In 1989, Cuba conducted over 80% of its trade with Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA, or Comecon), but with the relatively abrupt dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba was suddenly in a very tough economic position. Over the next years, the country focused on three key economies: sugar, tourism and biotechnology (Google books preview). While the first two seem logical enough, the story of biotech in Cuba, especially Havana at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), is getting more attention recently with Cuba's possible therapeutic vaccine against lung cancer. [more inside]
Bicycling took off in Cuba in the 1990s during a period of oil scarcity, and became an important means of business and daily travel. Since then motor vehicles have returned to prominence, and new bicycle parts are in short supply. A small network of mechanics trades used parts and applies their ingenuity to maintain Cuba's aging fleet.
In April 1998, Ninja Tune duo Up Bustle & Out traveled from Bristol to Havana. They were greeted by legendary flautist Richard Egües, who would be their guide to meeting and recording a number of Cuban musicians over the next two months. The result was the two-volume Rebel Radio: The Master Sessions, an adventurous meeting point between 'the smokeyness of Bristol and the coolness of Havana'. UB&O's Rupert Mould kept a journal which he would later publish as The Rebel Radio Diaries.
Travelogue of Havana, Cuba in the 1930s. Posted to YouTube by the great Travel Film Archive (previously), apparently filmed by André de la Varre, an associate of Burton Holmes (previously).
An American Tragedy: No habanos; no Havana Club; not even a dram of that lovely new rummy Glenfiddich malt whisky! Although the embargo is still popular with the Jesse Helms crowd and certain Cuban immigrés, resistence is higher than ever. Why does it go on? From the outside, it just looks like obstinate stupidity. What is it with the Democrats, especially? Are they still covering up for JFK's mistakes? He, at least, had a good stock of Cuban cigars [well, Petit Uppmanns...] with which to sit the crisis out... What gives? What could possibly justify Americans missing out on such a massive scale? If for the pleasure of a decent smoke or even proper mojito or daiquiri alone?
Manic Street Preachers play Havana tonight - "It'll be like Wham! in China." Following in the footsteps of agit-prop songster Billy Joel, the Boys from Blackwood take Sony-branded anti-capitalism to the last place "that really fights against the Americanisation of the world."