"It is very unlikely we will know who the true successor to Raul Castro will be until the Cuban government is forced to make an official announcement. But there is one thing we can be reasonably certain of: Barring the long-awaited fall of Cuba’s dictatorial regime, when the old guard passes away, Cuba will continue to be run by a dictator with Castro blood in his veins. "
I speculated that
a few months ago on successors, mostly on the basis of there being free elections. But everything points to them trying to keep it in the family. I doubt that Raul or any other Castro other than Fidel could maintain the heavy control of Cuba that has existed for 54 years for very long. So any coronation will likely not last very long.
I just returned from Havana and our tourist hotel was filled with people wearing Obama TShirts and hats and experiencing an "educational exchange" - not on a tourist junket - in a $240 / night hotel room.
One comment was telling. "This city must be conserved!" said one pasty Obama voter to everyone in the lobby...
My question - what does she want preserved? The underage prostitution (of both sexes)? The grinding poverty? The deteriorating buildings and holes in the sidewalks and eternal renovation projects? Maybe the beating and arrest of a dissident who was brave enough to stand in front of the Capitolo and complain about Cuba's lack of human rights?
The older Cubans who adore Fidel from the old days are dying off, the burocratos who depend on the status quo are afraid of a free Cuba, the parents want a better life for their children, and the young? The young want change.
It will not come from any appointee from any Castro, but from free elections as Fidel promised in 1959. Just the first of decades of lies.
People who follow human rights in Cuba know that Yoani Sanchez, noted dissident and activist for rights for resident Cubans has been allowed to leave. But will she come back, and what then?
At a media conference last week Rio de Janeiro, in her first legal public statement in many years, she responded to questions in a well balanced and diplomatic way. The old Yoani, the firebrand, never called for a middle ground, a rapprochement with the Castros, but the total dissolution of the Cuban faux government. She wanted the Castros gone yesterday.
But in her presser of last week, she sounded like a politician.
I had the pleasure of meeting Yoani about five years ago and she impressed me as a solid, impressive, understated person worthy of respect. I had followed her since she had started blogging in about 2005 when I was working on my novel, "Mojito!"
She has that thing that most of our politicians lack: gravitas.
Cubans, for at least a decade, have commonly used the phrase, "If Fidel dies". But what if he finally does and his brother decides to retire to Miami? (As if…)
Cuba probably has the legislative ability to have a true democracy and could probably have a freely elected national assembly with a little tweaking. Could Yoani Sanchez assume the head of the current Congress, and start the reforms that are needed to bring Cuba into the 21st Century?
She is certainly more able and democratically minded than Noriega or Chavez. She is a woman who might better understand the cost to Cuban families of the dreadful government of the last 54 years.
As far as her views on foreign policy, and only one foreign government really matters, her statements at the presser last week seem to indicate that she would be a Cuba first leader, not a sop to the USA Government, a surrogate for Cuban Exiles or a younger version of the current overlordship in Cuba.
On the trade and investment embargo by the USA, she quite wisely states it must come down. Has it been successful? Well, it successfully elected at least one USA President. But unless one has the lifespan of a tortoise, it took an awful long time. And like the old joke, the operation was successful but the patient died.
Cuba was free to trade, and did, with every country in the world but the USA. But, really, did it matter that Cuba had a million Canadian tourists a year? Only the USA can count in providing Cubans true economic growth. For Cuba, with anyone as a President, open trade with the USA is a necessity for recovery.
Sanchez is smart enough to stay out of the Guantanamo debate by leaving it for the courts to decide. The USA military base is, in the bigger scheme of things, not all that worthy of a lot of energy from someone looking to deal with abject poverty and a complete lack of rights of free speech or association in their anticipated domain.
Surprisingly she spoke in favour of the release, by the USA, of the so called "Cuban Five". These are remnants of the "Wasp Network" spy ring now serving time for espionage activities, particularly against Cuban exiles. But she doesn't appear to favour their release on the base of innocence, but on the basis of practicality. They are an effective (but expensive) propaganda tool for the Castro regime and allow some deflection of the human rights crimes of the Castros themselves.
Sanchez is launching her speaking and appearance tour complementary to the screening in Rio de Janeiro of a documentary on Cuban human rights abuses and will be proceeding on to Europe and then New York City.
When she returns to Cuba will she continue to be on the outside looking in, or follow a destiny to eventually become head of state? And, if not her, then who?
Raul Castro, perhaps the least of the three Castro brothers, a few months ago promoted young Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, to the Politburo and recently Miguel Diaz-Canel to the first Vice Presidency. These were seen by many observers as perhaps an indication to suggest Raul's support for the accession of either to the top job. But these of these appointments, with the taint of their allegiance would be shoe-ins in a free election.
But when an election comes, conceivably, Sanchez could be campaigning against two other women for Raul's job, the current President's daughter, Ana Maria Machado, and Josefina Vidal: Cuba's director of USA affairs.
The ultimate challenge Sanchez will face is that she is far better known outside of Cuba than within. And the Cuban Government, which really only exists effectively as a propaganda ministry, is likely to direct its entire tool box to make sure that Sanchez doesn't stand a chance.
© Brian Lloyd French 2013
In travelling to Cuba... I know there are strong feelings about people visiting Cuba for tourism. I understand that people who have had everything stolen from them by a communist dictator don't wish for the Cuban economy to be supported with money from outside. I also get some criticism for writing travel articles for www.visitcuba.com.
But what is the option?
The oil drilling opportunity appears to have disappeared, the Chinese aren't making up for the loss of Russian support and the Cubans haven't made anything for export except rum and cigars for over 50 years.
Without tourism the dictators and all the people would very likely be gone.
There are about 12 million visitors a year. Spending, say $500 each means $6 billion into the economy per annum.
The people are almost starving WITH tourism, what would happen without.
The alternative - removing tourism - is akin to the old joke, "The operation was a success, but the patient died."
From the "Don't let Perfect be the Enemy of Good" file.
Perfect would be having the Castros and their closest allies die (which isn't a non-given, given their age across the board) and a democracy take control of Cuban affairs (however, this will take at least a decade to disassemble the current state of affairs.) Anya Landau French (no relation) has a clear-eyed look at re-configuring USA / Cuban relations.
Is Kerry the guy? I doubt it. He's only ever been in it for his ego, and ego won't win the day for this."As much as many in the Cuban government (particularly the diplomatic corps) want to reduce tensions with the United States and finally make real progress on long-standing grievances held by both sides, they aren’t desperate for the big thaw. Many U.S. analysts, including in government, speculate that this is because Cuba’s leaders don’t really want to change the relationship, that strife serves their needs better than would the alternative. That could be so, but there’s also a hefty amount of skepticism and pride on the Cuban side, as well. After so many decades and layers of what Cuba calls the U.S. blockade, Cubans are unwilling to have the terms of any ‘surrender’ dictated to them. In fact, they are bound and determined that there will be no surrender. They would argue, what is there to surrender but their government’s very existence, something the leadership obviously isn’t going to put on the table."http://thehavananote.com/2013/02/secretary_kerry_will_he_or_wont_he_take_cuba
Anyone who wishes...
Mojito is available for reviews on Goodreads.
If you wish (in a few hours) you can also download an ebook excerpt.
One of the main characters in Mojito! is based on a guy I know in Havana - I call him Manuel - which is not his real name..
Except he's not there anymore. He has moved to the USA.
Just spoke to him and he is so happy - works as a bartender and says "I makin' so much money, Amigo."
"Mojito! is a novel - it's fiction. And the guy I called Manuel is the head of the Mafia in Havana.
I admit, he wasn't.
But he was an expert in trade - finding and selling things and doing things that have to be done to live the way he wants. He and his friends are / were good friends, but would be bad enemies.
But it doesn't matter any more. He's free.
Originally published in www.visitcuba.com
(c) Brian Lloyd French 2013
In my novel, "Mojito!" the main character is so anti-ballet that he commits himself to never, ever going to a performance. Until he actually does, in Havana, and then swears he will never miss a chance to attend again.
Communist countries, notably the old Soviet Union and contemporary China, have an admirable ability (at considerable cost) to produce performing artists of the highest standard. So does Cuba, although the country and government don't exactly have the resources of their larger cohorts in economic theory.
I've had the privilege of seeing the Ballet Nacional de Cuba several times at the old grand theatre in Havana and also enjoyed Liszt Alfonso's "Danza Cubana" performance at "Luminato" in Toronto a few years ago. And Cuban dance is top notch.
The Cuban School existed more than a decade before Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, since 1948, and quite impossibly is still directed by its founder, Alicia Alonso. To say that Ms Alonso is a legend is an understatement.
She started studying ballet in 1928 at the age of seven and gave her first public performance (Sleeping Beauty) at the age of nine. After marrying a dancer at the ripe old age of sixteen, she and her husband moved to New York City. After giving birth to a daughter she continued her training until a detached retina put her on her back for two years, and forced her to learn to dance without peripheral vision.
Then she did "Giselle", and the rest is ballet history. At the age of ninety-one she is one of a handful of living prima ballerina assolutas and has performed with every major ballet company in the world. She danced for Balachine and with everyone from Nureyev to Baryshnikov.
Her latest performance was just a few weeks ago, at the Havana International Ballet Festival. At ninety-one.
Her National School of Ballet has become one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world and is notable for the athletic and artistic perfection of its members, its superior performance of the classical repertoire, as well as its development of uniquely Cuban choreography.
The Company regularly tours the world (as a source of revenue for the government as well as a source of inspiration for its audiences) and when they come to a venue new you, you must not miss it.
In Havana, the National Ballet of Cuba performs at the Gran Teatro, on the corner of San Rafael and Prado, across the street from the old Inglaterra Hotel. The Teatro itself shows its age, despite new seating installed a few years ago. Tickets are a bargain at about $20. Warning that some ne'er do wells will be offering special passes for sale outside but these peso passes are for Cuban nationals only.
Call me a skeptic (and a cynic)... In Cuba, nothing is ever as it appears. When I look at this, here's what might I see. 1) The Castros are keen on reducing its population of dissidents 2) Fewer people means less in allowances 3) There will be fees collected from travellers 4) Fidel is out of the picture (dead or dying) 5) Raul knows that he is not popular enough to hold things together by himself, he needs to change or be changed.