27 05 2011

Every weekend in Avenida Garzon in Santiago, mobile toilets would be installed, ready for the Noches Santiaguerras. To use the toilet cost 1CUP. Most men seemed to prefer to keep their change for buying beer or food and used walls and gutters in the side streets to relieve their bladders instead.



19 05 2011

In the part of Santiago de Cuba where I was staying, it was very common for houses to have their doors, windows and balconies protected by metal cages (known as rejas). The installation of these was carried out by private individuals and it seemed to be good business, as they were much in demand.

Many were very decorative, which led me to conclude that they were primarily installed due to their aesthetic value, rather than any risk of crime that needed to be guarded against. However, one night at the house above which my apartment was situated and whose front entrance we shared, the owner of the house was awoken in the early hours and observed a masked man attempting to gain entry and cutting the wires to the buzzer that sounded when the gate was open. The intruder ran off when he saw that he had been observed. After that, I was glad that my apartment was protected by its own cage, attractive or not.


12 05 2011

This year’s craze in Santiago de Cuba for boys, both small and large, is flying kites (known there as cometas). On nearly every street there are boys flying their kites, some reaching incredible heights. Hardly any were shop-purchased, nearly all were home-made, using sticks for the frame, plastic from shopping bags as the material; and twine unpicked from rice sacks as the string.

It was a pleasure to see young lads getting hours of pleasure from something so simple and it reminded me of my own childhood, when we would play for hours on the streets with improvised toys made from available materials. For most kids in Santiago there are no computer games where they sit at home alone in front of a screen most of the day.

The downside is that the kites get snagged on the overhead wires and it is not always possible to retrieve them, meaning that many streets are decorated by overhead wires with bits of wood, plastic and twine flying from them.

Some Thoughts on Osama bin Laden and Luis Posada Carriles

5 05 2011

Cuban poster showing George Bush and Luis Posada Carriles metamorphosing into Adolf Hitler

Osama bin Laden was the mastermind of a terrorist network that, amongst other outrages, hijacked two airplanes and flew them into the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, killing 2752 victims. He spent the last nine and a half years in hiding, latterly in Pakistan. To some Islamic extremists he was a hero.

Luis Posada Carriles was the head of an anti-Cuban terrorist network that, amongst other outrages, planted a bomb on a Cuban airline flight from Venezuela in 1976, killing 73 people. Despite attempts by both Cuba and Venezuela to extradite him for that crime, he remains at freedom in the USA., where he is a hero to some extremists in Miami.

USA armed forces tracked bin Laden down to his hideout in Pakistan and, without even informing the Pakistani Government of their plans, murdered him. Despite myself shedding no tears for his demise, US triumphalism, as demonstrated on our TV screens in the hours and days after bin Laden’s death, is not a pretty sight.

Can anybody imagine the US Government reaction if Cuban special agents were to track down Posada Carriles in Miami and kill him? At the very least there would be attempts to apply further economic sanctions against Cuba. It’s not hard to imagine the episode being used as an excuse to launch bombing raids on the island or even an invasion.

Yet would there be any difference between the two? I cannot see any. Would there be any legal or moral justification for either act? I think that Cuba would have the greater moral justification, in the light of the USA’s refusal to extradite Posada Carriles. Pakistan would have been happy to cooperate in extraditing bin Laden. The last thing that the USA wanted, it appears, is a trial for bin Laden, whereas Cuba and its people would relish the prospect of a trial involving Posada Carriles. Both trials would have been very revealing about the murky activities of the CIA.

Neither act would have had any legal justification in international law. But then the USA, which does not even recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, seems oblivious to international law, or to morality. It does what it does because it can. It can do so because of its size and power.

We live in an unequal and unfair world. The USA can launch invasions against other countries; can kidnap people in other countries and imprison them without trial; and can murder people in other countries. Cuba, on the other hand, has to put up with the USA occupying part of its territory, where it runs a prison camp in which people are held without trial for years on end; with a US economic blockade which each year is condemned by almost every country at the United Nations; and with the US spending $20 million each year on activities to undermine its Government and promote “regime change”.Despite all of this, the USA seems to think that it can lecture Cuba on human rights; and describes Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism”.

The cold, hard facts of life are that it is not international law which governs the behaviour of the world’s governments; nor is it morality. It is power: military, economic and political. That is why China does not receive too many human rights lectures from the USA, whilst Cuba does.

Set against this backdrop, the survival of Cuba’s revolutionary Government, after 52 years of US opposition, which has included sponsoring an invasion, terrorism, sabotage and an economic blockade, is all the more remarkable. The people who have suffered, of course, are the 11 million people who live on the island, including the relatives of the 73 victims of the Cuban airline that was blown up above Barbados in 1976. In the meantime, Luis Posada Carriles is free to enjoy his liberty and lap up the adulation of the extremists who appear to dominate Miami politics.

La Lupe

1 05 2011

Whilst I was in Cuba I became acquainted with the music of La Lupe. My friend had first heard her late one night on a Santiago radio station and had been stunned by what she heard. When she saw a disc of hers on a stall in Havana, she bought it as a present for me.

La Lupe was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1939. As a teenager she moved to Havana with her family, where she began singing at a club in Vedado called La Red, which is still there today. According to her obituary in the New York Times from when she died at the age of 53  in 1992: She bought her own club, but after difficulties with the Fidel Castro Government — “Castro take my club, my money, my car,” she told Look magazine in 1971 — she emigrated to the United States, and settled in New York in 1962.”

In New York she began recording, first with Mongo Santamaria and then Tito Puentes. At the end of the decade Puentes dropped her for Celia Cruz and La Lupe then began a solo career. Her style was extraordinary, described by Newsweek in 1969 as: ”Like Eartha Kitt and Janis Joplin with plaintive echoes of Edith Piaf.”  Watch the video above, from a 1971 US TV show, of La Lupe doing her own inimitable version of “My Way”.

However, by the second half of the decade her career was on the wane. According to a 2008 article in the Guardian: “…after a series of tragedies she became a devout Christian, vowed never to perform again and died in poverty and obscurity in her early 50s. “

Some readers may already be familiar with La Lupe. Apparently she is a gay icon in the Spanish speaking world. A gay bar in Madrid is named after her. In 1998 the Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar used her song “Puro Teatro” on the soundtrack of his film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”. For anybody not familiar with her, I urge them to search online for her music and to read more about her.

The fact that it is now possible to hear her music and buy her records in Cuba is evidence of how things have slowly changed there over the last two decades or so. At one time anybody who left Cuba for the USA was referred to as a gusano (worm) and listening to their music was considered counter-revolutionary. Now it’s easy to hear artists like Celia Cruz or Issac Delgado, who turned their backs on Cuba and forged successful careers in the US.