Farewell dear friend

Sean Joseph Clancy, courtesy of Escambray.cu

This post is one I’d hoped never to write, but considering that so many of my family and friends came to know Sean Joseph Clancy as a result of our friendship, and because he was such an extraordinary person who charmed all of them, and finally because we could not attend his memorial Mass in Ireland today, I want to at least offer his family my heartfelt condolences, and share a little about the Sean I knew. Not very long ago, he sent me a copy of an article he had written for Socialist Voice, and I’ve included a link to it at the bottom for those who are interested in knowing a little more about him.

Sean passed away a week ago, rather unexpectedly. I knew he wasn’t feeling well, I just didn’t understand the urgency and I’m sure, neither did he. Let me at least say this, even if no other good comes from this painful event: if someone you love complains of dizziness and a general state of illness, run, don’t walk, and try to drag them to the doctor. If they still refuse, then you’ll at least know you’d done everything possible to help them – a comfort I lack at the moment.

Sean first came to Cuba around the time many foreigners began to discover Cuba for the first time. It has only recently become chic, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was anything but. Think tanks were writing nothing about it, much less the media, unless it was to say something disparaging. “Cuba experts” were not a dime a dozen as they are now (nor as woefully uninformed). Coming here was a daring choice, especially for someone so indoctrinated against the country, as Sean once told me had been at the start. Basically, he did a 180.

Trinidad, where he settled, was back then a sleepy small town with a certain amount of colonial charm, but not much else. As the town was transformed over the years into a tourist trap, he came to hate it, and dreamed of escape. But he had a young child there, who he loved so fully and deeply that leaving was impossible – although leave he eventually did, in the worst possible way.

I truly believe Sean did not mean to die, even though he was so wearied by so many things, not least, a difficult divorce that had evolved into a constant unnecessary struggle to enforce his shared rights to custody, and keep Fidelito close to him in Cuba until he was old enough to make his own decision about where to be.  His situation was not unlike that of Elian Gonzalez’s father.  Justice was on his side and he’d won some significant court victories, no small feat for a foreigner in a country not his own. I never knew him to be anything but the most loving and dedicated father and this makes his loss a doubly terrible thing to contemplate.

Che Guevara once said that true revolutionaries are guided by tremendous feelings of love. He also said that his spiritual heirs tremble at the thought of injustice, anywhere in the world. Both of those characteristics, Sean had in spades. He was tireless in his efforts to tell the world about the injustices visited upon the Cuban Five in their US trial and incarceration, and relentlessly determined in his efforts to help bring them home. Many visitors of all different political persuasions found shelter in his home, which served that double purpose: a sanctuary where he educated his guests about those kinds of injustices and I’m sure, converted plenty to joining the fight to rectify them. Once the Five arrived home, he did not stop. He moved swiftly and seamlessly on to the fight to bring Oscar Lopez home to Puerto Rico, and advocate for an early release of Ana Belen Montes.

We were our own book club of two – we shared books back and forth, and it was one of Sean’s books that taught me Ireland’s real, devastating history and helped me understand that Ireland’s struggle is Puerto Rico’s struggle, is Cuba’s struggle, is the struggle of all countries fighting for sovereignty and self-determination.

With people who disagreed or simply asked his opinion, either provocatively or ingenuously, he had an unusual gift for presenting an alternative view or explaining the often forgotten history of events, calmly, sincerely, and therefore convincingly.  He was a brilliant autodidact and I often envied his ability to speak so well on his feet. In my post just prior to this one, he responded as the devil’s diplomatic advocate, and I will always miss that.

Sean was an example of love abounding – always quick and generous with his time and resources, even when they were limited. He was the kindest and most reliable of fishing companions for my son, who also adored him. His first expression when I told him the news was his heartbreak for Fidelito.


Here, when someone beloved and well known dies, their passing is often referred to as their “physical disappearance,” indicating that even though they are no longer physically here, they live on in our hearts and minds, missed but never forgotten. I want to honor him that same way, and I know that there are so many people – both those who simply had the good fortune to briefly cross his path, and those of us who knew him well and loved him deeply – who feel exactly the same.

Sean Joseph Clancy, Presente!

Continuation of the revolutionary process – by Sean Joseph Clancy

History class


Who wanted a Rolex when you could have a Poljot?

One of the reasons I started writing Cuba Reality Check was not only to help people understand what life is really like here, at least through an American’s eyes (which are definitely not to be confused for Cuban eyes), but also to correct some of the distorted reporting on Cuba. Considering the avalanche of distortions it’s almost like rolling a rock uphill, but occasionally there are things that must be said.

Can we just start with not referring any more to Cuba’s trade with the socialist bloc (or now, with Venezuela) as some sort of gift to Cuba? When did trade become aid? Socialist bloc goods that ended up in Cuba prior to the fall of the Soviet Union did not arrive on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez, writing for the Associated Press, cannot seem to get past the misunderstanding. Their article about the upcoming changes in Cuba’s government is so full of errors that I’d have to write another one to correct them all, and I can’t be bothered with that, so today I think I’ll just concentrate on the beyond-dead Soviet gift horse they’ve dragged out for yet another flogging.

AP: For those growing up in pro-revolutionary families in the heyday of Soviet aid (sic) to Cuba, the socialist state was a paternalistic presence that provided modest but comfortable lives to virtually everyone on the island. Russian products filled the stores and Russian cartoons played on Cuban television.

“There was the sensation that we were living very happily, everyone mixed together, with no pressure to earn money in the marketplace,” said Abelardo Mena, a 55-year-old fine art curator.

Trade. Is it paternalistic? I suppose then that we can thank China for helping the US government to paternalistically provide modest but comfortable lives to virtually all Americans. Cuba sold sugar to socialists and received consumer goods in return. Cultural exchange occurred. What a concept.

AP: Mena remembers receiving three nearly free toys a year from the government, and never worrying about his parents putting enough food on the table. There were ample supplies of coffee, Russian television sets and wristwatches, and canned meat from Bulgaria.

Imagine that, not worrying about putting food on the table.  Toys for kids. Ample supplies of goods. (We’d soon fix THAT problem.) History lesson suggestion: Google COMECON or CMEA

AP: Instead of defending their homeland, Diaz-Canel’s generation fought overseas in wars waged by Cuban forces alongside Soviet allies in Angola and Nicaragua.

Untrue. The Soviet Union never fought alongside Cuba in Angola, in fact it totally disagreed with Cuba’s participation there. History lesson suggestion: Google Piero Gleijeses, or better yet, just read his book, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976. In Nicaragua? Pop quiz: Who were the Soviet allies fighting alongside Cubans in Nicaragua? Byelorussians perhaps? Those eternally roving Yugoslavians? Get back to me when you can come up with just one.

For those who disagreed with the communist system, times were harsh. The government organized public gatherings to “repudiate” those who spoke against the system or wanted to emigrate. Gays and even mild dissenters were sent to work camps, “hippies” forced to cut their hair and hide their rock-and-roll records in album covers of more acceptable musicians.

Wait. I grew up in Utah. When I was a senior in high school, quite a bit later than the time period referenced here, times were also harsh for those who disagreed with the Mormon system. We showed up to our high school auditorium to see the movie scheduled for the end of the year only to find that it had been canceled because it had, you know, long haired rock musicians and who knew, maybe even drugs, and stuff. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was screened in its place. True story. Hippies were viewed with suspicion, and as for gays and mild dissenters, no need to send them to work camps when they could simply be ostracized, shunned, erased.

Life changed dramatically after the fall of the Soviet Union, which nearly eliminated Cuba’s exports and imports, and cut gross domestic product by more than 30 percent in a crisis known as the Special Period. There were blackouts, shortages and questions about domestic and foreign policy.

What happens when your trade is totally shut down, 100%? Because outside the Soviet bloc, Cuba had nothing – the Americans had seen to that thanks to a crushing embargo and unrelenting pressure on all other non-socialist countries to refuse trade with Cuba. Nevertheless this was not the time to show mercy, said Miami, it was the time to double down, the better to smash the Cuban government forever, turn back the clock, bring them back to power. And whatever Miami wanted, Miami got. (That hasn’t changed, but we’ll take up that topic another day.)

Thank you for your attention. Class dismissed.

Cat show

Patience you must have, my young padawan

When I came to work in Cuba in 2012, my son was six years old and spoke no Spanish whatsoever. Despite everyone telling me that “children are sponges, much more flexible than adults” and that it was the ideal moment to make such a move, it was still something I worried about obsessively. With practically everything else in his life uprooted, the one stable thing I could offer besides myself was his beloved cat, so despite a fairly costly and lengthy bureaucratic process (in the US, not Cuba) we brought him along. When I told a friend, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe you’re doing that! Everyone will see that he’s a pampered American cat!” Continue reading “Cat show”

Armchair diagnostics

Fidelito, Raúl, Fidel

Any suicide is an intensely sorrowful affair, and somehow the search for explanations is accepted as a natural response, but perhaps it’s worth thinking of it as an outdated habit overdue for correction.

For instance, in the case of the untimely death of Fidel Castro’s eldest son, Fidel Angel Castro Diaz-Balart (Fidelito), we might start with some recognition of how depression really functions, rather than banal armchair analysis of the pressures he faced as the son of a larger than life father, or the product of a bitter divorce, or why his death did not make the front page of Granma, the Cuban newspaper of record. Continue reading “Armchair diagnostics”

Occam’s razor

Macraea laricifolia (Romerillo)

Pretty much every year, the males in my household come down with a cold. I am less often afflicted; men are after all, the weaker sex. The last cold I remember having several years ago, left me with a stopped up ear that lasted so long I began to wonder whether I’d ever recover. (I did.)

The Cuban remedy is “inhalaciones” – you bring a pot of water to boil on the stove, remove it, and then breathe in as much of the steam as you can tolerate. Five minutes are ideal, several times a day. I find even a minute intolerable and have always viewed the remedy skeptically. So I felt somewhat vindicated several weeks ago when some Cuban nurses visiting from Spain pointed out that “inhalaciones” are no longer recommended. Cubans still do not agree, however. They say that this claim is nothing more than a first world plot to hawk cold medicines. Which could also be true. Continue reading “Occam’s razor”

Vicious circles

Watch out for the dogs / don’t enter without calling / don’t call either

The circle of scarcity:

1. The less available something is, the more you want it.

2. The more urgently you want something, the less available it becomes.

So many egg-laying hens were killed by Hurricane Irma that eggs have become nearly as scarce here as the non-existent teeth in their mothers’ mouths. Eggs are a staple of the regular ration system that has existed in Cuba ever since its first and hardest “Special Period” in the early 1960s when Che Guevara traveled the world as the head of Cuba’s national bank and returned to report that thanks to US pressure, all trade doors had closed. The economic blockade had begun. Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union followed. Continue reading “Vicious circles”

Conspiracy theories

That a reporter doing “what professional journalists are supposed to do” is so unusual that it falls in the category of “news,” is a sad comment on the current state of affairs, but here we are. Thanks to the reader who sent in this piece by Robert Parry, published yesterday at Consortium News.

Man Bites Dog: NYT Does Journalism

By Robert Parry

I often criticize The New York Times, Washington Post and other major mainstream media outlets for a very simple reason: they deserve it – especially for their propagandistic, unprofessional and reckless coverage of foreign crises.

But there are occasional moments when some reporter at an MSM outlet behaves responsibly and in those instances should be noted at least under the classic definition of “news” – something that is unexpected – or as the old saying goes, “dog bites man is not news; man bites dog is news.” Continue reading “Conspiracy theories”