the Malecon....the sea wall - looking across toward the
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
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.
most famous. Where many great characters in Havana's tragic
history have stayed.
memorable on our trip was enjoying a cocktail in the grounds
overlooking the Malecon, spread out below.
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
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.
Lansky made this payment be means of a foreign numbered
account, thereby introducing Batista to a whole new world
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
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
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
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
went on to be a featured reference in the Godfather 2
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
next four pictures were taken from a vehicle driving across
the Malecon and then the walk up towards the centre of town.
local hero crumbling away on the Malecon. (Think its
of the ocean view blocks on the Malecon. The entire
ground floor has crumbled away.
Ocean view Malecon real estate. No water in the building.
The residents need to carry in their water supplies. Toilet
sanitation is not good.
stadium on the Malecon. Unlikely to be an Olypic City
up from the Malecon through the old town towards the Capitol
in the old town
the Capital Building – downtown Havana, past the
Hotel Inglaterra and the Theatre
Partagas Cigar factory tour
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
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.
3. Our guide - a tall dark handsome Cuban. Articulate,
speaking good English. Mid twenties. Our group comprises
us two and a Canadian couple.
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
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
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.
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
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
packed 13 to a box for 440 dollars.
is almost the same amount as a trainee roller will earn
in four years.
- four years of his life's work is worth - one box of
cigars that smoker night consume in a week.
ever popular Cohibas no 6. Best value for money our guide
assured me. Nineteen for 966.20 dollars.
particularly like the 20 cent element.
they said 977 dollars I might have thought they were guessing
at the price. What with the high costs of labor to factor
to the right of the pristine facade of the Partagas building,
is this remarkable sight. Open plan modern living.
home for many 'rollers' from the Partagas factory.
options I was told, in the absence of running water, include
the use of a paper bag, which is then tossed onto the
this is what they mean by 'Local colour.'
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.
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.
are many stray dogs running around Havana old town. All
that we saw were both cross breed and small in size.
gentleman on the prowl in the old town
from our Hotel room balcony. If the picture was 'scratch
and sniff', the smell would be moldy damp.
out from the entrance to the Nacional at the largest building
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.
across at the Theatre- look to the top of the building
the facade of the Theatre
on the facade of the Theatre
strangest Angel pictures.
exist in the 'Museum of the revolution' housed in the former
home of Batista.
painting is on a ceiling in what was the former dictators
dining room, now called the 'Hall of mirrors.
Angel delivering the Cuban flag supports the idea that Castro
was not a paid up Communist for some time after the actual
pictures of buildings in downtown Havana
from the window of the Museum of the Revolution. More
or less an average shot of Havana
of the few pristine buildings - the Bacardi Building
closely at some of the balconies in this one
of the smartest residential blocks we saw.
local architecture reflecting the Castro influence.
architectural monument to Castro
Museum across from the square in the centre.
up market one
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
pictures of residents in Havana.
shots of the same woman taken two hours apart
the world an hour later
transport. Seldom seen not packed to rafters.
ubiquitous fifties american car.
fellow didn't like having his car photographed.
from the Museo De la Revolution
open taxis are nice for getting around on a hot day.
short worn by Batista. Not sure why its in the Museum.
lawyer, big Fidel in fighting days.
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.'
right he was......even though he could never have imagined
then how clear that judgment would be.
in prison, one of the Revolutionary leaders was given this
the main hall of the Museo De la Revolution.
- 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.
is part of Cuba's history that Cuban pilots flew over
Havana machine gunning the population.
(And then partying afterwards).
Ernesto "Che" Guevara
Argentine born asthma sufferer, Doctor Ernesto "Che"
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.
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.
Princess Diana of Cuban popularity.
ironically at odds with the impression one gets of his
strong social conscience.
picture taken on the streets of the newly won Havana,
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
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).
this despite knowing that Cuban law at that time prescribed
a maximum sentence of 9 years for the charges leveled.
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.
records of this period, now available show no connection
between Morgan and Fidel's allegations.
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.
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.
Guevara's famous beret and his weapon from the revolution
Guevara was killed in a clash between guerrillas and
Bolivian troops in southeastern Bolivia on Oct. 10,
1967. He was 39.
Guevara disappeared from public view in Havana in 1965,
preferring the search for another revolution over remaining
in high office in Cuba.
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
found this to be a singularly off-putting place. A real
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.
I would suggest renaming it 'Death Square'.
suggestion is that the next leaders of Cuba flatten the
entire area and grass it over. A nice green park perhaps.
Che Guevara building in Revolution Square.
imagine what they have in there
just miles outside Havana
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.
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
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.
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.
you spend your Holiday money supporting their continuing
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
But then again, 'me no think so.'
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
1, 2004. The day we visited Havana gives rise to the
'The FEBRUARY 1 MOVEMENT'.
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.
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
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.