Category Archives: cuba

stuff on Cuba

Fidel Castro energetic in meeting with US politicians

AILING former leader Fidel Castro appeared “very energetic” during a meeting with US Democrats at his home in Havana yesterday.

House of Representatives member Barbara Lee visited Mr Castro a day after she and six other Democrats from the US Congressional Black Caucus met President Raul Castro and other top Cuban officials in a bid to improve relations between the two countries through direct dialogue.

“He seemed very energetic. We met at his house, a house of very modest means. His wife was there, his son was taking photographs of us,” Ms Lee said upon her return after a five-day visit.

Ms Lee and two of her colleagues visited Fidel Castro, 82, who withdrew from public view in July 2006 for health reasons, ceding power to his brother Raul, 77.

“It was a very moving meeting, in some sense, because he was taking notes,” Ms Lee said. “He was very inquisitive, he asked us to send him more information about Dr King Jr. because he reveres Martin Luther King Jr.”

During the meeting with Raul Castro, Ms Lee and her delegation discussed, among other things, establishing a US-Cuban dialogue with no pre-conditions.

Ms Lee said she would convey to the White House the message that the time to talk with Cuba is now.

The visit comes with US President Barack Obama reportedly planning to ease some aspects of the 47-year-old US economic embargo on Cuba.

Mr Obama has also said he was open to new dialogue with US adversaries, including Cuba.


Guatemala apologizes to Cuba for Bay of Pigs

HAVANA (AP) — Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom apologized to Cuba on Tuesday for his country’s having allowed the CIA to train exiles in the Central American country for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

“Today I want to ask Cuba’s forgiveness for having offered our country, our territory, to prepare an invasion of Cuba,” Colom said during a speech at the University of Havana. “It wasn’t us, but it was our territory.”

He added that he wished to apologize “as president and head of state, and as commander in chief of the Guatemalan army.”

About 1,500 Cuban exiles trained under CIA guidance in Guatemala before invading the island beginning April 17, 1961, in an unsuccessful bid to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist government.

The invasion ended after less than three days, with about 100 invaders killed and more than 1,000 captured by Cuban forces.

Colom, whose government is considered center-leftist, said he was asking Cuba’s forgiveness as “a sign of solidarity and that times are changing,” and to “reaffirm my idea that Latin America is changing.”

Trained by the CIA in the rural Guatemalan province of Retalhuleu at the height of the Cold War, an invasion force known as the 2506 Brigade, comprising mostly Miami-area Cuban exiles, was determined to overthrow Castro’s government — which had brought the Soviet bloc closer than ever to the continental United States by seizing power in Cuba 28 months before.

The invading forces landed at Playa Larga at the innermost part of the Bay of Pigs, on the southern coast of central Cuba. The fighting later moved south, to Playa Giron, where Castro’s forces triumphed after less than 72 hours of fighting, when U.S. President John F. Kennedy failed to provide air support.

Colom said Tuesday that “Cuba deserves its own destiny, a destiny that you all built with this revolution of 50 years.”

“Defend it,” he said, referring to the guerrilla uprising that brought Castro to power on Jan. 1, 1959. “Defend it like you have always done.”

Like Cubans, Guatemalans harbor a deep resentment toward the United States for past violence. The CIA helped topple the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and Washington backed a series of hardline military and civilian governments during that country’s 36-year civil war, in which 200,000 Guatemalans died or disappeared before peace accords were signed in December 1996.

During a visit to Guatemala in March 1999, President Bill Clinton said any U.S. support given to military forces or intelligence units that engaged in “violent and widespread repression” was wrong. “And the United States must not repeat that mistake.”

During Colom’s state visit to Havana, he awarded his country’s highest honor to Castro, though it was unclear if he would meet with the ailing, 82-year-old former president, who has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.

The Guatemalan president’s was the latest in a string of recent visits to Havana by regional leaders, including Panama’s Martin Torrijos and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

Fidel Castro, who ceded power to his younger brother Raul about a year ago, met with two other visiting Latin American presidents, Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet. Photographs of him with each of the presidents were later released by their respective governments, and a series of photos featuring Castro and Bachelet appeared in Cuba’s communist newspaper Granma on Tuesday.

Cuba launches own Linux variant to counter U.S.

By Esteban Israel

HAVANA, Feb 11 (Reuters) – Cuba launched its own variant of the Linux computer operating system this week in the latest front of the communist island’s battle against what it views as U.S. hegemony.

The Cuban variant, called Nova, was introduced at a Havana computer conference on “technological sovereignty” and is central to the Cuban government’s desire to replace the Microsoft software running most of the island’s computers.

The government views the use of Microsoft systems, developed by U.S.-based Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), as a potential threat because it says U.S. security agencies have access to Microsoft codes.

Also, the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against the island makes it difficult for Cubans to get Microsoft software legally and to update it.

“Getting greater control over the informatic process is an important issue,” said Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes, who heads a commission pushing Cuba’s migration to free software.

Cuba, which is 90 miles (144 km) from Florida, has been resisting U.S. domination in one form or another since Fidel Castro took over Cuba in a 1959 revolution.

Younger brother Raul Castro replaced the ailing 82-year-old leader last year, but the U.S.-Cuba conflict goes on, now in the world of software.

According to Hector Rodriguez, dean of the School of Free Software at Cuba’s University of Information Sciences, about 20 percent of computers in Cuba, where computer sales to the public began only last year, are currently using Linux.

Nova is Cuba’s own configuration of Linux and bundles various applications of the operating system.

Rodriguez said several government ministries and the Cuban university system have made the switch to Linux but there has been resistance from government companies concerned about its compatibility with their specialized applications.

“I would like to think that in five years our country will have more than 50 percent migrated (to Linux),” he said.

Unlike Microsoft, Linux is free and has open access that allows users to modify its code to fit their needs.

“Private software can have black holes and malicious codes that one doesn’t know about,” Rodriguez said. “That doesn’t happen with free software.”

Apart from security concerns, free software better suits Cuba’s world view, he said.

“The free software movement is closer to the ideology of the Cuban people, above all for the independence and sovereignty.” (Editing by Jeff Franks and Bill Trott) –Reuters

Buena Vista bassist – Cachaito dies

HAVANA (AFP) — Celebrated bass player Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez — famed for his work with Buena Vista Social Club — died on Monday, sources told AFP.

The 76-year-old had suffered complications following a prostate operation, group members and an associate producer told AFP.

“They operated on his prostate ten days ago, he came out fine, but later there were complications, I am not sure exactly what,” band mate Amado Valdes told AFP.

The musician, who was the nephew of legendary bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez, died “in a Havana hospital, unfortunately he had various health problems,” according to Freddy Fernandez, an associate producer of the group.

“It is an irreplaceable loss for Cuban music, he is the last remaining member of the bass playing dynasty,” Valdes added.

It also another blow for the Buena Vista Social Club following the loss of Francisco Repilado — better known as Compay Segundo, the pianist Ruben Gonzalez in 2003 and singer Ibrahim Ferrer in 2005. Another band member, “Pio” Leyva, died in 2006.

“It is a great loss for the group and for Cuban music because he was a superb bassist and a brilliant band mate. He was an excellent person and the quality of his music was, honestly, unparalleled,” said Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal, the group’s trumpeter.

Created in 1996, Buena Vista Social Club reunited veteran Cuban musicians some of whom had slipped into obscurity.

It quickly became one of the most celebrated Cuban music projects in the last 50 years after giving birth to the Buena Vista Social Club album and a documentary of the same name. Made by German film maker Wim Wenders it was nominated for an Oscar in 2000.

oh yeah vacation

I haven’t even started my vacation list which is kinda weird for me.  I usually like putting a together a list a week before I go to make sure I cover everything.  Not sure what it is, maybe it’s because I fully know what to expect and know what I need, without really thinking about it.

Anywho’s, not much else going on lately.  Working and trying to hit the gym.  I’m seriously looking forward to this summer and I’m praying we actually get 2 solid months of summer this year.  I’m going to make a serious effort to do a lot of overnight hiking trips.  It feels like the olde I get, the more I detest the cold..yeah I must be getting old.


p.s.  vacationing in varadero next week with Sumeet and my grandmother.  Grandma’s two other sisters and one of their husbands are also making the trip.  Looking forward to some sunny beach days.

FACTBOX-Reforms by Raul Castro in Cuba

April 10 (Reuters) – In the six weeks since he succeeded his ailing brother Fidel Castro, Cuba’s new leader Raul Castro has introduced a series of reforms to improve life in the communist Caribbean island state.

Following are some steps taken so far, as Castro moves to lift what he calls “excessive prohibitions:”

* Lifted ban on Cubans buying consumer goods such as computers, DVD players, microwave ovens and other electronic appliances previously prohibited due to an energy crisis.

* Cubans can now stay at hotels and beach resorts previously reserved for foreigners only, ending a “tourism apartheid” that was a source of resentment.

* As of April 14, Cubans will be allowed to freely buy and use cellular telephones, something that had been available only to government officials and foreign companies.

* Decentralized agriculture to allow private farmers more leeway to decide how to use their land, what crops to plant and what supplies to buy. Farmers granted leases to unused land.

* Reduced bureaucracy for filling medical prescriptions and began revamping the family doctor program in response to complaints it was understaffed.

* Removed ceiling on wages to create incentives for workers and improve Cuba’s economic performance.

* Additional reforms are expected to include allowing Cubans to buy and sell their cars and easing restrictions on travel abroad.


To save communism, Raul experiments with consumerism

Minor economic reforms by Castro’s brother risk exposing inequality and encouraging the desire for change

From the ample girths and gold jewellery you could tell the Fuentes family was doing well, and from the determined way in which its five members strode into the shop you could tell they were about to do even better.

They had come for a Wanjiu pressure cooker and Daewoo washing machine, counting out the money with a certain panache. Why not? To be fleshy and flashy is to be part of Cuba’s new revolutionary vanguard: Havana bling.

This was Dita, an electronics store in Galerías de Paseo, Cuba’s dowdy answer to Harrods, and it was an incongruous scene. While Fidel Castro exhorted revolutionary solidarity from a banner outside the shop, the family members could hardly see the leader’s words over the cardboard boxes they were hauling.

Out on the street they packed their trophies into a 10-year-old Ford – a modern showcase by local vehicle standards – and with a screech of the tyres sped home. En route was the Karl Marx Theatre, but you doubted they would stop to see what was on.

Cuba is changing. In the past five weeks the government has announced and enacted a series of reforms unimaginable under Castro. It is now legal to buy mobile phones, computers and DVD players. Cubans may now rent cars and stay at hotels previously reserved for foreigners. More significantly, farmers can now cultivate idle state land and buy equipment without special permission.

Havana is buzzing with rumours of further announcements. Lifting restrictions on foreign travel, perhaps, or strengthening the near-worthless peso so more people can afford the goods that are priced in a separate currency created for foreigners.

“Finally the government is listening to us. This is stuff we’ve been asking for for years,” said Andrea, a 44-year-old technician. It is fitting that a popular new import is an electronic pedal-bike. “Not a new era, a new cycle,” she added.

Optimism is cautious. So far the changes do not add up to perestroika-style economic reforms, much less a glasnost-style cultural opening. The one-party state is tinkering with its half-century-old system to ease material hardship. The idea is to save communism in the Caribbean, not abandon it.

Havana remains a sea of decrepitude. Traffic remains a time-warp blend of 1950s American cars, three-wheel yellow cabs, Soviet-era Ladas and new Chinese-made buses. Stallholders still offer meagre wares in an illegal type of mouse capitalism. Most people are lean – if less gaunt than before thanks to easing food shortages.

“What the government is doing is a very small first step,” said a western diplomat. “They are doing the easy things and giving people more freedoms. We are still waiting for the big changes that will make a difference economically. And that will be much harder to do.”

The most important change so far is in agriculture, in which mismanagement has shrivelled cash crops such as sugar, tobacco and coffee and forced the lush island to import 80% of its food. Now decision-making has been decentralised and some restrictions lifted to give farmers more incentive to produce.

The other changes have merely legalised what has been common practice. The moneyed Cubans listening to reggaetón music by the pool bar in El Nacional hotel yesterday were the same ones who were there a month ago. Many had wangled computers, DVD players and mobile phones long before the bans were lifted. Those unable to afford such goods before still cannot afford them.

The announcements have signalled greater tolerance for displays of wealth and, by extension, displays of inequality. “Before if you had cash you would hide it but now people feel freer to show it,” said the diplomat.

It is not news to Cubans that a small minority of the 11-million population is well off thanks to remittances from relatives in the US and shady hard currency dealings. The offspring of Communist party officials are among the so-called “mickies” who flash their designer gear.

Free universal education and healthcare remain solid but sanctioning spending sprees on previously banned consumer goods has given ironic resonance to revolutionary slogans.

“We can construct the most just society in the world,” Castro’s brave words said in another banner, this time overlooking the Carlos Tercero shopping mall. Beneath it passed some families with boxes marked Yamaha, Samsung and Phillips, and many who did not.

José, a waiter at a state restaurant who earns £9 a month, was off-duty, sipping a soft drink along with his nine-year-old daughter. The neighbouring table’s family was clustered around a newly purchased £130 DVD player and sorting through a hawker’s pirated wares. “We’ve got a VHS player but you can’t get films for it anymore,” José said. “My daughter doesn’t have cartoons.”

It is no coincidence that José was black and the neighbouring family white. Racism is illegal on the island but paler-skinned Cubans dominate government and the economy and are more likely to have relatives in the US.

The authorities appear uncomfortably aware that lifting economic restrictions risks exposing and compounding that inequality, at least in the short term. Speakers at a state-sponsored Intellectuals’ Conference last week welcomed the reforms but hinted that social divisions could deepen. The comments were reported in the Communist party daily newspaper, Granma.

Raúl Castro knows reform is essential. Nobody starves but most Cubans struggle to put decent food on the table. Since taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, a transition confirmed with Raúl’s inauguration as president last month, the 76-year-old has repeatedly spoken of the need to improve an economy, 90% of which is controlled by the government.

Only so much ruin can be blamed on the US embargo and when the Castro brothers die, taking with them the revolution’s founding legitimacy, its fate will hinge on delivering better material conditions, said one Havana economist: “They know they have maybe five years to turn things around. It’s fix or perish.”

Sceptics say the effort is doomed. That no matter how much a moribund agriculture blossoms or how fast greater wealth trickles down, Cuba will remain an outpost of unworkable ideology until the day the place implodes.

Others paint a rosier scenario for a government with several advantages: a cowed opposition and submissive population; subsidised Venezuelan oil courtesy of President Hugo Chávez; strengthening ties with Asia and Latin America; and the example of China’s and Vietnam’s communists successfully riding economic liberalisation.

Raúl can already boast one remarkable feat: he has tamed the big brother who used to rail against the reforms now unfurling. Fidel’s published “reflections”, newspaper articles which are his only form of public communication, have largely avoided commenting on the changes. No one knows whether Raúl has persuaded the sickly 81-year-old to go along or simply overruled him.

The bigger unknown is how Cubans will react. Being given a little more economic opportunity could sate or whet the yearning for change, and shore up or undermine the regime. It is Pandora’s Box and opening the lid even a fraction is a gamble.

Cubans Line Up for DVD Players, Bikes

HAVANA (AP) — Cubans snapped up DVD players, motorbikes and pressure cookers Tuesday as a variety of consumer products went on sale to all of the island’s people for the first time. Many others lined up just to window shop, lamenting prices few can afford on government salaries.

Until Tuesday, most electronic goods previously were sold only to foreigners or companies — one of the many irksome rules that new President Raul Castro has vowed to lift to improve the lives of his citizens.

“They should have done this a long time ago,” one man said as he left a store with a red and silver electric motorbike that cost $814. The Chinese-made bikes can be charged with an electric cord and had been barred for general sale because officials feared a strain on the power grid.

Tuesday’s move came a day after the Tourism Ministry said any Cuban with enough money can stay in luxury hotels and rent cars, doing away with restrictions that made ordinary people feel like second-class citizens. And soon Cubans will be able to get cell phones legally in their own names, a luxury long reserved for the lucky few.

Even expert Cuba-watchers wonder how far the communist government will go in making economic changes. Until now, the impact has been largely psychological because few Cubans have the money to buy expensive products or stay in posh hotels.

There was no sign yet of promised computers and microwaves — highly anticipated items that clerks across Havana insisted would appear soon on store shelves, with desktop computers retailing for around $650.

People lined up waiting to get into the Galerias Paseos shopping center on Havana’s famed seaside Malecon boulevard, and they hurried inside when the doors opened.

Cuba’s communist system was founded on promoting social and economic equality, but that doesn’t mean Cubans can’t have DVD players, one of those who rushed to gawk at the new products, Mercedes Orta. “Socialism has nothing to do with living comfortably,” she said.

Lines outside electronics boutiques and specialty shops are common in Cuba because guards limit how many people can be inside at a time. But waits were longer and aisles more packed than usual at Havana’s best-known stores.

“DVDs are over there, down that aisle,” an employee in white short-sleeve shirt repeated over and over as shoppers wandered into La Copa, an electronics and grocery store across from the Copacabana Hotel.

“Very good! DVD players on sale for everybody,” exclaimed Clara, an elderly woman who was studying a black JVC console. “Of course nobody has the money to buy them,” she added.

Like many Cubans, Clara chatted freely, but wouldn’t give her full name to a foreign reporter.

Government stores priced all products in convertible pesos — hard currency worth 24 times the regular pesos that state employees are paid. The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and the average monthly state salary is just 408 regular pesos, about $19.50.

Still, most Cubans have access to at least some convertible pesos thanks to jobs with foreign firms or in tourism, or cash sent by relatives living in the United States.

Some Cubans speculate the opening up of shops is a government ploy to control inflation by sopping up convertible pesos. Others say allowing those who have money to spend it freely will make class divisions evident and cause tensions.

“Those who have people who send them money from outside the country can buy more and more,” said Lazaro Martinez, a 67-year-old flower seller in Old Havana. “Everyone else, we can’t buy anything.”

At La Copa, the most expensive DVD player was a Samsung P243B without HD capability, at $288. Cheapest was a standard Phillips model at $124 — three times more expensive than what Americans pay for a similar Philips player in the United States.

Despite the steep prices, Cubans were buying. “You have to buy before they run out,” said a man named Jorge who paid $162 for a mid-range DVD player. He didn’t want his full name published because he doesn’t want Cubans to know he made such a large purchase in hard currency.

On streets throughout Havana’s suburban Miramar neighborhood, men and women walked home clutching new DVD boxes. Store employees diligently noted each consumer’s ID card number, but no other paperwork was required.

Graciela Jaime, a 68-year-old retired clothes factory employee, complained that widespread corruption and greed had created a class of rich Cubans. “Everyone wants to spend money and that is what’s happening,” she said.

Jaime said she recently took a job sweeping streets some mornings to supplement her monthly pension of about $10.

“Raul Castro has to get rid of the corruption,” she said. “And it will be hard work, because there is a lot of it.”



Back from vacation, my batteries are re-charged ready for another year of the rat-race. Sumeet and I went back to Cuba again, this time Varadero all-inclusive style.

We spent a week at Brisas Del Caribe in Varadero, typical all-inclusive package including your flight, hotel, unlimited drinks and buffet/a la carte restaurants. The flight was decent, it was an economy flight run by SunWing, small and cramped 737 with crappy service, particularly hard ass seats. For whatever reason they would bring our food then leave us with it for about 1.5hrs after you were finished eating, so you’d have your tray down the whole time which was a joke.

Food was typical Cuban food – bland. Having been many times before (2nd resort style trip) I knew what to expect. Hotel was decent, we had ants in our room, we complained but was told the hotel was full and they would spray the room – yay. I knew if I complained harder they’d move us to another hotel but we couldn’t be bothered, just made sure we didn’t walk around on our bare feet. Staff were great for the most part, Julio, William, Juan were particularly nice. We’d typically wake up around 11am, get an espresso, hit the beach and the beach grill for a burger and drinks. Good times and we had great weather until our last day.

The highlight of our trip was seeing the Buena Vista Social Club LIVE!! YES!! We had no idea they were performing at the time and at 30$ for a 2hour show – it was a no brainer.

Manuel Galban performing “quizas,quizas,quizas”.

And a pic from the beach 😛

la playa

A few more links to videos a pics:

UN food expert praises Cuba’s ability to feed its people

Amazing. I can also say that I never saw someone hungry during my trips there. Sure they had a few people begging for money, but they looked like they were being fed properly. It’s amazing to see a country like this do these things, the preparations they have in place for hurricanes is also amazing, rarely are lives lost.

HAVANA: A U.N. food expert hailed Cuba as a world model in feeding its population, some 18 years after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc ravaged the island’s economy and sparked widespread hunger.

Jean Ziegler, who has been the United Nations’ independent investigator on “the right to food” since 2000, spent 11 days in Cuba on a fact-finding mission, meeting with top officials and chatting up farmers, state managers and ordinary Cubans waiting in line for food allotted by ration cards.

“We haven’t seen even one malnourished person” — a rare feat in much of poverty-stricken Latin America, Ziegler said Tuesday. “The right to being fed is the priority, without a doubt.”

Cuba is one of 32 countries that include the “right to food” in their constitutions, and fewer still — including Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy — meet pledges to provide food to all their citizens, he said.

Ziegler, who visited two prisons in Havana to ask inmates about their daily diets, did not address human rights concerns over the arbitrary imprisonment and alleged abuse of political prisoners and critics of the island’s one-party government.

Despite a 46-year U.S. embargo against the communist-run island, Cuba has found ways to ensure its population does not go hungry, Ziegler said. “Cuba always invents an answer,” he noted.

Widespread daily shortages continue to frustrate Cubans, and the government blames those — and nearly all other — problems on the embargo. Yet since 2000, Cuba has been able to purchase food and agricultural products from the U.S. on a cash basis.

The island still struggles with major deficits in food production, and relies too much on foreign imports, Ziegler said. But the related need to improve production capacity has been addressed more openly since July, when interim leader Raul Castro encouraged people to seek ways to improve efficiency in farming and other sectors.

Raul Castro has governed Cuba since July 2006, when emergency intestinal surgery forced his brother Fidel to step aside.

Ziegler’s visit marked the third time a U.N. special investigator has been invited to the island since 1998. The Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council appoints outside experts like him to investigate specific countries or subjects, giving them wide latitude in their reports.

Report here