Tag: Cuba

The stupid cult of Russia & the Latin American Idiot

Wednesday, 1 May, 2019

May Day: The comrades are unfurling their red flags and dreaming of revolution. There will be rallies today for expropriation in Berlin and against capitalism in London.

Which reminds us that it was none other than the great George Orwell who said that “Socialism… smells of machine-worship and the stupid cult of Russia.” And it was the same Orwell who brilliantly described the typical Russian commissar as “half gangster, half gramophone”. Which sounds just like Corbyn. But Orwell wasn’t done. “The fact is that Socialism, in the form in which it is now presented, appeals chiefly to unsatisfactory or inhuman types.” Which sounds just like Maduro.

These withering observations have to be placed in context. Orwell was a lifelong democratic socialist and the context in which he made his remarks was the delivery of The Road to Wigan Pier manuscript in 1937. The book had been commissioned by Victor Gollanzc, who ran the Left Book Club, and its 40,000 members regularly received a work that reflected their beliefs. Gollanzc hoped that a work about poverty in the British Midlands would fit the bill. The first half of Orwell’s book depicted the awful conditions in which the coal miners worked and described the sordid nature of their housing. A clear case for socialism, felt Gollanzc. But it was the second half of the book that upset the apple cart.

Orwell stated plainly that the British working class would never take socialism seriously. The notion of a classless society was a delusion, he wrote. Adding insult to injury, he noted that ordinary people could not identify with the Marxist ideologues because they were objectionable cranks, teetotallers and health-food fanatics. He was particularly scathing of those who peppered their sentences with “notwithstandings” and “heretofores” and got excited when discussing dialectical materialism. Gollanzc was shocked and wanted to publish the first part of the book only, but Orwell was a man of principle, not a gramophone, and he stuck to his guns.

Orwell is gone, but all is not lost. The Peruvian thinker Alvaro Vargas Llosa patrols a similar beat and a decade ago, in “The Return of the Idiot,” he wrote: “European journalists like Ignacio Ramonet and some foreign correspondents for outlets such as Le Nouvel Observateur in France, Die Zeit in Germany, and the Washington Post in the United States, are once again propagating absurdities that shape the opinions of millions of readers and sanctify the Latin American Idiot.” Llosa was on target, especially when noting the curious penchant of Western intellectuals to admire thuggish leaders who sprout anti-American slogans and pay lip service to The People. Interestingly, their admiration for these thugs — Castro, Ortega, Chávez, Morales, Correa, Maduro — somehow never leads the same intellectuals to depart the decadent West for the glories of the Workers’ Paradises.

In the 1993 Fall issue of Dissent, Günter Grass, the German winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, wrote: “Cubans were less likely to notice the absence of liberal rights…[because they gained]… self respect after the revolution.”

Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s reply was perfect: “Reality check: How would you feel, Günter, about trading your bourgeois liberal rights, including the right to publish, for a bit of Cuban dignity?”

Looking at the misery of those parts of South America then in the hands of the “carnivorous” left, Alvaro Vargas Llosa concluded: “Until the Latin American Idiot is confined to the archives — something that will be difficult to achieve while so many condescending spirits in the developed world continue to lend him support — that will not change.”

But it will. As Sam Cooke sang: “It’s been a long time, a long time coming / But I know a change gonna come.”


Autocrats have a very high friend in Brussels

Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 0 Comments

“If @FedericaMog didn’t exist, the world’s autocrats would be trying to invent her.” So tweeted @EliLake yesterday. Background:

“As the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, she is a tireless advocate for engaging rogue states. Few diplomats though have pursued this kind of engagement with such moralizing puffery. In Mogherini’s world, diplomacy with dictators should not aim to transition these countries to open societies, but rather to prevent conflicts at all costs.”

That’s from Europe’s High Representative for Appeasement, in which Lake highlights the disgraceful conduct of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Snippet:

“Just consider her trip last week to Cuba, a plantation masquerading as a nation-state. Did Mogherini use her visit to call attention to the struggle of human rights activists or to comfort the families of political prisoners? No, Mogherini was in Cuba to reassure a regime that Europe will not go along with America’s trade embargo.”

Shabby and all as Mogherini’s behaviour in Cuba was, her position on Iran is horrifying:

“Mogherini’s ideology is a particular tragedy in the case of Iran. The West can help aid Iran’s freedom movement by linking the regime’s treatment of its people, and particularly its political prisoners, to economic and political engagement. The U.S. has some leverage here, but Europe — because so many of its businesses want a piece of Iran’s economy — has far more.

As Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told me this week: ‘This is the European moment on Iran.’ Europe’s response to the regime’s violent suppression of protests after the stolen election of 2009 was firm. The EU should send the same message today: ‘We are not going to sustain political and economic engagement with a country engaged in the suppression of peaceful protests,’ she said.

So far Mogherini and the Europeans have delivered the opposite message. On Monday, the high representative invited Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to Brussels next week for more discussions on the Iran nuclear deal. Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, told me this week that Mogherini’s statement on Iran was ‘saying both sides are equal, when it’s Iranian security forces that are shooting and killing people.'”

Iran, Cuba, Russia and North Korea have a friend in very high places in Brussels. That’s bad news for everyone, apart from autocrats, of course.

Federica Mogherini


Christopher Hitchens on the Castro Dynasty

Sunday, 27 November, 2016 1 Comment

“If we cannot yet say that Castro is dead and we cannot decently say ‘long live’ to the new-but-old Castro, we can certainly say that the Castro era is effectively finished and that a uniformed and secretive and highly commercial dictatorship is the final form that it will take.”

So wrote the late, great and greatly-missed Christopher Hitchens in August 2006. The focus of “The Eighteenth Brumaire of the Castro Dynasty” was Raúl Castro’s fatigued take over of the family enterprise: Cuba. “The even more grotesque fact that power has passed from one 79-year-old brother to a ‘younger’ one who is only 75 may have assisted in obscuring the obvious,” noted Hitchens, acidly, and added, “As was once said of Prussia, Cuba is not a country that has an army but an army that has a country.”

As the world waits for the final form of this commercial dictatorship to pass let’s recall what W. C. Fields said: “All roads lead to rum.”

Bacardi rum


Cuba libre!

Saturday, 26 November, 2016 0 Comments

The national cocktail of Cuba tastes best when raising a toast to freedom. But there’s more to it than just cola, rum and lime; it’s all in the way you make that Cuba libre.

Ingredients:

1 part Bacardi Oro rum
2 wedges of lime
2 parts Coca Cola
Ice cubes

How to mix: Fill a long glass with ice. Squeeze and drop the lime wedges into the glass, coating the ice well with the juices. Pour in the Bacardi, top up with chilled Coke and stir gently. Now, say, Cuba libre! And remember: Fidel Castro imprisoned and impoverished his nation. He was one of the most evil men of his time. Sic semper tyrannis.

Cuba libre


Havana Moon

Saturday, 24 September, 2016 0 Comments

Good Friday, 25 March 2016: The Rolling Stones play a huge, free outdoor concert in Havana. The show was filmed by Paul Dugdale and the result, HAVANA MOON, was premiered on cinema screens around the world for one night only, last night. It was a mighty concert and the film captures the essence of the history it represented. Standout songs: Midnight Rambler, with Mick Jagger at his balletic best; Gimme Shelter, with Sasha Allen providing backing vocals and sexy interaction, and a stunning version of Satisfaction that will forever be remembered by those who have had the good fortune to see and hear the greatest rock band, ever.


“Women should protect their beautiful faces”

Friday, 27 May, 2016 0 Comments

Named after James Brown’s funky saxophone player, Maceo Parker, Maceo Frost grew up in Stockholm with a street-dancing father and skateboarding mother. “He found film-making at 11 and grew up never having to wonder what to do in life. Today he travels the world directing films and loves making people share their deepest secrets with the camera.” Maceo Frost’s portrait of Namibia Flores Rodriguez is superb.

By the way, supporters of socialist ideals should note that not all Cuban boxers are cherished equally — Namibia Flores Rodriguez is the island’s only female boxer.


Who will buy the New York Times?

Friday, 6 May, 2016 0 Comments

“We have tried everything we could but sadly we just haven’t reached the sales figures we needed to make it work financially,” New Day editor, Alison Phillips, on Facebook yesterday. Birthed on 22 February, the newspaper was buried on 5 May.

How can the world’s remaining newspapers avoid the grim fate of New Day? Well, the New York Times is getting into the food delivery business, Bloomberg reports: “This summer, the New York Times will begin selling ingredients for recipes from its NYT Cooking website as the newspaper publisher seeks new revenue sources to offset declines in print. The Times is partnering with meal-delivery startup Chef’d, which will send the ingredients to readers within 48 hours.”

The NYT is also placing a bet on travel. “Times Journeys” charges readers thousands for tours of theocracies and autocracies like Iran and Cuba. “Chernobyl: Nuclear Tourism” is packaged as “A journey focused on science & nature,” while “An Exploration of Southeast Asia” is undertaken “Aboard the 264-passenger L’Austral, designed to serve both the chic and the casual.” The vessel is “sleek and intimate” and “you’ll feel as if you were on your own private yacht.” With the “Owner’s Suite” priced from $18,390, one would hope so.

Earlier this year, the Financial Times, in a “Big Read” piece by Henry Mance titled “UK newspapers: Rewriting the story,” pronounced the newspaper business dead on delivery. There is no viable economic model for a written news product, Mance concluded. There is, of course, the FT’s solution to the problem. It sold itself to Japan’s Nikkei last summer for $1.3 billion. So, who will buy the New York Times?


Hemingway preserved

Thursday, 2 July, 2015 0 Comments

One of the happier news items of recent weeks was the report that the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation plans to ship nearly $900,000 worth of construction materials to Havana to build a state-of-the-art facility for preserving Ernest Hemingway’s books, letters and photos, which are stored in the home where he lived and worked intermittently in the 1940s and ’50s. These valuable items are disintegrating because of neglect and it is essential that they be saved for posterity.

On this day in 1961, Ernest Hemingway “quite deliberately” unlocked the door to the basement of his home in Ketchum, Idaho, went upstairs and, with the “double-barreled shotgun that he had used so often it might have been a friend”, shot himself. He left the world a legacy of writing that remains unmatched in its grace, clarity and humanity:

“Zelda was very beautiful and was tanned a lovely gold colour and her hair was a beautiful dark gold and she was very friendly. Her hawk’s eyes were clear and calm. I knew everything was all right and was going to turn out well in the end when she leaned forward and said to me, telling me her great secret, ‘Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?’

Nobody thought anything of it at the time. It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share. Scott did not write anything any more that was good until after he knew that she was insane.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


Castro’s hipster apologists

Friday, 19 December, 2014 0 Comments

In the Daily Beast, Michael Moynihan names and shames them: “Here is Matt Bradley, Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal: ‘I really hope I can make it to Cuba before McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc.’ And progressive radio host Matt Binder: ‘Booking my Cuba vacation now before there’s a Starbucks, a McDonald’s, and a bank on every block.’ BBC producer Jeane McCallum: ‘May be time for a return to Cuba before McDonalds moves in.’ And Jonathan Eley of the Financial Times: ‘Cuba: visit now before McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks et al move in. It’s a unique place.'”

That’s just a sample. How predictably predictable they are.


The occasional poetry of financial journalism

Thursday, 23 January, 2014 0 Comments

Before becoming Latin American editor of the Financial Times, John Paul Rathbone worked as an economist and writer at the World Bank. He is also the author of The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon and his latest FT column, “Cubans lose fear of criticism as reform fireflies start to flicker,” combines his passion for the island’s economy, politics and culture with lyricism. “Is Cuba really reforming?” That’s the question being posed by Habaneros today and here’s how John Paul Rathbone responds:

“There is no short answer, although a poetic one might compare the reforms to small and hesitant flickerings, akin to the fireflies that Cuban women of society sewed into their hair and silk gowns before grand balls in colonial times. The effect was reportedly bewitching: something beautiful that would briefly illuminate itself and then fade. The viewer might even be unsure that he had seen anything at all. Yet then the fireflies would sparkle again, much like Cuba’s reforms. The question for outsiders is now to encourage them.”

Cuba


JFK and 007

Thursday, 21 November, 2013 0 Comments

In March 1960, Ian Fleming had dinner with John F. Kennedy at the White House. In his book, The Life of Ian Fleming, John Pearson notes: “During the dinner the talk largely concerned itself with the more arcane aspects of American politics and Fleming was attentive but subdued. But with coffee and the entrance of Castro into the conversation he intervened in his most engaging style. Cuba was already high on the headache list of Washington politicians, and another of those what’s to-be-done conversations got underway. Fleming laughed ironically and began to develop the theme that the United States was making altogether too much fuss about Castro — they were building him into a world figure, inflating him instead of deflating him. It would be perfectly simple to apply one or two ideas which would take all the steam out of the Cuban.” Kennedy asked him what would James Bond do about Fidel Castro. Fleming replied, “Ridicule, chiefly.”

In March 1961, Hugh Sidey wrote an article in Life Magazine on JFK’s top ten favourite books designed to show that the president was both well-read and in touch with popular taste. The only work of popular fiction on the list was From Russia With Love. Up until then, Bond had not sold well in the US, but by the end of 1961 Ian Fleming had become the largest-selling thriller writer in America.

“The great trains are going out all over Europe, one by one, but still, three times a week, the Orient Express thunders superbly over the 1,400 miles of glittering steel track between Istanbul and Paris. Under the arc-lights, the long-chassied German locomotive panted quietly with the laboured breath of a dragon dying of asthma. Each heavy breath seemed certain to be the last. Then came another.” Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love