638 Ways to Kill Castro

A film about the US government’s 638 failed plots to kill Fidel Castro could hardly have come at a more timely moment.

Last week, US government officials briefed reporters to suggest that Fidel Castro might have only months to live. They have, of course, been predicting his demise for the last four decades but what was significant about the latest briefing was the tacit acceptance that the Cuban leader will die a natural, rather than an unnatural, death.

There have now been, according to the Cuban security service, no fewer than 638 plots to kill Castro, either directly organised by the CIA or their many proxies. The attempts have been annotated by two of Castro’s top minders, Fabian Escalante, who has written about them in his book, 638 Maneras de Matar a Castro (638 Ways To Kill Castro) and his colleague, Xavier Solado, who wrote a pamphlet of the same name a few years ago.

Now a film about those plots is to be shown on British television. It could hardly come at a more timely moment as the world is being asked to take a stance against terrorism and western horror is expressed at the assassination of political leaders.

“Some of the attempts were a bit like Clousseau,” says Peter Moore, the film’s executive producer. Some of them are familiar – the exploding cigar, the ballpoint hypodermic syringe, the gift of a poisoned wetsuit, others more traditional. Dollan Cannell, the film’s director, says that the plots seem to have failed through a mixture of incompetence, chance and bad timing. “The CIA had to do it without being blamed for it,” says Cannell. “There had to be no smoking gun.”

Castro has now seen off no fewer than eight American presidents, many of whom, Cannell believes, must have sanctioned the various attempted hits. John F Kennedy even asked Bond creator, Ian Fleming, for suggestions and there were plans to outsource the job to the Mafia.

“We can be 100 per cent sure that Eisenhower and Kennedy signed off on them,” says Cannell. “And I think you could say that probably also Johnson and Nixon agreed to them. Jimmy Carter told us when we met him during the making of the film that he did not.”

Two of the chief anti-Castro plotters agreed to participate in the film: Orlando Bosch, weakened by a stroke, and Luis Posada, who is currently wanted in both Cuba and Venezuela in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. Anti-Castro exiles were happy to help, says Moore. “The title sounds so different to the ears of people in Miami,” he says. “It seems to them like a pretty good idea. There is no shame about being involved in the plots amongst the exile community. They (the would-be assassins) are pretty much regarded as heroes. And there are still people who are only embarrassed that they didn’t succeed.”

Cannell says that the most striking aspect of the film for him is that a country, which is now so outspoken about its opposition to terrorism, should have been involved for so long in so many plans to kill a foreign head of state: “what shrieks at you is the double standard.”

The film is being shown just a few days before the planned celebrations in Havana for Castro’s 80th birthday, which was postponed from this summer when he fell ill and there were rumours that he was already dead. So the man whom the CIA have tried to despatch with everything from a bacteria-infected hankie to an aerosol filled with LSD, is still around and should be blowing out the 80 candles on his cake on December 2 – after his security men have, no doubt, checked out the cake and candles.

638 Ways to Kill Castro will be shown on November 28 on Channel 4 at 10 pm.


Cuba launches new cigar for smokers with limited time

Havana – Cuba’s tobacco industry launched a new version of its famous cigars, called Minuto (minute), designed for smokers “with limited time,” local media reported Friday.

The new Cuban cigar would be 194 millimetres long, weighing 7.1 grammes, sold in packs of three and boxes of 25, the weekly Negocios en Cuba reported.

Minuto cigars are made by the brand Guantanamera, which according to its parent company International Cuban Tobacco Company is targeted at consumers who are just starting smoking – young men and women who can’t yet handle longer-lasting cigars.

Guantanamera, created in 2002, is known for targeting sectors that Cuban cigars had not reached until now.


A fine time to be in the cigar business

Altadis and Swedish Match post good third-quarter cigar results

Los Angeles, November 23 – The U.S. is still smokin’.

The biggest players in the U.S. cigar market – Altadis S.A. and Swedish Match – both reported fairly good results for the nine months ended September 30, continuing the strong performance of the cigar segment in both companies.

• Altadis S.A.:
The world’s biggest cigar company saw its cigar sales volume drop significantly, but Altadis made more money than ever.

Cigar sales totaled 2.46 billion units, down 5.6% from the same period in 2005, but the economic results couldn’t be better:

• Sales reached 660 million Euro, or about $849 million U.S, up 2.1% over what was a record-setting year in 2005.

• Costs were down by 3.4%, so the profit margin was a sensational 212 million Euro (about $273 million U.S.), up to a remarkable 32.1%! That’s a gain of almost four points from last year.

Continue reading A fine time to be in the cigar business

Worlds Longest Cigar

Whether you call it Cigar City or the Cigar Capital of the World, Ybor City in Tampa, Florida hosted the annual Cigar Heritage Festival on Saturday. Although thousands attended to celebrate cigar culture, the main attraction was the rolling of the biggest cigar in recorded history.A core team of about 14 rollers was supervised by Wallace Reyes of the Gonzalez Habano Cigar Factory in Tampa to work on breaking the previous cigar record of 67 feet. After 75 hours of rolling and gluing, this monstrosity of a cigar wound up measuring 101 feet long with a 61 ring gauge.

Cigar experts were on hand “confirming that this was in fact a smokable cigar,” said Vienna LoCicero Santisteban, director of public relations for Cigar City Magazine, a local, small press publication of Ybor City that sponsored the event. “I pulled my aunt out from the crowd and told her ‘put your hand on the cigar, become part of history.’ I pulled a lot of friends and family from the crowd to touch it.”

The Guiness Book of World Records was not present for the event as had been originally planned, but according to Santisteban, enough notaries were there to validate the feat. In addition to photos, ten hours of video tape was submitted to Guinness.

The 53-pound cigar is to be cut into six-inch sections. Each segment will be framed in a shadow box and will sport a band designed by Cigar City Magazine. A reproduction of the Guinness Book of World Records certificate of authenticity will also be included. Each cigar will cost $100, with the proceeds benefiting The Humane Society of Tampa Bay and the Ybor City Museum Society.


More Flavorful Smokes from Havana

The Cubans are rolling out some flavorful smokes with dark and oily wrappers, including a number wearing the Cohiba band.

I sat on a tasting panel a few weeks ago in the H. Upmann factory in Havana and savored the soon-to-be-released Cohiba Pyramide Edición Limitada. It was a bombshell! The 52 ring gauge by 6 1/8-inch torpedo delivered loads of coffee, cedar and tobacco character on the palate. It showed the balance and richness you expect in a Cohiba, but its dark and aged wrapper imparted a slightly nutty, earthy undertone.

The Cohiba Pyramide is one of the three Edición Limitadas for this year; the others are the Montecristo Robusto (50 ring gauge by 4 7/8 inches) and the Partagas Serie D No. 3 (46 by 5 2/3 inches). These three shapes have been made before, but are being reproduced to mark the fifth anniversary of the Edición Limitada range. All come in boxes of 25 cigars, and the Cohiba is also presented in dark varnished boxes of 10.

During my visit, I also smoked the new Montecristo Petit Edmundo. This is essentially the popular Edmundo Montecristo cut short. In other words, it’s 52 ring gauge by 4 1/3 inches long. I was smoking it in the office of the new manager of H. Upmann, Miguel Brown, and he enjoyed watching me looking a bit stoned after smoking the young cigar for a while.

“How do you like it?” he said, with a huge smile.

“It’s a bit young.” I said in my bad Spanish. “It is very strong.” Honestly, I thought my eyeglasses were a little foggy! It was strong as hell.

I think it’s going to be a great smoke, just like its big brother, the normal Edmundo. I remember when the latter first came out a few years ago and I thought it wasn’t that great, but it is a super smoke now. The Edmundos are made in Brown’s factory and the blending and care in making the smoke have really improved. You should try one, if you get the chance.

I also came across a document sitting on someone’s desk (I was looking at it upside down!) with information regarding a new line of Cohibas — the Cohiba maduros. Three new sizes with aged, dark wrappers are coming out very soon, and they will be some hefty smokes. The wrappers on these Cuban cigars are not the black shade of maduros you see from some other countries, but more like the wrappers on Cuba’s Limitada range. The sizes are: Genios, 52 ring by 5 1/2; Màgicos, 52 by 4 1/2; and Secretos, 40 x 4 1/3. They are all straight-sided smokes with rat-tail ends. Can’t wait to try them.


Former Black Panther dies in Cuba at 75

HAVANA — William Lee Brent, a Black Panther who hijacked a passenger jet to communist Cuba in 1969 and spent 37 years in exile, has died on the island, his sister said. He was 75.

Brent died Nov. 4 from bronchial pneumonia, Elouise Rawlins said in a telephone interview from her home in Oakland, Calif.

Rawlins said she learned of her brother’s death through telephone calls and messages from friends and acquaintances, but has not received official word from the U.S. or Cuban governments.

Rawlins said she had not seen her brother since he used a handgun to hijack TWA Flight 154 from San Francisco to Havana on June 17, 1969, but said they stayed in contact through e-mails and telephone calls.

“We didn’t even know he was ill,” Rawlins said. “I don’t know about the burial or anything _ just that he passed away.”

The telephone rang unanswered Friday at Brent’s Havana home, which he shared with his wife, travel writer Jane McManus, until her death last year. They had met and married in Cuba.

Brent lived a relatively isolated life during his nearly four decades in Cuba, spending much of his time in his later years listening to his beloved jazz music collection in his apartment.

In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, he said he missed the United States and the American black community. But he was unwilling to return home to face certain life imprisonment for aircraft piracy and kidnapping, and had resigned himself to never seeing his country again.

“I miss my people, the struggle, the body language,” Brent told the AP. “The black community in Cuba is very different.”

Still, he said he had no regrets about hijacking the plane. “I was a soldier in the war for black liberation,” he said.

A decade ago, Times Books published his memoirs, “Long Time Gone,” which told of his coming of age on Oakland’s streets and of joining the Black Panthers when he was 37, rising to become a bodyguard for leader Eldridge Cleaver.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in October 1966 in Oakland, by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. They called for an end to police brutality in the black community, and carried guns as they patrolled the city documenting police behavior.

In his book, Brent chronicled a July 1968 police shootout in which two police officers were critically wounded. Cleaver ordered him kicked out of the revolutionary group.

To avoid trial the following year, Brent used a .38-caliber handgun to hijack the plane to Cuba, where he believed he would be treated sympathetically as a militant black leftist. None of the 76 people aboard the Boeing 707 was harmed.

He also told of stepping off the plane in Cuba to be immediately hustled away by Cuban police.

Although never formally convicted, he spent 22 months in an immigration jail while Cuban authorities tried to figure out what to do with him. Eventually they let him stay to live out his exile.

Brent earned a Spanish literature degree from the University of Havana and taught English at junior and senior high schools, but he never became a Cuban citizen.

“I am an American, an African-American, a black man,” he said in the 1996 interview with the AP. “And my fight was always in the United States.”


World Sales of Cuban Havana Club Soar

Havana, Nov 7 (Prensa Latina) The distributor of the best known Cuban rum, Havana Club International, announced it will close the year with sales at three million cases.

Sales Manager Manuel Arias says the rum is especially popular in Italy, Spain and France, as well as in Asia and Canada, with expansion now to 80 countries.

Domestic sales also grew more than 30 percent compared to 2005, and expectations are to end the year with 850,000 sold cases, which also include 12 and 17 ounce plastic containers.

Arias reports Añejo Blanco is in greater demand to mix the cocktails Cuba’s Bartender Association promotes in international contests and in hotels, restaurants and bars.

Havana Club boasts a wide range of brands consisting of Añejo Blanco, 3 Años, Añejo Reserva, Añejo Especial, 7 Años, Cuban Barrel Proof, 15 Años and San Cristobal.

Created in 1878, rum is Cuba’s leading liquor, always mixing well with cigars and coffee.

 Prensa Latina

Cuba confident UN vote will condemn US trade embargo but doesnt expect policy change

It’s that time of year again, when the rest of the world votes against the US embargo against Cuba. It will be interesting to see if a new American President will help at all towards removing the embargo or at the very least, loosen it up a bit, or will they cave to the pressure of the CANF?

HAVANA: Cuba is confident that most of the world will condemn the U.S. trade embargo against the island in a U.N. vote on Wednesday, but it doesn’t expect any change as long as U.S. President George W. Bush remains in power.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said the United States has repeatedly ignored the resolution in previous years and, in the current political climate, is likely to do so again.

“We don’t have even a millimeter of hope that the blockade will be reduced or weakened in Bush’s remaining two years,” he told The Associated Press before flying to U.N. headquarters in New York via Canada on Monday. “To the contrary, we are prepared for persecution against Cuba to increase.”

The U.N. General Assembly has condemned the U.S. trade and travel sanctions against communist Cuba for 14 straight years, urging the United States to end the policy. Last year’s U.N. resolution was approved by a 182-4 vote, with Micronesia abstaining and only the United States, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau opposed.

“We are very hopeful that the international community will give forceful support to the battle of the Cuban people” once again, Perez Roque said.

The minister acknowledged that the vote is mainly symbolic since it hasn’t lead to a change in U.S. policy, but said it nonetheless has “great political value.”

It also serves to show that the United States is isolated in its policies, he said.

“The U.S. blockade is a symbol without equal of tyranny, arrogance, and lack of scruples,” he said.

The embargo severely affects Cuba’s economy, foreign trade, and health, education and cultural sectors. The island’s government says it has lost US$86 billion (€67 billion) in trade since the first U.S. sanctions were imposed in 1960, a year after the Cuban revolution thrust Fidel Castro into power.

The worst moment in the embargo’s long history, however, is right now, Perez Roque said.

“This vote coincides with the moment in which the blockade is being applied in the most ferocious and strict way, with more fury and hatred than ever,” he said.

The Bush administration has steadily tightened the embargo. This cost the island more than US$4 billion (€3 billion) over the last year, said Perez Roque, who cited tighter scrutiny of nickel exports and Cuban use of dollars in international transactions as well as decreased travel to Cuba by Americans, particularly Cuban-Americans, afraid of sanctions.

U.S. officials defend the embargo — which allows the sale of some U.S. food and medicine to Cuba — saying unfettered trade and travel to the island would prop up Castro’s communist government. They say Cuba’s imprisonment of dissidents and restrictions on economic and political freedoms justify the policy, aimed at pushing Castro and his associates out.

Critics say the embargo, launched during the Cold War, is outdated and has not worked, given that Castro’s government remains in power and the nation is still communist. They also point out that the United States trades with other communist countries such as China and Vietnam.

Perez Roque said that a spotlight will shine on the U.S. government’s “cruel” policies on Wednesday at the U.N. vote.

“On one side, there’s the empire, militarily and economically powerful but void of any noble ideas,” he said of the United States. “On that side will be the government that violates international laws … and believes in pre-emptive war.

“On the other side will be Cuba and the countries that support Cuba, those of us who believe in a multilateral world … and all people’s right to peace.”

Democrats and free-trade Republicans in the U.S. Congress also have pushed for easing the sanctions, but they have yet to make headway against an administration determined to keep up the pressure.

Perez Roque said a victory by Democrats in Tuesday’s U.S. elections could help, but doesn’t envision major change regarding Cuba until Americans choose a new leader in 2008.


Sal has diabetes

Sal (on the right) one of our cats has been diagnosed with diabetes. It started with him urinating on the floor next to the litter box instead of inside it and there was some blood mixed in. We took him yesterday to have him looked at. After some tests it was determined he had a urinary infection and his glucose level was off the charts and a blood test confirmed today he has diabetes. He’ll recover fine from the infection with some medicine we’re giving him now but he’ll require insulin injections twice daily starting Thursday. Thursday we have a consultation with the vet on how to give the injections and how to monitor his glucose levels, it’s pretty much the same for a cat the way it is for a human. As you can imagine, this has come as a huge shock to Sumeet and I but we’re gonna deal with it the best we can. I’ve been reading a lot on Feline Diabetes.com, there’s a wealth of information there with a forum board with tons of activity. I hope his quality of life will be fine with the Diabetes properly treated. Anyways, I’ll probably be posting updates here. Wish us luck.