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Archive for the ‘cuba’ Category

Beijing 2008: Top 10 Olympic scandals, hissy fits and tantrums

Posted by E on August 23, 2008

This has been one colourful Olympics. For every glorious moment of well-deserved glory for winning athletes, there was a hissy fit, temper tantrum and otherwise classy behaviour from others not quite caught in the Olympic spirit.

It took until the last day to get our gold-medal moment of shame, which I will arbitrarily award to Cuba’s Angel Matos, but there are many other honorable mentions. So here they are, our spectacular lineup of athletic sportsmanship: *drumroll*

GOLD MEDAL LOSER: taekwondo (curtesy of CBC)

Taekwondo athlete Angel Matos of Cuba faces a lifetime ban after kicking the referee in the face following his disqualification in a bronze-medal match Saturday at the Beijing Games. Matos’s coach Leudis Gonzalez also faces a lifetime ban in response to the incident that took place at the end of the men’s over-80 kg bout.
“We didn’t expect anything like what you have witnessed to occur,” said World Taekwondo Federation secretary general Yang Jin-suk. “I am at a loss for words.”

SILVER MEDAL LOSER: wrestling (Courtesy of the Telegraph.uk)

Abrahamian threw down his 84kg greco-roman bronze in disgust after his shot at gold was ended by a decision denounced by the Swedish coach as “politics”. Abrahamian took the medal from around his neck during the medal ceremony, stepped from the podium and dropped it in the middle of the mat before storming off. The Swedish wrestler had to be restrained by team-mates earlier as a row erupted with judges over the decision in a semi-final bout with Andrea Minguzzi of Italy, who went on to the take gold. Abrhamian, who won silver at the Athens 2004 Games, shouted at the referee, then went over to confront judges, angrily throwing off the restraining arm of a team official. Swedish fans booed loudly as the judges filed out of the arena. Abrahamian said nothing to waiting reporters but whacked an aluminium barricade with his fist as he left the hall.

Abrahamian was eventually stripped of his bronze medal by the IOC because of this tantrum.

BRONZE MEDAL LOSER: fencing

I have decided to remove this particular entry because it is time to put this incident to rest.

OTHER (DIS)HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These other guys didn’t throw hissy fits during their matches, but must be included nonetheless in order to have a complete account of Beijing 2008’s various petty dramas:

4. The lip-synching fiasco:

The golden Olympic opening ceremonies was somewhat tarnished by news accounts that some of the fireworks had been computer-added to the program we all saw, and that the pretty little girl in the red dress who sang so sweetly was actually lip-syncing, with the original pre-recorded child singer deemed “too ugly” by the Chinese program directors, because she had a missing tooth and buck teeth.

5. The underage gymnast scandal

Chinese gymnasts are very likely younger than the minimum allowed age of 16 – and certificates have been “doctored” by Chinese officials in order to allow them to participate, leading to a team gold medal and several other gold and silver medals that weren’t deserved. While this cheating allegation is currently being seriously investigated by the IOC, (one of the girls even admitted in a Chinese television interview last year that she was 14!) nobody is batting an eye at all the horrendous Chinese child labour practices that are going on in factories across China in order to feed the government coffers that wasted spent a disgusting 43 billion dollars in showing the world that “we do Olympics better than everybody else.”

Ok, I know a lot of people are saying in defense of the Chinese “Asian kids are much smaller than Western ones”, but let me tell you something. I taught kids in Korea for a whole year, and I did travel to China as well, and I’ve never taught a sixteen-year old who looked that young. From my guestimate as a teacher in Asia, three out of the six girls are 12 or 13 years old.

6. The Spanish slanty-eyes photos

This one speaks for itself. But apparently it wasn’t meant to be offensive, as hard as that may be to swallow. The Spanish basketball team (and their supporters – in the other photos) took out ads featuring this photo, saying “We are prepared for China!”; that is to say, being prepared for Chinese competition meant seeing things through their competitors’ eyes…

7. Accusations of bribery and manipulation in Boxing:


Bought boxing matches, what else is new? I only watched two matches before being too disgusted to continue. Read the account, courtesy of Yahoo News:

Boxing officials were battling to contain a major scandal on Saturday as serious claims of bribery and the manipulation of Olympic judging panels emerged after a series of disputed bouts.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) suspended Romanian technical delegate Rudel Obreja after he held an impromptu and rowdy press conference and made lurid allegations against senior officials.

AIBA also revealed that it had been tracking “possible attempts of manipulation” for more than two months and had brought in an International Olympic Committee (IOC) observer “when the situation became more serious”.

8. The paralyzed dancer

Because of sloppy platforms and mishandling, a 26-year old woman who was supposed to perform a 2-minute solo dance at the Olympic opening ceremonies, a prize-winning and talented top Chinese dancer, fell and broke her back, resulting in complete paralysis from the waist down. Apparently she had laid in agony for 50 minutes while the emergency medical crew had to endure a lengthy security check. One wonders if more immediate attention and packing of her back in ice could have prevented to extent of the damage.

At first this story was given the usual sanitized Chinese cover-up. But as more stories emerged about the young Mongolian woman who came from nothing, and for whom dance was everything, the media picked up on it. The photo shows the brave face Liu Yan puts on as she wishes the best of luck to her country’s athletes. You have to hope that the Chinese government will be prepared to pay for her lifelong care, rehabilitation therapy and give her a generous pension. You just have to hope.

9. The Grannies sentenced to a year in a re-education labour camp

Two frail-looking Chinese women in their late 70s have caused a storm in China by applying to protest during the Olympics. They’ve embarrassed the Beijing authorities and so earnt themselves a one-year sentence to re-education through labour for disturbing the public order, and that’s even before they got a chance to actually protest. Their case has led to criticism that the so-called Olympic protest parks were never intended to allow people to demonstrate during the Games.

In an interview, neighbours Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, said they had not received compensation after their homes were demolished by the city government seven years ago and were simply fighting for their rights.

In an interview, Wang (who is blind in one eye) and Wu were seated together in a ramshackle one-room apartment without electricity in which Wu now lives after her home in central Beijing was demolished to make way for a development.

“We have done nothing wrong,” said Wang.
“They won’t let me protest, then they sentence me to a year labour camp. […] It’s not fair.”

Thankfully, after all the media attention, their sentences have now been suspended, on the condition that they “behave well”. Read: no more protests for grandma.

10. The constant police presence. Read an excerpt from Globe&Mail’s article by G York:

Many of China’s security measures at the Olympics seemed to be symbolic threats, aimed at sending a strong warning message, rather than having any practical purpose. Why did China park an armoured vehicle outside the main Olympic Press Centre? Why did police walk through the crowd at Ditan Park last Sunday, taking photos of every citizen who was watching the closing ceremony on giant outdoor screens? Ditan Park is an ordinary park, not an Olympic venue, and nothing except the large television screens had any connection to the Olympics. Why did the police need to photograph everyone at the park?

I am leaving any other Olympic scandals that come to mind to the readers’ vote – what other dark moment sticks in your mind as an embarrassment to the Beijing 2008 Olympics? Please feel free to contribute your suggestions.

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Posted in canada, cuba, culture, fencing, humor, humour, media, news, olympics, politics, press, wtf | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Cuban Regime is that much closer to its inevitable end

Posted by E on February 19, 2008

fidel-picks-nose.jpg

So Fidel Castro has finally hopped off his self-imposed throne. Good riddance. Why is everyone acting like this is such a big deal? Ever since he practically keeled over last year, hardly anyone had seen him and frankly, I had my doubts that he hadn’t already gone the way of Mao – you know, stuffed with formaldehyde, encased in wax, and brought out between the hours of 9 to 5 to be on display in the Central Committee building.

World-wide, socialists are hopping around like surviving monkeys in a post-ebola village, trying to do damage control, snarkily retorting to anyone who would suggest this is the End of an Era, that “You see, the regime didn’t end with Fidel, you see…his brother will continue the legacy. So for all of you’s who thought this would be the end, it’s not, so…na-na-na-na-na!”

Ya, right. Cuba is now going to be passed into the shaky hands of a 76-year-old man whose only claim to fame is to have been begotten from the same loins that sprung forth our dear and beloved People’s Comrade Fidel. I’m sure that will certainly add a vote of confidence to the world.

So what’s going to happen? Absolutely nothing. For a couple weeks, months or years, anyway. Then, when the last old man to share in the glory of the trademarked Fidel has gone the way of his brother, the shit will hit the fan – as we all know, even ardent communists cannot resist the wild call of Power. In the mad scramble for succession, all those foreign companies that are investing in Cuba now will calmly and collectively trade in their bargaining chips.

This will not be a revolution of blood, fire and honour. I predict that Cuban communism will unravel slowly, muddily, one regulation after the other falling by the wayside of an unpaved road, until nobody will recognize it for what it was ever supposed to be.

I don’t understand why so many readers of my Cuban posts have assumed that since I am anti-Fidel dictatorship, I must a pro-US bourgeois capitalist pig. The reality is, I wholeheartedly wish for Cubans to have the same freedom and opportunities that most other countries take for granted. One day, I hope to see food in Cuban grocery stores, roads paved, and people with smiles on their faces, who are able to travel abroad, to study anywhere they want to, and who can read newspapers and use the internet as much as the rest of us.

Switching back to Castro for the last time. As he reflected on his glorious past, Fidel was quoted yesterday:

“My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath. That’s what I can offer. But, it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. This I say devoid of all drama.”

The irony. With the end of this drama, another, more lukewarm one is about to begin. In these days of stupor and self-denial, nobody has the bandwidth anymore to carry out a full-fledged revolution.
This article from the New York Times depicts the sense of frustration on the streets of Havana today. Most people are not so much interested in socialist dogma, but about how the Communist system has failed them.

The bus system is a wreck, they say. Food is too expensive, they grouse. Why are hotels limited to foreigners? And why are there two currencies, one for foreigners and a far less useful one for Cubans?

It is those reforms that seem to matter most to Cubans, not a reshuffling — even a dramatic one like this — of the government’s organizational chart.

So, I bid you Adios, Fidel. The only question that remains is – are you picking your nose in the photo above, or are you giving us all the inconspicuous middle finger?

Posted in activism, censorship, commentary, communism, cuba, fidel castro, freedom, media, news, politics, press, revolution | 2 Comments »

Memories of my communist childhood – growing up under the red banner

Posted by E on December 28, 2007

 

 

After my last post, in which I wrote about my impressions of Cuba, I received some mixed feedback – exactly half of the commentators were against the Cuban regime, and half advocating earnestly for it. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle room for discussion when it comes to communist systems of government, does it? I’m not entirely sure what a middle ground would look like, but like any other battle of sectarian ideologies, this battle-line is drawn down the middle with a clearly-defined marker.

My opinions differ from most people I know, not necessarily in their ideology as much as from the formative experiences that have shaped who I am. I am a product of a so-called utopian society that like most others, found its end in a bloody revolution. There are many who still long for the good old times, simply because nobody ever was taught to think for themselves. For many decades, the people of my homeland were brought up to fear what was above them, the Golden Father of all Children, and when his regime fell so many older people didn’t know how to take care of themselves since they had always relied on the state to provide, to teach, and to think for them.

I was one of Ceausescu’s last batch of communism-raised children. We were an experimental generation of youth raised under the shade of a red star, in the Golden Epoch of our Fatherland. Our homeland, our Patria, was what we swore allegiance to. In grade 2, I received my Red Scarf and became a Pioneer. I remember that day clearly – for weeks I practiced memorizing a poem about our Great Father Nicolae Ceausescu that I later recited flawlessly in front of the Pioneer Assembly. In grade 3 I was stripped of one of my pioneer medals because my mother was a political defector. My father and I were followed by the Securitate for two years while we waited for our departure papers under the Red Cross Family Reunification program. In grade 4 I learned how to shoot a rifle. Officially, I became a child soldier for our homeland.

I loved my country. I truly, deeply appreciate that I had the opportunity to grow up sheltered from violence, from materialism, from being over-sexualized at an early age. I loved my uniform, my internal sense of fairness truly appreciating the equality that this white shirt and pleated navy skirt represented: all children, gypsies, christians, jews, all faiths and social classes brought together under one flag, one song, one classroom.

At the same time, I saw a country brought to its knees under the weight of its foreign exports. All of our rich resources were being exported to pay for Romania’s increasing debtload, a debt incurred as part of Ceausescu’s attempts at civilizing its people from its bourgeois roots: churches and villages were raised to the ground in order to pave roads and build collective farms and factories. People were reduced to a name on a ration card, one kilogram of flour and sugar per month, a litre of oil. Nothing more or less.

I remember standing in those lines: the line for bread, for butter, for meat, for books – any leftover money from people’s salaries was spent in a desperate attempt to buy food. There was never enough food for everybody. You could line up at 5 a.m. and it still didn’t guarantee there would be enough left by the time your turn came to the cashier. People made a habit of lining up: they didn’t know what kind of meat would be available at the butcher’s that day, but they arrived promptly at 5 in the morning, always five in the morning – for bread, for clothing, for various amenities.

And what did those people do in those lines? They laughed, they cried, they cursed “Him” who could not be named, but everybody knew – we were all co-conspirators, well-versed in the language of innuendos, scathing jokes and trepidation. Unlike the socialist red banner we lived in, nobody loved their neighbour. Everybody was jealous of each other – tried to figure out who had more, how they got it, and if we could get it too. People called secret, anonymous phone lines and denunced their neighbours for nothing more than a move to a better apartment or a better job assignment.

Under the red banner, I knew hunger, I knew pain, and what I experienced most of all – was fear. A deep, breath-taking fear that crushed your voice inside your ribs. You didn’t look up, you didn’t ask Why, you just obeyed. I knew people who worked at collective farms who went to jail for holding back a chicken from the monthly counts, just to feed their families a bit more protein. Only those who worked for the Party, the State, the Securitate, would have access to foreign currency and could go to that wondurous place we only heard stories about: the Shop. At the Shop, you could buy toblerone bars and Nescafe coffee, and loads of products we spied foreign tourists being served in fancy restaurants. Unfortunately, I never bought anything at the Shop. It was not for people like us. While Ceausescu was building the second-largest palace in the world after the Taj-Mahal, replete with gold bathroom fixtures, I remained underweight for my age.

Sometimes I wonder if anybody who glorifies a system like that of Romania, the Eastern Bloc, like Cuba and China’s, has ever lived inside this world. I don’t wonder this very often since I already know the answer: they have not. Nobody who has lived inside this world of sensory and emotional deprivation would wish for it again. Sure, nowadays Romanians will grumble that: “Before we had money but no food, now we have lots of food but no money to buy it.” But if questioned again about their past, their eyes glaze over and deep sighs can be heard. The emotional blackness of those days will always scar the lining of our souls.

Ceausescu meant well. So did Marx, and Che, and even Adolf (yes, I am mixing political affiliations!). Nobody starts out with the desire to massacre the spirit of their nation. But through deeds that are meant to be “for the good of others”, the result remains the same. Atrocity and sadness remains the legacy of so many regimes where scores of nameless people perish in the name of a warped ideology. Even after the 1989 Revolution, the scars remain, and they will remain there, imprinted on my heart, for the rest of my life.

I miss my childhood, the people I will never see again, the friends and neighbours who we have lost touch with, who all fled in the night to Australia, America, and Europe. One day you had lunch with somebody, the next day they were gone – and you didn’t know whether they had been arrested or paid someone to smuggle them over the border. As for myself, I never wanted to leave my homeland – I was dragged, kicking and screaming, away from it at age 10. In retrospect, it was already too late – I inherited my country’s history in my genes; its pulse beat in my veins like a tumultuous river. Even when citizenship was forcibly stripped from me as a defector, I remained Romanian. It was a thing they could never take away.

Nowadays, when I meet other Romanians I search for the legacy of the terror in their eyes: there is a darkness there, always, a haunted look that lies behind their smiles, their happy countenance. I see other survivors of my generation, other experimental byproducts of a world where walls cound talk, and where a whisper could mean exile. We walk like aliens among Canadians in this country, like wolves in sheep’s clothing – we are not of your world, this world of smiles and polite conversations. We are survivors of something that cannot be fathomed by those who are fortunate enough to have been born here.

I came from a world where being a lesbian would have meant a mandatory five-year jail sentence with hard labour. A world where my writing would be censored and condemned. Where my poetry would have to be dedicated to the Party. Where my life would forever remain not a burning flame, but a sigh.

I have realized that those people who continue the lovely fairytale of a communist utopia surely must not have experienced it. To be perfectly honest, I would absolutely love it if a true socialist state could exist in this world – a state of egalitarianism where all are cared for and provided by a loving government. But that will never happen, since it is not within the boundaries of human nature – it is by default that we strive to compete with each other, to outdo each other’s accomplishments, to work harder and seek greater peaks than those of our neighbours’. By default, true socialism cannot work. I have met leftists who said to me “Oh, but Elisa dear, what you experienced wasn’t truly communism, but state capitalism.” Because of course, they considered themselves experts of socialist systems, and every time one failed, it was attributed to the fact that “Well, that wasn’t REALLY socialism anyway, or a failed attempt at communism.” This came from well-meaning but confused activists, naive individuals who refused to acknowledge that every failure of communism over the last hundred years has been a sign of its instability and profound inability to ever be implemented.

Because as tough and hard-core a leftist as you can be, when you are inside oppression and you suffer in silence, you have but one of two choices: become the enemy, or be broken. On the tree-lined boulevards of Bucharest, in Moscow’s squares, on Beijing’s winding streets, and in the slums of Havana, people survived the only way they know how: a breath at a time.

To all deniers of oppression worldwide – shame on you. What is so quickly forgotten is destined to be repeated.

Posted in activism, canada, censorship, children, communism, cuba, freedom, gay, lesbian, life, politics, propaganda, revolution, romania, russia | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

Reflecting on my visit to Cuba

Posted by E on December 25, 2007

So I’ve been back from Cuba for about two days now, which is just about how long I’ve needed to get over the vacation, sunburn and trauma of leaving the sunshine behind and being air-packed like a Polish sausage into the tiniest airplane seat I’ve ever sat in…and this is coming from me, the queen of budget airlines.

The vacation itself was sunny and lovely, this being my first time visiting Cuba – of course I fell in love with the azure blueness of the Caribbean sea, as much as I fell in hate with the system of unabashed oppression in this country.

People made due, of course. They adapt under any circumstances.

Late at night, hotel staff snuck into the Internet room to check world news and their emails; on a sunset walk on the beach, we came across another employee carefully clipping out articles from an international newspaper some tourist abandoned on the beach. Earlier in the day, we bought bootleg rum from the bar server – who snuck us into the back of the bar and sold us a tall bottle of Havana Club for four pesos.

Everyone tries to make their way through a system that now has decided to attack its own people with its advent of the cuban peso convertible – an odd, makeshift currency that simultaneously attempts to copy the euro, take advantage of tourists, and rip off its own citizens. Nowadays, waiters, bartenders and chambermaids make more in a month, after tips, that doctors, lawyers and government officials do.

It’s sick.

The country is turning topsy-turvy, with the elites being those who work in the tourism trade, and the intellectual professions becoming less paid, and less regarded as something to strive toward. One of our waiters had been a Spanish teacher for seventeen years and confessed that he had always wanted to teach and worked hard to achieve that distinction. However, he chose to don a waiter’s outfit in order to make significantly more money, though the hours are long and he has to commute for many hours while working six days a week.

The ones who suffer the most in Cuba are the people who are not associated with tourism, who do not have access to the new “cuban convertible peso” currency, which is 25 to 1 the rate of the regular people’s peso. Those people see the nike shoes and brand name clothing being purchased by rich Cubans from specialty shops, and are getting angrier.

We took trips into local towns and the poverty is sickening. I predict the Cuban government will fall in the next 2-3 years. Maybe sooner. Who knows if Fidel is even alive? I have my doubts – nobody has seen him since his health problems last year. I don’t believe that the propaganda writings of Che adorning the walls of the sugar and tabacco factories we visited will hold back the masses of dissafected youth who hang out on the streets, find ways to access the outside world through internet and word of mouth, and ache to travel outside their suffocating little island.

I felt like crying, because I knew, I totally knew that if I had been born in Cuba, I too would follow those who desperately do anything to escape – in rafts, in boats, in anything that would get me out. Cuba is such a beautiful country, but if you are trapped, unable to think or travel anywhere, even paradise can become a horrifying place.

I remembered the oppression of growing up in Romania, and how we left just two years before the Revolution. But even in Romania, people could sometimes travel. I cannot fathom a more oppressive government than Cuba – excluding of course the Middle Eastern nations who would rather stone a woman to death than allow her to go to the market by herself, or have a strand of hair show through the burke.

Religion and ideology are the same. The opium of the masses, the poison of free thought, the exile of humanity from this world.

Posted in censorship, commentary, communism, cuba, freedom, life, politics, propaganda, religion, revolution, romania, thoughts, women | 6 Comments »