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Cuban Rock Climbers Inspired by Foreigners Irk Castro Regime November 30, 2006

Posted by tkcollier in Enviroment, Life, Lifestyle, Politics.

Cuban Rock Climbers Inspired by Foreigners Irk Castro Regime – WSJ.com
Some of the official anxiety over climbing seems to be based on Cuba’s revolutionary history. The revolution that brought Mr. Castro to power in 1959 was launched from a clandestine encampment in the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the eastern end of the island. Mr. Castro became intimately familiar with Cuba’s highest mountain, 6,500-foot Pico Turquino. “The Revolution was the work of climbers and cavers,” Mr. Castro once said, according to a history by Antonio Nuñez Jimenéz, a prominent revolutionary leader and naturalist.

Now the Cuban government may be worried that history will repeat itself. “The system is paranoid about Cubans’ private activities, but especially when those activities are occurring in hills away from sight and when foreigners are involved,” says Vitalio Echazabal, one of the first Cubans to take up rock climbing in the 1990s. “The authorities would ask, ‘Are they spies? What are they plotting up there?’ ” Mr. Echazabal got so fed up that he defected to Spain during a climbing expedition in 2001, one of three Cuban climbers who have escaped the island during international sporting events. About a half-dozen other Cuban climbers got off the island after marrying foreigners they met on the hills.

The exodus of climbers has only served to intensify official suspicion of the sport. “Climbers are very independent people, and the Cuban government has a real hard time with anything it cannot control — even a form of recreation,” says Armando Menocal, a 65-year-old Wyoming lawyer who is the leading international proponent of Cuban climbing. Mr. Menocal, who runs the Cubaclimbing.com1 Web site, has been caught in the climbing backlash himself.

On a recent day at the park visitors center near the Viñales climbing site, there were large posters of climbers in action. Nevertheless, the park ranger on duty insisted that climbing without a permit wasn’t allowed under the 2003 law. “It’s not something one should even consider,” he said, though he had no idea how one might go about getting a permit.


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