Latin America

Cuba: Dissidents give Oliver Stone's film, on Castro bad reviews

Cuban exile Alberto Gutiérrez sends a Reuters report (4/23/04) on Oliver Stone's second documentary on Fidel Castro, of which here is an excerpt: Cuban dissidents and the top U.S. diplomat in Havana gave Oliver Stone's second documentary on Cuban leader Fidel Castro bad reviews Friday, saying it failed to present an objective view. In "Looking for Fidel", which aired April 14 on HBO, the 77-year-old leader told the film director he had no intention of stepping down after 45 years, stating: "I am not the one in power. It is the people who are in power. I think I will die on the job,"

The head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba, James Cason, invited Cuban dissidents to his home to watch the documentary. Cason quoted them as saying they found it "insulting" that Stone had not personally interviewed the wives of jailed dissidents and had sent an assistant instead. "This should have been called 'Justifying Fidel' not 'Looking for Fidel'," Cason said. The diplomat said the message of Stone's film was that repression was justified in Cuba because the Bush administration was planning to invade the island. "It's the conspiracy theory that Stone has always had in his films," said Cason, who said Washington was seeking a peaceful post-Castro transition in Havana.

In the film, Stone asked Castro about political freedom and the future of Cuba, asking him if he was prepared to hand over to a younger generation of leaders. Castro said he had no intention of pleasing President Bush and the thought of relinquishing his post as "comandante" had not crossed his mind. A year ago, Cuba rounded up 75 dissidents who were given prison terms of up to 28 years for conspiring with the United States to undermine Castro's revolution. HBO yanked a flattering 2003 Stone documentary about Castro called "Comandante" because it failed to mention last year's crackdown on dissent. HBO asked Stone to go back to Cuba and interview Castro again.

RH: I have not seen the film and have little information about Oliver Stone, so I hesitate to make any comment. However, this does show the danger of having a movie maker form US public opinion about Castro-

Randy Black says "I have seen the Castro interviews with Oliver Stone twice on HBO. They are entertaining, but certainly one-sided in their portrayal of the Cuban leader. Stone makes movies, period. He is no more a historian than is Barbra Streisand. The most amazing thing to me about Castro is that he has survived so long. I didn’t give him a year in 1959. After the collapse of the USSR, again, I figured perhaps a year, max. Boy was I wrong!" RH: This raises the question as to how Castro has survived all these years. Is there a list of how long dictators have survived? Does Castro top the list?

Cuba: End to Market Reforms

Regarding Cuba's end to market reforms, Tim Ashby sends an article from Hispanic Business (April 2004), here excerpted:- Havana's port authority was running a catering business. An industrial construction company was rebuilding and remodelling homes. Another government agency was repairing boilers on the side. For years, Cuba's cash-starved businesses and state-run agencies have been allowed to develop specialities far outside their mandates to stay afloat. This practice appears to be ending. "That's all over," said the manager of a food processing plant, sipping espresso on a recent Sunday morning. In his hands is a copy of Circular 04/200 - a government directive that from April 1 has demanded that such secondary businesses cease and desist. "They want to do away with the dual peso and dollar economy and in the process reassert absolute control over us," said the plant manager, who requested anonymity. "That means more regulations, more inspectors, more difficulties and delays making things work." The order's objective, the circular says, is "to adjust entities' social objectives to their primary function and suspend payment in hard currency for services that do not correspond to those functions".

The government has reduced the number of small private businesses allowed to operate food outlets, bed and breakfast establishments and other minor services. Increased regulation of foreign companies has resulted in dozens of small joint ventures and trading companies packing up shop. The shift on keeping companies to their primary objectives is likely to reverse many of the market mechanisms introduced to help the government survive the downfall of the Soviet Union. The move reflects the renewed embrace of centralised state-planning by Fidel Castro, president since 1959. Western diplomats say the changes follow Mr Castro's increasingly conservative trend - perhaps most obvious with last year's crackdown on dissent, that left 75 of the government's most vocal critics with long prison terms and relations with Europe at their lowest point in years. "Cuba's economy is moving in one direction and China's and Vietnam's another," one European diplomat said. Last year the government banned most companies from using the dollar, requiring them to convert their dollar holdings for convertible pesos, which are pegged to the US currency but have no value outside Cuba. Businessmen say they have been swamped with new regulations further restricting their operations and access to foreign exchange since December.

Paraguay: Nueva Germania

From Canada, Gerda Harder writes: "I found several reports of yours on the internet focused on Paraguay, and more specifically Nueva Germania. I found them interesting, because I was born and raised in Nueva Germania. Now I live in Canada. I also found a song "Nueva Germania". May I ask what your interests are and your connection to Nueva Germania?" RH: WAIS is interested in every country in the world, indeed in every corner of the world. I have been to Paraguay several times, and other WAISers, including Tim Brown, have spent time there. If Tim remembers Nueva Germania, we might wish to tell us about it. The special reason for our interest was its connection with the Nietzsche family. Its founding was a manifestation of a certain phase of German ideology. An odd reason for our interest is that a small community near Los Angeles has a sister relationship with Nueva Germania, and produced the song "Nueva Germania". The composer wrote us about his plans to visit Hueva Germania. We would be most interested if Gerda Harder would e-mail me an account of the history of Nueva Germania and of her experiences there. I would then post it for the members of WAIS.

Gerda Harder, a native of Nueva Germania in Paraguay who now lives in Canada, writes: "My dad's mother's family were among the early settlers; their last name is Schubert. My dad's father came from Germany I believe in 1930. My mom's father came from Germany sometimes in 1935, but my mom's mother's parents came with the early settlers; their last name is Buettner. Other families are Flaskamp and Fischer; they are still there. I have not visited Nueva Germania in eleven years, but I'm planning to go there in December. I will certainly put something together for you". RH: We look forward to Gerda's report.

Of the posting about Nueva Germania, Paraguay, Cjristopher Jones writes: "This message is potentially a major breakthrough. In particular, I would like to know if Gerda Harder's family was among the early settlers who travelled with Bernhard Förster and Elisabeth Nietzsche to Nueva Germania in the 1880s and to what extent Nietzsche's philosophy is remembered among its citizens. Is German still spoke in Nueva Germania? Are there any official ties between Nueva Germania and its Vaterland? Or has the Bundesrepublik turned its back on them?" RH: Nueva Germania was supposed to embody Nietzsche's philosophy. What does that mean?

Cuba: Central Planning

Tim Ashby says: "Castro's attempt to recentralize the Cuban economy will do more to hasten the end of his regime than any actions by the US. Allowing Cubans to have small-scale free enterprise provided a safety valve for popular discontent. The Pandora's Box of a free market was opened a decade ago, and the furies of entrepreneurialism can't be crammed back inside". Here is a report from Havana (Reuters, 04/15/04): - Managers of Cuba's state enterprises have been told to hand over their expensive cars like Toyotas and Mitsubishis and stick to the more proletarian Russian-made Ladas or smaller vehicles. Nor can they drive cars with decorations or air-conditioning, which has set them apart from ordinary Cubans in the sweltering heat of tropical summer. It's part of President Fidel Castro's campaign to roll back the market-oriented reforms that gave rise to social differences in an officially classless, communist-run society. The most recent clampdown has targeted executives of state companies, whose perks are under fire.

A decade ago, Cuba sowed the seeds of capitalism when it reluctantly legalized the U.S. dollar and permitted some private enterprise as it battled to survive a post-Soviet meltdown of its centrally planned economy. State corporations, particularly those involved in tourism, the Caribbean island's main hard currency earner, adopted modern business practices. With that came the perks and status symbols of capitalist society that are now being wrung out of the economy. But inspectors have begun fanning out this month to make sure executives are complying with a Transport Ministry circular specifying what cars they can use. Anything bigger than a Lada will be handed over to the ministries and state protocol service, according to the document seen by Reuters. "Cuban officials feel they have weathered the crisis and it's time for the state to take an even more central role in the economy," said Phil Peters, an exert on Cuba at Washington's Lexington Institute think tank. "They are opting for equality over growth," he said. Orthodox socialists who held their noses over the reforms following the loss of Soviet aid are running policy again, Peters said.

Increased circulation of the U.S. currency brought division between haves and have nots -- Cubans with dollars and those with no access to dollars who remained stuck in the peso economy. In a country where monthly salaries average $15 and a taxi driver can earn more from tourists in a day than a brain surgeon earns in a month, small capitalists known as "cuentapropistas" multiplied fast. To cover a dramatic shortage of services, the government licensed many Cubans over the last decade to have small businesses, from plumbers to taxi drivers. For a year, Cuban regulators have been chasing unauthorized private entrepreneurs and heavily taxing licensed businesses like room rentals for tourists and small family restaurants called "paladares." Red tape has forced many out of business. Western diplomats said Cuba is retrenching economically as well as politically. They point to a crackdown on dissent last year and increased regulation of foreign companies too. "The number of joint ventures fell by 70 last year, and will decline by a similar number this year. Tens of thousands of small independent business have folded in recent years under government pressure and small foreign trading companies are packing their bags," a European commercial attache said.

In the state sector, which accounts for 90 percent of the economy, a re-centralization is underway, as the government takes back decision-making power that had gone from ministries to state companies. Local analysts say Castro views state business managers as a potentially corrupting force that played a role in bringing down East European communism. He would like to end private Cuban businesses and do away with the dollar, the currency of his arch-enemy the United States, they said. In recent speeches, Castro has criticized costly imports by too many state companies and justified centralized control over dollar reserves that cash-strapped Cuba badly needs to pay for essential food and oil imports. "The decentralization of hard currency has gone further than planned and begun to cover unnecessary expenses," Economy Minister Rodriguez told the National Assembly in December. Cuba's Caribbean beaches attract thousands of European and Canadian sun seekers that bring in hard currency, while remittances to Cubans from U.S. relatives is a key source of dollars. State corporations that branched out into a myriad of dollar-earning services trying to be financially self-sufficient -- from shops to restaurants -- have been told to concentrate on their core business, according to a circular sent out by Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez. A document seen by Reuters lists 87 services that can no longer be charged in dollars.

Havana allowed the dollar to circulate freely alongside the peso in 1993 and it quickly became the currency of choice since the local currency buys little Cubans want. Last August, the Central Bank introduced exchange controls and banned state companies from using dollars in most operations, requiring usage of the convertible peso, a locally printed currency equal to the dollar but with no value outside Cuba. Dozens of executives of the two largest corporations, Cimex and Cubanacan, were removed over alleged mishandling of dollars, charging of commissions and the use of foreign bank accounts. The government also ended the freedom most state companies had gained to import goods. "It's a double blow. First the dollars were taken away, and now the right to trade and make independent decisions," a Cuban economist said. "We are going back to the 1980s when everything was centralized."


Ronald Hilton -