"Lay Space" Arrives Late But is a Must Read

The last issue of ’Espacio Laical’, which is dated 2018, didn’t arrive until the spring of 2019.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 1 Aptil 2019 — Perhaps to keep us in suspense, as usual, Gustavo Andújar and Jorge Domingo Cuadriello again bring us their magazine, Espacio Laical (Lay Space), at least in its paper edition. But the resource works, because when it finally appears, the accumulated impatience is such that one can not read the new number in one sitting, literally.

However the delay this time is unfortunate, since there are some articles and summaries of panels devoted to the constitutional reform process that happened months ago, that are late. For example, we would have preferred to read, before February 24 — the day of the referendum — or even before the draft became a project in December, the articles with which this number opens and in which two Cuban bishops, Dionisio García Ibáñez and Willy Pino, opine about the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, recently endorsed in a referendum. continue reading

We also regret that the transcription of the panel (by the way, very badly assembled) on the draft constitution that was held on September 28, 2018 at the Padre Félix Varela Cultural Center has not been available to the readers of this magazine. In it two respectable jurists were moderated by one of the most brilliant intellectuals and Cuban politicians of the moment, Julio Antonio Fernández Estrada. As expected, the panelists and the audience itself serve only as an introduction to the frequent interventions of someone who, by its nature, is more likely to need moderators than to moderate. José Antonio is the whole panel, and in fact, we recommend that you save time and just read what he said. It will create dependence.

There is much more of interest in this magazine but I will comment on just two items: The murder of Professor Ramiro Valdes Daussá, by Paul Llabre Raurell, a historian living in Miami; and Aracelio Iglesias: the story, the legend, by the narrator and folklorist Tato Quiñones.

In the first one you will find a narration of the death of Ramiro Valdés Daussá, one of the most interesting characters of the Revolution of the 1930s. Thanks to the thoroughness of the author you will find that there is something more here than the description of a murder that occurred on a distant night in August 1940.

This article is a brief history of the emergence of university gangsterism, el bonche. Remember that in Cuba very little serious historiography has been written about the phenomenon of political gangsterism of the late 30’s and the 40’s and that, in any case, the works of Newton Briones Montoto or Aguilar stand out, but, to make matters worse, the same is the case in the mature phenomenon, from the assumption of the Auténticos to power, not in its very origins under Batista, both as colonel and president.

A very well written work, the author has armed himself with the support of abundant interviews with significant personalities, for example, Antonio Morín Dopico and Mario Salabarría, key actors with Emilio Tro of the Events of Orfila.

There is also, by the way, a brief look at the beginnings of Manolo Castro, the one whose 1948 death some contemporary press blamed on, among others, Fidel Castro who at that time was taking pictures with leather coats and Edward G. Robinson poses.

The second article is part of a controversy. It is the answer to the one published by Newton Briones Montoto in the previous issue of this magazine: The Murder of Aracelio Iglesias: Approaching the Truth.

Article that is somewhat extensive, and that Newton could have reduced to one or two pages, revolving around a campaign of electoral propaganda that seemed to demonstrate the membership of the communist port leader to the Abakuá sect, a topic that has always been a subject of discussion among historians and Cuban politicians for its obvious implications on the consequence or not with which the Cuban Communist Party (PSP) respected its supposed dialectical materialist philosophical bases.

Quinones gives us an admirable work, very documented in interviews with Aracelio’s colleagues, in which he tries to prove otherwise. His key arguments in this case are another flyer, also written in bríkamo (the secret language of the sect), but supporting the Matancera candidacy of the liberal Carlos Miguel de Céspedes, who supposedly was not Abakuá either; and what was said to him by Domingo Cárdenas Valdés, an important member of the ñáñiga sect.

According to this “if they had sworn, Aracelio would have entered into commitments of brotherhood with members of his power that would have put him in the difficult situation of (having to) privilege them over other workers,” which in the long run would have affected the undoubted leadership that he had and retained among Havana dockworkers and Cubans in general.

However, if Quiñones almost convinces us that Aracelio Iglesias did not belong to the ñañiguismo (Abukua secret society), on the other hand he reveals to us that as of 1937 the communist had become a babalawo, with which he puts us back to the theoretical origins of the controversy: the party He did not respect his philosophical principles when doing street politics.

The new installment of Espacio Laical also contains the gloomy predictions for the Cuban fifties of Lourdes de Armas and the positions of the director of the publication, Andújar, on gender ideology. The magazine can be found in the Father Felix Varela Center and is available on the website of Espacio Laical.

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 Result of the Referendum: Reversal or Victory?

With our heads held high, let us recognize that we did not achieve what we set out to do, that the Yes vote won widely. (14y medio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 1 March 2019 – Despite the doubts generated by the data offered by the National Electoral Commission, which include significant changes in the voting rolls and irregularities detected and disseminated by the independent press, it is possible to recognize that the Yes vote exceeded 6 million and would mean between 67% and 70% of the eligible voters validated the new Constitution.

So without a doubt the Yes vote not only did win, but it did by a wide margin. Why did this happen?

Apart from the obvious reasons, such as the impossibility for those of us who advocated for the No vote to bring our reasons to the population while the regime had all the means to do so with its discourse — manipulations and half-truths included — I consider that there are two causes that contributed to a great extent to the result. continue reading

First, that the voters did not see the referendum like we did. For many of them this was not the opportunity to say to the regime Yes, or No. For the voters of the island, what happened was that they were able to say Yes to a Constitution that they perceived as more liberal and that extended the range of their rights. It must be recognized that the new Constitution gives a little more breathing space to those who intend to open, little by little, greater spaces of freedom in Cuba, but it does not matter so much if, in short, it is like that or not, but how our neighbors perceived it .

Secondly, the threat of intervention in Venezuela only served for many Cubans to reactivate the anti-imperialist sentiments that for so long have been part of their imaginanation. In this way it has been possible to bring together a considerable number of voters, probably those over 30 years of age, around a regime that understood that it should reinvent this type of discourse.  Added to this is the damage that was already caused a month earlier by the inopportune (or safe move) threat to intensify the embargo.

For many Cubans, the fall of Venezuela does not necessarily mean the fall of the government of Havana, but only a worsening of their day to day lives. For that reason, not a few of that immense majority of pessimists who maintain that “this regime will not fall” interpreted that it was necessary to show support for the regime, which in turn shored up the Venezuelan teat from which we suck.

From all this we can draw two conclusions.

The first is that the penetration of the internet is not as broad as we thought, or, more clearly, that the cost and the few minutes of connectivity do not allow the majority to use the internet to inform themselves and model their political position, but is only as a means of survival, whether to ask for remittances, manage their departure from the island, or look for a partner abroad that makes their existence in Cuba bearable.

The second is that the opposition discourse still does not reach the Cuban on the island. As I said in The Martian (referring to Jose Marti) Knot of the Opposition and the Exiled, Cubans on the Island are a kind of extraterrestrials species apart from the rest. We live in a society with an interpretation of existence that is alien, and incomprehensible, for other mortals except for the North Koreans.

This vision also works the other way around. The Cubans of the Island, locked in the Castro bubble, also do not understand the discourse from the outside. That is why, when one of us leaves that bubble, be it by emigrating or becoming an opponent, he breaks with it and tries to forget it completely, as is normally the case with anyone who escapes from such enclosures. He also loses the possibility to understand, or being understood by, those who have been left behind.

This explains for us that we have an opposition that speaks a language understandable to an American, Spaniard, Mexican or Peruvian; but that the islander only interprets because he does not understand the content of the message.

We must overcome mental laziness, political self-importance (of which there is much) and even the fear of revisiting our beliefs and feelings of when we lived inside the bubble, something we avoid for fear of being absorbed back into the bubble.

We must develop a discourse of our own, based on our exceptional circumstances, fully understandable to those neighbors we now call bootlickers, lazy bums and other such “niceties.”

We must have concrete proposals, that are not up in the air waiting for Mr. Market and Uncle Sam to get here so that happiness and abundance will ipso facto make their presence.

If we do not do all this we will remain as isolated as we have been until now from those neighbors whose interests at some point we intend to represent, and as the resounding Yes vote to the Constitution shows that we are, because although we accept that the Yes vote was not for the government, it was an outright demonstration of the irrelevance of our discourse and proposals (if there are any) for the absolute majority of the islanders.

What can we do after what has happened?

First of all, do not allow ourselves to be overcome by discouragement, much less by hysteria, which leads to nothing positive.

With our heads held high, let us recognize that we did not achieve what we set out to do, that the Yes vote won easily. Because denying it to a population that knows very well that it voted affirmatively will only serve, at the very least, to distance ourselves from them. Let us understand that the triumph of the Yes vote is not in the long term a triumph of the regime, but that the citizens preferred to say Yes to the changes that it can obtain without peril, given the adverse circumstances.

The referendum gave an opportunity to verify the existence of a broad sector of the population, in general the most educated and cosmopolitan, who want more than what the regime offered; that is to say, there is a will for movement and to see changes, which, in the long run, is fatal for Diaz-Canel’s immobilism, which will not be able to follow in step without breaking at some point with the continuity that it claims to respect.

What is needed is therefore to feed this dynamic.

We must turn to the denunciation of the characteristics of the current Electoral Law and ask that all Cubans be able to vote, regardless of where they live. We must also demand that the new Law be discussed and submitted to a referendum. The main argument must be based on the words of Raúl Castro, who affirmed that in Cuba no important decision should be made without consultations with the people.

If someone expected Castroism to fall this February 25, we had already previously warned that no such a thing would happen.

Let’s keep chipping away at the monolith. Stop thinking and acting so much for the overseas public, to win an intervention that will not come (look at Venezuela) and let’s begin to mature a discourse for the island. For the followers of Jose Marti trapped in it.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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.

A Long Commitment To The Truth / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Debate on literature on a street in Santa Clara, with Aristides Vega Chapu, fourth from the left. (Verbiclara)
Debate on literature on a street in Santa Clara, with Aristides Vega Chapu, fourth from the left. (Verbiclara)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 5 September 2016 – A certain letter from Aristides Vega Chapu to the weekly Vanguardia, already quite old and that I believe I came into my hands in the middle of last July, set off a media frenzy last week. Knowing, as I do, that there is a lot going on beneath the apparent tranquility of Santa Clara’s intellectual media, my first reaction was surprise at the extraordinary resonance of this document in particular, as there had been previously with the similar reception of another in its time, from the young people of Vanguardia’s base committee of the Young Communists Union (UJC).

So I said to Aristides this Saturday, while trying to convince him to be interviewed by the newspaper, which he politely declined: “Gabriel, I already said what I had to say and where I had to say it,” was his response, and I understood, because he really did and has always been a powerhouse of the national culture. continue reading

This is not Aristides’ first letter, nor has he only denounced censorship in his letters. Not is it the first movement of intellectual concern from here. Not to mention that in the now distant nineteen-nineties, there emerged more than a few groups of challengers and even open opposition in the world of pilonga* letters.

The first movement I remember in those times of raulato was that led by a group of young authors back in 209: they demanded a less crazy tax framework, having suffered the anger of certain cultural officials, they managed to collect a number of important signatures in support of their petition. One of the most outstanding figures of this movement that soon transcended the limits of Villa Clara was the narrator Anisley Negrín, the best graduate of my course in the Onelio Literature Center, and winner of the 2008 David Prize**, someone who has apparently left our city, in the current move of the best of our writers to the United States.

Ultimately, the question is that some seem to have suddenly discovered this little corner “of the interior,” and avidly launch themselves on the first scandal they come across, with which they create the false impression that it is now Santa Clara that is moving. Thus they forget, in my mind, two complaint letters from Otilio Carvajal, one from Perez de Castro, another famous one from Aristides himself, denouncing the badly handled finances of certain cultural organizations here, and one from Pedro Llanes in which he complains about the discrimination against certain of his friends on the guest lists of the Provincial Book Fairs.

Nor do they take into account two posts demanding profound changes in the Cuban State that Ernesto Peña published on my blog, El Hidalgo Rural Cubano (The Rural Cuban Gentleman), and that as a result of the harassment he was then subjected to by the “compañeros” of State Security, he had a nervous breakdown. Or in the semblance of insignificant arm wrestling that, under the name of the baseball team from here, Lorenzo Lunar and Feliz Julio Alfonso have maintained for the last two years with none other than the province’s first secretary, in the egregious ears of whom a gray sportscaster and snitch with political police license plates never tires of dispensing accusations against those two as “restorationists” – that is supporters of capitalism.

That the literature in this city is in a keen state of restlessness is demonstrated by Otro Lunes (Another Monday) or Árbol Invertido (Inverted Tree), the two most serious Cuban cultural magazines edited from the opposition camp. What other city in the country, including Havana, has provided a similar number of collaborators? In what other city, besides the Havana of Voices, have the intellectuals dared to collaborate massively with a magazine with as few antecedents as Cuadernos de Pensamiento Plural (Notebooks of Plural Thinking)?

As for Vanguardia, the June issue is not the first clash in the last three years. In Ranchuelo Yandrey Lay Fabregat is now dedicated to narrative, and is perhaps one of the best cultural chroniclers of this region, to whom they have made it very difficult in Vanguardia, with the usual censorship in the country compounded by the abysmal mediocrity of those who lead or have led it in recent years.

In Santa Clara those who dedicate themselves to literature have worked in silence for a long time, without so much adherence to the tremendismos***. If you are not aware of this it is because you never had the opportunity to attend some of Aristides’ gatherings, especially the so-called “The Moment of Truth,” where more devastating truths than those of his letter of long ago have been heard.

Translator’s notes:
*Pilongo/a is a term used to refer to someone from Santa Clara, Cuba. It is a reference to those baptized in the huge baptismal font – called a “pilón,” hence “pilongo” – opposite the Cathedral which was demolished in the 1920s.
**The David Prize, awarded by the Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC), is one of the most important literary awards in Cuba (see Wikipedia).
***Tremendismo is a literary narrative technique developed in the Spanish novel in the 1940s which features violence, sordidness and direct, hard language (see Wikipedia).

Jose Marti, Tell the Tyrant… / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Commentary by Carmen Zampallo in the forum of the article “Martí and his Myth,” by José Gabriel Barrenechea, published at 14:30m on the 17 May 2015. Thanks, Carmen, wherever you may be!

Where are you Martí? What have you become? In your name have been created tyranny, torture camps, and forced labor. Yes, Marti, we live with dictatorship, with cells and beatings that you never imagined. Martí, the tyrant in green clothes erected you as an idol and today he kills us, Martí, and nobody listens.

The cruelty by the cruelty of a disciple? There is nobody like him for hating the Cuban people and, Martí, it is said that the Tyrannosaurus will rest beside you. I do not believe it, Marti, since he has never let you rest in peace. What’s more, fortunately, he would be eternally within the reach of your fist and your foot. Although the temperature of his tomb is infernal, thirty human rights offices will be erected after its fifth consecutive cremation. continue reading

Martí, tell the Tyrannosaurus there that I am Hubert Matos, Eloy Gutiérrez, Reinaldo Arenas, Ricardo Bofill, Pedro Luis Boitel, Payá, and so many political prisoners, and those shot and killed.

I am a medical slave, a family divided; we are commanders, Communist guerrillas and other who are not Communists, betrayed by him. I am his rebellious sister, I am a business and an angry right. I am a dancer, I am a sportsman and a censored painter. I am a gay person, a religious person in the UMAP concentration camp, I am a rafter at the bottom of the sea.

I am exiled trapped in Ecuador or Mexico and I am a pilot shot down north of Havana. I am a mother who has seen all the dead depart.

We will adjust accounts and take care in the Beyond that no-one ever returns to this beautiful land. They finished their time, finished, and the living will undo that maximum creation, that hematic auctioned unproductive Caribbean satellite.

Martí, hopefully you will rewrite and publish the now-hidden texts that contained your opinion on the nascent socialism. They were removed from your work.

Hopefully you get it… I hope they do not hit you.

From the blog of Jeovany Jimenez Vega 

Translated by Hombre de Paz

Gagged Words / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The writer Amir Valle. (Photo EFE / File)
The writer Amir Valle. (Photo EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 27 June 2016 – The Eva Tas Foundation, located in Amsterdam, publishes and promotes texts that have been and are censored, regardless of where or how. Indeed, as a part of this laudable and necessary work, this institution just published two books by one of the most important figures in Cuban letters, and one of the highest contemporary examples of commitment to the truth and the defense of freedom: Amir Valle.

Gagged Words is one of them. The book was completed this 20 February, and though the ink hasn’t dried yet it is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the history of the Castro regime’s censorship, harassment and persecution of creative work and thought in Cuba, mainly in literature and film, but above all it reveals the subtle mechanisms of intellectual repression that the regime has adopted in these times of what some call late-Castroism. continue reading

Amir Valle, one of the most important Cuban intellectuals of all time, describes certain keys to this veiled censorship or repression that goes unnoticed by many strangers to the Cuban island. This censorship or repression in many cases is considered by the new Mr. Magoo as a hoax invented by enemies to discredit the “greatest example of human dignity and social justice in the world today”: The Cuba of Fidel. For example, the complex mechanisms which prevents foreign publishers at our Book Fairs from breaking the “ideological firmness” of our people by giving them access to controversial literature.

The foreword of the book is by another great of our literature and a person with an intellectual commitment to truth and freedom: Angel Santiesteban. Thanks to this prologue, the reader from other cultures (what Cuban does not know who we are talking about?) can learn the essential aspects of Amir’s life from the mouth of someone who has known him intensely for almost three decades, and who addresses the worth of information that one is about to receive, in very direct language, with which a master of the language aims to reach the widest possible audience.

It is not by chance, but by ineluctable statistical necessity (here surveillance and harassment never sleep), that this book came to me from the hands of another intellectual who is often quoted in the pages of Gagged Words, whom the police arrested Friday in my and my wife’s presence at one of the busiest intersections in Santa Clara. As the captain of the secret police informed us, on suddenly materializing next to us out of nowhere (what a shock to me, an atheist!) they took him to talk “a little while” with them: “Because, compadre, with Vilches we couldn’t have done better, check it out, we’ve even resolved (they = the secret police, it is understood) to put him on the jury in a contest there in Varadero.”

Gagged Words is a book with which, if you are still one of the clueless of good faith who remain out there, you should do two things: the first is to read it. The second is to go to Cuba with it in your suitcase so that you can, with total sincerity, declare it at Customs, and share it with any Cuban with the face of a reader you run into in the street. Only then will the reality of the “Raulist opening” be known first hand with regards to intellectual creativity, thinking and the free discussion of the ideas. Keeping in mind, if you are one of those anti-Yankee global-phobics who come and go in the world today, that Amir Valle, even though they invited him, never stepped foot in what was then the United States Interest Section in Cuba.

And it is my good friend, who then returned to the plane, expelled from the island as a persona non grata, as Amir summarizes in an epilogue: (In Cuba) “independence, creative freedom, free expression of creativity are elements as palpable as galaxy EGS-ZS8-I, the most distant, 13,000 million light years from earth.”

A pdf of Gagged Words is available here.

Villa Clara Sugar Harvest Will Be Much Less Than In 2015 / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The sugar harvest in Villa Clara will not reach 2016 levels (CC)
The sugar harvest in Villa Clara will not reach 2016 levels (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 29 May 2016 — With the shutdown of seven of its nine active sites, the 2016 sugar harvest is nearly complete in Villa Clara. It has emerged that the province that currently produces the most sugar in the country has fallen far short of the 250,000 metric tons programmed: as of last Thursday only 180,000 metric tons have been produced, well below the previous harvest.

Only two centers are still milling, Hector Rodriguez of Sagua la Grande, and Panchito of Quemado de Guines. With expected quantities of 36,200 and 39,700 metric tons, respectively, only these plants now have a chance, however remote, of meeting their planned targets. It is very unlikely that the province will reach the 190,000 metric tons proposed by the first secretary of the Communist Party in the region and, in any case, that result would only represent a fulfillment of 76% of its sugar plan. continue reading

Among the causes of this marked decline are the late delivery of the assurances needed to start up the plants, but especially the very low agricultural yields and scant maturity of the reeds. This latter, by the way, is a result of last season’s cutting ahead of time much of the cane that would have reached its full development only this year, as a result of last year’s government stubbornness to meet that year’s plans, whatever it took.

The cane cutters are saying that this year they have cut fields that are yielding less than 30,000 arrobas (a measure of weight that varies by country; in Cuba it is 25 pounds) per caballeria (about 33 acres). In addition, the small size of many fields and their less than optimal location prevents a rational distribution of the cutters and resources needed to transport the cane to the mills, which is also taking a toll on the season.

The provincial authorities have insisted, however, that this disastrous season is the fault of the rains, a statement completely at odds with their frequent pronouncements that the province is experiencing a drought. But in Villa Clara, it seems, it is a question of drought when they are talking about aqueducts, and of rains when they are talking about sugar harvests.

‘The World and my Cuba in El Diario’ by Uva de Aragon / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Cover of "The World and My Cuba in 'El Diario' " by Uva de Aragon
Cover of “The World and My Cuba in ‘El Diario’ ” by Uva de Aragon

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea Jose, Santa Clara, Cuba, 28 April 2016 – The World and My Cuba in ‘El Diario’ is a very difficult book to read, not for its style, which could not be more direct and comprehensive, but for the heavy emotional weight concentrated in each of its brief articles. The reader can do nothing more than take long breaks after reading them, in hopes that at some point this fiber that resonates through us finally stops, so that we can finally assimilate the sledgehammer of feelings and ideas with which the author has confronted us. I confess, for example, that after reading My Father and the Moon and My Mother and the Candy I had to put down the book I had just started reading for another day. continue reading

In choosing this small selection of the author’s columns in Diario de las Américas, Vitalina Acuna, its compiler, has managed to give Cubans on the island an introductory view of Uva de Aragon’s life, work, and dreams. The book is structured into nine chapters, combining Family Stories, reviews, or small essays investigating the lives and circumstances of people such as Max Aub, Gregorio Maranon, Charles Dickens and Mark Chagall, memories of the Mariel boatlift, far from complacent views on the political life of the United States, heartfelt defenses of personalities from the world of culture—like that dedicated to Domingo del Monte—travel and a very great deal about Cuba…

So much that, on writing about Gerald Ford and his political sacrifice to restore confidence in democracy in the United States, we clearly see the well-known Cuban inability to value the kinds of acts she talks about. Not forgetting the man she calls her “second father,” Carlos Marquez Sterling, who carried out a similar sacrifice when, at the end of 1958, he tried to remove the Batista dictatorship by running against him at the polls.

With regards to the physical separation that has failed to break the spiritual unity of the Cuban nation, the reception of this book on the island is a good example. The book is now in a print run of 2,000 copies from Holguin Publishing. In fact, one of the reasons that it took me almost a month to finish it is that, before I could start the book I had to wait for all the women in my family, and even my super leftist Old Man to read it before me.

The Hero / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 31 March 2016 — On March 26, in my village of Encrucijada, Rafael Rodriguez Gonzalez died, Rafelito as all of us whom he honored with his friendship used to call him. He followed his wife, Caridad, who died at the end of last year, and to whom he was married for more than 60 years. They survived in their old age thanks to the help of their children and a small business selling sweet treats and candy, the profits of which paid for their only nonagenarian luxury, coffee.

Very few men dare to stand up to that terrifying beast, the masses, when it rears up in fear in response to the black arts of the hallucinators and rogues. Rafaelito was one of those who did. One of those anonymous heroes who, at times, disenchantment makes us believe only exist in fiction, but there they are, at our side, behind the door, around the corner or with us on the bus, and to be aware of them we only need to not let our senses atrophy. continue reading

It happened in April or May of 1980. The teacher Delfa, in love, decided to leave the country to follow her husband, trying to escape the usual pogrom. Those were days of infamy, when the power of hatred fed the base instincts of their followers, or those who simply craved some entertainment. A group of lunatics was running up and down the block after the woman who had taught them their ABCs. On the corner Lieutenant Talavera and Corporal Habichuela laughed about it and protected them.

All doors were closed before the passing of the woman and the horde. Until suddenly, unusually agile at nearly 60, Rafaelito appeared in the middle of the public torture session, grabbed the woman’s arm and pulled her into the house. Surprised at the response, the horde stoned the house and tried to force the door. On the corner, Talavera continued to spit invective at the “piece of shit worm,” and if he didn’t knock down the door it was because of strict orders he’d been given not to intervene in any way, unless the Revolutionaries were attacked.

Worse was yet to come for Rafaelito. After that, he and his family were social outcasts. By direct guidance from the First Secretary of the Communist Party in the city, according to what the secretary himself told me many years later, the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in plenary sessions focused on repeating nearly detail by detail the harassment experienced by the Batiste family in the novel La Barraca by Vicente Blasco Ibanez.

It got to such lows as forcing the wife of the eldest son to either divorce her husband or resign from the Young Communist League. She chose, something not so easy to do then, to leave such an unworthy organization. Her husband, a teacher, lost his job and most of the ‘80s passed before he got another. As for Rafaelito, pushing 60, he retired almost immediately with a miserable pension.

Rafaelito and Caridad could have left, but they never did. They both loved the land where they had been born too much and they remained happy even in the midst of hatred, poverty and cowardice. “It wasn’t me who had to go,” he told me from time to time.

I remember Rafelito and Caridad, now almost deaf, sitting in their living room while they sent some greeting to my parents and some other errand, “tell Joseito (or Zoilita) to send us a little coffee.” Monuments to human greatness, for whom the weight of the years never managed to erase the marble or bronze of their skin and the shine in their eyes. Heroes should not remain anonymous, and now that they have gone together, if they are in some other place, it is where good people go.

Hopefully someday we can go there to greet them.

Americans and March 10, 1952 / 14ymedio, Gabriel Barrenechea Jose

Fragment of the cover of the book 'Batista, The Coup’ by Jose Luis Padron and Luis Adrian Betancourt.
Fragment of the cover of the book ‘Batista, The Coup’ by Jose Luis Padron and Luis Adrian Betancourt.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 10 March 2016 — In the early hours of Monday 10 March 1952, a coup closed the democratic cycle in Cuba, open since the Constituent Assembly of 1940 which has begun with the Protest of the Thirteen and the university reform movement captained by Julio Antonio Mella.

Despite what Fidel Castro and his less serious historiographical followers have stated so many times, in no way can the responsibility for the coup be placed on the Americans or specifically on their secret agencies, the CIA and the FBI. As has been recognized even by a long series of Cuban historians publishing on the island since the 1959 Revolution.

Among them is Newton Briones, who, in his semi-fictional “The General Returns,” describes step-by-step the process of preparation for the coup. From the Orthodox party dalliances of its promoters led by Captain Garcia Tuñón, to inspiration from a professor at the Army War College, Garcia Barcena, until the final links with Fulgencio Batista. continue reading

Even in the highly biased The Cry of Moncada, by Mario Mencia, a complete representation of Castro-regime historiography, we find nothing to support the official version according to which the Americans inspired and even led the coup; it only manages to draw on an alleged “approval by omission” by the Embassy, having not warned President Carlos Prio.

According to the author, not only did the members of the US military mission know what was being cooked up in Columbia and Kuquine, the well-known hacienda of the “Mulato Lindo” – as Batista was called – but so did almost all of Havana and even the country. If no one took this stew seriously, it is due to the circumstances of that time in Cuba, where almost all shared the same blind confidence in the solidity of democracy.

At the end of February, in the face of the warning from the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos – fired three years earlier – of what was afoot, someone as sharp as Raul Roa responded with absolute certainty that something like this had no place in the Cuba of 1952.

The latest example is Batista, the Coup, by two historians closely linked to State Security, Jose Luis Padron and Luis Adrian Betancourt. The central thesis of this book is that in essence there is nothing to prove American inspiration behind the barracks coup, and that, on the contrary, everything seems to demonstrate that the coup was not very well received by most of the institutions of the United States.

This work admits that it was not the United States that was among the first to offer de facto recognition to the regime, but rather among the last, at least in the Americas. It goes on to detail, based on abundant declassified documentation from the US State Department, the tense process of recognition and the subsequent chill that the American embassy in Havana maintained for months toward the de facto regime. The authors do not fail to clarify that the motives for it were the well-known links between Batista and the Cuban communists, who generated great suspicion in the circles of American power.

We can affirm that this lack of a link is no longer based only on the opinions of the intellectual authority, but on simple and plain common sense. Still, through covert operations, during the dawn of the Cold War, Americans have only intervened where it was clear, or at least highly possible, that the advance of the Communists, or any political force which by its nature had some chance of allying itself to the USSR (this breach of tolerance was what allowed the consolidation of the Fidel regime soon afterwards). This kind of situation could not have been further from that of the Cuba of the late forties and beginning of the fifties.

The Communist Party, the PSP, had seen how the masses withdrew their already low support historically during the democratic period. If in the 1948 elections they got 142,972 votes, less than 6% of the total, in the reorganization of the parties in November of 1949 and 1952 it fell respectively to 126,542 and 59,000. This last figure was just a few thousand votes from the 2% required in the Constitution to legalize a political party, and, therefore, its electoral demise.

Moreover, to pretend that the Americans promoted the coup to stop the certain victory of the Orthodox party is complete nonsense. Would the Yankees have feared the party of Chibás, which was entirely in the hands of the most implacable and popular enemy of communism in Cuba? Not to mention, the only Cuban politician of the first-rank who opposed the leftist government of Juan Jose Arevalo in Guatemala or who sent a parliamentary commission to investigate the violation of human rights during the uprising of independence supporters in Puerto Rico in 1950… that is, the Cuban politician of the first rank least likely to upset Washington.

It is not very well understand how it served the foreign policy of the United States to get rid of what was then its democratic showcase in the Southern Hemisphere. It was an alliance that played an extremely important role in the defense mechanisms of the hemisphere, in a moment of incomparable popular approval in Latin America, and in which there was seen no immediate possibility of marked retreat.

On the contrary, there is abundant evidence of the American displeasure with the coup, and the supposed complacency of the military attaché in Havana suggested by Batista, the Coup is highly doubtful. In the post-coup report the barracks attack was called a danger for American interests on the continent, which leads us to interpret differently the efforts of those officers to convince many military of the academy and great technical capacity to remain in the Constitutional Army. The American military in reality did not try to strengthen the Batista regime, but rather to leave a door open for the return of institutional democracy without the need for a popular insurrections, that is, thanks to a future civilian-supported military coup.

With regards to the Americans finally giving recognition to the de facto Batista government, its doing so more than two weeks after it had usurped the Presidential Palace, and when all of Latin America had already done so, was the best possible attitude for the continuity of Cuban political independence.

Calmly analyzing the last 64 years, we understand that the U.S. Department of State ended up adopting the recognition promoted by the Democratic administrations since 1933, very knowledgeable about our susceptibility on the subject, such that we could not accuse them of interfering with their enormous force of gravity in the seriousness of our internal issues. The lack of support from the United States is clearly what got Batista to leave power in less than six months, as was well-known by many Cuban politicians of that time, but in turn it profoundly discredited our independence, or at least our capacity to manage our own sovereignty with a minimum of responsibility.

It is here where the inextricable relationship between our two nations becomes transparent: having denied recognition, having demanded the immediate return of the previous government, in the face of a situation that after almost three weeks did not seem to result in civic rejection by Cuban citizens, the United States would in consequence become the de facto guarantor of our democracy and real sovereignty.

From that moment, our authorities could be elected in the most free and democratic way, but at the end of the day their remaining in their jobs would depend on the will of the United States to maintain them in the face of our own authoritarian and anti-democratic forces. This would have ultimately led us into a quasi-similar position to the years of the Protectorate, or an even worse one.

It is worth remembering that the alleged control over Cuban society of the institutions of American intelligence is belied by events occurring after the 1952 coup, as it failed to discover the massive conspiratorial movements of Fidel Castro, who came to gather more than one thousand men who trained for months around the University of Havana.

Is 21st Century Socialism Marxist? / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Carlos Marx theorizes a society that surpasses capitalism, but without putting aside its unquestionable achievements.
Carlos Marx theorizes a society that surpasses capitalism, but without putting aside its unquestionable achievements.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 30 October 2015 – What do the socialism of Karl Marx and that of Nocolas Maduro have in common? Just like between the two men: nothing, or very little, perhaps the mutual membership in the human race and not much more. The difference between them, on the other hand, is comparable to that which existed between the dissatisfied Socrates and the satisfied pig of Platonic dialog.

In the Marxist vision, socialism will be the product of a very specific, contained social class – industrial workers – which Marx, in a not very happy semantic selection, called the proletariat. In turn, the distinction is made of a lumpen-proletariat, reactionary by nature, explicit in the clear vision of the people. He is in no way a believer in the supposed ethical or any other type of superiority of the most disadvantaged. In much of the analysis he left us about the events of his era, he clearly shows us a fear of this amorphous classless mass, not at all given to the values on which progress is based, which the demagogues and populists have interestingly joined together under the exotic word, “people.” continue reading

Marx believes in the superiority of industrial workers derived from their special position in the productive process of modern western society. Their concentration into great productive units, where complex forms of cooperation and socialization are created, from the level of the company to the planet, and where science and technology completely replace the natural landscape, allows them, unlike the lumpen and the farmer, to have the ability to construct a sophisticated society capable of overcoming the deficiencies of capitalism without, at the same time, renouncing its achievements. Having, in short, the progressive values necessary to arm a post-capitalist society, still based on the science and technology that overcame capitalism.

It is this supremacy based on constructive circumstances – not on a race or on a position in the income pyramid – that supports the industrial worker in building the society that Marx prefers to call socialist. And he is absolutely certain that this is something that those natural reactionary elements, opposed to progress – the lumpen and the peasant – could never achieve.

If we look at current Venezuelan society, we immediately notice the main difference between this socialism and the Marxist model: the support base of 21st century socialism is more than ever the lumpen, not the proletariat. In fact, it in “Madurism” (support of president Nicolas Maduro) it has gone so far that, to a large extent, its supporters are found today in the most openly criminal, in the underworld in the hills.

We ask ourselves: Why Maduro, or this gavel-wielding caveman, who, reluctantly from the presidency of the National Assembly, cannot manage to reduce the incredible Venezuelan crime rates? Quite simply because this criminal element is one of the most important bases of support for 21st century socialism.

More than a few thugs from the collectives dedicate their free time to smuggling, robbery and even assault, which should not surprise anyone: at the end of the day, if one inhabits the hills, one is subjected daily to the continuous and interminable nonsense that Nicolas Maduro launches on national television, which only ideological obsessives like Atilio Boron or Luis Britto could classify as political speeches, and so one couldn’t help but find it fair and morally justifiable to “redistribute” the wealth at the barrel of a gun, á la Robin Hood. Isn’t the Caracazo – the 1989 Caracas riots – one of the most memorable events of Chavez-Maduroism? During those disturbances it wasn’t just food that was looted, but home appliances and even luxury items.

I invite anyone who can bear it to listen to hours of Manichean phrases, barrio bluster, puerile lack of respect for the other, obvious contradictions, the worst chants, ridiculous gestures of fidelity and greetings to former comrades in the struggle discovered in the crowd, and you will soon discover this terrifying truth: Maduro’s rants are nothing more than incitements to hatred. Hatred of the rich by the poor, but also of the brilliant and creative by the mediocre, of the intelligent individual by the deficient intellect.

Madurism is by no means an experiment leading to a post-capitalist society. In essence, it is nothing but populism That is, today’s Venezuela is nothing more than a capitalist society in which all the progressive classes and sectors in the country have been stripped of power by a horde of lumpen-proletariat who are dedicated to consuming, or rather destroying, all the wealth previously created, without bringing anything new or making any kind of effort. Venezuela today is, therefore, something like a new Rome occupied by barbarians.

Hopefully the resulting Middle Ages will not be very long and soon Venezuela can rejoin the legitimate world seekers of a society that will truly surpass capitalism, and so prevent the return to pre-capitalist ways, a barbarism greatly feared by Marx in his later years.

Leftist Imperialism In Latin America / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. (Wikicommons)
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. (Wikicommons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 24 August 2015 –One morning, I had just arrived at the Cabaña Fort during the days of the 2014 Havana International Book Fair, and on consulting the daily program discovered that at this very moment the Bolivian vice president Alvara Garcia Linera was offering a videoconference in the Lezama Lima Room. The room was full of Bolivian civilians and Cuban military, who in a state of excitement not very common to a book fair, were cheering with the veins in their necks bulging every time Linera showed on a map a piece of territory which, according to him, one of his neighbors had grabbed from Bolivia.

According to Linera, absolutely all the countries bordering Bolivia had participated in this plundering. In fact, according to his speech, almost half of South America legally belonged to his country which, more than Andean – and in this he was explicit – was by right Amazonian. continue reading

The truth is that, despite all the supposed integrationist advances in Latin America, territorial or maritime claims are the order of the day. This persistence is due to the Latin American tendency to use the differences that these claims generate to divert public attention from domestic policies. There is no Latin American government, elected or imposed, of the left or the right, which in the face of a scenario of enormous popular disapproval doesn’t immediately look at a piece of territory that, supposedly or truly, some neighbor grabbed at some time in their history.

No Latin American government in the face of massive popular disapproval fails to remember the piece of land that a neighbor grabbed at some point in its history

The most emblematic case is the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina’s military dictatorship which was foundering in a difficult economic and social internal situation. Emblematic because not only did it go beyond threats and rhetoric, but because the opponent was nothing more than one of the nations with the strongest fighting traditions and most prominent navies in human history: the United Kingdom.

The most recent, and the most pathetic (not to say cowardly), is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, with its pretension to claim from a much poorer country a piece of its territory rich in petroleum. A piece that, incidentally, represents half of Guyana. Thus, after the Chavez-Maduroism of the last two decades launching continuous and daily diatribes against imperialism, now takes off the mask and behaves like it actually is: a deeply ideological imperialist.

Thus, we can see the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela now practicing a blackmail diplomacy throughout the Caribbean, in a manner more unsubtle than almost anything Washington has done in its entire history.

How can we reconcile the integrationist Venezuelan discourse with this despicable and cowardly act? It does not make demands of the power of Great Britain, but rather of the poorest country that emerged through independence from that colonial power. Nothing changes, they shout to the four winds, with the resources in dispute in Venezuelan hands as they will also be available to the Guyanese people thanks to the extensive cooperation with the country “in solidarity.” On the contrary, this justification better shows the true nature of the “integrationism” and the Chavez-Maduro solidarity. It is Maduro’s Venezuela that decides and has the last word. In the end is it not our oil? Well do and think as we dictate from the Caracas fascism… I’m sorry, the socialism of the 21st century.

Venezuela seeks to strip from Guyana, a much poorer country, a piece of its oil-rich territory

The ultimate reasons for this infamy are the same ones that led Galtieri to assault the Falklands in 1982. With a barrel of oil under 38 dollars, and with increasingly meager support, Chavez-Maduroism seeks to distract attention from the difficult internal situation and, at the same time, put Venezuela in a state of war that gives it a free hand to close the few remaining spaces for democracy in the country. Because something that must be understood by the opponents to Chavez-Maduroism who, however, support this imperialist adventure: the principal objective is nothing more than to annul them as opponents, presenting the opposition attitude as treason “at such difficult times.”

The fear is that attitudes like that of Chavez-Maduro’s Venezuela are being repeated by other leftist regimes in these difficult times for them in the region. It should not surprise us when very soon the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, sitting on an erupting volcano, remembers the half of the country that Peru snatched from Ecuador more than a hundred years ago. As for the land of the “Great Indian Chief of the South,” Bolivia, we have already mentioned where the ideas of Linera have currency, his Great White Brain: a guy to be reckoned with and a bomb thrower.

Fidel Castro’s Legacy for Cuba / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Fidel Castro during an interview with journalist Barbara Walters for 'ABC' in 1977
Fidel Castro during an interview with journalist Barbara Walters for ‘ABC’ in 1977

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Holguin, 15 August 2015 — For many, Fidel Castro has been “a light in the street and darkness at home.”* Although I don’t believe that either outside or inside Cuba’s borders this gentleman has illuminated a new path for humanity, I have to admit there is some truth in such a vision of his role in history. More than with doctors and teachers, Fidel Castro has performed an invaluable service for Latin Americans, behaving like those knuckleheads in the classroom who practice the sport of attracting to themselves the wrath of the teacher.

Many countries in Latin America, if not all, have benefited at some point from the role assumed by Fidel’s Cuba against Washington. They only had to sit at a desk and assume the face of an exploited lamb while the fractious Caribbean big guy assumed the defense of their rights with equal or more fervor than they themselves.

What’s more, in this role, the merit belongs not to Fidel Castro himself. It is unquestionable that he has been the first and only Latin American leader who has seriously challenged the hemispheric hegemony of the United States. But he achieved it for no reason other than the fortunate circumstance of having been born in Cuba. In short, the only merit of the Revolutionary Fidel Castro was to have been carried away by the explosion of expansive nationalism that this people of extremes experienced in the middle of the twentieth century. continue reading

However, as a revolutionary or as a tyrant, it is indisputable that Fidel Castro has truly brought about a dense darkness “in our house.” It is quite possible that only Captain General Valeriano Weyler was more disastrous for Cuba than what has resulted from this offspring of one of the little soldiers Spain sent here to fight against the desire of our ancestors to be free and independent.

Fidel Castro’s refusal to act For example, his refusal to act as a politician, that is with responsibility, put the country at the edge of the abyss during the missile crisis, in October of 1962.

For example, his refusal to act as a politician, that is with responsibility, put the country at the edge of the abyss during the missile crisis, in October of 1962. Indeed, one can admire and be proud of the fortitude with which the Cuban people faced the threat of nuclear holocaust, however frightened they were and opposed to the way in which their leader was stubbornly dragging it towards them. Nor did he channel in realistic ways the explosion of Cuban vital energy of the mid-twentieth century. Fidel Castro behaved not as a hero, but was a huge disgrace to his countrymen.

On assuming power in 1959, Fidel Castro took over a country that needed to find a new base of economic to assure the level of prosperity previously — but no longer — enjoyed, that had been shared out, with its vagaries, for more than a century. Since 1926, more or less, the Cuban economic model. based on the production and export of huge quantities of raw sugar, was in crisis. Such was the magnitude of this crisis, that from that year productive investments were not realized in the sugar industry. Despite the general will of the nation to improve the living standards of all its members, it was impossible to do so in the case of farm laborers. As would be shown in the sixties, it was absolutely unsustainable to increase the wages of the manual cane cutters, without destroying the profitability of the entire sugar industry.

After achieving full national sovereignty in the Revolution, it was a fundamental duty of the new rulers to put Cuba back on the path of prosperity.

However, Fidel Castro, in his nearly half century of governance, did nothing realistic with respect to it. Absolutely unable to deal with complex and non-linear economic problems, he always thought that, as on any feudal estate in his native Birán, the omnipotent will of the owner was enough to advance a modern economy of the then not insignificant size of Cuba’s.

Fidel always thought that, as on any feudal estate in his native Birán, the omnipotent will of the owner was enough to advance a modern economy of the then not insignificant size of Cuba’s 

Ultimately, his solution was not to convert the sugar industry into a modern sugar-chemical complex, as Ernesto Guevara had dreamed in the early sixties. Fidel Castro, pathologically incapable of doing anything good in economics, decided call on that other field that he seemed to give himself to so well: politics. If Fidel’s Cuba has experienced anything, at least from 23 December 1972 until today, it has been the economic exploitation of a dispute with the United States, more or less exacerbated any time it suited him. How? By presenting himself as the ideal ally of everyone who, in a world fill of such characters, had some ax to grind with the Americans.

By not solving the principal economic problem he just exacerbated the main danger to the nation: the lack of an non-precarious economic base that would assure credible levels of prosperity in a nation that had previously enjoyed a fairly high standard of living. Combined with very close proximity and easy communication with the United States, 1950s Cuba was in the same situation as a small planet that gets too close to an extremely massive one, ending up shattered into pieces with its remains devoured by the giant.

It was already clear in those years that, with no solution to its economic base, the nation would confront in the ‘60s and ‘70s a massive exodus of Cubans to the United States. Without any perspectives of work that would assure them the level of prosperity of their grandparents, or at least one that would compare to the neighbors to the south, there was no doubt that many Cubans would end up leaving with their families for the US. On the horizon, in addition, was the fear of the possibility of a resurgence of the previously overcome tendencies to desire Cuba’s annexation to the United States.

As would be expected in someone so impetuous, a Fidel Castro was caught flat-footed on the economic problem and tried to attack the danger directly… and to extract some advantage. As a leopard doesn’t change its spots, he tried to politicize it.

Those who left Cuba were businessmen, doctors, technicians, artists and generally a contingent of people with the values, skills and knowledge necessary to build a modern and prosperous society.

In a complex feedback process, Fidel Castro exacerbated the internal differences to the same extent that an ever greater human contingent continued what was already in the 1950s a natural tendency of Cubans to move. By 1965, a tenth of the population had emigrated to the United States, a human capital that few nations in the world of that era would have been able to display. Businessmen, doctors, technicians, artists and generally a contingent of people with the values, skills and knowledge necessary to build a modern and prosperous society.

After that, in the 1960s, we lost the sector of the population with the least affinity to his absolute authoritarianism, and he established immediate and complete control over the movements of the citizens who remained. Anyone, even the most humble seller of lollipops without any special knowledge or skills for national development, needed the express authorization of the Castro regime authorities in order to emigrate.

And at first it was almost impossible to get, at least until the eighties. Beginning in that decade Fidel Castro, by the confluence of many factors, increasingly relaxed his immigration policy. The main reason was the growing unrest.

Under his government, he had created a technical and professional sector much larger than the needs of the island. A large sector that found no possibilities for personal fulfillment in a country that first experienced the gradual withdrawal of the Soviet aid, and later its total disappearance. An extensive new opposition anticipated on the horizon, against which he might appeal to violence, although certainly not with the expected results, because already the international context wouldn’t support it. Alternately he could dip into the old standby of opening the path to emigration. Thus, this became the Cuban substitute for the Soviet gulag. Those who didn’t get on well in His Cuba could emigrate, or at least he was hoping they would, and this neutralized any desire they might have to fight.

The result of the total politicization of the life of the Cuban nation could be evaluated as of 31 July 2006. The day that, though he himself did not yet know it, Fidel Castro left power forever.

The result of the total politicization of the life of the Cuban nation could be evaluated as of 31 July 2006. The day that, though he himself did not yet know it, Fidel Castro left power forever.

By then, Cuba was (and is) without an economic base, no longer like that prior to 1926 with regard to a level of assured prosperity, but also one that brings some possibility of something more than survival to the absolute majority of the Cuban people. Even the sugar industry, with a respectable capital of accumulated knowledge of more than two centuries of evolution and with so many possibilities in new times, was eliminated by Fidel Castro in 2002. He tried in this way, it seemed, to avoid that on his departure from power, someone would dare to try to exploit the production capacity for biofuels.

But it is in the exacerbation of the danger to the survival of the nation, provoked by this lack of a non-precarious economic base, where we discover the darkest legacy of the half-century of the absolutist government of Fidel Castro. This, paradoxically, stands out still more, because Fidel Castro always presented his absolutism as indispensable to the survival of the “homeland.”

Fidel Castro’s regime has promoted the desire to escape from the island on such a scale that today, despite the enormous difficulties in doing so, almost a quarter of Cubans live outside of Cuba. What’s more, the principal danger in this is not in the proportion, but in the particular pattern of the Cuban migration with the flight of those people who are most educated.

Fidel Castro’s regime has promoted the desire to escape from the island on such a scale that today, despite the enormous difficulties in doing so, almost a quarter of Cubans live outside of Cuba.

From a Cuba in which initiative was a highly suspicious quality, and therefore under close surveillance by the secret police, the best prepared have necessarily emigrated, the most active, those least given to respecting the opinions of authority. In other words, the problem is not that emigrants are a quarter of the population, but that this quarter has been systematically selected to rob the nation of its members most likely to put themselves forward and lead a prosperous future, and an orderly one… democratic of course.

As this pattern of emigration continues, and even has even intensified since Fidel Castro left power, though his regime continues, it is not so fanciful to suppose that in the near future we might see Cuba converted into the most backward and poor nation in the western hemisphere. A position it is not far from today, despite the fact that in 1959 this same society only yielded to the United States and Canada and was equated with Argentina and Uruguay.

The damage Fidel Castro caused the nation has, in the end, been so great — a nation where in the 1950s there were only inklings on the horizon — that today there is a strong current of furtive opinion, although not openly expressed by hardly anyone, that suggests the only solution to the problem of having a country without an economic base is to annex the island to the United States.

This current, expressed only in private, remains dormant only because of the fact that the Castro regime’s propaganda still manages to be somewhat effective in promoting nationalism. However, it is to be expected that a nationalism without an economic base, or one in which the remittances of those who emigrated to the United States rapidly occupy this role, will end up eventually losing any prestige among ordinary Cubans.

The main legacy of Fidel Castro is precisely this: Never before have Cubans had less confidence in ourselves and, consequently, never has the idea of annexation had so many followers.

*Translator’s note: “Candil de la calle, oscuridad de la casa” (a light in the street, darkness at home) is a common Spanish expression meaning that a person is effective (“lit up”) away from home and with others, but useless (“dark”) at home.

Authority as Exemplified by Elpidio Valdés / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Elpidio Valdez
Elpidio Valdés

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 18 July 2015 —  I remember it as if it were yesterday when my old man took me to see the first Elpidio Valdés feature film in 1974. Having just debuted in the city of Santa Clara, we had to jump through hoops to find a taxi willing to take us all the way there from the town of Encrucijada. Thanks to the help of one of my father’s many friends, we were able to sneak into the Cubanacán Cinema, now long gone. Around the corner and in front of an improvised ticket booth set up for these types of events, a large police unit tried controlling half of Villa Clara Province that had descended on the Provincial capital for the movie’s premiere.

I have seen that film around fifty times. I doubt there are many who can beat my record. Whenever it played in Encrucijada’s movie house, I would go see it the four nights in a row of its run.

I was and still am a fan of this fictional military leader of the Cuban Wars of Independence. It is no wonder I stored all the Elpidio Valdés animations from before 1990 on my computer. On top of that, I also own a copy of the quickly-forgotten series Más se perdió en la guerra, or Más se perdió en Cuba,* the title changing depending on whether it was distributed on the island or in Spain. continue reading

However, and in the spirit of René Descartes, I decided a while back to take on the task of doubting everything as far as possible so I could take ownership over the truth that allows me to reason on my own without prejudice or imposed dogmas. This is why I have also chosen to analyze Juan Padrón’s greatest creation according to my own criteria.

Since I do not want to bore my readers, I will only highlight the following thoughts. Authority figures are beyond reproach in all the Elpidio Valdés cartoons. Throughout this character’s adventures in the fight for Cuban independence, it is clear that the struggle’s leadership exists in a different reality than the rest of the characters. It is never the brunt of jokes, not even indirectly. All other characters can certainly be ridiculed, but certainly not the leaders of the cause. Now compare the reverence given military leaders in Elpidio Valdés to the treatment afforded the renown comic book characters Astérix and Obélix, both of whom enjoy national hero status in France.

Gallic chieftain Astérix is simply another pathetic member of his tribe. He threatens his wife with a rolling pin, is even less eloquent than Cuban Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, and more unintelligible than “Cantinflas”. Astérix never manages to effectively lead his subjects, since they are in fact his equals.

Is the image of a leader projected by Elpidio Valdés compared to Astérix’s an illustration of the anthropological damage inflicted on Cuba by the long-drawn-out Castro regime? Or is it perhaps the exact opposite, since the Cuban impulse to bow down to authority existed way before the arrival of the current regime? This may also help explain why this dictatorship seized control so effortlessly.

It is no coincidence that the two most successful dictators of Cuba and Spain went to great lengths to present themselves as beyond reproach. In other worlds, their success was linked in no small measure to the impeccable personae they projected. This should make Cubans cognizant of the fact that our respect for authority is an age-old social disorder inherited from the Spanish founders of our culture.

Whether it is due to an anthropological pathology, or the reinforcement of the preconceived notions of the majority, the Castro regime has only reinforced our sacrosanct view of authority, which evidently existed in Cuba even before 1959. In light of this, we are faced with a dilemma far greater than just having to overthrow a dictatorship; we are being called to launch a cultural revolution.

Please do not think that I am calling for anything to be erased from our past. Whether Cubans like it or not, Elpidio Valdés epitomizes a quintessential part of our culture, much like the whole corpus of Greco-Roman literature ­– which despite echoing the common justifications of its age for slavery – is still part of the Western canon. What all Cubans need to do is study our overall culture, and Elpidio Valdés in particular, using Cartesian doubt. By simply applying methodological skepticism, Cubans would automatically understand why we submit to authority as we do, a fact that distinguishes us from the French in every single segment of society.

*Translator’s Note: Literally “More was lost in the war,” and “More was lost in Cuba,” respectively. Meaning “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” this expression refers to what is known in the U.S. as the Spanish-American War. The former term is more common in Cuba, while the latter is used most often in Spain.

Translated by José Badué

Marti and His Myth / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

José Martí in an image from 1891 (University of Miami)

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 17 May 2015 – From the interpretation of a significant event in the history of a nation, the interpreters’ political orientation can be very well surmised. Here we have this date, 24 February 1895 – the day on which our ancestors departed for the last time to the scrubland, to make of Cuba an independent and democratic nation, in which sovereignty would belong to each and every one who would declare themselves as Cubans.

This event can be interpreted in two radical ways: the Fascist, as a triumph of the Cuban people’s will, embodied in José Martí, ensuing from a supposed teleological destiny; or the Marxist, as a result of the economic contradictions between Cuban national interests and those of Spain, which engendered the fact that the colony’s economy was by that time integrated into that of its immediate neighbor, the US, and not of its distant and cash-strapped imperial ruler. continue reading

It goes without saying that the Castro regime’s official interpretation, from which even the heterodox historians residing on the Island do not dare depart, is the first. This is understandable, being that the Castro regime presents itself as the culmination of that alleged teleological destiny, and Fidel Castro as the reincarnation of José Martí.

Nevertheless, let us ask ourselves: had Martí so much influence on the interior of the Island as to drag Cubans into the war of 1895?

Stirring Up the Book Publishing Hornet’s Nest / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)
The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 7 July 2015 — The printed edition of the weekly Vangaurdia* dared mess with hornets. In her article “Let him who does not know you buy you?” the young journalist Laura Rodríguez Fuentes identified several inconvenient truths that will surely make waves in the tiny world of Cuban letters.

According to the journalist “many people ask if publishing houses are really thinking about the public for whom their publications are intended.” Her response, while only inferred, is of course no. Ms. Rodríguez continues: “An assessment of what is published is urgently needed, while opinion polls on topics, genres, and authors should be disclosed nationwide.”

After acknowledging that “except for children’s titles, the quality of many books is poor,” Ms. Rodríguez goes on to scrutinize Cuban publishing marketing strategies. With plenty of evidence to support her claims, she states that these policies are too focused on yearly book fairs. continue reading

Ms. Rodríguez continued by shoving a stick into a hornet’s nest and shaking it violently with the following paragraph: “Effective book publishing policies cannot be focused on writers who want to have their books published just because. They should focus on the consumer, the reader.”

State-sanctioned authors control Santa Clara’s publishers for their own ends. Despite the efforts of qualified editors such as Isaily Pérez and especially Idiel García of Ediciones Sed de Belleza (Thirst for Beauty Publishers), it is the clique of authorized writers that decides who can and cannot get published, while guaranteeing they will be published first. In order to ensure their place in the “publishing strategy,” these authors will write anything and on any subject.

The fact is that this clique is more concerned with making money than having its work disseminated. Such was the case in recent events in the town of Remedios. Several writers, who were not paid immediately for their work on a special publication commemorating the town’s 500th anniversary, behaved very uncivilly. According to off-the-record sources, even the police got involved as fists flew in middle of a brawl worthy of the worst Havana slum.

It seems none of the authors involved cared much about the significance that comes with being part of such a publication. Their only concern was cold hard cash and the fleeting moment.

Ms. Rodríguez concludes with the following observation: “There should be a direct link between opinion polls and the titles offered at book fairs. Book publishing should not be centered on favoritisms, but rather on consumers’ preferences and wishes.”

We could not agree with her more.

* Translator’s Note: The official newspaper of Villa Clara Province’s Communist Party’s Central Committee.

Translated by José Badué