Young Ball Player Leaves His Future Behind to Return to Cuba

The seventeen-year-old boy chose to abandon his dream just as it was about to come true and returned to his small town of Batey Colorado. (YouTube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 10 October 2018 – The pitcher Roberto Hernández Navarro broke his contract with the Cleveland Indians for a chance to join the Sancti Spíritus Roosters. In an example of truth being stranger than fiction, the seventeen-year-old boy chose to abandon his dream just as it was about to come true and returned to his small town of Batey Colorado.

At age fifteen, after playing in a game in which the Cuba’s national youth team beat its U.S. rival at the Pan American Games, Hernández Navarro decided to help his family. With his sights set on the Big Top, he legally left the country with his father, traveled to the Dominican Republic and spent a year and three months training in the provincial capital of Bonao.

“The scouts saw me, followed me, did speed tests, took videos, saw my results and signed me with the Cleveland Indians,” says the pitcher. With a $320,000 contract the plan was to develop him and get him into the Major Leagues as soon as possible. They even compared it with José Fernández. continue reading

More than thirty Cuban ball players have returned home because they were not offered a contract or because the adventure did not turn out as they had hoped. But that was not the case with Hernández Navarro, who was able to enroll in the Chiki Mejías Baseball Academy, where he received proper nutrition, lodging and daily training.

He even played a season in the Dominican Republic and earned a spot in the All-Stars. “In that game I pitched four times in one inning. That’s incredible there. In Cuba I was pitching at ninety miles. Ninety to ninety-two.” After signing his contract, the prospects were simply spectacular.

But not having anyone to talk about his achievements at the end of the day was hard. He missed his family, especially his grandmother, who had always been very supportive, and his little brother. He longed to hear the river, play dominos, go where he wanted. “There’s no place else with freedom like Cuba,” he now says in an interview.

Roberto Hernández met with the team’s management and explained his situation. Contrary to what he was expecting, they let him keep the money and only advised him to take care of his arm and to continue playing baseball in Cuba because he had a great future. His return home was very emotional.

Also contrary to what he was expecting, Cuban baseball officials have let him train in their facilities, have not chastised him for anything and will very likely allow him to join the Roosters, who have had a difficult season and would benefit from the addition of a pitcher like him.

What has been almost impossible is convincing people he is not crazy for turning his back on fame and fortune. “I cannot get into their heads and open their minds,” he says, although he understands. He admits too would think the same thing if he had not “had to face reality,” did not know himself so well and had not decided to take this difficult step backward.

But it is not easy for many to respect his decision. Some feel he is too young and will later regret it, or that he will leave baseball. They believe a high performance athlete must make sacrifices and does not have time to swim in the river, play dominoes, spend time with family or go for a walk whenever he wants.

Others say that, though he came back with a third of a million dollars, it will not last forever. They question if he will feel the same way after the sport’s bosses take their cut and family expenses take their toll. He also still does not know what the life of a high-level Cuban player is like.

To other fans the case of Hernández Navarro is just an exception that proves the rule. There are many players still willing to try their luck in the big leagues and, until current conditions change, those who are successful will not return to Cuba, where they would not even be able play for the national team.

Some people think that a boy who is unwilling to sacrifice everything for a big league career simply does not have enough ambition to be a ball player. Others believe that, if Robertico — as they call him — had been the son of a Victor Mesa or a Lourdes Gurriel rather than a humble Cuban, his destiny would have been different.

Many laugh at his claim about freedom in Cuba but still want him to be happy after reality sets in and he has a change heart. Or when his son one day criticizes him for having condemned them to life in a country with no future.

In any event, the worst aspect of this odd case is the official statements. Robertico has done well in deciding what he thinks is best, but it is disheartening to see TV journalist Reinaldo Taladrid blaming the US embargo on the current relationship between Cubans in the Major Leagues and the authorities here.

Even more disconcerting is how this “great connoisseur” of baseball defends “a human being’s sacrosanct right to personal freedom to live where he most wants.” How nice that would be…

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Exodus in Cuban Chess

Leinier Domínguez, who currently lives abroad, was expelled from the Cuban national team this spring. (Baku World Cup 2015/Susan Polgar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana | 17 September 2018 — The last movements in Cuban chess have been three great escapes—in consecutive years, Yuniesky Quesada, Leinier Domínguez and Lázaro Bruzón—something that could be called the “American exit.” The game is in check, but in reality it is in keeping with the logic of all Cuban sports, where emigration and decline don’t stop.

That the official declaration announcing his expulsion from the national squad contained lies, as Bruzón claimed, is nothing new. “A fabricated note to make them look like heroes and me like a villain,” wrote the chess player from Las Tunas in his response to the National Chess Commission. Rather, it’s normal that the authorities lie about their own responsibility and denigrate the athletes. continue reading

Bruzón wonders where these words full of “negativity and hate” came from. The higher-ups only know how to throw trash onto the lower floors, in INDER (The National Institute of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation) and in the whole community. It seems that they have no other methods. The athletes who decide to emigrate are, for the bosses, deserting soldiers, not people who want to make a change in their lives.

The expulsions of the three best current Cuban chess players—among the most notable in Latin America—is a devastating blow for national chess. It is even the end of a kind of myth, of a pleasant legend: the rivalry between Leinier Domínguez, from Güines, and Lázaro Bruzón, from Las Tunas, has come to its end, at least inside the country.

Born a year apart—Bruzón in 1982 and Domínguez in 1983—the two were friends since childhood, when they threw themselves into the tough dream of triumphing in the world of chess. Soon they began to receive laurels in Cuba and abroad, and they passed from FIDE Masters and International Masters to become Grand Masters. 2002 was the year of the takeoff of the two friends and rivals. Fifteen years later, the one from Güines settled in the United States. Now the one from Las Tunas is doing it. The dream was lovely while it lasted.

But this “American exit” is not exclusive to the three best. Even as of several years earlier, the United States had become the destination for other good Cuban chess players. In fact, that country is the one that has received the greatest number of these born here in the 21st century so far, and there are already several Cuban Grand Masters in the American ELO ranking.

However, it’s not only there that the exodus of our chess players is aimed. In the field of this sport in the world, more than a few who manage to change their national federation, but it is notable that, for example, in 2014 alone, of the 37 transfers approved by FIDE, five were of Cuban players. Currently, in addition to the United States, dozens of Cubans compete in countries like Ecuador, Paraguay, or Colombia.

The authorities brag that they are continuing to train chess players, but it’s clear that, despite a lot of talent, the new ones don’t end up being included in the elite. This sport is in check, on the verge of checkmate. Unless those above—those always worried more about themselves than about the athletes, and who believe themselves more important than them, although they live off of them—adopt a more realistic attitude.

In chess it is easier—in comparison with other sports—to allow athletes to compete for Cuba even though they live in other countries. They must come up with a solution more or less like this. There is no other path. And they need to do everything possible so that the most promising chess players can raise their ELO. Is it so difficult to offer them internet service, essential for them, which the Government provides to any mediocrity?

The board speaks clearly: there are no more moves and time is up.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Rafael Alcides: The Great Poet Of The Cuban ‘Insilio’

The ashes of Alcides will be scattered in the river of his native Barrancas, in Bayamo, where everything started. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 21 June 2018 — His voice amazed me the first time I heard it, when he had just turned 80. A voice grave and smooth at the same time, a voice I no longer remembered from his years on the radio. A mariner’s voice perhaps, someone who has traveled other worlds and has a lot to tell, but does not want to amaze anyone, much less overwhelm them with his stories. A voice from someone much younger and, at the same time, an old voice, coming from a mythical and remote era of certainties.

Although I had read his poetry and shared it with several friends, I never spoke with him. I admired him from afar and knew him to be a good man, what is called a man of integrity. What’s more, we lived relatively close for many decades. But it never happened, although I always had the vague certainty that one day I would meet him. That’s why, when I read the fatal words of the news, I could not help but feel that with his death, in some way, I had lost a friend. continue reading

I suppose that it is easy for those who have read him to feel that they have talked with him. Not because of his “colloquial” poetry, but because ultimately all poetry is conversation, although almost always with oneself or with the intimate demon. In Alcides’ poems one feels, in reality, a colloquium with the reader, as if each verse were written to be replicated in a long exchange of intuitions, fears and memories.

For nothing is further from him than the pose of an old teacher who knows some clues, who has learned to deal with short life and endless art. “Life has taught me that suddenly the wave of the days changes your program,” he said ten years ago in an interview for Consenso magazine. “I limit myself to being ready for what may come,” he said, demonstrating that, in spite of himself, he was that: an old teacher who could give us, more than a poetic art, an art of living.

An art of living as poetry. The voice of his poems flows directly from the common man who hurts and dreams, from the untamed citizen who does not use words as a spell or as a subjective construction, but as a lever to move a truth, as a magnetic guide, as a bridge to reach what is farthest from here and now. And all with a breath more transparent than the air of his native Barrancas or a quiet Havana morning.

“From good seeds he made bad harvests, in the name of freedom he surrounded us with wire, and he added guards and bloodhounds. In everything, he was the same. With real words he composed a great lie,” Alcides tells us, alarmed by Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague, and who suffered – without being indirectly implicated – the effects of the Padilla case and could not publish anything between 1967 and 1984.

Finally, regardless of whether the commissars wanted to publish him or not, he decided to step away from the literary world, specifying that he would only be published in Cuba when his books could appear before the public along with the authors that the Castro regime has banned for more than half a century. But he kept writing, as if nothing was happening.

In 2013, at Estado de Sats, when he had just turned 80, I heard him read. Alcides had not offered a solo poetry recital for 20 years: “All of us here are exiled, all of us, those who left and those who stayed, and there are no words in the language or movies in the world, to make the accusation: millions of mutilated beings exchanging kisses, memories and sighs over the sea.”

“The future in Cuba is already passed. It is sad, a country where the future has already passed, the future of this Government, which we live under now, because life is now,” he said. But he was not pessimistic or cynical, because he saw that everything, before being real, has been a dream, because always “we let a dream fly and we chase it, that’s why we have to dream and then the realization of the dream comes,” but we can not lose the opportunity, because “there are trains that, if they go by, they are gone.”

Alcides did not have a mysterious creed. For him, the poet’s mission was obvious: “witness today and announce tomorrow.” So he did, assuming insilio* not as a title of nobility, but as a humble daily task, as his own choice and simple destination, but accompanied and loved by those who cared for him, and respected and admired even by those who did not know him.

It is better that the official press did not mention his death. That grave and slow voice did not cry out in the desert: “Where are we, Lord. Where in the world have we lost ourselves? Where do these boiling waters come from? What was made of that pair of incurable children who believed in the prophecies, who still believe, and who went out very proudly on the morning of their day to found the whitest city without knowing that they founded a prison?”

His ashes will be scattered in the river of his native Barrancas, there in Bayamo, where everything started. His voice will continue to sound, smooth and firm, long after the end of the long and dark chapter that tried to silence him, of this seemingly endless exile for all those from over there and those from over here. The empty and turbulent voices of today will be silent one day and we will continue to hear the fluvial and austere voice of Rafael Alcides, like an old sailor who does not want to overwhelm us with his certainties.

*Translator’s note: From ‘exilio’ (exile), Alcides chose to call himself an ‘insilio’, (‘insile’) – exiled from his country without having left it.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Is the King Returning to a Lost Kingdom?

Rey Vicente Anglada agrees to return to the Industriales after a lot of pressure from the authorities. (Prens Latina)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 1 June 2018 — Until just a few days ago, the situation of Industriales, one of the two baseball teams based in Havana, was similar to that of a year ago: the players began to train for the National Series without a manager. At that time, the options were Guillermo Carmona and Víctor Mesa, among a thousand rumors that no official voice silenced.

In an interview, Rey Vicente Anglada criticized that situation, which was harmful for the players. “I am absolutely against these barbarities.” To the question of whether he would be willing to return to the helm of the team, he was blunt: “I have been called several times and I always say that I will help but I will not take charge. Over my dead body would I return to managing the National Series”. continue reading

Now, after the sudden resignation of Víctor Mesa, several names were being shuffled again, especially that of Carlos Tabares, former captain of the Industrials, the “Blues.” Anglada, questioned again and again, repeated his sharp refusal. But suddenly, on Monday, the news broke: the return of the Lion King was official. The Industrialists could finally say habemus papam, since the “cardinals” had already decided.

After a 10-year absence, and after much insistence from the authorities, the mythical second baseman and successful manager returns. “We had long conversations, we met with the leaders of the Government and the Party and they raised the need for me to lead the team, especially for the 500th anniversary of the city, and we reached an agreement: I would assume that responsibility, but only for a season.”

Now 65, Rey Anglada, played for 10 seasons until he was 29, with explosiveness, intelligence and magic hands for defense. Apart from his excellent results, curiously, he was the first to use an aluminum bat in Cuban baseball — February 20, 1977 — and he has the speed record on return to the box.

In the early 80’s, scandalously, he was sentenced to prison for a crime never proven by anyone or accepted by him: selling a baseball game. It is difficult to find a comparable injustice against another Cuban athlete, but no authority has ever acknowledged the error in public. For the fans of the country his innocence is out of the question.

Reborn from his own ashes, Anglada returned to the Industriales and, for 7 seasons, guided them to winning 3 crowns and a division title. He took the gold with the national team in the Central American Games of Cartagena 2006 and the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro 2007. Winner of the second most titles with the Lions, after Ramón Carneado (who won 4), he is among the dozen Cuban players who were champions when they played — after starting on the team at 19 he won that same year — and also managing.

The return of the legendary Lion has raised the spirits of many fans a little, and even of their rivals, in the midst of some baseball happenings that reflect the decline of the national sport, especially the absurd Special Series, a phantom impossible to believe, even if he only serves to choose the few who have to complete the Cuba team.

The recent series has also not been very stimulating, despite some highlights. Following in the footsteps of the Las Tunas team, the Leñadores, heroic winners last season, the young players have managed to make their debut in the playoffs with Edilse Silva and now they will face the Alazanes, from Granma province, who are also following in the wake of their elders.

Unfortunately, the organizers have returned to the blunder when planning the 3 games — to win 2 — at home for the Alzanes, a flagrant iniquity for the disciples of Silva and for the fans of Las Tunas, who dream of playing the championship in the eastern zone.

In the west, although the recent flooding has interfered with playing the full series, and in Cienfuegos — the best team of the tournament, with a 28-9 record — they are waiting for the opponent that will be among the teams of Isla de la Juventud, Matanzas and Pinar del Río, still with a dozen games to dispute.

Thus, whatever the result, no winner of the four previous tournaments will be able to repeat and there will be a new champion, which will not be Artemis, nor Havana, nor Santiago de Cuba, holder of the last two titles.

In the Latin American Stadium the catchers and pitchers of the capital pre-selection have already been training since May 14. On June 4 they will join the other players selected and Rey Vicente Anglada’s delicate mission with his technical team will begin. “Now I will see what we have up close, although the team’s base is the same — six players — as last year, when I was helping Víctor (Mesa),” said the manager.

Despite the bleeding exodus of athletes to other countries and other provinces, Anglada believes that Industriales is still “one of the most complete teams in the country, although its weakest point is pitching.” First of all, the mentor gives them the possibility that Lions in other provinces will return. As for the style of play, he will insist on “speed, good defense and a lot of work with pitching, but above all with enthusiasm and with a lot of desire to go out and win.”

Although the capital fans are happy with the return of the King, some have no illusions about the blue team. The mentor himself clarified, just in case, that he is not a magician. A couple of days ago an Industrialista player said that when another expressed his joy over Anglada’s return, he just shrugged: “But he has no team!”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The ’Vision’ of Antonia Eiriz and The Curse of the Beard

It was not unusual, at that time, that Fidel Castro would occasionally step into some ball game that he ran across in his travels.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 4 January 2018 —  Last year, while the national baseball team was finishing the World Classic with one of its most disastrous international performances, at the Havana Gallery there was an exhibition Cuba in Baseball, by Reynerio Tamayo, which was an inflamed artistic confession that got into the fiery debate about the crisis of this sport.

In addition to playing with the sense of stripping bare the national passion or the passionate nation, Tamayo’s title was a parody of Antonia Eiriz’s Death in Baseball, a 1966 painting that is among the most disturbing, and even enigmatic, that the great artist painted before being censored and marginalized.

In the midst of the colossal media campaign of these past months that tries to demonstrate that Fidel Castro is alive physically and chemically — as his grandson Fidel Antonio Castro Smirnov insists, as he visits every month “the rebellious stone [Fidel Castro’s mausoleum] that teaches and illuminates” — our attention is called to this painter’s picture. continue reading

The Senior Sportsman (one of Fidel Castro’s many monikers) practiced several athletic disciplines and, on taking power, tried to give sports to the masses and destroy professionalism, especially in baseball. Fifty-six years ago, in January 1962, he went down to what was then called the Latin American Stadium to hit the first ball and inaugurate the first National Baseball Series.

It was not unusual, at that time, that the One — as his friends called him — would occasionally join in some ball game that he ran across in his travels. He would step in and pitch for one of the teams, or both, and, of course, no one dared to contradict his decisions, regardless of the consequences for the game.

In an issue of the magazine Visual Arts: Art Experience New York City, of which he was then editor-in-chief, the critic Ernesto Menéndez-Conde published a short commentary about the article Fidel plays Baseball, which appeared in Cuba magazine in August of 1964 with photos by Lorenzo Rocamora.

Based on one of those photos, with some modifications, writes Menéndez-Conde, Antonia Eiriz painted her canvas. “She eliminated the figure of the photographer who appears at the back and approached the stands around home plate, so that the audience could also be seen.” It is possible to recognize the beard of the leader, even if the face of the batter was abruptly cut off and unfocused on the top margin of the canvas.”

The critic adds that “it was up to the spectator to decide which of the characters could be death: if it is the umpire, with his black uniform and protective mask, that appeared to be an allegorical representation, or the player at the plate who, with his hit, dazzled a crowd of blurred faces and expressions so exalted as to be monstrous.”

Although in Cuba the players don’t tend to wear a mustache or a slight goatee, it is not uncommon to see a bearded player in other leagues today, but in the early ’60’s it must have been very striking to see the bearded ruler spending his time in a baseball game.

In a way, we can see in Eiriz’s Death in Baseball as an augury of that later disaster. Those appearances of the bearded commander on the field — while hand out the maximum penalty for what he considered “slavery baseball” — marked the beginning of a new era whose death throes in the present seem interminable.

Many centuries ago, a ball game was practiced in Mesoamerica very different from the one played today in the continent and beyond, especially since it was, in fact, a complex ritual that sometimes culminated with the sacrifice of the participants. As it was symbolically related to the very cycle of life, the ball game was an important state issue.

That a ruler is involved in the nature of a simple sport, in our time, is the worst thing that can happen to it. In a picturesque way we could talk about the “curse of the beard,” but the fact is, from that time baseball began to stop being a popular entertainment and began to become a serious state issue. The title of the painting was a diagnosis. Death in Baseball, the death of the game.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

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