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On the Malecon....the sea wall - looking across toward the Nacional Hotel.

The Malecon was the location in 1958 of the Batista sponsored Cuban Grand Prix, where legendary Argentinean champion driver Juan Manuel Fangio, one of the Worlds most famous personalities at that time, was seized at gunpoint from the lobby of the Hotel Lincoln, by Castro revolutionaries to prevent him competing in the race, thereby legitimising Batistas government.

As it happened, the race was stopped after 15 minutes when a cuban driver Armando Garcia Cifuentes, 27, lost control - ploughing into the crowd (150 000 lined the Malecon that day)causing enormous carnage .(40 casualties, 7 dead.) Cifuentes, who barely survived the crash, was charged with manslaughter.

Stirling Moss in his Ferrari, leading at the time was declared the winner. Fangio was released unharmed the same day, apparently sympathetic to his abductors cause.


The Nacional Hotel.

Havana's most famous. Where many great characters in Havana's tragic history have stayed.

Especially memorable on our trip was enjoying a cocktail in the grounds overlooking the Malecon, spread out below.

We had dinner in the sumptuous dining room at the Nacional, and enjoyed the fantastic Cabaret at the Parisien. The 'decadent' fusion of music and dance seemed to make the legends of Havana's past come alive, whilst being entirely at odds with the bleak landscape in such close proximity. The musicians - virtuosos of the highest order - reminded me of the players on the Titanic - approaching their death by performing with heroic beauty as they sank into the icy waters.

Whilst there I first heard the name of former guest Meyer Lansky. The diminutive (All of 5 foot tall) creator of organised crime in its syndicate form, and the most influential and powerful gangster in the world, who was believed to have paid three Million dollars to President Fulgencia Batista for the exclusive rights to the gambling and drugs trade in Cuba.

Meyer Lansky made this payment be means of a foreign numbered account, thereby introducing Batista to a whole new world of possibilities.

Through Lansky, the mafia enjoyed the freedom of Cuba. Famous gangster Lucky Luciano, after being deported to Italy in 1946, went to Havana with a false passport. Leading mafia gangsters visited him in Havana, at summit meetings in the Nacional. Coinciding with Frank Sinatra's singing debut in Havana. In one such meeting at the Nacional, Lansky (allegedly) gave permission to kill Bugsy Siegel for skimming construction money from the Flamingo in Las Vegas.

As the Fifties progressed, Havana became an increasingly popular destination for a big night out. Americans made the fifty minute flight from Miami, fueled by free frozen Daiquiris courtesy of Cuban air. (Apparently the thing to do was fly out in the evening - party all night, and fly back in the morning. Frozen Daiquiris were Batista's favorite drink).

The unique lawlessness of this Lansky/Batista arrangement made for both unprecedented decadence in Havana's nightspots like the Trocadero and the Casino at the Nacional Hotel, as well as enormous wealth for the two partners in this enterprise.

No doubt this contributed to the conditions leading to the Revolutionary overthrow of Batista's infamously brutal regime, who eventually became little more than armed muscle for Lansky.

Lansky went on to be a featured reference in the Godfather 2 movie.

And whilst almost without exception, the mafioso heavyweights of the era were either indicted on tax evasion charges, or slain, despite the best efforts of US government and especially when arresting him on tax evasion charges in a highly publicised 1973 trial, Lansky was none the less sensationally acquitted and lived to be an octogenarian, dying in 1983 as a man of enormous wealth. Too rich for American justice?


The next four pictures were taken from a vehicle driving across the Malecon and then the walk up towards the centre of town.
Another local hero crumbling away on the Malecon. (Think its Jose Marti)
One of the ocean view blocks on the Malecon. The entire ground floor has crumbled away.
Prime Ocean view Malecon real estate. No water in the building. The residents need to carry in their water supplies. Toilet sanitation is not good.
The stadium on the Malecon. Unlikely to be an Olypic City anytime soon.
Walking up from the Malecon through the old town towards the Capitol Building
Street in the old town
Approaching the Capital Building – downtown Havana, past the Hotel Inglaterra and the Theatre
The Capitol building
The Partagas Cigar factory tour

Behind the Capital building is another of the recommended tourist attractions. The Partagas cigar factory. The facade is pristine, making the contrast to the adjoining buildings, decaying hopelessly into rubble, all the more stark.

Entering the Partagas building, we are approached by an official who determines our language, and upon hearing ‘Anglais’ advises that a tour is leaving in two minutes. This will cost ten dollars each. The impression is that they have a tour leaving in ‘two minutes’ whoever the arrivals are.
Stage one is the instruction to leave cameras and handbags behind. ‘No photos’ seems a curious instruction. If I had been able to take a camera – I would have photographed:

1. The fellow sitting at the entrance desk smoking a large cigar - creating an incense like effect for entrants to the building. Nice job for a cigar smoker. I wonder how they recruit for this position? Who does he sue in the event of work related illness brought on by smoking for a living?
2. The ground level sorting area, where the sacks of tobacco leave are opened and several morose looking Cubans sit in a prison cell of a room sorting the leaves into various arrangements. The picture would have looked much like prison labour in practice,
The building is sparse. No carpeting. Wooden staircase. Concrete floors.
3. Our guide - a tall dark handsome Cuban. Articulate, speaking good English. Mid twenties. Our group comprises us two and a Canadian couple. 

4. Up one flight of stairs, we enter the ‘Training area’. A picture of this scene would reveal about twenty rows of around fifteen people sitting on stools at a work bench, rolling cigars. Our guide tells us these are the trainee rollers. Requirements for this job are Cuban citizenship – school leaving certificate and minimum age of eighteen. The job pays ten dollars a Month. It takes four years to become a fully fledged Roller.We are assured they don’t have to pay anything for the training.  We calculate that the annual income of these people is ……….120 dollars. In four years they will hope to earn…..almost…......500 dollars.
Curiously it is around this time our guide explains that cigar exports are Cuba’s main source of revenue. 500 million dollars per annum. (He is exaggerating this claim. Tourism accounts for 70% of Cuba's revenue over the past two years,and historically Sugar has been Cuba's largest export).

5. Up another flight of stairs we enter the main rolling area. This is where the professional ‘rollers’ who have completed the four year training work. They have daily quotas. It is not clear what happens if they fail to meet this quota. All being well, their monthly wage rises five times from that of the trainee. Fifty (50) dollars a Month. Five day week. Eight hours a day. The building we are in employs 700 people

6. The raised stage area at the front of the room. On which stands a table with a microphone. Overlooked by three pictures of revolutionary hero’s – one of which is the ubiquitous Che Guevara. (Commander Che Guevara).
Our guide cheerfully explains to us that each morning from this point the workers are read a daily story. And that in the middle of the day they are presented with a radio program. The expressions on the faces of the workers more or less explains the significance of both these events.

7. We watch one roller putting the finishing touches to a pretty large cigar. Our guide explains that this is a Cohibas No 1. And will sell at fifty dollars. The man who rolls it will make around one hundred and fifty in a day.
Basic Math. In one day he will generate a product of net value 7,500 dollars.
He will be paid 1.67 dollars.
If he wanted to buy the product he makes ?……....… he could save up 25% of his monthly wage and after four Months he could have one Cohibas no 1.
Our tour lasts about fifteen minutes. Our guide has generated 40 dollars for the Company. That's four months wage for a trainee roller.

Downstairs in the shop, one has the opportunity to buy cigars.



Curiously packed 13 to a box for 440 dollars.

This is almost the same amount as a trainee roller will earn in four years.

So - four years of his life's work is worth - one box of cigars that smoker night consume in a week.

The ever popular Cohibas no 6. Best value for money our guide assured me. Nineteen for 966.20 dollars.
I particularly like the 20 cent element.
Had they said 977 dollars I might have thought they were guessing at the price. What with the high costs of labor to factor in.

Directly to the right of the pristine facade of the Partagas building, is this remarkable sight. Open plan modern living.

Probably home for many 'rollers' from the Partagas factory.

Lavatorial options I was told, in the absence of running water, include the use of a paper bag, which is then tossed onto the neighboring rooftop.

Perhaps this is what they mean by 'Local colour.'


Two cheerful locals.

I had read about Havana's 'Hustler element'. Deprived as they are of so much in Havana, the opportunity to try and get a few dollars from hustling tourists is clearly irresistible if not entrenched in the local character.

One common approach to tourists seen leaving the Partagas building is to identify oneself as a cigar roller, and offer to sell cigars at 'Special price'. Of course these are not 'real' cigars.


There are many stray dogs running around Havana old town. All that we saw were both cross breed and small in size.
Elderly gentleman on the prowl in the old town
View from our Hotel room balcony. If the picture was 'scratch and sniff', the smell would be moldy damp.
Looking out from the entrance to the Nacional at the largest building in Havana.
Curiously, given that Communism recognises no spiritual afterlife, it is another of the paradoxes of Cuba that imagery of Angels is quite prevalent. A legacy of a Spanish Catholic past that Fidel was unable to completely eradicate. Here are some pictures of Cuban Angels.
Looking across at the Theatre- look to the top of the building
A close up
On the facade of the Theatre
Also on the facade of the Theatre

The strangest Angel pictures.

These exist in the 'Museum of the revolution' housed in the former home of Batista.

The painting is on a ceiling in what was the former dictators dining room, now called the 'Hall of mirrors.

The Angel delivering the Cuban flag supports the idea that Castro was not a paid up Communist for some time after the actual revolution.


Assorted pictures of buildings in downtown Havana
Taken from the window of the Museum of the Revolution. More or less an average shot of Havana
Another of the few pristine buildings - the Bacardi Building
Look closely at some of the balconies in this one
One of the smartest residential blocks we saw.


City centre apartments


Beautiful local architecture reflecting the Castro influence.


Another architectural monument to Castro

The Museum across from the square in the centre.
A decaying Church
Another up market one
Right across the square in the Centre is this building. Look closely at the bullet holes in the wall.
Curious as to the cause of these bullet holes, when we were in a taxi outside this building, I asked the driver 'What is that building?' He smiled proudly and said "Very beautiful building. It is a school.' I said 'What caused the bullet holes' He said 'What bullet holes' and became silent.
Some pictures of residents in Havana.
Standing smoker
Cleaning house
Senior citizen
Three shots of the same woman taken two hours apart
watching the world an hour later
later still.


Getting around Havana


Cheapest transport. Seldom seen not packed to rafters.
The ubiquitous fifties american car.
This fellow didn't like having his car photographed.
Pictures from the Museo De la Revolution
These open taxis are nice for getting around on a hot day.
Wall sized poster
A short worn by Batista. Not sure why its in the Museum.
Batista's gun

Young lawyer, big Fidel in fighting days.

Fidel was jailed in the 50's by Batista's regime for 'Terrorism'. At his trial he defended himself and used a phrase widely displayed in the museum 'HISTORY WILL JUDGE ME.'

How right he was......even though he could never have imagined then how clear that judgment would be.


Whilst in prison, one of the Revolutionary leaders was given this signed guitar.

Inside the main hall of the Museo De la Revolution.


Incidentally - as far as revolutionary museums go. This one is basically a shambles. Poorly set up. Poorly run and illogical in its content and structure. The staff (Armed Soldiers patrolling outside), were frightening. Don't even think of walking on the grass when visiting.


It is part of Cuba's history that Cuban pilots flew over Havana machine gunning the population.
(And then partying afterwards).
Doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara

The Argentine born asthma sufferer, Doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara

Unquestionably one of the most photogenic characters of our time. However not sure that's any excuse to plaster his image everywhere you go in Cuba.

Somehow the relief at not seeing Macdonalds and Pizza Hut logos everywhere was soon replaced by a similar brand disenchantment by the prevalence of 'Che' imagery in just about every situation you can imagine.

The Princess Diana of Cuban popularity.

Exploitation ironically at odds with the impression one gets of his strong social conscience.


Famous picture taken on the streets of the newly won Havana, 1959.

The man arm in arm with Che Guevara and Fidelski is 'Yanqui Comandante' William Morgan. A colorful American drifter who married a Cuban, moved to Cuba and who, possibly because of his US Army training, was significantly active in the revolution, rising to the highest rank in Cuba's Military (Major), and as his position in this historic picture shows, highly regarded.

Just one year after this picture was taken, following criticism of 'el supremo no 1 firing squad Fidel' Morgan was contentiously charged with treason - and very soon afterwards executed by firing squad (Fidel's preference to this day in these matters).

And this despite knowing that Cuban law at that time prescribed a maximum sentence of 9 years for the charges leveled.

William Morgan, 33, died famously, by embracing the sergeant of the firing squad and saying 'tell the boys I forgive them' before meeting the extremely grisly and messy death that a firing squad involves.

CIA records of this period, now available show no connection between Morgan and Fidel's allegations.

Even if the story of Morgan has had a little spin over the years, at least Batista didn't hide his criminal thuggery behind delusional pretensions of social ideology! This is another of Castro's specialties.

One wonders how exactly did it help the Revolution to jail Olga, Morgan's Cuban wife for 12 years, starting two days after his death? Olga was finally allowed to leave Cuba in 1980, and moved to William Morgan's home town of Toledo Ohio, where to this day she struggles without success to have her husbands remains returned to his home town.



Dr Guevara's famous beret and his weapon from the revolution

Dr Guevara was killed in a clash between guerrillas and Bolivian troops in southeastern Bolivia on Oct. 10, 1967. He was 39.

Dr. Guevara disappeared from public view in Havana in 1965, preferring the search for another revolution over remaining in high office in Cuba.

One wonders at the truth behind the articles that in his dying moments, Che believed 'Fidel betrayed me'.

Nothing I have learned of Fidel provides a contradictory impression.


Revolution Square.

We found this to be a singularly off-putting place. A real dark energy.

We were not interested in what appeared like a huge parking lot dominated by this building on one side, and the Che Guevara building on the other, overcrowded as it already was with the thoughts of the many thousands who have died by Fidel's firing squads.

Personally I would suggest renaming it 'Death Square'.

My suggestion is that the next leaders of Cuba flatten the entire area and grass it over. A nice green park perhaps.




The Che Guevara building in Revolution Square.

Cant imagine what they have in there


Jungle, just miles outside Havana




And in conclusion......if ever a Country was in need of a revolution, this is it.

As Cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutierrez observed 'Everything goes full circle in time'.

Certainly I have little doubt that despite his obvious folly, Batista's benign influence on Cuba has resulted in less misery 'pound for pound' than that with which history will ultimately judge Castro.

Anyone witnessing this stumbling fumbling old man vaingloriously demanding attention from his acolytes in speeches lasting five hours and more, offering little or nothing by way of enriching commentary, relying on the old and risible techniques of phrase and repetition and presiding, much like his good friend Robert Mugabe, over what appears as little more than social and economic genocide, feeding the fires of his own vanity with the misery of millions.

If, as I have always suspected, there is ultimately only one sin worthy of the name - that is 'To bore'. Castro beats even world beating idiot George Bush on that score.

Having arrived in Cuba as a first time visitor, with no set opinion or prejudice, vaguely curious about this 'Legendary' figure, I left believing, just as with Robert Mugabe, (Trebor Ebagum as they call him backwards in the North of England) that the world would ultimately have been a better place had he not passed this way.

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then it seems analogous that the decaying corruption that is Havana today mirrors that of its leaders soul.

In the past year Castro's regime has imprisoned 75 representatives of the Cuban opposition. More than 40 coordinators of the Varela Project and more than 20 journalists and other representatives of various pro-democracy movements. All of them were sentenced in mock trials to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years merely for daring to express an opinion other than the official one.

Should you spend your Holiday money supporting their continuing incarceration?

When I first read of Havana 'A place where all men are pimps and all women whores' I allowed for poetic license. The reality is worse. ..... in so far that the men will gladly switch roles if the arrangement requires. The price of dignity is astonishingly low. Sadly if Fidel is remembered for nothing else, this is one unique instance where his policies have succeeded beyond all measure. The proof is in the price.

Of course I may be completely wrong in my interpretation of Cuba. The lifetime of daily subsistence struggle, mired in hopeless, prospect free poverty whilst being denied even the most basic freedoms, that is the most an average Cuban can look forward to, may provide spiritual benefits in some form of ' life experience denial process' or opportunities for karmic readjustment for past life iniquities, which I remain ignorant of.....And for which Fidel may be able to work through his returns for the chain of death and misery that his ego has imposed on so many for so very very long......

But then again, 'me no think so.'

Fidel Castro - it looks to me as if you are gong to be liable for some considerable karmic debt......... You are responsible for the most unhappy, deprived, impoverished, unspiritual, downtrodden and indoctrinated society I have come across in many years of World travel. The level of hypocrisy that you represent approaches the worst excesses of even the Bush idiocracy. I can think of no worse comparison than that.

And so

February 1, 2004. The day we visited Havana gives rise to the


Related to the July 26 movement in its hope that the people of Cuba will soon be free........ People of Cuba - life is a great gift. Do not settle for less than the opportunity to choose a great life.


if you would like to support the FEBRUARY ONE movement for the liberation of Cuba, and its leader, who I understand to be the Angel of the Revolution -


7 Meditation music CD's by Andrew Brel available HERE



Researching an area in which I have very little experience or to be fair, interest - Latin American politics - threw up many astonishingly conflicting versions of various events and peoples behavior. For instance finding out where Batista died reveals numerous different versions of date and place of death. Similarly with Che Guevara, whose death started a thousand rumours that cloud the issue considerably. The facts and interpretations I have chosen to rely on may therefore be subject to criticisms in respect of perfect detail by those who know better, but then - hey. This is after all just a page with Holiday snaps and a little tourist commentary, and its arguing irrelevancies to defend Castro's right to continue in the face of what is glaringly obvious.