Exploring and Living in Cuba

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Christopher Howard

Thursday, 19 October 2017 09:28

Next Cuban Leader Rejects US ‘Imperialism’

Cuba will not make concessions to its sovereignty and independence, nor negotiate its principles or accept the imposition of conditions

Havana’s anticipated next leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel, has refuted calls by Washington to change the island nation’s ways, declaring that “changes needed in Cuba will solely be carried out by the Cuban people,” in a stark rebuttal to US political and economic demands.

After stating his intention to step down in 2018, current Cuban President Raul Castro is expected to be replaced by the Caribbean island nation’s First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Speaking on Sunday, Diaz-Canel unambiguously castigated the US for its heavy-handed economic, military and diplomatic tactics.

At a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, who participated in a Bolivian revolt that echoed the 1959 Cuban overthrow, Diaz-Canel reminded his listeners that “imperialism can never be trusted, not even a tiny bit, never.”

In an apparent response to US President Donald Trump’s assertion that the US embargo on Cuba would not be fully lifted until Havana adopts Washington’s version of Western democracy and capitalism, Diaz-Canel said, “Cuba will not make concessions to its sovereignty and independence, nor negotiate its principles or accept the imposition of conditions,”

“The changes needed in Cuba will solely be carried out by the Cuban people,” the popular 57-year-old politician added, cited by Reuters.
 
WITH NO DIRECT ELECTIONS FOR NATIONAL OFFICE IN CUBA, DIAZ-CANEL IS PROJECTED TO BE THE LIKELY APPOINTED REPLACEMENT TO ICONIC FIGURE FIDEL CASTRO’S YOUNGER BROTHER RAUL, NOW 86, AND WOULD MAKE THE RELATIVELY YOUNG LEADER THE FIRST CUBAN HEAD WITHOUT THE CASTRO NAME SINCE THE MID-20TH CENTURY.
 
The US president claimed in June that sanctions on Cuba would be ratcheted back up to pre-Obama levels while concurrently gutting the staff at the US embassy in Havana.

Trump’s administration has issued travel warnings to US citizens seeking to vacation in the once-popular island nation.

“Some unnamed officials are propagating unusual nonsense without any evidence, with the perverse aim of discrediting the impeccable reputation of our country as a safe destination for foreign visitors, including from the United States,” Diaz-Canel claimed.
Tuesday, 10 January 2017 14:34

Rum wars: Havana Club vs. Havana Club

Rum lovers and history buffs should visit Havana’s Museo de Ron while in Havana, Cuba. There are guided tours where one can learn all about the history of rum and the process of how it is made from start to finish. The tour is extremely worth while, but the guide we had spoke very poor English. My son and I are bilingual and would have been better off taking the tour with a Spanish-speaking guide.

The tour showcases Havana Club rum, Cuba’s stellar brand and whose circular red logo is omnipresent on the island. Unfortunately, this Cuban version of Havana Club rum is not sold in the U.S. due to the embargo. However, this has not deterred visitors from the States who have been returning with their suitcases replete with bottles of Havana Club and cigars due to the somewhat loosening of restrictions for travelers.

On Sunday January 2 2017, the program 60 Minutes aired a piece on the controversy around the Havana Club trademark and its distribution rights. Simply put, there is a turf war between Havana Club rum produced in Cuba and it’s counterpart that is made in Puerto Rico by Bacardi. The controversy has arisen with Pernod Ricard, which currently produces the Havana Club made in Cuba, battling with Bacardi over rights to the brand name with both sides laying claim to the name.The Havana Club battle is one of the most heated trademark disputes in recent history. It’s been going on for two decades now—and it’s become even more intense now that trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba are lifting. By the way, America’s drink about 40 percent of the world’s rum, so there is a huge potential market and a lot at stake.

Originally, Bacardi and Havana Club rums were rival spirits, and their founding families the Bacardis and the Arechabalas, respectively — were fierce competitors. Facundo Bacardi, started his company in 1862. Rum historians credit him with pioneering Cuban-style rum: lighter than other types, perfect for cocktails, but also aged and blended into fine sipping rums. The Arechabala company, founded in 1878, and other Cuban rum-makers worked in the shadow of Bacardi for many years.

In the 1930s with Americans in mind the Arechabalas introduced Havana Club. Years later Bacardi became a major producer of Havana Club, buying the brand from the Arechabala family. Both rum-making families fled Cuba in the 1960s after the government nationalized the island’s distilleries. However, this did not stop the Cuban government from continuing to produce Havana Club rum at the facilities that it expropriated. In fact, the Cuban version is now produced in a joint venture with French liquor giant Pernod Richard. As a result sales have grown even without selling the product in the U.S. market, because of the trade embargo imposed in 1962 against Cuba.

In 1994, Bacardi filed its own application for the U.S. trademark for Havana Club. It paid the Arechabala family $1.25 million for any rights to Havana Club that the family still possessed, plus a portion of any sales of Havana Club. Ever since then, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard have battled on legal and commercial fronts for ownership of the name. Bacardi appeared to win the rum war in 2006, when the Cubans and Pernod Ricard were not allowed to renew the trademark. However, now the dispute is back in U.S. District Court in Washington, where both sides are seeking a ruling on who owns Havana Club trademark.

Only time will tell how this all sorts out. So stay tuned for more updates.

Cuba will respect Fidel Castro's dying wish that no statues be erected in his honor and no streets be named after him. Despite his omnipresence that endured for decades, the late communist leader always said he did not want any monuments in his honor on the island."There is no cult of personality around any living revolutionary," Castro stated in 2003. "The leaders of this country are human beings, not gods."

Consequently, Cuba’s National Assembly approved the law, which “bans commemorative statues of Fidel Castro and naming monuments and public places after the former leader.

Despite Fidel’s sentiments, Raul told the Assembly that “His fighting spirit will remain in the conscience of all Cuban revolutionaries, today, tomorrow and always,” Some have predicted that Fidel’s legend will grow even more despite his death, much like Che Guevara.

There a couple exceptions to the law banning the use Castro’s name in public places. The term Fidel Castro may used as a name for any institution created to study his role in Cuban history. The law also does not ban using his image, photo or likeness for public acts, Cuban military institutions, and educational or cultural entities.

Monday, 26 December 2016 11:49

Cuba For Sale - People & Power

Half a century ago, when Fidel Castro's revolutionary forces entered the Cuban capital Havana, the new leader pledged to improve the lives of the poor by putting an end to capitalist excess.  

One of the revolutionary government's key measures was the elimination of the property market as a lucrative business. Housing was declared a human right, private rental was abolished and most Cubans were given free properties to live in.

But with a US embargo declared on the revolutionary island and its finances dependent on an inefficient state-driven economy, the government ran out of money and vast parts of Havana fell into decline.

In a radical move, Raul Castro opened up the economy in 2011. Property laws were reversed and Cubans were allowed to buy and sell their homes once more.

The government says its revolutionary vision hasn't changed and that the reforms are aimed at safeguarding rather than dismantling socialism. But will the re-introduction of private property make Havana's urban poor worse off? And how will the government deal with the growing, wealthy new class that the regime once fought so hard to defeat?

In Cuba for Sale, reporter Juliana Ruhfus and filmmaker Seamus Mirodan investigate the impact of the country's recent economic changes and whether the re-introduction of private property heralds an end to Cuban socialism.

Monday, 26 December 2016 11:08

El Viejo y el Mal

The title of this article is word play on the title of Hemingway’s prize winning novel, "El Viejo y El Mar." In this case the translation of the title is “The Old Man and Evil,” referring to the legacy of the late Fidel Castro.

As a result of Castro’s dictatorship Cuba is truly an impoverished country locked in a time warp, where the average monthly salary hovers around $25 dollars and where there is no real freedom of expression, opportunities, dissent or human rights. Many of those who clamor for change are imprisoned. Because of this situation fifteen percent of the islands citizens are in exile in an effort to make a better life for themselves. The revolution was really about Fidel and his socialistic vision and not the Cuban people. He created a system of educated people who had little hope of getting ahead in life. I must admit that the man was a political genius to be able to stay in power for almost 50 years.

The government that Fidel left to his brother does have its supporters among some of those who have lived under the system all of their lives and who do not know nothing else.

However, as I have alluded to in many of my articles, there is no reason to lose hope. Raúl has made some cosmetic changes but democracy and real change has yet to occur. Given the events of the last few years, I feel positive about the country moving in the right direction. But the million dollar question is, How long will the process take?

It is hoped that with the improved relations with the U.S., more widespread and accessible Internet and an influx of new ideas, once again Cuba will regain its spendor as “The Pearl of the Caribbean.” I am betting that it will.

Thursday, 15 December 2016 10:26

Google to provide faster Internet for Cuba

An agreement signed between Google and the Cuban government Cuba aimed at improving its internet speed. The deal will allow the internet giant to provide faster access to its data by installing servers on the island that will store much of the company's most popular content. The deal will now give Cubans access to a network called Google Global Cache that stores data and content on servers located a relatively short distance from the island nation. Now Cubans will have access from sites that Google administers like Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube.

However, home connections remain illegal for most Cubans and the government charges the equivalent of a month's average salary for 10 hours of access to public wi-fi spots with speeds frequently too slow to download files or watch streaming video.

Cuba has one of the lowest Internet speeds and connectivity in the world. It’s no surprise Cuba is considered the “least connected” country in the Americas, with the Geneva-based ITU ranking the country 125th out of 166 countries worldwide in telecommunications development.

The Google deal was announced less than a week after Cuba gave three US cruise companies permission to begin sailing to the island next year. Officials familiar with the negotiations say other deals, including one with General Electric, are in the works.

In the first part of this article I discussed the possible scenarios in the wake of Fidel’s death since many are questioning if the Cuban Revolution will be able to survive. Now I would like to talk about possible successors once Raúl steps down in 2018. So who will follow him? At this time everything seems to point to Miguel Díaz-Canel taking over the reigns of the island nation.

It appears that for the first time in half a century a person who did not fight in in the revolution or without the last name of Castro will be at the helm. Raúl had to select someone who would ensure the perpetuity of the only communist country in the hemisphere and Díaz-Canel seems to be the logical choice at juncture.

The 56-year-oldDíaz–Canel is an electrical engineer by trade with political experience and who is known to wear bluejeans and not military uniforms. He supports the opening up of the Internet and stated in a recent speech, “Today with the development of social networks and the Internet, to prohibit something of the type is virtually impossible and makes no sense at all.”

In contrast to the Fidel and Raúl, he is strikingly tall and claims to be a man of simple tastes. Some say he resembles the actor Richard Gere because of his full head of gray hair and good looks. However, he is not known to be a great orator. “Comrade Díaz is by no means a political novice,” stated Raúl when the former was appointed to the second most important political position in Cuba.

Although Díaz-Canel is the odds on favorite to succeed Raúl, there are a couple of other names that have been mentioned. Cuban Chancellor, Bruno Rodríguez’s name has come up. In addition, Marino Murillo, the mentor of Cuban economic reforms is in the mix, as is Raul’s only son Alejandro Castro Espín. But when all is said and done, Díaz-Canel appears to be the most likely choice unless something unforeseen occurs to change Raul’s mind between now and 2018.

At one time it was thought that either Vice President Carlos Lange or ex-chancellor Felipe Pérez Roque would eventually take over control of the country. However, both fell out of favor with the government.

For many Cubans, Fidel Castro for all practical purposes was dead and buried years ago. Therefore, many of them have had their eyes and minds turned toward the future in an effort to move on from Fidel. There are no statues to Fidel in Cuba but his slogans can be found painted on the side of many buildings and billboards. So, it will be difficult to forget him altogether since his name will still be on the lips of those who loved him and others who blamed him for all of the island’s ills.

Nevertheless, with the death of Fidel the country’s political situation should open up and become more flexible. Raúl will have an enormous weight taken off his shoulders. He will no longer have to deal with his older brother’s overwhelming personality, persona nor his opinions. Fidel’s omnipresence will no longer be looming in the shadows.

The Cuban people can only hope for some type of change for the better, especially with the closer ties and improved relations with the U.S. Alejandro López Levy, a specialist in Cuban affairs at New York University’s of Global Studies, stated “After Fidel’s death there should be reforms designed to eradicate the aspects of communist politic’s that are not practical.” "The impact and nature of the posible reforms will be limited to Raul’s vision since he has the last word in these matters and the fact that he has vowed to be true to the essence of the Cuban Revolution.” He has already made progress in reforming the country since her took over in 2008 by allowing small businesses and the sale of homes in an effort to stimulate the economy.

If the United State’s policy of normalization continues in the direction it is currently moving, the prospect of of change on the island should continue. Let’s hope that President-elect Trump will not roll back the progress that has already been made in U.S/Cuba relations. By continuing the progress toward normalization of relations with Cuba Mr. Trump has an chance to make Cuba part of his foreign policy legacy as well.

As stated in the Huffington Post, "A candidate who based much of his campaign on leveling the playing field for US trade should encourage, not undermine, the American companies that after 57 years of being locked out of the Cuban market, can finally have access to that market. Donald Trump ran as an agent of change. After fifty years of a failed embargo, normalization of relations with Cuba is the right kind of change."

While many leaders around the world begin their preparations to visit Cuba, to pay their respected to Fidel Castro, one person will not be there: Juanita Castro, Fidel’s sister who has been in exile in Miami for 51 years.

In 1964, Juanita accused her brother of turning Cuba into “an enormous prison surrounded by water’.

Despite expressing sorrow over the death of her brother, she said on Saturday she wouldn’t be returning to Cuba in her lifetime. She also put rumors to rest that she would be heading to Cuba for the memorial and said she will remain in the United States, the Miami Herald reported.She said she remained committed to the Cuban exile community and opposed to the dictatorship her late brother imposed on the island when he seized power in 1959.

Exiled in Miami since 1964, Juanita, 83, said in a statement that she was upset by the news early Saturday. At the same time, she hoped that his death at age 90 is a turning point in which all Cubans find common ground.

‘In light of the bad rumors that said I was going to go to Cuba for the funeral, I want to clarify that I have never returned to the island, nor do I have plans to do so.

‘I have fought alongside exiles, arm and arm, during their most active and intense stages of struggle in past decades, and I respect the feelings of all,’ Juanita said in a statement.

‘I do not rejoice over the death of any human being, much less when that person is someone with my blood and surnames.

“I’ve been in exile in Miami for 51 years, like all the Cubans who left to find a space to fight for the freedom of their country,” Juanita Castro said. “I have never changed my position even though I had to pay a high price for the pain and isolation.”

“For decades, I confronted the system in Cuba and also those in exile who unfairly did not forgive that my surnames were Castro Ruz and who attacked me ruthlessly,” she said.

She asked for understanding for her pain and expressed hope that her brother’s death brings about an understanding among all Cubans.


 

On November 25, 2016 at 10:29 pm Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, better known as Fidel Castro or “ Fidel,",died. His death was greeted with cheers of joy by most of the Cuban community in exile, especially those in Miami’s Little Havana. In Cuba the mood was more somber and without any celebration.

La Historia lo Absolverá (History will absolve him)

After taking power in 1959 following the Cuban Revolution, Castro oversaw vast improvements in providing of basic services, such as health care and housing, as well as education and advances in literacy across the island. 

La Historia lo Condenará (History will condemn him) 

Despite these achievements in areas of social policy, Fidel Castro’s government was characterized by a ruthless suppression of freedom of expression, severe economic hardships and widespread suffering.  Over the years hundreds of people were arrested for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Repressive tactics used by the authorities have changed in the last years with fewer people sentenced to long-term prison for politically motivated reasons, but the control of the state over all the aspects of Cubans’ life remain a reality.

The Cuban  government continues to limit Internet use as a way of controlling access to information and freedom of expression, with just 25 percent of Cubans having access to the Internet and barely 5 percent of homes connected to the global computer network.

Initially, Fidel promised liberties to the Cuban people but ended up betraying them. He decimated one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, destroyed the business class and pulverized the country’s productivity. Three generations and seventy percent of the people on the island today have never know any other leader but Fidel Castro. He improved the country’s education and health care systems but failed to provide the country’s healthy and educated  people with a means whereby they could be productive, have incentives, better their lives and be part of a middle class. 

During Castro’s forty-seven years in power he executed thousands of his adversaries and kept political dissidents and opponents in jail for many years. He harassed and even prosecuted people for listening to foreign music and for reading books and for even being homosexuals. Because of his policies twenty percent of the Cuban population ended up living in exile. 

Thousands of Cuban soldiers died as cannon fodder in foreign countries like Angola in an effort to spread the Cuba-style revolution and ideology to other countries. Castro was responsible for the rise of Latin American wannabes like Hugo Chavez, his successor Nicolás Maduro, and the likes of Daniel Ortega who has not done anything to improve Nicaragua  and keep it from being the second poorest country in the Americas after Haiti.

Now that the cloud and omnipresence of Fidel is no longer looming over Cuba there is hope that the country’s plight will improve in the not-too-distant future. Although Fidel officially retired in 2006 due to illness, his presence was always in the background. With his death the political system will eventually open up because Raul Castro should finally have the weight of Fidel off his shoulders. He will have more freedom and room to make changes without his older brother influence. However, Fidel’s death will surely lead to to many conflicts between Raúl and his political opponents as to what direction the country should take. But one really has to wait and see what happens after Raúl is expected to step down in 2018.

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