Inter-American Press Association Names Henry Constantin Vice President for Cuba / 14ymedio

Cuban activist and journalist Henry Constantin with an issue of Time Magazine covering Cuba. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 December 2016 — The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) has named independent journalist Henry Constantín Ferreiro as regional vice president for Cuba. Director of the magazine La Hora de Cuba and a resident of the city of Camagüey, the reporter told 14ymedio that he intends to defend and spread “the reality of journalism” on the island from his new responsibility.

A few hours after the announcement, Constantín told this newspaper via phone that he received the news with a mixture of “surprise and pride” and said he was grateful to be part of an organization that “has engaged in numerous battles over the freedom of the press in the region.” continue reading

Born in 1984, Constantín is a contributor to several independent media, including the magazine Coexistence. He studied journalism for several semester as an undergraduate and also the specialty of film direction at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA).

The reporter feels that the journalism in Cuba is going through “a special moment” marked by “an increasing plurality, although still restrained by the government.” On the island there are “media that cover almost the entire political spectrum,” says the new vice president of the IAPA.

“In this new year we will have to defend the national press because although the context is new, the threats are the same and some of them are even growing,” Constantín points out.

Upon his appointment, the reporter will be responsible for reporting the violations of press freedom that occur in the country and for drafting the report that is published each semester by IAPA.

Previously, the vice president for Cuba was occupied by journalist and director of 14ymedio Yoani Sanchez, who assumed the responsibility in 2012.

Last November, Henry Constantín was detained at Customs at the Ignacio Agramonte International Airport in Camaguey, on his arrival from Miami. The dissident was taken to a police station where his mobile phone and his laptop were confiscated.

See also:

Of UMAP and Other Demons / Henry Constantin

Kidnapped Trip / Henry Constantin

The University / Henry Constantin

Constantin Answers in Diario de Cuba / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Police Confiscate Activist Henry Constantín’s Phone And Computer / 14ymedio

Cuban activist Henry Constantín. (Twitter)
Cuban activist Henry Constantín. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerOn Sunday night, the activist Henry Constantín was detained at Customs at the Ignacio Agramonte International Airport of Camaguey, on his arrival from Miami. The dissident was taken to a police station where they confiscated his cellphone and laptop, according to what he told 14ymedio. The independent journalist was released around ten at night and says he will begin the legal process to recover his belongings.

Constantín arrived in Cuba around four in the afternoon on a American Airlines direct flight and was held at the airport until after eight o’clock at night. The officers of the General Customs of the Republic insisted on seizing their belongings to “review their content,” but the activist emphatically refused. continue reading

Constantín, who is the director of the literary magazine Time for Cuba, told them they could search the devices in his presence, but not out of sight. After four hours of waiting, Constantín was taken to a police station in the Montecarlo neighborhood.

At the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) unti, the soldiers took his “prints of all kinds,” he explained to this newspaper. The reporter refused to sign the record of the seizure of objects when the police told him that they would not give him a copy of the document.

After the Immigration Reform implemented by the Government in 2013, it has become a common practice to confiscate computers, video cameras and cellphones from activists arriving in the country.

When Will the Government of Cuba Have Normal Relations With the Cuban People? / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantin, New York, 31 May 2016 — This video is mute. Like Josefina Vidal, an official from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX), and José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, when I asked them questions that they did not expect, after their lecture on “normalization” at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) held in New York a few days ago:

  • Most Cubans believe that the real blockade is what “those up above” in Cuba maintain against the initiatives of the rest of us.
  • The normalization between Cuba and the United States is well advanced: Cubans receive with joy both the United States president as well as the simple tourist from the north. And they have privileged status when they arrive on the northern soil.
  • We Cubans want not only tourism or entertainment from the United States, but also to be its counterpart in politics, business, media, academics…
  • The biggest obstacle to normalization is that put in place by the Cuban government.
  • This occurs because the Cuban government does not have normal relations with its own people, neither asks nor listens to them, on this or any other subject.
  • And, finally: When will Government of Cuba have normal relations with the Cuban people?

They did not respond. They don’t know how. The “abnormal” is in effect.

At the end of the video I am standing against the conference room wall but content, because it is they who will be against the wall of the future, the day that more Cubans are encouraged to question them. And demand from them.

“Venezuela Is Worse Than Cuba” / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Delsa Solórzano opposition lawmaker (c), with Mr. Angel Medina (r) and Richard Blanco (l) in the "Perspectives of the Opposition" forum in the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington DC, United States. (EFE)
Delsa Solórzano opposition lawmaker (c), with Mr. Angel Medina (r) and Richard Blanco (l) in the “Perspectives of the Opposition” forum in the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington DC, United States. (EFE)

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Washington, 2 May 2016 — “There is nothing: No power, no water, no supplies in hospitals, there is no aspirin, no food, no security,” said Venezuelan Deputy Angel Medina in a debate on Venezuela organized last week by the Inter-American Dialogue Center of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“Venezuela is worse than Cuba,” added Delsa Solorzano, another of the six deputies from different parties grouped within the Democratic Unity Roundtable, which won an absolute majority in the last general elections but which does not control the executive power in Caracas. These parliamentarians are participating in a tour to seek solidarity for the release of political prisoners and for the desperate situation Venezuela is experiencing.
continue reading

“In one of the neighborhoods where we went to campaign, I visited fifty houses, and all of them I asked to look, first of all, in the refrigerator. All had empty fridges. One lady told me she had only a piece of sausage, and six children to feed, ‘How do I do that?’ she said,” recounted one of the deputies present.

“In some places the government has threatened people that if they sign for the recall [of Maduro], they will take away the things they received.” And people tell them, “But we don’t have anything, what are you going to take?” said another of the deputies present.

Included in this tour, undertaken by opponents of the Maduro government, is a meeting scheduled with Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States—who has also been critical of the anti-democratic stance of Maduro’s government—as well as a meeting with the Washington Post, which has published strong editorials against the Venezuelan government.

“We believe in diversity [of opinion] and in Venezuela we want diversity of opinion to no longer be a crime. Right now we have people who are political prisoners simply for writing a tweet,” said deputy Solorzano, who at the end of the event was very warmly by many of the Venezuelan émigrés present.

“Venezuela needs everything. Right now, if you can participate in donating medications that would be very good. And also, those of you who are bilingual, you can translate our messages to that more people can learn what we are experiencing and support us. This is very important,” commented Solorzano, who is also the vice-president of the Domestic Policy Committee of the National Assembly and a member of the opposition party A New Time, which receive the most votes in the last election.

“You have to stay united,” urged members of the audience, mostly made up of young professionals and students. “We are and we will be after the victory, it is not enough to win an election. We must rebuild Venezuela. We make decisions unanimously and discuss all our differences, but we always make it clear that we must act together.”

“But you have to have a strategy, what is your strategy?” protested a lady in the audience, to whom Delsa Solorzano responded, “We have a strategy, and every step that has been taken as been thought through very carefully. What we do not want to do is announce our strategy. And stay tuned, because in peace, without violence, in the coming months very good things are going to happen.”

Henry Constantin Arrested at the Airport on His Return From Lima / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)
Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2015 — Journalist and activist Henry Constantin, director of the magazine La hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), a member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) and collaborator with 14ymedio, was arrested at three in the afternoon on Thursday at customs in the José Martí Airport, as he himself reported via text message. “They demand my laptop. And magazine. I respectfully refuse. They do not let me talk,” he said in his text.

Constantin arrived in Havana from Lima, Peru, where he participated in the Conference of Investigative Journalism (COLPIN), along with Amarilis Cortina Rey, Ernesto Perez Chang, Ignacio Gonzalez Vidal and Armando Soler.

Later, Inalkis Rodriguez said by telephone from Camagüey that Constantin was taken to the Boyeros police station, near the airport. However, Constantin confirmed to this newspaper that moments before getting into the car that was to take him to the police station, he was told he could go. According to his account, he was able to handle the pressure and remained in possession of his laptop. He then headed to Camagüey.

Meanwhile, Ignacio Gonzalez, director of En Caliente Prensa Libre (In Hot Free Press), said that he was also separated for a “routine examination” in the words of Cuban Customs officials.

They searched all his luggage, but after a while let him leave without further consequences.

Camagüey’s San Juan Festival, Somewhere Between Fun and Indecency / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)
The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantín,Camagüey, 28 June 2015 — Saint John the Baptist, or San Juan in Spanish, was a man who used river water to baptize those who wanted to purify themselves, yet he ended up decapitated for criticizing Galilee’s corrupt rulers. Ironically, now almost two thousand years later, San Juan’s feast day is celebrated in Camagüey with a public festival organized by the city’s authorities (some of whom are also corrupt), and with plenty of diluted “baptized” alcohol.

One of the San Juan Festival’s aims and outcomes is to defuse the bottled-up but growing discontent and dissent of the preceding year, and it accomplishes its goal with the joyful “decapitation” generated by alcohol, music, and parades. continue reading

The opening of my 2004 article about the San Juan Festival – a June tradition that always brings joy to the people of Camagüey – was a bit less critical. Nevertheless, it was censored and consequently not published in Adelante, the official newspaper. I was accused of promoting religion for mentioning San Juan in the opening sentence. Now is my chance to get even, although I must admit that there were not many differences between the festival of 2004 and 2015.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment

Just like back in 2004 – and as is the case in nearly all Cuban towns sponsoring public festivals – this year’s San Juan Festival started with the closure of specific streets and squares, where dozens of food and trinket stands, stages for musical performances, trailers carrying beer kegs, and carnival games were placed.

Floats, conga lines and dance troupes filed by in the early evening and after dusk. This year they were very colorful and rhythmical, although some of the musicians and dancers seemed off beat and to have a blank look on their faces. As always, the music and sale of food and beer went on until dawn. This was especially the case at the location where the great Cándido Fabré’s orchestra was performing.

Most students and State employees are grateful for the festival because the afternoons of the week of June 24th become de facto time off. Most people just leave their workplaces.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment, and who also provide what is consumed, transportation, and even the pubic restrooms. Yet our festival has its own peculiarities. We have San Pablo Street, historically and instinctively preferred by homosexuals, reserved for the street carnival.

Then there is Capdevila Street, which is synonymous with overwhelming vulgarity. We have a famous conga line, “The Commandos,” and the events start with a traditional inaugural in which the president of the local government delivers an official proclamation.

On the eve of San Juan’s Day, neighbors get together and make a large stew, which gets weaker every year, as do the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are responsible for preparing the meal. This year, the CDR’s were so kind as to distribute rotting cattle bones to homes on several blocks.

At sunset, thousands of people pour out onto the streets, but most return home after taking a stroll or before the break of dawn. These are then followed by young people, groups of inebriated friends, and lovers. Walking on the streets where the festival takes place with a wallet or cellphone at that time of night is extremely dangerous.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam. Rivers of pungent urine flow from the streets adjacent to the musical bands, from the beer kegs, and even from the walls of private homes. Later on it takes days to disinfect whole neighborhoods. Merry men and women of all ages hide in the dark to relieve their bladders, turning the simple acts of opening one’s front door or looking out the window into unpleasant surprises.

In the pre-dawn hours and in the areas reserved for dancing, it is not uncommon to see women in the crowd with their babies asleep in their strollers, accompanying their husbands who cling to their easily recognizable beer cans. No matter the time of day, the areas set aside for shopping and public consumption of beer are packed with minors, who with or without adult supervision witness and sometimes participate in all the rituals of adult nightlife: the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, public sex, lewdness, urination and defecation, and nighttime delinquency.

For some time now, Camagüey has been ravaged by violence, and the San Juan Festival only exacerbates the problem. Once festivities kick off on June 24th, the city’s residents start echoing the usual warnings: “Be careful out there!”; “Don’t go out at night!”; “Don’t ride your bike!”; “Make sure you lock the door!”; “Make sure to leave your money at home!”

According to older people, this year’s San Juan Festival was not as nice as those of yesteryear. Thousands of citizens of Camagüey stayed home, out of fear, indifference, or lack of money. Those who tried enjoying the festival did so despite the awful conditions caused by scarcity, stench, and danger. Still, the San Juan Festival is the only opportunity the people of Camagüey have in the whole year to forget about their gray lives, their limited hopes, and their bitter struggle for survival.

Translated by José Badué

Yes to Regulation, No to Control / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin
Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 21 January 2015 — I interviewed Fernando Pérez in a small room of that little movie theater is still left in Camagüey one day after the premiere of his latest production, La pared de las palabras (Wall of Words), a stellar film about which I didn’t ask a single question. I decided not to interview the film director and instead question the intellectual, the public figure who contributes more than just his works to the daily life of Cuba.

Fernando Pérez deserves, and can handle, any difficult question one can think of. His films, never boring and with noteworthy depth, reveal a certain level of social nonconformity and demonstrate high cinematographic and intellectual capacities that transform the slim and modest man into a very serious subject. Despite being thoroughly deserving, the cinematographer isn’t inflated with the airs of a great artist or a prominent public figure and treats with kindness both his public and the press. continue reading

I had to ask him a complicated or daring question in the scarce minutes of my interview because there was little I hadn’t heard following his eloquent speeches before the camagüeyano audiences that had welcomed him in various places throughout the day.

Constantin. Following the prohibition of privately owned movie theaters, do you, cinematographers, still include in your proposals for the Cinema Law the independent distribution and showing of films?

Peréz. We’ve advanced a proposal that, of course, includes the distribution, showing, and preservation of our patrimony.

Regarding showings, there are very few venues that meet the requirements of a real movie theater. There are generations of youths that don’t know what a real movie theater is, even in a moment where the ways of showing and distributing films have diversified, for better or for worse. Rescuing the quality of movie theaters is fundamental. I can watch a movie in a smaller screen, on a laptop even, I don’t oppose that, but its true place is in a movie theater, not because it’s dark or because it is projected on a larger screen, it’s because of the energy generated from watching it alongside a live audience. It’s as if you were living within another movie altogether. Our movie theaters have either lost their intended purpose at the expense of other varied activities or, due to decay, have ceased to operate completely.

“Personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.”

On the other hand, distribution is still centralized within The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). We need to debate an editorial policy that is concrete and safe because there are national works – and I’m not talking about the international ones – that are not shown due to an editorial policy that is unclear. That needs to be regulated as well; it can’t be subjected to circumstantial or temporary decisions.

Q. Does your proposed Cinema Law conceive the ICAIC as the sole entity charged with distributing and showing films in Cuba?

A. Not exactly, although we don’t have all the answers, but distributing and showing is an extensive process that depends on a financial framework that we neither manage nor will. But, we are considering and analyzing the possibility of a breakup, a decentralization of many of these activities, where independent initiatives, regulated but not controlled, can generate improvements and also experience a more dynamic growth themselves.

I think that beyond Cuba’s audiovisual industry, having a centralized pyramidal social structure has caused many aspects of our reality to be plagued by processes that delay, that don’t find solutions, that aren’t dynamic, and that are bureaucratized because they depend on centralized decisions that cannot respond to everything. More freedom to operate and act would facilitate personal initiative, and personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.

This structural relaxation has to somehow be envisioned as part of the system we would like to have. I can’t give you concrete solutions because we are, in fact, debating. We don’t want them to come only from us; we want to explore them with other regulatory entities in our country. Not everything will be feasible immediately.

We feel like that policy is not yet outlined, or like we don’t know where it’s going, or that it’s too centralized, that it starts on a routinely straight line that is very difficult to divert.

“Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all.”

Q. From what I’ve seen within your work, you strike me as a person who believes that art can serve to change the world you live in. How do you see the relationship between art and politics?

A. Art needs to relate and mingle with life and also have its own discourse within that relationship, holding the person at the center of it all. While politics delves into the general, art targets the particular. Politics can serve art, by always upholding the freedom of expression that art needs, and art can serve politics, by rendering its reality more complex without becoming propaganda. If art becomes political propaganda, its reach becomes limited.

Q. I asked you that question because I was interested in knowing your opinion regarding Tania Bruguera’s performance and all that occurred around it.

A. Tania Bruguera’s situation has been very, very, very complicated. I think that it is possible that at some point an open microphone can be placed on Revolution Square. What happened was that Tania proposed it at a time when she knew it wasn’t possible. For a performance to have a deliberate result, it needs to account for its possible reach. Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all. So, the performance was the whole process, the waves of detentions, censorship… it wasn’t the microphone for people to speak through. That will happen someday, but not now.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo Escobar

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)
Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 — Henry Constantin is a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine’s Day, 30 years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá. continue reading

Later I selected for a research topic the actual level of acceptance enjoyed by the official media in the general population. I was failed, and that report was suggested as possible grounds for my expulsion. Finally, they lowered my grade for poor attendance — a false claim being that the majority of my colleagues had more absences than I did. That was the year my son was born and my professor/advisor had told me, “take care of that and don’t worry about absences.”

My son is now 8 years old – the same age as my problems.

Q: Even so, you tried again…..

A: A year later I was able to enter the University of Santa Clara journalism school. I was the only student who was not a member of the FEU (University Student Federation), and — in the university’s Internet lounge — I learned of the existence of alternative blogs. It was there that we founded a magazine called Abdala*, which we ultimately we named La Rosa Blanca* (The White Rose). We produced it without a computer, but still published five issues, until (another magazine) La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour) replaced it.

When I completed that course, they failed me for having produced a radio script dealing with the effects of the Huber Matos case on the broadcast media in Camagüey.

Q: Were you allowed to present it?

A: The professor thought it was heresy for me to stir up the case of that Sierra Maestra commander condemned to 20 years in prison for resigning his post. He suggested that I do a project on the journalism of José Martí. So I tackled the censorship suffered by the Apostle** at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación. They failed me again, but by that time I had the right to reevaluation.

So I tackled the censorship suffered by José Martí at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación.

I went to Camagüey for the weekend and when I returned (to the university) they were waiting to remove me from the premises. They informed me that I had been expelled from the graduate school by virtue of a disciplinary action — nothing ideological, of course!

Four men escorted me to the door and instructed the custodians to keep me from re-entering the building. They also instructed the newspaper Adelante and the Radio Cadena Agramonte station — where I had done my journalism practica — to call the police if I tried to enter.

Q: So that was your definitive goodbye to university classrooms?

A: I don’t surrender easily. In September, 2009, I took the aptitude tests to enroll in the National Institute of Art (ISA), in the school of audio-visual media. I attained the maximum score and was accepted. While at ISA, I worked on the magazine, Convivencia, edited by Dagoberto Valdes in Pinar del Río province. He proposed that I join the Reporting Council and I said yes. I also worked on the independent program Razones Ciudadanas (Civic Reasons).

Another project I participated in while a student at ISA was Hora Cero (Zero Hour). It began after a strike motivated by the bad food we were served. It consisted in staging encounters with persons outside of the institution. Jorge Molina and Gustavo Arcos came, but when we invited Eduardo del Llano, we were obstructed.

In May, 2011, they scheduled me to meet with the dean of ISA, to tell me they had discovered that I had been expelled from the graduate school. At that point I was three days from completing my courses, so I resisted, arguing that the other students should decide my fate. Once again I was removed by force from the premises, in a car that left me at the bus station. So that is the end of my history as a university student, and my obsession with obtaining a degree.

Q: And after the third expulsion?

A: I returned to Camagüey and re-initiated the Hora Cero (Zero Hour) project, at my own risk, in my own home. We started with exhibitions of the photos of Orlando Luís Pardo, a short by Eduardo del Llano, and music by some troubadour friends. Up to now, we have had good attendance by the public. The poet Maikel Iglesias, the theater troupe Cuerpo Adentro, the poet Francis Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila with his audiovisual work, Un cubano más (Just Another Cuban), have also participated.

To Hora Cero have come university students, professors, neighbors, courageous people who dare to exchange ideas. Some attend who have been instructed to inform about what takes place in these encounters, and others who have been coerced for having received a simple invitation from me to participate.

The first time that State Security visited me, my mother — who at that time was serving on a mission in Venezuela — was threatened. They told her that if she continued supporting me, she could lose the bank account where her salary is deposited. Others have been told that Hora Cero is funded by the CIA.

Q: Have you gone back to your studies?

A: A year ago I heard about a program, Somos un solo pueblo (We Are One People), for young people who have had difficulty pursuing their studies here, and are given the opportunity to do a 6-month course in the United States. Classes in psychology, personal effectiveness, principles of business or sociology, among many others. It was a wonderful experience for me and I learned a lot.

Q: And now?

A: I think I will have my work cut out for me in the next 50 or 60 years, judging by how I see present-day Cuba. If I have any time left over I want to write fiction…but with the way things are, that will have to wait.

Translator’s notes:
* Both of these titles are from the poetry of 19th century Cuban patriot José Martí.
**Martí is referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence”.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

CUBA IN FOCUS – New Book in English from “Our” Bloggers and Independent Journalists

CUBA IN FOCUS – New book edited by Ted A. Henken, Miriam Celaya, and Dimas Castellanos

Article by Ted Henken, from his blog, El Yuma

Those of you who follow me on Twitter @ElYuma will already know that just over a month ago ABC-CLIO published a new book about Cuba, called Cuba in Focus, that I am proud to have co-edited with Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos. In 2008, I wrote a book entitled Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook, also published by ABC-CLIO.  However, when they approached me three years ago wanting to do a new edition, I responded that I had already said my piece on Cuba but that I would be interested in recruiting and collaborating with a group of Cubans from the island to do a new volume that would give voice to their own analysis of the Cuban Revolution and the heady changes (from above as well as from below) that have taken place there in the last five years.

This volume is the result!

Starting young with Uncle Ted!

We benefitted from the collaboration of a host of perceptive and pioneering authors and activists, most of whom actually live on the island today.  A full list is below in the table of contents, but some of the more notable writers included in the volume are the late Óscar Espinosa Chepe, his wife Miriam Leiva, Yoani Sánchez, her husband Reinaldo Escobar, Armando Chaguaceda, Regina Coyula, Henry Constantín, Marlene Azor Hernández, Rogelio Fabio HurtadoMiguel Iturria Savón, and Wilfredo Vallín.

Of course, Dimas and Miriam did their share of stellar writing as well.

Each of the book’s seven chapters is made much more vivid and memorable by the breathtaking photojournalism of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, supplemented by photos by Tracey Eaton, Luzbely Escobar, and Uva de Aragón (all provided complementary).

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

You can learn more about the book and purchase your very own copy here and here.

What follows are the book’s PREFACE, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, and TABLE OF CONTENTS.

***

Writing and coediting a comprehensive reference book on a country with such an intricate history and rich culture as Cuba has been both a challenge and a pleasure. Cuba is literally bursting with a diversity of voices and competing perspectives. However, the internal media monopoly and rigid ideological parameters regulating the island’s writers, artists, intellectuals, and scholars often make it difficult for outsiders to hear or make sense of these many voices. Moreover, outside coverage of Cuba often deals in shallow stereotypes and wishful thinking, uninformed by serious, sustained examination of how life is actually lived on the island itself.

Fortunately, this study has been prepared as the island undergoes an unprecedented period of change—coming both from above and below—challenging traditional limits on critical expression and creating more space for independent analysis. In an effort to seize this special moment, the editors of this book (two of whom, Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos, currently live in Cuba) recruited more than a dozen others to give their independent, internal voice to the many topics examined here.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Apart from the three co-editors, the authors include the historian and political scientist Armando Chaguaceda, the late independent economist Óscar Espinosa Chepe, the independent blogger and photographer Henry Constantín, blogger Regina Coyula, Fernando Dámaso, the independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, Dayrom Gil, the sociologist Marlene Azor Hernández, the historian Maritza de los Ángeles Hidalgo-Gato Lima, the poet Rogelio Fabio Hurtado, the artist César Leal Jiménez, the activist and independent journalist Miriam Leiva, the photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, the blogger and independent journalist Yoani Sánchez, the historian Miguel Iturria Savón, and the lawyer Wilfredo Vallín.

All of these authors are Cuban and nearly all continue to live and work on the island today. Most are also both experts and hands-on practitioners in the fields about which they write, including history, anthropology, law, politics, economics, migration, religion, racial and ethnic relations, class structure, literature, dance and music, theater, film, civil society, human rights, the media, and the Internet.

The editors would like to recognize these authors who—each from his or her particular point of view—took the risk of making their knowledge and analyses public. Given that their analyses are often at odds with both the “official story” promoted by the Cuban government and the often ill-informed one coming from abroad, their effort to show this other, often hidden face of Cuba while continuing to reside there is particularly valuable and commendable.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Writing a balanced, accurate, and original overview of this unique and fascinating island-nation has been a daunting task. How does one describe the innumerable ways in which Cubans have embraced and, indeed, internalized much of U.S. culture during the island’s century of independent existence, while at the same time recognizing the fact that the United States has often wielded its power and influence in a manner ultimately harmful to Cuban sovereignty?

Likewise, how does one do justice to the enormous initial popularity and impressive social achievements of the Cuban revolution, without ignoring the suffering endured by the Cuban people both on the island and in exile as a result of the Cuban government’s internal rigidity, intolerance, and paternalism?

As Cubans like to say, No es fácil (It ain’t easy)!

Luzbely Escobar

Although writing and teaching about Cuba can be a political minefi eld of sorts, even for the most enterprising and sensitive of scholars, the country of Cuba, with its unique culture, and the people of Cuba, with their contagious charisma, passionate convictions, and gracious generosity of spirit, make the never-ending task of understanding the country and its people inestimably rewarding and enriching.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

This book is the fruit of more than five years of collaboration among its three coeditors and many authors, often thanks to our strategic use of the Internet and social media to share, edit, and translate the book’s various chapters. Thanks are due to the Swedish, Dutch, and Swiss Embassies in Cuba for opening their doors to the Cuban coeditors, enabling the free flow of uncensored information back and forth between Havana and New York necessary to make this book a reality. We even managed to convince a few brave (and happily anonymous) souls to help us by spiriting author contracts and payments back and forth between Cuban and the United States. We thank them here as well.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The volume provides an up-to-date overview of historical, political, economic, and sociocultural development of Cuba from the pre-Columbian period to the present, with an emphasis on the Cuban revolution, U.S.-Cuban relations, Cuba’s impressive cultural achievements, and the country’s current socioeconomic reality. The book contains seven narrative chapters, on (1) geography, (2) history, (3) politics and government, (4) economy, (5) society, (6) culture, and (7) contemporary issues.

Augmented by a total of 76 brief vignettes on various historical, political, cultural, or biographical topics of special interest or importance such as the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, the Platt Amendment, the U.S. Embargo, the writer Reinaldo Arenas, the film director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, the artist Wifredo Lam, or the human rights activists The Ladies in White. While the history chapter focuses almost exclusively on prerevolutionary Cuba, the bulk of the other chapters are dedicated to chronicling the economic, political, social, and cultural changes that have taken place in Cuban society since 1959 under the revolution.

Tracey Eaton

The editors would like to give special thanks to our two intrepid student translators, Michael Prada Krakow and Natalia Pardo Becerra—both natives of Colombia. With key financial support from Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, Mike and Natalia worked together with the book’s lead editor and translator—Ted A. Henken—for over a year rendering the various authors’ original Spanish-language chapters into an English that would preserve the content of their ideas and the beauty of their language. We also thank Regina Anavy for stepping in at a key moment with her own expert, emergency, volunteer translation of a few sections of this book. Its readers will judge how well we succeeded.

The editors would also like to thank Archibald Ritter, Yoani Sánchez, and Reinaldo Escobar who first introduced us to one another physically. We also acknowledge M. J. Porter, Karen Chun, and Aurora Morera, whose intrepid, behind-the-scenes work setting up portals to host their blogs allowed us to more easily collaborate virtually. Baruch College professor and top-flight literary translator Esther Allen also deserves nuestros más sinceros agradecimientos (our most sincere thanks) as she was a key link in the translation chain at an early stage of this project.

El Yuma with El Chagua & OLPL.

The writer, blogger, and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo also deserves our gratitude for graciously allowing us to raid his stunning trove of digital images of today’s Cuba, 15 of which illustrate the book’s pages. Queens-based graphic designer Rolando Pulido assisted with getting these photos camera-ready. Also, journalist Tracey Eaton, poet Uva de Aragón, and Cuban photographer Luzbely Escobar each generously contributed a wonderful photo of their own to the book.

Kaitlin Ciarmiello, ABC-CLIO’s acquisitions editor for the Geography and World Cultures series was especially instrumental in shepherding what unexpectedly became an unwieldy coedited, dual-language, and multi-author project through various stages of completion. Likewise, both James Dare, the book’s illustrations editor, and Valavil Lydia Shinoj, the book’s project manager were exemplars of resourcefulness and professionalism.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge the assistance of Cuban scholars Samuel Farber, Domingo Amuchástegui, and Eusebio Mujal-León, each of whom provided extensive comments on Chapter 3 “Politics and Government.” Likewise, Dafnis Prieto, the virtuoso Cuban percussionist and MacArthur “Genius” grantee, performed a similar service by thoroughly reviewing the section on Cuban music. Arch Ritter kindly did the same for Chapter 4 “Economy.”

We hope the published book reflects some of their extensive knowledge and editorial care. Of course, all errors, omissions, and oversights are our own.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1 GEOGRAPHY, Ted A. Henken and Miriam Celaya

2 HISTORY, Dimas Castellanos, Ted A. Henken, and Miriam Celaya

3 POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT, Wilfredo Vallín and Ted A. Henken

4 ECONOMY, Óscar Espinosa Chepe and Ted A. Henken

5 SOCIETY
Religion and Thought, by Rogelio Fabio Hurtado and Ted A. Henken
Ethnicity and Race, Class Structure, and Inequality, by Dimas Castellanos and Ted A. Henken
Family, Gender, and Sexuality, by Miriam Celaya and Ted A. Henken
Education, by Miriam Celaya
Migration and Diaspora, by Dimas Castellanos and Ted A. Henken
The Media, by Reinaldo Escobar
Internet, Social Media, and the Cuban Blogosphere, by Yoani Sánchez

6 CULTURE
Language and Literature, by Miguel Iturria Savón and Ted A. Henken
Dance, Music, and Theater, by Regina Coyula and Ted A. Henken
Cinema and Photography, by Henry Constantín and Miriam Celaya
Cuisine, by Maritza de los Ángeles Hidalgo-Gato Lima and Ted A. Henken
Art and Architecture , by César Leal Jiménez
Popular Recreation and Sports, by Rogelio Fabio Hurtado
Popular Culture, Customs, and Traditions, by Regina Coyula and Fernando Dámaso

7 CONTEMPORARY ISSUES
Raúl Castro’s Reforms: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, by Dimas Castellanos
Agricultural Reforms, by Dimas Castellanos
Political Reforms and Rising Corruption, by Marlene Azor Hernández
Recent Cuban Elections , by Armando Chaguaceda and Dayrom Gil
Cuba’s Demographic Crisis, by Dimas Castellanos
Recent Migration Reforms, by Ted A. Henken
Cuba’s International Relations, by Miriam Leiva
The Catholic Church, Dissidence, Civil Society, and Human Rights, by Dimas Castellanos and Miriam Celaya

Glossary
Facts and Figures
Major Cuban Holidays and Festivals
Country-Related Organizations
Annotated Bibliography
Thematic Index
Index
About the Authors and Contributors

 

Another Ship Bound for Korea / Henry Constantin

6a00d8341bfb1653ef01901e67ea1d970b-550wiI have been to Korea a couple of times and the memory of it feels like a weight on my chest. People there work from sunup for a monthly salary that only gets them through a week. They do not know what the internet is and have never used email. They arrive punctually for political rallies and applaud mechanically, as they have been taught to do since childhood. When they leave, they look as though they feel they have wasted their time. They disparage American imperialism and capitalism but seem to have a certain envy of people from there, with their mobile phones and brand-name shoes.

That is Korea. In the hills fourteen kilometers north of Mayarí Arriba in Santiago de Cuba there is a little house belonging to Empresa Forestal Sierra del Cristal filled with men subject to the same gag orders and shortages as their counterparts in North Korea, where our arms are being sent without consent from us, their owners.

People in North Korea do not need to import more armaments. They already have enough — nuclear ones too — and they are not being brought in to make them happy. Like us, what they need besides the essentials of life are to have the tools of freedom put in their hands, not in those of the huge state which wastes them on surveillance.

These include computers, cell phones, flash drives, photo and video cameras, satellite antennas for internet and television, books and manuals on digital technology, human rights, peaceful resistance, a free press and civil society. They need access to Twitter, Youtube and Facebook so they can learn to publish whatever they want. They need roundtrip tickets to anywhere, to learn and bring about their hopeful ideas about the reality of their twin brothers in the south who enjoy an excellent standard of living.

Because Cuba’s foreign policy should never be that of “happiness now in your own home.” As we become more free as people and more prosperous as a nation, Cuba should not forget all the people in the world who are going through things as bad so bad as we are going through. Human solidarity, at the end of the day, is what has been preached for 50 years in our schools and media, though not always with peaceful, innocent or disinterested intentions.

Cuba and the world need to change a great deal. The humble workers cutting timber in the Korea of Crystal Mountain, where I got the traveler pretext for this article, deserve a better life. The North Koreans of the peninsula, which have similar scarcities, too.

And we Cubans need better international politics, one that in addition to looking after ourselves, also includes solidarity with all human beings who are down — regardless of their flag — with the oppressed, not with the little men clinging to eternal and total power: some day our shops will carry internet and computers and books, instead of hidden arms. Some day.

20 July 2013

A Lighthouse Against Old Discourses / Henry Constantin

A lighthouse at the entrance of a bay: a sexual metaphor, or a social one, if we see the bay as part of that Cuba that isn’t fertilized, even if the lives of millions of Cubans have been spent in an attempt to make it fertile.

This lighthouse does shine; not like the resumes of the army general and his officers, in which are divined the economic and social long night they promised to patient Cubans. It’s not a bad lighthouse nor is it like the mists that raise the unanimous applause of the still mute Parliament, or the journalists’ repetition of those numbers only useful to spotting the rear ends of the millions on the island who don’t even have money to buy toilet paper.

The same day that the current president of the Republic talks about the deteriorated civic values, the monstrous malformations in the conduct of Cubans, of cancers of the spirits that grow as much as the economic problems, his police shamelessly mistreating and arresting peaceful people who confront them only with civic values. What did he talk about then?

Because of this I don’t believe the current president. So I am publishing this photo of a lighthouse where I arrived after a dawn of mosquitoes, at the entrance to Manatee Bay, in the north of Las Tunas province. A lighthouse is my own metaphor that there are indeed sure ways to improve this island without the trauma of an infinite reform that hasn’t made us the slightest bit happy here.

Of course it’s not easy to get there: by the dark mountain path there are guards and trails to get lost in, but it’s better to walk with a bad helmsman and an old map. Those who still insist on guiding us with the same mistaken lighthouses as always, the fairy fires that lead us again and again into the reefs or the swamp.

Now, what we need are not more energetic or exhaustive speeches: we need to rectify this bad light and build our own lighthouses, new goals and distinct paths other than those designed in the offices upstairs, to see if, sometime, something really changes down here.

New and true lighthouses, for this island that at the same time is a drifting boat and the promised land. It’s what we are trying to do.

10 July 2013

If Venezuela looks into Venezuela

Fifteen kilometers to the south of Ciego de Ávila, in the center of Cuba, there is another failed town, the outbuildings of the demolished central Stewart, that today is called Venezuela. One more ruin.

Venezuela was once a thriving town. More than 7500 workers earning their bread and some constant progress in a sugar refinery that became the third in production capacity in the whole country. One million sacks of sugar produced in 1952. Big old wood houses that still exists, though leaning a bit and unpainted. A Union capable of hard battles for their workers’ progress, without limits, even against governments or companies, as it should be. Hundreds of residents members of different political parties, lodges, religions, cultural societies, choosing to buy amid different newspapers or crowds of commercial brands.

All that was reduced to One. And often to Zero.

Only one union trained to tell their workers that they must continue working in silence even if the receive less each time; one school where the boys learn a bunch of things that won’t give them any prosperity after graduation if they stay in that town or country. Very little to eat in the street, the farmers market selling very tiny potatoes, some bananas and malangas (a tuber resembling sweet potatoes),amid very fertile soil.

A fish market of chopped fish 30 kilometers from the Júcaro port. A boring museum with the stuff of Indians, Cuban independence warriors, union workers and bourgeois that soon will be another office in this poorly preserved town-museum. The headquarters of the Union that used to give battles against the masters in the republic, demolished.

Huge billboards with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez announcing a future that neither they nor their followers will be able to give to their people. Eternal silences in the nights. And the refinery, that majestic mass of human labor, that factory that 60 years ago exceeded the million sacks of sugar, became a silent ruin.

And that is only the visible part. There isn’t freedom, which is not easily measurable, because people get used to silencing their wishes of progress to avoid jail or being fired from jobs, they get used to the same newspaper, radio and television; to the same politicians, to the same useless currency. They adapted themselves to thinking about running away, very far, without home or family when they can’t take it any more: that custom is the worst thing that happened to Stewart, to Venezuela.

This is Venezuela’s mute drama. That could happen to the other Venezuela, if they don’t learn the lesson of others and vote badly or remain silence in these decisive days, in which I forget that stupidity of not meddling in the problems of people of different flags; between the solidarity for other men, and respect for the very dubious sovereignty made to protect bad governments, I choose solidarity. And I also believe, as did José Martí and Bolivar — liberator of foreign lands — that homeland is humanity.

And Venezuela pains me.

Translated by: @Hachhe

11 April 2013

Constantin Answers in Diario de Cuba / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Henry Constantín (OLPL)

Human Damage in an  Environment of Punishment

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Talking with Henry Constantin, expelled for life from the country’s universities.

The worst of a prolonged war,
is not the hunger of the siege,
nor the exhaustion, nor the despair,
nor the dead left in the dust
of no man’s land.
The atrocious, the unbearable,
what kills the desire to live,
is that you know the color of the eyes,
the gestures, the intimate shirt
of who tomorrow may be the enemy.
Waldo Leyva

I had to do something petty so they wouldn’t kick me out of the University of Havana, where I studied for a degree in biochemistry while the classrooms and professors’ chairs of the country were bleeding their biggest names. Probably just remain silent. Like that shame two decades later that still stings your face like a slap, when you run across despicable acts like that the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) and the Superior Art Institute (ISA) imposed on Henry Constantin, a student expelled from the Audiovisual Communication program, from the Faculty of Audiovisual Media Arts (FAMCO). It would seem that Cuba never tires of repeating the same grotesque and perhaps convenient script.

I’ll never forget the stifling impression provoked by the graffiti, “To be young and not to be a revolutionary is a biological contradiction” (Salvador Allende) in the old charitable hospital in Luyano where my father had just died on August 13, 2000, on the almost prehistoric 74th birthday of Fidel Castro. My father was neither young nor revolutionary. And I felt that imported slogan like a sentence of civil or physical death that one day would touch me. In fact, it already touched me. To Henry Konstantin (b. Camagüey, 1984) it happened again just last week.

His visibility has cost him the record of being expelled by force from three Cuban universities. In 2006, midway through the third year of a degree in Journalism from the University of the Oriente (Santiago de Cuba), they expelled him for technically not meeting the minimum attendance requirement. His research project on the poor acceptance of the official press at the village level was precisely a poor acceptance in an academic department. Rafael Fonseca, professor of Research Methodology, was charged with the task of disproving such daring theories from the cradle. Not without the concomitant complicity of professor Isel Fernández Campanioni, head of the Department of Journalism and Social Communication, who had approved fifteen “days off” for Henry Constantine for a family situation (including the birth of his son), and later those same “unexcused absences” were the key piece in the mini-act of repudiation with which he was tossed from the classroom.

It is here that they separated him from the Federation of University Students (FEU) and the Union of Young Communists (UJC). But the small importance of “absences” still left a glimmer of hope for rehabilitation: he lost a year on the street, but the offender could return to present evidence in order to re-enter higher education.

Henry Constantin persisted and in 2008 returned for his third year of a Bachelor of Journalism, this time at the “Marta Abreu” Central University of Las Villas. In his practicum at the end of the course he prepared a report on the repercussions of the figure of Hubert Matos on the press media of Camagüey in the early 60’s. The journalist Alexander Jiménez cut him off him with a counterproposal, better to focus on José Martí. Konstantin Henry understands the wink, but chooses for his topic the theme of journalistic censorship suffered in life and death by The Apostle.

On Radio Cadena Agramonte, his practicum tutor, Miozotis Fabelo Pinares, correspondent of Radio Rebelde, is in charge of disapproving the script of Henry Constantin, for a host of structural technicalities and thematic despotisms. In closing, she renders insult in a report where each protest of the student means another aggravating factor, which even implicated the ideological representative at the provincial Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). A suspended internship is not counted, so the punishment is repeated, and he loses another year, wherever the university decides to place the student.

Henry Constantine decided to continue attending classes while his appeal was resolved at ministerial level (it would take months and he would not like to repeat another year if the case should turn out in his favor). They warned all the “cadres” and “factors” of the high study center. They considered him in resistance and even applied a disciplinary proceeding in absentia, which culminated with his body pushed outside the perimeter of the university, with threats of violence by the breath diluted by the alcoholic breath of the personnel who complied with the order.

The case fell into the hands of human rights activists and was denounced in the independent and foreign press. “It was politicized,” as it is customary to say in Cuba with a look of resignation. So MES decided to go for the most violent headline: Henry Constantine could never re-enter any university in the country. Then he decided to play dirty.

Change of scenery and in 2009, having ranked first in the national proficiency testing and in Spanish and History, he enrolled in the Communication Studies of the ISA. He omitted the truth, which is a vengeful way to lie. He simply declared his aborted stay at the University of the Oriente. In addition, he was already collaborating by then on the alternative magazine Coexistence (directed by Dagoberto Valdés) and managing a blog about travel on the rebellious portal Voces Cubanas.

Fate disposes. Returning from a couple of years of political nightmare, it was reiterated to Henry Constantin, this time with no legal right to file a claim, as they had caught him at fault when it was discovered that he had been expelled for life from higher education. After several intimate warnings (“I am sharpening a knife to put a little spin on it when I poke you,” he was warned cheerfully by one of his interviewers/interrogators from the FAMCO Disciplinary Committee), the ousting coincided minutely with Henry Constantín’s recent joining of the board of the magazine Coexistence and his preparation — with filmmaker’s credit — of the alternative audiovisual “Citizens’s Reasons,” with critical journalist Reinaldo Escobar in the role of moderator.

A last resort of hoping to stay at his dorm at ISA for the 48 hours he was given to remove himself, also did not work. Victor Gonzalez, dean of students, led a sort of joint operation, between the leaders of the FEU and guards on duty, the next day (Thursday, May 26, at almost midnight). With all his belongings gathered in nylon bags, Henry Constantine was forced to ride in a car that drove him to La Coubre Station, where for the first time in his entire career he was given a pass to buy a ticket home from the “waiting list.” Soon after, that same morning, they came down on the ISA students who publicly expressed their stupor as witnesses to the incident.

Caught in the “biological contradiction” of “being young” and not being “revolutionary,” Henry Constantín should commit suicide now, leaving a pathetic note to the rector of the ISA or perhaps the Minister of MES. As he still retains the will to survive a sick era of exclusions, exhausting one generation after another since the very beginning of modern times, Henry Constantin, suddenly homeless in the “capital of all Cubans,” sits down to talk with me with our backs to our city and faces to the black sea of another moonless midnight in this Havana so humiliating for its inhabitants.

“The least important are the political ideas,” he says, letting me scribble notes and interrupt to pry into the details of his biography narrated here,” nor even each student’s projection of what he thinks. What is really serious, throughout my university expulsions, and those of other guys I know, what has been the most sad, is the human damage in the environment of punishment. The friends who refuse to defend you, roommates who are silent, the lover who forgets everything they felt, the professors who let the “volunteers” in the classroom (as not one teacher did when they were after the medical students in 1871), who having shared the same classroom, the same food, the same parties, now you attack without warning.”

“The destruction of a student in Cuba, for his ideas, the damage precisely because of this sharp spiritual deformation takes over everyone around him, and that is rooted in fear. The message to my classmates of the national student body, more than making them think about what the political, economic or social system Cuba should have, is how in the end do they recover the annulled human condition, and their faith in others and in themselves.”

“This time, in the case of ISA, which has been the most independent of the state schools across Cuba, where I observed for two years, it is obvious that my expulsion was due to a higher necessity, and cyclical. Nor are the events of these days random and their victims have been, always, people with some relationship with the blogger Yoani Sanchez, the lay leader Dagoberto Valdez: examples are Pedro Pablo Oliva, Servando Blanco, Juan Carlos Fernández … On the earlier occasions it would all arranged to make it look like it was about events, without regard to my personal views, but the ISA had in its hands the excuse to kick me out, and they only did it now.”

“In addition, the audiovisuals of official television in the program “Cuba’s Reasons” presented copious warnings about the situation of intellectuals, bloggers and Cuban artists, and the ISA, the so-called University of the Arts, with its history of liberal thought, artistic irreverence, and a thunderous two-day hunger strike in October 2009 (where I collaborated on its documentation and dissemination), still seems a land lost to government control. It’s not by chance that the university was chosen by the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party for the political-ideological process of closing down Cuban universities, conducted in early 2011. Henry Constantín expelled for the third time is just one more step in the adjustment of the broken mechanism of the Cuban state.”

www.diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/5038-el-dano-humano…

May 31 2011