Castro y Obama meet!
This is "Cuba Week" on my blogsite! Yup! Our home will be packed with family and friends, doing this and that. The teacher strikes are also about to start. But I'm off to Cuba! Consider it one of the joys of retirement: I can come and go as I please. So what's up?
For starters, expect lots of pictures! It will be very Cuban here on my site! Also via my Twitter account [@davidchiarelli] I am off to visit my Cuban teacher friends at the Cuban schools in Santiago de Cuba. Besides hanging out doing teacher things and the like, I want to follow up on a recent news story that I think I can best research first hand.
I've been travelling to Cuba since 1981. I have even worked and stayed there for long stretches since I started the CSP [Cuban School Project] in Santiago de Cuba in 1992. Quite frankly, most of news coverage on the mainstream media about Cuba has always been very mediocre and questionable. And so:
I want to informally find out first hand what the local reactions are within the Santiago de Cuba school community to the recent announcement by Presidents Castro +Obama that they will be "normalizing relations" between the two long standing, adversarial nations.
You might've read about recent developments in Cuba in my monthly "Teacher Free Speech News + Views" blog series since the surprise joint announcement in December. Then last weekend US President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met together in person, ending 50 years of diplomatic silence, at the 7th "Summit of the Americas", the first in which the US allowed Cuba to attend. In their short, but historic tete-a-tete, President Castro brought up the deplorable US track record on Cuba. President Obama reiterated his claim that the US does not support "dictators", though he did not mention which ones. Both expressed interest in "agreeing to disagree" when need be so they can find ways to normalize US Cuba relations by getting a more constructive dialogue happening! If you missed it you can find more coverage of the Summit in my "April News and Views" blog [Link] as well as @ NY Times and @ BBC
So, my suitcase is packed with the bare essentials and a few books to read along the way. Some food for thought: First, there's Tom Hayden's recent best seller "Listen, Yankee"; which purports to be an examination of the counterproductive absurdity of the 50 year US embargo of Cuba. It will be interesting to see how the issue of Cuba is framed nowadays within a progressive US mindset. Secondly, there is Ignacio Ramonet's "Fidel Castro: My Life", an exhaustive 700+ page interview with Raul Castro's older bro Fidel from just before he retired in 2006. It covers a wide variety of world social, economic, political and environmental hot button issues besides his controversial stint as Cuba's Commander in Chief since the 1959 revolution.
I've also finished reading a few books that I picked up on my last trip to Cuba in January [Link]. Fidel Castro's assessment of "Obama and the Empire", is from a series of Cuban newspaper columns he wrote between 2008-12. Fidel's seen 11th US presidents come and go. His view of Obama? Think of it as: like the man but realize he's but part and parcel of the US system. Colour Fidel interested but very questioning and cautious! At 88, place him as Cuba's still widely loved and respected elder statesmen in Cuba. His input will still be duly noted!
I've also read Che Gueverra's "Diary of a Combatant" and "Reminisces of the Cuban Revolutionary War". They are mostly about the revolutionary war in the Sierra Mountains high above Santiago de Cuba, where I am staying. The Cuban Revolution's strategy and popular thrust is well highlighted here. I look forward to also checking out more of the history of the revolution, if time permits, during my brief stay.
US Readers take note: Unlike the United States, Canada has followed a policy of "engagement" rather than join the US "boycott" of Cuba for the past 50 years. As a Canadian teacher visiting Cuba, the focus of my Cuban School Projects education relief work has always been "Made in Cuba". It is carried out in a grass root, hands on approach, directed by myself, working with the Cuban teachers and students to develop local learning resources and provide instructional and material help, at the local school level. Fortunately, it has proven very successful, against all odds and the work is still ongoing.
Many of the Cuban teachers are now my old friends, in more ways than one. They have also retired! It will be interesting to get their perspective on the new changes 56 years after the revolution. It is not uncommon that the really older folk in Santiago de Cuba were directly involved in the fight! Most adults have suffered the better part of their lives under the crippling US embargo! Then there's younger family members and the students at the school with their lives still stretching out ahead. They too can help provide a very interesting, wider and perhaps different perspective!
In an interesting twist, one of my teacher buddies; Yeyito, has decided to open a new "Rock Cafe", now allowed under the new economic reforms, to service the local community and the increasing number of tourists visiting Santiago de Cuba. When we first met, in the early 90's, the Beatles were illegal in Cuba [Link]. You can bet for sure that there will be lots of interesting Beatles and other baby boomer culture at the Cuban Rock Cafe! Think about it: they missed all that first time around. And Now? No way! So off I also go to check out the scene, and write a review!
I'm not sure how I will present the bulk of my findings when I get back home. However, in time there should be some very interesting blogs for you to read. Meanwhile, I am leaving you with some useful links. Consider them as an informal "Cuba Study Guide" for your perusal. Hopefully they will help you make more sense of the Cuba stories in the news, and here on my site:
CUBA STUDY GUIDE:
JFK: Mr. President! Have a Cuban cigar!
Tom Hayden explains the absurdity of the 50 year old US embargo @ Yankee
Ignacio Ramonets's interview book begs the question, was Fidel good for Cuba? @ Fidel Castro: My Story
An overview of the origins and history of the Cuban Revolution @ 1959
The Mafia plans for Cuba during the 1950's
President Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs Invasion @ 1961
Playa Giron/ Bay of Pigs 
Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro: The Cuba Missile Crisis @ 1962
JFK, Cuba and Me @ Cuban Missile Crisis!
Operation Mongoose @ RFK
The CIA obsession with Fidel Castro @ CIA
The Cuban Economy during the "Special Period" following the Soviet collapse @ 1992-2010
More on the "Special Period" in Cuba @ Socialista Kamp
Cuba + the "Non Aligned Movement" @ Nonaligned
The dissident movement in Cuba @ Cuba Si!
A class at the Toronto Friendship School
My CUBA BLOGS:
The Cuban School Project Story @ CSP and
The Toronto Friendship School @ Cuba + The Night 2 and @ Rumours of War
Traditional Cuban song + dance @ Santiago de Cuba Diary 4
Afrocuban culture, song + dance @ Santiago de Cuba Diary 5
JFK, Cuba and Me @ Cuban Missile Crisis!
I remember "Christmas in Cuba " @ Christmas in Cuba!
A Canadian Teacher On the Road In Cuba @ [Here] and
"Cuba and the Night" is still being posted.@ 1 @ 2 @ 3.
Days and nights at Graham Green's historic Casagrande Hotel @ Locals and @ Tourists
An excerpt from a short unpublished novel @ A La Habana
Vintage Cuban Student Poster!