Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cuban architect known for modernism preserved ruins

The Ruins

Antonio Quintana, one of the most important architects in Cuba before Fidel Castro took power in 1959, designed this building around the ruins of a structure built some 150 years earlier.

The restaurant is called Las Ruinas and is south of Havana.
Quintana, a leading figure in architectural modernism in Cuba, designed this building around old ruins and towering trees.

Fidel Castro: Lenin was a "man of action"

Lenin in Cuba

You rarely hear people talking about Vladimir Lenin in Cuba. But a big park - Parque Lenin - is named after him.

Fidel Castro once described him as a "man of action." Biographers have said the same thing about the former Cuban president.

Cuban phones: Can you hear me now? What?

A Cuban woman talks into a broken public phone along Calle Obispo. The phone worked only when she spoke into the earpiece, instead of the mouthpiece. It has been replaced since the photo was taken.
Here's a newer version of a public phone in Havana.

ETECSA, the Cuban phone company, is kind of like the country's socialist system: It's a work in progress.
The company says when it comes to service, clients should remember that ETECSA, like any human endeavor, is "not perfect, for which we ask for your understanding and support."
But workers are constantly trying to improve the company, an ETECSA Web site says.

ETECSA has a searchable database of phone numbers here.
Cubans line up to see if the phone company has finally given them a phone line.
A Cuban woman talks into a cell phone near the beach at Tarara, east of Havana.

Friday, October 30, 2009

New book: The Dogs of Havana

Lost souls

Alabama book artist Steve Miller has a fascination with the street dogs of Havana. He gathered some of the photos he had taken of the dogs and gave them to Cuban artist Julio Peralta.
Peralta, who works at the Taller Experimental de Grafica in Old Havana, created eight linoleum cuts based on the photos. And Cade Collum added poetry.
The result: The Dogs of Havana, a new book featuring the art along with eight poems about the canines.
Miller designed and printed 75 of the books, then bound them by hand. They aren't cheap.
Specially-bound copies No. 1 through No. 15 are $475 each, plus $5 for shipping.
The rest of the books, with handmade paper wrappers, are $250 each, plus $5 for shipping. Or you can download a lower-quality PDF of the book for free.
The publisher is Red Hydra Press.

Along the Malecon's Dogs & puppies page

Thursday, October 29, 2009

U.S. official: "We don't think it's time to lift that embargo"

America's best interests?

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said U.S. national interests determine economic sanctions against Cuba. During a briefing on Wednesday, he told reporters:
The United States believes it has the sovereign right to conduct economic – its economic relationship with Cuba as determined by U.S. national interests.
The embargo, he said, is aimed at allowing “humanitarian items” to reach Cuba while “denying the Cuban Government resources that it could use to repress its citizens.”

Kelly said the United States exported $717 million in agricultural products, medical equipment and other “humanitarian items” to Cuba in 2008. He said:
Sanctions is one part of the United States policy approach to Cuba. In recent months, as you know, we’ve reached out to the Cuban people. We’ve taken steps to promote the free flow of information, we’ve lifted restrictions on family visits, and we’ve expanded the kinds and amounts of humanitarian items that the American people can donate to Cuba. We’ve also taken steps to establish a more constructive dialogue with Cuba. We’ve reestablished dialogues on migration, and we’ve initiated talks to reestablish direct mail service.
We remain focused on the need for improved human rights conditions and respect for fundamental freedoms in Cuba, and we would need to see improvements in those areas before we could normalize relations with Havana
A reporter asked:
But, I mean, you have no opinion on the fact that the rest of the world thinks that this is a bad way to go?
Kelly said:
The suggestion that we’re not assisting Cuba is just false. I mean, we are one of the major providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. But we don’t believe that we should – while there are repressive measures in place in Cuba, that we should reward the Government of Cuba by lifting the economic sanctions that could assist the Government of Cuba in its repression of its own citizens.
…we don’t think it’s time to lift that embargo.
The exchange between Kelly and the reporter continued.
Reporter: How long has the embargo been in place now?
Kellly: I think it’s been in place almost 50 years.
Reporter: Yeah, yeah.
Kelly: Well, that’s a long time to have a repressive system.
Reporter: Well, it’s also a long time to have a policy that has produced absolutely no results.

Horsing around near Havana

Parque Lenin, south of Havana, has a riding center where you can rent horses.
Parque Lenin opened in 1972.
These kids were playing at the riding center. There weren't a lot of people there when I went. Transportation problems at the time made it difficult for many Cubans to get there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's inheritance: the U.S. embargo

Havana, Cuba

The U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday voted 187-3 to condemn the U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba. Only two other nations - Israel and Palau, both heavily dependent on U.S. aid - sided with the United States.
The lopsided vote was expected. What's new is the "political symbolism," Phil Peters wrote in The Cuban Triangle.
Peters, a former State Department official, is a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute. He wrote:
...the embargo now belongs to President Obama. That is a point the Cuban government likes to make internationally, reminding foreign governments that change has not reached all parts of U.S. foreign policy and that the embargo, with many of the elements added by President Bush, remains intact under President Obama.
The Associated Press described the vote as "an annual ritual that serves to highlight near unanimous global opposition to America's hard-line policy toward the communist island, but which has done little to change Washington's stance, even with a new administration."
The AP said:
This year's vote was 187-3 in opposition to the embargo, with only Israel and the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau supporting the United States — just as they did last year. It was the 19th year in a row that the General Assembly has taken up the symbolic measure, with Washington steadily losing what little support it once had.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez ticked off a long list of grievances in his speech before the world body, saying the embargo — which the Cubans refer to as a blockade — had cost the island's fragile economy tens of billions of dollars over the years and prevented Cuban children from getting needed medical care.
"The blockade is an uncultured act of arrogance," Rodriguez said. He likened the policy to "an act of genocide" that is "ethically unacceptable."

Michael Douglas spends four days in Cuba

Michael Douglas strolls around Old Havana. Photo credit: Associated Press

Hollywood star Michael Douglas is in Cuba. The AP said:
Little was known about Douglas' plans for his four days in Cuba, but he was accompanied on his walk through Havana's old quarter by Patricia Rodriguez, an official at the city historian's office.
Among the sites he toured was a state-run tobacco shop, where employees showed the actor the finer points of rolling a Cuban cigar.

U.S. embargo "deeply damaging to...our image overseas"

Drumbeat of criticism

The United Nations is expected to vote today to condemn U.S. sanctions against Cuba. Last year's vote was 185-3. Expect something similar this time around.

Sarah Stephens, executive director for the Center for Democracy in the Americas, says this year's vote has special significance because it's the first on Barack Obama's watch. She writes in the Havana Note that even U.S. allies oppose the embargo.
The Secretary-General has prepared a public report that catalogues what UN members and UN organizations say about the embargo.

This document is a powerful reminder that the U.S. embargo is viewed internationally with great seriousness and in ways that are deeply damaging to U.S. interests and our image overseas.

Lest anyone think this policy is only provocative to nations in the non-aligned world, its opponents include Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, the European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Russia.
Jorge Bolaños, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C., said the embargo hurts ordinary Cubans all over the island.
The embargo affects the everyday life of Cubans; of children, women, of the elderly, and men. There are no economic or social sectors where the blockade does not have an adverse impact.
The two-page U.N. draft resolution recalls that member nations have spoken out against the "unilateral application of economic and trade measures by one State against another..." And it reminds them that the U.S. Helms-Burton law has "extraterritorial effects of which affect the sovereignty of other States."

Supporters of economic sanctions against Cuba say the embargo is working. It's weakening the socialist government and should not be lifted, they say.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Camilo joins Che at Revolution Square

Photo credit: Roberto Suarez, Juventud Rebelde

Oct. 28 is the 50th anniversary of the death of revolutionary commander Camilo Cienfuegos. Cuban artist Enrique Avila created a giant sculpture in Cienfuegos' honor. It will be inaugurated on Wednesday at the Plaza of the Revolution, the Associated Press said. Also Wednesday, Cuban children will throw flowers into the sea to honor Cienfuegos, who was killed after his plane crashed into the sea as it traveled from Havana to Camaguey.

State Department: Slight drop in religious harassment in Cuba

Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis in Havana, Cuba

Most Cubans believe in Afro-Cuban faiths. More than a half million Cubans are Protestants. And Shi'a Muslims on the island operate out of an apartment because a hurricane damaged their religious center in 2008.
Those are among the findings of the State Department's 2009 International Religious Freedom Report, released Oct. 26.
Reports of Cuban government harassment of religious organizations "declined slightly" over the previous year, the document's Cuba report said.
Various religious groups reported fewer restrictions on politically sensitive expression, the ability to hold religious activities even for organizations without official recognition, increased capacity to conduct charitable and community service projects, fewer import and travel restrictions, permission to repair buildings, and significant increases in membership.
Restrictions on religion remain, however. The report said:
Religious groups complained about widespread surveillance and infiltration of their membership by state security agents.
An Afro-Cuban ritual.

As for demographics, the document said, as many as 80 percent of Cubans are believed to consult with santeros and many ask for help with "specific immediate problems such as bearing children, curing illness, or ensuring safe passage."

Believers in other faiths include:
* about 100,000 Christians
* 550,000 Protestants
* 1,500 Jews
Baptists "are possibly the largest Protestant denomination," said the report, without giving an estimate. Pentecostals, particularly members of Assemblies of God churches, follow close behind and their numbers are "believed to be rising sharply."

Other believers include:
* More than 90,000 Jehovah's Witnesses
* More than 30,000 Seventh-day Adventists
* More than 22,000 Anglicans
* More than 21,000 Methodists
* More than 15,000 Presbyterians
* More than 300 Quakers
* 50 Mormons
The report said:
The Muslim population consists of 6,000 temporary residents, mainly businessmen, students, and diplomats, and 300 native-born Sunni Muslims.
There are approximately 50 Shi'a Muslims. The Shi'a community directs the Al-Ma'sumin Islamic Center. In the fall of 2008 a hurricane extensively damaged the building, and the Center now operates out of an apartment. The Government is working with the Government of Iran to provide a replacement for the leader of the Shi'a community when the current leader, Miguel Aquila Cardenas "Hassan Felix," a native Cuban, travels to Iran to complete the studies necessary to obtain the title of Mufti.