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


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

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

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

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

Facts and Figures
Major Cuban Holidays and Festivals
Country-Related Organizations
Annotated Bibliography
Thematic 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

Saving Agent Snowden? / Miguel Iturria Savon

Spies have always existed; what would secret services be without agents within the mafias? The terrorist gangs? The narco-guerrillas? The bank robbers and other groups who violate social norms and impose their interests on people and institutions? Don’t they watch governments and their ministers and generals? Doesn’t espionage exist between political parties? Does anyone believe that governments don’t “leak” and “process” — for their interests — the growing virtual media network used by millions of citizens every day?

The issue has come to the fore in the international press following the revelations of U.S. analyst Edward Snowden, who escaped with thousands of secret documents from New York to Shanghai and then to Russia, from where he tried to get political asylum in Ecuador, Venezuela or any other Latin American country where the transparency of information he requires is a chimera in the face of state authoritarianism and the fragility of the democratic system.

To escape and become a become a media star, the new “avenging hero” chose to create an image crisis for the United States and President Barack Obama. Snowden had a better civic alternative: giving up his job with the cyberpolice and denouncing, to the courts, how an agency of the federal government violates the information privacy of its citizens.

Maybe it’s too much to ask of a 29-year-old boy fascinated by the growing popular revolts shaking the institutional order from North Africa to Brazil. It may be attractive to dynamite the government apparatus instead of fighting to improve it. Are we looking at a civic hero or a traitor in service to countries like Russia, China, Iran or Venezuela? We still don’t know, but however imperfect but American democracy is much more transparent than that trumpeted by those seeking to benefit from computers and briefcases carried by Edward Snowden.

In times of social demands, discredited politicians and ministers, technological advances that position the citizen against the power of the state, the young American becomes the friendly face of challenge. What will happen? Will his revelations benefit the citizens or just pit the United States against the champions of oppression in Russia, China, Cuba or Venezuela?

For now, Edward Snowden, like Sergeant Bradley Manning — who leaked thousands of secret documents to Julian Assange, the Wikileaks leader now finding refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London — is revered as a hero by Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, John Cusak and other Hollywood stars who alternate between artistic creation and defending caudillos such as F. Castro, the late Hugo Chavez and many snipers who despise democracy and deny their people freedom of speech, press and association.

5 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

Ah, the Homeland… / Miguel Iturria Savon

The border fence between Morocco and Spain’s enclave in Malilla

“You barely talk about your country,” A friend of my wife tells me at a gathering in Valencia. I smile, because this traveling satirical traveler, not mythic even in his native Santander, where he sometimes goes to visit his mother and sister. Before leaving us he gave me the Dirty Trilogy and the King of Havana, by Pedro Juan Gutierrez, whose pages had such a negative impact that he postponed his visit to the island for almost a decade. And he admits his “sorrow and frustration after trekking through this tragicomic and bittersweet Cuba with the exception of Trinidad, Varadero and Viñales.

Yes, I do not usually talk about Cuba, about which I have published some books and hundreds of articles in the digital press. I’m not lazy but in the face of such discursive, traitorous and demigod banality, I limit myself to answering specific questions about my country and its challenges. In addition, the island is not the center of America nor the world and we run the risk of being mono-thematic and boring to our friendly hosts, immersed in the problems of their family, environment and country.

I don’t think, as my friend Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo does, that “There is no country with virtue. Every country is a virtual shaving”; although in the case of Cuba, the word has lost its drawing power. Not even the “patriotic” and corrupt gurus of the only Party still believe the tiresome rhetoric about sovereignty, nation, homeland and freedom. After decades of tyranny and slogans the concept is devalued and neither emotion, nor a million employees and soldiers who are paid to sustain the regime.

I guess that thousands of exiles and hundreds of peaceful opponents on the island are in harmony about the significance of the word nation, as well as the mythification from exile during the 19th century of Padre Félix Varela and the poets José M. Heredia and José Martí, icons of the fledgling nation and creators of literature.

They have pronounced, from the podium, so many beautiful and moving phrases about the Homeland and the Nation that I’ve learned to be cautious with these “useful” and fickle voices. In short, the Homeland is usually “the land of my fathers,” “the soil where I was born,” the garden we build, the family that embraces us, the wall that we try to cross, the country where someone waits for us, or the “promised land” of the marginalized who flee misery, wars, and the lack of opportunities on their “native soil.”

30 June 2013

El Sexto, Between Paints and Searches / Miguel Iturria Savon

Tall like a pine and genuine in his desire to express himself through art that is ephemeral and challenging, describes the young Cuban graffiti artist, Danilo Maldonado Machado — alias El Sexto (The Sixth) — who does not smile at the spring greenery nor the excess of tropical light, despite a love for the colorful trees and ocean breezes that cool the bustling night on the streets of Havana, the city whose walls are the objects his paints, as explicit and allegorical as the reality that he tries to capture with spray paint.

It’s not that El Sexto wants to beautify this bittersweet city that defies moisture and time and official apathy. More than embellish, his nocturnal murals call the attention of the bored capital pedestrians, accustomed to looking without seeing or listening without hearing in the midst of violence and the helplessness generated by the servility and cowardice induced by the despotism of the State.

And so he has problems with the political police and the other police, who control the order and carry out the order to arrest him on the public street for having a spray can in one of his pockets and later they made a search of his house and seized his works and painting supplies as well as fining him a thousand pesos without specifying the crime he committed.

In a short video shot by photographer Claudio Fuentes, El Sexto refuses to pay the fine because “I would demonstrate that I’m doing something wrong, that being an artist is a criminal act.” And he says: “I prefer to force the courts to make a judgment for me to demonstrate how and why I’m doing harm.”

We hope that Danilo Maldonado Machado, whose pseudonym satirizes the demented political campaign of the Castro regime to free to Five Spies convicted in the United States, comes out well in this new police hunt, one among so many detentions and searches to dissuade him from his “disturbing” street art.

For those who wish to know the urban odyssey of this Havana artists who exercises freedom of expression without permission, I suggest you go to his blog, located in the portal, where there is the video made by Claudio Fuentes. You can also read the enlightening article from the writer Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, who recreated the last fight of Sexto against the police and legal harassment on this island of automatons dressed as functionaries and of intellectuals vaccinated against common sense.

In my case, I can attest to the personal, artist, and solidarity value of this tall boy who draws, with banned spray cans, stars and satiric cocks and naive and frightened faces. I met him several times at the house of Yoani Sanchez — famous author of the blog Generation Y — and at the residence of the physicist Antonio Rodiles, leader of the virtual program Estado de Sats; in addition to attending and commenting on for Cubanet the Exhibition put on by El Sexto in the apartment of the singer Gorki Aguila, on October 29, 2011. I brought to Spain the sheet that Danilo Maldonado Machado painted on my floor in Central Havana, days before we caught the plane to freedom. El Sexto converted this sheet into a protest my being held in police custody that is a testimony to denouncing and friendship.

21 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

Silence and Poetry in Rafael Alcides / Miguel Iturria Savon

Yesterday the Cuban poet Rafael Alcides Perez turned 80; he remains in Havana as a poor, strong and gentle grandfather; lucid amid the social madness and literary closure, oblivious to personal egos and tribal tantrums. He knew fame and tasted applause from his younger years, when he joined in the swarm of those poets of the intimate and innovative generation of the ’50s, who transitioned from the estrangement and apathy during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista to the euphoria by the Revolution led by Fidel Castro, which shook the foundations of the nation and imposed exile and silence.

Rafael Alcides leaves a lasting impression on those who know him personally. Admiration grows if you read his poems before hearing his voice booming with rhythm. The poet seduces his listeners with the cascading flow of his images and metaphors, resonant and profound like the simplicity that animates his actions.

He, who for decades has declined to publish in Cuba, knows that his name carries weight in the memory of his book and some magazines that collect his most transcendent verses. The author of Thanked Like a Dog was excommunicated from the official poetry sanctuary and sanctified by writers and poetry lovers. His name barely circulates on the island, where his books are a rarity in antiquarian portals, personal libraries and catalogs of the National Library.

From Spain I join the tribute paid by the intimates of the octogenarian writer, still engaged in the creative task. Within a few years, when some publisher takes on the rescue of his poetry and novels, new readers will have in their hands, “Mountain Smoke,” “Gypsy,” “Travel Notebook,” “The Wooden Leg,” “Memories of the Future,” “Night in Memory,” “And they die, and they return, and they die,” as well as “Nobody” — his penultimate poem collection — and the controversial stories, “Contracastro,” and “The Return of the Dead.”

10 June 2013

The Long Arm of Censorship / Miguel Iturria Savon

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 2.30.01 PMFrom May 29th until today I could not open, the alternative platform that contains my blog Island Anchor. As I thought the “closure” could be only be in the Spanish Levante — I live in the province of Castellón, in the community of Valencia — I called  followers of my posts living in Zaragoza, Madrid, Canary Islands, but none could access “Cuban Voices” nor enter my blog, not even from Google by searching on the titles of the last texts.

Coincidentally, Wednesday May 29 was the last day of Yoani Sanchez’s stay in Madrid, where she delivered a speech at the ceremony for the Ortega and Gasett awards, given by the newspaper El Pais; the next day she was received in Havana by family and friends while the Spanish newspaper reproduced her words and pictures with former President Felipe González and other figures of the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) and the media.

No one should be ready to think that the closure of the Voces Cubanas portal in Spain was a way to lessen the impact of her words and to annul any commentary on her extensive tour of Americanand European countries. But who benefits from the silence of censorship? Who gave the order to disconnect? Where and by whom was it executed? The answer points to the officials who monitor the news in the Cuba Embassy in Madrid and to the Island regime’s network of consulates in the Iberian Peninsula.

It is not the classical theory of conspiracy; the Castro regime tactic is very old and the order stands, the diplomats-cum-State-Security-Agents executed it based on a Guide to events that demystifies the Havana government’s propaganda. They simply overload the networks, hack pages, multiply the trash emails against some, and “take the offensive” against others, even in media such as El Pais. The rest is up to time and the naive who are silent before the long arm of censorship.

4 June 2013