Poet Rafael Alcides, the Protagonist in Miguel Coyula’s Latest Documentary

Rafael Alcides at the screening of Miguel Coyula’s film ‘Nadie’ (Nobody) in Havana.

Yanelys Nunez Leyva, Havana Times, 26 December 2016 — One of the most recent films directed by filmmaker Miguel Coyula is being screened during some independent spaces in Havana: Samuel Riera’s studio, Oscar Casanella’s home and the El Circulo gallery.

On Sunday the 18th, I went to see it at this last venue, located in Lia Villares and Luis Trapaga’s home, and I was happy to see so many familiar spaces. Several friends, journalists, activists, art critics, writers…

Most of us sat on the floor in the small living room, and the documentary Nadie (Nobody) from 2016 was shown promptly at 8:10 PM. continue reading

The protagonist, the poet Rafael Alcides was among us. It’s a luxury, almost everyone who knows him was saying.

I’m slightly out of the know, I haven’t read anything that he’s written, even though I have had some excellent recommendations.

The first thing that I liked was the narrator’s voice, it was nostalgic, bucolic, beautiful.

Then, Alcides’ story came; he didn’t want to speak about his personal life. Only about the novels which he is trying to recover right now, papers which have fallen to pieces due to the typewriter’s corrosive ink and time.

He only wanted to speak about his love/hate relationship with the revolutionary process. About his deception in the face of Fidel supporting the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, and of Ochoa’s assassination.

He only wants to talk about Beauty.

At the screening of ‘Nadie’ in Havana: Rafael Alcides, far left. Miguel Coyula, far right. Lynn Cruz, fourth from right.

Coyula appeals to a visual collage, just like he did in his renowned Memories del Desarrollo (Memories of Overdevelopment). In the film, Antonia Eiriz’s pedestal becomes that of Alcides, who talks in a die-hard fashion with a caricature of Fidel, that of historic and rhetorical speeches. And he answers him, in a debate about the life of the New Man.

Alcides isn’t a defeated poet. According to him, artists are a testimony and chronicler of their time, and he still believes he can do both of these things in the most dignified way he can.

He has distanced himself from the institutions which once published a book of his, he has sought refuge in his home, he has cut himself off from his neighbors, from friends who were too involved but whom he still loves, but who no longer visit him.

Alcides leads us in this documentary to what he calls «everybody’s burial», which is nothing more than the death of an idea, of a utopian dream, with Fidel Castro’s death.

The director of the documentary didn’t put it forward to be screened in the selection of movies at the Havana Film Festival. He wants to send it to other platforms, perhaps more understanding international events where there is greater dialogue.

The story of this cursed poet will reach Cuban viewers in another way, perhaps at screenings like this one, informal, maybe even via the paquetito, the alternative to the «government’s» Weekly Package of audiovisuals. The important thing is that it has already come to life, that it has already begun its journey, existing on the fringe, with the same seal of the good «misfits» who made it.

Note: Translation from The Havana Times

Cuban Poet Rafael Alcides has Left Us / Lynn Cruz

Rafael Alcides

Lynn Cruz, Havana Times, 20 June 2018 — Yesterday, on June 19, 2018, in the afternoon, 85-year-old Rafael Alcides passed away. The sensualist poet, friend and main character in “Nadie”managed to do what very few can: “Live in keeping with his ideals.”

He spent his last days resting at his home in Nuevo Vedado, after having fought a long battle against cancer.

The end of his journey has left a deep abyss in not only the people who knew and admired him, but in everyone who has fought for their ideas. continue reading

He was ostracized because of his critical thinking. He was such a grand figure that he would always say that he hadn’t been censored, despite his novel “Contra Castro” and poetry collection “Nadie” being banned.

Alcides chose to distance himself from social and cultural life because he didn’t agree with the direction national politics were taking. He was referring to Fidel Castro’s treachery, to the ideas he himself had fought for as part of the underground movement before the 1959 revolution.

He inspired filmmaker Miguel Coyula with his eloquence and gift for speaking leading Coyula to make his first documentary “Nadie” (Nobody) about him. Coyula always says he will keep the film showing (in private in Cuba) for as long as possible, in the face of the poet’s brilliant personality.

Being a free man living in a totalitarian system has meant that this film is still banned, even today. Nobody on the island is talking about it. Not critics, or poets from his own generation, or pro-government press or the news.

However, the poet has had a taste of eternity. Governments and politicians come and go. Those of us who love him will always be “grateful like dogs” for having his work among our literature.

Alcides didn’t have an age. He was brimming with so much passion that he seemed more like a child who was stunned by a world unknown to him.

For those of us who were close to him, we also have the priestly example of how he treated his writings, unwilling to sell out.

As a friend, I know that I will always miss him and that I will have to get used to thinking, what would Alcides have had to say about this?

The poet from Bayamo asked that his ashes be scattered in Barrancas, his hometown.

Note: Translation from Havana Times

Cuban Government Withdraws My Punishment / Lynn Cruz

Click on picture for link to audio of hearing.

Lynn Cruz, Havana Times, 21 May 2018 –On Friday May 18th, at the Actuar Agency, the Labor Justice Committee (OJL) informed me of its recent decisions regarding the complaint I filed because this former organization, especially its director Jorge Luis Frias Armenteros, violated my artistic representation contract because of my online activity against government and Party leaders.

This column, where I write and give my opinions about social and cultural subjects normally, seems to have been the reason for my sanction.

Frias not only violated my contract by not giving me 30 days notice, which stemmed from him not wanting to represent me, but it also prevented me from working at an International Film School of San Antonio del Los Banos (EICTV) workshop, which still legally belongs to Actuar. continue reading

After several phone calls from the Head of the Committee, Ivan Rodriguez, I went to the meeting: “They ruled in your favor,” OJL members told me. Prepared for the worst, I didn’t get it. I was knocked off my guard by the news and also by the fact that everyone was talking to me at the same time (which happens quite often here in Cuba).

They had to tell me one more time, my punishment had been lifted. I had been repressed, condemned for a violation which I didn’t commit and which I have been fighting since late March not only with Actuar but also with the International Film School of San Antonio del Los Banos (EICTV).

After pressure was created via independent media and social media, the government decided that the OJL would accept my complaint and rule that a violation of Resolution 44 of June 16th 2014 was made, within the artistic sector’s labor regulations.

It doesn’t imply that actors have to have pre-established beliefs or ideologies in any of the four clauses present in Chapter 3, Article 17.1.

Covertly, it appears that Frias has committed another crime against me, protected by articles 8 clause d and 24 of Law No. 83 in 1997. Improper Imposition of a Disciplinary Measure, which is foreseen and punishable in article 297.1 and 2 of our Criminal Code.

Even so, Frias continues to hold his position. In return, my punishment has been withdrawn and I can continue to criticize the government. As a result, the regime has publicly recognized that neither Frias nor I committed a crime, in the eyes of Actuar’s employees. A happy ending for everyone.

And if we are taken to trial, we will both be prisoners of conscience: him for blindly obeying an ideology and me for doing the opposite. This unusual and unprecedented event shows that being on either end of the spectrum is dangerous today in Cuba, which is a great thing for those who fight for their rights.

Of course, while the OJL proved me right, at the same time they informed me that this would be until another “fact”, “element”, “I don’t know what” comes up. Those words mean government, so this is only a momentary victory, I imagine they are trying to let time pass, forget the scandal, to then expel me again.

Translation from Havana Times

The Cuban Revolution Sentences a Revolutionary Scientist / Lynn Cruz

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola

Havana Times, Lynn Cruz, 10 May 2018 – Cuban scientist sentenced to one year in prison for ‘disrespecting” government authority, was the title of an article recently published in the Miami Herald. And that is Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, a universal researcher. His work and light transcend the borders of this island.

A great man, with a high level of thought and a firm opinion, he appeared one afternoon at my house to offer his support after the injustice committed against me, which today prevents me from working as an actress in Cuba, for reasons similar to those he has faced and which led to his current prison sentence. continue reading

During the government of Fidel Castro, Ruiz refused to sign a letter approved by many of his colleagues, as well as important intellectuals and Cuban artists, in support of the execution of three young men who hijacked a boat that traveled from Regla to Havana in an attempt to escape the island.

He expressed his disagreement in being an accomplice to such a crime. For that reason he was expelled from his teaching position at the University of Havana in 2003.

At that time, writers like Jose Saramago, Eduardo Galeano. Artists like Ana Belén, Víctor Manuel, who sympathized with the revolution, expressed their disagreement with the regime over the summary execution.

Years later, Ruiz managed to work again as a scientist, apparently his punishment was over. During a congress in California, he presented an investigation on the indiscriminate hunting of turtles in Pinar del Río and in the town of Nuevitas in the province of Camagüey. Then he was again expelled.

His last role as a scientist happened after having won a scholarship to work together with the Humboldt Institute in Germany.

However, Ruiz also carried out a hunger strike because of the lack of medicine to cure his sister’s cancer. After his protest, a series of negligence and abandonment of patients cases in similar conditions at the Oncological Hospital located in Havana came to light.

After his dismissals he moved to Pinar del Rio where he has worked on a farm that he also shares with his mother and sister.

Now, he has been sentenced to one year in political prison, masked under a “contempt”, charge after the actions perpetrated against his farm by State Security agents. Ruiz Urquiola lives as he thinks and follows the revolutionary Marti traditions, as an honest man who defends the right to think and speak without hypocrisy.

More than one hundred years after our national hero died in combat, in the land where a revolution based on his ideas took place, one cannot be free or honest.

Translation from Havana Times

Utopia in Havana at the Alternative Biennial / Lynn Cruz

At the Instar venue of the Havana Alternative Biennial

Havana Times, Lynn Cruz, 7 May 2018 — Gerardo Mosquera, an important art critic and Cuban intellectual, made a gesture of solidarity towards me by inviting me to read his paper: “Utopia in Havana”, as part of a theoretical event which forms part of the Havana Alternative Biennial, which was independently organized and has received quite a lot of pressure from the Cuban government and institutions.

The news that I would be the one to give voice to his words made me forget my uncertain professional future for a few days, a future which the regime’s arbitrary decision has put in jeopardy, preventng me from working as an actress, even though I have always lived and developed my career as such in the country mostly.

With its secondary office at the Hannah Arendt International Institute for Artivism (INSTAR), led by Tania Bruguera, this theoretical event took place on Sunday and a considerable number of artists, academics and vendors attended, not only from Cuba, but from different countries such as Brazil, Norway, Denmark, Mexico, Spain and the US. continue reading

In this paper, Mosquera carries out a meticulate analysis of the Cuban government’s political maneuvers, by way of the founding and developing the Havana Biennial, which aimed to establish a South-South interaction, to connect artists in this hemisphere (the majority, he says), but really it aspired to transform Cuba into the leader of the Cold War, within the so-called Third World.

It’s interesting to read what Mosquera writes when he remembers the origins of the Havana Biennial: “If we are marginalized, we will create our own space.” He was refering to the isolation the US government had put Cuba in. However, I imagine this is the same reason which drove the #00 Havana Biennial’s founders to rebel against Cuban institutions’ own exclusion, who govern over what art needs to portray and create in an authoritarian manner, without taking artists’ needs and much less the public’s, into account.

As a result, the Havana Biennal has become the fifth ongoing international biennial in the world today. However, Mosquera, one of its founders, was never invited again. He also says that the rest of the official organizers continue to be the same group who set out with this project in the beginning and that they have no desire to change it.

This was made perfectly clearing when the Berlin Wall came down: “Cuba was unable to reinvent itself in the post-Cold War era. Instead of responding to new and challenging times, it introduced minor changes to keep everything the same,” Mosquera mentions.  Therefore, the Biennial was created within the Revolution’s utopiam which fit in with the community, with a participatory atmosphere, where students collaborated with artists voluntarily, in search of new talents and giving them an opportunity to exhibit their work, but it ended up becoming an arts market.

Mosquera draws our attention to how the #00 Biennial organizers’ bold act, which could learn from past experience, advocating for them: “to not impose a unilateral Messianism”, and goes on to add: “they have to remove themselves from the obsession of “changer la vie” which drives the utopia towards an authoritarian lack of reality.

He also quoted Eliseo Diego: “maybe the best reason to create a biennial is to want to make an exhibition, which doesn’t exist, come to life, and decide to make it yourself.”

In doing so, Cuba’s utopia will continue to take place until May 15th in Havana’s homes/galleries, in the Old Havana, Cerro, Playa, Vedado, East Havana, Marianao, Central Havana and even in Miami.

Translation from the Havana Times

Blacklisted in 21st Century Cuba / Lynn Cruz

Havana Times, Lynn Cruz, 28 April 2018 — I have been witness to the most absurd experience in my life as an actress. I only had testimonies of actors such as Pancho Garcia, Rolen Hernandez and Mirian Munoz as a reference from the well-known “Five Grey Years” (a period of witch hunts, persecuting intellectuals, artists, homosexuals, religious people and followers in the ‘70s). I always saw these things as events in the past, but reality surpasses the imagination.

As I explained in previous posts, I was recently expelled from the state-led agency Actuar for arbitrary reasonsThe agency’s director, Jorge Luis Frias, carried out the measure without taking into account the fact that he was violating the clauses of my artistic representation contract, which I have had with this company for over 10 years, by blindly obeying his superiors. continue reading

Taking the Labor Ministry’s advice, I filed a written complaint. People at the Human Resources department, where Actuar’s Labor Justice Committee (OJL) resides, were very nice to me. Everyone was surprised about my situation and couldn’t understand why Frias wouldn’t tell me the reasons for my expulsion. I was also dumbfounded.  Even when I suspected what the reasons were, I refuse to take part in this nonsense.

I left them with a copy of the letter which explained what had happened. Frias has committed two violations. First of all, he canceled my contract without waiting the established 30-day period to tell the worker why this company has decided to revoke the contract. Secondly, he went behind my back and colluded with the International Film School of San Antonio del Los Banos’ management, who knew about the measure before I was told anything and it prevented me from attending a workshop that I have worked at for the past six years as an actress.

Last week, I received a call from the OJL secretary to tell me that Friday April 20th, they would meet with me to answer my complaint. I arrived at the agreed time, however, I had to wait because the OJL boss was running late. He arrived wearing shorts and flip flops. The assembly began ten minutes later. Approximately 15 people attended.

Frias coldly admitted that he had violated my contract and the solution he offered was to reopen the contract for 30 days and then decide to revoke it again. A completely insane idea. Basically, the procedure they were using with me was the most similar to the labor trials that took place in theaters in the ‘70s.

I saw myself wearing a scarf on my head, or like Mirtha Ibarra in Hasta Cierto Punto, a Tomas Gutierrez Alea movie. I had to keep myself from smiling in the face of so much nerve and absurdity. I wouldn’t call it a lack of respect as that would be taking it too seriously.

Everyone who had treated me nicely before fell into the situation. Most people were offended because Frias, like a programmed robot, said: “She has been expelled for her protests online against the people who govern this country.”

I looked over all my assessment papers as an actress, my work contracts and it didn’t say that an artist had to be a hypocrite and dishonest anywhere. It doesn’t say in writing that an artist has to stop being free to say what to think. Everyone who was gathered there to judge my case abused and ignored the fact that their wages depend on artists work and the funds generated.

It’s even more twisted when it comes from a company that has apparently been “representing” me all this time yet hasn’t sought out a single job for me. These offices have become just another part of our bureaucracy, which has nothing to do with the reality of actors living in Cuba. Actors’ work depends on the rules of the market. Every co-production that is processed via these companies give large sums of hard currency to the country and they take a 7% cut out of our personal wages. This is what really sustains the bureaucrats who were incriminating me.

I was attending a blacklisting assembly in the middle of such an ambiguous reality. A system which doesn’t have its values defined. A veiled market economy, without a truly structural change which at least articulates a coherent discourse. More than making me sad, it made me feel like I was inside a madhouse. But, it’s better to watch the video for yourselves.

Note: Translation from Havana Times

Free Education with Clowns and Reggaeton / Lynn Cruz

Lynn Cruz, Havana Times, 19 April 2018 — People here have been talking about reggaeton lyrics for a long time. I remember the famous video which a grandfather uploaded to YouTube, where his trendsetting grandson was grinding on top of a girl like an adult to a raucous reggaeton beat.

In front of my house, and also in front of the Ministry of Culture, is the “Union Internacional de Estudiantes” Primary School (UIE) which ironically has a huge photo poster of Che Guevara laying bricks during the school’s construction in 1961: “The Year of Education.” Today, two or three Fridays every month, birthday parties are held at this center in school hours, where better-off parents hire clowns, decorate the yard and even rent out bouncy castles, sometimes. continue reading

As well as rubbing luxury in the faces of those less advantaged financially-speaking, it is a distortion bearing in mind socialist schools still indoctrinate children with collectivism. On the other hand, lewd and violent reggaeton music doesn’t only bother the community, it also forms a part of these parties at primary schools.

Recently, a neighbor from my building called Xiomara Vazquez, the principal of the school to complain about noise. Vazquez defensively answered, arguing that children were holding a Pioneer (communist kids) activity and that they don’t put reggaeton on. That’s to say she lied outright, which you could confirm for yourself just by going out onto the balcony, and she went so far as to ask my neighbor: And you can hear it from the fourth floor?

The interesting thing is that these celebrations generally start off with children’s songs which compete in bad taste with the monotony of reggaeton music, as if you couldn’t educate children listening to classical music, for example. Clowns hired for these events don’t seem professional either. They look like buffoons and still shout even when they are speaking into a microphone. All of this anachronism provokes a distortion, as well as a strange reading about what the educational foundations are at socialist schools here in Cuba, today.

It’s very contradictory. The government’s efforts to uphold itself as the great righteous one (in appearance only), ultimately ignores or abuses the essence of teaching values. Children spend most of the day at school, therefore, the government has a great responsibility when it comes to the future, but they don’t seem to be too bothered by it.

Of course, if everything that needed to be censored was censored, instead of just artists and the press, the country would probably collapse. Art can’t change anything by itself but it can make people reflect upon certain subjects, which dissociate themselves from their context, that are perceived to be represented.

The recent rise in censorship is due to the government having seen its darkest side portrayed by independent journalism and artists. So many views can’t be wrong. They can gag artists, but they can never silence art. They can arrest journalists, but they will never silence the truth.

In the censored documentary Nadie,” by Miguel Coyula, poet Rafael Alcides, the lead character, talks about double standards in Cuba, about how children are taught to be fake from a young age, thereby losing their innocence very quickly.

Ever since the ‘90s and the euphemism of calling those years of great crisis (unnecessarily too) the “Special Period,” began this journey of social deterioration, which the country is currently facing today.

Maybe teachers’ inertia and Vazquez’ own, not knowing how to deal with economic differences or because teaching staff don’t earn enough to make it to the end of the month, but rather receive extras from well-off parents, or because of the lack of opportunities to relax and have access to entertainment, are some of the reasons why they adopt this permissive and deforming behavior. Where does education stand today as a priority, as the driving force behind future generations?

Translation from Havana Times

An Unjust Punishment Twofold / Lynn Cruz

Lynn Cruz

Havana Times, Lynn Cruz, 3 April 2018 — After being expelled from the San Antonio de los Banos School of Film and TV (EICTV), the Actuar Agency has decided to not represent me anymore.

Actuar doesn’t find me work but it stops me from being able to invoice my work as an actress if somebody else hires me in Cuba.

There are two companies which represent actors who work in film and TV, Actuar and Caricato, both of which are owned by the State. The fact that they are denying me representation means that my legal assessment documents from here on out as an actress in order to get paid, won’t be valid, as the company won’t validate them. This decision is an attempt to destroy and put the brakes on my professional life here in Cuba. continue reading

But, something strange has happened, it seems that Actuar and the EICTV, didn’t reach an agreement. The EICTV is blaming Actuar for refusing to represent me, but I received word of Actuar’s order after I was banned from taking part in the Norma Angeleri workshop at EICTV.

Jorge Luis Frias, Actuar’s director, bit his tongue when I asked what the reasons behind this decision were. As I caught him off guard and the script he was supposed to repeat hadn’t been written yet, he didn’t know what to answer, so he promised to write down the reasons for my expulsion in a week’s time because the real people who executed the order don’t reside within this agency.

Has this decision come from the Ministry of Culture or Villa Marista, Cuban State Security’s military base?

In face of such an obvious sham, I told him that they had also done something illegal, because before undoing my contract, both parties have a thirty-day period to repeal the decision if need be, if I haven’t worked for longer than six months or because of absences, and if both parties don’t reach an agreement, a legal process could be opened.

So, I am still legally a member of Actuar, however, my last wages from EICTV were brought to my house in cash, when Actuar should have issued me a cheque. Frias, like any good executing soldier, didn’t care about going off his bureaucratic script because the “good director” has clearly been assured that he wouldn’t suffer any consequences, even if I made a claim.

Now then, it doesn’t say anywhere in this joke of a contract that representation must be withdrawn because the artist doesn’t accept being gagged and stopped from saying what she thinks, which is the real reason behind these schemes and manipulations.

I can’t explain how bad I felt while I tried to explain what had happened to Angeleri, who had practically been deceived by every board member at the EICTV.

Nobody who lives outside of Cuba is ready to understand that this is a sick society where everyone wears a mask and that the line between the truth and a lie, between what’s real and pretend, has been lost.

But, they haven’t punished me because luckily enough, I’ve never lived off of this salary, I have always gone to the EICTV because I love film and that’s why I offer my services as an actress to the students and professors there. I feel I have a duty to work there, to give back all of the knowledge that my own teachers have given me, in this marvellous exchange that making a movie entails.

The only thing they’ve managed to do with these decisions is to destroy the school’s image, which is far from being the place that Fernando Birri described during its founding:

“So that the place of utopias which is nowhere by definition, can be found somewhere.”

This is another of the Revolution’s failed dreams, in the hands of irresponsible, unprincipled persons who are blinded by power.

In my case, the measure only reaffirms what I’ve always been, an independent actress and the students that I’ve worked with at the EICTV who want to call me, I’d like to tell them that I was indoctrinated at socialist schools, where I was taught that the most important thing in life was to be good at whatever I chose to do and, for a long time, my History teachers made me believe that money would cease to exist in 2000 in Cuba.

Starting over is a real challenge for any artist. If they want me, I’ll work for free. Artists don’t believe in bureaucracy.

The video below is not translated into English but it is subtitled in Spanish:

Post reprinted from Havana Times.