Circles Robinson Online

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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Philip Agee Documentary at Cuba Film Fest

By Circles Robinson*

The Cuba-Irish connection of directors Roberto Ruiz and Bernie Dwyer has once again teamed up on a documentary: “One Man’s Story: Philip Agee, Cuba and the CIA”, which focuses on the dark side of United States foreign policy.

The 33-minute film had its premiere screening at the Havana Film Festival taking place through December 15th in the Cuban capital. It will now become a valuable teaching tool on US attempts to destroy the Cuban Revolution using mercenaries and US taxpayer’s money.

Filmed in Havana with excellent archive material of numerous US covert and direct involvements in Latin America, One Man’s Story allows Agee, who betrayed big brother and paid the price, to tell his captivating story.

Agee, like several repentant Vietnam Veterans, is obsessed with getting the record straight for a country, the United States, where recent history is barely taught and what is comes through a fine sieve.

“I entered the CIA as a patriotic conformist from a comfortable family,” explains Agee, now 71, in the documentary.

“I was only 22 and had romantic views towards things and it wasn’t until I got down to Ecuador and had been working there for a year or two that I began to get a political education.”

In all, Agee worked for 12 years in the Company (CIA) joining in 1957 and working in Washington, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Mexico until he resigned in 1968.

He has since become one of the most important whistle blowers about US support for the installation and maintaining of brutal dictatorships throughout the Western Hemisphere and beyond.

His first book, “Inside the Company” published in 1975, and the Covert Action Information Bulletin, betrayed many heinous secrets of US Intelligence and his passport was taken away in 1979, “to protect national security.”

Agee has lived in Europe and the Cuban capital of Havana, where the interviews for One Man’s Story were made by directors Bernie Dwyer and Roberto Ruiz.

One Man’s Story gives us first hand testimony that should send up smoke signals to people questioning the motives and actions of current US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, to name a few.

For years Agee has also been an outspoken critic of the US Blockade on Cuba, encouraging US citizens to find a way to continue doing business with the island and traveling there.

Part of the Big Picture

In their last co-production, Ruiz and Dwyer screened “Mission against Terror;” the story of how the Cuban Five followed the trail of US-based terrorism against their country, and were cruelly imprisoned while the Cuban-American terrorists they monitored enjoy freedom on the streets of Miami, Florida.

After outlining different terrorist acts perpetrated by the CIA against Cuba since its 1959 revolution, in One Man’s Story, Agee justifies Cuba’s need to send agents, like the Cuban Five, to Florida in order to protect the island.

For Cubans, both documentaries contain much information that is well known and rehashed often in the media and education centers and might seem redundant to some people in a country where political history is a constant.

However, for North American and European viewers, the film feeds curiosity about the sinister role the super power has played in the world and may serve as a way to reach young people still unsure with what being patriotic means.

The terrifying events at Abu Ghraib, the US Naval Base and offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay, and other clandestine cites, can be put into context with a better understanding of the CIA operations as told by Agee.

Hats off to Dwyer and Ruiz for telling a story that needs to be told again and again. The man they chose to tell it clearly knows his stuff.

Dwyer is an Irish filmmaker and journalist who lives and works in Havana as a radio reporter for Radio Havana Cuba. Ruiz hails from the far eastern Cuban province of Guantanamo and is a graduate in English and Spanish literature. He works extensively making documentaries for Cuban TV.

The duo has now made 5 documentaries. 1998: Che, the Irish legacy (traces Che Guevara’s Irish links); 2001: Che in Ireland (Che Guevara’s visit to Dublin in 1964); 2002: The Footprints of Cecilia McPartland (Irish mother of Cuban revolutionary martyr Julio Anotonio Mella); 2004: Mission Against Terror (Case of the Cuban Five) and now One Man’s Story: Philip Agee, Cuba and the CIA.

In their next project, Ruiz and Dwyer hope to document events relating to the Barbados Sabotage, when a Cuban commercial airliner was blown out of the sky in 1976 killing all 73 persons on board.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cuba Movie Crazy over Havana Festival

By Circles Robinson

The New Latin American Cinema Festival, which also includes parallel showings of European films and US independent productions, is my favorite event of the year and one of the many reasons I love living in the Cuban capital.

The Havana Festival opened Tuesday and extends over 11 days, always taking place in the first half of December. It is so popular that many locals take part of their vacations during this time of the year in order to see as much celluloid as possible and discuss with friends, neighbors and strangers about directors, actors and the movies themselves.

Others, like me, don’t have vacation time but burn the candle at both ends to take in as many full length films and shorts as possible and appreciate the tremendous creative effort involved.

It is also awesome to have many of the directors, producers and actors on hand to present their creations and answer questions in the theater lobbies. Those that come from the US often keep a low profile to avoid problems with their government.

The festival isn’t a commercial affair and that’s the other fantastic part about it. Movies year round in Cuba cost the equivalent of eight cents of a US dollar and entrance during the festival at the 18 participating cinemas remains the same. The result is that people of all walks of life, from pensioners to young students have the ability to go, and do in droves.

The screenings begin at 10:00 a.m. when there is an appreciably older audience. As the day progresses and long into the night up to the 11:30 p.m. showings, the crowd become notably younger.

My daughter is studying to be “another starving film director”, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez once described those daring enough to embark on such a career in an industry growingly dominated by Hollywood. Gabo, as he is known in the Spanish speaking world, is once again on hand for the festival.

From my lay perspective, and seeing the efforts of my daughter and her classmates at the Art Institute, I can now better appreciate how difficult it is to produce a decent one minute video clip or a 5 minute short film.

First the idea, the writing, and then the planning involved, the equipment, the logistics, the filming, the editing etc. The endless credits at the end of a movie become real people and the costs involved are astounding even if you get a lot of help from your friends, which is the way students here survive.

The Havana Film Festival gives new and experienced Latin American directors a place to show their stuff to an educated audience and a host of guests from around the world who flock to the island each year to enjoy the event.


On Tuesday, opening night, I went to see Pan’s Labyrinth, a 2006 Mexican, Spanish and US co-production by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.

After downing a half liter of water during the opening ceremony and musical accompaniment I wanted to go to the bathroom half way through the film, but there was no way I was leaving my seat; not wanting to miss a second of the captivating film.

Set in Franco’s Spain in 1944, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) a 13-year-old stepdaughter of a despicable captain, gets help from story book characters that despite her inability to totally obey orders, guide her through magical passageways and dark moments to fulfill her destiny.

The backdrop for the fairy tale was the cruel reality after the Spanish Civil War when Franco’s henchmen, personified by Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), tried to exterminate all red traces of the 1936-39 Republic.

An estimated 700,000 to 1 million Spaniards died in and after the Spanish Civil War and despite a “liberation” of much of Europe in 1945, Spain remained under fascist rule until Franco finally kicked in 1975, paving the way for a transition period.

My first reaction when leaving the Karl Marx Theatre was that Pan’s Labyrinth was an appropriate beginning for a film festival in Havana and will be tough to top.

Cuba’s Olive Branch-Defense Strategy

By Circles Robinson

Cuba is not picking a fight with anybody but it is combat ready if George W. Bush makes good on his threat to launch preventive attacks against more of the countries he lists as his enemies.

While the US continues to use a carrot-and-stick (or sledge hammer) approach to foreign policy, its neighbor to the southeast combines an olive-branch with defense preparations.

The large-scale military parades last Saturday in Havana, and in Santiago de Cuba two days before, showcased the island’s modest defense industry and had two main objectives.

One was to reaffirm the support of the armed forces and the Cuban people for their socialist revolution and its leaders at a time when President Fidel Castro, 80, is on the slow road to recovery from serious surgery at the end of July.

The second was aimed at the United States, to let it be known that Cuba has no plans to let its guard down. The Bush administration has a half trillion dollar annual war chest and a detailed 500-page State Department plan with a secret annex to bring about a regime change in Cuba and virtually annex the island.

Raul Castro’s Offer for Rapprochement with US

Raul Castro, the Cuban defense minister and acting president, gave the Havana parade keynote speech commemorating the landing of the Granma, a vessel that exactly 50 years before brought him and an expeditionary force led by his brother Fidel to the southeastern coasts of Cuba.

From the Plaza of the Revolution in the Cuban capital and before hundreds of thousands of people and a national television audience, Raul moved away from antagonistic politics by extending an olive branch to Washington.

“We feel certain that the way to resolve the pressing conflicts afflicting mankind is not through war, but rather political solutions. We take this opportunity to once again state that we arewilling to resolve at the negotiating table the longstanding dispute between the United States and Cuba, based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect.”

Cuba has previously asked Washington to join it in fighting terrorism, and drug and people trafficking, but the Bush administration has so far turned a cold shoulder.

Rather than exploring Cuba’s proposals for cooperation, the US, under George W. Bush, has “continued to talk about bringing down the Cuban government,” stressed Wayne Smith, the top US diplomat in Havana under the Carter administration.

Nonetheless, the two countries have successfully worked together on some aspects of hurricane warnings and occasionally play on the same baseball field or volleyball court. But that’s about it.

Cuba’s new overtures were met at the State Department with another hasty no thanks in the words of spokesman Sean McCormack.

However, behind the scenes, Cuba experts like Wayne Smith and savvy politicians are seeing an opening worth exploring. They believe engagement and an end to part, or all, of the nearly half-century blockade of its neighbor would present new opportunities to try and influence the island after the policy of eternal hostility and covert and overt operations have flatly failed.

Likewise, Raul Castro’s olive branch comes at a time when several Cuban-American groups, not exactly pro-Castro, have asked the White House to loosen up on the blockade’s travel and trade restrictions.

The combination of these developments is an indication of some possible movement in the icy US-Cuba relations.

For Cuba, such a bold move would present new challenges that islanders are willing to accept. Everyone, be them pro-Revolution or not, would like to see an improvement in the country’s material living standards. Without the shortages or trade barriers presented by the US blockade the government would be expected to deliver improvements.

A repeal of the blockade and an end to other hostilities would turn the spotlight on the capabilities of the Cuban leaders to administer a recovering economy under greatly improved conditions.

While some people joke that the blockade has served as a catch-all excuse for any internal deficiencies and that the government wouldn’t know what to do without it, the country’s leaders have made it clear that they accept any challenges posed by improved US-Cuba relations.

Raul Castro’s offer to negotiate the two countries differences is serious. It has nothing to do with accepting political conditions, which Cuba won’t, nor would Cuba be telling the United States how to improve its’ brand of democracy.

While more members of the House of Representatives under a Democratic Party majority may favor a loosening or elimination of the blockade in the next legislature to be seated in January, the White House, with veto power, and the most radical of the right wing South Florida lobby still seem anxious to tighten the noose.

“In the meantime, after almost half a century, we are willing to wait patiently until the moment when common sense prevails in the Washington power circles,” said Raul Castro.

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