The Nobel Goes to a Street Minstrel / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2016 for creating a new poetic expression within the great tradition of American song. (EFE)
Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2016 for creating a new poetic expression within the great tradition of American song. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 15 October 2016 – Like almost everything related to him, the fact that Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature this Thursday has raised a media dust storm. Some celebrate, others criticize, some mock. The troubadour, regardless of the uproar, continues on his way.

On behalf of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius said that the prize was awarded for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” adding, “Bob Dylan is a great poet. As simple as that. A great poet in the great tradition of English, Milton and Blake forward. ”

A few have complained that the Nobel should have gone to Philip Roth or Don DeLillo, or the novelist Haruki Murakami or Syrian poet Adonis. But the choice of the American singer-songwriter has been a surprise, although nobody was surprised that he had been nominated for years. continue reading

Although he published Tarantula and a part of his autobiography, Dylan is not a prose writer. He is a poet with a guitar. Such diverse writers as Salman Rushdie and Marguerite Yourcenar have always considered him a great poet.

His importance in the musical world has been greatly talked about. His invention of a new type of song, his work as a precursor of rap and hip-hop, his weight in the evolution of rock, his masterful incorporation of various musical genres to form a vast and unclassifiable work. They say he himself complained that “there is no Nobel Prize for music.”

The musician Robert Allen Zimmerman started calling himself Bob Dylan because of his early devotion to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and, as he himself confessed, Jack Kerouac’s poetry inspired him to enter the world of trova.

It was not only the author of On The Road that inspired him, but also other greats of the Beat Generation, such as Neal Cassady, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – the latter of whom accompanied him on tour and at concerts – and who ended up seeing him not as a disciple, but as the generational spokesperson for the turbulent sixties.

Not only were many eminent poets impressed with the deep epic breath or lyrical themes such as Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower and Knockin ‘On Heaven’s Door. For successive generations of songwriters and countless mass audiences, Dylan has been the revealer of unprecedented images, the wizard of golden words.

He has often been compared with Leonard Cohen, recognized as a good storyteller and poet, besides being a great lyricist, but there is significant distance between the scope of the Canadian artist and the American one, beyond the greater quality as a musician of the latter. It is no wonder that Dylan has been the standard raised in so many battles – artistic and otherwise – of the second half of the 20th century, a battle waged with Cohen who has managed to be a less tempting diamond.

Those who would like a Nobelist with more published works don’t acknowledge as such the books collecting the lyrics of Dylan’s songs which generally also appear on the covers of his albums. His lyrics have generated an entire literature – not to mention the writers influenced by them – about their significance, use of language, probable ideology, etc., along with the abundant academic studies of his poetry.

Bob Dylan has been described as a prophet of a new era, social leader, spokesman for the dispossessed, folk idol, rock superstar, example of committed artist, great balladeer of love, counterculture guide and, finally, among other things, as king of the protest song.

He has always been more than a musician, filmmaker or painter, writer or revolutionary of art: a poet in the broadest sense of the word. Free artist par excellence who did not fall into pathos or ridicule, like many during the Cold War, nor did he accept the warmongering violence of revolutionary bullying, and he was not fooled by reactionaries nor seduced by progressives.

Those who venerate the New Cuban Trova and the new Latin American song know that its principal singers owe him an incalculable debt, but they forget that, unlike most of them, Dylan never compromised with tyrants of any stripe. For him, more important than left or right are up and down.

Ultimately, the decisive factor is that Bob Dylan doesn’t need a Nobel Prize. He has several great prizes already, some of which he didn’t even go to collect. Nobody thinks very much about them when they speak of him.

In the European Middle Ages, the troubadours carried the mastersinger, their body of lyric and epic work, through a world without borders, wandering. There is no better way to speak of the work of this man who, although he doesn’t need the money from his concerts, continues on the road.

Although outside the United States his concerts represent a major cultural event, within the country you are as likely to see him at a simple county fair, on a college campus or on an Indian reservation, although he doesn’t go out into public very much. It is as if he would not let his guitar languish for any prize. As if he would not surrender the endless route of the eternal bards.

“He not busy being born is busy dying,” he sings on that endless road that is his only real prize.

Minister Abelito’s Second Go-Round / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Abel Prieto returns to the post of Minister of Culture. (EFE)
Abel Prieto returns to the post of Minister of Culture. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 11 July 2016 — At the end of his first stint as Minister of Culture (1997-2012), comments were frequently heard about Abel Prieto’s desire to leave the job. The most practical said it was due to illness, the most romantic claimed he wanted to devote himself to writing.

Now comes his second stint, and although he holds the job “provisionally,” many artists and intellectuals are already pleased because, to them, Abelito is a good person and they prefer a minister from the profession versus a simple political cadre.

Others, free from these superstitions, consider Prieto more dangerous than Armando Hart and Julian Gonzalez put together, given the great energy and fangs he demonstrated last year in command of the “rapid response brigade” – self-proclaimed as “the real Cuban civil society” – that stormed the Summit of the Americas in Panama to block the peaceful participation of the “anti-Cuban mercenaries.” continue reading

This advisor to Raul Castro has devoted himself in recent years to emphatically warning us about the advances of bad taste, the sexism of the barracks, the lack of ideas and other trashy behaviors, defining them as cultural dangers against our identity and our nation, emanating, of course, from the capitalist hell.

The announcement that Julian Gonzales was “released from the job” was made on Friday the 8th at the end of the Second Plenum of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, before the plenary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Not only was no reason given for such a sudden “release” but not time was taken to do anything more than designate Prieto as provisional minister, with the official media not mentioning the issue since then.

Prieto returns to the franchise that made him a superstar in the Revolution’s show business, but between the two stints he has been a player in significant media performances, like that of the Panama skirmish, with declarations that, if not for his desperate shamelessness, would seem like drunken jokes in game of dominos or crazy antics in the street. For example, he claimed that the Cuban government cannot legalize opposition organizations for the same reason that “Al Qaeda could not be legally registered as an association,” because, in fact, if opposition members weren’t Cubans, “they would be in cages in Guantanamo.”

He also appeared in the recent forum Culture and Nation: the Mystery of Cuba, a miniseries hastily made to counteract the enthusiasm left by the assault – brazenly starring himself – of the US president, and called for a house-by-house fumigation. The “Mystery of Obama” made clear the obsolescence of the Castro catechism, the uselessness of half a century’s anti-Yankee screaming and the poor market for the package of stories about the bogeyman who steals children.

Alarms sounded. Hysteria ensued. Abel Prieto talked about the “cultural and symbolic war,” about the problem of telling the story in “a world where entertainment, pleasure, fragmentation, amnesia, the worship of now, have been turned into pillars of the cultural hegemony industry,” while erecting the cross of “efficient socialism, de-bureaucratized, democratic, that we are creating” (sic).

We imagine his concern as a democratic socialist on talking with people about “open communication with the United States” and finding “innocence, excessive optimism, forgetfulness, childish and uncritical admiration by the superpower and, in some cases, uncontrollable desires to abandon their principles to surrender themselves to arms of Satan.”

Thus, we must put an end to the fallacy that associates “Yankee” with “modern” and with “development,” because “this Yankeephilia idealization is one of the tendencies we must confront in the war of ideas and values that must be fought.”

In the forum mentioned above, Abel Prieto proposed students be ‘vaccinated’ not with Soviet cartoons or Randy Alonso, but as tourist guides with Yankee trash like Oliver Stone and Michael Moore. Also House of Cards would serve as an antidote. And South Park should also be included. And it’s too bad that Noam Chomsky has not made entertaining tapes of his unsurpassed diatribes against his own country.

As for the inevitable “academic exchange with the United States” we have to swallow the mix of “very clear principles” in order to “avoid the glare and small-town positions.” Prieto also warned about the attempt to “foment an enemy fifth column of a new kind, with well-designed and conceived digital publications, social-democratic or ‘centrist’ ornamentation and verbiage full of euphemisms,” all this financed from abroad “in the face of the discredited traditional counterrevolution.”

Although he had to recognize that the new technologies are not to blame, he again hammered home that they serve “as a conduit and catalyst for the avalanche of disintegrating forces,” ones that deny the role of governmental institutions without which “the cultural environment would become a jungle and mediocrity would gain an irreversible preponderance.”

Referring to young people – those who launch themselves on the sea, or go to prison or to the purgatory of the streets – Prieto wants to make us believe, in all seriousness, that we must “feel and live the Revolution in all its historic journey, with passion and depth, and at the same time feeling and living and defending its continuity as the only guarantee of having a country, of having dignity.”

As the press note on the “release” of Julian Gonzalez Toledo contained no more information than the traditional tagline that he has been “assigned other tasks,” the traditional range of speculation immediately arose, including the idea of a supposed campaign to deprive first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel of the cronies who support his clinging to power.

There is another speculation that could have a certain logic. When Julian Gonzalez replaced then Minister of Culture Rafael Bernal Alemany in 2014, it transpired that the latter was ousted because of the outrageous theft of hundreds of pieces of art from the Museo de Bellas Artes, some of which later appeared in Miami. Now, although Gonzalez Toledo is considered “a hard-working and honest functionary,” his superiors are not content with his “lack of leadership,” mentioning again the specter of corruption.

Moreover, there are those who relate this fall to several money scandals featuring the president of the Cuban Music Institute, Orlando Vistel, and other predators of the cultural jungle. But, naturally, there is no official statement that clarifies the matter and reports on it as they should, because making the truth known continues to be seen as giving arms to the enemy.

We Cubans only need the scrapings from Abel Prieto’s brain, as he calls us to “build a digital socialism,” as he reminds us that “the main force for democratization of the new technologies in Cuba, and I believe in the world, is Fidel,” while warning that the market is a “much more terrible [censor] than the worst that existed in the time of Stalin.”

If second acts are never a good thing, in this case the first one wasn’t either. This second stint, however brief it might be and whether we like it or not, comes to save us from Uncle Sam’s cultural poison. Meanwhile, the local chupatintas (pencil-pushers) will continue to protect us from the tropical chupi chupi, from the national vulgarity and the empire’s chupacabras – that mythic animal that wants to suck our blood.

See also:

Abel Prieto Attacks The “Packet” and “Technological Nomadism” / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Abel Prieto’s Travels / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

So Long Minister of Culture Abel Prieto / Yoani Sánchez

El Chupi Chupi and the Dilemma of Limits / Yoani Sánchez

Vulgarity as a Resource (I) / Miriam Celaya

Vulgarity as a Resource (II) / Miriam Celaya

Guilty of Singing El Chupi Chupi / Ernesto Morales Licea

Gourriel Brothers Steal All the Bases / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)
Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 9 February 2016 — Cuban baseball is absolutely astonished at its fall. And to make matters worse after the disaster in the recently concluded Caribbean Series, now brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel Jr. have joined the countless – and almost endless – list of Cuban baseball players who seek a better future outside their country, and in particular in the Major Leagues in the United States.

The news spread so quickly, both inside and outside of Cuba, that even the government media has had to acknowledge it. Of course, the two brothers are branded as deserters, seduced by the juicy deals that are intended to “rob Cuba of the talents it has worked so hard to develop.” An exception was the Havana Channel, which delivered the news without the derogatory adjectives. continue reading

Apparently, the most surprised were Cuba’s baseball managers in Santo Domingo, and even more the herdsmen of State Security, who tried to prevent the morning escape of two valuable captives, absconding to Major League Baseball. Even the ambassador rushed to the Dominican hotel to find out who was to blame for this double flight.

The Cuban government, absolute master of the country’s baseball league, again suffers a great loss, because the two Gourriels would certainly have been among the players to be turned into a source of millions of dollars when, finally, the government would have been able to make an advantageous agreement with the Major Leagues.

The Gourriel clan maintains very close relations with the Raul branch of the Castro clan – Yulieski, it is said, is married to the granddaughter of the general-president, and is a very close friend of Raul’s grandson-cum-bodyguard. So, perhaps those who believe that behind this event there could have been some kind of compromise between to the sides, in order to position themselves vis-à-vis the great baseball to the north, may be right.

The recent meeting with Lourdes Gourriel-the-father, with representatives of the Major Leagues in Miami, reinforces this hypothesis, which would explain the recent rejection by Yulieski Gurriel of a solo contract for three million dollars to play in the Japanese league; something seen as very suspicious by those who closely follow Cuban baseball.

Assumptions or logical deductions aside, it is clear that the Gourriels – especially Yulieski who is already 31 – were not willing to wait until the bridge finally opened between the elite of US baseball and the fiefdom of Cuban baseball, given that, like so many other novelties and reforms, such an opening could be too long delayed, according to the ”Raul principle” of moving to solve problems, “without pause, but without haste.”

A friend who works at the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television tells me about the hue and cry Monday morning when the news broke. “Now the three brothers will meet in the United States, because Yunieski is already in Canada,” someone said. “This is all arranged,” said another, “because the Gourriels are not going to do something like this behind Raul’s back.

Maybe. But many of those who have been allies of, or protected by, the Castro clan have also escaped, both in search of a more comfortable and a more free life or, simply, looking for a new world like so many Cubans scattered not only to the United States but all over the world.

The most natural thing would be to think that this remarkable flight could help the owners of Cuban baseball to undertake a renewal of the “national pastime.” Sports commentators and analysts, along with the “knights” of the Roundtable TV talk show, will criticize the players, the coaches, the technicians and even the commissioners themselves; but never the owners of the league, who will not give it up even when they pretend to do so.

It is clear that they will try to change everything that can be changed* so that everything remains the same. They have not done anything to keep the national series from declining or to keep our teams from sinking into the basement of world or regional baseball. They continue putting make up on the face of this sport, putting up a Victor Mesa or Roger Machado, setting the political police to watch the athletes so they do not escape.

But new star players will always emerge to bring some profit, especially if the Major Leagues finally fall into the old guerrillas’ ambush.

*Translator’s note: “Change everything that needs to be changed” is a throwaway slogan from Cuban Communist Party propaganda.

The Great Chronicler of the Cuban Economic Disaster / Ernesto Santana Zaldivar

chepe cronica 1 ImagenesDinamicas.do_-300x225HAVANA, Cuba , September www.cubanet.org  – I don’t remember the first time I heard or read his name, but it must have been in the mid-90s on Radio Marti, which at that time, despite the strong obstruction of its signal, I could still listen to. I do know that by the end of that decade his name was one of the most recognizable to me among the journalist who were dedicated to disclosing, from within Cuba, the reality we were living in the country, while offering his ideas and opinions that helped to better understand not only what happened, but also why it happened and what could be done to stop it from happening.

For many years Radio Martí was, for me, as it was for many Cubans, the only source of alternative information, and listening to Oscar Espinosa Chepe I learned and understood, from my ignorance in this respect, the value of many of those small and innumerable elements that shaped the economy of the nation.

In fact, I had a more concrete idea of concepts such as methods of production, which always seemed to me like entelechies of Marxist economic doctrine. In general, over the years — also reading his frequent articles published in different media — I discovered the integral thesis of Espinosa Chepe, although I fear this term is reductive; it was that almost all the elements that constituted the entire machinery of the Cuban economy didn’t work or worked badly because, simply, the economic conception that ruled the gears didn’t function in practice, but in a fictional world composed of ideological and authoritarian dogmas, an absurd world divorced from human reality.

Others said this as well, of course, but it was Espinosa Chepe who demonstrated it without stridency or getting lost in the numbers, but with balanced studies on specific topics where the data and analysis formed a convincing and irrefutable body, with what Miriam Celaya, talking about one of the economist’s books, called “the particular accent of documentation.”

In his articles, the variety of themes is so vast that his investigations could hardly fail to be important in the economic field of the country. And in the end, the conclusion this social scientist showed us described the process of how, simply, the Revolution was turned into Involution.

chepe cronista 2 5351B2C6-1024-4C53-BAEF-8AEDB45784A9_mw1024_n_s-300x195But what Oscar Espinosa Chepe communicated to us with a simplicity and remarkable wisdom, came not only from his research and diving into a thousand books and countless theories, but also, and perhaps above all, his own experience of life itself, although he never speaks of that in his writings.

For this man, committed to the pursuit of a better future for his country, was not imprisoned for the first time in the sinister spring of 2003; he had already been in prison in 1957, as a teenager, for opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. After 1959, he was among the millions who participated in what they believed to be the building of a dream; he worked in the Central Planning Board, as an economic adviser in the diplomatic service, and finally in the National Bank of Cuba.

The events that began to shake Eastern Europe from the mid-80s showed him the necessity for profound changes in economic and social thinking and, accused of being counterrevolutionary, he had no option but to enter the political opposition, even if it meant passing through Villa Marista prison and the worst prisons in the country, which ended up aggravating his health, by then already deteriorating.

But neither prison nor illness convinced him that he should cease his work, let alone leave his country permanently. He devoted himself to his mission with diligence and conviction of a Jesuit, he felt obliged to give evidence as an expert working in the events. The titles of the books he has published (“Chronicle of a disaster,” “Cuba: Revolution or involution”) illustrate what has been his reason for living: to shed light on the details of a long and gloomy national event that is inscribed in a socio-economic system that he called “the most colossal scam known to history.”

Deep in the eye of the hurricane, Oscar Espinosa Chepe has always been an honest person courageously committed to the progress of Cuba which, dedicating to us with the great generosity of his years and his intelligence without a hint of complaint, never allowing himself to sacrifice professional ethics. This is perhaps the best part of his lucid and illuminating example.

By Ernesto Santana Zaldivar

From Cubanet

23 September 2013

We aren’t the kind of people they are trying to make us out to be / Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, Antonio Rodiles

Antonio Rodiles. Photo: Ernesto Santana Zaldívar

HAVANA, Cuba, August, www.cubanet.org- The organizers of Estado de SATS have worked very hard and the result is that, three years after its inception, in July 2010 in Casa Gaia, this civic project is a fundamental component in the network of organizations that, from civil society and with great variety in points of view, fight to promote changes to democratize our country. Because of this it has also been repressed by the political police and accused of everything the authorities usually accuse those who propose a solution to the crisis. Estado de SATS takes as a fundamental cause that there is no dispute between Cuba and the United States, but rather the dictatorial practices of the Cuban government against its own people.

Hence in the last year, they have focused most of their efforts to disseminate and gather support for the Citizens’ Demand for Another Cuba which, as we know, demands that the Cuban government ratify the UN Covenants on Human Rights. In that work, the project has engaged with many important civil society groups for the sake of a purpose that supersedes political interests, and focuses on citizens and their basic needs.

In recent days, we were able to talk with Antonio Rodiles about the prospects of the project, three years since its inception. The director of Estado de SATS said “Our main goal now is to achieve much more drawing power. Hopefully State Security will stop bothering us,” he said, although he recognized that “at this time there really is something less than harassment of the work we are doing.”

The idea, according Rodiles, is to try to reach many more sectors and to be a place that helps articulate civil society, and above all,”to be able to expand and work on all the plans we have: holding exhibitions, film screenings, panels, debates, literary cafes. All we can do to articulate civil society and grow like any normal country.”

Although it seems like a very easy program to carry out, the reality suggests otherwise. The proof is in the recent past and if recently the political police haven’t harassed as many activities, it has been in part because they have not been as intense as around a year ago, when the Citizen Demand was launched. “Evidently,” observes Rodiles, “we know that everything is not as we would like, but well, I  think it’s important to accept the challenge and work focused on everything we have proposed, despite the obstacles.”

Some people have commented that, lately, they have been showing college students videos about civil society activists, including Estado de SATS, where it’s presented through the usual procedures, with a negative image. On this subject Antonio Rodiles says, “The same as always. That’s part of what the system can’t quit doing.”

But, he says, he would like to know exactly what they’re putting out there so he’ll be able to make statements about it. “Unfortunately,” he says , “there is a group of people who have always been characterized by trying to devalue and personally offend any opponent, anyone who thinks differently from the official line.”

In events such as this he sees a disturbing characteristic. “I think this shows the low level of those who have organized it ,” he says, “because they are not able to enter into any discussion of ideas or plans . It is a manipulation, but in any event, thank God, the new technologies allow us to show who we are,” he says, convincingly.

Well, ironically and contrary to the intentions of those who orchestrate this slanderous propaganda, the results could be otherwise. “In a way, this type of action helps disseminate our work. When people look for our CDs, our work, and they see them, then they realize perfectly well that we are not the kind of people they are trying to make us out to be,” he concludes.

He’s probably right. In addition, the days are long gone when some opponents thought Estado de Sats was a project of the “opposition light” and it has gained respect and collaboration, including that of almost all of the most important  political opponents, as well as countless artists and intellectuals.

As the director of this project, what lies ahead is a major challenge. Perhaps the hardest path, with all the cultural activities and the panels put on, but especially with the commitment to strengthen the Citizen Demand for Another Cuba and the continuation of this work, in cooperation with other civil organizations, he tries to contribute, gradually, to the extent possible but always with sights set still higher, for a positive change in the country.

A few months ago, Antonio Rodlies and Ailer González — his domestic partner and main collaborator — were in Miami and there at Cuba 8 and at Miami Dade College, they organized panels and concerts of Estado de SATS, besides promoting the Citizen Demand, which has managed to strengthen the support of Cubans from the outside, but inside Cuba there has not been remarkable progress of the campaign in recent months.

According to Rodiles itself, the term “Estado de SATS” (State of Sats) is a phrase used in the theater to represent the moment when all the energy is concentrated to begin the action, or when an athlete is at the precise moment before the starting gun. It is the concentration required to later explode. Hopefully, after three years of hard and complex work, this project is mature and ready to take off, against all obstacles, as the crucible where the forces of the emerging civil society are articulated.

Call for Estado de SATS : First International Meeting on Human Rights and UN Covenants

The independent Estado de SATS project invites artists, intellectuals, activists and human rights defenders to participate in the First International Meeting on Human Rights and the UN Covenants as part of the Campaign for Another Cuba and the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Estado de SATS has worked for the past three years in the creation and growth of a public space where different perspectives on reality and the future of our nation can be openly discussed and planned.

Since August of 2012, together with various groups and activists committed to the social situation of our nation, we started the Campaign for another Cuba. This initiative has been involving a growing number of Cubans on and off the island in a civic demand that the Cuban government ratify and implement the United Nation Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant  Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In a time when Cuban civil society is growing the direct exchange with different actors within and outside the island is essential. Holding of this meeting will allow an approach from the perspective of art and thought to a subject as vital as human rights. Activists, artists, intellectuals and professionals, Cubans and the international community, will spend two days sharing views and experiences, in a country where such guarantees and rights are not part of the everyday reality.

The inaugural meeting will be on December 10, 2013 and during the event there will be thematic panels, audiovisual displays, an exhibition with the theme: Art and Human Rights (painting , graphics , photography, installations), performances and a closing concert .

For more information the interested can communicate to this email address: estadodesats@gmail.com.

About the author

Ernesto Santana Zaldívar, born in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, 1958. Graduate of the Enrique José Varona Pedagogical Institute in Spanish and Literature. He has been a radio writer for Radio Progreso, Radio Metropolitana and Radio Arte. He is a member of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. Awards won: Mentions in the genre of story in the David contest of 1977 and Trece de Marzo, 1979; prizes in Pinos Nuevos, 1995, Sed de Belleza, 1996 (both in the genre of story) Dador, 1998, (novel project) and Alejo Carpentier, 2002 (novel), the Franz Kafka Prize, 2010, for his novel The Carnival and the Dead.

From Cubanet

23 August 2013