Enrique Colina: Utopian Obstinacy Turns Dreams into a Nightmare / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

Enrique Colina

Taken from OnCuba, by Cecilia Crespo

In November last year, the French channel France O aired the documentary “The Marble Cow” by the renowned critic and film producer Enrique Colina. It was only shown once in Cuba, during the last International Festival of New Latin-American Cinema held in Havana.

Some days ago, a Spanish friend who saw Colina’s documentary asked me about Ubre Blanca. For those who do not know, this was a cow that turned into a media phenomenon in the 1980s. In only one day, it produced 110.9 litres of milk and 27,674.2 litres in 365 days of lactation, pushing Arleen, the North American champion, out of the Guinness World Records.

At that time, many people thought that with this cow, Cuba’s economic problems would be solved. The dream fell apart several months later. Colina, a Cuban master of documentaries, took advantage of the story of Ubre Blanca (White Udder) to metaphorically discuss other failed economic plans carried out some decades ago on the island.

Given the insistence of my friend to know more about this documentary, I decided to contact Enrique Colina. We began by talking about “The Marble Cow”, but this wound up being just a pretext for one of the most lucid intellectuals of our country to talk to us about how he sees the present and the future of Cuba.

Tell us about “The Marble Cow” and its relationship to the Cuba that Cubans experience.

The starting point of this film is the never-ending phenomenon of gauging facts that are somehow exceptional and converting them into paradigms of reality. The documentary expresses what one of the people interviewed says about the Cuban press: it is more propaganda than thoughtful, and it does not offer the symptomatic analysis of reality that we need as citizens.

This is currently being demonstrated in what is happening with the exorbitant price of cars. Everyone in the streets is talking about it and nowhere has the media referenced this event. After yet another meeting of the Union of Journalists, in which they all speak in favor of reflecting reality, nothing ever appears in this respect.

The media phenomenon of Ubre Blanca in the 1980s was impressive. Some years after the propaganda paraphernalia that surrounded its appearance I was on the Isla de la Juventud, where I visited the workshop of the sculptors who made the marble cow. It had already been finished for several years and the authorities had not yet decided where to place the sculpture, whether at the entrance to the airport, in a public square, or at Ubre Blanca’s original home. The sculptors were anxious to get the statue out of the workshop because it took up a lot of space.

From that moment I had the idea of making the documentary, in which this cow could become a symbol, a metaphor of a deranged reality. It is a disorder that even today continues to be represented officially in the cult of a hero placed on a pedestal that, even though there is an overflowing trash bin at its base, is always framed so that only the hero and pedestal appear. continue reading

We are living in a time that is the expression of this obstinate deformation and which remains irreversible as long as there is no recognition of the causes and people responsible for the mistakes they have made.

The story of the cow is the magnification of an exceptional natural phenomenon, which, however, does not deny the fact that serious scientific work was done. It was explained that experiments were made to create cattle that were resistant to heat and cows that produced a lot of meat and milk.

In 1981, an extraordinary milk production process was achieved. What happens is that to manage this production with F2 animals, the result of crossings that were made and in which there is a scientific reason and success that I appreciate, there had to be favorable conditions.

A lot of milk was produced in the 1980s because there was economic support to sustain this type of national cattle raising. But this support was due to Soviet help and not to an internal economic structure that reproduced the necessary wealth to sustain this type of plan.

We have lived embracing myths. And one of the aims that I lay out for myself as a filmmaker, in the few years that I may have yet to live, is to contribute to recovering some of the historical memory of this process.

Not the memory of the transcendent facts praised and stained by official rite, but rather the memory of the daily routine of a national life seen from the ground and not from the wishful illusion of disastrous consequences, in other words, those rains that brought the type of mud that is precisely what this documentary is about in a certain way.

Ubre Blanca is also the 10 million ton sugar harvest. It is the Havana Belt, the micro-jet banana, the zeolite… it is a little of all of these economic plans that in a wishful way, and I do not doubt with the best intentions, failed.

Wanting to rapidly detach itself from underdevelopment and without its own wings to fly, reality has referred us to the magic mirror, that of the queen in Snow White, which the generation of filmmakers in the 80s critically compared Cuban television to, until one day the mirror told the queen she was not the fairest of all and she broke the mirror.

Tell me about Cuban cinema. What do you consider to be the positive and negative aspects of current film production in Cuba?

Cuban cinema is composed of different generations and many different views. It is in a delicate state of health due to a lack of material goods, and we all know it is difficult to make a film without money.

But on the other hand, another factor has facilitated filmmaking: the advent of new technologies. They are now talking about the protests made by a group of filmmakers against bureaucratic aspirations to restructure the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry) without consulting the producers.

One of the things protesters are aiming for is the legal recognition of independent production, since the ICAIC does not have the resources it once had when between 6 and 8 full-length films, some fifty newsreels, and other documentaries and animated films were made every year.

This ended, the bubble exploded, and because of this we have to recognize that one has to fight independently, but with a national institution that is neither patronizing nor censorial, but rather a promoter of incentives to maintain and defend, with its collaboration, that film culture that the Revolution stimulated.

I think that interesting things are coming out of this. I recently saw works by two young producers, Melaza and La Piscina, and they seemed quite suggestive. Both expose conflicts in current reality that must be tackled from different esthetic, human, and critical angles.

This new generation has its worries, its sensitivity, and it is facing a very contradictory reality that projects an uncertain future. There are documentaries in the Young Directors Film Festival that reveal this critical, anti-conservative, and polemic view of unstated topics and taboos.They do not turn their backs on conflicts and because of this, because they are uncomfortable, are not made public or shown on television.

Another problem of Cuban cinema is its exhibition. What condition are the cinemas in? Where is the money to equip and repair them? One can make independent films, but what then? Where to show them? They took away private 3D cinemas and what is the alternative? Positive changes have been seen, but all the changes must be recognized as being due to citizen participation, discussion, and forecasting.

Many times measures are taken to stretch and shrink because they do not foresee the consequences of of their decisions. It is as if we are trapped in a cage; the mess is not only material but also ideological, and the modification that we need is not only tactical and partially economic, but also political. Paraphrasing Raúl, the only commitment that Cuban cinema has is to maintain a serious and thoughtful artistic dialogue with the national reality.

Colina, you speak not only about past, present, and future Cuban cinema, but also about Cuba. Do you consider yourself a filmmaker that questions the society in which you live?

Utopian obstinacy turns dreams into a nightmare if there is no criticism, no debating of ideas. I share the humanist ideas of the Revolution and I obsessively rebel against the practice of its distortion.

In the 1980s, I dealt with esthetics, where I addressed the theme of beauty as a need to reaffirm the human condition. Socialism, in spite of developing education and culture, has always neglected the teaching of esthetic sensibility in the appearance of dynamic urban surroundings.

Today associated with poverty, loyalty has been imposed as an expressive master of the crisis. You see places where everything is ugly and poorly made, which is also reflected as a symptom of distortion in botched jobs and “I will also make you cry”, referring to the poor quality of state services.

In “Neighbors” I highlighted the conflicts of living together and the social indiscipline tolerated by an irresponsible permissiveness, etc. Anyway, I have made different documentaries that reflect problems that already existed in the 80s and which have degraded to terrible levels today.

Beyond calling myself a critic, I think I am a person who lives in this country and who sees this reality clearly and without prejudice at the cost of experiencing bitter disappointment. Far from paralyzing me, it compels me to protest. It seems to me that there is nothing exceptional in what I do. I have an opinion and it is my right to express it.

It is a shame that this attitude is not more widespread. My point of view is that we have made ourselves a type of citizen that has not developed an elemental civic feeling. To be revolutionary has historically meant obeying, following leads, completing the tasks assigned, and it has relegated to demagogic rhetoric that…

 Translated by: M. Ouellette

24 January 2014

A Heartfelt Loss / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

(http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net) – On the afternoon of 15 January, Dr. Francisco Leblanc Amate passed away. He was a founding member of the executive committee of the CUTC (United Council of Cuban Workers) where he acted as legal counselor on the BAJIL (Bureau of Independent Labor Legal Advice) and the ISECI (Cuban Institute of Independent Unions).

His strong professionalism characterized his work as a labor lawyer for independent unions. Many remember his decades of collaboration and participation in seminars and conferences on union workers, which he shared with provincial delegates and activists in the Council along with well-aimed opinions in articles on these and other topics related to law and the labor situation, whether state-run or not, in modern-day Cuba.

His family has received heartfelt condolences from his colleagues in Cuban independent  unions, who remember Dr. Leblanc for his unprecedented honesty, courtesy, and wealth of knowledge.

 Translated by: M. Ouellette

20 January 2014

All Rights for All Families / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

The “National Meeting of LGBT Families with Sons and Daughters” will take place 16-17 November, 2013 at the National Secondary of Buenos Aires, located at Bolivar 263 in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires.

The meeting will bring together LGBT families with children from around the country. It aims to discuss means that will allow us to rely on legal tools and different social, educational, and cultural aid in order to move through the process of inclusion and visibility in areas of education, work, health, and society in general.

This community meeting is designed around the idea of integration, where boys, girls, and teenagers from our families can socialize within a perspective that celebrates differences as a value that enriches us as a society.

The event is organized by 100% Diversidad y Derechos (Diversity and Rights) and relies on the support of the National Secretary of Childhood, Adolescence, and Family of the National Ministry of Social Development, the National Cultural Secretary, the National Secretary of Human Rights, and the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI).

During the meeting, we will work in committees related to different themes. These groups are designed to strengthen and empower LGBT families with children and aim to discuss visibility, rights, and full inclusion. We will also rely on discussion panels where we will address the advances and challenges of family diversity in our country.

In addition to sharing experiences in each region of the country, we will work to identify obstacles to inclusion due to visibility in different areas, good recording practices, challenges for inclusion of family diversity in cultural and educational aspects, access to rights, and timely needs.

The specific objectives are:

– Promoting social and political recognition of LGBT families with children in the areas of education, culture, health, work, unions, and communication, facilitating community empowerment and their full inclusion in society.

– Contacting LGBT families with children and identifying their legal situation in recognizing their filial and documented relationships.

– Promoting access to and information regarding the use of assisted reproduction techniques for LGBT families.

– Accompanying and advising two-mother families as beneficiaries of the DNU 1006/2012 and other facts.

– Accompanying and advising two-mother families in registering their sons and daughters in the context of same-sex marriages.

– Accompanying, informing, and offering judicial advice regarding the adoption process, for female couples and single women as well as male couples and single men.

– Discussing and generating proposals for inclusion from the perspective of family diversity in cultural areas, especially those destined for children and adolescents.

– Discussing and generating proposals for inclusion from the perspective of family diversity in educational areas, especially at the preschool and primary school levels.

Translated by: M. Ouellette
4 November 2013

South Africa Reports Alarming Increase in HIV among Adolescents / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

Madrid, Spain (15 Mar 2013) – The South Africa government reported today an alarming increase of school-aged girls and teenagers infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

The South African Minister of the Department of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, published figures on the AIDS situation in the country, where at least 5 million South Africans—10.0% of the population—live with HIV, and on youth sexuality.

In a speech during an official event in the northeastern province of Mpumalanga, Motsoaledi said that there is an alarming increase in the number of cases of HIV-positive young girls with respect to boys.

He specified that at least 28.0% of adolescent girls in South Africa are infected with the AIDS virus, 85.7% more with respect to the 4.0% of affected boys, according to a report by the official news agency SAPA.

The Minister attributed this stratospheric difference to older men that sexually abuse or exploit adolescent girls. “It is clear that these girls were not involved in sexual relationships with boys of the same age, but with older men,” he said.

“This is destroying our children,” the Minister added, in reference to adults that abuse or seduce adolescentes with gifts and promises to give them a better life than what their parents can provide.

The leader of the South African Department of Health also gave figures regarding the incidence of pregnancies and abortions among South African teenagers. These have also increased in recent years.

In agreement with data from 2011, at least 94 thousand South Africans between 10 and 15 years old become pregnant, some of them HIV-positive, while more than 77 thousand have abortions in public centers and many more have them in other places.

“We cannot continue like this any longer. We have to put an end to this,” affirmed the Minister, who has been widely praised for his efforts to stop the spread of AIDS.

Motsoaledi has directed the largest anti-retroviral (ARV) program in the world, under the attention of 1.5 million affected people, since the South African President, Jacob Zuma, appointed him Minister of Health in 2009.

In addition, he has fought to reduce the spread of AIDS and to prevent more people losing their lives due to this disease, which affects 10.0% of the population and caused the death of 260 thousand people in 2012, half of all such deaths throughout the world.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

14 October 2013

Pepper Spray Attacks at the Coronation of Miss Gay Durango 2013 / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

Durango, Durango (Agencias) — The coronation of Miss Gay 450 Durango was just coming to a close in the IMSS Theatre here when a group of unknown people threw containers of tear gas into the crowd in order to clear out the 600 spectators and participants at the event.

The president of the organization “Nosotros Nosotras Durango,” Tadeo Campagne Noriega, said that the culprits had not been identified, but he noted that it was a very worrisome situation.

He pointed out that PRD deputy in the local Durango Congress, Israel Soto Peña, proposed discussing a law regarding equal marriage in this Mexican state.

After the sad attack, Tadeo Campagne demanded the authorities in Durango to firmly support the LGBT community during this type of event. He then mentioned that there were various radical religious groups capable of realizing attacks such as this.

He also indicated that they would take legal action and lodge a complaint regarding human rights, since during the attack not only were there members of the LGBT community, but also entire families and even young children.

Ezequiel García, president of the Gay Association in Durango reported that it was two women who spread the pepper gas, affecting contest participants as well as attendants.

The Durango LGBT community remains alert for more attacks and asks for the support of the authorities.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

14 October 2013

Russian Athletes Pose in Support of their LGBT Teammates / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

During the Out Games, considered the Olympic Games of the LGBT community, the Russian team posed for Adam Bouska’s NOH8 campaign against discrimination, in support of the LGBT community in their country.

In this way, the Olympic team showed their support to the silent LGBT community in Russia. Neither after the Olympic Games in London nor after the World Athletics Championships in Moscow did any Russian athlete come out in support of the community.

The NOH8 (No Hate) Campaign is a silent photographic protest against the world’s anti-gay laws and propositions. The campaign is composed of photographs of people dressed in white t-shirts in front of a white background with their mouths taped shut and “NOH8” printed on one cheek. The campaign was created on 10 February 2009 by the famous photographer Adam Bouska and his partner Jeff Parshley as a direct response to California’s Proposition 8, which tried to eliminate the right to marriage of same-sex couples in the state.

Every day there are more demonstrations of support for the Russian LGBT community on the national and international level, even amid persecution and the continued violation of their human rights.

Since Vladimir Putin approved several anti-gay measures, the protests have extended throughout the world, especially leading up to the next Winter Olympic Games, which will be held in Sochi (Russia) in 2014.

Without travelling very far, the FELGTB (National Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals, and Bisexuals) symbolically lit an Olympic torch this past Monday in Madrid with the aim of denouncing homophobic policies in Russia.

Some of the attendants—among whom were found the president of the FELGTB Boti García, representatives of the PSOE (Spanish Workers Socialist Party), such as Pedro Zerolo and Carla Antonelli, and the Equo, such as Juan López de Uralde—participated in a symbolic relay race that ended with the lighting of the multi-color ceremonial flame installed in Plaza Mayor.

The basic aim, according to the manifest read by García and Rubén López, board member of the FELGTB international area and spokesperson for the Acrópoli University Association, was to show their “solidarity” with the Russian LGBT community and athletes that will participate in the Olympic Games in Sochi, who will see “their dignity reduced”.

Along these lines, they demanded that the Spanish Olympic Community and the Spanish Sports Council take a step forward to defend the rights of Spanish athletes, who “are surely not all heterosexuals”. They denounced the “inaction of the authorities”, who have succumbed to the “shame of keeping quiet”, López explained.

In recent months, Russia has approved laws such as those that prevent same-sex couples from adopting children, or the one known as the “law of homosexual propaganda”, which carries a marked homophobic tone according to LGBT associations. This law, such as they those from the Federation that they denounce, has led to a series of declarations in recent days on behalf of certain Russian politicians.

The manifest reports two in particular. First, the words of the Russian Sports Ministry, whom they accuse of ensuring that “during the Olympic Games, athletes may not show signs of affection with people of the same sex because they may be detained”. Second, those of the Vice Minister in charge of the Sochi Games, who ensures that “in compliance with this law, if people of traditional sexual orientation spread propaganda about non-traditional sex to children, they will be held responsible”.

The approval of these laws by part of the Duma, along with homophobic attacks that have come to light in recent months, has lead some associations to call for boycotting the Sochi Olympic Games, the first Winter Games to take place in the country.

It has also sparked demonstrations and protests in different countries, such as the celebrated one in front of the Russian Embassy in Spain last August, or in front of the Foreign Ministry coinciding with the G-20 summit.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

14 October 2013

Homosexual Prisoners Suffer Abuse and Discrimination / Frank E. Carranza Lopez in the blog of Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

By Frank E. Carranza Lopez, Agencia Decoro

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net) — The alarming news came to us from Fausto de la Caridad Urbay, President of the LGBT Liberal Youth of Cuba Front.

He is denied visits to gay prisoners at the HIV/AIDS special prison, located a mile from the Maraguaco highway to San Jose de las Lajas in the province Mayabeque. This prison has 5 internal sections, four for men and one for women.

On 2 August 2013, he went to Section #2, medium security (the most populous of the prison) to visit for four hours with family and friends of the inmates. For years inmates have enjoyed this privilege without hindrance. Most inmates are gay and along with visits from their family receive visits from their respective partners.

Imagine the astonishment of the visitors when, after waiting some hours for official entry, they were told that by superior orders only family members could visit and no one else. The discontent caused quite a commotion, followed by crude threats from the officials of internal order (FOI), to which the families responded by asking to see the director of the penitentiary, Jorge Luis Castillo. He did not show his face and instead sent his second in command, who called himself Álvaro, and who, upset and disrespectful to the gay community, told them, and I quote, “Castillo is Castillo and I’m me and I don’t care to allow gay partners to visit here and if you don’t like it you can complain as much as or wherever you want and it won’t do you any good, I’m in charge here.”

After several minutes of protest, he decided to pass on the food the visitors had brought, warning that this would be the last time and not to take the trouble of returning.

Many of those prisoners are of the type called charity cases (with no family), and only receive visits from their homosexual partners.

Currently the discontent within the facility is growing, daily irritation increases, after the surprise inspection of high officials from the Cuban Interior Ministry (MININT) triggered by a complaint issued on June 27 by CUBANET, any return of the previous visitors makes things worse.

The repression increased, the food returned to its original inedible and indescribable state, vitamin K disappeared again along with injectable Dipirona, and as if that weren’t enough it seems the deputy director of the prison, Señor Álvaro, carried out a coup d’etat against his superior and won, playing the part of the Grim Reaper with the threads of the lives of the inmates who require specialized care given their state as patients with HIV/AIDS.

10 August 2013

Latest Cuban Ministry of Health Statistics for HIV/AIDS / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

Total number of people living with HIV/AIDS: 18,261
Total foreigners detected: 675

Total Persons with HIV/AIDS: 8,660
Diagnosed 2012: 625
Total AIDS Cases: 3,765
People Living with HIV/AIDS: 6,982
Ambulatory Care System: 5,988

Total deaths: 1,434
Deaths from AIDS: 1,321
Deaths from Other Causes: 113

Children in the Study: 74
HIV-positive children: 16

Average Age of Most Affected: 20 – 24

Infected practicing transactional sex: 641, which is 7.3% of infected cases .

Province with greatest number of persons engaged in prostitution:
Las Tunas with 116 cases; 27.4 %
Holguin 138 cases; 17.5 %
Camagüey 130 cases;17 %
Cienfuegos 74 cases; 17 %
Isle of Youth 25 cases; 14.4 %
Santa Clara – Figure Unconfirmed
Santiago de Cuba – Figure Unconfirmed
Guantanamo – Figure Unconfirmed
Havana – Population cannot be estimated because of transience.

In 2012 in Cuba 108 HIV-positive women gave birth.

Major Causes of Death :
– Poor Adherence to Therapeutics
– Loss of Observation
– Late Diagnosis

Cuba keeps open a total of 3 Sanitariums from a total of 14 that existed from the 1980s through 2005.

Cuba today has a total of 6 Prisons for Prisoners with HIV/AIDS compared to one existing at the end of the 1990s in the city of Santa Clara.

With a varying criminal population, between 400-675 inmates have HIV/AID; fewer of them are women. One of the routes of infection is self-inoculation [in regular prisons to escape that prison environment].

Cuba offers Antiretroviral Treatment to about 5,000 people. They have a CD4 cell count below 350.

Cuba has never been able to reduce nor has it shown a reduction in the rate of diagnosis since the diagnosis of the first cases. This figure is constantly growing.

8 July 2013

Petition To the National Assembly of People’s Power of the Republic of Cuba / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

Havana, 26 June 2013

To the National Assembly of People’s Power of the Republic of Cuba:

The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba in its Article 63, reads verbatim:

All citizens have the right to lodge complaints and petitions to the authorities and to receive attention or pertinent responses within a reasonable time, in accordance with the law.

And in accordance with its letter and spirit, we the undersigned are addressing that maximum level of government in the nation with the following.


According to principles reflected in the Preamble to the Yogyakarta Principles with regards to the application of international law of human rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, and establishing that:

“RECALLING that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of human rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status;

“DISTURBED that violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice are directed against persons in all regions of the world because of their sexual orientation or gender identity…

“NOTING that international human rights law imposes an absolute prohibition of discrimination in regard to the full enjoyment of all human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political and social, that respect for sexual rights, sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to the realization of equality between men and women and that States must take measures to seek to eliminate prejudices and customs based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of one sex or on stereotyped roles for men and women…”

Considering that in our country such conceptions are still very far from being met within Cuban society and are not reflected in the legislation, we believe it appropriate to REQUEST:

  1. The official acceptance and compliance with the Agreements of Yogyakarta.
  2. That national authorities undertake a wide investigation of everything related to that negative event in our history known as Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) and the results be published in the national media .
  3. That those responsible for these adverse events are brought to justice for the repeated and massive violation of human rights violation of an indefinite number of Cuban citizens.
  4. That the use and arbitrary application of the concept “state of dangerousnous” in the existing Criminal Code against persons for the sole “crime” of sexual orientation be publicly explained.
  5. That a public debate is opened on the forced exile many homosexual citizens were subjected to.
  6. That the violent deaths of some homosexuals on the streets or other locations be explained.

And, for your information, we are are submitting this issue to the People’s Power at that same time we open this document for signature by citizens who want to do so.

Wendy Iriepa Díaz
Ignacio Estrada Cepero

8 July 2013

Alvarez Guedes and exile: A story told through giggles / Albert Sergio Laguna (from the blog of Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada)

By: Albert Sergio Laguna

Before starting my post graduate program on Cuban popular culture, I believed that the members of my family were the most funny and original people on the planet.  This opinion lasted until I heard of Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, I sat down with his 32 albums and I bottled myself up in the enviable task of starting down the road of his work.  It didn’t take long for me to notice the inarguable truth: everyone in my family had been stealing Alvarez Guedas’s jokes for years.

My story is not unique, and it shouldn’t be.  I have heard his jokes time and again over the informal network in which they travel–from person to person and increasingly over email and sites like YouTube.

It was precisely by means of informal networks that Alvarez Guedes had the opportunity to cross borders with his sense of humor.  His discs are considered contraband, clandestinely brought into Cuba and enjoyed by Cubans who elude the restrictions of the government for the chance to have a good guffaw.  His work also crossed generational borders.  From the news of his death, commentaries from Cuban Americans abound in remembrance of his albums as a species of comedic soundtrack of their childhood.

One of the most common forms of remembering Alvarez Guedes has been to tell his jokes.  While many of them are “eternal,” that is to say, they maintain their comic effect far beyond their original representation, this romantic strategy of remembering doesn’t completely enclose the complex relation between the spectacle of Alvarez Guedes and the social context in which he acted.  What can some of his famous spectacles on the story of his exile?

Miami, hasn’t always been a place that welcomed immigrants from Latin America. In the 60s and 70s many in Miami felt certain resentment toward the newly arrived from Cuba, they put up signs “no Cubans allowed.”  Tensions became even more serious in 1980, when because of the Mariel exodus this antagonistic feeling grew on a local and national level.  Apart from the negative coverage on the part of the press, this was the period which gave rise to the English Only movement, with the purpose of creating an anti-bilingual referendum which was passed in November of 1980, became law, changed the bi-cultural policy and bilingualism established in Dade County since the beginning of the 70s.

Some of Alvarez Guedes’s jokes, such as the Clase de idioma Cubano, and his most successful album, How to Defend Yourself from the Cubans (1982), still make us laugh today at how they suggest the idea of a class where they teach bad words to an imaginary audience of North Americans.  It is is precisely in this tour that they talk about the aforementioned difficulties faced by the exiled community in which Alvarez Guedes acted as a typical guy, a spokesperson for exile, resisting the so called cultural integration and at the same time driven by his own cultural identity. To subject Cubans to trail in a jury of public opinion, Alvarez Guedes mobilized the joking to invert the existing power dynamics in Miami.

In many of his jokes on language, the Northamericans observed from outside, in the role of foreigners.  In How to Defend Yourself from the Cubans, Alvarez Guedes acted primarily with a slight English accent, demonstrating the culture shock of the cultures in two languages and joking also with the locals.  In representing his mastery of English and invoking the familiar codes of joking, Alvarez Guedes makes a defiant declaration against the models of North American integration and at the same time emphasizes the vitality of the community of exiles.

Humor has been a mode to narrate and analyze the political reality that the Cuban community has faced since the colonial era into the present.  The legacy of Alvarez Guedes will always be the jokes that have been enjoyed and will be enjoyed by so many generations both on and off the Island. Guedes was not a political commentator, but his humor frequently told popular stories such as compatriots navigating the lived reality of exile, a reality outfitted with the political charge that inevitably was brought up from the conditions of the expatriated.

Taken from Diario de Cuba.

10 August 2013

Taken Out of the Closet, But No One Asks Forgiveness / Reinaldo Cosano

By Reinaldo Cosano. Havana, Cuba

Posted in the blog of Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

The veil covering violent homophobic repression is slowly being drawn back, but the gulity aren’t asking for public pardon.

It is hard to specify just how the virus of homophobic repression was incubated, sharp-eyed with the machismo of the days of guerrilla groups in the Sierra Maestra, whose magnitude never had precedent in Cuba, converted into official policy aggravated by principal governing figures, that spiritually mutilated or ended many lives.

Raúl Martínez González (Ciego de Ávila, 1927 – Havana, 1995), internationally renowned famous Cuban painter, designer, sign painter and photographer, homosexual, puts forth in his Memoirs:

“It was 1965.  The attacks and reprisals against homosexuals began.  The UMAP was created, supposedly a rehabilitation center.  Its creation was justified according to already old ideologies, but totally believing in the “New Man.”  This was before the Congress of Culture in 1971 that ratified the official [repressive] policy given the fact of the existence of homosexuals in the country […]  I believed naively that this new rehabilitation camp wouldn’t affect me, because of my personal characteristics, the values that I had as a painter and professor at ENA [National School of Art] and the Department of Architecture of the University of Havana.

“I quickly discovered that the methods employed to recruit candidates and take them as far as Camagüey, where the camps were located, were totally reprehensible, an abuse into which the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution fell, charged with providing names and pointing out all those who they thought had – in their way – an improper sexual conduct, or who simply lived a life apart from the rest of the neighbors.

“Many must have cooperated out of belief that the Revolution acted with good intentions.  Others, with bad intentions, took the opportunity to “toss out [denounce] everyone who was bothersome and caused problems.” (1)

Massive repression against real or imagined dissidents of the Revolution, whose punishments grew worse from 1965 when the raids intensified against intellectual artists, the religious, the disaffected, homosexuals, the underclass and “big babies” — an expression of hate towards generally Catholic youths, children of people of confiscated wealth — interned in work camps cutting sugarcane by hand in Camagüey province, which recalls the Nazi pogroms against Jews, prisoners of war, the politically disaffected, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals, condemned to concentration camps with the maxim at the entrance “Work sets you free,” concealing veneer of genocide.

Coincidentally the Military Production Aid Units (UMAP) emerge in Cuba appealing to work as a means of sexual and political reeducation.  Official strategy of obligatory imprisonment, forced work, isolation of dozens of thousands of Cubans in subhuman conditions.  An epoch of terror for men between 16 and 50 years of age, the age of military conscription.  Bodily self-harm and suicide among the recruits were frequent escape routes from the UMAP.

Alicia Alonso, Prima Ballerina Assoluta, director of the National Ballet of Cuba, protegée of leader Fidel Castro, asked her protector on more than a few occasions to rescue homosexual members of the Ballet from the fate of the UMAP when they were caught in police raids.

The witch hunt showed no mercy to the Intelligentsia — not just homosexuals — for dissenting from the Castro orthodoxy: intellectuals, writers, artists, journalists. Of course, also plain citizens.  Repression that calls to mind the concentration camps and murders of the Maoist Khmer Rouge.

The then-seminarian Catholics Jaime Ortega Alamino, current Cardinal of Cuba, and Troadio Hernández, later priest, for example, were forced guests of the UMAP — the same as other parishioners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical Band of Gideon and other Christian denominations — on the inhospitable solitary plains of Camagüey, isolated from the rest of the planet.  One means of punishing and dismembering religion on the premises of the declared Marxist atheism of the Revolution.

The poet José Mario Rodríguez, accused of being “dissolute and liberaloid” (sic), and other writers of the pro-government El Puente Publisher went to stay at the UMAP.  While many writers and artists were besieged, imprisoned, although not precisely in the UMAP camps.  Among them, the poet Herberto Padilla, Lorenzo Fuentes, Reinaldo Arenas, Manuel Ballagas, Roberto Luque Escalona, Fernando Velázquez, Víctor Sierpa, Nancy Estrada, Lina de Feria, María Elena Cruz Varela, Manuel Díaz Martínez, Raúl Rivero, Bernardo Marqués, Manuel Granados and Reinaldo Bragado.

Nevertheless, the repressive waterwheel against the intelligentsia doesn’t stop.  It has never stopped in half a century of “revolution”.

In recent days, the multiple award-winning writer Ángel Santiesteban (2) was sentenced to five years in prison for the supposed crime of housebreaking and offense causing injury, a common crime whipped up as a screen to punish a writer or journalist whose criticisms, even within the revolutionary framework, annoy the regime.

Meme Solís, composer, singer and director of his musical ensemble, was condemned by homophobic rulers to ostracism on the island for being homosexual in his moment of greatest artistic glory, his personal and recorded appearances completely cut from radio, TV, and cabarets because his sexual deviation displeased the ruling class.  He had to wait out eighteen years of censure and human suffering beyond his control until they would grant him the kindness of a permit to leave the country.

Now the Havana regime, intending to take him out of the closet, to make amends, to pardon his defect, invited him lately to visit his country to take part in a luxury gala titled after of one of his greatest hit musicals, Another Dawn, years after his exile and and another fifteen years of imprisonment in the closet, his music banned, making him nearly unknown to the latest generations of Cubans.  An invitation expressing no public nor private apology for condemnation to ostracism,  being shut in the closet, frustrated.

But that most outstanding musician did not fall into the trap of the insulting ransom and declared, in the Nuevo Herald of Miami, that “it is one thing for my music to be played there and another for me to go.  I do not wish to offend anyone but I don’t think that this is the time to go.  The reasons are obvious.  I have been through too much there to want to return.”

The painter Raúl Martínez goes on to say: “Many friends — homosexuals or not — were sent to the camps.  As were well-known figures of the Nueva Trova, budding writers, dramatists.  A wave of fear was loosed among us to learn that the police, especially in the [busy ice cream shop] Coppelia, were making raids or taking prisoner anyone who stood out for their clothing or [feminine] gestures.  I was afraid to be mistaken.  I remember the fear with which I drank coffee at the bus stop, looking from side to side, ready to flee if anything happened.  When I had to stand right there, after leaving the Radiocentro [theater] or the Habana Libre [hotel], I prayed that the bus would come as soon as possible.” (1)

Once Mariela Castro Espín, director of the National Center of Sexual Orientation (CENESEX), daughter of the current ruler, was questioned about the responsibility of her uncle Fidel Castro for the existence of the UMAP.  She astutely stated (or at least so they have her believe) that Fidel Castro — always well informed — had no responsibility at all because at that time he was too occupied with other matters of government.

Raúl Martínez, just like so many other distinguished homosexual people of letters and the arts: the poet and storyteller Lezama Lima (Havana, 1910-1976); Virgilio Piñera (Cárdenas, 1912 – Havana, 1979), storyteller, poet and dramatist; Antón Arrufat (Santiago de Cuba, 1935), writer, dramatist, they were as oysters shut in their shells, persecuted, rounded up, marginalized only for not singing praises to the regime, for not bowing their heads, for staying in Cuba, for not accepting emigration, condemned to live poorly, hidden in the closet from which now, dead or alive, one by one, in turns, the dictatorship goes craftily taking them out, promptly rehabilitated with rounded dates of birth or death.

A suspect fence-mending for political convenience in an attempt to change the repressive image of the regime, to tidy it up with a few strokes of the pen.  Paradoxically “resuscitated” by the same regime which punished them, but without offering a public or private apology to them, their families and friends for so many crimes against honorable people.  Hereditary crimes against the Nation.



(1) Martínez González, Raúl. Confesiones (de) Raúl Martínez, Yo Publio. P.394. Instituto Cubano del Libro, Editorial Letras Cubanas, Artecubano Ediciones, Palacio del Segundo Cabo, O’ Reilly, 4, esquina a Empedrado, La Habana Vieja, Cuba.

(2) Ángel Santiesteban. Autor of the blog The Children Nobody Wanted. Prizes: Sueño de un día de verano (Dream of a summer’s day), UNEAC Prize, 1995; Los hijos que nadie quiso (The children nobody wanted), Alejo Carpentier Prize, 2001; Dichosos los que lloran (Happy are those who mourn), Casa de las Américas Prize, 2006.

Translated by Russell Conner

8 July 2013

Chance to Meet Cuban LGBT Leaders Wendy Iriepa Diaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero Today in Miami… BE THERE!

wniindexCuban LGBT leaders Wendy Iriepa Diaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero will be in Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus this evening. Come meet them and show your support!

WHEN: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM

WHERE: MDC Wolfson Campus, Room 7128 500 NE Second Ave. Building 7 (first floor of the parking garage located on N.E. 5 St. and 2 Ave).

More information –> click here.

Celebration of the 4th Anniversary of the Network of Civic Libraries / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada, Jennifer Fonseca Padrón

By Jennifer Fonseca Padrón, Activist and Independent Journalist

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net) | Four years after the birth of the Network of Civic Libraries (NCL), its members and founders decided to come together to honor the date, look at the accomplishments of their work and set new goals to reach. The celebration took place at the NLC headquarters where a dozen librarians exchanged ideas and made a brief account of the founding and development of the organization; among them the presence of Teresita Castellanos, co-founder and integrant of this civic organization, should be highlighted.

“The Network of Civic Libraries was created in mid-June 2009 at the request of a group of librarians who were then dispersed without being part of any project or already disappointed at others,” says Omayda Padrón, National Coordinator from the start to this day. One of the future goals to achieve is the growth and rescue of libraries across the country, she added. “The work of independent libraries is equally important to the work of movements, political parties and other civic organizations because it represents a permanent source of resistance against the government in any community, city or province,” said León Padrón, a reporter invited to the talk.

The main objectives of the Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña Network of Civic Libraries are book launches in independent libraries, giving lectures, literary gatherings, offering courses on leadership, human rights, Twitter, among others; exchanging ideas with other organizations and mainly to make known books that have been censored by the government, as well as to promote unknown literature in Cuba by Cuban writers from the diaspora who were once convicted and even their work was banned. This was the case of Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña, the writer and reporter the Network is proudly named after.

Also it needs to be highlighted that within the Network we are developing the Animated Smiles Project which consists in rescuing civic values, encouraging reading as a habit and regaining the culture where children play children’s games, particularly for those who live in the outlying communities of Havana where most of the families are dysfunctional and present problems of alcoholism, drug and domestic violence and many more, expressed Padrón.

Translated by: Chabeli

21 June 2013