By Jaime Weinman, Emily Senger, Jonathon Gatehouse, Patricia Treble, Aaron Wherry, and Mika Rekai - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 0 Comments
Danielle Smith’s offal tweet, Fidel Castro reappears (it seems), and Roberto Luongo a Leaf?
Let them eat steak
The Alberta Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith took a grilling this week when she suggested this week that recalled meat from Alberta’s XL food plant be fed to “the hungry.” Millions of kilograms of recalled XL meat is being destroyed due to an E. coli outbreak. “What a waste,” Smith tweeted. “We all know thorough cooking kills E. coli,” she added, endorsing another tweet suggesting that the meat instead be fed to those in need. When her comments sparked outrage, Smith was forced to backtrack: she did not mean that poor people should eat tainted meat, but if the meat could actually be salvaged, even she would buy it. Twitter had little sympathy—some suggested she feed it to members of Wildrose instead.
As the NHL lockout drags on into its second month, all hockey fans are hurting. But there might be some good news for the longest-suffering among them—the members of “Leafs Nation.” Reports surfaced last week that Toronto and the Vancouver Canucks have worked out a deal that will see mercurial goalie Roberto Luongo and his massive contract land in Hogtown when play ﬁnally resumes. Both sides deny that any agreement has been ﬁnalized (technically they can’t make a trade during the labour dispute), but there’s plenty of smoke. And at the very least it gives Leafs fans something else to obsess over: whether they’re getting the guy who backstopped Team Canada to gold in 2010, or the one who couldn’t stop a beach ball last season.
TV is so déclassé
“Stop this bourgeois priggishness!” cried Conrad Black, baron of Crossharbour and scourge of the bourgeoisie. The man who brought on Black’s outburst was BBC host Jeremy Paxman, who sat down with him for a TV interview. After Paxman called him a “criminal,” Black angrily dismissed his fraud conviction and prison sentence as a product of the U.S. justice system—“The whole system is a fraudulent, fascistic conveyor belt”—and commended himself for not “smashing your face in.” During the same round of interviews, Black appeared with Sky News host Adam Boulton, derided his questions and asked at one point, “What’s your name again?” Black has no time to learn the names of bourgeois prigs.
By Nancy Macdonald and Gabriela Perdomo - Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 10:16 AM - 0 Comments
Havana is at the same time attracting and terrifying entrepreneurs
Until this spring, Stephen Purvis had it all. The British architect, who’d helped launch the Saratoga, Cuba’s poshest hotel, was one of the more prominent figures in Havana’s business community. As chief operating officer of Coral Capital, one of Cuba’s biggest private investors, he was overseeing a planned $500-million resort in the sleepy fishing village of Guanabo. The Bellomonte resort, which would allow foreigners to buy Cuban property for the first time, was part of Havana’s ambitious, multi-billion-dollar plan to attract high-end tourists and badly needed foreign exchange. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. The musical Purvis produced in his spare time, Havana Rakatan, had a run at the Sydney Opera House last year before moving on to London’s West End. But in April, the 51-year-old was arrested on suspicion of corruption as he prepared to walk his kids to school in Havana.
Purvis’s arrest could have been anticipated. Coral Capital’s British-born CEO, Amado Fakhre, has been held without charges ever since his arrest in a dawn raid last fall. The investment firm is being liquidated, and both men have faced questioning at Villa Marista, Cuba’s notorious counter-intelligence headquarters. They are not alone. Since last summer, dozens of senior Cuban managers and foreign executives, including two Canadians, have been jailed in an investigation that has shocked and terrified foreigners who do business in the country.
Since replacing his brother Fidel as president in 2008, Raúl Castro has painted himself as a reformer, and Cuba as a place where foreign businesses can thrive. Over the last year, he has relaxed property rights, expanded land leases and licensed a broad, if random, list of businesses—everything from pizza joints to private gyms. And he’s endorsed joint venture golf courses, marinas and new manufacturing projects. Canadians are chief among those heeding Raúl’s call to do business with Havana. Hundreds have expressed interest in the Cuban market in the last year alone, according to Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service. Flattering reports in Canadian media have praised Raúl’s efforts. Yet they seem to overlook troubling signs that Cuba appears to be moving backwards.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 9, 2012 at 4:38 PM - 0 Comments
The Cuban dictator has a few things he would like to say in reference to Canada.
The guayabera shirts to be worn by Obama in Cartagena has become one of the main issues covered by the news agencies: “Edgar Gomez [...] has designed one for the U.S. President, Barack Obama, who will be wearing it during the Summit of the Americas,” said the daughter of the designer, who added: “It is a white, sober guayabera, with a handiwork that is more striking that usual…”
Immediately after that, the news agency added that the Caribbean shirt was first made by the banks of the Yayabo River in Cuba; that is why they were originally called yayaberas. The curious thing about this, dear readers, is that Cuba has been forbidden to attend that meeting, but not the guayaberas. Who could hold back from laughing? We must hurry up and tell Harper.
By Lyndsie Bourgnon - Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 5 Comments
Two Canadian developers are helping Cuba use golf to boost its ailing economy
In a famous picture, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are playing a round of golf. Guevara, in military fatigues, is studiously preparing a putt, and Castro stands aside, scrutinizing his position. They both look serious, but the context is hotly contested among historians—were they practising for an upcoming meeting with U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower? Or were they actually taunting him?
Cuba experts tend to agree it was a taunt. In post-revolutionary Cuba, golf was a sport for the rich, the bourgeois. And for 50-odd years, it all but disappeared from the island. (There’s currently only one 18-hole course.) But now Cuban authorities have given preliminary approval to develop four luxury golf resorts. Two of those contracts have been handed to Canadian developers.
Of the four, Ottawa-based Standing Feather International is the closest to breaking ground. Their joint venture with a division of the Cuban tourism ministry has been approved, and they’re waiting for a final sign-off from Havana to begin building. Plans for the Loma Linda Golf Estates, in the eastern Holguin region, cover 520 acres and include two golf courses, a five-star hotel, and 1,200 townhouse-style condos.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 12:32 PM - 38 Comments
A few weeks after NDP MP Don Davies suggested Dick Cheney should be barred from entering Canada, Amnesty International says Canadian authorities should arrest George W. Bush when he visits next week. It’s not clear that we have the power to do so. Jason Kenney is unimpressed.
“Amnesty International cherrypicks cases to publicize based on ideology. This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.
Kenney noted in an email that in the past, Amnesty had not asked for Canada to bar former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, even though the rights organization itself said he had presided over “arbitrary arrests, detention, and criminal prosecution.”
Castro’s last visit to Canada would seem to have been for Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in October 2000.
By macleans.ca - Friday, September 16, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Kate is pregnant (or not), Diamond is engaged (again), and Manning gets a new uniform (of sorts)
Peyton Manning played his first professional football game in 1998. Over the next 13 years, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback didn’t miss a single start, suiting up for 227 consecutive kickoffs. But that gridiron streak—and his team’s hope for a Super Bowl berth—were tackled last week when Manning underwent a second round of neck surgery that is certain to keep him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. (For those fans who won’t recognize him without a jersey, he’ll be the guy wearing a cervical collar.) Who will replace Manning on the line of scrimmage? One name being bandied about is Brett Favre, the legendary quarterback who holds the record for consecutive starts (297). Favre, of course, says he is happily retired. But we’ve heard that before. Twice.
On the ropes
When Arturo “Thunder” Gatti was found dead in a Brazilian vacation home two years ago, local police concluded that the Montreal boxer had committed suicide. But a recent re-examination of the evidence—and some stunning courtroom testimony—have pointed the finger at someone else: Gatti’s widow, Amanda Rodrigues. In a report now being reviewed by the original investigators, a team of U.S. experts says the boxer’s body contained severe head wounds consistent with a beating, and that the official finding (that Gatti hung himself with a purse strap) is “pure, unadulterated fiction.” Meanwhile, during a court battle over Gatti’s $6-million estate, one friend testified that Rodrigues was an abusive wife who threatened her husband, sucker-punched him on numerous occasions, and forced him to rewrite his will just three weeks before his death.
If Bob Dechert was smiling on the evening of April 19, 2010, as he stood to vote in the House of Commons, he was apparently not simply delighting in the democratic process. “If you have time, watch on TV or on your computer . . . and I will smile at you,” he wrote to Shi Rong, a journalist with China’s Xinhua News Agency. The parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs was forced to acknowledge that note and a series of other “flirtatious” emails after his missives were distributed around Ottawa last week. Dechert’s official biography describes him as a married man and he says his relationship with Shi was “innocent,” but security analysts fret that his correspondence with a member of China’s state-run news service raises concerns about national security and espionage. The Prime Minister’s Office says it has no information to indicate Dechert did anything inappropriate.
By Richard Warnica - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Communicating with his people—while seeking cancer treatment in Castro’s Cuba
During a recent stay in Cuba, Hugo Chávez took to Twitter to stay in touch with his people. The president of Venezuela has cancer and was in Havana to have a tumour removed, but he took time out to tweet to his more than 1.8 million followers. “We’re moving along here, brother! With God and the Virgin!” read one post, according to a translation by the Associated Press. “In my modest opinion…THEY ROBBED US OF THE VICTORY GOAL,” said another, a reference to a soccer match between his country and Paraguay.
Chávez’s Twitter campaign earned wry headlines abroad. But back home, it was his choice of medical locale that was causing a stir. The Venezuelan health system has been a shambles for decades; under Chávez, opponents say, things have grown dramatically worse. By seeking treatment abroad, critics charge, Chávez has tacitly acknowledged that the Venezuelan system is not up to snuff. What does the president think? At this point, he has yet to express himself on the issue, on Twitter or anywhere else.
By Nicholas Kohler and Cathy Gulli - Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
A tiny Wolfe at the bathroom door, a flirty old Castro in Cuba and the Times’ new editor needs her red pen
Happy birthday, Mr. President
Turning 80 usually warrants a birthday party. But Cuban President Raúl Castro was hardly celebrated at all. It seems his advanced age is an uncomfortable reminder to many Cubans that their country’s leaders are old—and old-guard. With no young successors in place (the next in line for the job are 79 and 80), Cubans worry that economic reforms now under way will be jeopardized if either Castro or his brother Fidel, 84, take ill. Still, Castro was positively spry on his birthday, asking female reporters: “How do I look, ladies, how do I look at 80? How many old men of 60 are there who aren’t in my shape?”
Three decades after losing her son Terry to cancer, Betty Fox is ﬁghting to stay alive. The Fox family, in the spotlight ever since Terry’s Marathon of Hope across Canada in 1980, released a statement that the matriarch is “seriously ill,” but stressed she does not have cancer. Though details are scarce, she reportedly spent time at a hospice in Chilliwack, B.C. Her last major public appearance was carrying the Olympic flag during the opening ceremonies in Vancouver last year.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Good news/bad news
Signs of glasnost appeared in Cuba as the ruling Communists held a party congress and Fidel Castro prepared to step down as first secretary. Fidel’s successor as president, brother Raul, opened the meeting with a speech endorsing term limits for senior leadership—a surprising suggestion, coming from half of the duo that has held power since 1959. Delegates discussed an astonishing package of market-based reforms, including property rights, free currency flows, and the elimination of universal food rationing.
More news is good news
Quebecor launched its Sun News Network cable channel, receiving praise and catcalls for its “populist” programming in the visual style of Fox News. Key figures in the day-one lineup included talk-radio star Charles Adler, multimedia reporting vets David Akin and Brian Lilley, and daytime anchor Krista Erickson, who provided a special fillip to the rollout by posing as the Sun papers’ Sunshine Girl. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the presence of Liberal campaign advertising; party president Alf Apps noted that “the price was right.”
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich announced results from simulations of crowds that may help police prevent fatal panics like the one that killed 21 at a music festival in Duisburg, Germany, last year. New models show that when a crowd reaches a critical density, a coordinated “undulation” begins, signalling the potential onset of a turbulent “crowd quake” of deadly physical force. Review of video from Duisburg confirms that a wavelike motion preceded the stampede, raising hopes that similar disasters could be averted in real time.
A real shell game
The University of Maine and the Canada-U.S. Lobster Institute introduced a biodegradable golf ball made from discarded lobster shells. The balls can survive just a few swings, but they are a good fit for use on cruise ships, since they break down in water within a few weeks. The cost of the lobster balls is lower than that of existing biodegradable alternatives, and the lobster industry is eager to find profitable uses for the shells, which make up half of the weight of the total catch.
Residents of the southern Prairies coming off a wet growing season and a very snowy winter are facing spring flooding. In Manitoba, a total of 700 people, including 576 from the Peguis First Nation, had to evacuate threatened homes, and Highway 75, the province’s key overland link to the U.S. border, was closed. Floodways and dikes have performed well during the crisis, protecting all but a handful of homes, but two rural Manitoba motorists were killed trying to navigate flooded roads.
A Fraser Institute study shed harsh light on the recent increase in Canadian health care costs, showing that provincial health spending grew by an average of 7.5 per cent a year from 2001 to 2010; during the same period provincial revenues expanded at a pace of 5.7 per cent and the Canadian economy by 5.2 per cent. Ontario and Quebec will already be spending 50 per cent of total revenues on health by the end of 2011, said analysts Brett Skinner and Mark Rovere. But their proposed solution—a five-year waiver of Canada Health Act provisions outlawing private insurance and care providers—found no takers among those running for election.
Bond rating agency Standard & Poor’s stunned markets by downgrading the debt of the United States Treasury. U.S. bonds remain AAA-rated, but S&P, firing a warning shot across Washington’s bow, adjusted the outlook from “stable” to “negative.” An S&P analyst noted that “policymakers have still not agreed on how to reverse recent fiscal deterioration,” adding that S&P estimates the likelihood of the U.S. losing its triple-A status within the next two years at “at least one in three.”
As the NHL playoffs began amidst a clamour over ill-defined “head shot” rules—which came into play after Vancouver Canucks forward Raffi Torres received only a two-minute minor for blindsiding Chicago’s Brent Seabrook—new research from the University of Calgary confirmed estimates that players experience about 1.8 concussions per 1,000 hours of ice time. Breakdowns of the numbers emphasize the risks of repeat concussion and of attempting to play through one.
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 3:20 PM - 0 Comments
Smokes for seniors are among the targets of Castro’s austerity drive
When Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba’s military leader and president, Fulgencio Batista, in January 1959, he and his brother Raúl made a pledge to each other: their socialist model of governance would not make Cubans wealthy but could provide each citizen with basic necessities. A little more than half a century later, with Fidel slowly making his way back into the public spotlight after a lengthy illness, Raúl is in the process of altering that promise to preserve his country’s future. He has called for the elimination of all state-related subsidies that impoverished islanders have relied on for decades. The country’s ailing economy, one plagued by bureaucratic inefficiencies and the effects of the global financial crisis, is to blame.
By Rachel Mendleson - Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 9:30 AM - 5 Comments
A lavish miniseries on Castro tries to polish the regime’s legacy
On Oct. 16, 1953, while on trial for leading the attack on the Moncada Barracks—which laid the groundwork for the Cuban Revolution—a young Fidel Castro famously told the court, “Condemn me. It doesn’t matter. History will absolve me.” Apparently, the Cuban government can’t wait that long. Amid continuing reports of the now-retired leader’s frailty, the regime has bankrolled a documentary that seeks to portray Castro as just short of divine. He Who Must Live, a miniseries that began airing on Cuban TV last month, remembers the 83-year-old, who served as Comandante en Jefe for nearly 50 years, as a man who did so under constant threat, surviving an alleged 638 assassination attempts, largely perpetrated by the U.S. Says Ann Louise Bardach, an American journalist and author of the 2009 book Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington, “This is the kind of pre-emptive eulogy for the Maximum Leader.”
A joint undertaking of the Interior Ministry, Institute of Police Sciences and state-approved ﬁlmmakers, He Who Must Live is the culmination of millions of dollars, some 240 actors, 800 extras and reams of archival footage. The eight one-hour-long episodes took three years to complete. “There’s no question this is the biggest television blockbuster they’ve ever done,” says Bardach. It’s a tribute, says Dalhousie University professor and Cuba expert John Kirk, that’s ﬁtting of a man who is “seen as the Nelson Mandela of Cuba, but multiplied by a factor of three or four.” To others, however, it’s a calculated attempt to spin Fidelismo at a time when the government, now headed by Castro’s younger brother Raúl, is becoming increasingly unpopular. In a country where free speech is limited, says Ismael Sambra, a former Cuban journalist who spent ﬁve years in jail before being exiled to Canada in 1997, the government “knows how to manage the media to inspire compassion . . . to justify their position against the enemy and the opposition.”
In ﬁlming the series, director Rafael Ruiz Benítez says he used a variety of genres to “give the viewer more information about the facts.” One problem, however, is that the central “fact”—that Castro survived a staggering 638 attempts on his life—is being dismissed by many as fallacy. To be sure, there have been more than a few efforts to off the Comandante. In 1975, a U.S. Senate committee report found “concrete evidence” of at least eight CIA-led plots, which include Maﬁa ﬁgures, Cuban dissidents, and everything from high-powered riﬂes to poison pens. As recently as 2000, Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born ex-CIA operative, was arrested in Panama City with 200 lb. of explosives, apparently planning to kill Castro while he delivered a speech. Cuba expert Robert Wright, who teaches history at Trent University, says Cuban ministries are completely closed to researchers, making it “well nigh impossible to get Cuban documents”—or verify the ﬁlm’s bold claim. (It’s also made in the 2006 British documentary 638 Ways To Kill Castro.) But according to Bardach, who has done extensive research on the subject, the true ﬁgure is likely in the “double digits, not triple digits.”
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 2:00 PM - 13 Comments
Raúl has used ‘draconian laws and sham trials’
When Raúl Castro replaced his ailing older brother Fidel as president of Cuba in February 2008, Cubans looked forward to an era of greater freedoms. They would be able to rent cars, use cellphones, buy consumer electronics and even have a sex change if they pleased. Or so they thought.
A series of new reports paints an ominous picture of the island nation 144 km off the southern tip of Florida. One, from Human Rights Watch, says Raúl’s government is using “draconian laws and sham trials to incarcerate scores who have dared to exercise their fundamental freedoms,” and notes that people are being punished before they even commit a crime. With details obtained by the New York-based group in a clandestine mission this past summer, the report highlights some 40 cases in which individuals were jailed for the fuzzy offence of “dangerousness.” Their crimes include staging rallies, writing articles that are critical of the government, and attempting to establish independent unions. Those unfortunate enough to be rounded up are serving time in “overcrowded, unhygienic and unhealthy” prisons where malnutrition and illness are rampant.
Even for non-“dangerous” Cubans, life isn’t much better. A survey released by the International Republican Institute found that four out of five Cubans are unhappy with the overall direction of the country. “Cubans are as frustrated and pessimistic as they’ve ever been,” noted Alex Sutton, the institute’s Latin American programs director. Of the 432 Cuban adults interviewed for the survey, 75 per cent said they would vote for democracy and 20 per cent suggested the political system should be changed altogether.
And Cubans don’t expect things to improve: just 15 per cent believe Raúl’s regime will solve Cuba’s biggest problems—low salaries, high cost of living and food shortages—in the next few years.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, October 2, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Newsmakers of the week
Dalai Lama: a ray of Vancouver Sunshine
The Dalai Lama, the peace-loving Buddhist monk and champion of an autonomous Tibet, began a busy week in Canada by serving as “guest editor” of the Saturday edition of the Vancouver Sun. The result was a very earnest paper filled with love, compassion and understanding—the usual murder, mayhem and politics sent to the back of the bus. Even the sports section opened with a story on the value of breathing and positive mantras. Football and the Vancouver Canucks were relegated to the inside pages, not being very Zen. On Sunday, the Nobel Peace Prize winner hosted the opening of a sold-out Vancouver Peace Summit, sharing the stage with leading spiritual thinkers, and fellow Nobel laureates. A bad back kept retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu from a session on achieving personal peace. In his stead, he sent his daughter Mpho Tutu, a mother and Episcopalian priest. Avoiding tantrum-throwing two-year-olds, she joked, is one step toward harmony. Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean sent greetings by video although she had been scheduled to appear in person. A spokesperson denied her absence was to appease Chinese leaders, who see the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist. He made no references to China, perhaps wishing to avoid controversy. The news media focuses too much on bad news, he said after a day of editing the Sun.
Putting the Fidel in infidelity
Revolution isn’t Fidel Castro’s only passion, says American author Ann Louise Bardach, who tabulates his conquests of Cuban women in her forthcoming book, Without Fidel. She calculates Castro populated Cuba with 10 and possibly 11 children by at least seven women. He had a son with his first wife, Myrta Diaz-Balart, in 1949, and five boys with Dalia Soto del Valle, a long-time companion he is believed to have secretly married in 1980. There were many lovers, but 1955 was a banner year, after the 29-year-old rebel leader was released from prison after a failed uprising. He celebrated his freedom to such an extent that three women bore his children the next year. Continue…
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, October 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
Raúl Castro brings a new mindset to Fidel’s ‘revolución’
During ceremonies held in July 2007 to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Raúl Castro, the shy and pensive younger brother of Fidel Castro, told a crowd of 100,000 loyalists in the city of Camagüey that the country was in serious peril, struggling to survive and meet the needs of its people. “No one country can afford to spend more than what they have,” he said during a one-hour speech. “To have more, we have to begin by producing more, with a sense of rationality and efficiency.” Yet nobody could have predicted the massive wave of reforms that Raúl would implement after Fidel Castro retired as president in February. The man who stood by his brother’s side for more than 50 years—supporting Fidel as he severed ties with the U.S. and imposed suffocating policies—is steering Cuba in a new direction, and with a radically new mindset.
To cure Cuba’s ailing economy, Raúl has invited private farmers to plant tobacco, coffee and other crops on unused state land in an effort to put more food on the table for all Cubans and bring in hard currency from exports. (Farmers who do well can increase their holdings by up to 40 hectares for a 10-year period that can be renewed.) He’s made it easier for state workers to gain title to their homes and restored an earlier policy of giving performance cash incentives to workers. In addition, Cubans now have the freedom to rent cars, stay in luxury hotels, buy consumer electronics, and use cellphones, albeit with certain restrictions.
On the ground, some changes are easy to spot. “They have a functioning bus system now, where people aren’t crammed to the gills like they used to be,” says Karen Dubinsky, a history professor at Queen’s University, who in May visited Havana to launch a course on Cuban culture and society in conjunction with the University of Havana. Over the past three years, Cuba has ordered more than 6,000 new buses from China, the country’s second-largest trading partner behind Venezuela. Trade between Cuba and China has blossomed from around US$900 million in 2005 to $2.2 billion last year.
While in Cuba, Dubinsky also met Raúl’s daughter, Mariela Castro. As head of the National Centre for Sex Education, Mariela is pushing forward legislation to recognize same-sex relationships and the rights of transsexuals. In June, her efforts paid off with the announcement that Cubans could undergo sex change operations, even stipulating that in certain circumstances the state will cover the cost. It’s a significant move by a regime that formerly sent gays and lesbians to forced labour camps for “re-education.”