The Walrus is a Canadian general interest magazine which publishes long form journalism on Canadian and international affairs, along with fiction and poetry by Canadian writers. It launched in September 2003, as an attempt to create a Canadian equivalent to American magazines such as Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker.
Will Sherritt International come to regret dealing with Communist Cuba? CEO Ian Delaney doesn’t think so.
The sun is rising over Old Havana, but the man standing at the balcony rail is in the shade. He gazes out over the city’s crumbling rooftops but seems oblivious to the sun-washed beauty of the harbour. His stare is blank, disengaged. He will give only his first name, Rodolfo. He is the operator of the camera obscura. One of many curiosities in the old port, the centuries-old technology uses a system of mirrors to project a 360-degree view of the exterior onto a bowl-shaped interior screen. Fidel Castro reportedly had the camera installed to ensure that he could see all parts of Havana from a protected vantage point. It’s now a tourist attraction.
“I was a teacher,” says Rodolfo. “I was earning less than 20 convertible pesos [around $25] a month. Then, last summer, I got on with Sherritt. With a bonus, my salary bumped up to 50 convertible pesos a month.” Unfortunately, his prosperity was short lived. Earlier this year, the project was cut. “If you know anyone at Sherritt, please talk to them,” he says. “Get them to start it back up.”
The camera obscura is now Rodolfo’s principal source of income. With a monthly salary of 16 convertible pesos, he is one of millions of Cubans who are barely hanging on. Last year, the country’s agricultural sector was knocked out, due to a particularly fierce hurricane season. That, and collapsing markets for Cuban commodities — primarily nickel, oil, and gas — plunged the island into its toughest economic crisis in a generation. With deficits soaring and cash reserves low, the government is delaying payments on profit-sharing agreements with foreign investors, even going so far as to cancel the one to which Rodolfo alludes. This has forced a difficult balancing act on Ian Delaney — Cuba’s biggest outside investor, Rodolfo’s former employer, and the man known on Bay Street as Fidel Castro’s favourite capitalist.
Delaney is CEO and chairman of Sherritt International, a multi-billion-dollar commodities conglomerate based in Toronto. Eighteen years ago, he made a deal with the Cuban Communist leader.