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Tim Cole

Former British Ambassador to Cuba

Part of UK in Cuba

20th August 2013 Havana, Cuba

My 1st birthday!

It’s exactly a year to the day since I arrived in Havana. When I stepped off the plane 365 days’ ago, it was my first time in Cuba, I knew a little but not a lot about the country and, after a recent posting in Mozambique, my Spanish had a very Portuguese twang. A year later and I know a bit more, but still not enough, about the country, the culture, the people and the politics, I’ve visited nine of Cuba’s fifteen provinces, have met hundreds of interesting people and I’m learning to speak Spanish like a Cuban (who needs an ‘s’ at the end of a word anyway?).

What’s happened in the last year?  In many ways it’s been a roller coaster ride. President Castro has introduced more changes – for example, in migration, the economy, for co-operatives – and a new First Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has been elected. Parliamentary elections took place in February but, equally important perhaps for Cuba, were the elections that took place in the USA and Venezuela. The re-election of Presidents Obama and Chavez and then the election of President Maduro brought continuity to US and Venezuela policies towards Cuba. Whether you agree with those policies or not, continuity in policy is often easier for a government to deal with than change. Hurricane Sandy struck, tragically, in October 2012 leaving eleven people dead and many homeless. The British government provided $2.6m in humanitarian aid. Meanwhile on 1 May 2013, the Cuban government faced some difficult questioning in its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Personal highlights for me in the last year include: the hugely successful British cultural week in June – particularly the wonderful Tremendonga Party; my visits to Guantanamo and Villa Clara where I was received with grace and generosity; and interaction with a lot of Cubans on Twitter – even without 3G in Cuba, Cubans from all over the world are already engaged in the Twitter global conversation. I was also intrigued to learn that Winston Churchill visited the island twice, including to fight in the War of Independence (more of that in a future blog), have really enjoyed listening to a lot of great music, especially Buena Fe and Raul Paz, and was lucky enough to see Carlos Acosta dance during Havana’s International Ballet Festival.

There’s been a lot more – Cuba is in many ways a fascinating, challenging, and unique country.  But it can be frustrating too – on a fairly parochial level for example, why diplomats are not allowed to stay in private bed and breakfasts (‘casas particulares’) when other tourists are is entirely beyond me.

When you move to a new country with a different culture, to a new job with new colleagues, when your children go to new schools and you and they make new friends, you spend most of your first year settling in.  So apart from everything else, we’ve done a lot of that too.  I’m now firmly settled in and am very much looking forward to the second year.  Roll on another roller coaster!

9 comments on “My 1st birthday!

  1. Excellency:
    Happy Birthday in our warm country! I am very pleased to see how excited you are with all your experiences in Cuba and I really wish you to have much more during all the time you must be in my country.
    I visited the Embassy web site looking for some historical information and it has been a great surprise to find this blog with your personal experiences, being in contact with so many different aspects of our lives, apreciating our culture and wonder about things even us cubans, have no the answer. As Yanelys told you, I also hope you are able to get the meaning of the lyrics of Buen Fe songs, for instance, which is by the way my favourite. And to see Carlos Acosta dancing it´s far worthy to mention in your list of events during this first year, I had this opportunity when he came with the Royal Ballet and it´s one of my unforgettable experiences in life.
    I work as a tour guide for Cubamar travel agency and I´m doing this research about Captain John Mason, a Vice-Consul of the British Embassy in Cuba around 1916-1917, since I had the opportunity to guide around Cuba his great grand daughter. She left me some useful information about him and I wonder if there is any historical archive at the Embassy that I can consult to find out more about Captain John Mason time in Cuba for his relaitve.
    Could you please provide me some direction for my research? I´ll really appreciate it. Since internet access is no that easy sometimes and it could take me a while to visit this blog any time soon, please feel free to contact me through my e-mail.
    Bu of course, now that I know about this blog, I´ll do my best to read it as often as my access to internet allows me.
    Thank you very much for your attention.

    1. Hi Martha
      Thanks for your comments. Your research into Captain John Mason sounds fascinating but I am afraid we don’t have any historical archives in the Embassy at all so don’t have anything here about him. Sorry I can’t be of more help. You’ll be pleased to hear though that I am now improving my Spanish through studying Buena Fe lyrics!
      all the best

      1. It´s really a shame to hear these news. I was really hoping to get some information from the Embassy. Anyway, I ´ll continue my research at the National Archive, maybe they have some records.
        And you are right Excellency, I´m very pleased though to hear you are actually improving your Spanish studying Buena Fe lyrics. You will learn a lot more about us through them.
        Thank you very much for your quick reply.

  2. My experencies of the Cuban B+B have been wonderful and are the only way to go when you are an independent traveler.The hospitality given to complete strangers is second to none, with one in Holguin insisting I attend a birthday party in the Casa. A Truly beautiful county with warm engaging people ( especially when they hear my Scottish accent) and I cannot wait to return. Here’s tae yir next year!

  3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Excellency!! I hope you have enjoyed it to the full, sorry for a delayed congratulation. I am an Amnesty International cyberactivist in Cuba and currently work as a Scientific and Technological Information Analyst in the Academic Library of Holguin University. Because of my stand in behalf of Human Rights deffense and bearing a socialdemocrat political stand (although in order to preserve my job and to continue to enjoy of some kind of tolerance, provided I don´t gather with opposser´s groups and keep just by myself) I am strictly surveiled by the Political Police and have been interrogated or questioned by them several times. I want to take adventage of this chance to give an advise to other Human Rights activists and political opposers: If while interrogated by the Political Police we are capable to convince them that our cause is motivated by a pure an genuine sense of justice and unselfishness as well as that we also are capable to recognize whatever advancements in Human Rights matters together with a rational and objective criticism on the violations of Human Rights, they will be more prone to at least tolerate us, in my opinion this is what have happened with the illegal but tolarated Cuban Comission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHRNR), it also is working for me. Of course, although I have not been fired yet, the Political Police interferes continuously to boicot my scientific projects so that I get discouraged and resign. Nevertheless, I don´t give up and believe that a better future holds for us the Cuban people. I herald a future in which the Cuban people will build up a Socialdemocracy like that in the Nordic countries, this is my belief.

    Mr. Cole, thank you for the stand of your Embassy in behalf of Human Rights monitoring and deffense. It will continue to be a pleasure to share my humble comments in your blog if you don´t mind. May God continue to bless your diplomatic management.

  4. So pls. allow me one last short remark: It ś not only me but also many of my Dutch friends of KLM (see Villa Clara) who which you the power and strenght to visit Guantanamo again and end this horrible situation of this camp. Guess , that I don ‘t have to explain why they associated this kind of a prison with a CC like Dachau. I can understand it for my German Granpa was in ’44,’45 arrested in Stuttgart-Gestapo HQ.
    But what I ḿ writing ? Nothing suitable to a birthday child.
    It ‘s great if you are dancing through the entire night during HAVANA ‘S INTERNATIONAL BALLET FESTIVAL!
    Allerliebste Geburtstaggrüssle aus Stuttgart! Ingo-Steǘen

  5. …sorry Tim, but the usual PC-Crash !
    …another Culture Attache or – who knows ? the next DHM for Latin America. Anyway: Your Personal Record, your description of your life so far or the political actions for which you stand (the changes in the Cubanian govnmt. which deserve at least some respect, elections of new 1st. Vice – President, US-policies towards Cuba and not another boycott, (highest time in my opinion) plus the British humanitarian aid were surely not possible in such a big way without the little help of a friend. Guess it ś you.
    Enjoy the time, Ingo-Steven, Stuttgart

  6. Dear Tim,
    1.st of all : A very warm hearted and honest “HAPPY Birthday” in re. of your first Cubanian year. Iḿ quite sure, that NO ONE could do such a sensitive ambassador job better as you. And if it ś true , that you are learning perfect Spanish (THANK YOU SENHOR
    YANELYS !) You will become -maybe – another culture Attacher:

  7. Many congrats then on this first birthday. It’s great you have had so many wonderful experiences in Cuba. I love culture, and It’s very nice that you like Buena Fe and Raul Paz, they are among the best musicians from the young generation. Fortunately, you are learning Spanish, so that you can get the meaning in their songs, as their lyrics always bring reflections and critics to the society. I suggest you to listen also to Van Van, less reflection but more about dancing and Cuban roots, as Cubans love salsa music, and Van Van is one of the most outstanding representatives of this kind, for me, the best.
    Best wishes and enjoy your day!!!!

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About Tim Cole

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat…

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat since 2001; before Cuba, I spent 5 years in London where I worked on Pan-African policy and global economic issues and 6 years in southern Africa as Deputy Head of Mission in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Most of my career has been in Africa as before joining the FCO I ran humanitarian aid programmes in Central Africa for the British NGOs Christian Aid and Save the Children. I’m married to Clare and we have 2 children – Jonathan and Zea.

The idea of this blog is to tell you what the British government is doing in Cuba and why. If you enjoy the blog and want to read more, please follow me on Twitter.