Friday, August 24, 2012

The Spice Man Cometh To Cuba, A Hot Land Of Bland Food & More...

Cuba has tight advertising restrictions, so Cedric Fernando uses his British-made 1955 MG convertible to spread the word about his Indian restaurant, Bollywood, in Havana.
 Nick Miroff/NPR
  Cuba has tight advertising restrictions, so Cedric Fernando uses his British-made 1955 MG convertible to spread the word about his Indian restaurant, Bollywood, in Havana.
Cuba has hot weather, hot music, hot politics and hot Cubans. So why is the food so bland?
Tourists who have visited the island, particularly Cuba's state-run restaurants, know that Cuban chefs are deeply fond of frying their ingredients, but the range of seasonings tends to span from salt to garlic, with not much else in between.
Enter the Spice Man. He is Cedric Fernando, co-proprietor of the first and only Indian restaurant in Cuba, called Bollywood. And he's definitely turning up the heat in the kitchen.
  Fernando has experience on islands with a somewhat insipid culinary tradition. He was born in London. But his parents are from Sri Lanka, and he grew up in a household of hot curry and South Asian spices.
Fernando met his Cuban wife, Ojacy Curbello, on a trip to Havana 16 years ago. The couple has lived mostly in London since then, visiting Curbello's family back in Cuba several times a year. They ran an Indian restaurant in Uruguay for a time too, but Fernando said the Southern Hemisphere's tourist season was too short, and he was looking for a good business opening in Havana, where good restaurants are hard to find.
When Cuban President Raul Castro began expanding opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurs, Fernando and his wife took something that had been a frequent dinner-table conversation of theirs — "why doesn't Cuba have any good spicy restaurants?" — and turned it into a business: Bollywood.
They opened the restaurant in December, converting the ground floor of their 1950s home in Havana's Nuevo Vedado district. Like many of Cuba's other home-based private restaurants that have opened in recent years, it's a small place, with capacity for about 25 chairs. But Fernando and Curbello are already working on an expansion to double that, since the place is often jammed on weekends.
"You won't make millions here, and you have to work really hard to make a small amount of money," Fernando said. "But it's fun at the same time. We have a lot of friends we can entertain."
Since advertising is limited, he promotes the restaurant on the side of his 1955 MG convertible. But he's optimistic that business opportunities here will continue to grow, as they have in countries like China and Vietnam.
"In Cuba," he said, "things are slowly turning, I think."
Fernando has a real estate business back in London, so making money in Havana was never the main goal. Rather, it's a way to fill a void in the country's spice cabinet, bringing flavors that are almost totally unknown on the island (Fernando hauls his curry from London).
Fernando keeps the Bollywood menu short. It's got dishes he says his Cuban chefs can really master, like Chicken Tikka Masala, Bollywood Prawns and Lamb Rogan Josh. The food, he insists, "is totally authentic."
Most of Bollywood's patrons are tourists or foreigners living in Havana, and the restaurant has been a hit with embassy workers stationed in Havana from Europe and Asia. But Fernando says about a quarter of his clients are Cuban, many trying Indian food for the first time.
Fernando's success notwithstanding, it's not as if foreign entrepreneurs can simply swoop in and set up Thai restaurants or burrito shops.
"The openings are for Cubans, not foreigners," said Fernando, emphasizing that under Cuban law, he's can't technically be Bollywood's owner. "Unless one is married to a Cuban and you have some experience in owning a restaurant, it's not going to be forthcoming," he said.


More on the Paya crash

Here’s some more information and allegations about the July 22 car crash that killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero; for more, plow through this set of posts.

Europa Press reports that Swedish activist Jens Aron Modig, fully back in the swing of things in Stockholm, sent an e-mail to the family of Oswaldo Paya on August 17 to express his condolences.  His recollections of the accident were “fragmentary,” he said.  It came three days after Paya’s daughter tweeted: “‘I don’t know, I don’t remember’ is all Modig can say about the death of my father and Harold.  For how long?”

El Mundo (but no other Spanish media) reports that Partido Popular activist Angel Carromero will go on trial August 31 in Bayamo.

Paya’s widow Ofelia Acevedo continues to reject the Cuban government’s account of the crash, advancing her own version and calling for an independent investigation.  In recent interviews with Europa Press and Madrid’s ABC newspaper she has said that:

·         Carromero was not speeding at the time of the accident and he should be freed and returned to Spain;

·         she will not attend the trial, “not even to testify on Carromero’s behalf,” as the Europa Press reporter puts it, presuming that the decision to testify would be hers;

·         information from witnesses tells her that a red Lada was traveling parallel to Paya’s car, and the family is “convinced there was a pursuit [by another car]”

·         her “information and evidence” comes from multiple sources around the crash scene and at the hospital;

·         she cannot reveal the witnesses’ names for fear of reprisal;

·         she has no way to present her information officially to the court; and

·         a text message from one of the Europeans “to his colleagues” [in Europe, presumably] said that their car was being followed and was “rammed several times.”

Acevedo also says that reports about the revocation of his drivers license are “news media manipulation,” and “one would have to see” if Carromero had a record of speeding in Spain.  In fact, there was no manipulation.   Spanish newspapers reported what was in public records: a May 18, 2012 published announcement that Carromero’s license was to be revoked, and municipal records of speeding and other violations.

At this point, is anyone out there getting the feeling that this event will never be fully clarified to everyone’s satisfaction? 

Havana is hardly likely to allow an independent investigation, least of all under pressure, of a case that in its view boils down to a driver error that killed two Cuban citizens.  The Cuban government has the opportunity to disclose lots of information at trial and after trial, although that would not satisfy those who view it as illegitimate, right down to the provincial police traffic division.

Meanwhile the Paya family and Oswaldo Paya’s colleagues in Spain are presenting dramatic allegations backed by almost none of the information and evidence they claim to have.  If their priority is to protect witnesses or wait for an independent international investigation to occur, that’s their business.  But the result is that their case is thin and hard to judge.  It’s natural to question why, if they believe Carromero is bring framed and want to prevent it, they don’t give a full written presentation of their case to Cuban prosecutors and to the public.  It’s also hard to envision a core event in their case taking place: a briefing by police, who are Interior Ministry officers, in a public or non-secure location in the Bayamo hospital on the day of the crash where Paya’s friends could listen in (and supposedly hear witnesses’ statements about the red Lada, etc.)  Whatever its other virtues, Cuba’s Interior Ministry is not known for casual sharing of information.    

August 23, 2012

August 21, 2012

Lady In White: 'Keep your eyes on Cuba, because the oppression is escalating'

If you don't believe what I write about the ugly truths of the Castro dictatorship, about how it targets its most valiant opponents with some of its harshest cruelties then maybe you will believe Eleiny Villamonte Cardozo.
Pedazos de la Isla has her story, in her own words:
21 year old Lady in White Eleiny Villamonte Cardozo was one of the women present at the home of Glisedis Pina Gonzalez in Holguin this past Saturday 18th of August and one of the ones who was beaten and arrested when the political police raided the house, where the women were participating in their monthly encounter. She was released on the night of Monday, August 20th. Villamonte Cardozo offered this blog a testimony of what she lived through:
“On this past Saturday, the 18th, we were in the monthly meeting we Ladies in White carry out each 18th day of the month. We were already finishing the event. In fact, we were getting ready to leave to our homes when we took a look outside and we saw the mobs in front of the house. We saw the women of the mobs shouting horrible insults at us- they were words which women should not say.
We sat down inside the house and said ‘let’s just wait until everything passes’. But things did not stop there. They were not calm with just that, seeing as we were ignoring them. They started to shout louder at us, and two women approached the house and put up two signs in front- one which said ‘Long Live Fidel’ and the other ‘Long Live Raul’, and they left. Later, a State Security agent approached the house and ordered to see the owner of the home, Glisedis, and gave her a physical blow on her shoulder, telling her to calm her mobs down because the communist mobs are stronger than ‘dissident mobs’.
That agent left and the mobs continued to shout at us. But they were not calm with just that, so they started to throw rocks at us and fire water at us from a fire-hose to try and drown us. They told us “dirty-feet”, “dirty women”, and many other nasty things. As they threw rocks at us they hit the grandson of Ana Mara Aguilera Paneque who is only 4 years old, they hit him on his little stomach and knee. Berta Guerrero was hit on the foot with a rock. Another rock hit Romelia on her breast. It wasn’t one or two rocks, their were hundreds of rocks being thrown at us to try and kill us. And they continued firing water at us and shouted “clean your feet, dirty women” and other things like that.
Afterward, another State Security agent approached and said that he was going to get a search warrant to search the house. He left, but the mobs remained, screaming at us, and we remained calm inside the house. Another official, with a brown uniform with two stars on it, arrived. I don’t know his name, but he is a lieutenant colonel. He ordered to see the owner of the house because he was going to carry out a search. But the owner was in the bathroom at that moment, and the agent was so impatient that he barged in, grabbed Berta Guerrero (who was carrying her daughter) and nearly knocked her down, but Berta managed to get away from his grip. That’s when numerous men ran in and began to hit us, and they even took one underage girl (the daughter of Romelia). They were hitting us, and with these physical blows they took us out of the house.
They applied a headlock on me and took me out to the street. When I was on the street, they pushed me towards the mob of women who started to scratch me everywhere, they hit me all over, and they pulled my hair. In fact, I’m still scratched up on my chest and my arm. All the women came up to me to hit me. After they had beaten me, one guard said ‘you can’t hit her’, but she said this after they had beaten me up, after they had pulled my hair, after all the punches. It was very violent.
They shoved me into a police vehicle. Then, the vehicle would accelerate and suddenly brake so that I would go forward and hit my head against the glass dividing the seats. They took us to the Instructional Penal Unit, where they told me that I would be processed without a trial and that I’d go straight to prison for ‘public disorder’, to which I responded that I had neither carried out a public disorder nor a crime to be there like a criminal. My choice was to not eat any food that they gave me as a safety measure for my life, because I feared that they would poison me, kill me or slip pills into my food. I didn’t eat until today, and I felt very weak. They were very aggressive with us.
I was kept alone in the cell. But I know that Rosa Maria Naranjo Nieves (Lady in White) had been with very high blood pressure since Saturday that wouldn’t go down. Berta Guerrero had very low blood pressure. As a form of torture, they put a fan in front of us with a loud noise to try and torment us, as well as a constant leak in the cell. It was done in order to psychologically affect us but they did not achieve it.
On Saturday, I only drank some water they gave us which was boiled and very hot.
They went to the house that day with the mission to hit us. They broke one of Danay Mendiola’s elbows. They hit us all. They forcibly took us out of the house, everything happened so fast. Everyone saw how they treated us with such cruelty, with the intention to kill us if it was necessary.
I want to tell the world to keep a close watch over Cuba, because everyday the regime is unleashing a stronger wave of aggression against us, and they are willing to kill us. The oppression against the Ladies in White is increasing each day. Every Sunday it’s the same war, and from what I have just witnessed they are willing to do anything to maintain themselves in power.
We are going to continue in this struggle. I am always going to be in this fight even if it means they’ll kill me.
But please, keep your eyes on Cuba, because the oppression is escalating”.
- Eleiny Villamonte Cardozo

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