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Complicated Castro

February 19, 2008

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 “I’m outta here”

So the relentless leveller – time itself – has concluded the decades-long game of cat and mouse between President Fidel Castro and a series of U.S. administrations. Castro has admitted to the inevitable – he’s no longer physically able to lead his country – opening the way for change. A victory of sorts, he could have died in a U.S.-inspired assassination attempt or coup rather than to step down while still alive, but a pretty hollow one in the end.

This comment piece by the Guardian captures nicely the ambivalence we should all feel at his departure.

My favourite moment in journalism to date came about when I managed to put a series of questions to Castro during a trip he made to Malaysia. I had listened to him speak for a couple of hours about globalisation issues and grabbed a chance to “doorstep” him as he left the auditorium. The professional challenge was to suppress my personal nervousness, awe even, in the face of such a larger-than-life icon and historical figure (for good or bad) and stick to the job at hand.

I asked him a series of questions about democracy and whether his alternative to the free-trade-cures-all approach to world governance required the state repressions witnessed in Cuba.

He was in a good mood and so stopped to answer my questions via his interpreter, prodding me in the chest with his finger to punctuate his points. Though I did my best to scribble down his replies, I couldn’t help conclude that he was like many other politicians I’d attempted to question before and since – wholly evasive and unprepared to answer the questions.

I didn’t use his replies in the news story I did for Reuters though I drew on them a couple of days later to write the piece attached below.

I’m glad he got to chose the moment of his leaving and hope it gives ordinary Cubans more chance to have their say in their lives.

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Very poor journalism

September 3, 2007

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The fearless Guardian, in a “special report” for its online unlimited edition, managed the following piece of spineless garbage to describe the latest stage of British troops’ retreat from frontline action in Iraq.

Its slavish parroting of the government line gives Gordon Brown full reign from the start to pitch the news as nothing but the most well-thought out and orderly relocation of military assets.

It saves until paragraph 12, the following lame background on the dire situation in which British troops have found themselves:

The Basra palace had come under near daily rocket and mortar fire from Shia militias until the British troops released about 30 gunmen a few months ago and spread the word that they would soon withdraw.

The British forces’ ability to control events in Basra waned in recent years as the militias rose in power.

And that’s from one of the newspapers people describe as progressive and establishment shaking.

Once again, I give you Brian Haw., the change of British prime minister nothwitstanding.