There Is None So Blind As He Who Refuses to See / Rebeca Monzo

For several days now I have not published a post, despite my desires to do so and the nagging thought that it wasn’t getting done.

It is true that the World Cup robbed part of my attention, but that was not what impeded my writing. Rather, it was all the tasks that were piling up in relation to an upcoming exhibition of my works. Preparing for this event takes a lot of effort and dedication, as does the negotiating required to obtain adequate materials.

Even so, with all due respect, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, and the statements she delivered in the University of Havana’s Grand Hall, during the unsuitably named magisterial conference. Dr. Chan expressed that, thanks to the Cuban government, our people do not eat junk food. She also praised the work of our public health.

I really do not comprehend how these people, who occupy such relevant posts in the United Nations (UN), take at face value the reports provided by totalitarian regimes, without taking the trouble to check the facts through other means and compare other data.

Most of us know that these people are hosted in our country by high-level officials, and that they are taken over and over to the same places, which obviously are set up for such purposes, e.g.: a certain floor of Almejeiras Hospital, the Biotechnology department, and the La Castellana special school for differentiated teaching, among others. In addition, the visitors are customarily taken down 5th Avenue in Miramar, and they never stop at locations that aren’t set up for these political purposes.

How is it possible that the supreme body that oversees all of these organizations — the UN — has yet to take the trouble to look into these matters more deeply?

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 July 2014

The Ochoa Case: A Point of Inflection / 14ymedio

IGNACIO VARONA, 14ymedio, Havana, Cuba | 13 July 2014 – The Cuban government’s support for the Soviet tank invasion of Czechoslovakia, the failure of the 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest, the case of Heberto Padilla, the repudiation rallies of 1980, and Cuba’s Black Spring are chief among the breaking points for many who at one time backed the Cuban Revolution. A political process that at its beginnings more than a half century ago enjoyed strong approval inside and outside the island has become increasingly characterized by deception. This persistent flux from believing to not believing has made critics out of former sympathizers, and antagonists out of those who once gave ovations.

Inside Cuba, one instance of major fracture in the support for the revolution was the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa. This event took place on July 13, 1989, exactly 25 years ago. Along with him were executed three high-level officials of the Ministry of Armed Forces (MINFAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). A military court found them guilty of — and condemned them to death for — the crimes of drug trafficking and high treason.

Never will it be known the true extent of the disillusionment caused by this event in many communist militants as well as the rest of the population. The disappointment amongst the people that emanated from the so-called “Case Number 1″ of 1989 fed the decision of many individuals to take the step toward dissension. Numerous dissidents cite this judicial process and its extreme sentences as the moment when they broke with the party line.

The 1990s could not be understood without the precedent of a televised trial that riveted millions of Cubans to the small screen, as if to the most impelling soap opera. After long days of hearing allegations and accusations, a bond was established between the TV audience and the figure of Ochoa that nobody could have foreseen. This “connection” consisted of a combination of respect and pity, to which was added the silent hope that the sentences requested by the prosecutors would not actually be applied in their full severity.

“I sat in front of the television set believing in the system, and when I arose I no longer believed in anything”, said María López, who at that time belonged to the Young Communists League (UJC). A few months after “El Indio” (“The Indian”) — as Ochoa was popularly called by some — Maria turned in her UJC membership card. “I could not tolerate such cruelty, besides which it always seemed to me that what came out in that trial was not the full truth,” she concluded. Like her, an unpublicized number of other militants distanced themselves from the organization, severing their ties or assuming a less aggressive stance.

The “Balseros” (Rafters) Crisis that would occur five years later was comprised of individuals who, besides suffering the miseries of the Special Period, had lived through the trial. Part of the disillusionment that would manifest in fragile vessels crossing the Florida Straits emanated from that event. Although hunger and the lack of prospects where the primary goads toward the exodus, for many of those who launched themselves to the sea, the death of of Arnaldo Ochoa had contributed to severing their emotional ties to the system.

“It was the moment in which totalitarianism removed its mask”, noted Ezequiel Méndez, who is now based in Los Angeles, USA. On that July 13, Ezequiel had guard duty in the unit where he was serving his compulsory military service. He remembers seeing the “long faces of the officers, which gave us to understand that something was going on”. Within the army, the execution of these four military men was especially disturbing, but fear and silence were the major expressions of this emotion. “In the mess hall, when the TV set was turned on for the broadcast of the trial, nobody said a word…everyone was very, very quiet”, recalls Ezequiel about those days.

A quarter century after the effect of those executions, the disappointment has not diminished. Rather, other disappointments have been added to it. The government was never able to recapture lost sympathy, and the days are over when military feats produced heroes.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

“Cuba’s problem is within Cuba” / 14ymedio

Speaking at the Atlantic Forum, Yoani Sánchez tells Mario Vargas Llosa that help is needed to move the center of the discussion to the island.

Vargas-Llosa-Yoani-SAnchez-Madrid_CYMIMA20140709_0001_11

14ymedio, Madrid, 8 July 2014 — “Cuba’s problem is within Cuba. The locus of the discussion needs to be moved to the island.” This was the powerful message from Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio director, to Nobel prize winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa at the VII Atlantic Forum, at the Casa de América in Madrid, Spain. Vargas Llosa had asked Sánchez how the Cuban opposition could be aided from the outside, whether there might be some common themes to emphasize, such as the embargo. “The embargo, tourism…all of that is just transferring the problem outside. To the White House, to the airports…” said the journalist and blogger, stressing that the way to push for a transition in Cuba from outside the island is not to turn attention elsewhere.

This exchange took place during the event organized by the International Foundation for Liberty, whose theme this year is the economic and institutional consolidation of Ibero-America. Vargas Llosa, foundation president, started off the proceedings by asking Yoani Sánchez about the actual scope of the so-called “Raulist” [for Raúl Castro] reforms on the island. The journalist qualified them as “small transformations caused by necessity and not by political will”, meaning that they do not correspond to the real changes that the country needs. Continue reading

Cuba is Going, But into Exile* / Juan Juan Almeida

According to the authorities, Cubans are now allowed to travel, they can own businesses, and now Cuba is the world champion of freedom. However, even so, desertions from the country continue apace. Within the span of a few hours, ten dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba via Puerto Rico, two tennis players who competed in the Davis Cup, and the members of the women’s Cuban field hockey team, all decide to cross the border to the United States.

Raúl can say what he wants, but judging from events, things — meaning Cuba — are going from bad to worse.

* Translator’s Note:  The first part of the title of this post, “Cuba Va”,  is a play on the title of – and lyrics in – a song by Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez. In the sense that Rodriguez uses the phrase, it can be interpreted as “Cuba will survive” or “Cuba will prevail”.  But the phrase can also be read literally, as in “Cuba is Going” — which is the sense in which the blogger is using it.

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

13 June 2014

Producers of Shoddy Work: Beware! / 14ymedio, Katia Tabares

Wooden toys (14ymedio)

Wooden toys (14ymedio)

  • The 2014 ONDI Awards to outstanding Cuban designers cause us to reflect on the limitations suffered by these professionals.
  • Several winners from years past no longer live in Cuba – they have moved on in search of new professional horizons.

14ymedio, Katia Tabares, Havana, 27 May 2014 — Within the first minutes of conversation with a designer, one realizes that caution is in order. Just as if, while facing a dentist friend, we might smile on just one side of our face so that our cavities wouldn’t show, when we find ourselves around these design professionals, it is best to watch ourselves. Their trained eyes will spot the poorly-lettered sign we’ve hung on the door, the kitschy centerpiece on the table, and the cut of our shirt that binds our arms. Then will we have fallen under the “dictatorship” of visual, functional and decorative quality. May Design have mercy on us!

This is how I felt this past weekend while viewing winners of the 2014 ONDI Awards, given every two years by the National Office of Industrial Design. Exhibited in the gallery of La Rampa cinema, in the capital neighborhood of El Vedado, these images represent a wide variety of conceptual and esthetic solutions. The first prize went to Luis Manuel Ramirez who developed a lighting system and other objects for the home, featuring quality, good taste and potential adaptability to multiple circumstances.

If we attend the exhibition accompanied by the smallest members of the household, they might remain attached to the toys designed by Adriana Horta Ramos and Eduardo Velazco Alvarez, who won the prize in the student category. Using wood as their primary material, these novelties for children ages 3 to 6 are a major cut above the plastic and tacky products that populate the display windows of our stores. Continue reading

The Five Grey Years: Revisiting the Term / Ambrosio Fornet

By Ambrosio Fornet / See here for background information on this series of posts.

1

It seemed as if the nightmare was something from a remote past, but the truth is that when we awoke, the dinosaur was still there. We haven’t found out — and perhaps will never know — if the media folly was a reaction to an insidious rescue operation, a whimsical expression of favoritism, or a simple show of irresponsibility.

It doesn’t matter. Seen from the perspective of today — the chain reaction it provoked, of which the cycle we are beginning is a link — it was a suicidal act. It threw down a challenge without having the slightest idea of the adversary’s level of expertise, nor of the solidity of a cultural policy that has reinforced itself like an irreversible phenomenon by means of practices that have been going on for three decades now.

This battle having been clearly won — I won’t say the war because the swaggering is not so much the expression of a political tactic as it is a world view based on suspicion and mediocrity — we can open a path to reflection telling ourselves, simply, that what is happening is fitting. We have proof of this in the decision of the Ministry of Culture to support Desiderio [Navarro]’s initiative, coinciding with Abel [Prieto]’s, insofar as filling the void of information and analysis which has prevailed up to now in the area of cultural — that is, anti-cultural — policy, since the first half of the seventies.

As incredible as it may seem, the person who directed the “Imprint” program dedicated to Pavon — whose script had been written by a friend — assured us that she didn’t know who the character was or, more exactly, that she didn’t know what “imprint” the character had left on Cuban culture during his term as President of the National Cultural Council.  Nor would she know it afterwards, because it was covered in a careful mantle of silence in the program. It wouldn’t do to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man. Continue reading

Postcard from a Journey (3) / Regina Coyula

Nuevitas is my third and last stop on this whirlwind of a trip. The Santiago/Nuevitas journey takes eight hours, two of them in the 16-kilometer stretch between Manatí and Camalote. My trip is the next to last before this itinerary is suspended, pending the repair of the roadway. A passenger who appears to be a regular suggests making the round through Guáimaro, but the driver informs him that around there the roadway is worse. The news spreads through the bus, almost all the passengers know each other and the crew, complaints are heard, but there is nothing to be done.

It is a monotonous journey, a plain copped with trees — and notice I say trees — of the marabou weed variety. I see cows, the only ones during the whole trip; a slender herd, beige spots against the green pasture.

I’m startled by the ghost of the Free Algeria sugar mill in old Manatí. Some rickety structures and two chimneys testify to it. I grew up hearing the phrase “without sugar there is no country,” it was something so understood that to bump up against the ruins of the industry that gave us the title of “the sugar bowl of the world,” inevitably causes me to think of who bears the responsibility for a disaster of such proportions.

Nuevitas, seaport… I don’t manage to distinguish the port, the nitrogenized fertilizer factory releases a yellow smoke and there is threat of a rainstorm. The cloud cover is refreshing, there are no trees; Nuevitas is an industrial city, irregular but monotonous. The “mini train” is the substitute for the bus, an open wagon thrown over a tractor, horse-drawn carriage and bicycle-taxis.

An unexpected event turns out to be amusing. My visit coincides with the police citation given to the lawyers of the Cuban Law Association. A man wearing a cap and dark glasses take photos of us, to which I return the gesture, which disconcerts him, causes him to cross the street quickly and disappear from sight.

It’s almost 4 pm and I’m dying for breakfast. The only restaurant in the city is Nuevimar, where we are the only diners besieged by a legion of flies. The water in the glass looks cloudy and tastes bad. The service is slow, I’m hungry but also apprehensive. I make up for all this in a privately-run bakery that features a varied selection. I’ve had no coffee, and the deprivation is giving me a headache.

The lawyers are very sorry for the unexpected police intrusion; I’m exhausted, sleep-deprived, having traveled more than 19 hours in less than three days; and the trip to Havana is still ahead and due to my lack of experience I’m going to be cold in the Chinese-made Yutong bus. So, I prefer to sleep a little in the bus and train station until the 7pm departure of the bus.

From the window I manage to see a bit of the coast, I don’t see a port nor ships. Nuevitas reminds me a little of Cojímar, but without the charm of Cojímar.

I arrive in Havana at 5 in the morning. A boatman asks me for 7 CUC to take me, then reduces the fee when I threaten to find another taxi. At 5:30 I’m already at home, sleeping.

Click here to view the slideshow

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

2 July 2014

Sarasota / Rebeca Monzo

Map of the Ringling Complex.

I still remember with much fondness the circuses of my childhood, but above all the marvelous and spectacular Ringling Brothers, that would arrive in our country in December — in the early days encamping in the old Sports Palace on Paseo and Primera streets, facing the sea — and later, towards the end of the 1950s, in the then-resplendent Sports City.

Carmen, punctual as is her wont, came to get me at 5am so that we could go together to the meeting place from which the bus would depart that would take us from Miami to Sarasota. We were the first to arrive, even before the bus, because we are both like that, super-careful in meeting our commitments. Little by little the other tourists began arriving until the full group was assembled.

The tour guide was a “cubanaza*”- very amusing and active, with a great love of the arts – who specializes in putting together these types of excursions, all with a cultural purpose. And so, between storytelling, laughs and songs – including interesting raffles of books and small paintings created by some of the tour participants, among whom were writers, a poet and even a painter – we made this long trip which turned out to be most pleasant.

Arriving in Sarasota, the tour personnel provided us with ID wristbands and maps of this lovely place, so that each person could choose their companions and where to begin their journey through this grand cultural complex, a major attraction and pride of this city, which has been converted from the mansion, art gallery, theater and other property that belonged to the family of John and Mable Ringling, which they bequeathed as a heritage legacy, and which since 2000 has been under the guardianship of Florida State University.

Everything, absolutely everything, impressed me because of its grandeur and splendor, but what most amazed me, owing to its magnitude and level of detail, was the impressive scale model of the great circus industry that gave life to this family empire, whose spectacles I enjoyed every winter in my beloved Havana, up until 1959.

The family mansion, called “Cad ´Zan” by its owners — which in the Venetian dialect means “John’s house” — was built by the architect Dwight James Baum in 1924, in the Venetian baroque style, impressive for its luxury and excellent state of preservation.

Another great attraction is the Museum of Art which displays collections of the most famous European painters: El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez, Veronese, Gainsborough, and other great masters. The building is surrounded by splendid gardens, where the sculptures look to be enjoying the marvelous surroundings. We also visited the Asolo Theater, built in 1798, dismantled and transported from Italy to be added to the Ringling complex in 1948, becoming the only 18th century theater in the United States of America.

We returned well into the evening, satisfied and exhausted from so much walking and enjoyment of this well-organized and enjoyable excursion to one of the most interesting corners of this beautiful State of Florida.

*Translator’s note: “Cubanaza(o)” can be said to be a sort of “super Cuban” – someone who is almost a caricature of the Cuban style of speech, mannerisms, attitudes, etc. The term as used by a fellow Cuban to refer to another is often – as in this case – one of endearment.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 May 2014

Not Everything About a Cuban Athlete is Worthwhile / Ivan Garcia

Photo: Taken from "Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers," published in LA Magazine.

There have been so many escapes by Cuban baseball players and boxers that they have stopped being news. The stories behind some of these defections could make a Hollywood script.

From the late-90’s land and sea odyssey of Havana pitcher Orlando “Duque” Hernandez, who signed with the New York Yankees, to the unusual escape of the fabulous shortstop Rey Ordóñez, who jumped over a wall during his team’s warmup in a tournament in Buffalo, New York, in 1993.

Within the plot of an escape there is a blend of diverse ingredients. There’s a bit of everything:  human traffickers, drug cartels, and sports scouts.

Some rafter-ballplayers have tried escaping several times. When caught, they opt for the mea culpa traditional in authoritarian societies. Continue reading

Reporters Without Borders Alerted To A New Black Spring in Cuba / Angel Santiesteban

 Towards a new Black Spring in Cuba? Reporters without Borders have expressed their concern for the situation of aggression against Cuban journalists, arbitrary sentences, death threats and barriers to access registered information over the last few days. The press agency and organization for the defense of freedom of expression Hablemos Press has been the target of the hostility of the Department of State Security.

Its founder, Roberto de Jesús Guerra, was a victim of a violent aggression perpetrated by an agent of the National Revolutionary Police on June 11th in Havana.

His wife, Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez, correspondent of Hablemos Press, indicated that she is presently confined to her home without the ability to walk, having suffered an injury to her knee and a broken septum. Continue reading

Messages from Jorge de Mello / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

The worthwhile exchange of ideas, so necessary to form a true state of opinion that finds solutions which are reasonable, satisfactory and intelligent–has finished. Today I received, after the meetings, this mysterious email in which one of the participating intellectuals in the debate (his name for now is XXXX) and everything seems to remain in a war between the ICRT and Mincult [Ministry of Culture], it is said that that is the tactical thing. Will we return to the anonymous message, to the rumor in the hallway, to the “politically correct”? Incredible!! That is the tactical thing?

ANSWER FROM XXX TO A RESPONSE OF MINE:

I believe that you are not mistaken in some of the things you say, but it seems to me that the matter is a little more complicated. And at this moment, I believe that the tactical thing is not to absolutely push against the Ministry of Culture which, after all, also has been attacked by the TV and those who are behind the appearance of Pavón and company.

From Jorge de Mello in response to Orlando Hernández

Landi:

I have received, literally with exclamations of joy, your letter to Arturo Arango. You have placed your finger in the trigger and your eye is on the real target. That’s the way to talk, brother, that’s it. Today I have been writing a similar thought, in terms of content and points of view, answering a letter to Abelardo Mena, but of course never with the conceptual clarity and formal quality that you do. That’s why I won’t send Mena my letter. I will send yours adding myself to the opinion. Continue reading