Late justice for Victor Jara

Victor Jara, one of Chile's best know folk singers, was killed a few days after the 1973 coup. The stadium where he was held now bears his name.

Victor Jara, one of Chile’s best know folk singers, was killed a few days after the 1973 coup. The stadium where he was held now bears his name.

A Chilean judge has issued an international arrest warrant against a former army lieutenant—now living in Florida—and charged seven other retired military officials in the 1973 killing of Victor Jara, a folk singer, theatre director and member of Chile’s Communist Party.

Jara was arrested the day after the coup at the Universidad Tecnica, when army troops occupied the institution and made mass arrests of students and university personnel, transferring them to Santiago’s Estadio Nacional and the Estadio Chile. Jara was held in the latter stadium, where he was recognized by military officials/ According to a ruling by the judge investigating the case,  Jara was moved to the locker rooms and subjected to several days of interrogation and torture before being shot.  The folk singer’s remains were exhumed in 2009 and investigators found 44 bullet wounds in his body, which had been dumped near the national cemetery, along with the bodies of three other prisoners.

The arrest order names retired army lieutenant Pedro Barrientos and another officer as those responsible for Jara’s killing, along with six other former officers as accomplices.  Barrientos, a car dealer living in Winter Springs, Florida, was interviewed by a Chilean television station last May, and denied any involvement in Jara’s death, saying he had never even been in the Estadio Chile. A former army conscript interviewed on the same program said he had witnessed Barrientos shooting Jara.

Apples in Cuba

In Habana Vieja, the historic center of the Cuban capital, American apples are on sale for half a convertible peso each.  This blogger bought one from a street vendor, inquiring where the apples came from.  The United States, she told me. What about the trade embargo (el bloqueo), I asked.

“Yes, el bloqueo exists, but I don’t know how these come into the country,” she said.

Here’s a link to a BBC report on the state of Virginia’s apple exports to Cuba:  One of the apple growers interviewed describes his visit to Cuba, meeting Fidel Castro and describing him as “the smartest politician I’ve ever seen.”

Of course, the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, first enacted in 1960, is not exactly watertight.  In 1999 President Bill Clinton simultaneously tightened and loosened the embargo, prohibiting the foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba while allowing agricultural and medical products to be sold on a cash-up-front, no credit basis.  In addition to apples, here are some more American products I saw on sale in Cuba:

  1. Coca-Cola (produced by the company’s Mexican subsidiary).
  2. Jack Daniels whiskey
  3. Head and Shoulders shampoo
  4. Colgate toothpaste (produced in China).

Here’s a link to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which advises American exporters on trading with Cuba:

Woes of the dead novelist

woes of the true policeman

It’s the second book by the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño to be published this year, and rarely has a dead author been so prolific. An essay in the New Republic’s online literary review, The Book reviews Woes of the True Policeman, noting that in structure and style the novel resembles Bolaño’s 2666, a bestseller released four years ago.  But Bolaño left specific instructions for 2666 to be published, which he did not do for this novel and reviewer Sam Carter described Woes as “a rough sketch of ideas that were fully realized in 2666.”

The essay also asks if there aren’t hidden costs in a publisher catering to the Bolaño cult, releasing his unpublished writing as finished books instead of scholarly collections of papers. “The continued publication and popular packaging of his incomplete work may actually be diluting his reputation as a writer of varied talents and fearless ambition,” Carter writes.

And there may be more Bolaño books in the pipeline.  A Lumpen Novella, written a year before his death in 2003, has yet to be translated and there is a manuscript entitled Diorama that has not been published in Spanish or translated into English..

Hanukkah in Havana

American contractor Alan Gross, who has spent three years in a Cuban military prison, was visited this week by two leaders of Cuba’s Jewish community on Monday, December 17, the day after the eight-day festival ended.

“We spent a little more than an hour with him,” Jewish Community Foundation president Adela Dworin told the Spanish news agency EFE. “We lit the eight candles as tradition indicates, and we brought him latkes (potato pancakes), the main dish of the festival and other sweets.”

This blogger visited Havana’s Beth Shalom synagogue last month, transported by a cab driver who offered, without being asked, a suspicious amount of information about Fidel Castro’s health.  At the temple a caretaker happily showed his visitors the building, saying there was no anti-Semitism in Cuba and pointing out the photograph of film director Steven Spielberg’s visit in 2002:

Photo of Steven 'Spielberg

And here is a link to a NY Times story on Cuba’s Jewish community:


A Chilean news roundup

The Santiago Times reports that Chilean troops will continue to serve with United Nations peacekeeping forces in Bosnia for another year, joining soldiers from 23 other nations. Chile is the only Latin American country participating in this operation. Chilean troops also work with the UN in Haiti:

The British travel book company, Rough Guides, has included Valparaiso on its Travel Hot List 2013, describing the Chilean port as “one of the most distinctive cities in Latin America, with colourful houses draped across a series of steep, undulating hills overlooking the Pacific. Valparaiso has an edgy bohemian atmosphere, character-filled cobbled streets, and wonderful turn-of-the-century architecture, plus some of Chile’s best restaurants and bars.”

Entertainment Weekly has an interview on its blog with director Pablo Larrain about the making of the film “No,” Chile’s entry for the Oscar’s best foreign film:

The British Foreign Office’s announcement that the southern part of its claimed Antarctic territory would be named Queen Elizabeth Land has raised eyebrows in Chile and Argentina, as both countries have overlapping claims to the region as well. The Guardian newspaper calls the move “a retro piece of neo-imperialism for Her Majesty”   while the Telegraph notes that “Australia, Norway, France and New Zealand are the only countries that formally recognize the existence of British Antarctic Territory; Argentina and Chile clearly don’t.”….html.

MercoPress reports that Chile’s Antarctic bases expect to host some 250 scientists, including researchers from Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Germany, the United States, South Korea and Venezuela, who will work on 50 different projects over the 2012-2013 austral summer.

Illicit association

Asociacion Ilicita describes the activities of the Pinochet regime's security forces.

Asociacion Ilicita describes the activities of the Pinochet regime’s security forces.

It was the sort of incident you’d associate with the Pinochet years: intruders enter the home of an investigative journalist and steal his laptop, leaving other valuables untouched.  But this past Saturday that is what happened to Mauricio Weibel, a Chilean reporter for the German news agency Deutsche-Presse Agentur (DPA) and coauthor of a recent book on the military regime’s security apparatus, Asociacion Ilicita.

Weibel told the digital newspaper El Mostrador ( that thieves stole two laptops, one containing research for his work as a journalist.   “That same afternoon a man was discovered photographing my house and fled when family friends asked him to identify himself,” he said.  Chilean police visited the home, and Weibel had a conversation with Interior Minister Andres Chadwick, who assured him he would be protected. But then another robbery occurred: intruders entered the property and stole tools from Weibel’s patio.

And on the same day Weibel’s computers were stolen, intruders entered the home of another Chilean journalist, Javier Rebolledo, author of another book on the Pinochet regime’s security forces, La Danza de los Cuervos, and stole a computer disc. Reporters Without Borders has a piece on the case and other attempts to intimidate Chilean journalists:,43799.html.



Notes from Cuba: the Hotel Nacional

The Hotel Nacional in Havana

The Hotel Nacional in Havana

The two American women wandered out of their more modest accommodation in Havana to have a look at the Hotel Nacional, a Cuban landmark where the famous and infamous have stayed. Flags from a half dozen countries were flying at the entrance to the hotel grounds, and in the center was the Stars and Stripes.

We stopped and stared in amazement.  A tall, burly security guard walked briskly over to us. “Excuse me,” I said.  “We’re surprised to see the U.S. flag here.”

“That flag represents the American people, not the government,” he barked.

We made our way through the building and out into the gardens, with a good view of the sea front. Foreign dignitaries, celebrities and, in times long past, mobsters have stayed here, with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky even holding a summit on the premises in 1946.  In the film The Godfather II, Michael Corleone meets fellow mafia and Cuban leaders at the Hotel Nacional, though the scenes were filmed in the Dominican Republic.

The hotel has perhaps the best internet connections in the country, and every Saturday night there’s a concert by “ambassadors of the Buena Vista Social Club,” if not the original band members.  And there are touches of surrealism. I had a sandwich at the downstairs Cafe Film Corner and watched two young tourists at the next table drinking Coca-Cola and Sprite. (What about the U.S. trade embargo? ) There was a big screen television airing an episode of the hillbilly reality show Duck Dynasty, dubbed in Spanish.

Looking for Harris: the Cuban connection

And now for something completely different on this blog:

Orlando (left) and Reynaldo Garrido, former Cuban tennis stars who won the Canadian Open in 1959, pose with a photograph of their victory at Orlando's house in Havana.

Orlando (left) and Reynaldo Garrido, former Cuban tennis stars who won the Canadian Open in 1959, pose with a photograph of their victory at Orlando’s house in Havana. They helped me identify the Cuban tennis player who aided my stepfather when he arrived in Cuba as a refugee from Hitler’s Germany.

In early 1989 my widowed mother happened to sit next to a man on a plane who would change her life.  They began talking during the flight and he told her his personal history: how he grew up in Germany and fled the country when Nazi persecution became too much for his Jewish family.  His parents remained behind, as did his sister, who urged him to take her engagement ring and sell it to support himself wherever he landed.  He refused to take her ring and found a place on a ship, the Iberia, leaving Hamburg and sailing for Cuba.

It was 1939, and one month later the MS St. Louis ocean liner carrying 937 Jewish refugees from Germany would also set sail from Hamburg but would not be allowed entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada and would head back to Europe (this story is told in a book and film, The Voyage of the Damned).  But Harris Jarrick, aged either 24 or 25 and an accomplished tennis player, was allowed into Cuba and went straight from the ship’s dock in Havana Bay to the country club where a Cuban tennis player he had once met in Germany worked.  This man, he told my mother, was “the most famous tennis player in Cuba,” and helped him find work at the club and a place to live.  Harris stayed in Cuba for less than a year, before making his way to the United States and settling in California.  After WWII ended, he learned that his parents and sister—who secretly had sewn her engagement ring into his jacket—had perished in Auschwitz.

Harris and my mother married within a year and lived happily until his death in 2006.  During my visit to Cuba last month, I wanted to see if I could find the tennis club where he played and any other details of his time there.  But  first I would have to find the identity of “the most famous tennis player in Cuba” of 1939.

My first stop was Cuba’s national library, the Biblioteca Nacional Jose Marti  (, which faces Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion.  Somewhat nervously, I told the women behind the desk that I was researching a family connection with Cuba, gave a brief summary of Harris’s arrival in Havana and could I look at materials on Cuban tennis in the 1930s-40s?

They could not have been kinder.  One woman helped me fill out a library card form, another brought me a tiny cup of strong Cuban coffee and another found ancient back issues of the long-defunct Revista Vedado Tennis Club, which contained pages and pages of pre revolutionary Cuban society news, but nothing about tennis.  Would Harris have been there, or one of the other possible venues, such as what was once the Country Club de la Habana or the Habana Yacht Club? Someone brought me the Almanac del Mundo 1938-39 and in the sports section tennis listings were two Cuban players, Ricardo Morales and Jorge Cancio.  But I could find nothing about either man in the library’s catalogue.

One of the librarians suggested I visit Cuba’s Ciudad Deportiva and consult their archives, and I stopped there the following day. The man with whom I spoke told me to call the Cuban tennis commission, which in turn told me they had no archives as such, but why didn’t I call Orlando Garrido, a retired Cuban tennis player who would almost certainly know the names of the top players from that period.

I called Orlando, and he graciously invited me to visit his home and look at his old tennis files.  His brother Reynaldo was visiting from Miami, and it just so happened that the two brothers were Cuba’s top players in 1959, playing each other in the men’s singles at the Canadian Open, winning first and second place that year.  Reynaldo also played for the Cuba Davis Cup for five years, while Orlando is a respected biologist, co-author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba, a book on Cuban mammals, a forthcoming work on Cuban reptiles and co author of several other works.  He has an extensive taxidermy collection of birds and animals, including a species of Cuban rodent he discovered and which bears his name, and a large aviary in his patio.

The Garrido brothers maintained that the “most famous tennis player in Cuba” in 1939 was not either of the men whose names I found in the almanac, but Gustavo Vollmer, a Cuban of German descent who very likely had travelled to Europe during the 1930s.  And in Havana he played at the Vedado Tennis Club, which still stands today, albeit in a dramatically reduced state. Reynaldo told me his wife knew Vollmer’s daughter Marina, who lives in Miami and might have more information.  I later obtained Marina’s number, called her in Miami and she told me her father had indeed travelled to Germany in the 1930s. She did not recall him ever mentioning Harris, but we agreed to stay in touch and meet the next time I came to Miami.

Before I said goodbye to Orlando and Reynaldo the two brothers posed for a picture, holding the photograph of their 1959 victory at the Canadian Open. I stopped at the old Vedado Tennis Club, which once had half a dozen tennis courts.  Only one was still being used for tennis, and the others were either crumbled or overgrown with weeds or both.  Before I was warned not to take photos I managed to use my cell phone to get a quick shot of the building, which seemed structurally intact, if a bit faded.  I walked up the wide stairs leading from the courts to the building’s rooms, which were empty save for a lone musician playing drums on the second floor.  This is where Harris had been.

The once-elegant Vedado Tennis Club, where Harris arrived in 1939. Only one of the tennis courts to the left is still in working order.

The once-elegant Vedado Tennis Club, where Harris arrived in 1939. Only one of the tennis courts to the left is still in working order.

The next day I walked around Havana’s old port area and noticed a building bearing the words “Terminal Sierra Maestra San Francisco,” and next door, another building with the word aduana, customs. I took another furtive cell phone picture, then noticed the uniformed man standing outside. Not wanting to arouse suspicion, I crossed the street and spoke to him.  I was researching some family history, I told him, and would this building be the place where ship passengers arrived during the 1930s and ‘40s?

Yes, he said, though he did not know when it had stopped being a terminal. An elderly man standing nearby joined our conversation, telling me it certainly was the place where ship passengers used to arrive, though there were two other sites further along the waterfront where ships also docked.  But I figured Harris must have walked around this area at some point during his time in Cuba.

A former passenger terminal in Havana's historic district.

A former passenger terminal in Havana’s historic district.