Sunday, November 21, 2010


A month and a half ago I mailed Fidel a copy of my book, HAVANA HARVEST, and wished him Happy Birthday. Of course, I never expected a reply.

I was wrong!

When I returned from Spain last week I found a hand-delivered envelope in the pile of correspondence that had accumulated in my absence.

It contained an acknowledgement of my gift and a signed extract from Fidel’s marathon speech delivered on July 29, 2000, the forty-seventh anniversary of Castro’s attack on the Moncada barracks.

I found it difficult to translate the Spanish text because I felt I needed to render the meaning of what was written accurately without rewriting the material in colloquial English. I did not want to lose the cadence of the original writing.

click here to display the letter with English TRANSLATION

The Spanish text is most elegant and eloquent, as are the thoughts expressed, though seriously flawed by being politically biased.

click here to display the letter with English TRANSLATION

Sunday, November 7, 2010


For the last two weeks I’ve been working in Toledo, Spain, and staying in my favourite hotel on Calle Reyes Catolicos. Just now the weather is sunny and balm, but Xmas is fast approaching and the time has come to remember friends. What better place than the shops around my hotel in which to load up on presents that are difficult to find in North America, such as, for example, fine, handcrafted leather goods at reasonable prices.

My shopper’s guide is Mamen, the manager of La Natural who provides me with tips about where to buy stuff ranging from umbrellas to handbags and from shawls to fine leather jackets, through exquisite wines and beautiful belts (I’m carefully staying away from swords, mantillas, embroidered fans and damasquineria - they’re passé.)

I was hoping to meet my friends Keith and Claire Norman here on their way back home from France to the States, but we ran out of time.

The Normans and I have been friends for years. In fact it was I who introduced Keith to Claire thirty-five years ago (on a blind date, no less) and their marriage is still going strong. Not bad for a 21st Century performance!

The Normans were instrumental in helping me get Havana Harvest published by backing me editorially and financially and by providing moral support and much-appreciated, wise advice.

Muchísimas gracias.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Fidel Castro maintains a semi-secret bank account, called the Commander-in-Chief’s discretionary fund from which he makes gratuitous disbursements to those individuals and governments whose favours he curries.

At least so says Lieutenant Colonel Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, Fidel’s ex-bodyguard.

These disbursements may be for, say, the construction of a school, or a hospital – or for any other cause that may find favour with Castro.

Obviously, the sums involved are considerable. It would appear that although Fidel is not personally involved in the running of the account he tracks its activities in great detail and makes sure that every time a substantial payment is made from it the sum is immediately replaced.

Sanchez claims that, among others, ex-Interior Minister Jose Abrantes frequently visited Fidel’s house in the complex known as Punto Cero, with large sums of cash, ostensibly destined to replace moneys disbursed from Fidel’s special account.

Abrantes was tried and found guilty of negligence and misuse of Government funds the same year Ochoa was executed (August 1989). He was sentenced to 20 years and died in prison of a heart attack in January 1991. He was in his fifties.

It was under such murky circumstances that the Ochoa trial had taken place. I tried to reflect these convoluted counter-currents in my latest novel, HAVANA HARVEST.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Also dealing with a very Cuban theme, the Canadian novelist, Robert Landori, recently launched his latest novel, Havana Harvest, at a reading at Books & Books. The novel, a tour de force of international intrigue, is based on one of the most intricate episodes of Cuban history: the trial and execution of Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989. The author evokes the novel’s historical background – the landing of the Gramma and the assault of the Moncada Barracks, the presence of the young Ochoa among the revolutionaries, his elevation into the group of Camilo Cienfuegos’s intimates – and posterior events thereto that allowed Fidel Castro to seize power. He then reveals what inspired him to write the book: his friendship with “Dania” about whom he also comments in his blog.

“I would never have written Havana Harvest had I not met Dania,” he said. “It was she who introduced me to the important officials of the Cuban revolutionary government and it was she who then told me about what had befallen General Ochoa.” According to Landori, Dania and her husband had been tasked by Fidel with creating a clandestine revolutionary network in Havana, but Fulgencio Batista’s secret police captured them a few days before Batista fled the country.
“Dania” was a loyal revolutionary in the Sierra Maestra, said the novelist, with whom he remained in contact even after she had fled to the US.

Was Ochoa guilty of drug trafficking or was he made to be the scapegoat once the world found out that the Cubans were in bed with the Medellin Cartel? The novel is Landori’s answer to the question through a series of riveting and breathtaking fictional scenes in Havana, Angola, Budapest, Washington, Montreal, Panama and the Cayman Islands in which drug-money laundering and ivory smuggling take place. The characters are modeled on existing Cuban leaders and the premise is that the incident involved the CIA, implying thereby that the operation was a plot against Castro. In the end a CIA operative called Robert Lonsdale comes to the rescue of the good guys – a not-too-subtly-veiled reference to the author?

Hungarian-born Robert Landori says he is a public accountant, but he has been involved in mysterious incidents, such as his detention in a Cuban prison for over two months during the sixties, accused of spying for the CIA. Blessed with a great sense of humour that is reflected in his writing he succeeds in convincing the reader that everything happened just the way he tells it in his book.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Lieutenant Colonel Juan Reinaldo Sanchez was the head, for over seventeen years, of Fidel Castro’s personal security detail.

According to Sanchez little happened around El Lider Maximo and his entourage that escaped the Lieutenat Colonel’s attention. In a series of explosive interviews on TV, recorded for posterity in a string of YouTube ‘bites’, he relates how the Castros assisted the Sandinistas by repairing some of the weapons that these revolutionaries had seized from Nicaraguan president Somosa’s army.

Apparently, the operation had been supervised by Cuban Brigadier General Arnaldo Ochoa, a close friend of Fidel’s brother, Raul. (These two had fought side-by-side at the decisive battle of Santa Clara in 1958 at which the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista’s forces had suffered a decisive defeat.)

Thirty years later Ochoa was executed at the orders of the Castro brothers who accused him of having betrayed the principles of the Cuban Revolution by dealing in drugs and black-marketeering.

Many attribute Ochoa’s fall from grace to his having become too popular for Fidel’s liking – a fascinating hypothesis that I have fictionalized in my latest novel, HAVANA HARVEST.

The Sanchez videos are available in Spanish only. However, an English synopsis of sorts may be found at Unfortunately, the videos (in Spanish) have been systematically deleted.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How can you get your worst enemy to refinance your country’s failing economy?

Impossible, you say.

Not so, says Fidel Castro, one of the most durable and shrewd statesmen/autocrats the West has ever seen.

To his people’s great consternation he admits that his Cuban economic model is not working. Then he tries to recant, claiming

that his remarks were misinterpreted. Too late. His brother, Raul, is forced to announce that the government is planning to lay off up to one million civil servants because the State can no longer afford the expense of their salaries.

This negates the recantation and creates great uncertainty because the soon-to-be-laid-off workers realize they will not find future employment anywhere in Cuba. They have no choice but to start planning to establish small, privately-held businesses that can, according to Cuban law, employ up to four people in addition to the owner. But where would the would-be owner find the capital necessary to start his business? The State cannot lend it to him because the State is broke.

No problem. Most of the to-be-affected workers have relatives in the US whom they will ask to finance their budding enterprises and who will not refuse to help them because the concept of ‘family’ is sacred to Cubans!

The result?

The Cuban economy will flourish, stimulated by the creation of many initially small enterprises that are bound to expand with time – and the economic model will slowly cease to be centrally controlled, its conversion financed indirectly by Uncle Sam.

Bravo Fidel. Pure genius.

Pero ojo – watch out! People with money don’t like to be told what they can and cannot do.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I've been very busy during these last three weeks:

> First I was a guest in Montreal for an hour on CJAD's Suburban Week-end radio show during which my host, Beryl Wajsman, kept reading erotic
passages from Havana Harvest to prove that Montrealers know how to write about lust and passion because our city provides a vey sensuous environment to its inhabitants.

Yes, that's me in the studio, smiling, although feeling somewhat embarrassed.

> Then came the launch of Havana Harvest at Books & Books 's Coral Gables store. The event received wide media coverage that yielded an exciting bonus: I met the gutsy Cuban-American Journalist, Olga Connor, who writes for the New Miami Herald's Spanish Language Digital Edition. She and I hit it off right from the getgo: our views about what was happening in Cuba coincided to a T.

> After that I flew to George Town, capital of the Cayman Islands, where I did a book signing at the Book Nook. According to the staff on duty, over a thousand people visited the store on the day I was there of whom over two-thirds were paying customers. I sold out the entire Havana Harvest store inventory by the end of the day.

> Wendy Lauer, an old friend who lives in the Caymans, held a modest reception at her friend Pam Donough's house in my honour. The cocktail party, called for 6:30 pm, was expected to last for an hour and a half. It ended when the last guest left at midnight.

> When I got back to Montreal I completed a virtual interview with Kathleen Jones, a British Book Blogger who has recently visited Cuba and who wanted to find out more about me, my book and my connection with the Castro Regime. You can find her blog at

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Writing To Fidel

Before going to the launch in Montreal of my latest book, HAVANA HARVEST, I grabbed a copy and went to the post office where I learned that it was not possible to send registered letters to Cuba. “What’s the next quickest, surest thing?” I asked. “Send it as a small package via Air International,” the clerk answered.

After writing “To Fidel: I hope to see you again soon. Happy 84th Birthday and enjoy the read,” on the inside front cover of the book I slid it into a padded envelope and sent it on its way.
It cost me $44.03 in Canadian funds. I doubt he’ll thank me for the present, let alone read my book. No matter: I have a copy of the front of the envelope and a receipt which I will show my friends whenever the opportunity arises.

Then I went to the launch, where, as you can see from these photos, a good time was had by all and many books sold.

I also feel good about an interview with Sebastian Del Marmol who is with the Miami New Times which resulted in a neat mention of my activities in that paper.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Story Behind the Story - How I Came to Write 'Havana Harvest'

I would never have written HAVANA HARVEST, my latest novel, had I not met Dania. It was she who had introduced me to the higher ups of the Cuban revolutionary government and it was she who had told me the story about a General Ochoa whom the Cubans had executed in 1989.

Dania and her husband were tasked by Fidel in December 1958 to start a clandestine revolutionary movement in Havana, but Batista’ secret police captured them a few days before the dictator fled the country. She gave birth to her baby in prison. Her husband was badly tortured and later committed suicide.

Ochoa’s case is much discussed of late in Latin American circles, so I decided to call Dania whom I had met in Havana shortly after the so-called triumph of the Castroite Revolution. She had fought in the Sierra Maestra with Fidel and Raul and Che. In fact she had been Raul’s secretary while the rebel army was encamped in the mountains of south-eastern Cuba.

I asked Dania (who lives in the States now and with whom I had kept in touch) what she thought: was Ochoa really guilty of dealing in drugs on his own without Fidel having specifically ordered him to do so, or was he just the fall guy who took the rap for the Castroites once the world learned that the Cubans were helping the Medellin Cartel?

Her answer was laconic: Google Lieutenant Colonel Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, watch his YouTube videos and then make up your own mind about Ochoa.

I’ll let you know next week what I was able to find out.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Books About Cuba - Mine and Fidel's

I am thinking seriously of preparing a set of lectures entitled ‘Understanding the Cuban Revolution’ because I feel that my existing contacts with certain Cubans and the time I spent in that country from 1959 to 1968 allow me to offer useful insight into the mindset of the people who lived through the tumultuous events of that decade. My acquaintances are still in contact, one way or another, with this beautiful island whose population has been going through such a difficult time for so many years.

Some of my contacts were intimately connected with the revolutionary movement either as fighters or as members of the clandestine movement organized by the revolutionaries in their efforts to overthrow the dictator Batista.

Fidel Castro has now decided to publish a book about his revolution’s early days. Once it’s out I propose to devote a number of future blogs to my reaction to the book and my take on its content. I am especially interested in finding out about how Fidel will tackle the subject of his early associates’ desertion or disappearance or ‘treason’ or suicide or corruption.

HAVANA HARVEST, my latest novel, is an effort to shed light, in a highly fictionalized manner, on at least one such happenstance: the trial and execution of Brigadier General Arnaldo Ochoa.