Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Animals of Cuba Still Need You!

cuban-animalsHAVANA, Nov. 29th As we head into the holiday season, please remember the animals of Cuba. With your help this past year, thousands of pounds of supplies have reached ANIPLANT in Cuba, benefitting thousands of needy dogs and cats. Thousands of animals have been sterilized, Continue reading

First US commercial flight lands in Havana


A woman holding a picture of the late Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, waits in line to enter Revolution Square to render homage to Fidel Castro, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. Thousands of Cubans began lining up early carrying portraits of Fidel Castro, flowers and Cuban flags for the start of week-long services bidding farewell to the man who ruled the country for nearly half a century.

HAVANA, Nov. 28th (AP) — The Latest on the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (all times local):

9:45 a.m.

The first regularly scheduled commercial flight in more than 50 years from the United States to Havana has landed. Continue reading

Havana tries to get its chaotic commercial areas in order

43f41c99-d4b0-491b-b2b9-8d8a008f4e49_w987_r1_sHAVANA,Nov. 26th  (AP) — Known for chaotic avenues filled with car-dodging pedestrians, balconies that discharge waterfalls onto sidewalks and reggaeton played at deafening volume, Havana wants to clean up its streets.

Havana authorities have passed new city codes meant to make streets around nearly three dozen commercial Continue reading

Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90

_92669830_mediaitem92669749HAVANA, Nov. 26th (AP) Fidel Castro Ruz was born on 13 August 1926, in eastern Cuba’s sugar country, where his Spanish immigrant father worked first recruiting labour for American sugar companies and later built up a prosperous plantation of his own.

Mr Castro attended Jesuit schools, then the University of Havana, where he received law and social science degrees. His life as a rebel began in 1953 with a reckless attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. Most of his comrades were killed and Fidel and his brother Raul went to prison.

Fidel turned his trial defense into a manifesto that he smuggled out of jail, famously declaring, “History will absolve me.”

Freed under a pardon, Mr Castro fled to Mexico and organized a rebel band that returned in 1956, sailing across the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba on a yacht named Granma. After losing most of his group in a bungled landing, he rallied support in Cuba’s eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Three years later, tens of thousands spilled into the streets of Havana to celebrate Batista’s downfall and catch a glimpse of Castro as his rebel caravan arrived in the capital on 8 January 1959.

The US was among the first to formally recognise his government, cautiously trusting Mr Castro’s early assurances he merely wanted to restore democracy, not install socialism.

Within months, Mr Castro was imposing radical economic reforms. Members of the old government went before summary courts, and at least 582 were shot by firing squads over two years. Independent newspapers were closed and in the early years, homosexuals were herded into camps for “re-education.”

In 1964, Mr Castro acknowledged holding 15,000 political prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled, including Castro’s daughter Alina Fernandez Revuelta and his younger sister Juana.

Still, the revolution thrilled millions in Cuba and across Latin America who saw it as an example of how the seemingly arrogant Yankees could be defied. And many on the island were happy to see the seizure of property of the landed class, the expulsion of American gangsters and the closure of their casinos.

Mr Castro’s speeches, lasting up to six hours, became the soundtrack of Cuban life and his 269-minute speech to the UN General Assembly in 1960 set the world body’s record for length that still stood more than five decades later.

As Mr Castro moved into the Soviet bloc, Washington began working to oust him, cutting US purchases of sugar, the island’s economic mainstay. Mr Castro, in turn, confiscated $1 billion in US assets.

The American government imposed a trade embargo, banning virtually all American exports to the island except for food and medicine, and it severed diplomatic ties on 3 January 1961.

On 16 April of that year, Castro declared his revolution to be socialist, and the next day, about 1,400 Cuban exiles stormed the beach at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s south coast. But the CIA-backed invasion failed.

The debacle forced the US to give up on the idea of invading Cuba, but that didn’t stop Washington and Mr Castro’s exiled enemies from trying to do him in. By Cuban count, he was the target of more than 630 assassination plots by militant Cuban exiles or the US government.

The biggest crisis of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow exploded on 22 October 1962, when President John F Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and imposed a naval blockade of the island. Humankind held its breath, and after a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them. Never had the world felt so close to nuclear war.

Fidel Castro meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei (AP)

Castro cobbled revolutionary groups together into the new Cuban Communist Party, with him as first secretary. Labour unions lost the right to strike. The Catholic Church and other religious institutions were harassed. Neighborhood “revolutionary defence committees” kept an eye on everyone.

Mr Castro exported revolution to Latin American countries in the 1960s, and dispatched Cuban troops to Africa to fight Western-backed regimes in the 1970s. Over the decades, he sent Cuban doctors abroad to tend to the poor, and gave sanctuary to fugitive Black Panther leaders from the US.

But the collapse of the Soviet bloc ended billions in preferential trade and subsidies for Cuba, sending its economy into a tailspin. Mr Castro briefly experimented with an opening to foreign capitalists and limited private enterprise.

As the end of the Cold War eased global tensions, many Latin American and European countries re-established relations with Cuba. In January 1998, Pope John Paul II visited a nation that had been officially atheist until the early 1990s.

Aided by a tourism boom, the economy slowly recovered and Mr Castro steadily reasserted government control, stifling much of the limited free enterprise tolerated during harder times.

As flamboyant as he was in public, Mr Castro tried to lead a discreet private life. He and his first wife, Mirta Diaz Balart, had one son before divorcing in 1956. Then, for more than four decades, Mr Castro had a relationship with Dalia Soto del Valle. They had five sons together and were said to have married quietly in 1980.

By the time Mr Castro resigned 49 years after his triumphant arrival in Havana, he was the world’s longest ruling head of government, aside from monarchs.

In retirement, Mr Castro voiced unwavering support as Raul slowly but deliberately enacted sweeping changes to the Marxist system he had built.

His longevity allowed the younger brother to consolidate control, perhaps lengthening the revolution well past both men’s lives. In February 2013, Raul announced that he would retire as president in 2018 and named newly minted Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as his successor.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said at an April 2016 communist party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervour and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up.”


Havana tries to get its chaotic commercial areas in order

In this Nov. 20, 2016 photo, a sound meter on a mobile phone shows 89 decibels as a motorcycle with a side car drones by on 23rd street in Havana, Cuba. City authorities have passed new city codes meant to make streets around nearly three dozen commercial shopping zones more pleasant both for Cubans and the surging number of foreign tourists. These codes include noise pollution. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

In this Nov. 20, 2016 photo, a sound meter on a mobile phone shows 89 decibels as a motorcycle with a side car drones by on 23rd street in Havana, Cuba. City authorities have passed new city codes meant to make streets around nearly three dozen commercial shopping zones more pleasant both for Cubans and the surging number of foreign tourists. These codes include noise pollution. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

HAVANA,Nov. 25th  (AP)  Known for chaotic avenues filled with car-dodging pedestrians, balconies that discharge waterfalls onto sidewalks and reggaeton played at deafening volume, Havana wants to clean up its streets. Continue reading

Shopping in Havana, the city’s best boutiques

clandestina-2_cs-22b0124b65b0HAVANA, Nov. 16th For decades, the tightly state-controlled Cuban economy meant that all businesses, from department stores to shoe-shiners, were in the hands of the state.

Today, though, Havana is slowly evolving; new economic rules on private ownership are allowing ordinary Continue reading

Inventive Cubans hunt expensive fish using inflated condoms


In this Nov. 13, 2016 photo, mechanic Junior Torres Lopez casts his fishing rod prepared with condoms, known as “balloon fishing,” along the Malecon seawall in Havana, Cuba. When the contraceptives are the size of balloons, fishermen tie them together by their ends, attach them to the end of a baited fishing line and set them floating on the tide until they reach the end of the line, as far out as 900-feet. Ramon Espinosa AP Photo

HAVANA, Nov. 16th (AP) Juan Luis Rosello sat for three hours on the Malecon as the wind blew in from the Florida Straits, pushing the waves hard against the seawall of Havana’s coastal boulevard.

As darkness settled and the wind Continue reading

Justin Trudeau meets Raul Castro in Havana


Cuba’s President Raul Castro and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau review troops during a welcoming ceremony at Revolution Palace in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (Enrique de la Osa/Pool via AP)

HAVANA,Nov. 16th  – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Cuba on Tuesday evening, where the country’s president told him the island nation will not progress any faster than it already is.

Cuban President Raul Castro, the younger brother of legendary Cuban leader Fidel Castro, warned that others have gone through reforms too quickly without regard to the needs of the people, leaving their citizens jobless.

“Even though I have said we have to move slowly, you can go too fast. I have said slowly, but steady,” Raul Castro said through an interpreter.

The message to the Canadian prime minister in a grand room in the Revolutionary Palace in Havana came as Trudeau tries to open up trade opportunities for Canadian companies who want to cash in on the Cuban government’s decision to loosen restrictions on foreign investment.

And to the north is the shadow of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and his tough talk about rolling back a thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba that has sent a Cold War chill through the island.

Touting Canada, Trudeau said Canadians can be pleased that they have played a positive role in Cuba through the years.

Trudeau tried to strike a more personal note just before media were ushered out of the room where the meeting took place.

“The friendship between your family and mine is long and deep, but it’s nothing compared to the true friendship between all Canadians and all Cubans and I look forward to continuing to build on that,” Trudeau said.

The official meeting came hours after Trudeau landed in Havana, the first visit by a Canadian prime minister in two decades.

On Wednesday, state diplomacy turns to soft diplomacy when Trudeau meets with students at the University of Havana.

“It’s in the people-to-people world … where Canadian-Cuban relationships are the most significant,” said Karen Dubinsky, who teaches in a joint Queen’s University-University of Havana course that brings Cuban students to Canada and sends Canadian students to Cuba.

“Cuba is good at that, at using soft diplomacy, and I think what I’ve learned from our experiences working with Cuba is they only want to do more of that.”

Cuban graduate student Freddy Monasterio, who studies Canadian-Cuban relations, said the excitement of the December 2014 announcement of renewed ties with the United States has started to fade. The prime minister’s visit could make Canada an alternative for Cubans leery about the style of capitalism the United States wants to export, he says.

“Usually when people talk about different ways for Cuba to get out of a crisis and open up a little bit, people immediately associate the U.S. as the logical, and only alternative,” Monasterio says. “We want to show that there are other alternatives and Canada for me is one of them.”

Statistics Canada says about 1.3 million Canadian tourists visited Cuba in 2015.

Cuba’s national statistics office reported last month that of the 2.1 million tourists during the first half of the year, more than 777,000 – just over a third – were from Canada. That put Canada at the top of the visitors’ list, with the United States sitting in third with 187,073 travellers.

The Terry Fox Run in Cuba is the largest held outside of Canada.

Real Madrid Foundation Starts Campus in Havana

butraguenoHAVANA, Nov 15 (PL) The Real Madrid Foundation started a training campus in this capital Monday, which will extend up to next Friday, with the visit of former Spanish soccer star Emilio Butragueño.

‘We were just like crazy for being in here. We spent a year and a half organizing the project with Continue reading

Supermoon dazzles in Havana

havana-live-super-moonHAVANA,Nov. 15th Cubans and foreign tourists were dazzled on Monday night as a glowing supermoon rose high over Havana.

Fernanda Gramato, a tourist from Argentina, marveled at the sight.

“Very romantic and well, I don’t Continue reading