Cuba ready for golfing revolution


(CNN) — Under Fidel Castro’s rule, golf was all but eliminated in Cuba, but the bourgeois sport of the West is poised for a comeback on the communist-run island.

Castro and Che Guevara famously staged a golf match to antagonize then-U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, and soon after he came to power in 1959 the revolutionary leader began his march on Cuba’s dozen or more courses.

The tanks rolled in, and some were turned into military facilities. One became an art school, and Castro reportedly built a house on the fairways of another. By the time he was finished, only two courses remained.

But over half a century later, a more relaxed political regime and a hunger for the tourism dollar is set to transform Cuba into an unlikely golfing hotspot for Western travelers.

“Golf is becoming a reality in Cuba this year,” Andrew MacDonald, chief executive of London-based Esencia Hotels and Resorts, told CNN.

“The key moment was a change in Cuban property law last August to make foreign ownership far more attractive.

“The Cuban government have a vision of establishing 15-16 new golf courses in the next five to seven years.”

Esencia is part of that vision. Its luxury Carbonera Country Club development in the beach resort of Varadero has been seven years in the making, and MacDonald hopes to start construction on the $300 million project in the next few months.

Leisure Canada, a Cuban investment company based in Vancouver, is also at advanced stages with three planned golf developments in the Pinar del Rio province on Cuba’s west coast.

And London-based firm Foster and Partners confirmed to CNN it has been commissioned by a Spanish developer to build a 2,000-unit golfing community with three courses in the same area.

Cuba currently has just 27 holes for golfers. The ramshackle nine-hole Havana Golf Club survived the Castro regime as a venue for foreign diplomats and visiting businessmen, while the Varadero Golf Club on the east coast was extended to 18 holes in 1998 thanks to a $20 million investment from the government.

Canadian Les Furber was the man who designed it, and he said the political climate made for a protracted process.

Why did Communist heroes play the bourgeois game?

“Because of the U.S. embargo on products and services it was challenging to get many of the things we needed, and the economic time meant it took eight years to build the golf course due to the lack of diesel fuel, tires and batteries etc,” he said.

Despite the frustrations, Furber is keen to return to the island to work on future developments, and believes Cuba is ideally situated to attract Western golfers.

“Cuba is 90 miles from Miami and has a great climate, coastal frontage for development and needs golf to support the tourism demands,” he said.

“Cuba recognizes now that it does not have any financial support from foreign countries and needs tourism in a big way to help pay for its imports and lines of credit for most things it does not produce or manufacture.”

Cuba’s minister for tourism Manuel Marrero said in 2010 that 16 golf developments had already been approved by the Council of Ministers. He stressed that golf was fundamental to its plans to bolster the tourism industry.

But Havana Golf Club’s resident professional Johan Vega has heard it all before. He remains skeptical over the mooted developments, and harbors doubts whether Cuba is truly ready to embrace the sport that, thanks to Castro, is no more than a minority activity.

“When the new ones open show them to me. Then I will know it is true,” he told the Golf.com website.

“In Cuba golf culture simply doesn’t exist. If you talk to people here about birdies and bogeys they have no idea what you mean.”

Cuba’s golf revolution will certainly be on the agenda in April when Varadero hosts the third annual Montecristo Cup, a tournament open to amateurs and professionals.

Spanish professional Alvaro Quiros will be the big-name attraction this year, and the four-time winner on the European Tour is fully behind the initiative to bring golf back to the Cuban people.

“It is important that support is given to many people in Cuba to play, practice and participate in golf,” he said after his appearance at Varadero in 2010.

“Golf will be an Olympic event in 2016. Cuba should seriously look at and prepare for golf as they have done with other sports — baseball, boxing, track and field.”

MacDonald is confident change is coming. He’s been impressed by the enthusiasm and golfing knowledge of the Cuban contractors and government officials, and is utterly convinced their vision will become a reality.

“Golf just wasn’t a priority in Cuba before and now it is,” he said. “We hope that in years to come emerging young players will have the chance the develop and compete on an international level.

“Cuba is known for its baseball players, and when you think about it the golf swing is not a million miles away from that used in baseball.”

While initially looking to the “Anglo-Saxon” tourist market, MacDonald believes the U.S. government will ultimately relax its restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba.

“I see that coming in softly over the next few years. But it’s also worth noting that 10 million U.S. citizens can already come here because of their Cuban relatives,” he said.

As for Castro and Guevara’s famous game, it was won by the younger man with a score of 127. Castro shot over 150 and some have suggested his resentment of golf was simply down to the fact he was never any good at it.

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US embassy cables: Could ailing Fidel Castro make a comeback in Cuba?


Guardian:

Friday, 16 March 2007, 18:28
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HAVANA 000258
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
EO 12958 DECL: 03/16/2017
TAGS PGOV, PINR, CU
SUBJECT: CUBA: HOW BELIEVABLE IS A FIDEL CASTRO COMEBACK?
HAVANA 00000258 001.3 OF 002
Classified By: COM Michael E. Parmly; Reasons 1.4 (b/d)

1. (C) Summary: XXXXXXXXXXXX passed us a document XXXXXXXXXXXX that describes Fidel Castro’s declining health, as analyzed by a XXXXXXXXXXXX doctor. The document concludes by saying that Castro has a terminal condition, and will suffer an inevitable deterioration of his faculties until he dies. But he is not about to die “immediately.” This contrasts with a flurry of news and public statements by key regime figures about Castro making a comeback, including his having spoken to Hugo Chavez on the phone while the latter was in Haiti. We believe that a full comeback is unlikely, but that Fidel Castro is more of a presence behind the scenes — and even “on stage” as a presence — than he was a few months ago. End Summary.

2. (U) Media have reported increased activity on the part of Fidel Castro this past week: Speaking on the phone to Hugo Chavez during the Venezuelan’s visit to Haiti; and receiving Colombian author and long-time sympathizer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque (in Europe) and Parliamentary Speaker Ricardo Alarcon stated publicly that Fidel Castro was making a comeback and would return to the GOC’s helm. Alarcon’s statement included Castro’s “winning reelection for president” in 2008. Interim dictator Raul Castro has kept a low profile during the past few weeks.

3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX passed COM and Pol-Econ Counselor a documentXXXXXXXXXXXX. The document traces Fidel Castro’s critical condition from its onset last July, through the various ups and downs with his local medical staff and with the visiting Spanish doctor, Garcia Sabrido. Most of this repeats what has previously been reported, with one new development: Castro has fired hisXXXXXXXXXXXX physicianXXXXXXXXXXXX. Informal translation of this document follows in Para 4.

4. (C) Doctor’s Statement:

“The illness began in the plane from Holguin to Havana (Note: after a full day of July 26, 2006 activities. End note). As this was a short flight there was no doctor aboard and they had to land urgently once they knew of his bleeding. He was diagnosed with diverticulitis of the colon.

This illness is characterized by diverticulae in the large intestine, generally. A diverticula is a protuberant sack in a segment of the intestine, not in itself necessarily dangerous. Waste gets trapped in them, for example. Nevertheless, they can cause hemorrhaging, inflammation and infection, resulting in diverticulitis. (Health Unit Comment: Simple diverticulitis, without perforation, hemorrhaging or infection, is treatable. End Comment.)

The condition requires surgery when the diverticulae are gigantic, because they are more likely to become infected and burst.

He had a perforation in the large intestine and needed to have a colostomy done; which he opposed, saying that they should splice out the infected part and reattach the intestine to his colon. XXXXXXXXXXXX was in agreement, but the rest of the team opposed. But Fidel Castro, capriciously, did not permit the colostomy.

With the passage of time, as the colon was infected, the operation collapsed and the reattached part separated. They had to operate again, but found a fistula. It wasn’t known at that time what he had, but normally a fistula in the abdomen has the effect of blocking the digestion of food–resulting in the loss of 40 pounds. They began to feed him by IV serum, and they used a Korean-made device to treat the fistula, which didn’t have much success. That was when they called in the Spanish doctor, the one who said that they Cuban team had done what they could, but the correct treatment should have been a colostomy.

At that point they removed Selman from the team, who is now working as a low-level doctor someplace else.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

HAVANA 00000258 002.3 OF 002

this illness is not curable, and will not, in her opinion, allow him to return to leading Cuba. He won’t die immediately, but he will progressively lose his faculties and become ever more debilitated until he dies.”

5. (C) This report is consistent with our reporting that Fidel Castro probably came close to death in July, 2006, and then again around October. Since then, as we have seen in video and audio broadcasts, Castro has been able to engage with Hugo Chavez and others for limited periods of conversation and other forms of carefully controlled activity. He has not appeared live on TV or in any other public context during the entire period of his critical illness, which caused him to miss the September, 2006 Non-Aligned summit and a large-scale celebration of his birthday and armed forces day in December, 2006.

6. (C) Cubans react to news about Fidel Castro with resignation and wild speculation. XXXXXXXXXXXX told usXXXXXXXXXXXX that he thought last month’s taped call-in by Castro to Hugo Chavez’s radio show was fake and that he would die by May. XXXXXXXXXXXX described the Castro illness as having a similar effect on the public as the Pope’s 1998 visit: Greatly raised expectation for change, followed by disappointment and reversion to the totalitarian norm.

7. (C) Comment: We are missing too many variables to be able to predict accurately how many more months Fidel Castro will live. Frankly, we don’t believe anyone, including Castro himself, can state that with certainty. However, while he is still alive, even in a reduced capacity, his presence has a chilling and retardant effect on Cuban society. The high expectations for change are still out there, but are mostly associated with the idea that the dictator has to die first before anything substantial will happen. PARMLY

Chavez: New Cuba-Venezuela Relations Model Created


CARACAS – President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday that Venezuela and Cuba have created a new model of relations between the two countries and peoples, referring to the 10th anniversary of the Integral Cooperation Agreement.

“On November 8, we celebrated very highly in Havana that important October 30, 2000, in which Commander Fidel Castro and I signed the agreement,” said the Venezuelan president in his Sunday space Las Lineas de Chavez (Chavez”s lines) called íSoldado Bolivariano! (Bolivarian Soldier).

“It is easy to say, but you have to see the several obstacles to overcome for making reality the total of benefits our peoples are currently having: benefits that today more than ever deserve the strengthening of the Agreement for moving another 10 years towards the consolidation of our Revolutions,” noted Chavez.

According to the head of State, Cuba and Venezuela have each one their own characteristics, views, and different goals, but with an important powerful root from which the two republics receive the nutrient vitality.

“I am referring to Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti, the same feeling, Our American and Humanity-Homeland feeling: that is the legacy from which Commander Fidel Castro is a living incarnation.”

That agreement was the base of ALBA. Cuba and Venezuela have drawn up a joint course which goes beyond integration, in order to fully retake the historical flag that was left by our Liberators: unity, added Chavez.

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Cuba’s layoff of state workers reflects urgent bid to save the economy


LA Times:

Reporting from Mexico City– Cuba’s announcement that it will lay off half a million state employees, about 10% of the workforce, is a dramatic shift for the communist government as it urgently tries to salvage the flailing economy.

The plan, which is scheduled to launch in full force next month, calls for workers to move into a small but soon-to-expand private sector of mostly mom-and-pop businesses, such as barber shops, B&Bs and vegetable farms. The government has defined 124 jobs that citizens can take on as “self-employed” businesspeople, allowing them to pocket profits but also requiring them to pay taxes.

Can it work? Cuba has stifled entrepreneurship in the name of equality. The government will have to loosen access to cash and supplies. But a turnaround, with few resources, raw materials, capital and limited expertise, will be difficult.

And what does the policy shift say about who is running Cuba? Is it President Raul Castro, or his brother, the ill-but-recovering revolutionary legend Fidel?

It was Raul Castro who in effect delivered the pink slips in August, when he complained in a major speech that the state-run economy was bloated with unproductive workers.

“We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live without working,” he said Aug. 1. (Lest anyone miss the point, the text of the speech published the next day in Granma, the official communist party newspaper, had that line in capital letters.)

This week, Cuba’s only legal labor union put a number and date on the layoffs.

“Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining companies … with inflated payrolls, losses that hurt the economy and that end up being counterproductive by generating bad habits and deforming workers’ conduct,” it said.

In comments to a visiting U.S. magazine writer published this month, Fidel Castro seemed to echo the view that the Cuban economic model no longer works. Though he later backtracked, his original remark did not contradict sentiments expressed previously by his brother and other Cuban leaders.

This suggests, several analysts said, that the two Castros are on the same page, or that Fidel is at least not standing in the way of his more pragmatic brother.

According to a government document circulating in Havana, the layoffs will begin in full force in October, be finished by spring and stretch across virtually every sector, including such sacred cows as health and education.

Workers who are not productive, or who earn more than their output suggests, will be the first to go, the plan says.

Numerous state enterprises will be converted into employee-run co-ops, and a more aggressive tax code will target sales, wages and social security benefits, according to the document.

The list of approved businesses includes upholstery; repair of dolls, toys and umbrellas; animal shodding; music teaching; sales of flowers, herbal medicines and brushes; and manicures and eyebrow waxing.

The document acknowledges, however, that many of these businesses may not survive because of Cubans’ lack of expertise and initiative.

Cubans will have to undergo a fundamental shift in mind-set, from a dependence on a paternalistic government to a self-reliant willingness to work, earn money and pay taxes, experts say.

“They are redefining the fundamental relationship between the individual and the state after 50 years,” said Julia E. Sweig, an expert on Cuba at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book “Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

The trick, she noted, will be to avoid sacrificing the basic services the state provides as part of its socialist pact with the citizenry.

Some analysts believe a fast-expanding private sector will be able to absorb thousands of workers because Cubans so keenly want to make money, and they also are eager to have access to services the government might not provide.

This expansion will, in effect, formalize much of the underground economic activity already rampant in Cuba, an island where you can get anything done or obtain any item under the table for a price. Bringing it above board allows the government to tax it.

The appeal for many Cubans is that they would in theory be earning so much more that it would be worth paying taxes.

The state employs about 85% of the workforce. But a state worker earns just $20 a month, on average.

Several studies have shown that private-sector workers earn considerably more. Transportation Minister Cesar Arocha was quoted recently in the Cuban press as saying that private taxi drivers — part of a pilot experiment foreshadowing the new plan — earn 33 times what taxi drivers employed by the state do.

Comments trickling out of Cuba reflect a mix of dismay among people who may suddenly find themselves unemployed, and eager anticipation among others ready to get to work.

President Castro, in the August speech, sought to reassure Cubans that “no one will be abandoned, left to their own devices.”

Cuba nationalized all businesses in the first decade after the 1959 revolution, but it began to relax some restrictions after the 1991 dissolution of its patron, the Soviet Union, gutted the island’s economy. Licenses were granted to small-scale professionals such as barbers and restaurateurs, and use of the U.S. dollar in limited transactions was legalized.

Economic reforms since then have been gradual and often reversed, especially when a new sponsor came along. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is providing subsidized oil to Cuba, but his patronage can’t last forever. As Cuba’s economic crisis has deepened in the last year, Raul Castro has announced a number of steps.

Just last month, the government began allowing foreign investors to lease government land for as long as 99 years, clearing the way for construction of golf courses and fancy condos. Farmers are now allowed to sell their produce more directly to markets and have greater access to supplies and tools.

Still, Cuba’s economy is reeling, and those dire straits may serve as the best incentive for the new policies to take hold. The island is suffering food shortages, and this year it registered its worst sugar harvest in a century. Devastating hurricanes have exacerbated the problems, and the government says it continues to lose millions of dollars because of the U.S.-imposed trade embargo.

By far, this week’s announcement signals the most far-reaching economic reform since the 1960s. But some analysts cautioned that the plan still falls far short of the kind of capitalism China and other communist regimes have embraced.

“This is motivated by Cuba’s serious economic problems and the lack of liquidity faced by Raul Castro’s government,” said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. “This is not motivated by a desire to create a free-market economy nor to change the basic way Cuban society works.”

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Cuba to lay off 500,000 in 6 months, allow private jobs


Havana, Cuba (CNN) — Cuba announced on Monday it would lay off “at least” half a million state workers over the next six months and simultaneously allow more jobs to be created in the private sector as the socialist economy struggles to get back on its feet.

The plan announced in state media confirms that President Raul Castro is following through on his pledge to shed some one million state jobs, a full fifth of the official workforce — but in a shorter timeframe than initially anticipated.

“Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining companies, productive entities and services with inflated payrolls and losses that damage our economy and result counterproductive, create bad habits and distort workers’ conduct,” the CTC, Cuba’s official labor union, said in newspapers.

Castro had announced layoffs in August, but said they would occur over the next five years.

At the time, he said the government “agreed to broaden the exercise of self employment and its use as another alternative for the employment of those excess workers.”

The drastic and unprecedented economic changes have many Cubans worried that jobs they had long taken for granted under the Communist government will no longer be guaranteed.

Others are hopeful that they will have more freedom to set prices and earn more than the average state wage of $20 a month.

The state currently controls more than 90 percent of the economy, running everything from ice cream parlors and gas stations to factories and scientific laboratories. Traditionally independent professions, such as carpenters, plumbers and shoe repairmen, are also employed by the state.

State media on Monday did not give details about where private enterprise would be allowed to grow or which sectors would suffer layoffs, but did talk about which areas are still strategic.

“Within the state sector, it will only be possible to fill the jobs that are indispensable in areas where historically the labor force is insufficient, like agriculture, construction, teachers, police, industrial workers and others.”

The announcement avoided the word “private,” but said alternative forms of employment to be allowed included renting or borrowing state-owned facilities, cooperatives and self employment and that “hundreds of thousands of workers” would find jobs outside of the state sector over the next few years.

Castro has launched a few, small free-market reforms since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2006.

In April, for example, barbershops were handed over to employees, who pay rent and tax but charge what they want. Licenses have also been granted to private taxis.

For a couple of years, fallow land in the countryside has been turned over to private farmers. The more they produce, the more they earn.

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Cuba: Castro Explains His Words


The New York Times:

www.cubaluxuryrent.comFidel Castro said Friday that his recent comment that Cuba’s economic model did not work was badly understood and that what he really meant was that capitalism did not work.

Mr. Castro, speaking at the University of Havana, said his words had been misinterpreted by his interviewer, Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic magazine. Mr. Goldberg wrote in a blog on Wednesday that he had asked Mr. Castro, 84, if Cuba’s model was still worth exporting to other countries.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” Mr. Castro told him. Mr. Castro confirmed that he said those words “without bitterness or concern.”

But, he said, “the reality is that my response means exactly the opposite.” He continued, “My idea, as the whole world knows, is that the capitalist system now doesn’t work either for the United States or the world, driving it from crisis to crisis, which are each time more serious.”

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Long-lasting friendship ties between Vietnam and Cuba further strengthened


VietNamNet Bridge – The Cuban President has declared that the Vietnam-Cuba relationship founded by former presidents Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro will be further promoted by current and future generations.

During a visit to Cuba, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong met with former President Fidel Castro and held talks with the President of the Cuban State Council and the Council of Ministers, Raul Castro on September 6, who affirmed the long-lasting friendship between the two countries will develop further with new achievements.

Meeting with Fidel Castro, Mr Trong conveyed best regards from Vietnamese leaders– he is a great friend of Vietnam and Mr Trong said he hopes under the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party and State, Cuba will overcome its challenges and difficulties to gain more achievements in its national construction and development. He affirmed that Vietnam will further consolidate its traditional friendly relations with Cuba.

Fidel Castro expressed his delight at meeting with old friends and sincere thanks for the sentiment and supports for Cuba from the Vietnamese leaders and people. He reaffirmed that Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh will be great friends and comrades of Cuba forever. He said he hoped that there will more co-operative projects between the two countries, helping to promote mutual socio-economic development.

Receiving NA Chairman Trong, President Raul Castro praised Vietnam’s achievements and the results of talks between Mr Trong and the Chairman of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alacon,

For his part, Mr Trong said Vietnam always supports the Cuban revolutionary cause. To mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic ties between the two countries, Vietnam has been organizing a number of activities to educate the young generation about the special ties. Vietnam has directed a Vietnamese sub-committee to prepare practical co-operative programmes for the 28th session of the meeting of the inter-governmental committee in La Habana in late September.

On September 7, NA Chairman Trong and the NA delegation left La Habana for home, ending their official visit to Cuba.

“For Vietnam, Cuba would gladly shed its own blood,” said the Chairman of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alacon, repeating former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s saying while receiving his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong on September 6.


At the reception, both parties expressed their delight at the level of bilateral cooperation between the two national assemblies, and the two countries in general. They reaffirmed that they will work closely to enhance their solidarity, and comprehensive cooperation in a spirit of mutual trust.

They also promised to continue supporting each other on diplomatic issues, especially at international forums such as the United Nations (UN), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)

Both NA chairmen agreed to boost exchanges in legislative and supervisory work, aimed at helping the two governments step up their multifaceted cooperation.

They highly praised the operations of the inter-parliamentary committee and recommended effective measures to boost cooperation in economics, commerce, investment, and science and technology.

Mr. Alacon said that the visit was significant for both countries as they would review their time-honoured relationship over the last 50 years.

By the end of 2008, the turnover of two-way trade between both countries had reached US$497 million and cooperation in other fields including culture, science and technology, healthcare, education and training, agriculture, and oil exploration had grown stronger.

However, Mr. Alacon said that Cuba and Vietnam need to educate the young generations on their traditional relationship.

Mr. Trong said he was happy to visit the heroic and beautiful country and expressed his belief that the Cuban people will overcome their differences and succeed in their revolutionary cause.

He added that Vietnam will spare no effort to strengthen its ties with Cuba, considering it a top priority in Vietnam’s diplomatic policy.

Nguyen Van Son, Chairman of the Vietnam NA Committee for External Relations, said that Vietnam is always eager to share experiences in legislation, supervision, and decision making with Cuba on important issues.

Ranon Rezferro, Chairman of the Cuban NA Committee for External Relations, said that Cuba and Vietnam will do their best to improve their economic cooperation.

On the same day, NA chairman Trong laid a wreath at the Jose Marti Memorial and visited former Cuban Ambassador to Vietnam, Melba Henandez, who is Hero Mocada and chairwoman of the Cuba-Vietnam parliamentary friendship group.

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