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

 

What Did I Lose? / Miguel Iturria Savon

Miguel on the shore at Moncofar in Spain.

Miguel on the shore at Moncofar in Spain.

Knowing I’ve been in Spain for one year, a friend from Valencia asks me what I lost since leaving the island. As I know she is trapped in the tapestry of her circumstances, I try to be brief. I tell her I came in search of lost time, to connect with my origins, wrapped in the arms of my wife and her family — my new family — eager for new experiences, places, friends and acquaintances. I clarify that, for me, exile, rather than a loss is an alternative, synonymous with freedom instead of tragedy. In many places in the world people live day to day without thinking about everyday challenges, immersed in work, children, problems; happy or sad, embarrassed, proud, hopeful.

Changing countries does not rewrite the script of our lives nor fix the balance of gains and losses. Life is a challenge anywhere, but we mark the place and customs, the language and cultural expressions, climate and geography, love and luck, the gods and biased concepts like country and nation. We humans are nomads despite borders and laws, governments and their dictates, ethnic, political and theological prejudices.

In the case of Cuba, there is the romantic whining of homeland from exile, mourning for what is lost, enlarging what is “ours” as something exclusive; incapable of inserting ourselves into another environment and feeling that the floor moves under us before new challenges and problems. But what do we lose? Is it worth clinging to the past cursing mistakes, living sunk in nostalgia?

I know there are millions of people trapped in poverty and hopelessness in dozens of countries, including Cuba. What do I miss of Cuba ? What did I lose? I may still not know. I stay in contact with my children and I remember fondly colleagues and friends with whom I interacted in Havana; I read the digital pages they write – Cubanet, Diario de Cuba, Semanario Primavera, Voces Cubanas. I feel no nostalgia for the dirty streets, the screaming of the neighborhoods, crowded buses, excessive heat, collective misery, herds of police nor the one-party rule and exclusive decisions.

My country passes through family, art and literature, the sea, freedom … In that sense, I can tell my friend from Valencia that sometimes, just sometimes, traveling along the coast of some Mediterranean cities it brings to mind the beach in Varadero or the Malecon in Havana. But without tears or tropical longings. I did not leave Paradise nor do I seek it in Europe. Paradise Lost is within us.

13 November 2013

Remembering Laura Pollan on the 2nd Anniversary of Her Death / Jorge Luis Piloto, Amaury Gutierrez and Translating Cuba Bloggers

Lyrics by Jorge Luís Piloto; sung by Amaury Gutiérrez
(English translation follows)

Laura, Dama de Blanco,
te quisieron silenciar y hoy tu voz
suena más alto
por las calles de la Habana tu energía
acompaña a tus hermanas, tu familia
esas bravas heroínas
con gladiolos en las manos
defendiendo los derechos del cubano…

Laura, Dama Maestra
demostraste con tu ejemplo que el amor
es más fuerte que las rejas
la maldad de tu verdugo te hizo eterna
y la patria te agradece y te venera
hoy el mundo está mirando
y los complices callados
se avergüenzan y tu nombre lo respetan…

Laura Pollán,
llegaremos al dia y al final de este martirio
y en La Habana una marcha de gladiolos será un río
y llorando de rabia por los héroes que perdimos
Cuba entera caminará contigo…

======

Laura, Lady in White
they wanted to silence you and now your voice
rings out the loudest
through the streets of Havana your energy
accompanies your sisters,your family
these brave heroines
with gladioli in their hands
defending the rights of Cubans…

Laura, Lady Teacher
you showed with your example that love
is stronger than the prison bars
the evil of your executioner made you immortal
and the country thanks you and venerates you
today the world is watching
and the silent accomplices
are ashamed of themselves and respect your name…

Laura Pollán,
we will come to the day at the end of this martyrdom
and in Havana the march of the gladioli will be a river
and weeping with rage at the heroes we lost
all of Cuba will walk with you…

Reposted from October 2012

Laura Pollán Remembered by Translating Cuba Bloggers:
Yoani Sanchez: First Anniversary of the Death of Laura Pollán. The Legacy of Laura Pollán. Laura is gone, Laura is No More. Laura Pollán, you are still with us. In Laura Pollán’s House.
Reinaldo Escobar: A Special Day for the Ladies in White. What I have left of Laura.
Miguel Iturria Savon: The Final Odyssey of Laura Pollán
Ivan Garcia: Laura Pollán Risked Her Neck to Demonstrate Her Truths. How can the persecutors of Laura Pollán sleep peacefully?
Rosa María Rodríguez: Laura And Courage in White
Miriam Celaya: Laura and the Rebellion of the Gladioli
Regina Coyula: Laura and the Mob
Angel Santiesteban: Laura Pollán Has Died
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo: Photos

From Today

Act of repudiation against Ladies in White commemorating the 2nd anniversary of Laura Pollán's death. Already 21 have been arrested.

Act of repudiation against Ladies in White commemorating the 2nd anniversary of Laura Pollán’s death. Already 21 have been arrested.

San Fermines’ Passion and Tragedy / Miguel Iturria Savon

Not the disdain of the English-speaking animal rights activists nor the anti-bullfight stance of dozens of people and communication media stop the explosion of jubilation, fear and tension of the million people who run before the bulls in the streets of Pamplona, from Saturday, July 6th to Sunday the 14th.

Once again the city of Pamplona, ancient capital of Kingdom of Navarra, fills with pilgrims from half the world who dress in red and white, sing the original hymns of protection to San Fermin, with his image they make a hour-and-a-half long procession, after which they head toward the streets of the running of the bulls, where men and beasts enclosed in “the fences,” nurses and police “transit” to the Plaza de Toros.

The running of the bulls start at 8:00 in the morning, and passes from the corrals of Santo Domingo to the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, a distance of 850 meters that demands training and puts courage, nerves, and abilities to the test to avoid goring or fatal falls in the middle of so much euphoria and collective passion. It seems that a few minutes of enclosure link men and beasts. They meet again in the plaza hours later, the bulls in front of the bull fighter, the humans from the stands.

Los Sanfermines, the singular and sovereign festival of revelry; is the ultimate party, a test between life and death; maybe the best expression of the tragicomic sense of the Spanish, friend of extreme and ritualistic challenges put in question by modernity. Los Sanfermines is also a hedonistic scene, a friendly and familiar orgy that attracts nearly one million tourists who dust off the old routine, strange and fascinating Pamplona, whose historical hoof-print multiplies its cultural and commercial options, while its inhabitants trip over alcoholic foreigners who distort the bullfighting meaning of the event.

These Sanfermines attracts figures such as Joselito Adame, Alejandro Talavante, Morante, el Juli, Perera, Fandino, and others famous in the ring contracted by the Bullfight Commission of the House of Mercy. The bulls are put up by the livestock businesses Cebada Gago, Dolores Aguirre and Fuente Imbro. The Navarrian government receives more than one million euros in taxes.

Bull fighting is not a sport but a spectacle with deep roots in Spain and counties in the Americas such as Mexico, Colombia and Peru. Behind the spectacle are the ranchers, the professionals of challenge, the fans, the bull fighting plazas and the hundreds of local governments that promote the running in the streets during the summer, from the great Madrid to the small Vall de Uixo, in Hispanic Levante.

Perhaps the Sanfermines, this festival of passion and challenge, is the greatest traditional spectacle in Spain; followed by the celebrated and multitudinous Fallas de Valencia, the Festival of Pilar in Zaragoza, Holy Week and the Fair in April in Sevilla — which exalt the Andalusian culture — the Carnivals of Tenerife and Cadiz, the first sumptuous, the second satirical and mocking; the monumental Hoguera de San Juan in Alicante, the Celebration of Moors and Christians, especially that of Alcoy; the Viking Festival in Catoira (Galicia), San Isidro in Madrid and the less festive and atypical Day of San Jordi in Cataluna, where the running of the bulls was prohibited.

8 July 2013

The legal farce against Angel Santiesteban reminds me of the celebrated storyteller Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla and Raul Rivero

Three memories of Angel Santiesteban

Miguel Iturria Savon

September 2, 2011, I published on Cubanet the article SOS for Angel Santiesteban, then harassed by the political police of the Cuban government in spite of being a writer awarded multiple prizes by the regime’s own institutions.

At the end of 2012 Angel was sentenced to five years in prison after a rigged trial in which they used his ex-wife as a lance point against him.  I will not refer to the details of the case, because they still circulate in various writings and on Santesteban’s blog, but to my personal impressions about this wordsmith.

Before personally knowing the author of Dreams of a Summer Day, The Children Nobody Wanted, Happy Are They Who Mourn, and South: Latitude 13, I read his books and heard several anecdotes that reflect his temperament and satirize the Cuban political situation.  It is hard to forget some characters from his stories about jail and the Cuban intervention in the African wars.  Maybe the masterful design of those alienated beings that gallop on the pages of his works are the true cause of the degrading judicial process that attempts to nullify his rebellion and the voice of this audacious and mask-free man.

As my son was the lawyer for Angel Santiesteban I had the privilege of receiving him in my Havana home and speaking with him over a glass of water — Angel does not drink rum or coffee.  We spoke of literature and of his family experience.  Only on one occasion, on asking him about one of his characters, did he reveal to me the traumatic imprint of his brief prison stay before turning 20 years of age after being detained on the north coast while saying goodbye to a relative who tried to leave the island on a raft.

I encountered Santiesteban several times in the home of blogger Yoani Sanchez and in the cultural gatherings organized in the residence of the physicist Antonio Rodiles, leader of the Estado de Sats program.  I remember that Angel barely intervened in the debates and sat almost always at the end of the room, far from posturing and prominence but cordial to whoever approached him.  In the end he would leave in his car with four or five others whom he took to or near their homes.

The last time that we met was across from the Infanta and Manglar Police station, next to the building “Fame and Applause,” where half a hundred opponents demanded the liberation of Antonio Rodiles, detained after the burial of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, dead in a suspicious accident.  There we talked while Wilfredo Vallin and Reinaldo Escobar tried to negotiate with the Station Chief, also surrounded by a band of delinquents who awaited orders from Security officers to kick and drag the opponents.

The legal farce against Angel Santiesteban reminds me of the celebrated storyteller Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla — incarcerated in 1971 — and Raul Rivero — sentenced in 2003 — victims of a dictatorship that sanctions freedom of expression and promotes the quietism and complicit silence of intellectuals.

Translated by mlk

9 June 2013

The judicial farce against Angel Santiesteban reminds me of the celebrated narrator Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla and Raul Rivero

 Three Memories of Angel Santiesteban

Miguel Iturria Savon

On September 2, 2011, I published on Cubanet the article SOS for Angel Santiesteban, then beset by the political police of the Cuban government in spite of being a writer who had been awarded multiple prizes by the regime’s own institutions.  At the end of 2012 Angel was sentenced to five years in prison after a rigged trial in which they used his ex-wife as the spear point against him.  I will not refer to the details of the case because they still circulate in various writings and on Santiesteban’s blog, but to my personal impressions about this artist of the word.

Before personally meeting the author of Dreams on a Summer Day, The Children That Nobody Wanted, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn and South: Latitude 13, I read his books and heard several anectdotes that reflect his temperament and satirize the Cuban political situation.  It is hard to forget some characters from his stories about the jail and the Cuban intervention in the African wars.  Maybe the magisterial design of those alien beings that gallop on the pages of his works are the true cause of the humiliating judicial proecess that is trying to override his rebelliousness and the voice of this bold man without masks.

As my son was a lawyer for Angel Santiesteban I had the privilege of receiving him in my Havana home and talking with him frequently over a glass of water — Angel does not drink rum or coffee.  We talked of literature and of his family experience. Only on one occasion, on asking him about one of his characters, did he reveal to me the traumatic trace of his brief stay in prison before reaching age 20, after being arrested on the north coast while saying goodbye to a relative who tried to flee the island on a raft.

I met several times with Santiesteban in the home of blogger Yoani Sanchez and in the cultural gatherings organized in the residence of physician Antonio Rodiles, leader of the program Estado de Sats.  I remember that Angel hardly intervened in the debates and always sat at the end of the room, distant from posturing and prominence but cordial with whoever approached him.  Finally he would leave in his car with four or five people whom he dropped off at their homes.

The last time we met was opposite the Infanta and Manglar police station next to the building “Fame and Applause,” where half a hundred opponents were demanding the liberation of Antonio Rodiles, detained after the funeral of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, dead in a suspicious accident.  We spoke there while Wilfredo Vallin and Reinaldo Escobar tried to negotiate with the Chief of the Station, surrounded also by a gang of delinquents who awaited orders from Security officials to kick and drag the opponents.

The judicial farce against Angel Santiesteban reminds me of the celebrated narrotor Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla — incarcerated in 1971 — and Raul Rivero — sentenced in 2003, victims of a dictatorship that punishes liberty of expression and promotes the quietism and complicit silence of the intellectuals.

Published in Island Anchor

 Translated by mlk.

Spanish post

9 June 2013

The Cannes Film Festival Closes / Miguel Iturria Savon

I have visited the Spanish Mediterranean but Cannes is, for me, a futuristic city approximated by its famous international film festival. The 66th ceremony closed with awards presented by Steven Spielberg, president of the jury that awarded the Grand Prix to the film Inside Llewyn Davis, from the Coen brothers, and the Palm D’or to The Life of Adele, from director Abdellatif Kechiche—a Tunisian living in France. Mexican Amat Escalante was regaled as best director and the awards for best actor and actress went to Berenice Bejo of The Past, and Bruce Dern (Nebraska)  followed closely by the memorable Michael Douglas, largely applauded for his convincing portrayal of Liberace in Behind the Candelabra.

Before the Cannes Jury vote, as controversial as always, the name of the coastal Southern France city resounded in European television and newspapers by stealing the jewel that should have lit the female stars. They compensated the loss with their elegant and costly dresses on the red carpet inhabited by reporters and tourists; in addition to the critics’ claims, actors, directors, and producers, as attentive to the impact of their work as they are to the leading ladies’ glamour.

Judging from the critics and the comments posted on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, the film The Life of Adele, interpreted by French actresses Adéle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, could have taken the grand prize. According to Carlos Boyeros, this film “is an intimate prodigy that searches for art for three hours in the feelings of a woman whom we follow throughout a decade of her existence…” Others, without ignoring the value of the piece, realize that the theme as well as the excessive sex scenes between the women is simply more of the same and harmonizes with the increasing protagonism of gays in Europe.

Among the numerous films presented and recognized in Cannes were the Japanese Like Father Like Son, directed by Herokaza-Kore-eda and The Past, from the Iranian filmaker Asghar Farhadi, author of the celebrated A Separation.

Translated by: Alexis Rhyner

27 May 2013

Three Memories of Angel Santiesteban / Miguel Iturria Savon

Angel Santiesteban

On September 2, 2011 I published the “SOS for Angel Santiesteban” in Cubanet, when despite his having been awarded multiple prizes by the regime itself, the Cuban government’s own political police were harassing the writer. In late 2012 Angel was sentenced to five years imprisonment after a show trial in which his ex-wife was used as a spearhead against him. I will not refer to details of the case because they are still circulating in various writings and in Santiesteban’s blog, but I will offer my personal impressions of this word artist.

Before personally coming to know the author of “Dreams of a Summer Day,” “The Children Nobody Wanted,” “Blessed are Those Who Mourn,” and “South: Latitude 13,” I read his books and listened to several anecdotes that reflected his temperament and satirizes the political situation in Cuba. It’s hard to forget some of the characters of his stories about prison and Cuba’s intervention in the wars of Africa. Perhaps the masterful design of these alienated beings who gallop through the pages of his works are the real cause of humiliating trial that attempted to annul his rebellion and the voice of this audacious man without masks.

As my son was Angel Santiesteban’s lawyer, I had the privilege of welcoming him to my home in Havana and chatting with him over a glass of water — Angel does not drink rum or coffee. We talked about literature and his family experience. Only once, when asked by one of his characters, did he reveal the traumatic imprint of his brief stay in prison before the age of 20, after being arrested on the northern coast while saying goodbye to a relative who tried to leave the island on a raft.

I met Santiesteban several times at the house of the blogger Yoani Sánchez and at cultural gatherings organized at the residence of the physicist Antonio Rodiles, leader of the Estado de Sats program. I remember that Angel barely took part in those debates and almost always sat at the end of the hall, far from poses and prominence poses but friendly with anyone who approached him. In the end he left in his car with 4 or 5 people whom he drove to, or closer to, their homes.

The last time we met was in front of the police station at Infanta and Manglar,  next to the “Fame and Applause” building, where fifty opponents demanded the release of Antonio Rodiles, arrested after the funeral of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, who died in suspicious accident. We chatted there while Wilfredo Vallin and Reinaldo Escobar tried to negotiate with the Head of the Station, also surrounded by a gang of criminals who awaited orders from State Security officials to kick and drag opponents.

The judicial farce against Ángel Santiesteban reminds me of the famous narrator Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla — imprisoned in 1971 — and Raul Rivero, sentenced in 2003, victims of a dictatorship that punishes free expression and promotes quietism and the complicit silence of the intellectuals.

19 May 2013

The 2012 Goyas Awards / Miguel Iturria Savon

Jose Sacristan - Best Actor

Jose Sacristan – Best Actor

On the night of Sunday the 17th, millions of Spaniards and Europeans watched the Goya Awards ceremony which concede high honors to the top films, actors, directors, and other professionals of the movie world.  The gala event, full of pomp, authenticity, and splurges of humor was hosted by the celebrated comedienne, Eva Hache, who was aided in the presentation of awards by winners from the previous year, 2011. Continue reading

Fifty Year Anniversary of the Lyric Theatre / Miguel Iturria Savon #Cuba

After wrapping up its jubilee year with a program of operas, operettas and zarzuelas of enormous dramatic and musical impact, the National Lyric Theater of Cuba offered three festive events in theGarcía Lorca Hall of the Gran Teatrode la Habana on the weekend of September 14 to 16 to honor the founders and artists who, since 1962, have promoted the lyrical arts, whose beginnings on the island date back to the early 19th century, and especially to 1838 and the TeatroTacón, the current headquarters of the Gran Teatro of Havana (GTH).

Genre notables and representatives of institutions such as the Ballet Nacional and the Opera and Orquesta Sinfónica of GTH appeared each day on the stage to receive diplomas and flowers, awarded by Maestro Alberto Méndez, choreographer and artistic director, and Eduardo Díaz, musical director and the new company director, who was in charge of the gala event, which staged selected segments of Cuban and Universal works brought to the stage during the fifty years of the Lyric Theatre.

Contrasting the cast of young talent there with the outstanding singers, actors, writers and assistants before them in works such as La Traviata, the Magic Flute, the Pharaoh’s Court, or Cecilia Valdés, Amalia Batista and María la O by Cuban artists Gonzalo Roig, Rodrigo Prat and Ernesto Lecuona, respectively; all of these works were reintroduced during the jubilee year.

In the final evening the public applauded classic works by G. Verdi such as Va, Pensiero performed by the Lyrical Chorus; followed by La Donna é Mobile, interpreted by the young tenors Saheed Mohamed, Bryan López and Ernesto Cabrera; the Gran Duo from Cecilia sung by Katia Selva and S. Mohamed; El Cabildo by Lecuona performed by the Lyric Chorus and JJ, the Traditional Dance company; Septimino, from the Merry Widow performed by Milagros de los Angeles, Lili Hernandez, Javier Ojanguren, Junier Estrada, Rey Reyes, Eleonor Cuello, Dayron Peralta and Ian Sánchez.

The program included the Sextet composed by G. Donizetti for Lucía de Lammermoor, P. Mascagni’s Cavallería Rusticana Intermezzo; The Gypsy and bullfighter choral arrangement from La Traviata performed by the Irene Rodríguez Company; also the quartet and the Vals de Musetta, both from Puccini’s La Boheme; the Mazurka of the Parasols, La Romanza from María la O, the duet from the first act of Madame Butterfly, and the triumphant March from Aida, interpreted by the Chorus and the soloists of the Lyric Theatre and choreographed by the Ballet de la Televisión and the other companies already mentioned.

The spectacle, sober and elegant, with minimal use of props, relied on the vocal virtuosity of various performers, the excellent music conducted by Eduardo Díaz and Giovanni Duarte, the choreography of Cristy Domínguez, Johannes García and Alberto Méndez; the effective light design by Carlos Hernández and the choral direction of Catalina Ayón and Denisse Falcón.

According to musicologist Vázquez Millares, the National Lyric Theatre of Cuba reestablshes Havana as the “Philharmonic Capital of the New World”, an operatic tradition of more than 250 years. Its first performance was the Spanish zarzuela Luisa Fernanda by Moreno Torralba, conducted by Maestro Felix Guerrero and Miguel de Grandy and performed by the founding artists of the company. Since its inception, it has staged more than 70 works, among them Italian, French, German, Polish, and Cuban operas, Spanish and Cuban operettas and zarzuelas, many performed in European and American cities and provincial theatres across the island.

Translated by: Marina Villa

September 20 2012

The Fearful “Blacklist” of the Highest Cuban Authority / Miguel Iturria Savon

A week before I presented for the first time my Petition for Foreign Travel in the territorial Office of Immigration and Aliens of Guanabacoa, northeast of Havana, a young official from the State Security went to interrogate my younger son in the National Neurosciences Center, where he works as an investigator. The alleged negotiator wanted to know if I intended to travel with my wife to Spain on a temporary or permanent basis, for the purpose of “promoting my case.”

June 12, three months after such humiliating request and receiving on five occasions the answer: “Refused, you appear on the list of those who cannot travel abroad” — I again presented myself at the immigration office with a document in which I demanded an explanation for such prohibition. That day, the same official who interrogated my younger son at the Neurosciences Center, flew on his Suzuki motorcycle to the home of my older son who lives in El Cotorro and works as a lawyer for the municipal collective office. On that occasion, he tried to explore my possible actions and promised “to expedite the exit.”

At the beginning of November I still have not received an answer to my claim from Major Gricet Alleguis, Chief of the Territorial Office of Immigration in Guanabacoa, nor fromLieutenant Colonel Dania Gonzalez Rodriguez, to whom I delivered a copy of my claim at the National Directorate of Immigration and Aliens, located at 22 and 3ra, Miramar, Havana. Latal Dania advised me that they reserve “the right to give no explanation. . .”

Between June and October, I believe in August, a young official nicknamed Simon knocked at the door of my apartment in downtown Havana, with a citation for an “exploratory contact” with the first operational officer against independent journalism. After the brief and respectful “contact,” achieved at the Police Station located on Dragons Street, Old Havana township, it was clear that I would not leave Cuban if I did not present the petition for “Permanent Exit from the country” instead of the “Permit to Travel Abroad.” The said Simon was a “facilitator” and even gave me his telephone number so that I or one of my sons could communicate to him the beginning of the new process.

Last October 2, I presented the said “Permanent Exit” at the Office of Immigration and Aliens at 17 and K, Vedado, in spite of the expiration of my family reunification visa issued in March by the Spanish Consulate in Havana,which was kind enough to grant me a new visa in less than a month. On presenting myself with the visa on the first of November, an employee repeated to me the film’s chorus: “Refused, you appear on the list of those who cannot travel abroad.”

What list is that? Under what law is it issued? Why does the Castro regime cling to protecting the life of individuals, refusing them the right of free movement, choosing where to live and leave or enter any country, including their own?

I suppose that the Immigration and Alien Unit of Plaza will know how to answer my questions Wednesday the 7th of November at 1 pm. Otherwise I will begin to fight for my freedom in the streets of Havana. Maybe the game of the foreman against the runaway slave will advance or they will put me in stocks in order to comply with the blacklist of the excluded ones, those daring ones who raise their voices personally and try to leave the herd.

Translated by mlk

November 4 2012

No Way Out / Miguel Iturría Savón

To: Office of Immigration and Alien Affairs, Ministry of the Interior

Re: Reply request

Miguel Iturria Savón, Cuban citizen, legal adult, married, university graduate, unemployed, permanent identity number 53092900308, residing at 222 Street, #9529, between 101 and 1st, Cruz Verde, Cotorro, Havana, Cuba,of my own volition hereby state to this office the following:

That I am submitting via this letter in accordance with the stipulations of article 63 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, in relation to article 78 of Decree-Law No. 67 of 1983, exactly as it was modified by Decree-Law No. 147 of April 21, 1994, to solicit that in strict observance of the constitutional mandate stated, the reason or motive be made known to me whereby I am not permitted to travel to Spain to reunite with my wife, with regards to which I state the following:

Facts:

Firstly, that on March 11, 2012 I submitted to the immigration authorities in Mañana, Guanabacoa, Havana the application Permission for Overseas Travel in order to be reunited with my wife, Ángela A. F., a Spanish citizen, to whom I was married on July 22, 2011 in a civil ceremony in Miramar by the Cuban Ministry of Justice.

Secondly, that as the above-mentioned permission was delayed two or three days, I have visited the above-mentioned office four times between March 13 and June 12, 2012, and have not received the White Card nor an explanation of the basis for its denial.

Thirdly, that since I have incurred no prior criminal charges, have no unpaid debts to the state, and am not involved in any ongoing legal proceedings, I consider this injustice to be a violation of my right to freedom of movement as defined in articles 13.1 and 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as stated below:

“13.1 Each person has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.”

“13.2 Each person has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

Therefore:

In light of this denial or delay, and given the stipulations outlined in article 63 of the Republic of Cuba that “every citizen has the right to submit complaints and petitions to the authorities, and to receive attention and appropriate replies within a reasonable time as defined by law,” I, the undersigned, demand to be granted an Exit Permit or, in its absence, that this application, the submission of which is protected by constitutional right,be accepted and processed.

I am not including with this letter the previously mentioned Application for Exit Permit, the Certificate of Matrimony, or the passport and visa issued by the Spanish Consulate in Havana as these documents have already been submitted to the National Office of Immigration and Alien Affairs in Guanabacoa, Cuba.

Havana, June 12, 2012

Miguel Iturria Savón

Applicant

cc:Office of Legal Affairs,Office of Immigration and Alien Affairs

Cuban Commission of Human Rights

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland

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Translated by Maria Montoto and Anonymous

June 19 2012