Monday, December 26, 2011


Earlier this week the Cuban government announced a pre-Christmas release of 2900 prisoners, including many political prisoners, as a gesture of goodwill in anticipation of the Pope’s visit to the island in March. Articles appeared in the press suggesting that the prisoner release, made shortly after the liberalization of the rights to buy and sell vehicles and real estate, is a sign of a general liberalization of control over Cuba’s citizenry and a suggestion of further democratic reforms to come. However, the December 16th verdict of a court in Cienfuegos, a city in the middle of Cuba, sending Ariel Castillo Chacón to prison, makes me skeptical that anything at all is likely to change.

The court found that Castillo is a social misfit because he does not participate in activities organized by the block committee for the street where he lives. These committees are known as “Block Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.” Castillo was further deemed a misfit because he fraternized with known homosexuals and had “too many relatives living in the United States.” Castillo was found to be socially dangerous and “pre-criminal” and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Apparently, fifty years of the US embargo has done nothing to rid Cuba of the socially dangerous laws. I wonder, what good has it done at all. Last night I was looking at the website for the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. That beautiful old building is featured in my novel, The Death of the White Rose. In chapter 11 there is the following description:
          The Hotel National de Cuba was built in 1930 and was a luxurious blend of Moorish and Beaux Art architecture. Eight stories of white stone formed the base for two ornate towers suggestive of those of a European cathedral. There was a large swimming pool surrounded by a veranda where there was an open-air bar. The main floor had high arched windows that formed a wall of the lobby. The latter’s interior was lit by crystal chandeliers that might have once adorned a czar’s palace. Across the Bay, the mouths of black canons stuck through the brilliant white battlements of El Morro y La Cabaña, the ancient fortress.

          The main dining room had Tiffany-style leaded glass chandeliers hanging over white linen covered tables. A black and white tile floor looked like a giant checker board. Maria, the female protagonist in my novel, was seated at a table set for four. The restaurant was not busy at 3 o’clock when the meeting was to take place. Some customers sipped tall iced drinks or nursed their cigars. The lunch crowd had long ago dispersed.

I read the hotel’s English language website to see how it was being marketed to the non-Cuban world of potential guests. What I discovered were a series of malapropisms and misspellings that made the hotel something of a grammatical joke. For example, “Dinning & Cocktails” probably could do with one fewer “n.” A section of the hotel’s history reads: “The land where today stands the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, was part of the area which in the early centuries of colonial rule was called Monte Vedado, since a decree banning the Spanish Government that this area be opened paths to the beach.” I think I know what they mean, but it really should be easier to understand what exactly was the decree that the language describes.

My first thought was here was an opportunity for my darling Ruby, who translates for me as well as business throughout the world, to offer her services to help the hotel seem less comical. But then I remembered the embargo. If Ruby were hired to revise the website, it would be a felony in the United States. So the hotel will continue to have a ridiculous website, until a Canadian or English translator with entrepreneurial spirit elects to contact the management and offer his or her services. The monies paid by the hotel will thus go to another country, and the small contributions that such a consulting fee would add to the US GNP will benefit another competitor in the world market. The magnitude of such fees is tiny, but if you multiply it by the tens of thousands of opportunities for American business to participate in, which include projects far larger than a translation fee, the calculation becomes more meaningful.

The US foreign policy continuing this non-productive embargo is about as silly as the spelling of “dining” on the Nacional’s website. It is past time for a change.

I hope all of my readers are enjoying the holidays, and I wish you all a very happy new and healthy new year. I note that this blog has passed the 8000 page-view mark and has 59 to 62 regular readers, depending on the week, from Russia, Latvia, UK, Germany, Israel, Venezuela, and of course the US. Thanks for reading the blog. I hope to hear from many of you in coming year. May it be a prosperous one for all of us.

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