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When Ann Met Jerry in Cuba

And Jerry Met Fidel


MOJITOS WITH FIDEL: I’ve been to Havana’s grand Hotel Nacional, and it’s like Rick’s joint in the movie Casablanca. You never know who you’re going to run into. In the Daily Beast online magazine this week, Carpinteria journalist and Cuba expert Ann Louise Bardach tells of answering an after-midnight knock on her hotel door in 2000 and finding Jerry Brown there.

Barney Brantingham

Brown, then mayor of Oakland and now running for governor, was possibly in violation of the U.S. anti-Cuban travel embargo, Bardach writes.

So there was Brown, with his entourage, wanting to find out how Bardach, there with her husband, had managed to get an interview with Fidel. As it happened, Brown managed so well that he ended up hobnobbing for hours over mojitos with (gasp!) Mr. Communism himself.

But on his return to Capitalism, U.S.A., Brown was starting to wonder if he’d not just skirted the embargo rules during his Cuban visit but also risked prosecution. Turns out that even if you’re authorized to travel there, you must use a U.S.-approved travel agent. Brown used the late ex-CIA agent Philip Agee, someone detested as a traitor and turncoat by U.S. feds.

“Well, that makes it a crime!” Brown exclaimed, according to Bardach. “The Treasury Department will prosecute me.” (It didn’t.)

It was “unlikely that Brown anticipated he would soon be the Attorney General of California or that 10 years hence he’d be throwing his hat into the ring once again to be governor of California,” Bardach wrote in the Beast. “Or that his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, would be willing to pony up some $150 million to defeat him. Until last week, Whitman was basking in a five-point lead, numbers that plummeted after revelations of her long-term employment of an undocumented Latino housekeeper.”

Now, a decade later — with Fidel ill and having turned things over to bro Raul, who is easing off on the Draconian repression somewhat —  Brown’s Cuban sojourn doesn’t sound like an election loser. Besides, he was there representing the Oakland Sister City delegation.

Brown wasn’t sanctioned, but a few months later, President George W. Bush took office and began harshly cracking down on embargo violators. But that was then, and this is now.

(Bardach is the author of the books Without Fidel and Cuba Confidential, and much Cuban investigative journalism.)

HUGUETTENOT LUCID’: You’ll recall that New York’s DA decided to investigate whether or not 104-year-old Huguette Clark’s estimated $500-million estate is being mismanaged by her attorney and accountant. Santa Barbarans are curious about what’s to become of her hilltop East Cabrillo Boulevard Clark Estate, worth an estimated $100 million or more. So DA investigators showed up at Huguette’s hospital room (she’s been there more than 20 years in seclusion) and reported that they believe the reclusive heiress is “not lucid.” After two visits, “They found the elderly eccentric — who has no children or close relatives — does not have all her faculties, and her vision and hearing are poor,” the N.Y. Daily News reported.

When investigators arrived for their first interview, they learned that her longtime attorney, Wallace Bock, had just been there to have her sign legal documents. Just what she signed isn’t known. The deed to the Clark Estate, perhaps?

Bock claims that Clark is perfectly competent. Distant family members, alarmed by a $1.5-million donation Clark made to build a security system at an Israeli settlement where Bock’s daughter lives, asked a judge to appoint an independent guardian to oversee Clark’s finances. But the judge refused. So you have an aged woman who isn’t “lucid,” or capable of clear thought, signing legal papers?

BARRY-WENDY SPLIT? Santa Barbara attorney Barry Cappello, who has fought many a court battle since 2006 on behalf of Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, is apparently no longer representing her, according to blogger Craig Smith. Going to court for McCaw has been a multimillion-dollar jackpot for Barry. I emailed Cappello, who declined to comment, citing attorney-client confidentiality.

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: It’s always a pleasure to see fine, veteran actors in a play with lots of fireworks. A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour at the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre provides all you’d want in terms of family dysfunction. Don Margolin, Matt Cooper, Kathy Marden, and Leesa Beck drink and go at it while an unseen maid ruins dinner.

BEVMO! NOT OK’D: BevMo! liquor store is open on upper State Street even though it hasn’t had final approval by the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agency. ABC gave the interim okay for the huge place to start selling booze, but that’s pending a judge’s decision, after a hearing on the many protests lodged by residents. And that hearing hasn’t even been scheduled yet, an ABC official told me this week. Could be months.

IN DUTCH: Matt Bloise, the News-Press “correspondent,” who recently embarrassed the paper by calling Danish Days a “celebration of everything Dutch,” got seriously in Dutch for the goof, according to News-Pressers. (In the same story, he also mentioned “the history and traditions of the Netherlands.”) Fired, some in the newsroom say, but in any case, gone, baby, gone. But where were the editors who were supposed to catch such mistakes?

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.

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