Saddened By Fidel Castro Passing

News of Fidel Castro’s death ignited a curious sadness. Politics, propaganda and perception of the Cold War are complicated. It upsets me to ponder how little is remembered of how and why the revolution took hold.

Revolutions aren’t born of prosperity or contentment, they fester in a population oppressed by corruption and greed. Everyone knows of Castro, how many regard his predecessor Fulgencio Batista with contempt? How many Americans schooled on evils of Castro fathom the injustice of Batista’s Cuba, grasp simmering disgust for his roll out the red carpet invitation to organized crime and American profiteering? Batista governed twice under vastly different circumstances – duly elected president in 1940 on a socialist platform, Batista left office in 1944. Eight years in America later he returned as a candidate in the 1952 election, facing certain defeat Batista orchestrated a military coup, seizing power as an unelected dictator.

The U.S. government fawned over Batista, a dictator who suspended the constitution, revoked the right to strike, handed American based corporations exclusive rights to resources and welcomed U.S. mafia into Havana – all with financial/military support of the United States. Obviously America was rattled when Havana lawyer Fidel Castro called bullshit.

Cold War propaganda, a super-power pissing match, threat of nuclear annihilation – vilifying Castro was effortless. Who could blame people for thinking Communism their greatest enemy, the hammer poised to eradicate civilization. America wasn’t bothered by dictator Batista”s Cuba, his Cuba suited them nicely. Batista death squads, torture, state controlled media, suspension of elections and corruption could be overlooked – irrelevant details considered part of doing business.

Pondering sadness over Castro’s passing has nothing to do with pro/con analysis of his legacy. I’m not defending human rights violations, or claiming sunshine and roses for Cubans under his rule. My sentiment comes from the realization so many forget, or never knew why Castro orchestrated the revolution.

America condoned corruption and terror in Batista’s undemocratic Cuba because it suited them. America played a starring role in driving Castro to revolutionary desperation. In my opinion Fidel Castro began as an idealistic young man, a man appalled by greed, brutality and social injustice. Unfortunately 1950s hysteria called poking fat U.S. money bellies in the name of social justice Communism. By virtue of the era, Castro himself had no choice but to profess his ideology Communist. Castro seized power in a world indifferent toward human rights atrocities of a corrupt dictator who played well with American interests.

Remember this when pondering Fidel Castro. Before making broad generalizations, understand the Batista Cuba Castro abhorred. History’s puzzle isn’t complete without all the pieces. Pieces of time, place, circumstance and consequence won’t snap in place until we see the whole picture.

Below, a link to another of my posts on Cuba

Stones Rock Havana

Oh to be in Havana tonight – shoulder to shoulder with over 200,000 spectators at Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana baseball stadium, witness to a free concert by the Rolling Stones.

The Stones released their first album in 1964, two years after the Cuban missile crisis, five years after the revolution in 1959. Considered diversionismo ideologico ( ideological divergence ) by a regime unwilling to tolerate influence of enemy culture, the Stones joined Elvis Presley and the Beatles, headlining an official list banning all foreign rock music. ( One notable exception – approval of John Lennon’s 1971 release, Power To The People. Lennon has a park named after him in Havana, complete with his statue ).

News of Stones in Havana didn’t find me until yesterday. first reaction dropped a jaw, followed by pining for a stolen heart. No time to ponder implications – too busy walking streets, lost in the heartbeat of Havana night, vignettes of musical expression erupting around every corner. My only thought – kick ass Havana, better late than never.

Morning arrived with bag of squirrels cacophony – Cuba deserves more than a knee jerk “kick ass, better late than never” or media fawning over “iconic” historical concerts, akin to David Bowie at the Berlin Wall in 1987, or Wham in China, 1985. No argument on iconic, without question hundreds of thousands packing a baseball stadium in Havana for a Stones concert, warrants that designation. Worrisome resides in perspective, call it media spin whirling about translation of iconic.

Regardless of opinion’s nationality or political affiliation, we mustn’t forget the Cuban people. Personal experience left indelible marks, a life altering view of tenacity, perseverance, creativity and resourcefulness. Despite oppression and civil rights violations, remember people whose fortitude fill the night with music. Music monitored by government, musicians arrested for subversive lyrics, artists who dare not stand in line for the Stones because they fear detention.

This concert straddles a full spectrum of intent, in time meaning will show itself. Until then, honour the people of Cuba. Ignore sniveling right wing quips promoting cultural arrogance and blanket assumption of robotic communist conformity. Nip the bud of tiresome debate over ulterior motives, scold yourselves for thinking a concert might erase Cuban woes. Allow the Stones to rock Havana, and let chips fall where they may.


Pondering Cuba

Yesterday morning began as any other – reaching for the remote, instinctively allowing a news station to transport me from semi-conscious to reality. Almost immediately I heard this….

“Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, so as to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world,” – Barrack Obama

Leaping from bed with alarming intensity, I nearly stepped on the dog trying to reach my phone. Texting my husband and daughter “Obama just lifted the embargo on Cuba”. “I KNOW!” instantly shot back from my daughter. My husband called a few minutes later – “Holy craps” were exchanged, as we parted to investigate further.

Miniscule shreds of conscience capable of acknowledging Obama’s bold (reasonable and about freakin’ time) announcement, quickly succumbed to overwhelming selfishness. Cuba sole my heart – a remarkable country, full of remarkable people. Proud, stoic, resourceful, artistic, joyous people who persevered despite insurmountable odds. Horrified at the prospect of American business homogenizing “my Cuba”, I found myself spiraling towards a full on tizzy fit.

Allowing a day to ponder implications of Barrack Obama’s policy shift eradicated my fears. Caught up in the historic American “about face”, I almost forgot how U.S. politics worked. I could have spared considerable grief, hours of self loathing for putting the Cuba I love before the people who struggle with rations and shortages, if I’d been quick enough to remember the Republicans.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was first out of the gate…

“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, based on a lie,” Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “The White House has conceded everything and gained little.”

“I’m committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” he added.

As of January 6, 2015 the U.S. Senate will be controlled by the Republican party – icing on the cake, Marco Rubio will be the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere (complete with oversight responsibility for the region).

“This Congress is not going to lift the embargo,” Rubio declared at the end of his news conference.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also slammed the change in policy, saying it “emboldens all state sponsors of terrorism.”

“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom -– and not one second sooner,” Boehner said in a statement. “There is no ‘new course’ here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), one of the most outspoken Republicans in Congress on matters of foreign policy, threatened to do everything in his power to block funding from being used to set up a U.S. embassy in Cuba. “Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time,” Graham said on Twitter.

Now I’m mad – who do these nincompoops think they are? Cuba is lovely without Starbucks or McDonalds, the Cuban people however deserve a little respect. America spews blustery rhetoric on how compassionately the “greatest nation in the world” views global issues. All hot headed Republicans see is a Communist nation. Pig headed “over my dead body” gobbley gook emanating from a gaggle of close minded pin heads.

Kudos to you Barrack Obama – never let it be said you didn’t attempt righting an enormous wrong.


Notes and daughter in Havana




Cuban Embargo

What began over 50 years ago as Cold War posturing, has evolved into one of the longest standing embargoes in world history. “Posturing” might be a little unfair – Cold War fears and hysteria presented themselves as ever present dread. Communists were the enemy – an enemy poised to unleash global nuclear annihilation. Communists were the reason we built shelters and stock piled supplies. Only 2 years old in 1961 as the Bay of Pigs played out, my mother tells of utter despair listening to news reports – convinced unthinkable was inevitable.

Capsulizing Cuba”s predicament isn’t easy –  In 1959 Fidel Castro led Cuban rebels to victory by ousting Cuban president Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s revolutionary government drastically altered American interests in Cuba. Socialist land reform (three quarters of arable Cuban land, owned by foreigners under Batista) led to seizure of U.S. owned sugar plantations. America countered in 1960 by reducing Cuban sugar imports, the Soviet Union agreed to purchase the difference. Escalating reform of privately held land, business ,and education, coupled with increased Soviet trade, and expulsion of religious organizations (Cuba declared itself an Atheist nation in 1962 – a prohibition removed by the Communist government in 1991) meant one thing, and one thing only – Communism.  Cold war anti-communists lost their minds over socialist reforms and Soviet presence – in 1962 president John F. Kennedy signed an executive order, effectively severing all ties with Castro’s Cuba. Linked below, a good timeline of embargo progression….

The Cold War resides in history books, America trades with Russia, and Cuba is now a member of the UN Human Rights Council – a council that’s voted 22 consecutive times to end the U.S. embargo. The latest vote, an overwhelming majority (188 UN general assembly members in favor) with America and Israel the only hold-outs. More astounding is news that Barrack Obama signed up for another year of embargo under the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 – a federal law restricting trade with nations hostile to America – a law requiring yearly review by the President. A law pertaining to Cuba alone, after George Bush removed North Korea from the naughty list in 2008.

Not even the fact I’m Canadian, negates bat shit absurdity of continued embargoes with Cuba. Ponder Obama’s about face – help me make sense of this crazy world.

John Oliver on the Daily Show….




The Gatekeeper of Colon

My husband and I have a thing about cemeteries – when we travel, it’s a given we’ll end up in a graveyard. We never discuss the inevitable, that’s not how we travel. It doesn’t matter where we are, at some point a cemetery beckons, we oblige.

Cristobal Colon in Havana seemed no different. Undaunted by the closed gate, buoyed by voices in the gatehouse – my husband negotiated our entrance. Unencumbered by expectation, void of tour book overviews – we entered just the way we liked it –  blank slates on a mission of discovery.

I’m not certain if the enormity of Colon ever truly registered. Past the gates,  lost in silent pondering, each of us intent on picking solitary paths through the labyrinth. Five or ten minutes passed, minutes filled with wonder at the stark beauty of monuments to the dead. We needed that time to get our bearings – gradually each of us walked out of ourselves, ready to share the experience as a group. Six of us gathered, as if instructed by unseen forces – my husband, children and a friend, inexplicably grounded, ready to take on Colon.

I know we were alone. Colon had closed for the evening – six of us roaming 140 acres, meandering past lives of a million souls. One of the largest cemeteries in the world, yet unlike any I’d visited. A stark contrast to Pere Lachaise in Paris where markers for Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Proust, Sartre, Chopin and Jim Morrison lay sprinkled between everyday lives. Inhabitants of Colon were equal – elaborate mausoleums no different from modest grave stones. There was a tenderness present, a continuation of Cuba’s impact on my perspective.

I’m pretty sure the dog approached us before the gatekeeper. In hindsight, it’s entirely possible both were wise enough to give us time to settle in, knowing exactly when to reveal themselves. We named the dog “Salchipapa” (after a Latin American street food that’s essentially french fries with cut up wieners). Salchipapa wasn’t cute – an obvious stray, but with the good sense to know manners went a lot farther than attitude. My son tossed her pieces of his sandwich (for the life of me I can’t recall why he had a sandwich in the middle of a graveyard), instead of inhaling her good fortune – Salchipapa buried them. Without exception, every morsel politely tucked away – as if the shame of her situation was too much to bear.

The gatekeeper’s methodical approach alarmed me at first. Certain he’d had enough after hours annoyance, steeling myself for insistence we make our way to the exit. Not ready to leave, I shot my husband a wordless plea to “negotiate” a little more time. Gatekeeper didn’t speak a word of English, our collective Spanish amounted to a couple of the kids taking a year in high school and phrases from a Lonely Planet guide book. Turns out we didn’t need a common language – this wasn’t gatekeeper’s first dance.

Gatekeeper had appointed himself our tour guide. We didn’t feel coerced or hustled. Beneath his gruff exterior, gatekeeper was a proud man. His eyes smiled as he led us on a erratic journey through Cuba’s past. The world Domino champion, a woman you say? Famous baseball player, a revolutionary hero – you’re doing great gatekeeper, we understand. She and her baby died in childbirth? The baby was buried at her feet, yet the body was found in her arms when exhumed years later – holy crap gatekeeper, that’s incredible.This woman’s dog lay at her grave, refusing to budge until it too perished and now rests alongside her?  Remarkable.

Gatekeeper stops at a grave. Not certain if he’s had enough of the relentless heat, or decided it’s long past dinner, I’m watching for clues when I swear I caught that split second inspiration took hold. Gatekeeper started to sing. Salchipapa the only living witness as seven people sang and danced on the dusty avenue next to the grave of Jose Fernandez Diaz, the man responsible for Cuba’s best known song, Guantanamera. Gatekeeper was too busy grinning while tapping out  beats to mind  us singing the same line over and over again.

Silent, mutual understanding passed between us, it was time to let gatekeeper go home for dinner. Salchipapa followed us to the gate – oblivious to our silly grins or soft humming of Guantanamera, simply making sure it was safe to exhume dinner. Regardless of  amount, money couldn’t express how Gatekeeper enriched our lives. Pleased with our attempt, unaware of the gift bestowed upon us, we parted ways.

Every so often, the lucky traveler finds a “Gatekeeper of Colon”. These are the moments I travel for. Cuba is remarkable place – our time with the Gatekeeper of Colon solidified its place in my heart. Last year I wrote this short post on Cuba….