Monday 30 December 2013


 If you don’t much like admiting in public that you failed geography in high school, you can quietly mumble to yourself:  ‘So, where the bloody hell is the Republic of Cuba, and what do they do over there?’ 

The US and Mexico about to gulp down Cuba - the "little red shrimp"
Cuba is located at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, or to put this in another way, at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the big Atlantic Ocean. That is, it is in the Western Hemisphere (or the ‘American Hemisphere’). For the nautically minded it lies between latitudes 19 degrees and 24 degrees north and longitudes 74 degrees and 85 degrees west. Some time ago, its location made it, and especially its capital city, La Habana, very vulnerable to attack from pirates and armies seeking treasure and conquests in the then so-called New World. To protect itself it then became very heavily fortified.

In a nut shell : Cuba, which is officially known as the Republic of Cuba, is an island[1] about 1,200 kilometres long (or about 750 miles if you live in the US) and on average about 90 kms wide (say, about 55 miles). In 2009 the UN estimated that 11.2 million people lived over there, and Havana is their capital. It is located near the coast on the north-west part of the island. 

The Republic of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea, or in the West Indies - which are also known as the Caribbean Islands. The United States are to the north-west, the Bahamas are to the north, Haiti is to the east, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are to the south, and Mexico (where the men wear large hats called sombreros) lies just opposite Cuba to its west.

The West Indies, or the Caribbean Islands if you insist on it, is actually a great long bridge of islands, just like the tail of a long snake stretching in an arc of about 3,000 kilometres long between Florida in North America on one side and Venezuela in South America on the other. On a map it looks like an arc of mountain tops poking out of the sea, which most of the islands probably are. This bridge of big and small islands consists of three separate groups or archipelagos. ’Archipelago’ is an old word meaning a ‘group of islands’.  

Now that you have finally opened an atlas, the Republic of Cuba is that big island running from west to east (or east to west - if you insist on standing on your head). It has 1,600 quite small islands surrounding it; the biggest of these is the Isla de Juventude, or ‘Island of Youth’, just underneath Cuba to the south. All the Cuban islands apparently lie in the Greater Antilles archipelago; which is fairly near to the USA. 

To someone who has smoked far too many Havana cigars, Cuba looks a bit like a giant hammer head shark swimming up from the depths of the turquoise Caribbean Sea (and man-eating sharks do exist around there) and about to bite the western side of the neighbouring island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti along with the other two-thirds of the island (called the Dominican Republic) also looks somewhat like a big fish with its mouth wide open (no doubt about to scream). 

Another way of looking at things is to say that Cuba is located just under the Tropic of Cancer; hence it is within the balmy tropics and less than 200 kilometres from the barmy Florida peninsula. It is opposite Mexico and closer to it than to the USA - but, unlike the United States of America, few people in Mexico seem to worry very much about it! (to be continued)
[1] Cuba is the 16th largest island in the world. Australia being the largest- so big, in fact, that it’s been made a continent!

Saturday 14 December 2013


A while ago a member of our group went to Cuba as part of one of the “Southern Cross Brigades” and recorded his experiences, plus a bit of his own musing and some historical notes and travel advice.

He has sent this material on to us and we thought that it has anecdotes which some of you may enjoy and information which could be of interest to those of you planning to visit Cuba, as part of a future “Southern Cross Brigades” or free-lancing it.

So from this post onward we’ll serialise our friend’s travel notes on a more or less weekly basis.   
Enjoy the reading.

AN INTRODUCTION: i.e. Why I wrote this silly Blog:
After saying that the average middle-class Australian really only goes on a seven-day package holiday to safe places within his (or her) comfort-zone, places like Bali or maybe New Zealand (and to Fiji a few years ago), but never, ever to Cuba; that same nameless person told me that these Australians would be much happier if they had lived in a European village some few hundred years ago. 
In those distant times people like them, I was told, never ventured out of their tiny communities. So they never got air miles, either. Today in Australia, these very same village idiots absentmindedly put compact disks and fish-fingers into their electric toasters in the morning.
That very same cynical person also once said that I should write a ‘travel guide for these types of Aussie Homer Simpsons. You know the type of conceited and small-minded guy who maybe packs tea-bags and powdered milk with his clean underpants, and who can write awfully sweet postcards home, and think bigoted thoughts ever-so pleasantly. Of course I refused to write such a guide, even a small one, for Aussies who don’t like any evidence that contradicts their prejudices. 
That is, until I thought about it a little more. After all, I am basically a bit of a nerd (and my 17 year-old daughter wrongly thinks that I am also a control freak) and I have always been secretly fond of Cuba and their Revolution, their rum and unkempt beards, plus their women and (especially) their official defiance of Uncle Sam.  Beside all this, the Republic of Cuba opened a consulate in Canberra in 2012, and the Cubans were apparently cooperating with our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (usually known as DFAT) in a Pacific Region Medical Program, this includes East Timor which has/d 300 volunteer Cuban health workers helping build the country’s health system, plus 850 Timorese students are studying medicine in Cuba.
Well, even without a bottle of Cuban brown rum at hand, I do like Cuba - it may come out now and again in this blog - if you read on.  But, if you do go off to Bali and you disagree with my fondness for this defiant and controlled little island in the Caribbean that tells near-by Uncle Sam to p*ss off, then don’t read this any further.
 If however, you want to read more about socialism in action, Cuba, and especially La Havana, the capital of Cuba, which is now a World Heritage area to be restored and conserved; and if you think that the ‘life’ of an average Australian capitalist consumer is perhaps a little empty and that you are secretly looking for a different type of holiday experience, a wee bit outside of your usual comfort zone, then read on because (my friend) I have written this blog especially for you...

Friday 6 December 2013

Vale, Nelson Mandela

The death of Nelson Mandela is grieved by every human being who has ever cared for decency and political progress. 

There are virtually no other political leader in history who can rank beside him. Western leaders such as Winston Churchill who earned a place in history were milk compared to Mandela. 

Even Australia’s conservative politicians who publicly branded Mandela as a terrorist are now voicing their respect for his life and work. The present British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had to rely on an echo of the words of Nehru following the death of Mahatma Ghandi. Few world leaders have a vocabulary of such sensitivity to describe the man and his values.

To evaluate Mandela would require the stature of a Mandela. They don’t exist. We are floundering in the flotsam of bean counters.

For members of ACFS, and in fact, anyone who has ever been interested in Cuban history will remember the glorious scenes when Mandela visited Fidel and demanded the Cuban leader make an official tour of South Africa. Fidel accepted the invitation and in an emotionally charged filming, Fidel addressed the South African Parliament and to be given a roaring-dancing, standing-effervescent ovation. Everywhere Fidel went in South Africa he was followed by vast crowds of cheering and forever-dancing black and white Africans. Unfortunately, respect for both men did not overflow into Australia.

The former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Downer, constantly defended the savagery of the Apartheid regime to keep Mandela in Jail. Downer declared that all Mandela had to do was to renounce terrorism and he would be set free. We hope he chokes on the memory of his puerile words. Long after the memory of Downer, Howard and Abbott are gone from history, the name Nelson Mandela will shine like a lighthouse through the gloomy seascape of their time. 

The political brotherhood of Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela will validate, and guide, our need to change the world - away from the money-polluting systems under which we now exist. 

Tony Abbott and John Howard will mouth platitudes about Nelson Mandela. It is their duty to do so.

We will grieve the passing of Nelson Mandela from the profound keep of our being.