By MARC LACEY
U.S. and Cuba Work Together on Storms
MEXICO CITY — The first tropical storms of the season have begun raging across the Atlantic, bringing with them all manner of panic and potential destruction — and, behind the scenes, a little boost in United States-Cuba relations.
The gusty winds, heavy rains and ocean swells that hurricanes produce do not know the difference between Guantánamo and Galveston, which has made the weather one of the few topics on which the United States and Cuban governments regularly engage.
“We’ve had a close working relationship in regard to tropical cyclones that goes back to the ’70s and ’80s,” said Max Mayfield, who retired in 2007 after seven years as director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “Any storm that goes toward Florida goes over Cuba, so we need their observations. And they need our data from the aircraft.”
With coastal communities in both countries vulnerable, meteorology could bring the longtime adversaries closer together, especially with the policy of increased engagement pushed by President Obama, experts argue. Wayne Smith, a former American diplomat in Havana who is now a fellow at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, has brought an array of American officials to Cuba in recent years to look at how Cuban disaster preparedness programs manage to keep the number of hurricane deaths on the island so low.
Among those who made the trip last month were Russel Honoré, a retired lieutenant general who was the commander of the military’s Hurricane Katrina task force; Robert Turner, regional director of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East; and Stewart Simonson, assistant secretary for emergency preparedness in the Department of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration.
Ivor van Heerden, a hurricane expert at Louisiana State University who visited Cuba last year, contends that American policies should be loosened to allow a transfer of technology to Cuba to help bolster its oceanographic and weather data collection. The United States could learn from Cuba’s evacuation plans, post-disaster medical support and citizen disaster education programs, he said.
“No matter how much our government may decry the Cuban regime, it is a fact that they are very successful in orchestrating evacuations and meeting the public health and medical needs of their population during disasters,” Mr. van Heerden wrote in a paper several months ago for the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington-based group that wants to normalize relations with Cuba.
Cubans are taught about hurricanes in elementary school, and every block has a captain whose job it is to help evacuate people and relocate their possessions to safe locations. Evacuations are compulsory in Cuba, which keeps casualties low but also highlights the government’s control over most aspects of people’s lives. Those same captains also keep tabs on neighbors’ loyalty to the government.
“We have a different form of government in the United States,” Lyda Ann Thomas, the mayor of Galveston, Tex., told reporters during a visit to Cuba in April to examine Cuba’s preparedness plans. “When we call for a mandatory evacuation and citizens are warned they may be left without water and resources, they still have the right to tell their government they do not wish to leave their homes.”
For years, the Cubans have allowed American government “hurricane hunter” planes to enter their airspace to measure storms from the air. Even during Mr. Bush’s presidency, when the trade embargo between the countries was tightened, American and Cuban government meteorologists were cooperating when it came to storms.
While one part of the United States Commerce Department was in charge of enforcing the embargo — fining those who visited Cuba illegally or purchased outlawed Cuban cigars — another part of it was trading information and engaging in training exercises with the Cubans on storms.
Tensions do still arise. The two governments have turned down hurricane aid from each other, and when advocacy groups held a United States-Cuba hurricane summit meeting in Mexico in 2007, an American government meteorologist said he received a call from the State Department as he was heading there ordering him not to attend.
“The State Department called me at the airport and said, ‘You’re not allowed to go to the meeting,’ ” said Lixion Avila, a Cuban-born hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center. “I told them that we meet Cuban meteorologists regularly.”
Still, Cuban hurricane experts participate in the annual training exercises at the hurricane center in Miami. “It’s not as simple as with Jamaica when it comes to visas, but we work together,” Mr. Avila said.
Mr. Mayfield, who is now a hurricane specialist for a Miami television station, said he understood those who were pushing for greater engagement with Cuba and those who considered the government so abhorrent that isolation was the only acceptable approach. “I have a lot of Cuban friends whose parents were taken off to prison by the military,” he said. “I understand their views, but it seems there are some areas where it makes sense to talk.”
Mr. Mayfield said his counterpart at Cuba’s Institute of Meteorology, José Rubiera, had the advantage of having his own government television station to reach the population in advance of approaching storms. “It’s easier if you have a government-run television station,” Mr. Mayfield said. “He could get the message out anytime he wanted to. There were times I would have liked to have had that platform.”
Mr. Avila, whose mother lives in Cuba, sees his work with Cuban meteorologists as apolitical. “I’m trained to save lives and it doesn’t matter if they are Cuban, Chinese or American lives I’m saving by forecasting storms,” he said.
But he said the evacuation approach used in his birthplace would not necessarily work for his adopted home.
“There, they put everyone in a truck and move them,” Mr. Avila said. “You can’t do that in the U.S.”
But some things are more transferable. Mr. Turner, the Louisiana flood official who visited Cuba last month, said he was impressed with the islandwide disaster drills and the regular inspections of homes to determine their ability to withstand strong winds.“There are probably lessons that can be learned on both sides,” he said.
News Blog Quiz: Revolutionary Golf EditionBy Robert Mackey
Last Updated | 4:37 p.m. From time to time The Lede likes to challenge you, the reader, to demonstrate your mastery of the day’s news by inviting you to help us write a blog post that explains and puts into context particularly surprising images that we come across.
An article in today’s New York Times by my colleague Simon Romero, about a recent tirade against the game of golf by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, made your Lede blogger think of the photograph above, showing two iconic Latin American revolutionaries on the links.
Readers are invited to take part in the blogging of this image by using their wits, the Internet and the comments box below, to explain to us what is going on in the photograph above and how it might relate to Mr. Chávez’s anti-golf campaign.
Points will be awarded to any reader who supplies accurate information that will allow us to write a caption for the photograph. Top honors are reserved for readers who also provide us with links to information on the Web that helps unravel the mystery of what led these two men onto that golf course in the first place. To avoid seeing the answers of other readers, click here to be taken straight to the comments box.
Start your search engines.
Update | 4:37 p.m. This turned out to be a little more complicated than past editions of the news quiz here on The Lede, in part because it turns out that there are several explanations for this photograph, and others apparently taken during the same round of golf, loose on the Internet, and the story appears to be slightly different than what we thought it was when we began this post. But here is what we, with the help of readers, have been able to determine.
First, the people in the photograph are, as many guessed, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. The setting is a golf course in Havana. The time is the early years after the Cuban revolution.
There are, as readers discovered, several versions of exactly when this round was played and what led the two revolutionaries to take to the links in their fatigues. Let’s examine them and try to figure out which one is most likely to be true.
The first is this one offered by Mr. Castro himself in an article spotted by two readers, Kove and Jeff, posted on the Web site of Cuba’s Televisión Camagüey in 2007, in which Cuba’s longtime leader reflects on his dealings with various American presidents:
One day, Che [Guevara] and I went to play golf. He had been a caddie once to earn some money in his spare time; I, on the other hand, knew absolutely nothing about this expensive sport. The United States government had already decreed the suspension and the redistribution of Cuba’s sugar quota, after the Revolution had passed the Agrarian Reform Law. The golf game was a photo opportunity. The real purpose was to make fun of Eisenhower.
In an article for Golf Digest in 2000, The Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, after a trip to Cuba, that a slightly different version of the story was being told in Havana — one that held that the round was payed to give Mr. Guevara, who was rumored to have done some time as a caddy in his native Argentina, a chance to offer Mr. Castro a few golf tips, in case he ever encountered President Eisenhower on the links.
But we have Mr. Castro’s word that the round was staged for the cameras for the purpose of mocking the American President who had refused to meet with him when he visited Washington in 1959, soon after taking power. Mr. Castro had to settle for a chat with Vice President Richard Nixon instead. According to some accounts of that trip, Mr. Castro was unhappy to learn that the important business that kept President Eisenhower from meeting with him was a round of golf. So that would seem to furnish a motive for the subsequent golf-themed photo-op back in Cuba.
As a reader named Lee pointed out, according to the book “Cuba by Korda,” the photographer who shot the quasi-surrealist images of this revolutionary round, Alberto Korda, told a slightly different story about what motivated it before his death in 2001. In Mr. Korda’s telling the round was sparked by a news report in The New York Times:
One day, President Eisenhower made the front page of the New York Times after scoring a hole-in-one during a golf match. In jest, Fidel asked Che to teach him how to play. Che knew how to play golf from his childhood in Argentina. Fidel asked me along to take some photos.
That seems unlikely however, since The Times in fact reported “Eisenhower Achieves His First Hole-in-One” on February 7, 1968, years after he had left the White House and the course Mr. Castro and Mr. Guevara were photographed playing on had been converted into an art school complex.
Another book of Mr. Korda’s photographs compiled after his death, Alberto Korda: A Revolutionary Lens, includes several images and a contact sheet of the famous round, but the author of that book says that the photographs were shot on March 29, 1961, two months after Mr. Eisenhower left office.
Another account of the round, in a book about the art schools that were later built on the site of the course, “Revolution of Forms,” says that it was played in January, 1961, when it still might have made sense to stage a photo-op intended to mock President Eisenhower. According to that book’s author, John Loomis, during this round the revolutionaries “pondered the future of this unique site for a new society, in which exclusive country clubs would have no place.” Mr. Loomis writes:
Surveying the immaculate golf course and surrounding woods, the two former guerrilla leaders, now responsible for developing and executing social and cultural policy, came upon the idea of creating an innovative school of the arts.
Mr. Loomis writes that by September 1961, the architects responsible for transforming the course into a school complex “had moved their studio … to the clubhouse on site in order to be close to the work which had now begun.” A young student draftsman who was part of the team working on the former course at that time, along with engineers, plumbers, electricians and other workers, recalled the project fondly:
Despite the intense demanding work, the initial conditions were like paradise. The club grounds were beautiful, immaculate. Sometimes for lunch we would even go to the Yacht Club’s restaurant. During afternoon break, there was one colleague who would often entertain us with opera arias. And at times, for a lark, we would take the golf carts (which were still working) and race around the site.
Here is what the school complex on the grounds of the former golf course looked like in an undated photograph shot by a journalist named Deena Boyer, who made two trips to Cuba between July 1963 and July 1964:
By coincidence, Ms. Boyer’s photographs of the former golf course were processed by Alberto Korda (and are now part of a collection of her work on a Duke University Web site).
Given that the course Mr. Castro and Mr. Guevara were photographed playing on was a construction site by September of 1961, it seems unlikely that the round took place in late 1962, as one man who claims to have been present that day, José Lorenzo Fuentes, told the Wall Street Journal in 2008. Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes, described by The Journal’s José de Córdoba as Mr. Castro’s former personal scribe, recalled last year from his exile in Miami that the round was played “shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis and “was supposed to send a friendly signal to President Kennedy.”
According to Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes, “Castro told me that the headline of the story the next day would be ‘President Castro challenges President Kennedy to a friendly game of golf,’” but faced with Mr. Castro’s own recollection that he was thumbing his nose at President Eisenhower, not sending a golf-coded message to President Kennedy, the fact that the course was a construction site well before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and that Mr. Korda’s photos are all dated 1961, it seems unlikely that his version of the story is correct.
(Thanks to readers Mike and Tennyson, who led us to the article on WSJ.com and another from The Independent in London which is also based on Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes’s memories.)
One curious aspect of the image at the top of this post is that it appears, based on other images of the round available online and in Mr. Korda’s books, that it may have been altered to remove other revolutionary figures who took part in the round. Here, for instance, is another version of what appears to be the same frame that appears at the very top of this post, but with several other figures in the background:
Who were these other figures? Why were they removed? These are, presumably, the kind of questions you only ask when looking back at photographs of a round of golf played in a communist dictatorship.
Finally, let’s address a question many people have asked over the years about this round: who won?In 2001 Michael Chanan noted in The Guardian’s obituary for Alberto Korda that the Cuban photographer — whose most famous photograph was his iconic portrait of Che Guevara — had appeared briefly in 1999 in the opening moments of Wim Wenders’s documentary about Cuban music, Buena Vista Social Club. As Mr. Chanan wrote, Mr. Korda was filmed “rifling through photos from the heroic early days,” including one of the images of the revolutionaries on the links that day. “Who won?” he was asked “Fidel,” he answered, “because Che let him.”
Source: The Lede