A noisy, drunken game of dominoes is being played at the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) on Havana's San Lorenzo street, the pieces slapped down on the bare wooden table to the accompaniment of colorful, if amicable, abuse. \n"We may have problems, my friend," says one player, as a bottle of white rum does the rounds at the Saturday night game. "But we have Fidel. He has the answers." \nThe fading posters on the wall feature quotes from "the commander-in-chief," President Fidel Castro, urging Cubans to "keep up their guard." The room smells slightly of stale urine but the reception is one of typical Cuban warmth. \n"If someone steals your wallet on the street here, I will run after them myself and get it back," promises Lazaro Gonzalez who, though 74 years old, means what he says. \nHe has no doubts whatsoever that, 44 years after Castro and his bearded rebels swept into Havana to oust the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista, the revolution is alive and kicking. "This is the most marvellous revolution in the world," he says. \nIf you want to find diehard adherents of Castro's version of state socialism, you can do no better than visit any of the thousands of CDRs, each pledged "to carry out the revolution in every neighborhood." \nThe San Lazaro CDR organizes nightly neighborhood patrols to keep eight city blocks clear of crime. It is an objective that, in a safe city already patrolled by numerous police, is reached with few problems. \nBut here, as almost anywhere you turn in Cuba, contradictions quickly emerge. For the CDR has a nastier reputation as a Cuban Big Brother, snooping on the neighbors and watching out for "counter-revolutionaries," wherever they may hide. \nWhen Ivan, a student, refused to sign last July's state-organised referendum declaring Cuban socialism "irrevocable," his sister signed his name for him. "She wanted one of the television sets the CDR was giving away," he explained. \nOn a Havana street corner a billboard carries the boast "200 million street children in the world, and not one of them Cuban." \nCuban children are just as likely to reach the age of five as their counterparts in the US At current rates they will live to 76, one year less than in the US. \nThe few children on Havana's streets during the day are invariably dressed in neat school clothes. Their teachers claim they are serious students who flourish without the distractions of the consumer society. Literacy rates reach 96 percent. Again, however, the contradictions soon appear. Some of the girls will go on to find a career in jineterismo -- looking for European sugar-daddy tourists, or simply selling their bodies to sex punters for US dollars. \nDavid Hickey, an Irish surgeon and professor at Havana University, says Cuba does amazing things with limited health resources. "They are short of virtually everything, but I am amazed at the integrity and commitment of the Cuban doctors," he says. \nWhen Castro wanted to show the film director Oliver Stone the splendours of the Cuban revolution while he was filming his recent documentary, Comandante, they travelled to Havana's Latin American School of Medical Sciences. Castro was mobbed by some of the 3,400 student doctors from Latin America, and even a few from the US, studying for free at the Cuban government's expense. \nHowever, the head of surgery at a Havana hospital, Mr Hickey complains, may earn less in a month than a hotel waitress gets in tips in a single day. Little surprise, then, that some doctors work nights as taxi drivers or that others have abandoned the profession entirely. \n"I used to be a doctor in pharmacy but I had to leave it to do this," explained the owner of a beautiful US-made Plymouth '48 automobile, who now chauffeurs tourists for US$25 a day. \nThe quality of surgery is so good that health tourism has taken off, with doctors performing anything from plastic surgery to eye operations for dollar-paying customers whose funds boost the health budget. That has led to complaints that foreigners are getting a better service than native Cubans. \nThe most coveted jobs in Cuba are now in a tourist sector that is the country's biggest earner. The dollar became a legal currency in 1993 as Castro sought to refloat an economy which had been propped up by the old Soviet Union. It now rules supreme, at least in the minds of many ordinary Cubans. \nThose who live solely with Cuban pesos can make ends meet -- but only just. Those who have dollars live best. The average monthly salary that goes into a Cuban pocket is 353 pesos, exchangeable for just US$14. A walk up San Lorenzo street gives an idea of how the inequalities function. At the Ideal corner shop, jam jars of rice, soya and oil are on display on the almost bare shelves. The Ideal is part of the peso economy, most of its prices controlled by the state and incredibly cheap. Here half a kilo of rice costs the equivalent of less than two US cents and the same weight of beans only a little more. That would stretch the average salary a very long way, if the same goods were not rationed. \nWalk into the air-conditioned, dollar-economy Friendship supermarket further up the street and there is a large array of unsubsidised goods, from cornflakes and pots of baby food to olive oil and port wine, all priced in dollars. Ordinary Cubans queue to spend up to US$20 a go on food. A brand new fridge here costs US$1,000. \nWho can afford that? And if they can, how? Have they earned the money themselves, working in the tourist sector or the black market? Or has it been sent to them by relatives in Miami? One estimate is that 60 percent of Cuba's 11 million people have access to the dollar. But for those with empty pockets staring through the plate glass windows of the dollar economy, where all tourists are obliged to live and many -- if not most -- Cubans would like to be, envy is an easy feeling. \nIt is, of course, impossible to say with any accuracy how much support Castro's ageing revolution enjoys. One seasoned Cuba watcher, a European academic, puts pro-Castro and anti-Castro Cubans at similar numbers -- but with even more either too indifferent, tired, scared or conservative to mind about anything more than their immediate lives. \nSo why do millions go to the May Day parades or queue up to sign Castro's petitions? Not all are pushed there by the local CDR. "Think religion and you can't go too wrong. Like some Catholics, they go to mass without really knowing why, out of custom or a sense of identity," the academic says. \nNobody, however, is prepared to predict how many will hold the faith when Castro, 76 next month, goes.
ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE
South China Sea exercises in July by two United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers reminds that Taiwan’s history since mid-1950, and as a free nation, is intertwined with that of the aircraft carrier. Eventually Taiwan will host aircraft carriers, either those built under its democratic government or those imposed on its territory by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). By September 1944, a lack of sufficient carrier airpower and land-based airpower persuaded US Army and Navy leaders to forgo an invasion to wrest Taiwan from Japanese control, thereby sparing Taiwanese considerable wartime destruction. But two
This year, India and Taiwan can look back on 25 years of so-called unofficial ties. This provides an occasion to ponder over how they can deepen collaboration and strengthen their relations. This reflection must be free from excitement and agitation caused by the ongoing China-US great power jostling as well as China’s aggressive actions against many of its neighbors, including India. It must be based on long-term trends in bilateral engagement. To begin with, India and Taiwan, thus far, have had relations constituted by various activities, but what needs to be thought about now is whether they can transform their ties
The US Navy’s aircraft carrier battle groups are the most dramatic symbol of Washington’s military and geopolitical power. They were critical to winning World War II in the Pacific and have since been deployed in the Indo-Pacific region to communicate resolve against potential adversaries of the US. The presence or absence of the US Seventh Fleet — the configuration of US Navy ships and aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region built around the carriers — generally determines whether war or peace prevails in the region. In the immediate post-war period, Washington’s strategic planners in the administration of then-US president Harry Truman shockingly
On Thursday last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a barnstorming speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future.” The speech set out in no uncertain terms the insoluble ideological divide between a totalitarian, communist China and the democratic, free-market values of the US. It was also a full-throated call to arms for all nations of the free world to rally behind the US and defeat China. Pompeo elaborated on a clear distinction between China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in an attempt to recalibrate the