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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How’s Raul Castro’s Brother?

By Circles Robinson

When a Cuban or a foreigner living in Cuba travels abroad nowadays they are usually confronted with questions on how things are going in Cuba under Raul Castro.

It is now common knowledge that Raul Castro is the new president of Cuba and that changes are occurring in the country. However, people around the world have been left wondering what exactly is changing and how this is impacting ordinary Cubans.

For those who have an overall positive impression of the Cuban revolution, there is concern that the changes being talked about in the foreign media could mean a penetration of consumerism, capitalism or inequalities, which they hope not to see.

Others ask the question based on an image of a repressed, downtrodden people, without the creature comforts that most people in the industrialized world possess, and that most populations aspire to have.

On a recent trip that took me through Mexico City, I was surprised by the question from an immigration officer as he checked my passport with the Cuban stamps: “How’s Raul Castro’s brother?”

I explained that Fidel has not appeared in public since he had abdominal surgery two years ago, but remains active with the pen, writing commentaries for the local media and continuing to serve as the country’s top political advisor.

I am usually guarded about political discussions when I need the OK to enter a country, so I was pleasantly surprised when the immigration officer volunteered his own comment.

He noted the recent announcement that the Mexican government is considering a joint vaccine production program with Cuba, and praised the island’s advances in the field.

After my passport was stamped, I mentioned that the cooling of long-standing good relations that occurred under the administration of former President Vicente Fox now appears to be a thing of the past.

The officer smiled and nodded his head in agreement.

I’ve always admired how Mexico, despite its own internal contradictions and conflicts, was able to dodge the US pressure on Cuba when much of the hemisphere buckled and broke off relations in the early 1960s.

Today, of course, Cuba now has good relations including cooperation and/or commerce with most countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Judging by the immigration officer’s friendly comments, Mexico is no exception.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Strange July 4th in Cuba

By Circles Robinson

Havana and Washington politicians don’t have much good to say about each other, but something strange occurs each July 4th when US Independence Day is celebrated twice in the Cuban capital, at two very different venues.

Personally, having lived outside of the US for many years, I hadn’t celebrated the date for a long time, until moving to Cuba, a country that ten consecutive US administrations have considered their enemy.

But since living on the island I have partaken in several July 4th commemorations put on by Cuban cultural institutions in Havana and last Friday was no exception. I go for the excellent music and appreciate the accenting of what I consider one of the United States’ greatest contributions to the world.

The National Concert Band, Vocal Luna and Entrevoces Choirs, soloists Maria Eugenia Barrios, Maylu Hernandez and Bismar Estupiñan, trumpeter Yasek Manzano and his group, and others performed for two hours without interruption.

This year’s tribute included classics including Moon River, Summertime, The Battle of Jericho, As Time Goes by, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Lush Life. There was also a potpourri of Cuban Music.

“We are here for the gala to pay tribute to the people of the United States on the date that the thirteen English colonies declared their independence in 1776,” said Jesus Gomez Cairo, of the Cuban Music Institute at Havana’s Amadeo Roldan Theater.

Gomez told the audience: “A select representation of distinguished Cuban artists will show their art tonight in expressions and songs that in one way or another reflect the historic and cultural ties between the US and Cuban people.”

“The intellectuals and artists of Cuba want to highlight the deep-rooted and very current ties between our cultures, where music has played an important role,” he added.


Another celebration also took place Friday sponsored by the US Interests Section (USIS) in Havana and held at the residence of Washington’s top diplomat in Cuba, Michael Parmly.

Parmly is on his way out, so the Independence Day gathering was also a sort of going away party for the diplomat. While it was thought the occasion might be used to provoke another incident of tension with Cuba, AFP reported that “the July 4th party went ahead without incident.”

Parmly’s image had been sharply tainted in late May when the Cuban government disclosed exhaustive documentation showing the US diplomat’s direct relationship in the financing of a group of internal “dissidents” on Washington’s payroll.

While few people here were surprised to learn that the USIS was a contact point for organizing anti-government activities, the direct, hands-on involvement of Parmly in the payments was scandalous for its clear violation of diplomatic privilege.

On July 2nd the Cuban Foreign Ministry issued a statement making it clear that a continuation of the “provocative actions organized and financed by the US Interests Section” in recent weeks is not going to be tolerated.

“The conveyance of direct instructions from USIS diplomatic personnel to paid agents to step up subversive actions on public streets or symbolic places,” can expect a firm reply, reads the statement from the Cuban government.

For now, July 4th has come and gone. Each year it is a reminder to me that, despite all the hostility shown by the US government towards Cuba and Cuba’s defensive position in an effort to survive, on a people-to-people and culture-to-culture level the animosity is just not there.

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