Fidel Castro death rumor shows paradoxes in Cuba

As 2012 kicks off, blogger Anya Landau French weighs in on the Cuban economic and social developments that she will assess as she visits Havana next week.

Aside from the pope's announced visit to Cuba, and some bits of news on the economic front -  like need-based aid for Cuban home renovations - there isn't much in the way of news you can use out of Cuba. For instance, Fidel Castro didn't die, despite the trending on Twitter earlier this week. But, if you're nonetheless curious for something to read on the world's most inaccurately foretold death, Fernando Ravsberg obliges over at The Havana Times, reminding us just how often Fidel Castro has (er, has not actually) died in the media, and analyzing how a journalist knows what and when to report, and in the process, explaining the many paradoxes of Cuba.

Back to news you can't use, we return to the US Congress. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is not happy with the Smithsonian Institution, which is hosting several learning tours to Cuba this year. With travelers paying $5,400 each to join the trips, I think Ros-Lehtinen can rest assured that no taxpayer funds were used to arrange these trips - surely that's enough dough to cover the staff time! I kid, but I can't think of why else this latest huff by a Cuban American member of Congress made both The Hill and the The Washington Post blogs, other than for the possibility of a congressional hold on funds for a beloved, venerable US institution. (The Washington City Paper also picked it up, but noted that the Smithsonian's travel division isn't federally funded. Oops.)

Speaking of travel, Pope Benedict XVI has finalized his agenda for his upcoming visit to Cuba later this spring. His trip coincides with the 400th anniversary of the discovery by Cuban fishermen of the image of La Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre (so dubbed for the copper mining town in which the shrine now housing La Virgin can be found). As such, El Cobre will be his first stop in Cuba, upon his arrival to Santiago de Cuba, on the east side of the island. I've been to El Cobre - it's an amazing place (and I'm not even Catholic). Imagining everything that goes with a papal visit anywhere, but especially to a site like this in the Cuban countryside, I'm incredibly excited for the people of El Cobre, of Santiago de Cuba, and from all over the island who will likely travel to see the Pope make this important pilgrimage.  

Finally, writing in the Huffington Post, Yoani Sanchez offers up the year past in review.  It's not a pretty picture, not only for the increasing harassment and detentions of Cuban dissidents - and of course, the sudden passing of Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan - but also because Sanchez gauges little hope from Raul Castro's economic reforms (or, "updates," as I've previously noted the government calls the ongoing process) among Cubans in the street. (The latest just-announced reforms include opening more professions up to self-employment on Jan. 1, and the establishment of a government fund for need-based home construction/renovation aid.)  It's a pessimistic view, and not hard to imagine given how long the Cuban people have been waiting for an economic system that works for them.  So, I'm looking forward to being in Havana next week and gauging the changes - and how people have greeted them - for myself.  While I may be too busy to blog it while I'm there, I hope to come back with lots to write about.

--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

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