Cuba

John Paul Rathbone

FARC commander Mauricio Jaramillo, is flanked by FARC rebels Ricardo Tellez (left) and Andres Paris, during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on Sept. 4. Photo AP

For many FT readers, the guerrilla conflict that Colombia has suffered over the past 50 years, and the possibility that it may now end, probably seems like a sordid tropical war taking place in a corner of the world of little interest, and less importance. It is otherwise. In this corner of the Americas there is, in fact, a great and complex geopolitical game at work, in the same way that there was a great game at work in central Asia in the 19th  century.

Only 12 years ago, Colombia was considered an “almost failed” state. That is why the United States – under an initiative begun under President Bill Clinton, and continued under President George W Bush and President Barack Obama – launched “Plan Colombia”: a program of military and development aid that constitutes one of the US’s biggest, and one of its most controversial, foreign policy initiatives. To date, the US has committed some $8bn under this plan, which is designed to combat insurgent guerrilla forces in Colombia and curb drug trafficking. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Teofilo Stevenson waves to the crowd at the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. (AP Photo)

Teofilo Stevenson at the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. (AP Photo)

Havana has just lost a hero. Teofilo Stevenson, perhaps one of the world’s greatest boxers, has died of a heart attack. He was 60. Ironically, the 6ft 3-1/2 inch super heavyweight is most famous for a fight that never happened: a bout with Muhammad Ali.

Stevenson was reputedly offered $1m by Don King, the promoter, to fight Ali after he won his first Olympic gold medal in Munich in 1972. Stevenson said he didn’t want to go professional, and replied, “I would rather the affection of eight million Cubans.” Sports Illustrated ran the headline: “He’d rather be red than rich.

Inevitably, Stevenson’s reputation was carefully cultivated by the Cuban government. Yet sport, they say, transcends politics and so I don’t suppose I really care about that. Instead, what I remember best is of holidays in Miami in the 1970s and 80s with my Cuban family, when we would all gather round the television and cheer Stevenson along. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Cuba's one-time richest man, Julio Lobo, wearing a bow tie and guayabera. Havana c.1955

Cuba's one-time richest man, Julio Lobo, wearing a bow tie and guayabera. Havana c.1955

Fidel Castro may be old and infirm, but he hasn’t lost his ability to provoke and amuse. The Cuban caudillo’s latest sally is against Barack Obama and his plans to wear a guayabera – a tropical shirt that is Cuba’s official garment – during this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia. The irony is that the Communist-ruled island will not be represented at the meeting as it does not meet the democratic requirements of the Organisation of American States. Ecuador is skipping the meeting in protest.

“The curious thing, dear readers, is that Cuba is prohibited in that meeting; but the guayaberas, no. Who can stop laughing?” the 85-year old former president wrote in the latest of his rambling “Reflections”, which are published in Cuba’s official media.

The item has been picked up by several news wires. What none of them mention however (although it may be implicit) is that this time the joke is on Mr Castro. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Cuban President Raul Castro (left) welcomes Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to Cuba last Friday for cancer treatment. Photo: AP

One of the more interesting lines of speculation about Hugo Chávez’s deteriorating health and possible death is what it might mean for the socialist Venezuelan president’s many foreign allies. These include Cuba and Nicaragua in the Venezuelan near abroad, to further-flung friends in Syria and even China. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

February is the month of balmy summer days in Latin America, although the season of beach holidays hasn’t stopped a delicious diplomatic storm from brewing.

At the heart of the thundery electrostatic is the perennial problem. Will Cuba attend the “Summit of the Americas” this April? Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Havana may be a looking-glass kind of place. Still, occasionally its
topsy-turvey view of the world can force you back to first principles.

Take the eurozone crisis. One country, Germany, wants to assume the role of budget overlord in the economic area. Member states will also be subject to strict economic criteria set from an unelected central authority – in this case Brussels. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Chevron’s oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro last week will have many repercussions. For the company – a $28m fine. For Brazil, perhaps, a re-consideration of the development of its massive deep-sea oil reserves. And, for Washington, a reminder of potential problems closer to home – in fact, less than 30 miles outside US waters, namely Cuba’s looming “oil crisis”Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Every Sunday for the past eight years a group of elderly women – each wearing white and carrying a white gladiolus – has attended mass and then walked through the streets of Havana in silent protest at their husbands being held as political prisoners.

The Cuban government never quite figured out an internationally-acceptable way of handling the “Ladies in White”. So it let their quiet marches continue, even if they were routinely assailed by pro-government mobs who screamed insults in officially-sanctioned “Acts of Repudiation”. Last Friday, the Ladies in White’s leader, Laura Pollán Toledo, a 63-year old Spanish literature teacher, died in a public Cuban hospital of respiratory complications. The following Sunday, the march went on as usual. Read more