Thursday, March 27, 2003

HOW DO YOU SPELL "LOVE"? M-O-N-E-Y!!!!Cuba's nice little earner

The economically beleaguered Cubans have a secret weapon in their struggle for survival: hundreds of Spanish galleons, carrying a fabulous fortune in gold, lie in their territorial waters. Cuba's scuba-diving leader Fidel Castro had the bright idea of forming a state salvage company (Carisub) many years before the withdrawal of Russian assistance. Now his brainchild brings in $1million worth of booty every day from the biggest concentration of treasure ships in the world. Cyril Drouhet reports on the work of the comrade treasure hunters (in action opposite).
Pictures by Arne Hodalic

Two big slabs of solid gold hold the chart in place. Captain Rafael Salazar fiddles with a pair of dividers, checks his course, and points to a circle drawn on the chart. "That's the Ines de Soto," he says. "That's where we work today."
It is 6am. We have just left Puerto Esperanza, to the west of Havana. Once outside the port the sea spreads flat and glittering to the horizon. It is going to be hot. We are aboard one of the dive boats of the Carisub team; this one is a converted yacht.
Discovered by Columbus in 1492, Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, has long been a menace to ships sailing between Europe and South America. Cuba's coral reefs and shallow bays ripped the bottoms out of more than 700 ships between 1600 and 1825.
Treasure galleons laden with silver from the mines of Mexico sailed close to the north-west of the island into the Straits of Florida. More treasure ships from Cartagena in South America had to try to round the island's western tip of Cape San Antonio through the Yucatan Channel.
Pirates, using Havana as their base, preyed on the lumbering galleons. Others were driven by storm on to Cuba's north-west coast. Some didn't get that far before running into the coral reefs surrounding the Island of Pines on Cuba's southern side.
Travelling together in fleets did nothing to save them from disaster - Spanish records show that 13,000 treasure ships safely skirted Cuba in the years of the 16th to 18th centuries. But the same records also show that dozens failed to make it.
The result is that Cuba's territorial waters are a treasure diver's dream, covering fortunes in Spanish gold and silver, ingots, coins and jewellery. Not to mention emeralds and rubies by the bagful!
But foreign treasure-hunting divers are banned by order of Fidel Castro, Cuba's communist leader and a very experienced diver himself. Not surprisingly, it was his idea to set up a company holding the sole right to dive for and raise the treasures of the Cuban seas.

The Ines de Soto is one of the Spanish galleons that didn't clear Cuba. She struck a coral reef in 1572 when homeward bound from Mexico with treasure for the King of Spain.
No one knows today why she was so far off course. But the spot where she was lost is clearly marked by seven fine bronze cannon, muzzles up to the surface.
Our dive boat drops anchor well off the wreck site, but long before that the divers on board have been arranging sophisticated equipment from the hold on the deck - underwater metal-detectors, airlifts and water-dredges take second place to electronic measuring gear because everything has to be done according to the best archaeological practice.
We are kept back from diving the wreck site itself until the chief archaeologist of Carisub, Dr Abraham Cruz, has carried out a swift survey using a metal detector.
When he surfaces he pushes up his mask, spits out his mouthpiece and shouts happily to those left on board: "There is gold down there! A huge pile of it! Believe me!"
Carisub carries out its excavations in four stages. First the site is sketched before anything is touched. This is the pre-disturbance survey and can take weeks of work. All objects that can be seen on the surface of the seabed are carefully plotted on to the site plan.
Stage Two involves dividing the site into small sectors. These are gently and methodically excavated, though coral growth often means that the only tools that can be used effectively are hammers, chisels and small underwater pneumatic drills.
Stage Three involves the lifting of artifacts uncovered and plotted. Large lumps of concretition are lifted to the surface in nets for breaking gently open in Havana conservation laboratories.
Stage Four, which is where we are with the Ines de Soto wreck now, means that we can watch and photograph Abraham Cruz using an airlift to "hoover" up the gold hoard he had located earlier.
The gold coins and small ingots sparkle in the sunlight. They look as though they were made only yesterday. A lot of the gold the Carisub divers find is like this; only rarely does coral cling to it.
Carisub has been searching for treasure-bearing galleons for 16 years now. It has four boats and employs 60 divers, whose skills include archaeology, history, epigraphy (the study of inscriptions) and numismatics (the study of coins).
The young, highly competent men who make up this elite team are all members of the Cuban Communist Party. To be recruited is to be accepted as being upright and trustworthy, devoted to Cuba and not to be tempted by the treasures handled daily.
Salaries are a pittance - around $3 a month. Yet being part of a Carisub crew is a plum appointment in a country in economic crisis, and its members enjoy valuable privileges.
They are housed by the government in a residential district of Havana called Miramar. They are allowed to go abroad - even to the USA - for study trips.
And life on board is pleasant. For these Cubans there is no food rationing and the crew are well looked after by a cook who serves them lobster, beef and rum.
Anyone who tries to intrude on Carisub's territory had better beware - coastguards patrol the island's waters and do not hesitate to inspect fishing boats that linger too long offshore.
Carisub's Director, Vincente de la Guardia, believes the company's monopoly is justified: "Wrecks lying in our territorial waters are part of our heritage, as well as being part of the history and culture of the Cuban people. Nobody else will be given a chance to work on them."
He winks hard at Mel Fisher who, for the past few years, has been trying in vain to negotiate with the Castrist authorities for a piece of the action. The American, who became a millionaire through digging up underwater treasure, knows what a boon access to the wrecks would be to his business.
Cuba's insistence that the zone is private property is easy to understand, given the results so far. Twenty-one wrecks were located in 1993 alone, following leads obtained from the state archives.
Among the treasures found have been unique pieces such as a solid gold necklace that was to have been a gift to the Spanish Queen Isabelle. It was found on the Nostra Seniora del Rosario, which sank with all on board in 1590, and is estimated to be worth around US $250,000.
After being cleaned and studied in the well-protected Carisub buildings in Havana, all such items are stored in the vaults of the Cuban State Bank.
They remain there until high-ranking government officials allow them to leave. They will find a place in the museums of Havana - or be sent to international auction rooms.
The work of Carisub is expensive, and it is easy to see why. Not only does the crew have to remain at sea for 20 days during each expedition, but the detection equipment is purpose-designed, available only in the USA and Japan, and therefore costly.
Vincente couldn't care less: "Do you realise that one day's work brings in the equivalent of one million dollars?" he says. "The government gives us everything we ask for, even though the country is going through a period of restriction hitherto unknown."
Fidel Castro, it should not be forgotten, is a man who loves to explore the underwater world. He is an excellent diver and has no regard for cost when it comes to satisfying his passions, of which Carisub is one.
"El Commandante" is a personal friend of Vincente and dives with him regularly. Castro demands to be kept abreast of Carisub's discoveries, and often visits the crews to encourage them in their work.
Meanwhile, off the southern coast of Cuba at Playa Giron, a small island has for the past 20 years been declared a military zone. It belongs to Castro; this is where he spends his holidays, as Cuban naval vessels patrol the area.
Here, when not contemplating the theory of revolutionary socialism, he allows himself time to dream.
And in pursuit of those dreams the head of this Communist state dives in search of treasure, on two 17th century galleons that he has made his personal property

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

And then Castro proceeded to recite what Cubans on the street soon will refer to as "FIDEL'S ODE TO DEATH''

"We are invincible. Because if all members of the Politburo have to die, we will die, and we will not be weaker for it! If all members of the Central Committee have to die, we will die, and we will not be weaker for it! If all the delegates to the Congress have to die, all the delegates to the Congress will die, and we will not be weaker for it! . . . If all the members of the Party have to die, all the members of the Party will die, and we will not weaken! If all members of the Young Communist Union have to die, all the members of the Young Communist Union will die!

During this seemingly never-ending socio-economic crisis, which Castro euphemistically calls the "special period," he is reciting a new mantra for the weary Cuban populace: "Socialism or Death!" Apparently some Cubans don't want either socialism or death, because they have been taking to the ocean in inner tubes by the hundreds, trying to escape from Castro's mad house and looking for other options.

Evidence of strange activities in Cuba indicate that Fidel Castro has been toying with the idea of a nuclear holocaust and is preparing himself for the event. Newsweek reported in early 1992 that, since 1991, Castro is building a massive network of underground tunnels and concrete shelters, allegedly to protect the Cuban people from U.S. bombs. Later inquiries brought out that, at least since 1981, more than 10,000 Cuban troops were working 24 hours a day digging an intricate network of concrete-reinforced tunnels and bunkers beneath Havana and other parts of the island. It is believed that some of these tunnels could house an entire division of troops, plus tanks and equipment.

But Fidel is not preparing himself to survive, "some kind of final cataclysm," as Newsweek reported. He is preparing himself to survive, or perhaps to die, after a Castro-made cataclysm that will make Chernobyl look pale in comparison. That is, seemingly, his idea for a final solution to his "American problem."

In October, 1992, it was unexpectedly announced that Castro's son, Fidel Castro D¡az, had been fired from his post as Executive Secretary of the Cuban Atomic Energy Commission and as Director of the Cuban atomic energy program. The concise note, appeared in Granma, gave no reasons for the causes of the demotion. Some have speculated that it had to do with the problems plaguing the construction of the Juragu nuclear plant. But others believe that Castro fired his son because of his failure to produce the promised nuclear bomb.

Signs that Castro has been preparing himself for a G”tterd„mmerung are clear for anyone to see. Since the early nineties he has been consistently talking in his speeches about the ancient Numantians, who chose to die instead of being conquered, and ending his speeches exhorting the Cubans to "Socialism or Death!" He has adopted an increasingly apocalyptic tone in public speeches. Cuba, he has told on several occasions to his audience, would better sink in the sea rather than return to the corrupt capitalist world.

In its March 6 issue, the authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly published a short note under the headline: "Cuban special forces prepare for US attack." The note tells about how, since 1990, Cuban Special Forces troops have been training for the possibility of an attack directed at some parts of the continental United States, most likely Florida. Intensive training courses have been ongoing, at least since 1990, under a training program provided by Vietnam, at the Vietnam People's Army base at Hoa Binh, an inland town south-west of Hanoi.

Understandably, that note may strike most Americans as insane. Castro attacking the United States? Are you kidding? But one most never forget that we are dealing here with a very special individual, with a different mindset. Castro's plans, therefore, should be taken into serious consideration.

Contrary to what common logic may indicate, an attack by Castro's forces on the United States, will not be a suicidal one. Castro has shown, over and over, that the element of surprise is ever present in his plans. Florida is teeming with Castro's secret agents, a fifth column who will create, in coordination with a military attack, chaos and panic, disrupting communications and taking control of vital centers in Florida. Also, it is safe to surmise that Castro's plans include recruiting allies among malcontent minorities in Florida, most likely blacks. Liberty City, for example, may become a strong source of military support for Castro. If Castro is not stupid, and he has proved that he is not, a military attack by Cuban forces on Florida will be coordinated with riots and uprisings in some American cities where there is a strong anti-American sentiment among minorities. Most likely places for this to happen are Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles.

General James Wilkinson just seems to keep popping up!1801-1808 In his first presidential inaugural address March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson declares that the people of the United States are blessed by "possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation." Two years later the Jefferson Administration approximately doubles the size of the original states with the Louisiana Purchase from France. In 1808, Jefferson sends GENERAL JAMES WILKINSON to Cuba to find out if the Spanish would consider ceding Cuba to the United States. Spain is not interested.

April 28, 1823 Having acquired East and West Florida from Spain a few years earlier, the United States has expanded to within 90 miles of Cuba. In a letter to Minister to Spain Hugh Nelson, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams describes the likelihood of U.S. "annexation of Cuba" within half a century despite obstacles: "But there are laws of political as well as of physical gravitation; and if an apple severed by the tempest from its native tree cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union, which by the same law of nature cannot cast her off from its bosom." Cubans calls this policy la fruta madura (ripe fruit); Washington would wait until the fruit is considered ripe for the picking.

1854 The U.S. ministers to Britain, France, and Spain meet in Ostend, Belgium, where they draft a policy recommendation to President Pierce. In it, they urge the president to attempt again to purchase Cuba from Spain and, if Spain refuses, to take the island by force. When this secret proposal-soon called the Ostend Manifesto-is leaked to the press, it creates an uproar since Cuba would become another slave state.
All this was the result of "The Black Warrior Affair".

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Fishing the Backcountry
By Pete McDonald

The beach at Playa Larga

I picked up Osmany in the coastal town of Playa Larga. There is a tourist hotel in town called the Villa Horizontes Playa Larga (059-7129). I brought my 9-weight rod along and wanted bonefish, but Osmany said no,"Robalo y sabalo." Snook and tarpon.

Osmany also guides for bonefish on the Laguna de las Salinas, a series of flats about 30 minutes south of Playa Larga. He said it was common for an angler to catch 40 bonefish in a day, but that peak fishing starts in June and runs through September. In the spring, tarpon are the ticket.

There are no tackle shops in Cuba, so you'll have to bring your own gear. For bonefish, bring an 8-weight fly rod with floating line, 12-pound tippet, and several shrimp and crab flies. Tarpon and snook hunters can stick with 9-weight outfits—because the tarpon don't exceed 30 pounds—but should use at least a 20-pound shock tippet. Bring along both floating and intermediate sinking lines in case the fish stay deep. Flies? Anything with chartreuse or yellow.

Osmany spoke enough English to direct us to the house of his friend Senor, a first-rate angler who'd be guiding a second angler's skiff. Senor, a tall and puffy mustachioed man, spoke no English whatsoever. He just nodded at us whenever we talked.

We drove another 45 minutes into the giant, mostly unpopulated national park and pulled off the road onto a rambling dirt trail. We abused the Hyundai for another half hour before stopping at a one-room house on a small canal. A woman came out and offered us little cups of Cuban coffee. Osmany pulled two 12-foot skiffs from the reeds. Senor loaded his with a bottle of rum and several cans of Cristal beer.

We jumped in and headed down the narrow canal, lush with aquatic vegetation. The Zapata is known worldwide by birders as a premier place to spy exotic species. We saw, literally, thousands of neon-colored and intricately plumed birds, scared from their roosts by the buzz of our outboards. Osmany is an ornithologist, and as we cruised to the Rio Hatiguanico, he casually identified every bird we saw.

The Rio Hatiguanico is a tidal river that empties into the Gulf of Batabano and, as almost no one fishes it, is teeming with saltwater game fish—snook, tarpon, jack crevalles, mangrove snappers. In the transparent water, we could see all of them, on the hunt and gullible, having never before seen a fly and mistaken it for a bait fish.

As soon as we reached the fishing grounds, the rains came. The torrent started quickly and without subtlety. Osmany and Senor fired up the engines and tried to outrun it. They rammed the boats into a mangrove canopy, giving us a leaky but generally effective cover. Senor cut a Cristal can in half and filled it with rum. He passed the bottle over to Osmany, who handed it to me, saying, "In Cuba we drink rum for breakfast, rum for lunch, rum for dinner." I obliged.

Soon the rain stopped and we were onto the best tarpon fishing of our lives, hundreds of little silver missiles—none bigger than 30 pounds—there for the taking. Every cast brought a chase, if not a hook up and a spectacular aerial display. Then, just as suddenly, it was over. The tarpon had moved on.

We switched over to the snook, pugnacious fighters in their own right that waited among the mangrove roots to ambush passing bait fish. I hooked into one using a clouser minnow; it bent my rod under the boat in an all-out street fight. The water being free of tannins, the snook had a silvery sheen.

Dozens more were there for the taking. It was the best backcountry fishing I'd ever experienced. We had traveled by boat, by car, and by rickety little skiffs to reach the fish, and every second was worth it. When it comes to saltwater adventure fishing, Cuba is the ultimate.

You'll have to scroll down a little bit to get today's Cuban headlines from the Miami Herald


Posted on Tue, MARCH 25
Rules changed on Cuba trips
Some stiffer, others relaxed

The Bush administration released new rules Monday that will allow more Cuban Americans to visit relatives on the island, restrict the kinds of groups that can participate in exchanges and increase the flow of money to Cuba, including funds meant to reach government opponents.

''Overall, these changes are expansive, these are not constrictive,'' said John Kavulich, president of U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based group that tracks the island's economy.

Among the most dramatic changes in licensing rules:

• Travel permits no longer will be granted to organizations that take individuals to Cuba to participate in ''educational'' exchanges that are not related to academic course work. The change will require more scrutiny of license applications.

UP TO $3,000

• Travelers with relatives in Cuba can now carry as much as $3,000 in household remittances, up from $300, each quarter.

The increased amount is intended to help up to 10 households per traveler. However, the households of senior-level Cuban government officials or senior-level Cuban Community Party officials will not be eligible to receive quarterly remittances from any remitters.

• Licenses will now also be issued to independent organizations designed ``to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy.''

• The so-called humanitarian activities will be expanded to include construction projects intended ''to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups'' as well as promote educational training in such fields as civic education, journalism, advocacy and organizing.


The revisions were released at the heels of a Cuban government crackdown on opponents with the arrests of at least 75 people whom Fidel Castro has accused of conspiring with American diplomats in Havana to dismantle the socialist system.

Cuban government critics applauded the economic outreach to dissidents on the island.

''This means more ability for funding for dissidents or independent actors,'' said Dennis K. Hays, executive vice president of the Cuban American National Foundation, an exile lobbying group that supports the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

``The timing is welcome. Clearly, what the Castro regime hopes is to stop this kind of activity.''


The new rules were in response to President Bush's ''Initiative for a New Cuba'' announced last May, according to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which issues the travel licenses.

The president's initiative is intended ``to encourage freedom within Cuba, make life better for the Cuban people and give the Cuban people greater control of their economic and political destiny.''

The revisions took effect Monday but written comments on the changes will be accepted through May 23, meaning that the provisions could be altered.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Had a wonderful trip to St. Stephens, Alabama this weekend. Check out the fact for today....After the Louisiana Purchase the archives of the Spanish colony of Louisiana are moved successively to Mobile, Pensacola and Cuba and finally to the Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain.