Thursday, September 10, 2020


Retired car salesman turning out baseball bats for Cuba

Sep 10, 2020   Ottawa Citizen

 From his basement woodworking shop in the Ottawa Valley, former car salesman Bill Ryan, 66, is turning out finely-crafted maple bats for Cuba's beleaguered baseball leagues. PHOTO BY JEAN LEVAC /Postmedia

A retired Ottawa Valley car salesman is turning out hundreds of hand-made maple bats every year for Cuban baseball players as part of a decade-long effort to assist the impoverished island nation.

Bill Ryan, 66, spends 10 or 11 hours every day in his basement woodworking shop, making his now famous “Cubacan” bats.

This year, he wants to send 600 bats — they each cost about $50 — to Cuba, which is about to start its national baseball series. Professional quality bats are difficult to find and prohibitively expensive in Cuba, which remains the subject of a strict U.S. trade embargo.

“The only way I can do this is to do all of the steps myself,” says Ryan, who lives on a rural side road south of Carleton Place, near Franktown.

He uses his own sawmill to cut the rectangular “blanks” from which he crafts a baseball bat. The blanks — rectangular blocks 36 inches long and three inches wide — are kiln-dried for three months to reduce their moisture content and weight.

Each bat requires about two hours of labour. Ryan uses a lathe to shape the bat, then sands it three different ways before applying two coats of paint, decals and two coats of varnish.

A careful record keeper, Ryan has made 2,967 bats since he launched his “hobby” a decade ago. Almost all of his bats are now in Cuba.

“When I made the first bat, there was no intention of making the second or the third: It just sort of built,” he says.

Like most Canadians, Ryan’s first exposure to Cuba came as a sun-seeking tourist.

A deeper involvement in the country started innocently enough when he decided to fashion a few bats as gifts for Cuban friends. A lifelong woodworker, Ryan made trophy bats that were more a decoration than a piece of baseball equipment.

In baseball-mad Cuba, however, the bats attracted attention and he was asked to make more, including bats that could be used in games. The maple bats quickly grew in popularity among Cuban players.

He was also asked to make bats as gifts for each of the Cuban Five — five intelligence officers who were arrested by U.S. authorities in September 1988. “Los Cincos” spent more than a decade in U.S. prisons after being convicted of spying. Cuba maintained they were in South Florida to monitor extremist exiles involved in a wave of terrorist bombings in Havana.

All of the men were released by 2014 and welcomed home as heroes in Cuba. Ryan met and befriended one of them, Gerardo Hernandez, and together they launched a grassroots organization, Cubacan, dedicated to improving the lives of ordinary Cubans.

Cubacan has shipped equipment and materials to improve bat making in Cuba. Last year, the organization delivered more than two tonnes of sports equipment to the island.

This year, Ryan wants to send 600 hand-crafted bats to the 16 teams competing in Cuba’s national baseball series, a key stepping stone to the Olympic Games for the country’s best players. The series starts next week.

Cuba is struggling to equip its baseball teams because of economic sanctions and new restrictions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. During the past four years, Trump has reversed the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations orchestrated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and tightened the sanctions that have stifled the Cuban economy for 60 years.

Ryan says U.S. efforts to damage Cuba even reached into the Ottawa Valley. Earlier this year, he says, under pressure from the U.S. Treasury Department, GoFundMe closed his fundraising account which had been created to send sports equipment to Cuba from Canada.

The Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) is now leading the fundraising effort to raise $30,000 to send the Cubacan bats to Cuba.

Ryan still travels to Cuba once a year with his wife, Nora. It’s “incredibly satisfying,” he says, to watch a baseball player hit a home run with one of his bats, but seeing one break still makes him shudder.

Two years ago, Ryan received the Cuban government’s Friendship Medal, which has gone to people such as singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover.

“More than one million Canadians go to Cuba every year,” he says, “so we’re trying to suggest to some of those people to send a bat, offer a donation, give something back.”

Anyone interested in donating to the Cubacan bat program, known as Cubacan 6060, can go to theCNC’s website or email

Cubacan6060 Bats for Cuba

Sunday, September 6, 2020


listen to this music and protest against the Cuban Blockade!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Eusebio Leal: the Historian

August, 1st, 2020

Eusebio Leal Spengler, the man who saved Havana, died at age 77 due to pancreatic cancer.  Leal has been -for more than half a century, well known as the Historian of the City of Havana and well respected in Cuba and around the world for his indefatigable work.  Eusebio Leal rebuilt palaces, fortresses, houses and squares, while at the Head of the office of the Historian and following UNESCO recognition of Old Havana as World Heritage site (1982).  The Historian managed donations and built a self-sufficient project sustained mainly with income raised through its own chain of renovated hotels. Most importantly, the Historian office provided needed social support and social work to the neighbours of Old Havana.  

Every morning people could see Leal walking through Old Havana something he did for decades. The Historian saw himself as a “guardian of memory,” and often expressed concern about those who loving decadent Old Havana forgot the many losses to time and change, losses he mourned dearly. The Historian knew he would never have enough time to achieve his entire goal -he would need many lives, he often said, to complete the work that kept him awake at night.  However, despite his concern and the size of the work Leal never gave up and instead tried with all his strength proving much could be achieved.  

The Historian rescued Havana through hard work, inexhaustible effort, and vision. He enlisted the support of anyone willing to bring to life his goal of restoring Havana to its original beauty. Since the 1960s, Leal dressed in grey a color he chose to facilitate communication with the men who helped him turn the old Palace of the Captain-Generals into the Museum of the City (of Havana). Men who were in jail but volunteered to work with him.  Leal was appointed Director of this Museum in 1967 and after his mentor, Emilio Roig de Leushenring, retired.

The Historian preferred blue for special occasions. Then, his passionate and knowledgeable speech would touch kings, popes, presidents, ministers, scholars and, very importantly, the many regular people who came in touch with him.  Leal guided Prince Charles, visiting from England, and King Felipe and Queen Letizia visiting from Spain.  His friendship and admiration for Fidel and Raul Castro and many Cuban political figures no doubt helped Leal achieve his dream. he was also a deputy to the National Assembly (Cuban Parliament) and was always open about his catholic faith, even at times where religion was strongly challenged.

Leal Spengler, born September 11th, 1942, was the son of poor farmers, the grandson of patriots and the great-grandson of immigrants of French and German background who arrived in Cuba from Haiti. He completed grade 5 when his mother sent him to an Asturian merchant she knew to complete an apprenticeship with him who failed to turn Leal into a merchant but succeeded in instill in him a strong faith and a wish of becoming a priest. Leal did not become a priest, he later said, because he could not remain celibate: “I loved women too much.” He married a few times and had five children, two of them living in Spain.  “Homeland and faith” his motto, insatiable reader from infancy and a regular reader of the Bible. I want to be remembered, he said, as a “Cuban devoted to his dream, a dream he was able to carry out mainly at the expense of wounds and indignities, sacrificing his private life.” Cubans knew Leal and his work through “Andar La Habana” (Walking Havana) a television program he did for years teaching Cubans to know and love their capital. Leal was the recipient of international recognition for his work, the last Order of Charles III from the King of Spain in November 2019 and Doctor Honoris Cause from Pontificia Universidad Lateranense (Pontificia Lateran University) on that same month and year.

See also: 

The Man Who Saved Havana, Smithsonian: