Saturday, November 29, 2008

Photo (s) of the Week

These swimmers are practicing for a performance at the Hotel Kohly in Havana.

Fallout from Posada Carriles case continues

A judge in Panama has 30 days to decide on sentences for three officials accused of freeing Luis Posada Carriles from jail in 2004, EcoDiario reported on Friday.
The officials are: ex director de la Policía Nacional Carlos Barés, former director of the National Police; Javier Taia, an immigration official; and Arnulfo Escalona, Panama's ex-minister of Government and Justice. Then-President Mireya Moscoso pardoned Posada Carriles at the end of her presidency and he was freed. That triggered some celebrations and praise for Moscoso - and also some protests.
The Code Pink protest along Calle Ocho in Miami in January 2008 had to have been the most colorful of the demonstrations. Cuaderno de Cuba published a picture of the protest yesterday. Here are a few more, which were taken from Code Pink and other sources. Code Pink also posted a YouTube video on the case. I don't think I've ever seen such bright pink dresses.

Hey, who's that eyeing my Cristal?

In case you ever wondered what a bottle of Cristal beer looks like, here's one sitting on a table at a cafeteria overlooking Guanabo, Cuba.
This Cuban woman really had no interest in the Cristal, but I thought her eyes were interesting. She is a woman of mixed race and has blue eyes. I'd never seen that before.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fidel Castro's death: "Rumors about rumors"

Without warning, the buzz begins: Fidel Castro is dead.

At least a few times a year, rumors say the Comandante has kicked the cubeta - the ol' bucket - and people are convinced it's true.

Castro's enemies have wanted him dead for a long time. A Cuban newspaper declared him kaput in 1953.

MUERTO FIDEL CASTRO, read the banner headline.

I saw the newspaper, shown above, on display at a museum in the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Castro and his followers attacked the barracks in July 1953. Dozens of people were killed, but Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul escaped.

More than five decades later, Raul Castro is president and Fidel is churning out opinion columns from an undisclosed location in Cuba. And until he moves on, the rumors of his death will surely continue.

The Moncada barracks, above.
Among many of the months when the rumors have been particularly hot and heavy: March 2006, July 2006, August 2006, December 2006 and August 2007.

Sometimes news organizations ignore the rumors. Other times they report on them.

In one story, the Miami Herald quoted Rita, a financial analyst who worked at a government meatpacking plant.
”I heard rumors about the rumors,” she said.
 Another quote came from an 80-year-old identified as “Juan."
“Some people say he’s already been cremated, and others say they have him preserved in wax somewhere, but nobody really knows anything,” he said.
I read about the Herald story in a blog called Castro Death Watch, which, as you might guess, is dedicated to this sort of thing.

Generación Y's Yoani Sánchez wants human rights, not awards

Yoani Sánchez won another big prize for her blog, Generación Y, which has pushed new boundaries in Cuba,

She won top award in the Best of the Blogs competition, or BOBs, the largest international Weblog competition. Deutsche Welle, the German International Broadcasting Service, founded the contest in 2004.
The jury said that Sánchez gives voice to an entire generation of Cubans and provides the world with a window into Cuba through her clear and poetic writing.

In addition to a slew of other obstacles in her way, Sánchez can't even post her own entries to the blog. Instead she is forced to e-mail them to friends outside of Cuba in order for her words to go online. Despite the challenges she has to overcome, she's managed to keep in contact with her readers and create a huge international community around her work.
Sánchez posted a YouTube video offering thanks for the award. She wrote, "Well, yes, there is much that I still need. These aren't precisely awards, but rights that have been overlooked for a long time, like the right to be read within my own country."

Bloggers por un sueno posted photos of the jury. Cuban Colada and Penultimos Dias joined many blogs posting comments on Thursday.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Along the Malecon hits 100-country mark

Visitors from 100 nations have visited Along the Malecon since Aug. 12, according to Google Analytics.
The top 10 countries were:
1. United States (logical)
2. Canada (makes sense)
3. United Kingdom (same language)
4. Turks & Caicos Islands (huh?)
5. Cuba (this I can understand)
6. Spain
7. Czech Republic
8. Germany
9. Mexico
10. Finland
The top 5 cities were:
1. West Hollywood
2. Miami
3. Havana
4. London
5. New York
These fearless Web surfers come from 1,165 cities, according to Google Analytics. No doubt it's the deep intellectual discussions that draw them here. And in that spirit, I am posting several "intellectual" photos.

Thanksgiving tribute to Cuban canines

"Don't worry. I got your back, little dude."

"So how many miles is it again to Miami?"

"I am Michael Jordan of the dog world."

"I am also in desperate need of a tongue brush - size large."

"Slurp, slurp, slurp...why am I so sleepy all the sudden?"

"OK, so I squeeze out the window and jump to the ground. But then what? I've got to think. Just let me think... "

"I make wrinkles look good."
•      •

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A rare photograph of Fidel Castro wearing pajamas in 1959

Photos of Fidel Castro wearing a sweatsuit are familiar by now, more than two years after he fell ill. Above is a variation on that theme. I don't know who took the photo. My guess is that a Cuban photographer traveling with Castro took the picture during the Cuban leader's 1959 trip to Houston. I think the boys are the American children of one of the Texas VIPs who was showing Castro around.

The photo above appeared in Cuba's state-run press in August 2006. It was the first published after Castro resurfaced after undergoing intestinal surgery. Some bloggers speculated that the image was manipulated.

Havana at dawn

A lot of folks aren't crazy about going to work, but my office in Cuba was pretty hard to beat. It was on the fifth floor of the Lonja de Comercio building in Old Havana. These photos show the spectacular view from my office windows just before sunrise one day in October.

Cuban dancers dreaming, preening, posing, stretching, reaching

Sean Penn's interview with Raul Castro

Kudos to Sean Penn for an interesting story in The Nation. His October trip to Havana included nine hours with Raul Castro. Here are a few tidbits from the interview:

The U.S. and Cuban armed forces have held regular secret meetings since 1994, Castro said.
To this day, there have been 157 meetings, and there is a taped record of every meeting. The meetings are conducted on the third Friday of every month. We alternate locations between the American base at Guantánamo and in Cuban-held territory.
More recently, a State Department representative also joins the meetings, he said.
The State Department tends to be less reasonable than the Pentagon. But no one raises their voice because...I don't take part. Because I talk loud. It is the only place in the world where these two militaries meet in peace.
Asked Cuba’s first priority should he meet with President Bush’s successor, Castro said:
Normalize trade. The only reason for the blockade is to hurt us. Nothing can deter the revolution. Let Cubans come to visit with their families. Let Americans come to Cuba.
Told the some U.S. lawmakers hope to help build up Cuba’s economy so that people will be “more able to fight the dictatorship,” Castro said:
We welcome the challenge.
Asked if he’d meet with Barack Obama, Castro said he’d “have to think about it.”
I would discuss it with all my comrades in the leadership. Personally, I think it would not be fair that I be the first to visit, because it is always the Latin American presidents who go to the United States first. But it would also be unfair to expect the president of the United States to come to Cuba. We should meet in a neutral place.
Perhaps we could meet at Guantánamo. We must meet and begin to solve our problems…
Sean Penn talks about his piece in this YouTube video.

Cubans dream of finding billions in gold and jewels that vanished

Descendants of Spanish royalty in Cuba are clamoring for a long lost fortune that the fabulously wealthy Manso de Contreras family left behind.
But the riches have vanished. Writer Roberto Alvarez-Galloso calls it "the financial version of the Bermuda Triangle." Cuban filmmaker Juan Carlos Tabío was planning to do a movie about the lost treasure, according to this 2007 story.
The idea for the plot, Tabío says, was prompted by an article published in 2001 in the Spanish daily El País. According to it, more than 25,000 Cubans maintained they are the heirs to an unclaimed multi-million dollar fortune held in the coffers of a British bank.
In the 1700s, Bartolomé Manso de Contreras inherited a huge fortune from his descendants, including a Spaniard who fought pirates (and took their loot). Manso de Contreras married Josefa de Loyola y Monteagudo. Their children included three sisters who became nuns. The nuns inherited gold and jewels that they stashed in the Santa Clara Convent in Havana. Then later, as they story goes, they sent the fortune to a British bank so it wouldn't be stolen.

This tale of lost riches goes back many years. I wrote about it in 2001. The first part of that story is here.
A quick Google check shows that Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits have not given up. But so far, heirs of the Manso de Contreras clan have gotten nothing.

This post suggests that the Cuban government has been investing the mysterious funds. Another post offers a "big cash reward" for information leading to the whereabouts of the fortune.

I took these photos in the town of Remedios, on Cuba's northern coast. Many Cubans go there to look up old birth and death records to find out if they are Manso de Contreras heirs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wanted: Cuban writer for massive 192-country blog

A blog called Topics from 192 Countries is recruiting bloggers from around the world.

The blog's author wonders if people from vastly different nations, cultures, societies and political views can cooperate together to write one massive blog.

My guess: They'll all kill each other.

Just kidding. It's a noble effort. I'm for anything that creates greater understanding and tolerance among people of different nations and cultures.
Dozens of writers have signed up so far, but Topics from 192 Countries is still looking for bloggers from such countries as Paraguay, Pakistan, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Russia, Cuba and many others.
A photo from the blog is above.

No pain, no gain: Nipple rings and tattoos

A Cuban skateboarder shreds up the Capitolio.
Those nipple rings had to have hurt when they were put in, don't you think?

Green Revolution: These Cubans went green way before it became fashionable

Green bench, green clothes, green cans of Cachito (a Cuban version of Sprite).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cubans go nuts over shortwave radios (updated)

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report on oversight of U.S. democracy aid to Cuba is out. A copy of the 40-page PDF report is here. It says that a former White House employee "used companies that he controlled to sell shortwave radios to CFC at inflated prices, pocketing the difference."

This happened from late 2004 through January 2008, the report quotes a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) memo as saying.

According to The Cuban Triangle, where I learned of the GAO report, the staffer was Felipe Sixto, former employee of an USAID grantee. The Cuban Triangle said:
Last March, amid reports that Sixto had defrauded the program of hundreds of thousands of funds, the White House commented that Sixto “allegedly had a conflict of interest with the use of USAID funds.”
GAO said USAID has recovered “$578,810 in project funds and interest of $67,992, which will be returned to the Department of the Treasury.”
GAO doesn't say "if all of Sixto’s apparent kickbacks derived from radio purchases, or if other kinds of transactions were involved," the Cuban Triangle said.

A writer in the Cuba Journal questioned whether some of the embezzled money was used to pay politicians who support the Bush administration policies in Cuba.

I don't know about any of that. What I can tell you for sure is that Cubans love those shortwave radios. I don't know what they cost, but I know Cubans who listen to them every day. I'm not excusing any theft that went on, but those little radios mean a lot to everyday Cubans.

American officials working in Havana used to pass them out at the Independence Day festivities at the residence of the U.S. ambassador. The campaign infuriated some Cuban officials, who accused the U.S. of meddling in Cuba's internal affairs. But many Cubans eagerly latched on to the Chinese radios and the battery chargers that came with them.
I grabbed a few radios whenever I could during the July celebration and gave them to Cubans I know. The radios were made by Tecsun, which churns out millions of radios per year and describes itself as China's leading radio manufacturer. Photos here show one of the radios that U.S. officials passed out (this is the radio that I kept).

Update: Felipe Sixto has been charged with theft, according to an Associated Press story that ran today.