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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

"People in Cuba value families"

Image result for i went to Cuba before the Americans ruin it

As I predicted, American travelers are finding Cuba to be an interesting and inspirational place. Here is is what one US visitor wrote recently in the Kansas City star:

"In Cuba we never saw police on Paseo or armed guards. In the 20-minute walk to the Riviera and the return to our hotel after midnight, we encountered teens, moms with kids, young couples on park benches and men and women our age sitting outside, where it was a lot cooler than being indoors with no air conditioning.
“This is a country where people still meet face to face,” said Rodrigo Gonzalez, who helped show us his homeland. He also said tourism was up dramatically.
"Rita M. Pereina, who also showed us Cuba, said visitors needed to take some precautions, but Cuba is a country where guns aren’t sold, “and usually here it’s safer.”
"We learned that people in Cuba value families. Bette and I took joy in learning of our hosts’ children and parents and sharing our own pictures and stories of our immediate and extended families.
"Cuba’s strength and its family bonds may be tied to women playing a greater role in governing than in the U.S. Maritzel Gonzalez, with the Federation of Cuban Women, told us that 48 percent of Cuba’s Parliament members are women. If only our Congress were that way.
She said 10 of the 15 Cuban provinces are chaired by women — the equivalent of governors in the U.S., and women head 35 percent of the municipalities. More than 65 percent of university students are women, and about half the natural science and math graduates are women. The population is highly educated, the birthrate is low and Cubans work to combat bias."

Read more here:

Sunday, 26 April 2015

On whom will the thaw have the most effect?

Which side will change most from the thaw? Being the optimist, I have always thought that US society will be more affected by a thaw in relations than Cuba will. Take for example how the Republicans, after years of claiming Cuba was a supporter of terrorism, have given up the fight so quickly? Or this from a New Jersey IT leader:

"Before my first trip, I was told to expect little more than a communist dictatorship filled with unhappy and poor people. I can only speak for what I observed: that is not what I saw in the many meetings I held, or in the many areas of Cuba I visited. Rather, I found one of the most literate, healthy, educated, cultured, proud, warm and happy societies on the planet."

Could that be said of the USA?

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The future of Cuba is not capitalism

FOR THOSE out there who fear that the recent moves by Obama may be the thin edge of the capitalist wedge, then this article from the website Counterpunch is a necessary reassurance. For those who think that the US policy is the best way to bring about regime chnage, it is a salutory lesson.
In this interview, Alejandro Castro Espín, Doctor of Political Science and social researcher and son of Cuban president Raul Castro and the late Vilma Espin, openly shares his thoughts regarding the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. He also explains how Cuban participatory democracy works and his perception of the future of Cuba. It is defintiely not a capitlaist future and he eloquently explains why:
"Cubans are a people who suffered from capitalism in the cruelest way, in the social order, the economic order and the political order. The United States turned to repression when its prominence started to slip in Latin America through establishing military dictatorships. Then there is the case of Henry Kissinger who was a known scholar who later became the National Security Advisor to President Nixon and later on Secretary of State. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in establishing relations between the U.S. and China. At the same time that he was doing that he was also encouraging all sorts of covert actions against Cuba including political assassinations. This contradiction is one that is hard to understand. This is why Cuba cannot go back to capitalism; we know all the tragic experience that it has generated for Latin America and the world. We also know the positive experiences of socialism not only in our geographic environment but also like what we are witnessing in China."

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Que locura! Leonardo Padura launches his latest novel in Cuba

Havana, Cuba, 7 February 2015

By a strange quirk of fate (such serendipity is actually not so uncommon in Cuba), I happened to be free today and it happened to be the day (suddenly decided as things always are here) that the Union of Artists and Writers (UNEAC for short) chose to launch ‘my author’s’ latest novel Herejes (Heretics) here for the first time. I call him 'my author' because I have the vicarious claim to fame of having been the man who 'discovered' Leonardo Padura in the English speaking academic establishment.

Completed in 2013 this book has already won a prize for historical novels in Spain and has gone to two editions there. But today Cuban. readers will be able to relish the revival of their favourite fictional detective, Mario Conde, for the first time since the late 1990s.

UNEAC sold 1,000 copies this morning in about an hour and there are another 3,000 to be sold in the island over the next few weeks. The sale today was only in Cuban national pesos at a price anyone can afford… just 30 pesos MN a copy - or about US$1.20.

A complex and long novel that spans four centuries, Herejes contains numerous narrative points of view and a variety of protagonists. Its main thesis boils down to a discussion of the title – heresy and what it can mean at different times, in different contexts and cultures. This is a theme the author has discussed in his novels throughout his career. Here again, he breaks ground in the Cuban context by incoporating a copiously researched historical novel regaridng the treatment of Jews in Europe with a more prosaic contemporary detectuve story set in Havana. The English language edition is to be published soon in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press

You can read my review of this novel (in Spanish) here: 

Friday, 6 February 2015

In the Museum of the Captain General

Havana, Cuba, 6 February, 2015

Today I went to place where every American visitor should go here in Havana if they entertain the idea that Obama’s policy will win them back this island. It is a place that in the 30 odd years I have been coming to Cuba, I had never been before. So there you go. There is always something new to be learned, to be seen and to be enlightened by.
The place I am talking about is easily found. It is on the well-beaten tourist track, in fact it is housed within one of the most visited buildings in the city, the magnificent (in the true sense of the word) 18th century palace of the Captain General in the Plaza de Armas. It was for a while the place from which the Americans held dominion over the island between 1898 and 1902. A huge, limestone baroque Xanadu, the mother of all colonial buildings complete with a wooden paved road outside so that the sound of horses would not to keep the Captain General and his wife awake at siesta time. Now it serves as a prosaic and ironic reminder that neither the Spanish nor the Americans hold power here. It is a museum to the history of the struggle for Cuba’s independence in the 19th century.
So here, today hang portraits of the great heroes: the founding father de Cespedes, the poet apostle Martí and of course the Bronze Titan, Maceo, so called because he was wounded more than 20 times and carried that much shrapnel in his body. All three died in battle.
However, among all these exhibits hangs one that carries a message that every American should know, for here in one of the rooms hang the first flags of Cuba. I am talking about the actual cloth objects. The very first flags, symbols of the new nation, or one should say that at the time of their creation, the nation that was being dreamed into being.

The first flag was de Cespedes’ flag, not the flag we see today that is familiar with its single white star on a red triangle and three blue stripes. De Cespedes’ flag is made up of three oblongs of red, white and blue and is similar to the flag of Texas. De Cespedes’ flag was that which flew above his troops in 1868 when the first war of Independence was launched. It was dropped in 1869 when the first Cuban republic was founded.
In the heat of the war that year, Cuba’s first representative assembly was held and the first republic declared and at that first assembly the gathered fighters adopted the flag we know today, but it was not a new flag then. It in fact dated back to 1850 and belonged, not to an independence fighter but to another type of rebel who at that time wanted to wrest the island from Spain.
A keen sense of irony is a necessary quality when viewing Cuban history, and here is a case in point. The flag that flies over Cuba’s parliament today, the flag of Fidel Castro, is in fact the flag of Narciso Lopez, a Venezuelan filibuster (a rather exotic word of Dutch origin that is essentially a synonym for a pirate) who tried twice in the 19th century to invade Cuba in order to have it annexed into the United States! And as if to make the irony even harder to bear, that flag was designed in New York.
The famous Cuban- American historian Louis Perez Jnr. Has a book entitled ‘Ties of singular intimacy’. You cannot find a more singular tie than the Cuban flag. As a symbol it just about captures it all. As I looked at it today and I thought about it, it made me smile. “Look” it says, “we want your inspiration, we want your republicanism, but we want it to be our own. To stand on our own feet, to choose our way freely and not to have it thrust upon us. We don’t want to be a part of you, we want to be as you are. Sovereign and free.”

In the next room hangs an almost life sized painting of the Death of Maceo, a classical scene rendered expertly by Menocal in 1908.  After viewing Lopez’s flag, the North American visitor should contemplate what Maceo said: “He who tries to take over Cuba will reap nothing but its soil steeped in the blood of its people if they do not perish in the attempt.”

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Cameron's silence on Cuba must be broken

From all corners of the globe the plaudits have come in for President Obama. He has been praised even by his enemies for his bold and magnanimous reversal of US policy towards Cuba. Even from within the island there is tremendous goodwill towards him. My colleague, Rafael Hernández , editor of the Havana magazine Temas, writing in today's Vanguardia newspaper in Havana says: "For the first time since Lincoln, an American President is popular in the island."

So one would have thought that Britain would have been first among those to applaud? But no. There has been a conspicuous silence from the UK and it is frankly shameful, not least because the UK is supposed to be the US's closest ally, but also because British banks have been among those most penalized most unfairly for carrying out transactions that are wholly within the law. One would have thought that HMG would be now seeking the kind of assurance that from now there will be no more victimization of our companies for dealing with Cuba. 

This letter from Lord Hutton of the Cuba Initiative in this morning's Financial Times makes the point most eloquently:   

December 22, 2014 11:42 pm

We trust UK banks will rethink their Cuba policy

Sir, The gradual normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba is to be wholeheartedly welcomed. The US embargo has not only prevented US companies from trading with Cuba but has been interpreted in such a way by the US Treasury as to have also become a significant impediment to UK companies as well.
The extraterritorial reach of US financial sanctions in particular, and the imposition of swingeing fines by the US on banks found to be in contravention of them, has meant that most British banks have been unwilling to handle UK banking transactions with Cuba in spite of the fact that under UK law they are perfectly legal and legitimate.
As the US moves to permit US institutions to hold correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions, and hopefully recognises that Cuba has no place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, we trust that UK banks will rapidly reassess their policy towards supporting UK companies investing in and undertaking trade with Cuba.
The UK government has made abundantly clear that it supports engagement and increased investment and trade with Cuba. At the time of his visit last month to Havana, the Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire announced a major trade and investment mission of UK companies which I will be leading to Havana in the spring of 2015.At a time when the US is finally normalising its policy towards Cuba, it is vital that UK companies as well as banks rapidly engage so that the UK develops a strong position in Cuba and Britain’s economic interests in the region are upheld.
Lord Hutton of FurnessChairman, The Cuba Initiative

He might have added that it is vital for the UK government to bring this matter up with the White House while at the same time helping President Obama face down his enemies in Congress by giving fulsome praise for his sensible and grown up policy on Cuba.

Why is Cameron silent? Well it might possibly have something to do with the Malvinas issue with Argentina. He is facing calls to copy Obama's policy and sit down an talk about the UK's differences with Argentina. Perhaps here is an opportunity for Mr Miliband to show his mettle?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Should Cuba be on the US terror list?

One of the key policy changes announced by President Obama on 17 November was the instruction to Secretary of State John Kerry to report within six months on whether Cuba should be listed among the states that support terrorism.
The designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism has been a contentious issue from the start. The fact that Cuba has been a victim of terrorism itself and ironically from the United States, has meant that this has been a source of deep resentment in Havana. However, the hurt is more than moral. Economically too, the inclusion of Cuba on  the so-called ‘terror list’ has meant that foreign banks have been severely fined in the US for dealing with the island to the extent that they have pulled out of dealing with Cuba altogether. This has added enormously to the financial burden placed on the Cuban economy.
Thus, removing Cuba from the list would not only heal an emotional wound it would help Cuba’s economy to grow. So should Cuba be on the list? The evidence suggests that it should clearly not.

Here from USAToday is a very good explanation as to why.