The celebrities, which include no fewer than nine Nobel laureates, have signed a full page advertisement that appears in today’s edition of two Left-leaning London dailies, The Guardian and The Independent.

They claim the five spies, who were sentenced in 2001 for periods of up to 25 years, were not really spies but “heroes” whose task was to infiltrate and disrupt “rightwing exile groups” in Miami that were perpetrating “acts of terrorism” within Cuba.

For the record, the signatories include Bishop Desmond Tutu, designers Vivienne Westwood and Jasper Conran, writers Iain Banks and Harold Pinter (naturally), well-known actors Julie Christie and Susannah York, and a few dozens trade union leaders, journalists and parliamentarians.

Surprisingly, the signatories also include Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, who really should know better.

Now, unlike ordinary Cubans, all these no-doubt sincere people are lucky enough to live in a democracy, and therefore have every right to protest against real or perceived injustices ... even when their argument is well, shaky.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the likes of Tutu, Conran and for that matter Acosta, to name just a few, took the time to protest publicly, too, against the many and very well-documented abuses of human and political rights by the Havana regime? Perhaps an advertisement calling for political change in Cuba? Or a fair trial for the dozens of political prisoners locked up in appalling conditions by the Castro brothers?

Totally shameless.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cigar corner

And now for something completely different: good news from Cuba. If you are a cigar smoker ...

The huge State-controlled conglomerate that has a monopoly on Cuban cigars, Habanos SA, has confirmed that it has enough tobacco leaves in reserve to cover demand for premium cigars for the next year – despite the damage inflicted by hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
A spokesman for Habanos, Manuel Garcia, told Reuters that the storms had destroyed as many as 3,414 barns in Pinar del Rio while damaging a further 1,590. The barns are used to dry and cure the harvested tobacco before the leaves are sent off to factories for rolling.
"We think that for at least the next year we should not have great difficulties with the supply of cigars because luckily for us, we have a reserve of raw material," Mr Garcia said.
For the record, Habanos SA is a joint (and highly profitable) venture between the Castro regime and Altadis, a multi-national tobacco manufacturer that is part of the British-based Imperial Tobacco group.

Quote of the Day

"The rise in oil prices is the result of irrational consumption, strong speculation and imperial war adventures."

Cuba's nominal vice-president, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, attacking the West during a speech to the United Nations today. Proof yet again that the more things change in Fidel Castro's island paradise, the more they stay the same ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Meanwhile, here is the official version of how Banes is supposed to be coping with the aftermath of hurricane Ike.

According to this article in the propaganda sheet of the Castro regime, Granma, the hurricane affected 19,480 homes in the municipality – or about 80 per cent of all residences. Of these, about 5,500 houses collapsed entirely.

But like true revolutionaries, the paper says, locals are working around the clock to repair private homes as well as local schools and other public buildings.

In fact, if you believe Granma, they have so far repaired no fewer than 22,000 homes in Banes - in just a week or so.

Quote of the Day

"We hope the Cuban government will consider our genuine offers of assistance and that the best interests of the Cuban people will come before political differences."

A rather optimistic US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announcing that an extra USD6.3 million will be offered in aid to Havana. The money would provide emergency help to the estimated 2.5 million Cubans believed to have lost their homes due to hurricane Ike.

In Banes

I am indebted to a couple of friends in Cuba, who would rather remain anonymous, for the photographs above, showing just some of the devastation caused by hurricane Ike in my old home town of Banes, in eastern Cuba.
They are not pretty pictures.
In the first photograph, the half destroyed building you see in the background is the old Teatro Hernandez, which was at the very epicentre of my social life growing up in Banes in the mid 1960s. A few years after Fidel Castro came to power and “nationalised” all private property, the cinema was renamed the Teatro Hanoi. But like everyone else in Banes back then, we still called it the Hernandez.
The second photograph shows the back of the one and only Catholic Church in Banes, the Church of our Lady of Mercy. Only gusano kids used to attend Sunday Mass in those days. Revolutionary kids went to the cinema across the road instead, to watch old American serials and cartoons – and endless black and white newsreels of a much younger Castro promising a land of milk and honey for all.
And finally, a photograph of the park at the end of our street, the Cardenas, one of two "grand" parks in Banes, where the neighbourhood kids used to meet after school.
If you have read my book, Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro’s Cuba, some of these places may be familiar as they feature prominently in the story. Except they were much happier times for Banes then.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cuban humour

"He slept with at least two women a day for more than four decades - one for lunch and one for supper ... sometimes he even ordered one for breakfast."

An unidentified man described as an ex-Castro official tells The New York Post how Fidel Castro has apparently "bedded" 35,000 women.

Investment opportunities

In case you have a spare few dollars in your bottom drawer, here is an investment idea that sounds as safe as, well, as investing in the share market: buy property in Cuba.

Five decades after Fidel Castro “nationalised” foreign-owned properties across the island, The Times in London reports on a project being flogged by Andrew Macdonald, a British entrepreneur who has apparently worked on "a variety of projects" in Cuba and across Latin America.

The enterprising Mr Macdonald is offering apartments in a new resort to be built at La Carbonera, which is about an hour’s drive from Havana - on the way to Varadero.

There are 165 villas on sale and an entry level, one-bedroom flat should cost about £70,000, which the paper says, is considerably cheaper than buying elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Naturally, it seems the opportunity to buy into La Carbonera is available to foreigners only, as the site will be totally self-contained, with its own grounds, sporting facilities and country club.

And just how secure will such an investment be, you ask?

Well, Mr Macdonald told the paper that property rights are “safe” in Cuba these days, although, for the time being at least, the properties will be offered on 75-year leases rather than freehold.

But fear not: this could change in the next few months, he added, as discussions are being held with the Castro regime about “the most appropriate mechanism”.

Quote of the Day

"In a U.S. presidential election year, snowballs have a better chance in Havana than the nearly 50-year-old Cuban embargo has of being overturned in Washington."

Columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, writing in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Two weeks after large parts of Cuba were devastated by hurricane Ike, leaving 200,000 people homeless and much of the economy in ruins, the never-ending war of words between Havana and Washington continues.

All very predictable – and very depressing.

In the latest instalment, the Castro regime has accused the US administration of lying about the amount of aid being offered to the island, calling instead for, yes, you guessed it, the immediate lifting of the “criminal” trade “blockade”.

Never mind that Fidel Castro has already rejected American aid out of hand, arguing that accepting any assistance from the US would somehow undermine the “dignity” of the Cuban people.

Ordinary Cubans may be homeless and hungry but as far as the semi-retired dictator is concerned, they are “too proud to accept charity from the enemy”.

Which proves yet again that while the old man may be out of action and out of touch with the reality around him, he still knows how to play that old public relations game that has served him so well for the past five decades.

And as usual, the Castro propaganda machine is running rings around their counterparts in the US.

Big time.

As far as I can see, Washington stuffed it up from the very beginning, announcing they’d be offering Cuba a measly $100,000 in aid on the condition a team of US assessors was allowed into the island to ascertain the level of damage.

And much as expected, Cuba rejected the offer.

Instead, they mounted a totally predictable (and obviously effective) campaign internationally that ensured much-needed aid arrived from other nations, including Russia and Western Europe ... while attacking Washington for its obviously inadequate and highly conditional offer of aid.

Result? Endless articles, editorials and commentary across the international media once again portraying those warm and fuzzy and valiant Castro brothers as victims of the nasty and insensitive Americans.

By the time Washington increased its offer of aid to a very generous USD5 million with no strings attached, it was too late.

Game, set and match to the regime in Havana. Again.

As for ordinary Cubans, well, they have been relegated to their usual role by the regime: mute spectators in their own tragedy.

According to this article in The Economist, food markets are already running out of supplies and prices have shot up, making life even more miserable for much of the population.

Diplomatic news

The wooing of Pacific Island nations by the Castro regime continues apace, as you can read in this dispatch in the official Cuban media.

It seems senior representatives of 10 nations in the South Pacific have travelled to Havana for the inaugural meeting of the Ministerial Meeting of Cuba and the Pacific Island States.

And while the visitors didn’t get to meet Raul Castro (too busy), they were entertained by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, that affable rogue, Felipe Perez Roque,
who told the delegates that Cuba had offered 64 medical scholarship to Pacific Island students – with many more to come in future.

"Cuba, a blockaded nation with scant resources, is willing to share its most valuable treasure with you: the human capital created over 50 years of revolution," said Perez Roque, forgetting to mention that while tuition is free, Pacific Island nations have to fund air fares, accommodation and living expenses for the students.

In fact, much of the costs involved in these “free” scholarships handed out by the Castro regime are borne indirectly by Australian taxpayers, who effectively bankroll the Pacific Island nations through hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian and development aid.

Still, score big points for Havana on the propaganda front.

In the dark. Again.

More than 10 days after hurricane Ike devastated Cuba, leaving an estimated 200,000 people homeless and what remains of the agricultural sector in tatters, Raul Castro has finally made his first public appearance.

In a carefully orchestrated visit to the Isla de la Juventud, the man who is supposed to be running things in paradise visited a local hospital to talk to “patients, carers and workers”, according to the official media.

No explanation so far as to why it took Castro II so long to get out of his Havana bunker.

In the meantime, the principal propaganda sheet of the regime, Granma, continues to publish stories about how things are getting back to normal across the island … thanks to the “revolution”, of course.

But even Granma cannot hide the magnitude of the problem.

Nearly three weeks after an earlier hurricane, Gustav, hit the province of Pinar del Rio, the paper reports that more than a quarter of residents still have no electricity.

In the province of Camaguey, half the residents are still in the dark.

Monday, September 15, 2008

News from the top

As most Cubans will confirm, there is a huge gulf between what ordinary Cubans think and what they are told to think by the Castro regime’s pervasive propaganda machine.

It’s not a new disconnect, either. Far from it.

But that gulf between the reality of daily life for most Cubans and the bizarre rhetoric emanating from the regime’s bunker seems to be getting wider and wider by the day.

Take this “declaration” issued today by Raul Castro, which was published with much fanfare by the official media.

A blueprint on how Cuba will recover from hurricane Ike, which has left hundreds of thousands of Cubans homeless? An announcement on when the electricity and telephone systems will be back to normal following the storms? News on how the devastated economy may recover?


Although Castro II has not been seen in public since Ike tore through the island last week, he has apparently found time to pen his own declaration attacking the United States for allegedly interfering in Bolivian internal affairs.

Deluded, alright.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Meanwhile, in Angola ...

While the Castro brothers and their shameless apologists continue to claim that Cuban parliamentary “elections” are “truly democratic” (you know, one vote, one candidate, on guaranteed result), voters elsewhere in the world obviously know best.

Even some of Cuba’s oldest Marxist allies have embraced multi-party elections, albeit with some reservations.

The latest to do so is Angola, where elections were held this week after 33 years of uninterrupted rule by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a one-time guerrilla movement that for a time became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Cuban Communist Party.

As you can read in this piece published by The Economist, the vote was far from perfect, which may explain why the MPLA ended up with 80 per cent of the popular vote – a landslide. But as the article states, it was at least a hopeful step forward.

If only someone would tell Havana.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Credit watch

Do those fun-loving Russians ever learn?

As we have previously reported, the Castro brothers owe Moscow an estimated USD26 billion in debts incurred back in the days before the Soviet Union collapsed, along with its various Communist satellites.

In fact, only last week, the Moscow-based International Investment Bank was given the legal go-ahead to try and recover at least some of the money owed by Havana, although even officials at the bank admitted that the likelihood of success was, well, remote.

We now learn that another State-owned bank in Russia, the Development Bank (Vneshekonombank), has agreed to loan a subsidiary of the Cuban national airline no less than USD44.5 million so they can buy a Russian cargo plane.

According to media reports, the State-owned airline has promised to repay the loan in 12 years. Seriously.

Of course, Havana has also promised to repay earlier loans that have resulted in the purchase of six Russian civil aircraft over the past three years, including a IL-96 VIP plane that was specially fitted out for the personal use of Fidel Castro and his entourage.

I wouldn't bet on any repayments. On time or otherwise.

Statistics II

Once more, the US administration has offered to send a team of experts to Cuba to assess the damage caused by hurricane Ike - and to offer humanitarian aid to victims.

And once again, it's likely that the Castro regime will turn down the offer, as it has for the past four decades or so.

As far as Havana is concerned, the only way the US can help is by lifting the commercial and trade embargo that has been in place since the early 1960s.

In other words, it's all about posturing and politics, especially given the release of new figures by the US State Department confirming that the embargo has more holes in it than a chunk of Swiss cheese. The figures show that last year alone, American farmers and primary producers sold Cuba goods worth more than USD3.6 billion.

But at least there is some good news for Sherritt International Corp, the Canadian multinational that has been in bed with the Castro brothers for quite some time.

You will be happy to hear that the Toronto-based company has announced that partial operations have resumed at its nickel facilities in Moa, in eastern Cuba, which Sherritt jointly owns with the regime.

Sherritt has a team on the ground assessing the damage (no restrictions there), and expects to be back to normal soon, as far as mining operations are concerned.


As Cubans well know, you can never quite believe the official statistics published by the Castro regime.

Much like the old Soviet Union and its colonies used to lie about everything from wheat production figures to literacy rates, the boys in Havana have spent the past 50 years constantly "fine tuning" all published data. It's in their nature.

Which is why it's difficult to ascertain exactly how many people have died on the island over the past two to three weeks as hurricanes Gustav and then Ike tore through much of the Caribbean, causing millions of dollars in damage.

According to reports from Havana, the official Cuban media claims that not a single person died as a result of Gustav last week, while four casualties have been officially reported due to Ike: a woman is said to have died when her home collapsed, a man was killed by a tree, and two others died while working on a roof.

The fact that the regime has admitted that four people lost their lives as a result of the latest hurricane (and provided details of how they died), is in itself unusual and an almost certain sign that sadly, the true death toll may be much, much higher.

Unfortunately, such information is normally deemed to be a State secret - just like the state of Fidel Castro's health.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Money matters

A Russian bank has been given the legal go-ahead in Moscow to try to recover at least some of the estimated USD26 billion in debt the Castro regime still owes the old Soviet Union.

The International Investment Bank, which was once the main global bank of what used to be known as the Soviet Empire, says it is owed about USD300 million by the Cubans – a debt that goes back to the 1970s.

But as this report confirms, the likelihood of forcing Havana to do the right thing and pay up are, well, pretty slim.

“The Cuban Central Bank is not easy to pin down,” the report says. “It has no website and few telephones. It has been avoiding contact with the International Investment Bank for the last several years and has no representatives [in Moscow].”

For the record, the Castro brothers are Russia’s largest foreign debtor.

Quote of the Day

"Far from being a genius, Castro was a political anachronism for decades before he resigned, holding on to … the early idealistic phase of the revolution far beyond its sell-by date and dragging his talented, free-spirited people down with him.

"There is nothing glamorous about Cuba’s grinding poverty. The habaneros earn on average £8 a month (plus meagre state-financed rations) and although most have enjoyed a good education and many are skilled, there is little work for them outside tourism and a few service industries. That is why so many of them ... have turned into full-time hustlers."

Travel writer Graham Boynton writing in The Daily Telegraph, London, about his most recent visit to Fidel Castro's island paradise. Worth a read.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Moscow on the line

Just how much damage did hurricane Gustav cause in western Cuba?

If you believe the official figures released by the Castro regime, some 90,000 homes were seriously damaged or destroyed by the hurricane, mainly in the province of Pinar del Rio.

But these figures are almost certainly conservative.

Which may explain why the Russian Government has just announced it will send four planeloads of “emergency aid” to Cuba, including construction equipment and tents designed to house as many as 5,000 people.