07 February 2006

Havana "Flags" Billboards

The Castro regime has found a waving interest in electronic reader boards in the U.S. Interests Section of Havana. The interest focuses on blocking scrolling news headlines, quotes from famous figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King, Jr., and fragments of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The Daily Journal (Caracas) reports:
HAVANA – “This is just more of the same,” a man walking his dog along one of the streets that leads up to the U.S. Interests Section in the Cuban capital told IPS. He was referring to nearly 150 flag poles that now occupy what used to be part of the U.S. diplomatic mission’s parking lot.

The forest of flag poles, some of which are over 30 meters tall, was put in place over the past two weeks by the Cuban government in retaliation for an electronic billboard stretching across the front of the Interests Section building.

Since mid-January, the giant sign has been scrolling news headlines, quotes from famous figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King, Jr., and fragments of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. According to Michael Parmly, chief of the U.S. Interests Section, “What we are trying to do is communicate with the Cuban people.”

The flag poles are apparently de-signed to create a barrier in front of the electronic sign, which is located behind glass on the fifth floor of the Interests Section building. The flag pole project officially formed part of an expansion of the “Anti-Imperialist Plaza”, which was built five years ago outside of the U.S. Interests Section. According to rumors that have not been confirmed, the mysterious new site is meant to symbolize the Cuban people’s “years of struggle” for independence, and will be unveiled at a giant rally announced for Monday evening, called to commemorate those who have lost their lives in violent acts against Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

Behind him, as he walked away, the U.S. diplomatic mission continued broadcasting its messages, which included “The fast pace of construction is impressive. It shows the potential of Cuban workers”, “Havana residents comment that the funds would have been better spent on widespread repairs”, and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (a quote from British writer George Orwell).

“The U.S. Interests Section is a center for provocation. No embassy in the world places billboards on the front of their building,” dissident Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo remarked to IPS.
But Gutiérrez Menoyo, who re-turned from exile in Miami in August 2003 to live in Havana, although without official permission, dismissed the idea that the “billboard war” would trigger a complete break between the two countries.

In the meantime, the escalating tensions did nothing to interfere with a meeting held in Mexico on Friday and Saturday between representatives of U.S. oil companies and Cuban energy sector authorities.
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