The End / Ernesto Morales Licea

I’ve never liked goodbyes. Like just about everyone I suppose. But only because we give a normal act, part of what it is to live, an especially gloomy connotation. And good goodbyes are also a sign of good events.

This blog was born on July 9 two years ago, and was born for an incontestable reason: it was my blog or my emotional equilibrium. I had to write it. It was the act of rebellion and self-realization most genuine that I’ve undertaken up to today.

However, I defend tooth and nail the concept of evolution. I defend the idea that everything, absolutely everything that makes up our existence, has a beginning and an end. Even the things that are most valued, most needed, most beautiful.

We have friends who appeared at some time in our lives and played a decisive role. They became indispensable. And then they disappeared again. When we come together at some point, or they join us by change, we revive the affection, but especially all the memories: what we were is in the past. It hurts to admit it, but in the present we are almost strangers.

Well, today I also conclude this blog. I think I no longer need it. And in almost nothing in my life do I act out of habit. I never write, discuss, love, read, see, and play sports from habit.

When I lose the vital motivation that fires my creativity, the imagination, the reason, I divest myself of the cadaver. Without much effort. Like the Greek Diogenes got rid of his barrel and his bowl, the only possessions that accompanied him in his frugal existence.

The origin of this blog was never to write “for the cause of Cuba.” Not only because I have written posts that have nothing to do with that, but also because above the fate of my country is my own fate. Writing, for me, has always been a hundred times more vital than writing about or for Cuba. To write, I suspect, without any certainty, is my reason for being.

Today that obsessive motivation that, in Cuba, led me publish as many as four posts a week is gone. Perhaps because I have other ways of asserting my political, religious, sexual, artistic opinions, without suffering serious consequences for it. Perhaps because something inside me knows that it’s time to evolve.

And it’s time to write something else.

Of course written journalism has been and will continue to be one of my passions. My articles continue to circulate on the web occasionally, when the motivation inherent in good tests moves me to type two or three pages and send them off to navigate.

But this Little Brother, the most crucial, risky and successful decision I made in my life up until now, this decision that started from a dream of mine, out of sheer panic, in a country where to dare to write independently is an act of crazy people, now closes its cycle of almost two years with 115 posts, several thousand weekly hits, and a legion of virtual friends who will never have any idea how much their support as readers and commentators meant to me.

My blog gained me the respect of hundreds of people in my hometown. I will never forget those strangers who suddenly approached me in the street, whispering, and extracted from their backpack some folded sheets printed with my articles. They were passing them on to someone else.

My blog brought me some of the best professionals and friends I’ve had the happiness to know in the United States. My blog made me forget my name in many circles. The Ernesto who I’d been for 27 years, became, simply, The Little Brother, or The Litt.

Also continuing to diligently call me, have been the petty little agents who are paid a salary in my city to follow me, and who regularly commented on my writing, “Have you seen what our Little Brother has posted now?”

To all, virtual friends and plainclothes cops, readers, collaborators with dates or topics, those who made it a habit to click on my link twice a week, to all my eternal gratitude and the certainty that without your attentions this blog would have died at birth.

To the others, there will always be Paris. For me, to tell my children, I will always have this free, irreverent and ambitious space as proof of the greatest exercise of a vocation for writing, and the freedom that I had in my young adulthood.

April 29 2012

On the Steps of Nila: Bayley, Cortes and Mega TV / Ernesto Morales Licea

It all started with a phone call. “Did you see the Jaime Bayly program?” a familiar voice kept asking. “I never watch the Jaime Bayly program,” I answered. The voice on the phone shot back, confident, “Then find the interview he just did with Tony Cortez. I need you to see that and give me your opinion.”

The tone was dry. He was upset. My friend did see the Peruvian Bayly often, I think he admired him. I thought, “What has Tony Cortez done.” Twenty minutes later, overwhelmed by the interview I had just seen on the Internet, I chose not to call back. I wanted to avoid having to give an opinion yet.

For about fifteen minutes Jaime Bayly mercilessly thrashed Tony Cortes who arrived on set as host of “On My Steps: Special Edition”, and who had obviously been caught by surprise by the onslaught. He tried to stay calm, to not lose his television mile, while his interviewer was piling on, one by one, words like “communist,” “Castro’s manipulative agent.” He barely allowed him to defend himself.

What was Jaime Bayly’s main accusation? That the films made by Tony Cortés in Cuba for the series “On my steps” would have been possible only with the consent of the State Security. And in this case, the actor and TV presenter would be little more than a transmitter of the Cuban government interests.

For fifteen minutes a gasping Tony Cortes tried to defend himself from the stigma. He failed. Even literally kneeling in front of his interviewer.

That night was August 17, 2011. Less than two months later, on October 12, Leonila (Nila) Hernandez, wife of Tony Cortez and mother of his two children, was locked in a dungeon of Villa Marista, State Security’s prison in Cuba. She had traveled to the island, states the actor, for purely family reasons and a few hours after stepping on Cuban soil the political police confined her to a dungeon.

The repulsive sensation I felt at seeing the interview of Jaime Bayly that night, had its explanation after the fact: I understood the day I learned of the arrest of Nila Hernandez, now case 53 of 2011, on charges of “illicit economic activity” and “dissemination of false news that threatens international peace.”

Following the steps of this family tragedy in reverse led me, inevitably, to a television channel, a night interview, and two journalists, Jaime Bayly and Tony Cortez, who that night played out a scene that is sad to remember.

- Tony, was this the first time you’d been invited to the Jaime Bayly program? Whose idea was this interview?

Mr. Bayly and his team had made couple of previous proposals for me to be the guest of the program at ten at night. We discussed the invitation several times with the team of my program, whether or not it was a good idea, mostly because of the workload I had at that time.

Finally I spoke with the management of Mega TV, and they believed it would be a good idea for me to be interviewed by Bayly, in part because of the considerable attention focused on my series “On my Steps,” which had just been nominated for an Emmy.

I remember the executive producer of my program did not agree that I should grant him that interview to Jaime Bayly, however I saw nothing wrong with that: we were part of a team, the same television, our programs were separated by just an hour, well …

There is even a memo from the SBS corporation that says explicitly that the hosts of both radio and television could not attack each other, on the assumption that we are all part of a working family.

As you can understand, nothing could have made me think of what happened that night.

- Was there some pattern, did they give you a topic with respect to where the interview with Jaime Bayly would be going?

No, not at all. I didn’t even know beforehand that it would be a controversial interview, which would have repercussions, because of the nature of the interviewer, of whom I was always a confessed admirer and whose work I respected very much.

I was thinking about an interview that also had some controversy might be nice, even arriving with a golf club to reinforce that idea. And my surprise was great when the interviewer turned the attack against me, against my work, a direct accusation with something as sensitive as it is to be called a Communist and spy for the Cuban government.

Jaime Bayly not only lacked basic ethics with such accusations, completely unfounded in reality which he is completely unaware of, but apparently did not need my arguments: he would not let me speak. It was the interview where the interviewer does not want to hear the interviewee.

- What happened after you left the program that night? What was your position, that of your interviewer, and the managers of the channel?

Look, at that very moment my wife was with me and she said to Jaime Bayly, “You shouldn’t make a judgment if you haven’t seen the whole series. We can send it to you.” He responded that he would watch it with pleasure. And just then he turned to other people, right in front of us, and said, “Others who stopped being my friends…” Nila turned to him and said, “And others whom we have stopped admiring.”

“That’s your choice,” was the last answer of Jaime Bayly.

We of course were left with a very bad taste from that interview. However, it would be much worse after that day, because with the approval of MegaTV management, Jaime Bayly unleashed a constant, daily campaign, of libel, personal attacks, ridicule against me.

I say with the approval of the management because on several occasions I met with executives Miguel Ferro and Alexis Ardines, I told them they should stop that, that these were no longer jokes but serious accusations, and the only response I got from them was, “First, make a plan to respond with what Bayly did not see your series. And second, you should also begin to attack him.”

I remember them telling me, for example, ideas for these attacks: “If you record in Peru, interview people who will talk about the position of Jaime Bayly relative to Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala. Let’s put out there what people in your country think about it, and it would be good to put it on at eight in the evening.”

And you know what? While I was in Lima recording “The Forgotten of Peru,” I asked some questions, I recorded a few people who had nothing good to say about Jaime Bayly … But at some point I stopped myself. I found it very counterproductive, I thought that was not me, I’m not attacking anyone. In fact there are some e-mails between management and myself with regards to that, where I refused to spend my program on this kind of war with Jaime Bayly.

From there my relationship with Mega TV began to seriously deteriorate. Not only because they did nothing about my complaints about the interview, but because they gave the green light to the rest of allusions about me personally in Jaime Bayly’s program, where I was accused (and even today he continues to accuse me) of being a spy and a Communist.

Even I complained because I felt that was exacerbating the agents of hatred against me, it was inciting any crazy to initiate an attack against me under this principle that I worked for the Cuban regime.

MegaTV allowed this to grow. That joke was growing. And I am convinced that both the interview by Jaime Bayly, such as the absurdities about the alleged “agent Tony Cortez” who could go in and out of Cuba freely, influence the Cuban regime to make a decision to take on my family.

- But the question is valid, Tony. How can you come and go so freely, you can film, and you did that three times under the noses of Cuban security? How do you explain your “luck”?

I do not call it luck, I just think that I was protected by God, for what I believe…

- So you were an elect of God? A superior body allowed you to do in Cuba what is not permitted to the rest, to enter and shoot freely?

No, not so, I’ll tell you something: my first series was not antagonistic. It was just a reunion with a Cuban with his Island. Like so many people have gone and have recorded their return to the beach, their parents, their neighborhood. That was my first series.

And if the State Security followed me, they noticed these were conversations with people in the neighborhood, with my family, dialogues between Cubans living a very complex reality.

The second series I think took the regime by surprise. The cameraman entered in one part of Cuba, and I in another. And this is good to clarify because some are speculating about it too: in “On My Steps” there no was a super-production or anything like that, we were just a cameraman and me.

By this second trip I did have a more extensive review in my luggage. I did carry the camera or the cassettes. They didn’t find anything on my so I had no problems leaving.

In the third and last trip I was able to record very little, I knew they were watching me too much, and the pictures I took I still kept back, they have not been disclosed. It is a series on the hospitals in Cuba. I was detained for 6 hours at the airport when entering and on leaving two hours. Then they cancelled my passport. Endpoint.

So what I want you to understand is that they let me in because it was an opening move, apparently more freedoms, and perhaps they thought I was harmless. When they realized that my films went beyond what suited them, they shut the doors.

- At what point and why were you dismissed by MegaTV?

The cancellation of my program at eight in the evening was disconcerting, and I don’t want to ignore that. For me it’s an antecedent to consider.

MegaTV ended my contract as a host of the show, “On my Steps. Special Edition” after we expanded the series to film in Ecuador, showing how Cubans were living there. This was quite popular among the public.

The exclusive interviews that Sara Marta Fonseca granted me also came out, interviews no other television station had, as did my exclusive interview with Ignacio Estrada and Wendy Iriepa.

I had heard that it was precisely my insistence on the Cuban issue that began to generate a certain heat with the management of the channel, which for some reason it seemed didn’t think this was important.

The last Monday of my program was the opponent Sara Marta Fonseca was released, we did a special program that had excellent ratings. I even have an e-mail congratulation on the part of the same management. And the very next day, the show’s producer told me that on Wednesday they would have a meeting with me.

At that meeting, Mr. José Pérez gave me the letter canceling my contract. Without any arguments.

So you can see to what extent there was an inexplicable urgency, ugly, that I leave MegaTV, the program that I recorded that Wednesday was repeated on Thursday and Friday. I was not allowed even a live farewell, as they did for example with Maria Elvira Salazar.

- Finally: after the imprisonment of your wife on October 12, have you had any contact with the same MegaTV managers, with Jaime Bayly? Have you heard what they have to say about what is happening with your wife?

No, no direct contact. MegaTV in a very suspicious and hasty way published a statement signed by Manuel Ferro, whose purpose was twofold: first to question the veracity of the arrest of my wife, and secondly to say their hands were clean, to claim that this broadcaster had nothing to do with this, since at the time of the arrest I was not part of the channel. For me this is nothing more than a servile and cowardly act.

And Jaime Bayly, always under the leadership of MegaTV, of Albert Rodriguez, Jose Perez, Alexis Ardines and Michael Ferro, he has not only not stopped the attacks and ridicule that is not only a provocation for me, but he strikes at the sensitivity of some children who are suffering the imprisonment of their mother in Cuba.

With the confirmation that Nila was incommunicado in Villa Marista, living God knows what torments, Jaime Bayly said in a program that my wife was vacationing in a very dark place in Havana. Almost daily he used my name to call me a double agent, according to him a spy for both Cuba and the United States.

I can never prove the responsibility of the broadcaster for what is now happening to my family. But I will always argue that the constant incitement by a well-known host, the challenge to state security, public questions about why they didn’t put me in jail, why they let me circumvent Cuban intelligence, all that is very very closely tied to this tragedy that my family lives today and that, fortunately for them, Jaime Bayly nor any of the directors of Mega TV are suffering.

Translator’s note: A couple of weeks after this post was posted, Tony Cortes’s wife Nila was released from prison in Cuba and returned to the United States, after being held in Cuba for approximately 6 weeks.

November 7 2011

Man Convicted in Bayamo Child Prostitution Ring is on Hunger Strike / Ernesto Morales Licea

One of those sentenced to prison following the prostitution scandal revealed in Bayamo, Cuba, in May 2010, after the death of a 12-year-old girl, has declared a hunger strike and as of today and has gone 16 days without eating.

Ramón Enrique Álvarez Sánchez owned a rental house for foreigners in Bayamo, and was arrested on August 4, 2010, allegedly involved in a child prostitution ring discovered after the death of the child Lilian Ramirez Sanchez, whose body was found in May 2010 on the outskirts of the city.

Alvarez Sanchez, 51, was sentenced in October 2011 to 14 years imprisonment for the crime of “complicity in the corruption of minors.” As part of the sentence, Alvarez Sanchez’s property was confiscated, including his home with his belongings, and the car inherited by his family.

According to Alvarez Sanchez’s daughters, Rosa Nelvia Alvarez and Maria Isabel Alvarez, he needed to be hospitalized last December 17 in the provincial prison “Las Mangas” due to low blood pressure problems after two weeks without food.

Both of Ramon Enrique Alvarez’s daughters say that he had been transferred to an isolation cell in the days before his hospitalization, to force him to eat.

Ramón Enrique Álvarez Sánchez y su nieta recién nacida

Ramón Enrique Álvarez Sánchez and his newborn granddaughter

 

The fundamental demand of Alvarez Sanchez is to have his case reviewed by Havana military prosecutors, as, according to him “this case has unacceptable irregularities, lies and manipulations” on which investigators/prosecutors in Granma province relied for their reports.

In a “manifesto” sent by Alvarez Sanchez from Las Mangas Provincial Prison in Granma, a central point of his complaint that the girls questioned after the death of Lilian Ramirez claimed to have participated in sexual orgies in a rented room on the second floor of his house, when the rooms available for rental were all in the first floor.

On the second floor of his house, he said, his daughter Maria Isabel Alvarez lives with her husband and young daughter.

In addition, Ramón Enrique Álvarez Sánchez reports that another of those involved in the case, Yaina Cosett Pardo Munoz (condemned to 22 years for murder and corruption of minors) testified against him under pressure and psychological torture, as he himself admitted publicly during the trial.

In his “Manifesto”, Ramon Enrique Alvarez alleges torture, beatings, being put in cold rooms, isolation cells, and other methods to force him and others involved to confess to crimes he did commit.

In his account, Alvarez Sanchez states that another man convicted in the case, Leonel Gamboa Milan, aka “Spike” (sentenced to 25 years for murder and corruption of minors) was put in the same cell with an alleged inmate who assaulted him with a sharp object, and told him to confess or he would kill him himself because he was the uncle of the dead child. According to Alvarez Sanchez, Milan Gamboa needed to be hospitalized for a kick in the testicles given to him by the interrogators.

Jeep seized from Alvarez Sanchez

Another of Ramon Enrique Álvarez’s demands is that they return all assets to his family, especially the Jeep, for which, according to him, there is nothing to justify their seizure.

The trial of the nine involved in the case (three Italians and six Cubans), was held behind closed doors between 26 and 30 September this year at the Manuel Muñoz Cedeño Professional School of Arts, located on the outskirts of the City of Bayamo.

The decomposing body of 12-year-old Lilian Ramirez Espinosa, was found on May 19, 2010 in a rural area on the outskirts of Bayamo. The death of the child in a sexual orgy with foreigners and Cubans caused a local and international scandal. Many arrests followed as part of an investigative process that has been denounced for numerous irregularities and inconsistencies.

All those arrested in the case were found guilty, sentenced to terms of between 10 and 30 years in prison, and their homes and belongings were confiscated immediately.

Following is the unabridged manifesto of Ramón Enrique Álvarez Sánchez.

Unabridged Manifesto of Ramón Enrique Álvarez Sánchez

Bayamo, November 10, 2011

Name: Ramón Enrique Álvarez Sánchez

Date of Birth: 29 / March / 1961

Case Number: 364/11

Alleged Crime: Accomplice to Corruption of Minors

On August 4, 2010 I was arrested and taken to the Granma Criminal Investigation Unit by the Official Instructor Luis Medina.

In a raid on my house they seized a computer, external hard drive, a flash memory and mobile phone, all clean, with nothing of child pornography, or anything relevant. Continue reading

Cubans and the Lessons from Myanmar / Ernesto Morales Licea

If a disturbing phrase from Milan Kundera affirms that man can never know how to deal the challenges of each day because life is a performance with no rehearsals, a painting without a sketch, a game played without training, then it is also true that there is a generally useful method for us to try to anticipate events, as fortune tellers sniff out the future in the palms of our hands.

It is this: to be attentive to history. Not the History in capital letters that we learn from our school books, but the history that is happening in this second all around us and of which we are an indivisible part.

We can say that for all Cubans, and in particular for the millions spread across the four corners of the earth, this is a method highly recommended for these times. Let’s look at it.

If the exiles from Myanmar — democratic citizens whom a fierce military junta forced to flee from their land over decades — had been told years ago that in 2012 there would be nothing stranger than the current situation of their country, they surely would not have believed it.

Burmese activists founded hundreds of organizations in exile, groups that served, especially starting in the ’90s, as the only sources of information about a country where it was impossible for observers and journalists to enter or leave.

In Thailand alone, Myanmar exiles created 200 associations to denounce and fight politically, receiving substantial funding and help from the international community. They were respected, and their demands for changes in a gagged and repressed country were heard.

But unexpected events rearranged the chessboard, changed the positions of the pieces. Some were even taken off the board. And those turned out to be none other than the ones who had historically played the harshest roles.

The military junta that ruled the destiny of the Buddhist nation since 1962 was dissolved in 2011. Free elections were called. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience were released, including those who had been rotting in the frozen dungeons — such as the comedian U Maung Thura, sentenced in 2008 to 45 years for criticizing the government’s management during the terrible Nargis hurricane — and those who had suffered house arrest — such as the famous Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. And so with each passing day it became more difficult for the exiled Burmese to sustain their confrontational positions toward the diluted dictatorship of modern times.

Or at least to do it without seeming like rebels without a cause.

According to the New York Times, organizations such as the Vahu Development Institute, founded in 1980 by Burmese students exiled in Thailand, suddenly lost their sponsorships, their financial and political support, for one basic reason: the NGOs previously backing their work now believed that if the activists wanted to continue printing banners with Aung San Suu Kyi, now freed and nominated for the Burmese Parliament, and to demand free elections which had already been called, they should do it with their own resources.

Some have returned to the changing Myanmar. The vast majority have not. Rooted in their lives in exile, they have built their families, their businesses, their political doctrines, on a base that has suddenly started to crumble: the enemy has not totally evaporated, but almost. Myanmar has changed before their eyes, and they are no longer in the game.

With their poorly healed loves, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, they don’t see they have ceased to be anachronistic fighters facing the reality they sought, dreamed of, fought for. The tragedy now is that they can’t stop seeing it, and they cannot adapt themselves to the new circumstances.

I don’t believe there is a more suggestive and instructive example for us, Cubans of the diaspora, than this logical course taken by a country where, since 2007, the monks — is there an image more peaceful than that of a Buddhist monk? — were met with bullets in their marches in opposition.

To compare the lethargic moves of the military junta leading Cuba with the process implemented in Myanmar would be hasty and inexact. But to ignore the fact that a journey of a thousand miles always begins with a single step, is to make the mistake that this example of the Buddhist nation alerts us to: to close our eyes and remain in our entrenched positions. To fail to pay attention.

The government of Raul Castro has generated no political change of real weight. But to refuse to admit that in the last four years Cuban society has experienced more alterations than in the last two decades of Fidel’s mandate, would be naive, as well as damaging to winning strategies.

The more superficial and insufficient, the more elementary we assume these changes to be, and above all — after a wait of five plus decades — to deny their existence, does no harm to the government in Havana, nor does it do any favors to the democratic exiles. Rather, it is the first step along this treacherous road of disconnect that many Burmese exiles are now experiencing.

Success against an entrenched enemy, one that has been barely damaged by the techniques of the siege, lies in taking advantage of its timid, trembling, cautious, cowardly, and at times imperceptible maneuvers of surrender.

I could not say that the release of the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring, the respect for religious freedom (which even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged in 2010), the sale and purchase of houses and cars, or the implementation of lines of credit to support the businesses of entrepreneurs, are the trumpets that announce the cataclysm. But taken all together, looked at under an objective prism, they can only point toward changes in survival that, if the millions of Cuban exiles know how to take advantage of them, could imply much more than that.

The half century of antagonistic positions do not leave us at the margin of a Cuban reality that is inevitably dialectical, and that at this very minute could be living its death rattle in an atmosphere of misleading passivity. As it has always been. So be it. Minutes before their collapse, all the buildings stood proudly.

Those who have committed their lives in body and soul to reclaiming a nation, “For all and for the good of all,” from an exile never desired, have a challenge of precise intelligence this time, of precious calculation: to not allow the democratization of Cuba to begin with them out of the game. Myanmar leaves her lesson in our hands.

(Published originally in Spanish in Martí Noticias)

February 27 2012

Willy’s Beatles’ Beat / Ernesto Morales Licea

What could be better, for an admirer of his work, to listen to Willy Chirino live and in person for two wonderful hours? Yes, at least for me: to listen to him honor the Beatles during those two hours that never should have ended.

I think that I could not have dreamed of a better first encounter with this sui generis icon of Cuban music, paying tribute to a genius with which he, perhaps without noticing it, has more in common than strictly musical influences.

Willy Chirino belongs to a strange breed of Cuban artists: those they never managed to expel from their land; those who conquered — by a knockout! — any limitation, dictated censorship, attempt to extirpate their songs, on an Island where to freely listen to music continues to be as utopian as the most primary freedom.

Some musicians applauded by the Hispanic community in exile faced the hard luck of becoming, in time, strangers, distant exponents for their brethren who remained in Cuba; Willy Chirino can be considered the unrivaled winner: I dare say that not even the great Celia Cruz was able to stay so rooted, of such constant interest to Cubans of different eras.

The king of underground parties, volumes controlled to avoid the eardrums of the CDR, suspicious listeners (for those who say, “and what if the police come knocking at the door?”), continued and continues to be Willy Chirino.

In particular, to know him singing the Beatles did not surprise me at all. For decades, Chirino confessed, in a certain threatening tone, his devotion to the boys from Liverpool. As he tells his followers, “Listen to me, I’m not telling you this for my own pleasure.” Ergo, to expect a tribute album to his (our) British idols was the chronicle of an announced work.

However, even for a musician of proven talent, even for the author of memorable albums such as Oxígeno y Asere, I admit that My Beatles Heart elevated my perception of the dreamer of melodies that is Willy Chirino by another rung. Every time I find it harder classify his music, to limit it to a stylistic context. Before, to call it salsero or popular music seemed reasonably accurate. Today, I think he knows, he’s made it hard for us.

As a sober attempt to avoid clichés, suddenly winking at his uncontrollable Beatlemania, Chirino didn’t choose an expected setlist for his album. He didn’t choose Yesterday, or Hey Jude, or Let it Be. He didn’t give in to a possible Imagine. Chirino leaves out too many songs for it to be coincidence. Even when he takes hold of All You Need is Love, Yellow Submarine and Come Together, his album strives from another principle: the honor of a whole work, not collection of works. In My Beatles Heart no part is more celebrated than the whole.

Was Willy aware, just when he signed the first of the endless documents; when he informed the Sony plenipotentiary that he wanted to cover his favorite boys, of the crown jewel, of the subtle and bittersweet irony implied in the Beatles in his voice?

The boys from Liverpool join Chirino in the immeasurable honor of being banned for decades in Cuba, the only country where until yesterday they zealously kept watch so that no one would listen to the dazzling British youngsters, and today they keep watch so that no one will steal the glasses off the statue of John Lennon in the park in Vedado.

Willy continues to be strictly forbidden. Lennon, Paul, Ringo and George, no. But more as an institutional farce with the key roles acted by the guardians of Cuban music order, a breath of subversive complicity continues emanating from musicians who have stuck out their tongues with malice aforethought at the greatest absurdity implemented by all known dictatorships: wanting to stop the unstoppable expansion of valid art.

So while listening to Willy last Saturday at the paradisiacal “Adrienne Arsht Center” in Miami, watching him talk with his eyes shining with pride and pleasure in his homage to the Beatles, the album confirmed something I had heard three days before: Willy Chirino not only sang them to his idols. With the tender versions he gave their themes, the musician of Consolacion del Sur thanked the causes of so much immortal music for their mere existence.

Three works of My Beatles HeartAcross the Universe, I’ve Just Seen a Face, and the mix I’ll Follow the Sun / Here Comes the Sun — revealed to me something of a subtle secret subtle: Willy Chirino was falling in love with those songs. In his voice they seemed like women courted. Willy doesn’t sing them, Willy sings to them. And I think I realized it from the impeccable production of his disc, before I saw him in concert: the miracle of a man with his own work, the undoubted owner of a vital space of Cuban music, prostrate with blind rage and humbled by their inspiration.

Just for that, just to see Willy as fascinated as the public itself, was worth not missing his show. But for me, in one of his songs I found the reason, in my childhood school in Cuba, to begin to distrust the slogans that they wanted to inject into my brain; for me, when I raised my artistic perception marking Oxygen with asterisks; and above all, for me who has long learned to breathe the freedom that only music allows, knowing the Beatles beat of Willy Chirino involved an experience that left footprints.

Meanwhile, I end this line as, in the background Across the Universe also comes to an end, and I find myself, along with the Cuban musician, along with the four Brits, saying that nothing will change my world. And how good that they are in it.

September 12, 2011

"Vinci": Leonardo and Mick Jagger Against Intellectual Guajirismo / Ernesto Morales Licea

When I read the latest episode of Eduardo del Llano, with his movie “Vinci” not being admitted into the upcoming International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, I can’t escape the memory of a charming passage in my short history as a television writer.

It occurred to us, the producers of a television program devoted to the cinema in my eastern city, to develop a hideous scaremongering project like that “300” based on the comic by Frank Miller. The idea was to break it down into an introduction with historical analysis that the film didn’t even come close to achieving.

Never, despite the television film questioners in the national totalitarian basement, were we censored. Later we understood: our proposals were too elevated for the coefficient of our censors.

However, just on the Sunday night that “300″ was to show on television in Bayamo, Cuba, the TV station phone received the order from the Provincial Party: we could not put that movie on the air.

The reason? A cultural censor diligently read a review in the newspaper Granma that night, which accused “300″ of being a manipulation of Hollywood against the Persians, great-great-grandparents of the current subjects of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. No, definitely not: forbidden to play the Imperialists’ game against our Iranian brothers.

I think of that, inevitably, after reading the argument under which “Vinci”, the prime cinematographic work of the ingenious Eduardo del Llano, was rejected by the “Selection Committee” (cacophony please) of the New Latin American Film Festival of Havana.

We can summarize the little letter in a sentence: the film was not accepted because it did not address a Latin American theme.

Yes, Edward is as Latin America as the warm Havana walls he lives between, his film is as Latin American as any production of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), but his work — horrors! — dared to look at universality from an imaginary passage in the life of Leonardo da Vinci’s genius, and the “Selection Committee,” world map in hand, knows that “that is not in Latin America.”

Ah … what a delicious passage. What a play of ironies: the director of the series of shorts featuring Nicanor O’Donnell (Luis Alberto Garcia), suddenly discovers he is starring in one of the amazing absurdities that fill his shorts.

Because the thread that ties the censorship of that gimmicky and mediocre movie we wanted to show and dissect for the public of my city, and this censorship with kid gloves that is now applied to Del Llano with his filmstrip, we could define it using a most delicious Creoleism: intellectual guajirismo.

It has political overtones in some cases, nationalist undertones in others, but has the same plinth at the level of the brain: guajirismo of the intellect.

Guajirismo is not a human condition or an accident of geography. It is primarily a projection of thought. Although the term is derived from the word “peasant” as applied to Cuban farmers, and by extension to any Cuban who is not born in Havana, I think the definition of peasants portrays the sort of intellectual closed-mindedness, ridiculous chauvinism, that certain intellectual circles in Latin America and in Cuba – where else? – are suffering from and where they reach their sovereign consummation.

It’s about a mental deformation so rotten with patriot-ismos, provincial-ismos, of values in the name of some supreme commander who doesn’t know what “must be defended,” which can be nothing less than to be abhorred by those who have true art.

In 2008, a Peruvian whose shadow is worth more than all the intellectual guajiro, Francisco Lombardi (responsible for some of the most memorable American films of recent years), was the President of the Jury of the same festival in Havana. I will never forget the bitter words in an interview with which he defined, for me, much of the film production that was done in the region, “An art that looks at its navel, an art for four brainy supposedly applauding spectators at a provincial hall.”

Unfortunately for Eduardo del Llano, his “Vinci” did not want to recreate the drama of a mining family in Bolivia, nor of the massacres of drug traffickers in Mexico, nor the Central American migration, nor was it a patriotic denunciation of the British presence in the Falklands.

The director wanted to recreate a piece of the Renaissance which enriched the genius born in Vinci, seasoning his story with some Rolling Stones musical culture (to conform with the mannerisms of the bisexual Leonardo), and that, of course, is not part of the ode to the cinematographic guajirismo that clearly sets the tone at the festival in Havana.

I can’t stop thinking about what would have been the fate of Luis Buñuel trying to cast his surrealist pieces in the competitive Latin American cinema in Cuba; I can’t stop thinking about the anonymity that Borges would have suffered were he from Havana, for not addressing “the Latin American reality” in his stories; he would never have been promoted at the International Book Fair of Havana.

And I can’t stop thinking, even in the endless production of officials, censors, enlightened bureaucrats, selection committees, sponsors of intellectual guajirismo in the entrenched national culture, which exhibits an Island where Severo Sarduy is less known than Miguel Barnet, Tomás Sánchez less than Kcho, and where political and thematic meters are still used to define what belongs to the art of Latin America and what does not.

I hope that this rare Cuban audiovisual bird that is Eduardo del Llano has learned his lesson: meanwhile an intellectual peasant hold the reins of the cultural politics of his country, which is consistent with the exuberant underground spread his work has had inside and outside the Island, which does not try to “thin” the atmosphere of the folkloric Festival.

(Published originally in Spanish in Marti Noticias)

November 16 2011

Guilty of Singing El Chupi Chupi / Ernesto Morales Licea

"We are so worried about the vulgarity of Cuban music"* - Garrincha

I’m curious to know the great influences of the reggaetoner Osmani Garcia, “The Voice” at the top of the Cuban charts. Good friends should be there. Not every reggaetoner achieved the status of censored celebrity displayed today by Chupi Chupi, turned into an ugly duckling of the radio stations, but a white swan of popular festivals, MP3 players, taxis, city buses and DVDs in national circulation.

The business is booming: Osmani Garcia must show some outrage at the avalanche of criticism officials have directed to his reggaeton, but only a little; his pocket knows he’s not suffering too much. If before the Scarlet Letter destined for it, his Chupi Chupi was the essential hit to shake one’s hips to on the Island, I wonder how much it would cost now to go to a Havana club to see “The Voice” together with the “dream team” that gave birth to seven-and-a-half minute song, a real record for the genre.

We know the premise: Cuba needs reasons to never bury the hatchet of war. My country is an eternal theater of war, where a child, Elian, was once missing, five or four-and-a-half heroes are prisoners of the empire, there is a cyber war or an embargo, they would have to invent something. The show must go on.

And when all is calm, you have to launch an attack, let’s say, against a domestic enemy. The State Council rolls the dice, Abel Prieto appears in the combination, and is told, “The flag is yours.” Thus begins the new Crusade against a film, a novel or a soap opera, a card game for children, or Chupi Chupi. It doesn’t matter.

Nice and paradoxical: the very people whom they distract in their scarcities under the Roman principle of “To the common people, bread and circuses, and if there is no bread, more circuses,” they now say that the circus should be sane. That the lions should not rip off more than one gladiator’s arm each time.

Above the musical aesthetic stance, one wonders if indeed Chupi Chupi which the Cuban press today accuses of being a musical aberration, differs in any way from the hundreds of thousands of similar songs which, give or take a few words, contain the same ingredients, and have never provoked a comment by the Minister of Culture on the Roundtable News program… (Cuba and its fertile mania for euphemisms: “news”).

Cabrera Infante titled a volume of short stories “Guilty of Dancing the Cha Cha Cha.” Now they would have it be a crime to sing Chupi Chupi, and the two charges are formulated basically as follows:

Charge No. 1: Chupi Chupi is an ode to fellatio, a monument to oral sex (I say: without which all intercourse would be a boring caricature of itself).

Okay, so what? So was that “Suck Lollipop” from the SBS trio that exploded in the ’90s in every Cuban nightclub, without trumpets of “to the slaughter” or blushing professors.

Other pre-reggaeton Cuban pearls of Cuban that passed from oral preambles and focused on intercourse pure and simple, although protected: “Use a Condom” from Charanga Habanera was a nineties anthem, on the radio, displayed in public, sung on television , but apparently the Puritan censors at the Ministry of Culture were called to attention for a new circus number.

Charge No. 2: Chupi Chupi is a hateful sexist reference, where lyrics, music and video relegate women to the status of an instrument of pleasure.

Confirmed. Are they going to ban then, under official decree, every reggaeton piece flowing through the Island, whether of domestic or foreign manufacture?

Because it’s a hard business to find a single album of the genre, just one, where the sublimation of a macho culture is not the primary seasoning, and where the optical reference to women is not the same as used by brown Santiaguans during a conga in the Guillermón Moncada massacre.

The arguments of the newspaper Granma make one burst out laughing, as they explain why the Luciferian Chupi Chupi deserves to be expelled from the media Olympus: sexist, vulgar, oversexed, devoid of ethical and moral values? I wonder where the tropical monks were, the protectors of Cuban morality, when “Classic Eminence” monopolized radio and television frequencies in the country with a delicate chorus that said, “Mami pitcheeea/ Que tu papi la batea/ Pitcheeea/ Cántame el strike donde sea.”

What is there to envy in the crude bite of Chupi Chupi versus the chorus of another omnipresent hit in its time in Cuba, in the mouth of Insurgent and Baby Lords (yes, the same guy who tattooed his commander – Fidel – on his shoulder) shouting: “I take my bat to the pitcher’s wife / I like the meat of the butcher’s wife / The woman in cop car asked for my gun / And the fire firefighter’s wife is setting me on fire.”

But above all: Are the rulers of my country going to be eternal discoverers of warm waters. Will they always “discover” too late that the drugs are swarming in, that prostitution doesn’t only happen on the Malecon, that the Marabu weed is the new national symbol rather than the Royal Palm, and that the vulgarization of the whole society involves more serious issues than Chupi Chupi which is just the last guest to arrive?

Have the sociologists and doctors who publish in Granma looked at what five-year-old girls in Cuba are wearing, with lycra and shorts with their butts hanging out? Have they listened to the aspirations of quinceañeras whose dreams of prosperity involve finding the best foreigner to pay for them and take them to live a dream of wealth and unhappiness abroad?

Are they aware of what is to pay with genital suction, or an equine wiggle of the hips in the bathroom, according to the “amusing” anecdote told in Amsterdam by the eldest daughter of the president himself? Have they taken the time to explore the causes and consequences of girls who, in exchange for ten dollars, star in dizzying lesbian pictures, where they are photographed, filmed, humiliated, drugged, and if something goes wrong with the affair, they die?

Probably not. Cuba and its press are specialists in the branches, never in the roots.

It’s simple, it’s good to see, to demonize a song today as an exemplary warning against a more filthy, more degrading and real evil: the vulgarization of Cuban society which does not happen because young people like reggaeton, or because a Videoclip Festival nominates Chupi Chupi (for its undoubted merit as an audiovisual production). That is just the tip of the iceberg sustained on another basis: the huge loss of values of this society, an evil that always goes hand in hand with poverty.

It’s not me who said it. Ryszard Kapuscinski said it before: “Never has full honor and dignity existed in a people with misery. When there is misery, man corrodes, self-destructs, loses his love and solidarity. Whoever doubts it, toss a crust of bread to a hungry crowd, and see what happens.”

No, I would not want my future children dancing to Chupi Chupi at their children’s parties. I do not want sexual messages to be the order of the day in their children’s ears. But beyond that, I would not want any Cuban child to grow up affected by the shortages, losing her sisters in the arms of a chubby Italian, learning that by robbery, fraud and pimping one can live better than by studying for a university degree .

All Cuban parents, I am sure, all parents and teachers of this society adrift, know how to deal in their teaching ephemeral with products as ephemeral as Chupi Chupi. They know how to counteract any unhealthy effect that songs like this inject in minds in training (for those already formed, let no one come to us to say that the message of reggaetón is bad. Are we?).

But do the parents know, do Cuban teachers know, how to deal with the social degradation that awaits the young once they finish their moral lessons and emerge into the real Cuba?

*Translator’s note: The cartoon shows a lone Lady in White being threatened by an unruly mob, indistinguishable from the sort the regime calls together for its “repudiation rallies.” Are they harassing this flower-carrying so-called “enemy mercenary in the pay of the empire”? Or are they simply singing Chupi Chupi… a song the regime is also attacking through the media.

November 28 2011

Brain Adjustment Act / Ernesto Morales Licea

And for this election I have some ideas that...

Who could have told the patriarch Fidel Castro that in the autumn of his years he would find an ally to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, and not among his starched-brain little spokespeople in the leftist corners of the world, but among Miami’s ranks of the ultra-right-wing itself? If he had the strength for it, the commander would be jumping up and down.

As always, for the old fox of Caribbean politics, everything goes well: after he’d spent years railing against a law that favored those fleeing the socialist paradise, an unlikely helper was born; when his mouth had already gone bone dry denouncing the benefits and freedoms for those who — whether from political persecution or empty stomachs — fled to the northern neighbor; just then, along comes a reinforcement, camouflaged in the skin of the enemy.

Of course: when someone beats on their children at home, the least he wants is to find help in the house next door.

It’s idle to wonder if the Republican David Rivera thought of this when drawing up his proposal to restrict the movement of thousands of emigrants to America. First, judging by the unfortunate wording of the document, the Cuban-American congressman didn’t devote too many neurons to it. Second, this is clear because if he did think, he’d have said to himself, “What matters is not to propose something serious and valid to my knife-between-the-teeth voters, better to satisfy them with a recalcitrant amendment, and let the elections come.”

Sad but true: even though every day the landscape of the exile changes, as it loses the heat of blind fanaticism — justified or not, but, in the end, fanaticism; despite that the massive demonstrations that gave off a primordial hatred have been restricted to six poor devils who entertain the local community; and despite the fact that more and more young Cubans are tired of playing the game of estrangement that comes to both the satraps of the island and sledgehammer-carriers in Miami: despite all this the times are yet to come when political restraint governs the destiny of South Florida.

Legislators such as David Rivera still represent the Cuban exile, something not overly promising.

Why? Because the clear intention to fan the flames of separatism, the effort to please a section of Miami that long ago lost all contact with the Island, and no longer has a mother to visit, a son to incite; the cunning arguments used by Republicans legislators like him and Mario Diaz-Balart to prevent Cubans from deciding how often they visit their country and how to help it, borders on the grotesque. And, at least for me, Democrat by thought and conviction, it makes me not a little ashamed.

First, no one would have the naiveté to assume that Rivera doesn’t know the Adjustment Act. That’s the ABCs. Rivera, then, is well aware that this law in reality did not come about to protect political refugees, though according to him it did. It was created simply to adjust the immigration status of the 258,317 Cubans living in the United States in 1965, who could not return to their country and, ergo, had to be legalized.

From this it follows that to lead the discussion on the law from the premise of, “I gave you this in exchange for that, and if you don’t comply with that I’ll take back what I gave you,” is another way of saying, “I legally adjusted your condition in the United States, provided you do not return to your country; if you do return to your country before I deign to let you, I will withdraw the adjustment.” This can only be understood as a clever manipulation, the thinking of a lender — a usurer — which is so far from the sense of a nation founded on respect for the individual.

Secondly: Let’s examine some televised statements by the representative Rivera. They will serve to exemplify in the future what we would define as cynicism, pure and harsh. Asked what he thought of the hundreds of thousands of exiles whom this would affect with regards to visiting a sick relative, to whom it is difficult to give two weeks of relief from the nostalgia, the congressman said, more or less: “My commitment is to the 11 million Cubans who are suffering in the island. “

Background. David Rivera was born in New York, he has never stepped foot in Cuba, and he says to the hundreds of thousands of us who have our loved ones there, that he cares about them more than we ourselves do.

But the worst part of this legislative legerdemain, the most unfortunate of the escalations that Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio began earlier this year and that Mario Diaz-Balart continued, is that incarnated now with redoubled energy by David Rivera, with regard to limiting in one way or another what Cubans decide to do with their money and their vacations; this is what provokes the emigrants themselves: a catastrophic division, an eternal spiral of attacks, slurs, verbal assaults, which have nothing to do with the exercise of democracy, and a lot to do with the totalitarian tactics they say they are fighting against.

Every day I doubt less that this thinking has any interest in evolving. He likes himself. He stares at his navel and says “Never forget,” feeling he has exhales a maxim to be carved in stone.

This, fortunately, is a retrograde faction that every day is more alone. Let’s see:

1. This is not a current that is in tune with Cuban dissidents in their vast majority. With very rare exceptions, the bulk of the opposition within the island approves of the emigrants traveling when they want, and helping their family however they want. If you think otherwise, seek out the statements of Dagoberto Valdes, Yoani Sanchez, Laura Pollan, Oswaldo Paya, the brave priest Jose Conrado, and almost everyone who has something to say.

2. This is not in tune with the released dissidents now living in Spain or the United States. I have talked in one way or another with most of them: all arch their eyebrows when they see that on this side there are some who try to emulate the Cuban establishment in terms of restrictions on freedom.

3. This is not in tune with the most brilliant and respected artists and intellectuals of the exile itself: neither Willy Chirino, nor Carlos Alberto Montaner, nor Donato Poveda, nor Enrique Patterson, nor Amaury Gutierrez nor Emilio Ichikawa, nor a long list of men of thought and notable works, to defend the distance from the Cubans “over there,” as elementary logic of those who advocate the end of a history full of distances, and above all: for the defense of freedom in its most fundamental form.

4. And finally, even worse: it is deeply divorced from the generation of Cubans — among whom I include myself — who, whether they like it or not, whether they can choke it down or not, by the laws of biology, will be responsible for the future of Cuba. It is as divorced from the young Cubans who live in Miami today, as it is those who inhabit the Island. Also in this, the right-wing extremism in exile shakes hands with Cuba’s totalitarian extremism: it does not respect those who will outlive them.

So every day I distrust more, not only the morality and purity of intent of these alleged libertarians, but their analytical skills. Their intellectual acuity.

You cannot rate very highly the analytical skills of “analysts” who say, for example: “No money for Cuban families: it is money that ends up in the hands of the regime,” and then fiercely support economic aid to the opponents on the Island. The question for those hundred million dollars: in what stores do the opponents on the island buy their food, their meat, their clothes? At Macy’s, Publix, Wal Mart? Or in the same stores my family shops in, i.e.: the stores of the regime?

It is worth thinking urgently about a law that would adjust certain brains.

I believe that at least the 324,000 Cubans living in the United States who traveled to the island in 2010, will be thinking about this very basic Republican idea when it comes time to cast their votes for Congress. In my elementary logic, with respect to my own interests, it seems to me a terrible deal.

August 22 2011

Harlequin Memoirs / Ernesto Morales Licea

If a some genuine idolatry remains for the old, the idolater must be suffering a severe existential crisis. The lackeys with pedigree, the real ones, suffer the unspeakable when their idols are revealed as mere humans, and, in cases like this — Fidel Castro publicly exposed for 6 hours — a human grotesque.

To associate the iconographic Fidel Castro, the one that obliged Virgilio Piñera to clench his sphincter so as not to urinate in fear of at behemoth with a gun in his belt he met in 1961 with other intellectuals gone astray; to associate with this old man of bony cheekbones, emancipated jaw and eyes moving against the grain of the story, could be understood in the field of biology, but idolaters assume biology as a matter of mortals. And how to get an idea that the Supreme Leader also will become sometime a graceful old man like this, an old man who only serves to be made fun of?

The ominous symbolism this man carries does not impede us from enjoying the hilarious comedy that featured in his most recent speech at the launch of his memoirs in the Palace of Conventions in Havana.

Guerrilla of Time, is the title of this book from Katiuska Blanco, the diligent scribe destined to type these nearly thousand pages of fiction separated into two volumes. Guerrilla of Time. The satraps and their unique manias: some raised pyramids, others constructed memoirs with pharaonic titles.

Maybe the two volumes of this quasi-posthumous delirium of Fidel Castro will no longer serve to decorate the official salons and as gifts for the party vanguard, but the colorful launch of this caprice of power, what was said and not said in this little room of the Palace of Conventions, is not wasted. As they are quick to say: there History was made.

The old man spoke of the human and divine. His audience, composed of an exotic mortar of frauds, idolaters, and useful idiots, laughed heartily when the commander asked them to, and stifled their genuine laughter when prudence suggested it.

The old man dropped priceless pearls. Example: he called the Republican candidate Mitt Romney “the least unbearable of the unbearables,” revealed a top secret by claiming that the British intended to drill for oil in the Falklands, and muttered his personal definition of what the Internet is: “a revolutionary instrument that allows the receiving and transmitting of ideas in both directions, something we must learn to use.”

Among lightheadedness and hiccups, including delusions and voice problems, now whispering, now pronouncing indecipherable gibberish like one who speaks an extinct language, Castro more of an exhibition than ever, mentioned, for example, a hybrid between his deceased sister-in-law and the president of Brazil (“Vilma” Rousseff); confessed the error of setting an entire people to study Russian when the whole world was learning English; and when they gave him the phone to talk to the released spy Rene Gonzalez, he mistook him for another member of the Wasp network behind bars, Antonio Guerrero.

He was commanded to run.

So as not to clash with the atmosphere of comic theater, the two cultural acolytes who escorted the lean leader this time, gathered in their harvest. Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture, said of this memoir that “many people in the world today, facing the barbarism, will run to look for it” as a manual of solutions. Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, went further: “This book recreates the life of the Commander like a film in the third dimension.”

In all probability this could be the last major public appearance of yesterday’s strongman of the island, today a framework of bones, badly combed hair and babbling colors. I do not think his body can take another six hours of cantata, although with this archaeological specimen one never knows, really.

But like a bittersweet ending, as this turn of tragicomedy that cuts the smile until it becomes a painful grimace, the presentation of the first two volumes of the memoirs of Fidel Castro will leave an image as an historical shame: intellectuals, artists, scientists, teachers, converted into puppets on their strings who applaud, laugh or get excited at the moment a brain scorched by the time requests it, and even, if necessary, an auditorium that would become the army of nurses willing to change the soiled diaper of the incontinent leader.

February 9 2012

The Passion Kills Us / Ernesto Morales Licea

If the rumor about Cuban baseball is confirmed, I think the bad news for the national sport will exceed that having played a tournament in Rotterdam to forget, or that of having been deprived, for the umpteenth time in recent years, of an international title (this time, by Taipei of China).

The threatening rumor is another: Yoennis Cespedes, the greatest slugger in Cuban baseball today and without a doubt one of the shining talents of the island, could be out of it, and not in an official tournament.

The comment has been gaining strength while a not to clarify the lie or confirm its veracity has not appeared. The story, roughly speaking, there would be this: the burly player from Granma province, current owner of the record for home runs in the National Series (with 33), “disappeared” as of last Tuesday, when he should have gone to the capital to complete the preparation towards a trivial ALBA tournament.

An unfortunate incident had occurred a few days before, Cespedes hit a pedestrian while driving a touring car near the coastal town of Manzanillo. The pedestrian was killed in the accident. Yoennis was arrested by the authorities, and after being cleared of responsibility for the event (it is said that the pedestrian was all the fault), was immediately released.

A few days later, according to the rumor, he vanished from the face of the earth, along with his mother and another star player, although not one of the stature of Cespedes, Henry Urrutia from Las Tunas.

All the Cuban specialists, residents on the island, with whom I’ve communicated about it, agree on one thing: if in reality Yoennis Céspedes chose to illegally depart from Cuba in a way that has not been specified, the fatal accident was not the fundamental motive. At best, it would be a complement, not the essence.

How might I describe what would be the reason that another “out of this world” player abandoned his League, his country, in search of another destination, unknown to us but we can surmise. From a mixture of professional dissatisfaction (despite his status as supreme batter, he was not chosen to represent Cuba in the next tournament in Canada, and instead was relegated to an ALBA event that doesn’t even interest the convalescent Hugo Chavez), and personal dissatisfaction: his position as a world “sub-champion”, of an athlete competing and winning internationally, he manages — oh supreme reward! — to collect $100 a month, and receives an electric bicycle as a reward for his effort.

Seen through Cuban eyes: tremendous. Seen through non-Cuban eyes: ridiculous.

The truth is that behind the mysterious and suspicious history of Yoennis Céspedes, a peasant from Campechuela, who through the force of his hits and his overwhelming talent became known throughout the country and beyond, whether or not his escape is true*, whether he appears triumphant in the morning before the cameras of Cuba or Miami, lies a more comprehensive and robust fact of one more potential migrant: the quick galloping death of Cuban baseball as a reflection of a national death.

Cuban baseball is sick. And critically so.

It would be an agonizing enterprise to list the number of players who in the past, say, ten years have left the country in the most diverse ways. Some take the simple road: scuttling off from their delegations as they compete in a certain nation; others with more risky route, sailing the sea or crossing borders.

Gone are the days of the impact generated by Kendry Morales and Barbaro Canizares when they deprived the Industriales team of a first class player in the first case, and an important player in the second. These, in turn, had replaced the earthquake that originated earlier with the supersonic pitchers Jose Ariel Contreras and Duke Hernández, when they abandoned the National Series for the Major Leagues. The constant rocking, the endless saga that becomes dangerously large, includes names that echo to young fans, both in the cases of Maels Rodriguez and Yadel Marti, and one who with his fabulous touches of the bat was the best lead-off hitter the team has had Cuba in recent years: Leonys Martin from Villa Clara. The new history of absences, of sudden vaporizations that yesterday shook the national stadiums, and the suddenly signed millionaire contracts with MLB: like the impressive Alexei Ramirez.

Yes, Cuban baseball is sick unto death. The national apathy infected. Infected with the virus of despair, injustice, of the prohibitions, a system that is not satisfied to destroy buildings and cane fields; is not satisfied with depopulating the streets and populating the prisons; is not satisfied with engineers throwing peas into the traditional coffee; is not satisfied with destroying the economy and the family unit, is now stoning the national sport.

How? Maintaining its iron fist. Keeping archaic restrictions that are impossible to observe. Pretending to tie the freedom of athletes who know themselves used for the most revoltingpolitics, tying their freedom with humiliating gifts such as an electric bicycle or a half-finished apartment.

And these young athletes have something, against the will of their jailers: a worldview. They have played in real stadiums. They have known real cities. They have talked with their colleagues of other nations, have known their real salaries, including of athletes of lesser stature.

And above all: have known, smelled, felt, what true freedom is. They have looked at the World Baseball Classic at the galactic Japanese playing their seasons in the U.S., but defending the uniform of Japan internationally. They have compared their situation as slaves, flagged with quasi-military orders, obedient to a miracle of longevity — the near cadaver — like the Gallego Fernández (president of the Cuban Olympic Committee), with the rest of the contestants who, no matter what the team in the Major Leagues sweat baseball talent, return to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela, to play for their countries in world events and to bring hope to their fans.

Would not those same players, those Cuban stars, dazzle in the leagues dazzle in the U.S. or Japan, and finance on the Island the construction of real stadiums, sponsor children’s teams? Of course. The stories of Bartolo Colon, Alex Rodriguez and Tino Martinez, are drops of water in a sea of similar practices.

To open the floodgates to recognize the free will of Cuban baseball players, would allow them to return to their homeland after competing in other leagues in the world, would it not avoid the inevitable and unidirectional exodus, and would it not again raise the level of Cuban baseball to the days when there was a real pride in their international supremacy? Who doubts.

A Cuban team today, with the pitching of Livan Hernandez Aroldis Chapman, where Leonys Martin, Kendry Morales and Alexei Ramirez returned to the fields, and where global experience merged with local training among all its members, would surely not the fools that define today’s “Cuba” in almost every tournament it attends.

Of course, recognizing the right to individual liberty and the inviolable belonging to a nation, is not something done by leaders who choose to own the souls of their subjects. When Fidel Castro and his followers found that an effective way to “prove” the superiority of the system in place in the island was by dint of hits and strikes, Cuban baseball players were hung with a golden shackle on their foot, almost more visible and heavier than that of the rest of their countrymen. Among baseball players and Cuban doctors there is a strange coincidence of tropical slavery.

So Cuba falls, Cuba lost, Cuba is wrong over and over in recent years. So Cuba not only loses tournaments, games, important or unimportant, with American university students: it now loses to Curacao, to Taipei, to geriatric squads from the Dominican Republic, and to any team from Korea and Japan that they face.

Is there reason to rejoice? For some, yes. The Baseball-Player-in-Chief no longer has bragging rights. For others, for me, no: I’m not a passionate follower of baseball, I know the suffering of my people who, at least during nine innings in a crumbling stadium in Bayamo and Pinar, feel something like happiness, and that with each loss, with each player that escapes and will never play again, it saddens them with the same intensity with which they assimilate the food shortages, water shortages, lack of love.

Is it bread and circuses for the hypnotized populace? Maybe. But anything that gives a glimmer of peace for Cubans is something that I defend with passion.

To clarify, the story of Yoennis Céspedes, with 33 home runs over his shoulder, is nothing more than another number, another point in sports history today. It will be the same whether his escape is confirmed, or if it’s nothing but a wretched rumor. Anyway, in my opinion, even if he stays on island his career could come to an end: with such a “suspicion of desertion” in tow, superior Cespedes would play in no international events as punishment for the crime he never committed, but might have.

With Tony Castro, (Fidel’s son), a sports doctor made the vice president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, by the grace of his name with pedigree, there will be no second chances for the unreliable Cespedes. Now that I think of it, one of the bizarre ironies of this tragedy to the rhythm of sweat and conga baseball, is that a doctor dressed in Adidas supervises the comatose gravity of our national passion.

Translator’s note: Since this blog post appeared several months ago, Cespedes did leave Cuba and, as of January 2012, has established residency in the Dominican Republic, making him eligible to play in the major leagues in the United States.

July 5 2011

Reina Luisa’s Other Versailles / Ernesto Morales Licea

If, at the moment she stepped foot on U.S. soil that June 9, 2011, someone had whispered in Reina Luisa Tamayo’s ear that barely seven months later, this January 31, 2011, she would be at the Versailles Restaurant not as a heroic mother, but as a woman in need of support and understanding; no longer a protagonist of a campaign to defend universal human rights for which her son died, but rather in a campaign for her own economic aid, she wold have thought it was one more of Castro’s manipulations.

Too many lies had been targeted at this humble woman who, in the midst of her pain, had to see herself on Cuban television, spied on by a hidden camera in the office of her son’s doctor, maligned, even about her integrity as a mother.

Seven months ago Reina Luise appeared before other cameras, at the Miami International Airport, with the ashes of her poor son in her arms, surrounded by a delegation of activists and leaders of the exile — including a federal congresswoman — receiving the treatment of a heroine: admiration, promises of aid, family invitations, a site for the eternal rest of her son. The media fought over her. Everyone wanted to talk to her, congratulate her, honor her. Reina Louisa was news.

Behind the scenes, the only ones ignorant of what would soon happen in their lives, were the twelve family members who sought political asylum at her side, and Reina Luisa herself.

Recent statements by the Lady in White, offered to the journalist Pedro Sevcec on his program “Sevcec a Fondo” of América TeVé, where she stated explicitly that on her arrival in the United States she was manipulated, and that she and her twelve family members felt cheated, and where she tried to keep her voice from cracking when she responded the question of the host about whether she regretted coming to this country, were the sad time bomb that we all knew would eventually have to explode.

The first signs appeared months earlier. A man who carries the same surnames — Zapata Tamayo — Rogelio, Orlando’s older brothers, told a reporter of the Gen TV chain words that shocked the ears of the Cuban “historic exile”:

“This has all been a deception, since we arrived, first they told us one thing, then they told us another, and at the end of the day, the truth is we don’t know what’s what. Everything becomes political. I’m not political, I don’t engage in politics… what I lived in Cuba, I did in Cuba. My principal objective here is to work and I can’t figure out how to do that.”

Lately, Reina Luisa prefers not to give interviews. It’s easy to see why.

But now she has broken her silence and returned to the news, this time to look at the promises that lured her to American soil which turned out to be unreal, to present how she and her family have been simply used by a political and ideological machinery opposed to what harassed her in Cuba, the real story has surfaced. And in a very painful way.

First the family was lacerated by the Cuban government’s repression. Then, the sordid reality of a distant exile, where many end up dying of a badly healed nostalgia, and where those who don’t know how to care for themselves only have one option in the range of possibilities: to never come.

Would it be wroth it to investigate the history of the broken promises made to this family by the exile organizations and leaders? Of course. Not to corroborate what we already know, but to demonstrate how much these humble Cubans were lied to in order to bring more victims to Miami, at any cost.

It would be worthwhile to ask who told thirteen people, with poor educations, and a woman of 65 with health problems, that they would be supported indefinitely in a city where everyone has to strive not to increase the existing 11.5% unemployment figure, and where thousands of those born here, bi-lingual, and with full knowledge of the society, cannot get jobs to support themselves, or must work as cleaners — as Reina Luise states she has had to do — in order to pay their bills.

When Reian Luisa, implored from Banes, Holguin, to change the family’s original destination from Arizona to warm and “known” Miami, she thought she knew what she was doing. That is: to arrive at the place where her comrades in the cause and pain could better help her and hers. The efforts of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, turned her request into an immediate order.

Today, Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s mother is learning her lesson in the most difficult was possible: in free societies, not only do we enjoy inalienable rights, we also contract enormous obligations. The first and foremost: the obligation to take care of our own lives. So we live in the best part of the civilized world. So we live in the society of the United States where, hopefully I’m wrong, Reina Luisa will probably never adapt.

To all this, the crossfire. From Cuba the propaganda apparatus laughs and shows a captive people the benefits of an exile, where icons, like Reina Luisa, say they feel betrayed seven months after arriving in freedom. In Miami, too many voices begin to use words like “ungrateful” and “unfair” to name the thirteen relatives of the martyr.

How do you explain to a woman who did not choose her own destiny, who has been a victim of it; a woman lacking education, without her Santiago birthplace and her adopted Banes, without an existence beyond the excruciating pain of losing a child; how to you explain to her that now she and hers must fend for themselves, away from the television cameras, away from the headlines, without organizations or politicians now too absorbed in election year politics?

How do you make her understand that the concept of the paternalistic State, where houses “are given,” where you don’t have to pay for health care, where if you lack sugar or rice the solution is to ask to borrow from the misery of your neighbor, that all that is in the past, that in this land not only is freedom won, but, above all, responsibility for one’s own destiny.

How do you make her understand that she would be invited to speak to the Congress of the United States, that she would be invited to tell her story in Boston and Puerto Rico, but that once the narration was finished she would have to pay her own bills for electricity, cable, telephone and transportation?

No, it’s not possible. As it is not possible to return her son to her, and to return her happy and humble life in Banes from years earlier to her. Like it will not be possible to go from door to door of all those in Miami who promised her guaranteed support, and demand that they fulfill their promises.

The image of Reina Luisa Tamayo this January 31 in the Versailles restaurant, appealing to her symbolism to move the sentiments of anyone who could offer a job in consolation for her and some of her family members, seems to me a huge sadness. And I suspect that those directly responsible for this reality don’t even know what has happened today to the mother of Orlando Zapata, nor do they care.

February 1 2012

Raul’s Hieroglyphics / Ernesto Morales Licea

I waited a few days for the media excitement to die down and the headlines to fade over the statements by the General President about immigration policy. I preferred to sniff out the reactions, read between the lines, question, wonder, before developing an article worthy of such a sensitive and core issue. Cuban immigration policy is not just one more issue. It is, in my opinion, one of the cornerstones of the indefensible, a caveman-worthy backwardness that the Island has suffered over the last half century. For those who sidestep the issue and for those who confront it, it becomes a matter of the greatest interest to Cubans on whatever shore.

So, to know that Raul Castro is immersed in reviews about how Cubans enter and leave their country; to hear it affirmed that certain practices that have unnecessarily endured over tie will be modified; and to suspect they are preparing the ground for the return of “other” exiles, seemed to me — and now, at a distance of some days, still seems to me — some of the most important news that has come out of Cuba in a long time. And I’m not one for handing out swift hurrahs.

Why does this announcement seem important to me? First, because I can’t imagine that another update could inject itself into Cuban immigration policy to make it more viable, more likely, that they wouldn’t eliminate the Jurassic “white card” (exit permit) that has cost Cuba politically so much over the decades.

And second, because every time I now hear “simple economic migrants” could return to Cuba any time they wanted, the affirmation of the General President that almost all preserve their love for their family and for their country, it only leads me to one conclusion: to eliminate the prohibition that weighs over hundreds of thousands of exiles, because they escaped on a raft, or because they don’t sympathize politically with the regime, they have been deprived of the right to visit their family.

And if this finally happens, if agonizing and trembling, they eliminate much of these unjustifiable barriers to entry and exit, I think the government of the Island would pose a new scenario worthy of attention, at least on the part of honest critics. I discount in advance those on both sides who fatten their pockets on the conflict; those who make political hay from the alienation; and those whose brains boil with hatred that prevents them from looking at events through the right lens.

Even if at a glacial pace, has there been movement in the country in the last five years or not, the five years of the younger brother’s mandate? I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s three times that of what the firstborn allowed.

For me, to vaporize prohibitions that never should have existed, such as those concerning cell phones, DVDs, Cubans being able to enter hotels; to begin to decentralize the economy (with more setbacks than successes, with more stumbles than firm steps, but at least with a philosophy that embraces anti-statism); to accept publicly and clearly that the number one enemy of the country is not “the Empire that blockades us,” but corruption, inefficiency, and the illegalities entrenched in society;and above all: to empty the prisons of the considerable number of political prisoners who, after we checked, were not really exiles (those who demanded to remain in their country); are, for me, reasonable evidence that Cuba is moving. That the floor is shifting, becoming more nuanced, giving birth to a perspective that didn’t exist until recently, and that, whether we like it or not, accept the obvious or not, is the pragmatic younger brother reaching out a hand.

If, then, a new horizon appears, I think the table is set to ask ourselves: Is Raul Castro placing his bets on this side of the network? Are we looking at a picture that is usable, necessary, useful, or should we ignore it because we are done with deceptive illusions?

Personally, I don’t think there is an overly altruistic will behind these reforms. A country bled by hunger, by the restrictions, by tax practices, by stifling bureaucracy, is not the work of chance or of the embargo: it is the result of mismanagement that has lasted for over five decades. And Raul knows it. And he also knows, that if in some way he tries to contain, delay or prevent the thunderous collapse of a model introduced with blood and fire, it’s necessary to grease the wheels. To “de-ideologize” the workings of a country where even the orgasms have socialist spasms.

Far from the idyllic epics of Fidel Castro; possessor of a well-known pragmatism, and perhaps more given to the efficiency than the caudillo who, instead of dedicating his hours to thinking about how to make the country more habitable, employed them in Guinness Book of Records speeches, Raul Castro has started to drop the dead weight.

And because of this, following the same logic, it seems to me that the disappearance of the cynical and sinister Exit Permit, together with the possibility of return for many who until now could not do so, are more than reasonable: they are imminent measures.

Will the ailing Cuban economy miss the 150 CUC cost of each “white card,” as the exit permit is known? Earlier we formulated another question: Why are Cubans “left” in other countries? Simple: Because of the complexity of traveling to Cuba is such that you never know if you can do it again. With every Cuban who works a few months in the Netherlands, Chile or Ecuador, and does not return to the Island, the national economy loses important influxes of foreign capital. But I am sure that a huge percentage of those permanent emigrants will return to their country, if they could travel when and as often as they liked. The economic input that would be received by this concept, would pulverize the loss of the 150 convertible pesos for the white card.

No, this is not the traditional discourse. Hand in hand with the pressing needs, spurred by the subsistence of the model, by too many distant causes of the breath of real democracy, but the truth is that Raul Castro is speaking a language that, if we strip it of its poor diction and its military tones, pushes us directly to a reasoning: it is the time for the fusion of ideas, not of negligence. It is the time of St.Thomas, not of Aristotle or Saint Augustine. It is the time of Jose Marti, not of Mario Diaz-Balart.

So I think it’s worth it to take a good look, shake out the cobwebs, if we really want to push the wall, to hasten the end of a story that has cost too many tears, too much blood, too much resentment, if we look closely it could be about to sink.

It is not the first time I sense, following Raul’s reforms, a relatively certain interest in returning to the country fragments of a hidden freedom, both in its economy and its idiosyncrasy. But it is the first time I suspect that through the hieroglyphics with which Raul has written his story in such a hurry, we can decipher better omens for a future without too much of the tendencies of the present.

August 8 2011