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Cuban coverage

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 12:16 UK time, Monday, 7 August 2006

Up on the seventh floor of BBC Television Centre sits a small, but perfectly formed, group of people who spend their lives killing people off. They're expert in what they do.

But don't panic - they don't do anything illegal. All of their subjects are, at the time of writing, alive (if not all them, kicking). They're the obits unit - the people who make sure that when Joe or Jo Bloggs dies, we've got the pictures and the soundbites to reflect their life, be they a film star, a sportsman or a politician.

In death, as in life, some people are more important than others - we've been planning some people's demise for years!

Fidel CastroOne of them is Fidel Castro. This week, the Cuban president should have been celebrating his eightieth birthday in grand style - but the lavish celebrations have had to be postponed as he recovers from surgery to stem internal bleeding. It's exactly this sort of scare that sends newsrooms around the world into meltdown. But with the exception of North Korea, Cuba is probably one of the most difficult places in the world to report from.

So imagine waking up to the news that President Castro has handed over power to his brother - albeit temporarily. Just how do we cover a story in a place closed to most foreign reporters?

Fortunately, the BBC is one of only two international broadcasters to have a correspondent based in Havana. But in these days of satellites and live reports from the farthest flung corners of the world, Steve Gibbs still uses the trusty telephone to file most of his reports.

The idea of "in vision", round-the-clock live reports for News 24 and BBC world is probably a dream - one American TV network is rumoured to have had a speedboat moored in Miami for many years, awaiting the president's demise!

Ahead of the president's eightieth birthday, reports from Havana suggest Fidel Castro is in a "comfortable" condition. The "plan" has been put back on the shelf, the team on the seventh floor of Television Centre has moved on, ready to "kill off" someone else; although, since one Cuban minister claims the Americans have tried to assassinate President Castro on no fewer than 600 different occasions previously, we might need to keep it somewhere close!

Jon Williams is world news editor


  • 1.
  • At 02:05 PM on 07 Aug 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

I hope when you write Castro's obituary, you include some of the most important facts of his life.
The high spots should include:
-Deposing one dictatorship only to supplant it with a far more sinister one which became invulnerable to change and infinitely more brutal and abusive of human rights.
-Trying to instigate a third world war between the USSR and US which would likely have brought an end to all human life on earth.
-Trying to spread the blessings of totalitarian communism by violent revolution throughout the Western Hemisphere thereby acting as a partner in the USSR's mission of world domination.
-Keeping his imprisoned nation impovrished by insisting on failed doctrines and excusing his government's gross inadequacies by blaming their consequences on the US.
-Making life so miserable that nearly 20% of his population fled to the US with much of the other 80% wishing they could go too even though they'd risk death doing it.

All in all, a memorable life, one the Cuban people and the world should long remember.

  • 2.
  • At 02:26 PM on 07 Aug 2006,
  • John wrote:

My question for the obit team is: How many times a week do you hear Monty Python's 'I'm not dead yet' gag repeated to you?

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