Monday, August 30, 2010

Fidel Castro: "I was dead"

Better days: Fidel Castro on Jan. 11, 1998. Photo: Along the Malecon archives

Fidel Castro says he was clinically dead. His heart and breathing had stopped when doctors revived him, the former Cuban president told Mexico's La Jornada newspaper.
"I was dead, but was resuscitated," said Castro, who dropped out of sight for four years after falling ill in July 2006.
Machines and tubes connected to his body helped keep Castro alive, but he said his weight plunged.
"Imagine a guy of my height weighing 66 kilos (145 pounds)," said Castro, who is more than six feet tall. "Today I'm between 85 and 86 kilos (187 and 189 pounds), and this morning I managed to take 600 steps without a cane, without help."
Castro, who underwent emergency surgery for an intestinal ailment, credited Cuba's health care system with saving him.
"Lying in that bed, just looking around, ignorant of all these medical devices. I did not know how long this torment would last and the only thing I hoped was that the world would stop."
Once he recovered, Castro discovered the world had not stopped, but some things had not changed. The world was still a chaotic place.
"A crazy world ... A world that appears every day on television, in newspapers, and that no one understands," Castro said.
Still, he said, he didn't want to miss any of it and is determined to stay active.
"I don't want to be absent during these days. The world is in the most interesting and dangerous phase of its existence and I am quite invested in what will happen. I still have things to do."
More specifically, Castro said, he wants to help form an international movement to end the threat of nuclear war.
Also in the interview, Castro defended the limited availability of the Internet on the island. He blamed the United States for Cuba's straits. He said the embargo prevents Cuba from connecting to the Internet through an underwater cable from the U.S. mainland. Instead, Castro said, Cuba must use satellite signals, which is more expensive.
The high cost prohibits the government from making the Internet widely available, Castro said.

Along the Malecon's Fidel Castro page

Is a foreigner's money safe in a Cuban bank?

Rio Zaza juice. Photo:

An Aug. 26 story in the Economist chronicles the fall of Max Marambio, a Chilean businessman now wanted for questioning in a fraud and bribery investigation in Cuba.
The Economist says the Cuban government's investigation of Marambio and his company Rio Zaza underscores Raul Castro's campaign against corruption.
I have no idea whether Marambio is a crook or not. But it seems that the Economist glossed over a key detail: Before there was any word of any investigation, the Cuban government froze some $30 million in revenue that Rio Zaza had in a Cuban bank.
Cuban authorities weren't just freezing the accounts of companies suspected of wrongdoing. They were preventing foreign companies from withdrawing their money from Cuban banks as a matter of routine because, as the Economist describes it, Cuban officials were "facing an acute shortage of foreign currency."
When Marambio complained, authorities began investigating him.
So what happened to the $30 million? My guess is that the Cuban government grabbed that. That's a theft that ought to be investigated.
I wonder how many other foreign companies operating in Cuba have lost their bank deposits for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
Now the Cuban government says it's changing the law, again, so that foreign companies may be able to  develop golf courses, Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told reporters on Aug. 1.
But how can any foreigner be sure his money is safe in a Cuban bank?

 Max Marambio. Photo: La Tercera

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Goat pillow

Spotted along a road in Cuba

Photo of old literacy campaign shirt

National Literacy Campaign

According to sociologist Miren Uriarte:
The National Literacy Campaign of 1961, recognized as one of the most successful initiatives of its kind, mobilized teachers, workers, and secondary school students to teach more than 700,000 persons how to read. This campaign reduced the illiteracy rate from 23% to 4% in the space of one year.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cuban men in bikinis

Posing for the camera

I was taking pictures near the old wooden bridge at Boca Ciega when several guys wearing bikinis appeared. They were happy to pose for some photos.
One of the guys scolded one of his friends, saying, "That's not how you pose, girl. You do it like this."
Below is a Google Maps photo of the old bridge, located east of Havana. Cars can't cross it because it's unsafe, but beach-goers use it. A stretch of beach to the west is a popular gay hangout.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Photos of political figures, including Raul Castro

View of the front row at July 26 rally in Santa Clara.

Alan Gross reported to be in a Havana hospital

Fidel Castro met on Wednesday with Hugo Chavez, right. Photo: CubaDebate

Alan Gross, a U.S. subcontractor detained in Cuba since December, has health problems and is being treated at a hospital in Havana, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told CNN Thursday morning.
Richardson, who is in Cuba on a trade mission, said he hopes to secure the American's release, but is making no guarantees.
He said he does not expect to see the Castro brothers. I would not be surprised if Fidel Castro were to summon Richardson for a meeting on his last day. I'm not saying such a meeting will necessarily happen - just that it's a possibility. Fidel Castro and Richardson have met before and the former Cuban president may want a meeting to get more insight into the governor's thinking on U.S. policy toward Cuba under Barack Obama.
On the other hand, Fidel Castro has been concentrating lately on his worries about the threat of nuclear war, not U.S.-Cuba relations, so who knows if Richardson is on his agenda.
Richardson didn't give details on Gross's health troubles or his hospital stay. I got the impression from Richardson that Gross is being treated at a Havana hospital now. I wonder if he's actually been treated and was released back to prison. More details and confirmation on this point are needed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thy daily bread

An everyday scene

A Cuban man stows bread on his bicycle and heads home.

Check out this funny sign in Cuba

Lost in translation

Spotted at a hotel bathroom in Santa Clara, Cuba - just what you need to keep people from tossing toilet paper into the closet. It's easy to see how this could happen since some folks use the term "water closet" for "toilet."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Old Ford truck competes in rally in Havana

Bird's eye view of the beach

These two people, above, climbed into the ruins of an abandoned building to escape the crowds on a hot day at the beach east of Havana. Below, a tattooed woman watches the ball during a game of volleyball.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Most Cubans worry about economic survival, not politics

These kids were attending a free concert near the Malecon in Havana.

If you're headed to Cuba and want to find disenchanted youth, shortages of medicine and people stealing from the workplace, that's what you'll find.
But if you want to find happy, smiling children on the street, you'll find that, too, along with talented musicians and artists, educated teen-agers, gifted athletes and more.
What you find in Cuba depends, at least in part, on what you're looking for.
During my last trip to the island, I wanted to understand more about civil society in Cuba, so I interviewed many of the country's top dissidents.
I also talked to Cuban government supporters, analysts and others.
A few quick impressions:
  • Dissident groups agree on the need for change, but differ over how to make it happen.
  • Government security agents have dissident groups under constant surveillance. No surprise here. The agents tail Yoani Sanchez and her husband Reinaldo Escobar when they go into the streets. Agents take photos of the blogger's meetings with visitors.
  • Agents also carefully monitor Ladies in White marches, videotaping and photographing both the demonstrators and anyone else who joins in to observe or march.
  • Most ordinary Cubans worry about economic survival, not politics or freedom of expression or human rights. The clamor for an expansion of basic freedoms that you read about on blogs and in cyberspace has not translated to any kind of big, visible civic movement on the streets.
  • Many Cubans routinely complain about the government, but aren't optimistic that they have any power to bring about change.
  • People are more open and outspoken than they were five years ago, but in many circles there is still great pressure to tow the political line.
  • The cost of living is extraordinarily high, considering the low wages. Many Cubans have trouble getting around Havana and other cities. I spoke to some Cubans who had not ever traveled outside the towns of their birth because of transportation and economic difficulties. I find that remarkable and sad.
  • Some Cubans are perfectly happy, despite the country's ragged economy. But their stories rarely make the news in the increasingly polarized debate over Cuba.