Golf in CUBA!?


February 20, 2008
Fidel Castro Resigns as Cuba’s President
By ANTHONY DePALMA and
JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
HAVANA — Fidel Castro stepped down Tuesday morning as the president of Cuba after a long illness. The announcement was made in a letter to the nation under Mr. Castro’s name, which was read on radio and television programs that many Cubans heard as they headed to work.
There seemed to be little if any outward reaction to the news, which many Cubans have been expecting for months. Schools remained open, garbage continued to be collected and clusters of ordinary people waiting for a bus or truck to take them to work seemed as large and numerous as ever.
State-owned networks did not interrupt regular schedules but read the announcement as part of the morning news, then returned to the usual mix of music and children’s broadcasting. Radio Rebelde, the radio service started by Mr. Castro in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra during the rebel uprising he led 50 years ago, broadcast popular music and a discussion of the roots of the Afro-Cuban sound, and only mentioned his resignation briefly during regularly scheduled newscasts, along with information about statements from the Venezuelan oil minister.
Despite the relative calm with which Tuesday morning’s announcement was received, the resignation signifies a monumental change on the island of some 11 million people. Mr. Castro’s decision to give up the presidency ends one of the longest tenures of one of the most all-powerful communist heads of state in the world.
In late July 2006, Mr. Castro, who is 81, handed over power temporarily to his brother, Raúl Castro, 76, and a few younger cabinet ministers, after he underwent emergency abdominal surgery. Despite numerous operations, he has never fully recovered, but has remained active in running government affairs from behind the scenes.
Now, just days before the National Assembly is to meet to select a new head of state, Mr. Castro has resigned permanently, and signaled his willingness to let a younger generation assume power, a proposition he first stated late last year. In the open letter to the Cuban people he said his failing health made it impossible to return as president.
“I will not aspire to neither will I accept — I repeat I will not aspire to neither will I accept — the position of president of the Council of State and commander in chief,” he wrote in the letter, which was posted on the Web site of the state-run Granma newspaper in the early hours of Tuesday.
He added, “It would betray my conscience to occupy a responsibility that requires mobility and the total commitment that I am not in the physical condition to offer.”
President Bush, traveling in Rwanda on a tour of African nations, greeted the news by saying that the resignation should be the beginning of a democratic transition in Cuba leading to free elections. “The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty,” he said.
Mr. Bush called for Cuba to release political prisoners and to begin building “institutions necessary for democracy that eventually will lead to free and fair elections.”
But the announcement puts Raúl Castro in the position to be anointed as the Cuban head of state when the National Assembly meets on Sunday, prolonging the power structure that has run the country since Mr. Castro became ill.
Mr. Castro’s announcement left unclear the roles that other high-level government ministers — including the vice president, Carlos Lage Dávila, and the foreign minister, Felipe Pérez Roque — would play in the new government.
Mr. Castro also made it clear he was not fading into the sunset, but pledged to continue to be a force in Cuban politics through his writings, just as he had over the last year and a half. “I am not saying goodbye to you,” he wrote. “I only wish to fight as a soldier of ideas.”
That statement raised the possibility that little would change after Sunday’s vote, that Cuba would continue to be ruled in essence by two presidents, with Raúl Castro on stage while Fidel Castro lurked in the wings. At times over the last year and a half, the current government has seemed paralyzed when the two men disagree. In Washington, John D. Negroponte, deputy secretary of state, said it was unlikely that the United States would lift its trade embargo on Cuba, Reuters reported.
Mr. Castro has sent several signals in recent months that it was time for a younger generation to take the helm. For example, he said in December, “My primary duty is not to weld myself to offices, much less obstruct the path of younger people.”
In Tuesday’s letter, he expressed confidence that the country would be in good hands with a government composed of elements of “the old guard” and “others who were very young when the first stage of the revolution began.”
Mr. Castro said he had declined to step down earlier to avoid dealing a blow to the Cuban government before “the people” were ready for a traumatic change “in the middle of the battle” with the United States over control of the country’s future.
“To prepare the people for my absence, psychologically and politically, was my first obligation after so many years of struggle,” he said.
That strategy appeared to have been successful. After decades in which Mr. Castro seemed omnipresent, making endless speeches and appearing at rallies and ceremonies all over the island, he has not been seen in public since July 2006. No details of his illness or condition have ever been released. Many Cubans long ago accepted the fact that he must be seriously ill and would never be able to return to power.
“We are all born and we all die, and ever if we wished that the commandante could be with us forever, it could not be,” said Eliana Lopez, a state worker in the city of Matanzas who has lived nearly all of her 55 years with Fidel Castro as president. She said that Fidel Castro’s resignation was inevitable, as would be the total assumption of power by Raúl Castro. But she said she was convinced that although the change itself was monumental, the society built over the last 50 years would not undergo a drastic transformation.
“Under Raúl we will continue developing the same system that we’ve had over all these years,” Ms. Lopez said.
Mr. Castro seized power in January 1959 after waging a guerrilla war against the dictator Fulgencio Batista, promising to restore the Cuban Constitution and hold elections.
But he soon turned his back on those democratic ideals, embraced a totalitarian brand of communism and allied the island with the Soviet Union. He played a role in taking the world to the brink of nuclear war in the fall of 1962, when he allowed Russia to build missile-launching sites just 90 miles off the American shores. He weathered an American-backed invasion in 1961 and used Cuban troops to stir up revolutions in Africa and Latin America.
Those actions earned him the permanent enmity of Washington and led the United States to impose decades of economic sanctions that Mr. Castro and his followers maintain have crippled Cuba’s economy and kept their socialist experiment from succeeding completely.
The sanctions also proved handy to Mr. Castro politically. He cast every problem that Cuba faced as part of a larger struggle against the United States and blamed the “imperialists” to the north for the island’s abject poverty. A billboard on the so-called Monumental Highway leading to Havana declares that 70 percent of the Cuban population has lived under the embargo, which Cubans refer to as the blockade.
For good or ill, Mr. Castro is without a doubt one of the most influential and controversial leaders to rise in Latin America since the wars of independence in the early 19th century, not only reshaping Cuban society, but providing inspiration for leftists across Latin America and in other parts of the world.
His record has been a mix of great social achievements and dismal economic performance that has mired most Cubans in poverty. He succeeded in providing universal health care and free education through college and made inroads in rooting out racism.
But he never broke the island’s dependence on commodities like sugar, tobacco and nickel, nor did he succeed in industrializing the nation so that Cuba could compete in the world market with durable goods.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of its aid to the island, Cuba has limped along economically, relying mostly on tourism and money sent home from exiles to get hard currency.
Yet Mr. Castro’s willingness to stand up to the United States and break free of American influence, even if it meant allying Cuba with another superpower, has been an inspiration to many Latin Americans, among them the new crop of left-leaning heads of state like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil.
Though he never restored democracy or the Cuban Constitution as he had promised, and has ruled with absolute — and at times ruthless — power.
In the minds of many Latin Americans, he stood in stark contrast to right-wing dictators like the one he overthrew, who often put the interests of business leaders and the foreign policy goals of Washington above the interests of their poorest constituents. Whether Mr. Castro’s remaking of Cuban society will survive the current transition remains to be seen. Some experts note that Raúl Castro is more pragmatic and willing to admit mistakes than his brother. He has given signals he may try to follow the Chinese example of state-sponsored capitalism.
Others predict that, without Fidel Castro’s charismatic leadership, the government will have to make fundamental changes to the economy or face a rising tide of unrest among rank-and-file Cubans.
Anthony DePalma reported from Havana and James C. McKinley Jr. from Mexico City. Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York.
Will we be playing golf there soon? How soon? Thoughts?
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Good article, thanks for posting.
Coupled with this news it seems a bit ironic:
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There is currently one 18 hole course (Varadero Golf Club) and one 9 hole course in Cuba. Castro had them all bulldozed when he came into power.
But there are numerous resorts in development, I read somewhere.
I found this article from Scoregolf ( a popular Canadian golf magazine):
VARADERO, Cuba – Nothing is easy in Cuba it would seem. With the end of the Soviet Union, the country is now literally an island unto itself. Cut off from many of the basic amenities due to its strained relationship with the U.S., Cuba struggles with things North Americans take for granted, like oil and construction equipment.
And with baseball as the national sport, hardly anyone knows anything about golf. Sure there were courses in the country before the revolution, but that was nearly 50 years ago. While one nine-holer continued to "operate" in Havana, golf had all but disappeared before the tourism boom hit the country more than a decade ago. It was at that point that someone in the Cuban government decided if the country wanted to compete with other Caribbean islands for tourist dollars, it needed a golf course.
To build it, Cuba turned to Les Furber, long one of Western Canada's most frequently used golf course architects. For Furber, once an associate with Robert Trent Jones, building in Cuba wasn't like turning out another 18 holes in Alberta.
For starters, the site was not ideal – flat and located between several resorts and the highway that serves Varadero. Ocean access was extremely limited. There had been a nine-hole course operating on the site, a residual holdover from the era when Americans and British diplomats, writers and others used Cuba as a spot to retreat. But that course, which was short and far from ideal, had all but been abandoned when Choppy Klein, now head pro at Varadero Golf Club, was asked to try to re-establish the game in the country. By 1995, it was decided the best idea would be to build an entirely new course, which is when Furber became involved.
Once the project started, other issues crept in. Earth moving vehicles would run out of diesel fuel, a precious resource that was hard to come by in Cuba. The same equipment, holdovers from the days when Russia supplied much of Cuba's heavy machinery, would also break down. It could take months in some cases to track down the appropriate parts to make the equipment functional once more.
The biggest issue was the complete lack of a golf culture in Cuba. Furber's construction team had not only never had a hand in building a golf course, but many had not even seen one. That forced Furber to make almost 40 trips to the area to help coach the crew on what they were building. Furber would show them videos of Gary McCord playing the Blue Monster at Doral, just to give the workers context of what a golf course should look like.
"We did the best we could shaping the site with the Russian-made bulldozers we had," Furber says.
So what did Fuber create for all his efforts? In truth, the course is a rather pedestrian resort facility with a couple of spectacular holes that run along bluffs overlooking the turquoise ocean. Thankfully, two of the best end the course, including the 17th, a Stanley Thompson-esque majestic long par 3 that is well bunkered, and the 18th, a 409-yard par 4 with a skyline green perched on a precipice overlooking the ocean.
The remainder, which plays between numerous hotels on the peninsula where the tourists frolic on their all-inclusive vacations, is Florida flat. Lots of water is in play, just to add some challenge, but if you didn't know you were in Cuba, then Varadero Golf Club wouldn't be out of place in Orlando, Miami or Tampa.
But maybe Varadero Golf Club is just what Cuba needed to begin introducing the game to the island. Devoid of a golf culture prior to its construction, the facility now does more than 32,000 rounds annually. The club would like to add nine more holes, says Jose Pineda, Varadero's general manager, and the government has plans to create more golf near the airport that serves the resort destination. The new site, to be designed by the European PGA, will have five holes on the ocean versus Varadero Golf Club's two. There are other courses planned, but no one knows when any will start construction.
But don't expect to see Furber back at the helm of any new project if it is funded by the Communist government. He didn't receive his full payment for the design work he did in Cuba, as the government withheld part of his fee on a technicality. Despite that, he's pleased with how the course worked out.
"All things considered, I think it turned out pretty well," he says.
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Being Canadian this is the one place that you yanks have not wrecked!! kidding but Varadero golf club is fun to play. Les Furber design which yours truly holds the course record!!!!!! There is little to do in Varadero other then soak up the sun and play the course which is tons of risk reward!!!
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Being Canadian this is the one place that you yanks have not wrecked!! kidding but Varadero golf club is fun to play. Les Furber design which yours truly holds the course record!!!!!! There is little to do in Varadero other then soak up the sun and play the course which is tons of risk reward!!!
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Being Canadian this is the one place that you yanks have not wrecked!! kidding but Varadero golf club is fun to play. Les Furber design which yours truly holds the course record!!!!!! There is little to do in Varadero other then soak up the sun and play the course which is tons of risk reward!!!
I bet Starbucks is chomping at the bit to get down to Havana...
I love the USA, but I can't deny, sometimes the big-business (especially the fast-food industry) can be poisonous.