There is No Name for What is Happening in Cuban Baseball

When the fourth and last game in Nicaragua was suspended by rain on Tuesday, the team led by Rey Vicente Anglada had been officially swept.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 18 July 2019 — At this point, to say that Cuban baseball suffers from an unprecedented crisis doesn’t begin to describe what is happening. The game against Nicaragua, closing the preparation for the Pan American Games in Lima, has surprised even many skeptics.

When the fourth and last game was suspended for rain on Tuesday, the team led by Rey Vicente Anglada had been officially swept away in the most surprising way by a team that, it was supposed, did not even come close in quality, but that won twice (4-1 and 4-3) and tied once.

When that tie occurred, in the first match, Nicaragua had played 23 games without beating a Cuban team and, nevertheless, won the next two games. The visitors only came up with 15 hits in those three games, including a double from César Prieto, the only one, and batted for a fabulously miserable average of 167. continue reading

Previously, since June 14, Cuba had played five series of three matches in the CanAm League, against different squads from Canada and the United States. In total, it won eight games, with two blanks, sweeping the Capitals and the Boulders, and suffering a sweep against the Aigles. The offense averaged a discrete 257.

Those who worried about these results later saw how the American university students beat the Cubans in the traditional annual match-up with a lower batting average (224). They lost four of five games and hit just three doubles and a home run, scoring 11 runs in 45 innings. The pitching, without surprises, appeared very vulnerable in this tour of North America, throwing balls of 85 miles and less.

Although the CanAm League certainly does not have a remarkable quality, its pitchers showed the Cubans, in general, a speed and a variety of pitches that they are not used to facing. But in North Carolina, facing the students, they were overwhelmed by an overwhelming efficiency.

Among the young Americans, some 19 or 20 years old, 15 were about to sign professional contracts. In total, these guys exemplify the current revolution of American baseball, especially the students, with a level of competitiveness todaynever before known.

Their pitchers easily reach 95 miles per hour and have a reserve of three or four secondaries, and there is no way to compare them with Cuban pitchers, who also lack a well-thought-out sequence. As a result, our hitters struck out 38 times and pitching gave away 19 bases on balls.

Undoubtedly, it was easy to lose four of five games against a team like that, but neither can it be said that the Cubans won in experience, taking into account what happened shortly after against Nicaragua. The escape of three players — who left the team to play in the United States: Yoelkis Céspedes, Norge Carlos Vera and Orlando Acebey — was not decisive. Fortunately, and for a reason that is still unknown, the United States will not participate in the hemispheric match up, thus saving our national team a serious problem.

The worst of the sweep before the Nicaraguans has less to do, basically, with the lack of a winning pitching staff as with the absence of combativity itself, of the live game and creativity. What was the value of altitude training in Mexico and the months of intensive preparation in different countries, which not a few have criticized since it was announced?

According to the specialized press, the selection that will go to the Pan American Games will be more complete than this one, as it will be reinforced by up to a third of the lineup with players from foreign leagues, but it has already happened in the past that those players, exhausted and without time to recover, have not turned in the expected performance.

Cuba has become accustomed to losing against inconceivable rivals — let’s remember Germany — against strong and weak, against countries with a baseball tradition and without one, with the pitching or the offense of opponents, dues to the lack of timely batting and due to the lack of pitchers with sustained efficiency.

Before the shipwreck in Central America, Yosvani Aragón, leader of the Cuban team, declared: “We can not think of anything other than winning the Pan American Games in Lima and for that we carefully prepared and it ended with blanks in Nicaragua.” What would he say now? Surely he keeps thinking with the same optimism, as do all the nefarious baseball bureaucracy.

But fans believe something very different. They are not blind and they know that there is no name for what is happening in Cuban baseball.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Football Team Captain "Deserts" From the Gold Cup

Raúl Mederos, coach of the Cuban soccer team, at the press conference after the game with Martinique. (El Universal)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, June 21, 2019 — The news spread quickly through the international press. The captain of the Cuban soccer team, Yasmani López, had abandoned the team at the Gold Cup of the Confederation of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) in the United States. One media outlet called him “the first of the Cuban players to flee” at this event, as if others could follow him.

Like so many other times, the team leadership delayed in making statements, waiting for instructions from Havana, which in turn was waiting to measure the repercussions of the event. Finally, the manager of the team, Raúl Mederos, recognized the act, which happened after the first match against Mexico.

“The team, as everyone knows, did not arrive at the Gold Cup with the full delegation,” said Mederos, “and indeed the number four defender abandoned the team on Saturday night. It’s his decision. None of his colleagues, there are 30 of us, have anything to do with that,” he specified at a press conference before the second game, against Martinique. continue reading

The curious declaration reveals the fear that in Havana they will try to look for supposed accomplices of the “deserter” and, additionally, reveals that a third of the group was made up of “non-athletes,” something customary in these delegations, which come to international matches well-escorted to prevent “escapes.”

The “number four defender” that Mederos alluded to is the 31-year-old captain and defender who had debuted with the national team in the Gold Cup of 2013 and since then had become an important part of the squad. “We only come to the pitch to give what we have, giving our hearts,” were his last words before leaving the team.

The high-profile repercussions and the sleepless nights of the team’s management are logical. By now it’s traditional that in CONCACAF competitions our players take the opportunity to request asylum in the US, like 12 members of the under-20 team did last November in Florida.

In the last six editions of the Gold Cup alone 11 athletes have abandoned the team, not to mention other soccer competitions in other places. Some continue playing the sport and have had success. Others not. But nothing indicates that this bloodletting will stop.

This 15th Gold Cup is being held (at the same time as the other main tournament on the continent, the America Cup) from June 15 to July 7, and 16 teams are participating. Cuba participated five times previously, beginning in 1998 and, for the last time, in 2007, but only in 2003 did it advance to the second round. Now they were competing in Group A with Mexico, Canada, and Martinique.

The Island had already lost the previous captain, the midfielder Yordan Santa Cruz, 25, who was denied a visa for unconfirmed reasons; according to some it was because of a disturbance of public order in Jamaica in 2015. According to others, it was for an unproven accusation of rape in the United States. Santa Cruz is contracted with the Jarabacoa FC de Dominicana and made the goal that got Cuba to this tournament.

When the Cup began, Mederos’s boys seemed the tournament’s weakest team. Their debut on Saturday the 15th against Mexico, which massacred them 7-0, amply confirmed all fears, aside from which it is certain that the Cubans have had problems with arriving on time and even with their uniforms.

On Wednesday the 19th, having already lost the second captain, Cuba fell again in the second game, 3-0, against Martinique, which had been thrashed 4-0 by Canada. Thus, without having scored a single goal, the Cubans were already eliminated in the group phase, fulfilling the majority of the predictions.

If some believe that this could be an insurmountable blow for the new generation of players who cannot see the sun, others believe that this disaster could sound the alarms and call attention to a discipline that is very marginalized despite the enormous and growing popularity of soccer in our country.

The criticisms of this performance, one of the worst in the last 20 years, begins with the poor selection of players starting with the recent National Championship and with the bad management of the lineup, but above all with the dreadful work of the Soccer Federation, which keeps the playing fields in lamentable conditions and refuses to consider including athletes who are on their own in foreign leagues.

In the end, the blame always ends up pointing toward that dark zone from which the instructions come down for the sports authorities, that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not they have intentions of carrying out the essential reforms to save the sport, because they don’t determine anything.

 Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Are Those Painful Years Returning?

Liván Hernández and his brother Orlando ’El Duque’ Hernández.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 15 April 2019 — The documentary Brothers in Exile rings true these days in a way that we might find regrettable, because it presents the 1990s, the so-called Special Period in Cuba, along with the desire to play in the best baseball in the world, which led many Cuban players to escape from the country in any way they could.

The first to open the door to the Major Leagues at the beginning of the decade was René Arocha, but then there was the spectacular case of the two brothers, both pitchers, Orlando and Liván Hernández. Their story shocked fans and was picked up in this 2014 film, co-produced by ESPN Films and MLB Productions, directed by the Puerto Rican Mario Díaz.

It is a kind of fairy tale that does not seem to be taken from real life: two exceptional athletes who overcome the most hostile circumstances and end up rewarded with glory and fortune. But this beautiful fable was made possible by that trafficking of athletes that the recently canceled agreement between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cuban Baseball Federation aimed to eradicate. continue reading

Liván Hernández dreamed since he was 13 years old of playing in the Major Leagues in the United States, but only the hardships and humiliations of the time drove him to leave the Cuban team when it played in Mexico. Joe Cubas, the famous sports agent, was the architect of the process that ended in a young Livan signing a contract with the Florida Marlins in February 1996.

His brother, ten years older, the most valuable pitcher in the country in those days and one of the most brilliant in the history of Cuban baseball, Orlando El Duque Hernández, was expelled from the sport and even banned from entering the stadiums. The police harassed him at his home and mocked him: “You’re nobody anymore.” El Duque devoted himself to playing street ball, wearing the Yankees shirt that someone had given him.

Meanwhile, after an uncertain start, Livan had a dazzling year in 1997, won the World Series with the Marlins and was named that year’s MVP. El Duque, who followed his success from the purgatory to which he had been condemned by Cuban sports authorities, decided he would also leave Cuba at Christmas that year.

It was a dangerous adventure that turned out well, thanks to chance and to the skills of Joe Cubas. “If I had to do it again, I would not do it, what I experienced was more than enough,” confesses El Duque in the documentary. The rest is legend. From 1998 he was a three-time consecutive champion in the World Series with the New York Yankees. In 2005, he was crowned again playing for the Chicago White Sox.

Joe Cubas had glimpsed a promise of fortune when he saw Arocha’s contract with the Major Leagues. His masterful move was to take the players to a third country to be considered free agents. His parents had fled the Revolution and now he, as an agent, was pleased with an activity that displeased Fidel Castro, and one that, above all, earned him a lot of money.

Unfortunately, the ’escape’ from a third country to the United States was the mandatory path for many players who have pursued the dream of playing in the best baseball on the planet and being free citizens. But this documentary does not exalt that tricky road, quite the opposite. “As a Latino filmmaker, I hope that the Brothers in Exile will have a human impact, cutting through the paralysis that has characterized relations between the United States and Cuba for decades,” said the director.

Today, the Cuban official press attacks the “unjustifiable” political intentions with which Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and John Bolton have frustrated the agreement [between Cuba and the United States to allow Cuban players to play in the US without ’defecting’], but never alludes to the role played by sports and political authorities in the situation that leads to our players choosing such a dangerous path to escape from the power of the Cuban authorities and fulfill their dreams.

Now, the new president of Cuba’s National Institute of Sports (Inder), Osvaldo Vento, has announced loudly: “We are going to fill the country with the equipment and ballparks for the practice of baseball and, if specialists are missing, we will look for volunteer activists.” But, even with equipment, ballparks and coaches, not much will be achieved, considering the new great crisis into which the country is now entering.

“Attacks with political motivation against the agreement harmed the athletes, their families and the fans,” says the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB). But many believe these authorities have the opportunity to demonstrate, at this moment, the moral superiority they brag of. They should simply renounce the profits and pave the way for each player to play independently for the Major Leagues.

Some formula must be found so that, leaving the Government out of the equation, the agreement can go forward, because without it there looms a new era of despair and uncontrollable diaspora for Cuban baseball, today, and the painful years that resulted in the story told in Brothers in Exile could be repeated today.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Students and the Elephant

We might think that the little ones are not much affected by the incessant ideological programming, because childhood innocence is stronger than all that absurd talk. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, May 2 2019 — There are many images of Cuba from the last 60 years that are shocking even for those who have grown up in it and should have already gotten used to it. But it is not easy to get used to those images that have something unnatural about them. One of the worst is that of primary school children who participate in acts of repudiation or in its light variant, the multitudinous political parades.

Or in a simulation of those types of marches in which the students, led by the principal and the teachers, leave the school for the street as a unit — carrying posters, disguised as workers and chanting slogans — they go around the block and they go back to school.

If one asks a ten-year-old what the Constitution is, or what the Helms-Burton Act is, what socialism or empire are, she almost most certainly has no idea or just repeats some explanatory phrase that has been instilled in her, and then continues to play without the slightest concern. continue reading

We might think that the little ones are not much affected by the incessant ideological programming, because childhood innocence is stronger than all that absurd talk. But when they grow up, the effects of long training can be seen: the double standard, learned helplessness, the Stockholm syndrome, all those Cuban ills of the last half century.

Although they don’t end up being the androids that the master plan intended them to be, at least many of them, automatons of absolute obedience, they do turn out to be fakers, who privately curse the government and then, to avoid standing out, march in the parade in the Plaza of the Revolution on May 1st.

As their teachers did in the past when they were children, the children follow their teachers without knowing the real significance of the empty words. But it doesn’t matter any more: they are words only food for being spoken, but not for being assumed. The children repeat, as their educators do, Fidel Castro’s concept of revolution as a series of confusing terms with no connection to reality.

Just words whose significance we find in no dictionary. Nobody knows what it means exactly to want to say, “change everything that should be changed,” “revolution is never lying,” or “I am Fidel.” And not even the teachers who are repeating it can rationally explain the school slogan, “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che!”

Because you do not have to think about the meaning of any slogan. Just repeat it or carry it written on a poster. “I am Fidel” means, let’s face the contradiction, that Fidel Castro is God and therefore I can never be like him. But religious dogmas are not reasonable.

If there is a crisis of values, it does not matter. What can not be manifested is an ideological crisis. Thus, in the face of moral misery, the Government intends that the family share with the school the role of training and developing the students, even though what families and schools share most specifically is a serious lack of civility.

And yet, parents can not teach the child anything that contradicts the dogmas of the Castroite Church. In fact, instruction by the State is mandatory and parents can not educate their children at home. In Guantánamo province, a few days ago, two pastors were sentenced to prison for practicing homeschooling and acting against “the correct formation” of their children.

The Cuban educational system is not designed to train free and independent citizens, but to manufacture docile individuals. Teachers may be missing, classrooms may be very damaged and parents will have to help out the school in many aspects, but what can never fail is the revolutionary catechism and the cult of the immortal Commander in Chief.

Even when the student goes to university, and even when he graduates and practices teaching, he must continue to obey and avoid any independent attitude. The student Karla Pérez was a member of the opposition movement Somos+, and the and the teacher Dalila Rodríguez was not engaged in activism but she was the daughter of a defender religious rights, Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso and a friend of the pastor Mario Félix Lleonar.

Many years ago the writer Slawomir Mrozek published, in Communist Poland, the story “The Elephant,” about a teacher who, after explaining in detail what that animal was like, took his students to the zoo to see one face to face.

But the people in charge of the zoo — to save money and taking into account that the heavy animal moved very litte — decided to buy an inflatable one. When the students came to see a “real elephant,” suddenly the wind blew and carried the big animal across the sky as if it were a balloon. The trauma they experienced changed those children’s lives

The elementary students who performed that mockery of a march for May Day would not have been so disappointed. They already know very well that what they say and make them say in school has very little to do with reality.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Impossible Agreement

Higinio Vélez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, signing the agreement with the MLB of the United States. (FCBA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 9 April 2019 — It was expected that Donald Trump’s administration would cancel the agreement that the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) and Major League Baseball (MLB) authorities had achieved. As soon as it was signed last December, Senator Marco Rubio announced that he would act to undo it. Honestly, it didn’t take much effort to achieve that.

Passions aside, the heart of the matter is that, according to the laws of the US embargo, MLB teams can not pay any amount of money to the Cuban government. Although the Obama administration had considered the FCB as a non-governmental organization, for the Trump administration it is one more pro-government institution.

When the agreement was signed, its two weakest points became immediately evident. The first is that the FCB, to legitimize its agreement with MLB, tries to compare itself with the Japanese Baseball League, the Chinese Professional Baseball League and the Korean Baseball Organization, which are private entities, independent of their governments. continue reading

On Cuban television, Higinio Vélez, president of the FCB, used two arguments that prove nothing at all to demonstrate that his organization is, in effect, nongovernmental: First, that the FCB “has existed for some years,” and second, that “it is recognized by organizations such as the World Baseball and Softball Federation, the Pan-American Baseball Confederation and other international institutions related to this sport.”

The other weak point is the clause allows that the FCB to charge a percentage for releasing each player and for the training given to him. For this, a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control — an arm of the Department of the Treasury of the United States — is required, which the Trump Government will not allow.

The FCB claims to be a non-governmental association. In other words, the same as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women, which the Cuban government itself created but insists are part of civil society. However, the fact is that the FCB belongs to the National Institute of Sports and Recreation, whose presidency has just been changed by a decree of the Council of State. As a picturesque note, it must be added that the second in command of the FCB is Antonio Castro, son of the late Fidel Castro.

In the declaration of the Cuban entity with regards to the cancellation of the Agreement condemns the actions of Marco Rubio and US National Security Advisor John Bolton, along with the politicization that has been made of this sports agreement “mostly supported by both Cuban and American societies,” but the government of Cuban’s neighbor to the north is not interested in “the welfare and tranquility of the Cuban family.”

In fact, the FCB is trying to convince us, the main reason it signed the pact was to protect our players from human trafficking, the risks of illegal emigration and the “humiliating and discriminatory treatment of which they have been victims” previously.

To demonstrate its goodwill, the Cuban federation had accepted the return to the national baseball team of Yuniesky Riquimbili Betancourt, for many years considered a deserter, who returned after participating in foreign leagues in Mexico, Japan and the United States, where he played nine seasons and, he confessed, was able to realize his dream of proving himself in the best baseball in the world.

Almost at the same time of Betancourt’s arrival in Cuba, Victor Labrada departed, the first player to turn his back on the agreement, a few days ago, unconcerned about the possibility of spending two years without being able to sign a contract with MLB teams, or perhaps anticipating that this arrangement with Major Leagues did not have much future, as has just been demonstrated.

Labrada did not wait to be “liberated” by FCB. He had been chosen among the most outstanding youth athletes of 2018 and captained last year’s Cuban team to the Pan American Under 18. In the last National Series, Labrada grabbed attention when he hit a home run in the first at-bat of his career and finished with a .350 average. However, he preferred to strike out on his own and left legally for Haiti.

At the moment, everything will continue as it was before: every Cuban player, in order to play under the “Grand Tent,” will need a specific license from the US Department of the Treasury. In fact, it sounds absurd that the FCB seriously believed in the possibility that, had the agreement survived, it would be the organization mediating between each player and the team that wanted to hire him.

More absurd, and very cynical, it sounds like the Cuban sports authorities are trying to make us believe that they are really worried about the fate of our players in their dangerous adventure of finding a place in the best baseball in the world.

If they care so much about the players, they could pave the way for them by waiving the right to collect any percentage as a “nongovernmental organization, letting each one sign the contract that they get and, even more, allowing the creation of a truly independent union that looks after the interests of the players, because, as we know well, the FCB, whatever it says, has never dedicated itself to defending them.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Lumberjacks Achieve the Throne of the National Baseball Series

The champions, Las Tunas, already have to start preparations to go to battle in the Caribbean Series in Barquisimeto. (Granma/Ricardo López Hevia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 18 January 2019 — With four victories against one loss in the final, the Las Tunas team has just made their debut at the top of Cuban baseball against the orange Leopards who neither gave nor asked for a truce, and won 9-4 in the third encounter and lost by scores of 13-6 , 8-4, 7-5 and 8-4, in the first, second, fourth and fifth games, respectively.

After prevailing in their home at Mella stadium, the Lumberjacks arrived at Sandino stadium where the public pondered the defeat. After the start of the duel, Freddy Asiel Álvarez vs. Yoanni Yera, and an inning in which the Tuneros scored four runs against the orange starter, he righted himself and his teammates made a historic comeback. Afterwards Pablo Guillén ended things, striking out six of the ten men he faced to seal the victory. continue reading

The second game in Santa Clara was eminently tactical, with many emotions and controversial decisions. Alain Sánchez and Leandro Martínez started and again the Leopards fought hard, but the lockdown pitching by Yudier Rodríguez and Yoelkis Cruz — the great starters converted by wise decision into great closers — allowed the success that put the home team on the edge of elimination.

The final match at the Sandino was worthy of the grand final. If the Leopards opened by biting fast, the Lumberjacks used that deadly method that has become their hallmark: the epic comebacks every time the opponent takes the lead. The hero of the game, Jorge Johnson, defined the triumph driving in a run in the seventh to make the score 5-4, but, just in case, in the ninth he connected with the hit of the championship, a three run homer. Although Villa Clara threatened by loading the bases with one out, they could not pull it off.

The 39-year-old veteran Yoelkis Cruz-who participated in all five and saved four games- again shone in closing with the victory going to Yadián Martínez, who was credited with the last two wins in Las Tunas.

Although with their gold medal Las Tunas fulfilled the predicitions of many throughout the season, they also broke the supposed curse that the leader in the qualifying round never wins the championship in the end. Either way, this crown is the greatest collective sports success in the 42-year history of the province.

That’s what the “family-team” of manager Pablo Civil was aiming for since he took the field on August 9 to fight for each game as if it were the decisive one, with cohesion and function in all aspects, fast and powerful, where even the last man could be the first, without improvisation, with a heart called Danel Castro (“Without Danel there is no championship!”, the Tuneran fans shouted and sang from the beginning) and a captain like Yosvani Alarcón.

The designated hitter, who is as old as his province, was joyful: “This is big, big, I was a champion with Villa Cara, but with Las Tunas it’s something else. It was what I was dreaming about for my sports career. Now I am enjoying this and we will see what happens next year. I’ll have to think about whether I’ll retire or not. ”

For their part, the Sugarmakers returned along with their leopard mascot to the elite of Cuban baseball, improving with silver medal from their eighth place finish in the previous series and thus achieving its tenth subtitle in the national classic. Eduardo Paret could not make a better debut. Sancti Spíritus, bronze, deserves the most repeated praise.

While the statistics speak for themselves, they do not sufficiently explain the crown for Las Tunas. Although their success was seen coming since 2017, it is based on  very long, patient and focused work, which began prior to Pablo Civil and his excellent body of physical trainers. Suffice it to remember that Ermidelio Urrutia, who played with them, and later managed them also feels happy today with this laurel.

Along the way back to their home territorry, the Lumberjacks have been cheered by admiring crowds, including by their recently defeated Villa Clara and Avilanian rivals. In Camagüey, of course, the celebration was huge, since Dariel Góngora and Alexander Ayala are from there, two of the architects of the triumph. In Las Tunas, of course, who knows how long the fun and madness will last.

But the athletes can’t celebrate too much, because after a short break, they have to start preparing to go to battle in the Caribbean Series in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, between February 2 and 8, against Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic and the hosts. Some hope that Las Tunas, reinforced with other good players from the championship series, will help raise at this time the self-esteem of the depressed nature of our national baseball.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Salvador Redonet, a Teacher Outside the Mainstream

Salvador Redonet dedicated a good part of his research to the narrative of Cuban youth. (Margarita Mateo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 30 December 2018  — When he died 20 years ago, barely over 50, Salvador Redonet was younger than many of his protégés at that time and many beginning writers that he made known. Almost all those “newest ones” that he promoted so tirelessly are as old or older than he was when he died. But for all of them the teacher is still second to none.

Salvador Redonet Cook was anything but a typical academic. His friend and colleague Margarita Mateo has spoken about his rejoicing when someone was surprised because he had quoted the lyrics of a popular song in an analysis of a Cuban short story and accused him of “mixing semiotics with chatter.” The humble Dr. Redonet was not ashamed to live in Buena Vista.

As a critic and literary researcher, he did not leave an extensive work, unfortunately, although he published several anthologies and wrote countless prologues and essays on the work of narrators whom nobody knew, to which he gave the wide — and later much discussed — denomination of the “novísimos (newest),” after years of traveling workshops and literary events throughout the island’s provinces. continue reading

Although he claimed very seriously that he “lived from the story,” and Vivir del cuento was a title of his, El Redo, as everyone called him, actually lived for the story, to study, x-ray, criticize, systematize and reveal the life of that multiform and little studied creature, the Cuban story. He delved so deeply in his investigation that he brought to light a whole generation of storytellers who changed the face of the controversial literature of the Revolution.

The “novísimos” brought, more than a breath of fresh air, a great slap in the face: the tremendous revelation that, under the triumphalist and hypocritical disguise of all that epic narrative that glorified the heroes who had drowned in the heat of History with a capital H, there was a vast raw reality, cruel and even dark, where people struggled desperately to survive far removed from the mythical “New Man” and the obedient android produced in series.

Already in life, El Redo had become a kind of legend in the School of Letters. The most rigorous and entertaining of teachers. The ‘marginal’ PhD. Alejandro Álvarez Bernal describes his astonishment when he saw a skinny black man with soft manners come into the classroom with a gold tooth. One only has to remember that his kindness, his wisdom and his honesty were able to survive, and even to infect others, in the intellectual and academic environment of those dreary years.

It is impossible to say too little of the chaotic, black, poor, gay and stubborn grandmaster, who made everyone feel special and appreciated from his enormous heart, which grew so much, literally, that it killed him in the end.

His library was a small platform at the bottom of the humble house where he lived and, according Angel Santiesteban, as it was behind a tenement, the neighbors, when they were playing dominoes and discovered the light on in his ‘library’, tried to speak softly because “the teacher is studying.”

A researcher of stories, he had an aura of a thousand stories, anecdotes and funny sayings behind him. There were those who claimed that, although he could ordinarily could appear drunk — he spoke brokenly and moved erratically — when he drank he became more and more sober, until he reached the supreme lucidity that characterized him.

Some of us remember how, after one of the strokes that he suffered, going through therapy in which he had to relearn many things, such as the domain of speech, El Redo tried to convince the doctors that, if he could not pinpoint what things were, north and south or right and left, it was not because he had not yet recovered his cognitive capacity, but because he had never been trained in such complicated data.

Ronaldo Menéndez remembers him as “negrito humibrí.” Álvarez Bernal as a kind of Juan de Mairena, that teacher created by Antonio Machado who was his favorite character. To everyone, he was the best of friends and the owner of the judgment that could not be appealed, but he also avoided a focus on himself because there was always something else more important.

One of the many merits of Salvador Redonet was to have been one of the scholars who most brought to light Virgilio Piñera when he was still kept in the shade. And the importance that this writer had for what happened in Cuban literature from those early ’90s will never be overestimated, while the country plunged into the abyss of socialist failure.

Ena Lucía Portela, José Miguel Sánchez (Yoss), Daniel Díaz Mantilla, Raúl Aguiar, Karla Suárez, Rolando Sánchez Mejías, Rogelio Saunders, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Jorge Alberto Aguiar, Ricardo Arrieta, Amir Valle, Alberto Garrido… It is impossible to remember every one of the writers who began publishing in that dark decade and who were somehow discovered or promoted by him.

But that noble work was not his only obsession, the fever that made everything turn pale for him. Ronaldo Menéndez tells how he surprised him once when he confessed: “Look, mine are Miguel Hernández, Antonio Machado, Dostoyevsky … The newest ones are to entertain me.”

Today there is a literary workshop, a university chair, a library with his name. But, as Luis Marimón wrote, “I regret it viscerally for the students who will not have the opportunity to know the lean body and the feverish agitation of Salvador Redonet.”

In spite of his narrative passion and, like academia, his narrative structure, El Redo got to perpetrate poems and even received mentions in poetry contests. When Dennys Matos reminded him, surprised, the teacher shrugged his shoulders: “Nobody is perfect,” he replied.

As someone has already noted with regret, he, who wrote the verse I always arrived late everywhere, was the first to leave. But, speaking one day about “transcendence,” El Redo insisted that some friends will “remember me while they live.”

And we do, Redo.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

14ymedio Faces of 2018: Young Ball Player Leaves His Future Behind to Return to Cuba

The seventeen-year-old boy chose to abandon his dream just as it was about to come true and returned to his small town of Batey Colorado. (YouTube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 10 October 2018 – The pitcher Roberto Hernández Navarro broke his contract with the Cleveland Indians for a chance to join the Sancti Spíritus Roosters. In an example of truth being stranger than fiction, the seventeen-year-old boy chose to abandon his dream just as it was about to come true and returned to his small town of Batey Colorado.

At age fifteen, after playing in a game in which the Cuba’s national youth team beat its U.S. rival at the Pan American Games, Hernández Navarro decided to help his family. With his sights set on the Big Top, he legally left the country with his father, traveled to the Dominican Republic and spent a year and three months training in the provincial capital of Bonao.

“The scouts saw me, followed me, did speed tests, took videos, saw my results and signed me with the Cleveland Indians,” says the pitcher. With a $320,000 contract the plan was to develop him and get him into the Major Leagues as soon as possible. They even compared it with José Fernández. continue reading

More than thirty Cuban ball players have returned home because they were not offered a contract or because the adventure did not turn out as they had hoped. But that was not the case with Hernández Navarro, who was able to enroll in the Chiki Mejías Baseball Academy, where he received proper nutrition, lodging and daily training.

He even played a season in the Dominican Republic and earned a spot in the All-Stars. “In that game I pitched four times in one inning. That’s incredible there. In Cuba I was pitching at ninety miles. Ninety to ninety-two.” After signing his contract, the prospects were simply spectacular.

But not having anyone to talk about his achievements at the end of the day was hard. He missed his family, especially his grandmother, who had always been very supportive, and his little brother. He longed to hear the river, play dominos, go where he wanted. “There’s no place else with freedom like Cuba,” he now says in an interview.

Roberto Hernández met with the team’s management and explained his situation. Contrary to what he was expecting, they let him keep the money and only advised him to take care of his arm and to continue playing baseball in Cuba because he had a great future. His return home was very emotional.

Also contrary to what he was expecting, Cuban baseball officials have let him train in their facilities, have not chastised him for anything and will very likely allow him to join the Roosters, who have had a difficult season and would benefit from the addition of a pitcher like him.

What has been almost impossible is convincing people he is not crazy for turning his back on fame and fortune. “I cannot get into their heads and open their minds,” he says, although he understands. He admits too would think the same thing if he had not “had to face reality,” did not know himself so well and had not decided to take this difficult step backward.

But it is not easy for many to respect his decision. Some feel he is too young and will later regret it, or that he will leave baseball. They believe a high performance athlete must make sacrifices and does not have time to swim in the river, play dominoes, spend time with family or go for a walk whenever he wants.

Others say that, though he came back with a third of a million dollars, it will not last forever. They question if he will feel the same way after the sport’s bosses take their cut and family expenses take their toll. He also still does not know what the life of a high-level Cuban player is like.

To other fans the case of Hernández Navarro is just an exception that proves the rule. There are many players still willing to try their luck in the big leagues and, until current conditions change, those who are successful will not return to Cuba, where they would not even be able play for the national team.

Some people think that a boy who is unwilling to sacrifice everything for a big league career simply does not have enough ambition to be a ball player. Others believe that, if Robertico — as they call him — had been the son of a Victor Mesa or a Lourdes Gurriel rather than a humble Cuban, his destiny would have been different.

Many laugh at his claim about freedom in Cuba but still want him to be happy after reality sets in and he has a change heart. Or when his son one day criticizes him for having condemned them to life in a country with no future.

In any event, the worst aspect of this odd case is the official statements. Robertico has done well in deciding what he thinks is best, but it is disheartening to see TV journalist Reinaldo Taladrid blaming the US embargo on the current relationship between Cubans in the Major Leagues and the authorities here.

Even more disconcerting is how this “great connoisseur” of baseball defends “a human being’s sacrosanct right to personal freedom to live where he most wants.” How nice that would be…

See also: 14ymedio Faces of 2018

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Exodus in Cuban Chess

Leinier Domínguez, who currently lives abroad, was expelled from the Cuban national team this spring. (Baku World Cup 2015/Susan Polgar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana | 17 September 2018 — The last movements in Cuban chess have been three great escapes—in consecutive years, Yuniesky Quesada, Leinier Domínguez and Lázaro Bruzón—something that could be called the “American exit.” The game is in check, but in reality it is in keeping with the logic of all Cuban sports, where emigration and decline don’t stop.

That the official declaration announcing his expulsion from the national squad contained lies, as Bruzón claimed, is nothing new. “A fabricated note to make them look like heroes and me like a villain,” wrote the chess player from Las Tunas in his response to the National Chess Commission. Rather, it’s normal that the authorities lie about their own responsibility and denigrate the athletes. continue reading

Bruzón wonders where these words full of “negativity and hate” came from. The higher-ups only know how to throw trash onto the lower floors, in INDER (The National Institute of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation) and in the whole community. It seems that they have no other methods. The athletes who decide to emigrate are, for the bosses, deserting soldiers, not people who want to make a change in their lives.

The expulsions of the three best current Cuban chess players—among the most notable in Latin America—is a devastating blow for national chess. It is even the end of a kind of myth, of a pleasant legend: the rivalry between Leinier Domínguez, from Güines, and Lázaro Bruzón, from Las Tunas, has come to its end, at least inside the country.

Born a year apart—Bruzón in 1982 and Domínguez in 1983—the two were friends since childhood, when they threw themselves into the tough dream of triumphing in the world of chess. Soon they began to receive laurels in Cuba and abroad, and they passed from FIDE Masters and International Masters to become Grand Masters. 2002 was the year of the takeoff of the two friends and rivals. Fifteen years later, the one from Güines settled in the United States. Now the one from Las Tunas is doing it. The dream was lovely while it lasted.

But this “American exit” is not exclusive to the three best. Even as of several years earlier, the United States had become the destination for other good Cuban chess players. In fact, that country is the one that has received the greatest number of these born here in the 21st century so far, and there are already several Cuban Grand Masters in the American ELO ranking.

However, it’s not only there that the exodus of our chess players is aimed. In the field of this sport in the world, more than a few who manage to change their national federation, but it is notable that, for example, in 2014 alone, of the 37 transfers approved by FIDE, five were of Cuban players. Currently, in addition to the United States, dozens of Cubans compete in countries like Ecuador, Paraguay, or Colombia.

The authorities brag that they are continuing to train chess players, but it’s clear that, despite a lot of talent, the new ones don’t end up being included in the elite. This sport is in check, on the verge of checkmate. Unless those above—those always worried more about themselves than about the athletes, and who believe themselves more important than them, although they live off of them—adopt a more realistic attitude.

In chess it is easier—in comparison with other sports—to allow athletes to compete for Cuba even though they live in other countries. They must come up with a solution more or less like this. There is no other path. And they need to do everything possible so that the most promising chess players can raise their ELO. Is it so difficult to offer them internet service, essential for them, which the Government provides to any mediocrity?

The board speaks clearly: there are no more moves and time is up.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Rafael Alcides: The Great Poet Of The Cuban ‘Insilio’

The ashes of Alcides will be scattered in the river of his native Barrancas, in Bayamo, where everything started. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 21 June 2018 — His voice amazed me the first time I heard it, when he had just turned 80. A voice grave and smooth at the same time, a voice I no longer remembered from his years on the radio. A mariner’s voice perhaps, someone who has traveled other worlds and has a lot to tell, but does not want to amaze anyone, much less overwhelm them with his stories. A voice from someone much younger and, at the same time, an old voice, coming from a mythical and remote era of certainties.

Although I had read his poetry and shared it with several friends, I never spoke with him. I admired him from afar and knew him to be a good man, what is called a man of integrity. What’s more, we lived relatively close for many decades. But it never happened, although I always had the vague certainty that one day I would meet him. That’s why, when I read the fatal words of the news, I could not help but feel that with his death, in some way, I had lost a friend. continue reading

I suppose that it is easy for those who have read him to feel that they have talked with him. Not because of his “colloquial” poetry, but because ultimately all poetry is conversation, although almost always with oneself or with the intimate demon. In Alcides’ poems one feels, in reality, a colloquium with the reader, as if each verse were written to be replicated in a long exchange of intuitions, fears and memories.

For nothing is further from him than the pose of an old teacher who knows some clues, who has learned to deal with short life and endless art. “Life has taught me that suddenly the wave of the days changes your program,” he said ten years ago in an interview for Consenso magazine. “I limit myself to being ready for what may come,” he said, demonstrating that, in spite of himself, he was that: an old teacher who could give us, more than a poetic art, an art of living.

An art of living as poetry. The voice of his poems flows directly from the common man who hurts and dreams, from the untamed citizen who does not use words as a spell or as a subjective construction, but as a lever to move a truth, as a magnetic guide, as a bridge to reach what is farthest from here and now. And all with a breath more transparent than the air of his native Barrancas or a quiet Havana morning.

“From good seeds he made bad harvests, in the name of freedom he surrounded us with wire, and he added guards and bloodhounds. In everything, he was the same. With real words he composed a great lie,” Alcides tells us, alarmed by Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague, and who suffered – without being indirectly implicated – the effects of the Padilla case and could not publish anything between 1967 and 1984.

Finally, regardless of whether the commissars wanted to publish him or not, he decided to step away from the literary world, specifying that he would only be published in Cuba when his books could appear before the public along with the authors that the Castro regime has banned for more than half a century. But he kept writing, as if nothing was happening.

In 2013, at Estado de Sats, when he had just turned 80, I heard him read. Alcides had not offered a solo poetry recital for 20 years: “All of us here are exiled, all of us, those who left and those who stayed, and there are no words in the language or movies in the world, to make the accusation: millions of mutilated beings exchanging kisses, memories and sighs over the sea.”

“The future in Cuba is already passed. It is sad, a country where the future has already passed, the future of this Government, which we live under now, because life is now,” he said. But he was not pessimistic or cynical, because he saw that everything, before being real, has been a dream, because always “we let a dream fly and we chase it, that’s why we have to dream and then the realization of the dream comes,” but we can not lose the opportunity, because “there are trains that, if they go by, they are gone.”

Alcides did not have a mysterious creed. For him, the poet’s mission was obvious: “witness today and announce tomorrow.” So he did, assuming insilio* not as a title of nobility, but as a humble daily task, as his own choice and simple destination, but accompanied and loved by those who cared for him, and respected and admired even by those who did not know him.

It is better that the official press did not mention his death. That grave and slow voice did not cry out in the desert: “Where are we, Lord. Where in the world have we lost ourselves? Where do these boiling waters come from? What was made of that pair of incurable children who believed in the prophecies, who still believe, and who went out very proudly on the morning of their day to found the whitest city without knowing that they founded a prison?”

His ashes will be scattered in the river of his native Barrancas, there in Bayamo, where everything started. His voice will continue to sound, smooth and firm, long after the end of the long and dark chapter that tried to silence him, of this seemingly endless exile for all those from over there and those from over here. The empty and turbulent voices of today will be silent one day and we will continue to hear the fluvial and austere voice of Rafael Alcides, like an old sailor who does not want to overwhelm us with his certainties.

*Translator’s note: From ‘exilio’ (exile), Alcides chose to call himself an ‘insilio’, (‘insile’) – exiled from his country without having left it.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Is the King Returning to a Lost Kingdom?

Rey Vicente Anglada agrees to return to the Industriales after a lot of pressure from the authorities. (Prens Latina)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 1 June 2018 — Until just a few days ago, the situation of Industriales, one of the two baseball teams based in Havana, was similar to that of a year ago: the players began to train for the National Series without a manager. At that time, the options were Guillermo Carmona and Víctor Mesa, among a thousand rumors that no official voice silenced.

In an interview, Rey Vicente Anglada criticized that situation, which was harmful for the players. “I am absolutely against these barbarities.” To the question of whether he would be willing to return to the helm of the team, he was blunt: “I have been called several times and I always say that I will help but I will not take charge. Over my dead body would I return to managing the National Series”. continue reading

Now, after the sudden resignation of Víctor Mesa, several names were being shuffled again, especially that of Carlos Tabares, former captain of the Industrials, the “Blues.” Anglada, questioned again and again, repeated his sharp refusal. But suddenly, on Monday, the news broke: the return of the Lion King was official. The Industrialists could finally say habemus papam, since the “cardinals” had already decided.

After a 10-year absence, and after much insistence from the authorities, the mythical second baseman and successful manager returns. “We had long conversations, we met with the leaders of the Government and the Party and they raised the need for me to lead the team, especially for the 500th anniversary of the city, and we reached an agreement: I would assume that responsibility, but only for a season.”

Now 65, Rey Anglada, played for 10 seasons until he was 29, with explosiveness, intelligence and magic hands for defense. Apart from his excellent results, curiously, he was the first to use an aluminum bat in Cuban baseball — February 20, 1977 — and he has the speed record on return to the box.

In the early 80’s, scandalously, he was sentenced to prison for a crime never proven by anyone or accepted by him: selling a baseball game. It is difficult to find a comparable injustice against another Cuban athlete, but no authority has ever acknowledged the error in public. For the fans of the country his innocence is out of the question.

Reborn from his own ashes, Anglada returned to the Industriales and, for 7 seasons, guided them to winning 3 crowns and a division title. He took the gold with the national team in the Central American Games of Cartagena 2006 and the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro 2007. Winner of the second most titles with the Lions, after Ramón Carneado (who won 4), he is among the dozen Cuban players who were champions when they played — after starting on the team at 19 he won that same year — and also managing.

The return of the legendary Lion has raised the spirits of many fans a little, and even of their rivals, in the midst of some baseball happenings that reflect the decline of the national sport, especially the absurd Special Series, a phantom impossible to believe, even if he only serves to choose the few who have to complete the Cuba team.

The recent series has also not been very stimulating, despite some highlights. Following in the footsteps of the Las Tunas team, the Leñadores, heroic winners last season, the young players have managed to make their debut in the playoffs with Edilse Silva and now they will face the Alazanes, from Granma province, who are also following in the wake of their elders.

Unfortunately, the organizers have returned to the blunder when planning the 3 games — to win 2 — at home for the Alzanes, a flagrant iniquity for the disciples of Silva and for the fans of Las Tunas, who dream of playing the championship in the eastern zone.

In the west, although the recent flooding has interfered with playing the full series, and in Cienfuegos — the best team of the tournament, with a 28-9 record — they are waiting for the opponent that will be among the teams of Isla de la Juventud, Matanzas and Pinar del Río, still with a dozen games to dispute.

Thus, whatever the result, no winner of the four previous tournaments will be able to repeat and there will be a new champion, which will not be Artemis, nor Havana, nor Santiago de Cuba, holder of the last two titles.

In the Latin American Stadium the catchers and pitchers of the capital pre-selection have already been training since May 14. On June 4 they will join the other players selected and Rey Vicente Anglada’s delicate mission with his technical team will begin. “Now I will see what we have up close, although the team’s base is the same — six players — as last year, when I was helping Víctor (Mesa),” said the manager.

Despite the bleeding exodus of athletes to other countries and other provinces, Anglada believes that Industriales is still “one of the most complete teams in the country, although its weakest point is pitching.” First of all, the mentor gives them the possibility that Lions in other provinces will return. As for the style of play, he will insist on “speed, good defense and a lot of work with pitching, but above all with enthusiasm and with a lot of desire to go out and win.”

Although the capital fans are happy with the return of the King, some have no illusions about the blue team. The mentor himself clarified, just in case, that he is not a magician. A couple of days ago an Industrialista player said that when another expressed his joy over Anglada’s return, he just shrugged: “But he has no team!”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The ’Vision’ of Antonia Eiriz and The Curse of the Beard

It was not unusual, at that time, that Fidel Castro would occasionally step into some ball game that he ran across in his travels.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 4 January 2018 —  Last year, while the national baseball team was finishing the World Classic with one of its most disastrous international performances, at the Havana Gallery there was an exhibition Cuba in Baseball, by Reynerio Tamayo, which was an inflamed artistic confession that got into the fiery debate about the crisis of this sport.

In addition to playing with the sense of stripping bare the national passion or the passionate nation, Tamayo’s title was a parody of Antonia Eiriz’s Death in Baseball, a 1966 painting that is among the most disturbing, and even enigmatic, that the great artist painted before being censored and marginalized.

In the midst of the colossal media campaign of these past months that tries to demonstrate that Fidel Castro is alive physically and chemically — as his grandson Fidel Antonio Castro Smirnov insists, as he visits every month “the rebellious stone [Fidel Castro’s mausoleum] that teaches and illuminates” — our attention is called to this painter’s picture. continue reading

The Senior Sportsman (one of Fidel Castro’s many monikers) practiced several athletic disciplines and, on taking power, tried to give sports to the masses and destroy professionalism, especially in baseball. Fifty-six years ago, in January 1962, he went down to what was then called the Latin American Stadium to hit the first ball and inaugurate the first National Baseball Series.

It was not unusual, at that time, that the One — as his friends called him — would occasionally join in some ball game that he ran across in his travels. He would step in and pitch for one of the teams, or both, and, of course, no one dared to contradict his decisions, regardless of the consequences for the game.

In an issue of the magazine Visual Arts: Art Experience New York City, of which he was then editor-in-chief, the critic Ernesto Menéndez-Conde published a short commentary about the article Fidel plays Baseball, which appeared in Cuba magazine in August of 1964 with photos by Lorenzo Rocamora.

Based on one of those photos, with some modifications, writes Menéndez-Conde, Antonia Eiriz painted her canvas. “She eliminated the figure of the photographer who appears at the back and approached the stands around home plate, so that the audience could also be seen.” It is possible to recognize the beard of the leader, even if the face of the batter was abruptly cut off and unfocused on the top margin of the canvas.”

The critic adds that “it was up to the spectator to decide which of the characters could be death: if it is the umpire, with his black uniform and protective mask, that appeared to be an allegorical representation, or the player at the plate who, with his hit, dazzled a crowd of blurred faces and expressions so exalted as to be monstrous.”

Although in Cuba the players don’t tend to wear a mustache or a slight goatee, it is not uncommon to see a bearded player in other leagues today, but in the early ’60’s it must have been very striking to see the bearded ruler spending his time in a baseball game.

In a way, we can see in Eiriz’s Death in Baseball as an augury of that later disaster. Those appearances of the bearded commander on the field — while hand out the maximum penalty for what he considered “slavery baseball” — marked the beginning of a new era whose death throes in the present seem interminable.

Many centuries ago, a ball game was practiced in Mesoamerica very different from the one played today in the continent and beyond, especially since it was, in fact, a complex ritual that sometimes culminated with the sacrifice of the participants. As it was symbolically related to the very cycle of life, the ball game was an important state issue.

That a ruler is involved in the nature of a simple sport, in our time, is the worst thing that can happen to it. In a picturesque way we could talk about the “curse of the beard,” but the fact is, from that time baseball began to stop being a popular entertainment and began to become a serious state issue. The title of the painting was a diagnosis. Death in Baseball, the death of the game.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Nobel Goes to a Street Minstrel / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2016 for creating a new poetic expression within the great tradition of American song. (EFE)
Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2016 for creating a new poetic expression within the great tradition of American song. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 15 October 2016 – Like almost everything related to him, the fact that Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature this Thursday has raised a media dust storm. Some celebrate, others criticize, some mock. The troubadour, regardless of the uproar, continues on his way.

On behalf of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius said that the prize was awarded for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” adding, “Bob Dylan is a great poet. As simple as that. A great poet in the great tradition of English, Milton and Blake forward. ”

A few have complained that the Nobel should have gone to Philip Roth or Don DeLillo, or the novelist Haruki Murakami or Syrian poet Adonis. But the choice of the American singer-songwriter has been a surprise, although nobody was surprised that he had been nominated for years. continue reading

Although he published Tarantula and a part of his autobiography, Dylan is not a prose writer. He is a poet with a guitar. Such diverse writers as Salman Rushdie and Marguerite Yourcenar have always considered him a great poet.

His importance in the musical world has been greatly talked about. His invention of a new type of song, his work as a precursor of rap and hip-hop, his weight in the evolution of rock, his masterful incorporation of various musical genres to form a vast and unclassifiable work. They say he himself complained that “there is no Nobel Prize for music.”

The musician Robert Allen Zimmerman started calling himself Bob Dylan because of his early devotion to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and, as he himself confessed, Jack Kerouac’s poetry inspired him to enter the world of trova.

It was not only the author of On The Road that inspired him, but also other greats of the Beat Generation, such as Neal Cassady, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – the latter of whom accompanied him on tour and at concerts – and who ended up seeing him not as a disciple, but as the generational spokesperson for the turbulent sixties.

Not only were many eminent poets impressed with the deep epic breath or lyrical themes such as Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower and Knockin ‘On Heaven’s Door. For successive generations of songwriters and countless mass audiences, Dylan has been the revealer of unprecedented images, the wizard of golden words.

He has often been compared with Leonard Cohen, recognized as a good storyteller and poet, besides being a great lyricist, but there is significant distance between the scope of the Canadian artist and the American one, beyond the greater quality as a musician of the latter. It is no wonder that Dylan has been the standard raised in so many battles – artistic and otherwise – of the second half of the 20th century, a battle waged with Cohen who has managed to be a less tempting diamond.

Those who would like a Nobelist with more published works don’t acknowledge as such the books collecting the lyrics of Dylan’s songs which generally also appear on the covers of his albums. His lyrics have generated an entire literature – not to mention the writers influenced by them – about their significance, use of language, probable ideology, etc., along with the abundant academic studies of his poetry.

Bob Dylan has been described as a prophet of a new era, social leader, spokesman for the dispossessed, folk idol, rock superstar, example of committed artist, great balladeer of love, counterculture guide and, finally, among other things, as king of the protest song.

He has always been more than a musician, filmmaker or painter, writer or revolutionary of art: a poet in the broadest sense of the word. Free artist par excellence who did not fall into pathos or ridicule, like many during the Cold War, nor did he accept the warmongering violence of revolutionary bullying, and he was not fooled by reactionaries nor seduced by progressives.

Those who venerate the New Cuban Trova and the new Latin American song know that its principal singers owe him an incalculable debt, but they forget that, unlike most of them, Dylan never compromised with tyrants of any stripe. For him, more important than left or right are up and down.

Ultimately, the decisive factor is that Bob Dylan doesn’t need a Nobel Prize. He has several great prizes already, some of which he didn’t even go to collect. Nobody thinks very much about them when they speak of him.

In the European Middle Ages, the troubadours carried the mastersinger, their body of lyric and epic work, through a world without borders, wandering. There is no better way to speak of the work of this man who, although he doesn’t need the money from his concerts, continues on the road.

Although outside the United States his concerts represent a major cultural event, within the country you are as likely to see him at a simple county fair, on a college campus or on an Indian reservation, although he doesn’t go out into public very much. It is as if he would not let his guitar languish for any prize. As if he would not surrender the endless route of the eternal bards.

“He not busy being born is busy dying,” he sings on that endless road that is his only real prize.

Minister Abelito’s Second Go-Round / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Abel Prieto returns to the post of Minister of Culture. (EFE)
Abel Prieto returns to the post of Minister of Culture. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 11 July 2016 — At the end of his first stint as Minister of Culture (1997-2012), comments were frequently heard about Abel Prieto’s desire to leave the job. The most practical said it was due to illness, the most romantic claimed he wanted to devote himself to writing.

Now comes his second stint, and although he holds the job “provisionally,” many artists and intellectuals are already pleased because, to them, Abelito is a good person and they prefer a minister from the profession versus a simple political cadre.

Others, free from these superstitions, consider Prieto more dangerous than Armando Hart and Julian Gonzalez put together, given the great energy and fangs he demonstrated last year in command of the “rapid response brigade” – self-proclaimed as “the real Cuban civil society” – that stormed the Summit of the Americas in Panama to block the peaceful participation of the “anti-Cuban mercenaries.” continue reading

This advisor to Raul Castro has devoted himself in recent years to emphatically warning us about the advances of bad taste, the sexism of the barracks, the lack of ideas and other trashy behaviors, defining them as cultural dangers against our identity and our nation, emanating, of course, from the capitalist hell.

The announcement that Julian Gonzales was “released from the job” was made on Friday the 8th at the end of the Second Plenum of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, before the plenary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Not only was no reason given for such a sudden “release” but not time was taken to do anything more than designate Prieto as provisional minister, with the official media not mentioning the issue since then.

Prieto returns to the franchise that made him a superstar in the Revolution’s show business, but between the two stints he has been a player in significant media performances, like that of the Panama skirmish, with declarations that, if not for his desperate shamelessness, would seem like drunken jokes in game of dominos or crazy antics in the street. For example, he claimed that the Cuban government cannot legalize opposition organizations for the same reason that “Al Qaeda could not be legally registered as an association,” because, in fact, if opposition members weren’t Cubans, “they would be in cages in Guantanamo.”

He also appeared in the recent forum Culture and Nation: the Mystery of Cuba, a miniseries hastily made to counteract the enthusiasm left by the assault – brazenly starring himself – of the US president, and called for a house-by-house fumigation. The “Mystery of Obama” made clear the obsolescence of the Castro catechism, the uselessness of half a century’s anti-Yankee screaming and the poor market for the package of stories about the bogeyman who steals children.

Alarms sounded. Hysteria ensued. Abel Prieto talked about the “cultural and symbolic war,” about the problem of telling the story in “a world where entertainment, pleasure, fragmentation, amnesia, the worship of now, have been turned into pillars of the cultural hegemony industry,” while erecting the cross of “efficient socialism, de-bureaucratized, democratic, that we are creating” (sic).

We imagine his concern as a democratic socialist on talking with people about “open communication with the United States” and finding “innocence, excessive optimism, forgetfulness, childish and uncritical admiration by the superpower and, in some cases, uncontrollable desires to abandon their principles to surrender themselves to arms of Satan.”

Thus, we must put an end to the fallacy that associates “Yankee” with “modern” and with “development,” because “this Yankeephilia idealization is one of the tendencies we must confront in the war of ideas and values that must be fought.”

In the forum mentioned above, Abel Prieto proposed students be ‘vaccinated’ not with Soviet cartoons or Randy Alonso, but as tourist guides with Yankee trash like Oliver Stone and Michael Moore. Also House of Cards would serve as an antidote. And South Park should also be included. And it’s too bad that Noam Chomsky has not made entertaining tapes of his unsurpassed diatribes against his own country.

As for the inevitable “academic exchange with the United States” we have to swallow the mix of “very clear principles” in order to “avoid the glare and small-town positions.” Prieto also warned about the attempt to “foment an enemy fifth column of a new kind, with well-designed and conceived digital publications, social-democratic or ‘centrist’ ornamentation and verbiage full of euphemisms,” all this financed from abroad “in the face of the discredited traditional counterrevolution.”

Although he had to recognize that the new technologies are not to blame, he again hammered home that they serve “as a conduit and catalyst for the avalanche of disintegrating forces,” ones that deny the role of governmental institutions without which “the cultural environment would become a jungle and mediocrity would gain an irreversible preponderance.”

Referring to young people – those who launch themselves on the sea, or go to prison or to the purgatory of the streets – Prieto wants to make us believe, in all seriousness, that we must “feel and live the Revolution in all its historic journey, with passion and depth, and at the same time feeling and living and defending its continuity as the only guarantee of having a country, of having dignity.”

As the press note on the “release” of Julian Gonzalez Toledo contained no more information than the traditional tagline that he has been “assigned other tasks,” the traditional range of speculation immediately arose, including the idea of a supposed campaign to deprive first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel of the cronies who support his clinging to power.

There is another speculation that could have a certain logic. When Julian Gonzalez replaced then Minister of Culture Rafael Bernal Alemany in 2014, it transpired that the latter was ousted because of the outrageous theft of hundreds of pieces of art from the Museo de Bellas Artes, some of which later appeared in Miami. Now, although Gonzalez Toledo is considered “a hard-working and honest functionary,” his superiors are not content with his “lack of leadership,” mentioning again the specter of corruption.

Moreover, there are those who relate this fall to several money scandals featuring the president of the Cuban Music Institute, Orlando Vistel, and other predators of the cultural jungle. But, naturally, there is no official statement that clarifies the matter and reports on it as they should, because making the truth known continues to be seen as giving arms to the enemy.

We Cubans only need the scrapings from Abel Prieto’s brain, as he calls us to “build a digital socialism,” as he reminds us that “the main force for democratization of the new technologies in Cuba, and I believe in the world, is Fidel,” while warning that the market is a “much more terrible [censor] than the worst that existed in the time of Stalin.”

If second acts are never a good thing, in this case the first one wasn’t either. This second stint, however brief it might be and whether we like it or not, comes to save us from Uncle Sam’s cultural poison. Meanwhile, the local chupatintas (pencil-pushers) will continue to protect us from the tropical chupi chupi, from the national vulgarity and the empire’s chupacabras – that mythic animal that wants to suck our blood.

See also:

Abel Prieto Attacks The “Packet” and “Technological Nomadism” / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Abel Prieto’s Travels / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

So Long Minister of Culture Abel Prieto / Yoani Sánchez

El Chupi Chupi and the Dilemma of Limits / Yoani Sánchez

Vulgarity as a Resource (I) / Miriam Celaya

Vulgarity as a Resource (II) / Miriam Celaya

Guilty of Singing El Chupi Chupi / Ernesto Morales Licea

Gourriel Brothers Steal All the Bases / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)
Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 9 February 2016 — Cuban baseball is absolutely astonished at its fall. And to make matters worse after the disaster in the recently concluded Caribbean Series, now brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel Jr. have joined the countless – and almost endless – list of Cuban baseball players who seek a better future outside their country, and in particular in the Major Leagues in the United States.

The news spread so quickly, both inside and outside of Cuba, that even the government media has had to acknowledge it. Of course, the two brothers are branded as deserters, seduced by the juicy deals that are intended to “rob Cuba of the talents it has worked so hard to develop.” An exception was the Havana Channel, which delivered the news without the derogatory adjectives. continue reading

Apparently, the most surprised were Cuba’s baseball managers in Santo Domingo, and even more the herdsmen of State Security, who tried to prevent the morning escape of two valuable captives, absconding to Major League Baseball. Even the ambassador rushed to the Dominican hotel to find out who was to blame for this double flight.

The Cuban government, absolute master of the country’s baseball league, again suffers a great loss, because the two Gourriels would certainly have been among the players to be turned into a source of millions of dollars when, finally, the government would have been able to make an advantageous agreement with the Major Leagues.

The Gourriel clan maintains very close relations with the Raul branch of the Castro clan – Yulieski, it is said, is married to the granddaughter of the general-president, and is a very close friend of Raul’s grandson-cum-bodyguard. So, perhaps those who believe that behind this event there could have been some kind of compromise between to the sides, in order to position themselves vis-à-vis the great baseball to the north, may be right.

The recent meeting with Lourdes Gourriel-the-father, with representatives of the Major Leagues in Miami, reinforces this hypothesis, which would explain the recent rejection by Yulieski Gurriel of a solo contract for three million dollars to play in the Japanese league; something seen as very suspicious by those who closely follow Cuban baseball.

Assumptions or logical deductions aside, it is clear that the Gourriels – especially Yulieski who is already 31 – were not willing to wait until the bridge finally opened between the elite of US baseball and the fiefdom of Cuban baseball, given that, like so many other novelties and reforms, such an opening could be too long delayed, according to the ”Raul principle” of moving to solve problems, “without pause, but without haste.”

A friend who works at the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television tells me about the hue and cry Monday morning when the news broke. “Now the three brothers will meet in the United States, because Yunieski is already in Canada,” someone said. “This is all arranged,” said another, “because the Gourriels are not going to do something like this behind Raul’s back.

Maybe. But many of those who have been allies of, or protected by, the Castro clan have also escaped, both in search of a more comfortable and a more free life or, simply, looking for a new world like so many Cubans scattered not only to the United States but all over the world.

The most natural thing would be to think that this remarkable flight could help the owners of Cuban baseball to undertake a renewal of the “national pastime.” Sports commentators and analysts, along with the “knights” of the Roundtable TV talk show, will criticize the players, the coaches, the technicians and even the commissioners themselves; but never the owners of the league, who will not give it up even when they pretend to do so.

It is clear that they will try to change everything that can be changed* so that everything remains the same. They have not done anything to keep the national series from declining or to keep our teams from sinking into the basement of world or regional baseball. They continue putting make up on the face of this sport, putting up a Victor Mesa or Roger Machado, setting the political police to watch the athletes so they do not escape.

But new star players will always emerge to bring some profit, especially if the Major Leagues finally fall into the old guerrillas’ ambush.

*Translator’s note: “Change everything that needs to be changed” is a throwaway slogan from Cuban Communist Party propaganda.