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.

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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

There is talk of repealing the embargo barriers that keep Cuban athletes from competing in ball clubs in the United States. But let’s not be naive. The olive-green autocracy loves to play the role of victim.

Before discussing whether Major League Baseball or the professional boxing associations should review their policies for hiring Cuban athletes, the regime should be required to give financial freedom to the athletes.

Let everyone choose their own representative. And set a tax rate similar to that of other nations. It is hard to accuse the team owners of using their athletes as merchandise when the state is doing the same thing.

Even more embarrassing: until last year, coaches and athletes with foreign contracts only received 15% of the money they earned.

Now the state is trying to negotiate with the Major League owners, because the contracts of Cuban ballplayers totalling more than $600 million is a good excuse for fattening its bank accounts.

People in Cuba enthusiastically follow the performance of Pito Abreu or Dayán Viciedo, who started the season with hot bats. Abreu, the home run leader with 10, stokes the dreams of Creole fans.

Fans on this side of the straits want to have a home-run version of the Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera or the Dominican Papi Ortiz. And they believe this man’s last name is Abreu. But the passion goes beyond sport.

There is currently an issue inspiring debate in every corner of Cuba. Many do not approve of the alleged accusations used by Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig to camouflage their future intentions.

This human damage caused by the revolution of Fidel Castro, of encouraging anonymous reports, tip-offs, and confessions, is a clear sign of the ethical and moral decline in society today.

Some Cubans would betray their mother for a trip abroad, a government apartment, or a vacation on the beach. As with lab rats, regime officials used the bait of “prizes” to divide.

Some local athletes, on their way to stardom in foreign clubs, have left people in jail, accused of promoting the “defection of athletes.” This conduct cannot be justified by the reprehensible behavior of a segment of human beings who climb to high position by trampling on corpses.

It is always sad when our sports idols act so miserably. I sincerely hope that Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman can prove their innocence.

We all make mistakes. But some faults can cause reputations to suffer. One of them is betrayal.

Iván García

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

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 May 2014

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

Four days earlier, Raul Ramirez Puig, Hablemos Press correspondent in Mayabeque province, was threatened from a vehicle whose occupants warned him that “anything” might happen to him.

The arbitrary detention of journalists is also occurring very frequently on the island. Mario Hechavarria Driggs, who is also a collaborator with the Centre of Information for Hablemos Press, was detained by agents of the Department of State Security on June 8th.

Yeander Farres Delgado, journalism student, was held for questioning while taking pictures of the Havana Capitol Building, headquarters of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. He was released five hours later.

“Despite the apparent political opening of the Castro regime, the methods used by the authorities to silence dissident journalists are every time more brutal,” said Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders. “Since the last journalist detained during the ’Black Spring’ was released, in 2011, we are witnessing a reinforcement of the repression,” he added.

Hablemos Press denounced, this past June 11, the multiple death threats they have received in the last two months. Journalist Magaly Norvis Otero Suarez received several calls to the newsroom of Hablemos Press. Later, on June 12, she was cited by Department of State Security agents, who pressed her to change the tone of the articles she posts in the information center, which displease the Castro regime.

The Cuban authorities — via the state-owned telecommunications companyEmpresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA) — have even blocked the mobile phones of Roberto de Jesus Guerra, Magaly Novis Otero Suarez, and their colleague Arian Guerra (they were disconnected from the island’s sole network), to prevent them from communicating with each other.

“What is happening with the right to information if Havana suppresses telephone communication at will, while the use of the Internet is so limited on the island?” asks Camille Soulier, head of the Americas division of Reporters Without Borders. “We ask the Cuban state that it reestablish without delay the telephone line of the Hablemos Press journalists.”

Reporters Without Borders also laments the detention conditions of independent journalist Juliet Michelena Diaz, held April 7 in Havana and accused initially of “threats against a neighbor in Centro Habana” and later of “attempt” (the charges against her changed within a week). Her trial is still pending.

Also imprisoned is Yoenni de Jesus Guerra Garcia, Yayabo Press journalist, detained in October of 2013 and condemned in March of 2014 to seven years in jail. The blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats, jailed since February 28, 2013 on trumped-up charges, is among the 100 “heroes of information” published by Reporters Without Borders.

Cuba is in last place among the countries of the Americas – and 170 out of 180 countries worldwide – in Reporters Without Borders’ current “Freedom of the Press” tally. Read more here.

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy. Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 June 2014

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

I congratulate you with all my heart, that is the real Orlando I have known for almost 30 years, the brave and illustrious brother with whom I have shared so many ideas, sufferings, and joys. I also congratulate you because you have woken from a certain state of inertia that has been affecting you recently.

We all need ideas as clear as yours, especially during these times, and they will be necessary in the times to come.

A grateful hug

Jorge de Mello

P.S.: After writing to you the previous note, I decided to also send to you my reply to Mena that I have mentioned.

Abelardo, I agree with you, suspected that something like that would happen, told you so a couple of days ago, it all seems like more of the same. In so many opinions and reflections, from here and there, not once has the essential word, “Liberty,” been mentioned. What kind of society are we that we fear saying that word? What has happened to us?

The brief and considered reflection of Cesar Lopez, in which he recommends that we remain alert, ends with these words: “I am honorable, and afraid.” I admire the sincerity of the poet. In the opinions of the other prestigious and courageous intellectuals there is also fear, but we have to discover it amongst the rhetorical twists and turns, in the way that they avoid putting their finger in the wound. One would have to ask, why so much fear?

We are all afraid because we know that the immense bureaucratic machine that permitted the “pavonato,” and that is now trying to redeem it, is stronger every day.

It now shows off, after the so-called “centralization,” more power than ever — political/economic power that is unproductive, obtuse and harmful, which paralyzes the soul of the nation.

I believe that this should be the issue for analysis —  but in an open and truly revolutionary discussion that is not directed by those same powerful individuals who dominate the bureaucratic apparatus and its indescribably repressive mechanisms — so that an exchange can take place without restrictions, without censures, and include all the “thinking heads” of the country.

There are many revolutionaries and patriots who think with their own heads amongst educators, scientists, workers, students. What is happening is not a problem to be discussed just within the artistic domain.

I sincerely believe that this halting path (of tacit concessions and opportune tactics) that we have seen up to now in this little e-mail war, is not enough to light the way to our immediate future — which up to now I foresee as very dark, given that the bureaucrats continue to call the shots. All indications are that the protest will end, as you well state, in an administrative purge of some television official, in a new “explanation” and a call back to sanity to the intellectuals who wrote the letters. It appears that once more we’ll be left with no view of a possible solution to our old problems. Besides fear, I admit, I also feel shame.

As you well know, I am only a cultural laborer (and proud to be so), I am not a recognized or important artist or intellectual, which is why I’ve silently and hopefully read, without making pronouncements, all that I have received via e-mail.

I have read various opinions stating that those who do not have important work can use this moment in an opportune way to stand out, and things of this nature.

But because I have a brain for thinking, I make my own observations and want to share them with you in a very personal way. My observation might be more or less correct, but these ideas are what are going through my head and my heart at this moment.

Changing the subject. Where do you live now? Are you following the Virgin’s shadow, or are you my neighbor again? It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other.

Hugs,

Jorge de Mello

From Jorge de Mello to Orlando Hernández

Landi

The fact that the program director who provoked this just protest was praised on another TV program, in the moment that all were expecting an apology, a correction, is a hard and overwhelming blow.

Padura considers that act a coincidence, Desiderio a provocation, to me it is nothing more than a show of force, of power, made with the objective of demonstrating that the powerful will not give in even an inch, as has always been the case. When has one of the “leaders” of the country apologized publicly?

Never has something like this occurred, and mistakes have been made, small and big, many of them with dire and painful consequences for the nation.

Hopefully this last demonstration of strength and arrogance won’t reach its objectives, causing the fear and deception necessary to paralyze the discussion and the state of opinion, so interesting and necessary for our society, which was being created.

How I wish I were wrong…

Last night I received this answer from Mena to a comment I made, don’t circulate it, but it’s interesting, I believe things are going as he says. How sad, what a deception!

Hugs,

J.

Translated by: Dolores M. Goizueta / Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison