Cuban Playwright Carlos Celdran’s Play About an ‘Intimate, Hidden and Transgressive’ Jose Marti Arrives in Miami

Scene from the play ’Hierro’ [Iron], by Carlos Celdrán, with actors Caleb Casas and Rachel Pastor. (EFE/Arca Images)
14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Ana Mengotti, Miami, 27 July 2023 – The Cuban playwright Carlos Celdrán, 2016 National Prizewinner for Theatre in his own country and currently resident in Spain, presents his play Hierro in Miami – a work centred on the Cuban war of independence hero José Martí (1853-1895), different from his “edited” biography but not demythologised.

“I’m not attempting to dismantle or criticise Martí, I love Martí. Hierro comes from a love for and identification with him; what I’m trying to do is present his human contradictions in order to understand him better”, Celdrán tells EFE, in the Miami Dade County Auditorium where the play, produced by Arca Images, has its U.S premiere next Thursday.

Hierro, is the title of a poem by Martí, Cuba’s “apostle and martyr”. Martí was a poet and essayist and the play centres on Martí’s private life, which has “not been seen on the stage nor is it discussed in school” – the life of a “great” but “ordinary” man who argues with his wife and even faces up to a possible affair.

Everything that takes place in the play happened in the United States, where Martí lived in exile, apart from interspersed scenes of journeys to other countries – from the beginning of the 1880’s until his return to Cuba in 1895, the year he was killed in combat, fighting against the Spanish military.

Celdrán first premiered this play in Havana in 2020 but performances were interrupted by the Covid pandemic. When Arca Images suggested he take it to Miami he didn’t think twice. continue reading

In the cast, headed by Caleb Casas, Daniel Romero, Claudia Valdés and Rachel Pastor, there are a number of actors from the original Cuban production.

Asked by EFE whether he thought that the Cubans in Miami and those on the island felt the same about Martí he said that the hero continues to be a unifying force. “I think that Marti’s ideology touches all Cubans wherever they are and whatever ideology they have”, he said, and remembers that Martí proposed a republic in which all Cubans would have a place, wherever they were and whatever politics they had.

In Hierro we shall see an “unedited and hidden” Martí, as previously his official biography has been “laundered and edited”, he says.

Though Hierro is performed in Spanish, English speaking audiences will also be able to enjoy the play, through simultaneous translation via wireless headphones.

This is not the first time that Celdrán (who founded Argos Teatro in Cuba in 1996 and has produced his own plays as well as those by Brecht, Beckett, Ibsen, Strindberg and other classical playwrights) has presented work in Miami.

His award winning play Diez millones [Ten Million] was also performed in this city, as well as in other U.S cities, whilst the playwright still lived in Cuba.

Now he is based in Madrid, where he has already presented another of his works, Discurso de agradecimiento [Expression of Gratitude], and is trying to make his mark in a city which, he says, is these days an “international theatre capital”.

The grandson of Spanish grandparents and a Spanish national, Celdrán is trying “not to move away” from his hallmark theatrical style. “What I try to do is work from the human perspective, but there is always a political and social backdrop”, he says.

He is working on a text that may possibly be performed next year in Miami and Spain – a country in which there are, he says, “a lot of stereotypical views” about Cuba, as well as extreme views about the revolution and the daily life of Cubans.

“Spanish people always have either a utopian view of Cuba or a critical one”, says Celdrán, who says that what interests him is that there is “empathy from the audience towards the characters”.

Stereotypes, says the playwright – “the first one would be the island of love, of good sex – they have prejudiced us a lot”.

I show the soul of the Cuban people, I fight against that obvious stereotype and sometimes people are surprised because they expect Cuba to be comical, to be lightweight, to be friendly”, he stresses.

Speaking of recent times in his country, he says that “it’s not easy making theatre in Cuba”, and not only because of the lack of economic resources.

“You’re always in a complicated dialogue with what’s censurable, with the limits of what you can say. And you evade it, you get over it, you go a little further in order to make theatre where you can escape from that confrontation”, he concludes.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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‘The Artist is a Dissident by Definition, says Cuban Filmmaker Orlando Jimenez Leal

Cuban filmmaker Orlando Jiménez Leal in an archive image. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Ana Mengotti, Miami, 20 October 20, 2022 — We artists are by definition dissidents of reality,” says Cuban filmmaker Orlando Jiménez Leal, who took the path of exile after Fidel Castro banned his short film PM in 1961, warning those who protested, “against the Revolution nothing.”

“That was a before and after; it opened our eyes,” says Jiménez Leal, who has been in exile for 61 of his 81 years and will receive an award this Thursday for his career at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami.

Jiménez Leal left Cuba on January 2, 1962, and has never returned because, although he admits that he is “curious,” he finds it “embarrassing” to have to ask for permission to enter, he says in an interview with EFE.

When intellectuals asked Castro after the censorship of PM, co-directed by Sabá Cabrera Infante, if there was freedom in Cuba, he replied that “within the Revolution everything, against the Revolution nothing,” recalls the director, who, among other films, directed with León Ichaso El súper [The Super] (1979), a feature film presented and “applauded” at the Venice Film Festival.

The newly created Archive of Cuban Diáspora Cinema, an initiative that emerged at Florida International University (FIU), will give him an award this Thursday for his career.

The founders of the archive, Cuban filmmaker Eliecer Jiménez Almeida and Spanish professor Santiago Juan-Navarro, consider that PM, a short documentary about nightlife in the slums of Havana, is the “zero kilometer” from which Cuban cinema in exile begins. continue reading

For Jiménez Leal it’s exactly that: the start of a life outside Cuba with stops in the United States, Puerto Rico and Spain. He has been living in Miami now for nine years.

Although he says that his memory of life in exile is “aged” and the previous one in Cuba, on the contrary, fresh, the filmmaker perfectly remembers his time in Madrid during the final years of Francoism, what he calls “watered-down” Francoism.

At that time he was dedicated to advertising, which was also his livelihood in the United States and the way to finance the films he longed to make.

One of those ads was seen by Julio Iglesias in Puerto Rico and, as he liked it, he contacted Jiménez Leal to direct Me olvidé de vivir [I Forgot to Live] (1980), of which he remembers above all its protagonist, an “charming person” and a “good actor,” capable of improvising.

Previously, he had presented The Super in Venice, which he defines as a “Cuban neorealist film” that “opened the eyes to many who had a fixed idea of the Revolution” by presenting the truncated lives of the exiles in the United States.

Friend of film photography director Néstor Almendros, with whom he directed the documentary on the repression of homosexuals in Cuba, Improper Behavior (1984), and of the writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who went into exile like him, Jiménez Leal says that in Cuba they have not been able to “erase him from memory,” and he has become “a ghost that returns.”

Young independent Cuban filmmakers, many of them also outside Cuba, look for his films and declare themselves his admirers, he proudly says.

The authorities don’t mess with him. “As the saying goes, they  (those who govern in Cuba) have other fish to fry,” and he mentions “the demonstrators who demand water, electricity and freedom” in the streets of Cuba, and the “imprisoned artists.”

Jiménez Leal no longer makes movies but is still very connected to the cinema and attentive to news on platforms like Netflix, although he confesses that he is, above all, reading books he has already read and watching classic films.

Cinema has changed a lot, especially with the incorporation of digital media. Before, you needed real talent to succeed in cinema; you had to know about technique and industry issues. Now there are more opportunities but there also is a lot of garbage,” he emphasizes.

Over the years, his cinematographic tastes have changed. The “arrogance of youth” made him consider Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan (1951), a minor film, while at the age of 81 it seems to him a “masterpiece.”

About Blonde, Andrew Dominik’s recently released film about Marilyn Monroe, Jiménez Leal says that it produces “a mixture of feelings” and exhibits the “exceptional” work of Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas.

Among the things he knows he will no longer be able to do is a film that was to be called Cuba Does Not Exist, paraphrasing the exiled Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov, who in an interview proclaimed that “Russia does not exist.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

After 9 Years, the Families of Paya and Cepera Await the IACHR’s Condemnation of Cuba

Rosa María Payá (second from left) and her mother Ofelia Acevedo (second from right), daughter and widow respectively of Cuban opposition Oswaldo Payá, flank father Juan Rumín Domínguez, accompanied by the director of the Hypermedia publishing house, Ladislao Aguado (left ), and journalist Juan Manuel Cao (right), in Hialeah, Florida. (EFE / Album Payá)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Ana Mengotti, Miami, 13 December 2021– Rosa María Payá, daughter of Cuban opposition figure Oswaldo Payá, will only say “mission accomplished” when justice is done for her father’s death, but she feels content because the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is close to ruling on whether he was the victim of a “State assassination.”

In an interview with Efe on the eve of the first hearing of “case 9,416” before the IACHR, Payá highlighted that an acknowledgment — and condemnation — by the body of the Cuban State’s responsibility in the apparent accident in which her father and Harold Cepero lost their lives in 2012 would be “very important” for the families.

But also for the people who continue to be victims of repression in Cuba, which, although it has not stopped for more than 60 years, has reached “stratospheric” levels as a result of the protests that broke out on July 11, she stresses.

The hearing will be held on Tuesday, December 14 in a virtual way, and testifying will be Ofelia Acevedo, widow of the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement and ideologist of the Varela Project, Rosa María Payá, daughter of both, Amílcar Cepero, Harold’s father, and the Spanish politician Ángel Carromero, among others.

On July 22, 2012, Carromero was driving a car at high speed, with Payá, Cepero and a Swedish politician, Jens Aron Modig, as passengers, when the car left the road and hit a tree, according to the version official of the events, with which the families of the deceased and one of the survivors disagree. continue reading

Modig made a “pact of silence” and claims not to remember anything, according to Rosa María Payá. Carromero, from the conservative People’s Party, was accused of reckless driving resulting in death and sentenced to 4 years in prison in Cuba, although most of his sentence was served in Spain thanks to an agreement between governments.

Payá’s family denounced from the first moment that it was an attack in which another vehicle was involved, and in 2013, together with Cepero’s family, they filed the complaint with the IACHR, which has taken nine years to convene the first public hearing, although it has had all the information on the case for a long time.

According to Payá, it will not take long to pronounce itself and tomorrow’s hearing will be the occasion for the presentation of the final arguments of the parties, or rather of one of the parties, since Cuba, which is subject to the IACHR despite being suspended of the Organization of American States (OAS) for decades, has not appeared.

“Unfortunately,” she added, if the IACHR accepts the claims of the complainants, as she hopes, the case will not go to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, since it does not have jurisdiction over Cuba, since that country is not a signatory to the constitutive agreement.

However, the complainants will insist once again before the UN and the Council of Permanent Representatives of the OAS with the ruling in hand with a view to “stopping the impunity of the regime,” said Payá, who is part of the leadership of the Cuba Decides initiative.

The Cuban opposition figure, who insists that the evidence presented is “clear” and conclusive “about the commission of an” attack “perpetrated by Cuban state security agents on orders that “could only come from Fidel or Raúl Castro,” referenced the result of an independent report published in 2015.

Prepared by lawyers from the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), the report maintains that the evidence in the case “suggests” a “direct responsibility” of the Government of Cuba in the death of Payá and Cepero, either with the express intention of assassinating them, or with a “wicked disregard” for their lives.

The document compiles testimonies and refers to physical evidence that was revealed “in the months after the event and that was not considered at all by the court that convicted Carromero.”

What happened on July 22, 2012 “was not an accident,” but “the result of a motor vehicle incident deliberately caused by state agents,” the HRF document maintains.

“There is a strong indication that the car was hit by another. We do not know if they died when the vehicle was hit or if they were later removed and beaten to death, which is also possible,” said Javier El-Hage, international legal director of HRF, when the result of the investigation was presented.

The families of the two deceased are represented before the IACHR by lawyers from the Robert Kennedy Center for Human Rights and, Payá added, the Cuban State has not been present despite having been repeatedly notified by the inter-American system body .

The opposition made “a call for attention in capital letters” to all the democracies of the world to act before a regime that represses its people — “with more than 600 political prisoners at present” — and is capable of “assassinating” those who oppose it.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Twenty Years Since the Rescue of the "Miracle Boy" Turned Revolutionary Icon

The Elián Gonzalez during his time as a military student in Cuba. After the death of Fidel Castro he compared Fidel to a superhero. (Archive)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Ana Menghotti, Miami | November 24, 2019 — Twenty years ago the “little rafter” Elián González was saved from drowning, as his mother and other Cubans who were trying to reach Florida had, but was left in a tug-of-war between the Cuban government and the exiles in Miami. The tug-of-war was settled with an American court decision that made possible his return to the island.

“I would again defend a defenseless child against a dictatorship,” said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, one of the leaders of the protests in which Cubans in Miami fruitlessly tried to stop Elián, who was five when he crossed the Florida strait aboard a raft, from being returned to his father and to Cuba.

“It was an ethical duty, we didn’t do it out of politics or for any other reason. Whoever has gone through an experience like us (the exiles) knows that we were obligated to defend that boy,” adds the leader of the Democracy Movement. continue reading

In this iconic photo, Donato Dalrymple protects Elián in a closet from the federal agents who were searching the house of his family in Little Havana on April 22, 2000. (Archive)

In front of the house in Little Havana where the boy lived with a maternal aunt and other family members after his rescue by fishermen in waters near Florida on November 25, 1999, Sánchez recalls the blow that he received in that house on that day US federal agents burst in to take Elián.

It was April 22, 2000 and the warrant had been given by Janet Reno, then the attorney general of the US and for many exiles the “bad guy” in this “film.”

That day Sánchez found out that the slogan “Elián isn’t leaving,” which had been popularized in the protests, wasn’t going to be reality.

Considered in Miami a “miracle” boy not only for having been saved from the shipwreck but also because his rescue was on the day of Thanksgiving, Elián González, was turned into a symbol of the Revolution and its triumph over capitalism, and returned to Cuba on June 28, 2000 after many negotiations and to-ing and fro-ing in the courts and mass demonstrations in Miami and on the island.

Elián González with his cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez in Miami. (Miami Herald)

Fidel Castro personally became involved in what in other circumstances and countries would have been only a family dispute over the custody of a child whose mother took him from the country without the permission of the father, who wanted to get him back and raise him in Cuba.

Sánchez believes that Castro, knowing that in the United States the “law is respected,” took advantage of the Elián case to “project himself as a defender of childhood,” although “he wasn’t,” while at the same time “deal a blow of international dimensions to the exile community.”

The organizer of “human chains” and actions of “civil disobedience” for Elián says that he always thought that it was the maternal and paternal family members of the boy who should have come to an agreement about his future, not the governments.

However, he says, there was a fact that couldn’t be forgotten: Elián’s mother decided to leave a country in which “a dictatorship was suffocating, and is still suffocating, the people.”

The boy became the center of the dispute between the Cuban exile community in Miami and Fidel Castro’s regime. In this photo his father brings him back to Cuba.

If Cuba wasn’t “a dictatorship,” the people wouldn’t embark upon the sea, says Sánchez, who blames the “regime” for every one of the deaths of Cuban rafters whose “American dream” ended when the precarious boat on which they abandoned their country foundered.

The so-called “rafter crisis” was in 1994, but in 1999, the year in which Elián’s raft foundered, there was another massive departure of precarious boats toward the US without the Cuban government trying to stop them, according to information from the time.

Castro celebrated Elián González’s birthday. (Archive)

From January 1 until November 27 of 1999, 940 Cubans were intercepted on the high seas, according to data from the American Coast Guard gathered from the news at the time.

In the fiscal year of 2019 (concluded the last day of September), approximately 454 Cubans attempted to illegally enter the United States by sea, the Coast Guard reported. Sánchez has no doubt that the reason that fewer rafts were intercepted is that the so-called wet foot/dry foot policy is no longer in force. The policy allowed Cubans who managed to touch US ground to remain in the country and condemned those who were detained in the water to be repatriated.

That policy was eliminated by Barack Obama’s administration during the “thaw” with Cuba and is one of the few things that Donald Trump, his successor in the White House, has left in place from that attempt at normalizing relations.

González still appears at official events and hobnobs with Castro’s successors. In this archive image he can be seen with the ex-ruler Raúl Castro.

On the Elián raised in Cuba, Sánchez stresses that he was “brainwashed” by “those responsible for his mother’s death” and for that reason he seems “almost an automaton,” always “in a bad mood.”

The most remembered face of the “little rafter” is, however, that of the day on which he was taken from the house of his uncle in Little Havana in Miami by a group of US marshals. The famous photo, taken by the now deceased Alan Díaz, photographer for the American agency AP and winner of a Pulitzer, shows a small 6-year-old Elián in the arms of one of the fishermen who saved him, Donato Dalrymple, terrified in front of the uniformed and helmeted agent with enormous protective glasses pointing a gun at them.

The Elián case, which is seen as one of the many disagreements between the United States and its neighbor Cuba, is, for Sánchez, one chapter more in “the long fight of Cubans for their liberty.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.