The Government of Our Saints / Miguel Iturria Savón

I agree with Jesus, friend and owner of a Moscovitch car from the eighties, who tells me his ex-wife is very ill but has not gone to Rincón to pray to Saint Lazarus, but he had to accompany nearly thirty neighbors and relatives who hired him to drive them to the famous leper colony of Santiago de las Vegas, south of Havana.

“I don’t like to go because the landscape is bleak, especially between December 16 and the middle of January, but it’s difficult to refuse them because they are people who pay for the trip to keep their promises. They have souls full of faith and that’s admirable. The problem is what you see before you arrive and while waiting for your client: beggars of every kind, deranged people who drag stones and chains and aggressive vendors who take advantage of the circumstances.

Jesus is Catholic by inheritance though he rarely goes to church; he knows the Bible, the rituals, the saints and collects stories and stamps and likes to gossip about the legends of St. Lazarus, the Virgin of Charity, the Virgin of Regla and other venerated Cuban saints.

He says that in the Bible two Lazaruses appear: that of the dogs, and the Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Martha and Mary. He says the story about Lazarus of the dogs is a parable of Jesus Christ, that is an illustration to focus on reality, which is something imaginative and nonexistent recorded in the words of the Gospel Luke.

I ask him if it doesn’t seem like an evangelical interpretation, not very Catholic, but he asks me to let him continue, because “Christians and Protestants worship the same God and study the same Bible, although the latter rejected the images and disagree on various points.”

“In the parable of the rich and the poor, Lazarus was the sick beggar who asked for the crumbs of the powerful; only the dogs pitied him, so they appear at his side in the images reproduced by his worshipers. Both the rich and poor died the same night, but God only received the beggar and send the miser to hell.”

I inquire about the other Lazarus, that of Bethany; he explains that he existed, he was a friend of the Lord and resuscitated Jesus Christ four days after he died, although little is known of his existence, so the sacred legend merges Lazarus of the parable with the true one, perhaps because neither knew how to solve their problems in life.

Seeing that I’m smiling, Jesus asks me, “Can you imagine Cubans without the promises of Saint Lazarus and the appeals to the Virgin of Charity? Don’t they seem more believable and worthy of reverence than our rulers?”

Translated by Ariana


February 3 2011

A Tarnished Revolution / Miguel Iturria Savón

Since the last week of December, the Cuban news media turned the propaganda time chart on the 52nd anniversary of the Revolution, whose reviled founders stayed in power and in the disgust of the population, submerged in silence and the routine of a half-century of slogans and promises.

There was a Revolution but at these heights nobody remembers when it lost its way. Perhaps from 1961 to 1968, on eliminating private property, imposing the state monopoly on the means of production and adopting the tropical version of the Soviet model. Maybe in the middle of the seventies, on institutionalizing the socialist process, sending troops to the African wars and following orders from Moscow, whose regimen fell in 1991.

But it’s not necessary to highlight the matter, for January 1st isn’t any more than a date associated with an imaginary Revolution of Castro-communism; on whose legitimizing calendar other anniversaries of fighting actions are revisited, like 26 July 1953, evoking the failed assault on the “Moncada” and “Céspedes” barracks, which happened in Santiago de Cuba and Bayamo; and 2 December 1956, which commemorates the landing of the yacht Granma in the south of Oriente, considered afterward as Revolutionary Armed Forces Day, founded by decree in October of 1959.

For the past half-century they have been exaggerating the size of the traces of these events, of such indubitable influence in the country’s destiny, crammed down our throats by the attackers who prepared the ill-fated expedition of the Granma, whose survivors started the guerrilla focus which carried out the rural skirmishes of the so-called Rebel Army, one of the forces that fought against the tyranny of General Batista, who fled Havana at daybreak, 31 December 1958.

These facts, retold to the point of exhaustion by the historians and the government’s communication media, have as a common denominator the violence and the necessity of imposing the leadership of the manipulator, Fidel Castro.

To assault the barracks in the eastern zone of the country, the participants bought arms, practiced marksmanship in various places around Havana and crossed the island, besides risking the lives of people who were enjoying the Carnival in Santiago de Cuba, killing dozens of soldiers and exposing their own men. The failure complemented the adventure, but it is worth asking: What would have happened if they had taken it? If the idea was to climb the mountains, why didn’t they just do that?

If we leave behind the problems created by the attackers, the punishments after trial really were benign, the Castros and their followers only spent a year and a half locked up. On getting out, they went to Mexico “to prepare the insurrection,” instead of just climbing the mountains without spending on travel, yachts, fuel, nor violating the laws of a neighboring state.

Behind the expedition of the Granma, bought from the American Robert B. Erikson in Tuxpan with the money from the ex-president Carlos Prío Socarras (1948-1952), is hidden Castro’s proposed inscription in history of imitating the independence fighters of the 19th Century, who armed themselves in the United States and disembarked on various points of the island.

The map of their crossing reveals their irresponsibility and their headstrong nature. If they had left from the furthest point of Yucatan, in only hours they would arrive at the mountains of Pinar del Rio, closer to Havana, without having to cover almost all the Gulf of Mexico and the south of the island to the eastern end, the setting of confrontations just like the hills of Escambray, headquarters of the guerrillas of the Student Directorate, who defied the agents of tyranny in the capital and other towns in the east.

The legitimizing crowing comes to a head with the propaganda about the victory on that faraway first of January 1959, an anniversary that, paradoxically, is associated with the longest dictatorship in our history.


Translated by: JT

January 15 2011

Trafficking or Theraputic Use? / Miguel Iturria Savón

While the international press spreads the case of the American contractor Alan Gross, held prisoner on the island for supposed espionage, and lodged a year ago in a special room of a Havana military hospital, another US citizen survives in a wheelchair in the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. He is Chris Walter Johnson, he was taken prisoner at the Rancho Boyeros airport in August 2009 and tried on this past 26th of December 2010.

Chris Walter Johnson wasn’t contracted by any US agency nor was he in contact with the Jewish island residents who today deny knowing Alan Gross. A decade ago, he came as a tourist and enjoyed the sunshine, the girls, and the other kindnesses of the tropics, including marijuana, which he consumed from adolescence in Los Angeles, California, one of the states of the American Union where you can acquire it by medical prescription and the authorities are betting on its legalization.

The citizen Chris Walter Johnson, 58-years-old, is a ship captain and owner of a small fishing business. In ten years he traveled twice to Cuba, where he cultivated friendships, had girlfriends, and a daughter.

Chris’s disgrace began in July 2009, on meeting a Cuban married to a Mexican woman, who proposed that they go to Cancún to buy clothes. Besides clothing, they acquired a kilogram of marijuana, brought in by Chris in a jelly jar and in a bag placed in his underwear. On returning, the Yankee sailor made things more complicated by offering the Customs officials who detected the drugs at the Havana airport two thousand dollars. Instead of returning to the hotel, he was lodged in La Condesa, a prison for foreigners, accused of drug trafficking and attempted bribery.

The accelerated deterioration of his health motivated Chris’s transfer to the hospital for inmates located in the jail at Combinado del Este. There he waits in a wheelchair, among sick murderers, the pains of an old diving accident, depression, and hope.

An MRI detected that Chris suffers a tumor lesion in his medullar canal, which requires surgical intervention. He suffers, besides, from degenerative disk disease, positional vertigo which prevents him from standing up, and osteoporosis. The medical commission which examined him believes that, because of these problems, Chris Walter Johnson is not compatible with the regimen of imprisonment. His clinical chart was analyzed in the trial which took place this past December 27th.

After a year and four months of being locked up, the case of Chris Walter Johnson was adjudicated and awaited sentencing. The prosecutor asked for 20 years imprisonment, but for his deplorable state of health it is possible that in short order his furlough or expulsion from national territory could be ordered, but between Cuba and the United States there is no agreement that regulates extradition.

Perhaps Chris may not be one of those thousands of patients who invent reasons to obtain prescriptions for marijuana in California, one of the 13 states in the American Union which is betting on the legalization of this recreational drug, which produces a state of relaxation and serves to treat glaucoma, diabetes, depression, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy side-effects among other things; but at the same time it is contraindicated for diverse conditions such as headache, chronic bronchitis, etc., which also produce lesions in memory. God willing you recuperate outside Combinado del Este. Happy 2011, Mister Chris.


Translated by: JT

January 11 2011

Voces 4: Unstoppable / Miguel Iturria Savón

As an end of year gift, the fourth edition of the magazine Voces is now circulating on the ‘Net, located at and presented this past 26th of December in the apartment of Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, founders of the Cuban Blogger Academy, which has published these pages without censorship since August, far from official mandates and political factions.

In the same way as the previous issues, Voces bets on the freedom of expression from a position of freshness and originality. Its format includes texts from 20 authors on 60 pages, with cartoons by Belén Cerros, blogger “La Vida Agridulce”, the index and back pages designs of Rolando Pulido, and composition in the care of writer and photographer Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, responsible for drawings and figures that match up games with letters, arrows, and numbers that create suggestive blank spaces which compensate for the simplicity and absence of sections, footnotes, authors’ notes, and editorial fluff.

Voces 4 deals with themes and figures that cover the vastness of interests of those who approach the Cuban from cyberspace. Exiled and unexiled voices that measure the island’s space in its connection with the world: social, political, and cultural problems, poems, book reviews, narrative pieces, chronicles and current analyses, such as “Truth as Life’s Logic”, which constitutes the communique-denunciation of Hip Hop Patriot Squadron, with which the magazine ends.

It starts with the essay of Vicente Echerri “About a Fractured Identity”, which analyzes the destruction — and the transformation — of the Cuban nation, the identity to which we cling; the abolition of the social contract and other problems that change triumphalist visions of the island’s future.

The sociopolitical theme is approached with critical and polemic sense in texts such as “Cuban Socialism: Juggling At The Edge of The Abyss”, from Reinaldo Escobar, who reports on General Castro’s discussion before the regime’s Parliament; “In Defense of Wikileaks”, from Ernesto Fernández Busto; while Iván de la Nuez offers “Politics: Humanity’s Heritage?”, while Rosa Maria Rodríguez Torrado chips away with “The Honey of Power, Reforms, and Plantation?”, and José Gabriel Barrenechea asks “Is Reform Beginning?”.

Poetry, better dealt with than in the previous edition, brings us four unpublished works, two from the dramatist and narrator Abilio Estévez, who bequeaths “Of the Gods/Of the Tightrope Walker”; while Feliz Luis Viera gives us two unpublished poems from “The Fatherland is an Orange”, one about whores and the other around the notion of a fatherland.

The diverse narrative gallops through the testimony of Yoani Sánchez (“Country Girl of Havana Center”); the travel chronicle “In Puerto Plaza, Without a Visa”, by Armando Añel; the story “In the Office”, by Mabel Cuesta, and the fiction of Omar Alfonso Requena — “A Probable Vasumitra”. Jorge Enrique Lage’s “Flash Forward”, the 12 posts of the anonymous Zorphdark and 19 untitled vignettes from Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, who fantasizes about his encounter with Aki, a Japanese girl who serves him under the pretext of offering her enlightening writings about love and existential aloneness.

Voces 4 includes, in its turn, four pieces of literary and cultural criticism. Tania Favela broaches “The Temptations of Lucio Gaitán”, reviews the book “An Old Trip” by Manuel Periera; also described by Eliseo Alberto, who dedicates the title “Favorable Wind” to it. To Miguel Iturria Savón is owed “The Carnival and the Dead”, about the novel of the same name by Ernesto Santana, Kafka Prize of 2010. While Néstor Díaz de Villegas surprises us with “The Philosophy of T-Che”, where he compares the legend of Jim Morrison — “false idol of a liberation theology” — with the market imperatives that the images of Che, Scarface, and other contemporary icons impose.


Translated by: JT

January 12 2011

The Borders of Choco / Miguel Iturria Savón

The Villa Manuela Gallery extended until the end of November the exhibition Beyond the border, of the painter and engraver Eduardo Roca Salazar (Choco), who according to N. Echevarria, “returns to drawing and even makes a foray into three dimensionality through a set of “sculptured” figures, the inclusion of “Choir” (2010), anchored in earlier works, in which collagraphy forms a structural axis.”

Choco, like Fabelo, Medive or Sosabravo is an artist with his own style and identity, indeed quite oversized. He belongs to the generation of the seventies and studied at the School of Art Instructors and the National Art School, which, combined with his talent and hard work opened institutional spaces within and outside the island.

His resume includes prizes, citations and awards for his prints in exhibitions in Bulgaria, Cuba, Spain and Japan; personal and collective exhibitions in and beyond our island, and works in collections of museums and art institutes in Havana, Chicago, Mexico, Palma de Mallorca, Tama, Kochi (Japan) and Germany.

Human representation is at the center of the eleven pieces that Choco displays, which plunges us into the imaginary intimacy of dark syncretic faces, reaffirmed in earth tones, natural sienna, black and white as a contrast. Their faces and asymmetric bodies — male, female or hybrids — seem to say that beauty is in the information and the artistic sense, highlighted by the relationship between figure and background.

Although Choco studied painting and triumphed with his prints, years ago he showed a preference for collagraphy and sculptures of glued paper, which require perseverance, craft, and a love of manual meticulousness, enriched by the composition and the work of color in each offering, whose corporeality and expression infers eroticism and vitality.

His geometric symbolism in “Reflejos” (2004-2010), made up of four medium-sized pieces of mixed media, appears as if looking through glass, not water. In these profiles can be seen traces of African features, palpable in a previous series of great visual intensity, such as the sculptures “Juegos de Cabeza” and “Bemba Colora”, tied to the ethnic origin of the creator.

The sculpture “Abrazos” (glued paper of 158 by 40 and 22 cm), asymmetric and symbolic, demonstrates mastery of the body and offers readings that break from the sensuality and texture of the piece; while in “La Siesta”, a work of background and figure, the color and technique enhance the expression, enriched by stripes, lines and numerical indications that hint at hidden messages.

In mixed-media creations such as “Beyond the Border “, “The Wall That Surrounds Us”, “Silence” and “Torso”, Choco demonstrates his figurative mastery in the exploration of the tactile, addressed in a number of sculptures, prints and collagraphs that travel from lyricism to a subtle everyday intimacy, but evade other realities.


Translated by Rick Schwag

November 28 2010

Caged Educators / Miguel Iturria Savón

The eminent Cuban essayist and educator Enrique José Varona, Secretary of Public Education during the U.S. occupation government (1899-1902), said: “The job of the teacher is to teach people how to work with their hands, with their eyes, with their ears, and then, with their thoughts”

The aphorism remains relevant after half a century of gambling on creating a ‘New Man’, out of which emerges the opposite: apathy, lack of values, extreme hedonism, and other childish growths that certify the dissonance between words and deeds.

In these December days, the island press releases a flood of slogans about education, since the 22nd is the Day of the Teacher. are Lowered from their bronze pedestal are worthies like Jose Marti and E.J Varona, whose phrases come in handy for teachers and professors, who bear the guilt of our disastrous educational system, although nobody consulted them to formulate educational policy, still based on utopias that try to annul individual initiative by means of state indoctrination, militant asceticism, promoting accessories, and the habit of obeying without question.

A government that had the luxury of closing the Teachers Normal School, and sending prospective teachers to study under palm leaves in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, does not end by finding a path of balance in such an important area. The syndrome of the emergency and the barbed wire of censorship of school textbooks, marches forward along with the poison of ideological propaganda, the lack of school materials and the devastating outlook of the country, where it encourages servile complicity and a denunciation of diversity of thinking.

Teaching is one of the pillars of the Castro regime, which uses indoctrination with media propaganda, adorned in turn by the precepts of cultural institutions, in tune with the monotonous discourse of power, able to punish political difference, insult those who express themselves without masks, and makes up for the lack of arguments with outdated slogans and dogmas.

An education system that instills loyalty to the leader, forces children to take an absurd oath and excludes from universities those who do not support their revolutionary pedigree, is like a barricade against intelligence, creativity and individual development.

Like on every Dec. 22, teachers wait for their presents and the authorities ring the bells about the wonders of the educational system in Cuba. They forget, however, the phrase of Varona about teaching how to work with thoughts, and the maxim of Marti about the respect for freedom and the thinking of others


Translated by Rick Schwag

December 22, 2010

Of Danger and Other Miseries / Miguel Iturria Savón

Weeks ago, in the municipality of Cotorro, southeast of Havana, dozens of photos of girls engaging in sexual acts with men and with each other were leaked by means of compact disks, flash memory, cell phones and digital cameras. Although some of the girls surprised the “curious” by their irreproachable prior behavior, the most questionable part of this story lies not in the exercise of sexual self-determination of such persons, but in the unscrupulous person who put the images of these practices into the public domain.

This, in itself, converted the girls into victims of the crime of sexual outrage, perhaps because those involved did not give consent to the release of the images, which damages rights inherent in personality, privacy and self-image, although we know that the right to one’s own image — a part of the right to privacy — is violated in many places.

The photos published not only converted the girls into victims of their acts, it affected boyfriends, relatives, neighbors and others. One of the girls, aged 17, was convicted of dangerousness, on the charge of the presumed practice of prostitution. The trial was conducted with open doors, instead of being held in private as appropriate to the sensitivity of the matter.

The most unusual part of the hearing was that they took the photos — debated publicly in the courtroom — as evidence, something unnecessary as there was no denial of the practice of prostitution.

To make matters worse, the girl was subjected to a thorough interrogation, very indiscreet of course, about the intimate details of her practices, which reminded me of the witch hunts of the Inquisition. I never saw, with my own eyes, anyone so humiliated.

As if it were nothing, the girl was sentenced to four years in a specialized center for work or study, the maximum sentence for the crime of dangerousness. I have heard that these centers are nothing more than prisons.

I do not know the girl but I am sure that right now, without counting upcoming sanctions, she has more than paid the consequences of her reckless immaturity. She is a victim of the person who devoured her honor. I went to her parents, who were present at the trial, to express my regret for what awaits them. What will become of her in prison with this kind of help?

Translated by ricote


Challengers Gala / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Sunday morning November 21 you could hardly walk down Galiano Street in Central Havana, as expectation reigned in front of the American Theatre, home of musical and comedic performances, now converted into a Coliseum of muscles by the Cuban Association of Bodybuilding, which held its gala Challenge of Champions, broadcast on the sports channel of national television, something unusual since athletes who cultivate the aesthetic of the body are not yet officially recognized.

Those of us who could not get to the ticket sellers window of the theater went to the scalpers, who offered them for two CUC, equivalent to two dollars, an acceptable amount due to the rarity of the spectacle, distinguished by the initial parade of athletes, finalists of the previous year who took the stage together and then, to the beat of the music, everyone did their performance, while the jury made notes and the audience clapped or whispered.

Since in Cuba there is both a provincial and a national competition, which designates the winners by weight class, (65 kilograms, 70, 75, 80, 90 and over 90), all the champions have the right to appear at the Gala of the Challengers, with the goal of appointing the best amongst them, making the event the most important and colorful as it will select the Absolute Champion, recognized as the most comprehensive body builder on the island.

Between the National Championship and the Challenge of Champions is a time of preparation, as these athletes depend on fitness, a specialised diet, will and self-esteem as the essential elements.

Competitors are not measured by strength, size or age, but by a set of requirements such as muscle mass (volume), definition, symmetry, harmony and vascularity.

On Sunday the 21st, the jury appointed by the Cuban Association of bodybuilding chose five from among the champions presented at the match of the Challengers. First place went to Tony, who also won in 2009 and retains the scepter of Absolute Champion. He was joined at the top by Trinquete, Miguel Castro, Tomás and Alburquerque, winners of the 2nd through fifth positions, respectively.

Leaving the American Theatre, while photographing the Champion and trying to ask his last name and other details, I thought of the enormous challenge of these athletes of the sculptured bodies, excluded from official competition, lacking a national team and representatives within or outside the island, without travel or help to support their small gymnasiums, and classified years ago as lazy and narcissistic.

They lack support but compete for love, obtain public spaces, self-finance their training and events, have their own NGO (ACF) and legendary figures such as Miguel ‘Smorgasbord” Cambolo, Maximo, Ariel Flores and the legendary Sergio Oliva, Cuba’s most emblematic bodybuilder, former member of the national weightlifting team, who emigrated to the United States, where he won the Mr. Olympia prize between 1967 and 1969 and lost in 1970 to Arnold Schwarzenegger, a paradigm of success and a patron of the sport in North America and the world.

Translated by ricote

November 30 2010

Havana International Film Festival / Miguel Iturria Savón

The Journal of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema is already out with its XXXII edition with previews the festival scheduled from December 2-12. Playing in the main theaters of Havana, home since 1978 to one of the most comprehensive festivals of images and sound on the continent; it includes the U.S. and Canada with co-productions, representative samples, conferences and the section “Latinos in the USA,” to which this year is added the Homage of the National Film Board of Canada, which is showing 47 works at the festival including animated, fiction, and documentary films.

As in previous years, the filmmakers will compete for Coral Awards in fiction (feature films), first works, documentaries, animation, script and posters, along with the coveted award of popularity, the Latin American First Copy Award and other awards. In 2010 there will be works on the Bicentennial of Independence, with the 25 Glances in 200 Minutes — shorts of Argentina; the animated series Fates, humorous and short stories of Independence and the Mexican Revolution, which will showcase 26 movie minutes lasting 90 seconds each (13 dedicated to the Independence and 13 to the Centennial of the Revolution started in 1910).

The schedule contains 21 feature films, 4 from Argentina and the same number from Cuba and Mexico, 2 from Brazil, Chile and Venezuela and 1 each from Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay, and two Uruguay-Spain co-productions, and another from Venezuela, Cuba and France – plus a Brazilian film outside the competition on the life of president Lula, supplemented by 23 medium-length and short films, among them a German film about Cuba, which premieres Bathers, Carlos Lechuga, and Aché, about the writer and filmmaker Eduardo Llano; and including Brazil (7) and Mexico (5), and followed by Peru (2), Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Venezuela (1 each).

Twenty-three first-run films are competing, led by Brazil and Mexico (4), followed by Argentina (3), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba and Uruguay, each with two works. Generating the most interest are the entries from Argentina: The Intern, No Return and Puzzles; Five Favelas from Brazil; Of Love and Other Demons (Costa Rica) and Fierce Molinas and Affinities (Cuba), the second directed by actors Jorge Perugorria and Vladimir Cruz; and The Mute House, by Uruguayan filmmaker Gustavo Hernández, based on real events.

Argentina leads the festival with 91 pieces in total, including documentaries, animation, scripts, posters, etc., revealing a fascination for its films, the most convincing of Latin America; followed by Cuba (85), which benefits from its status as host to show 33 minor works and 17 audiovisual productions from the Superior Art Institute; and then Mexico (70), Brazil (42), Chile (24), Colombia (15) and Venezuela (10).

This edition is well served by animated film, characterized by color, humor and brevity, and represented by 28 titles, led by Argentina (7), Brazil, Chile and Venezuela (4), Cuba (3) — among them Nikita Chama Bom, by Juan Padrón Blanco — Mexico and Colombia (2) and the unusual presence of El Salvador.

The organizers scheduled 42 films in the section Made in Cuba, of which 35 are documentaries, 6 fiction, and one experimental; 33 are from Island producers and the others are from Ireland, Italy, Britain and Uruguay. That of Ireland appears as a formal request as it constitutes the Castro regime’s version of the Black Spring of 2003.

In “The Hour of Shorts” (23 tapes), are submissions from Vanguards (17), Latin American Panorama (22 fiction), and Latin America Documentaries in perspective (38), as well as fantasy and horror films, confirming the “fraternal rivalry” between the film industries of the leading countries in regional culture.

International options at the Film Festival of Havana include films from Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain and Poland, as well as Finnish Animation 8 titles and some from Denmark, France, Norway, Egypt, India and Iran.

Moviegoers will be able to attend two seminars, see seven exhibits in the Chaplin Room and other locations, buy books and magazines, attend shows with actors and directors and choose what to see among the 515 films on billboards, of which 122 are competing. It may be too many for ten days and more than 20 theaters.

December 2 2010

Perhaps the Beginning of the End? / Miguel Iturria Savón

Last night, while waiting for the meteorologist who provides the weather on the National Television News, I heard the Appeal of General Castro to the people of Cuba to join the analysis of the Social and Economic Guidelines to be adopted at April 2011 Communist Party Congress.

I had forgotten about the One Party and its five-year congresses, but I remembered the Appeal in 1992, when they asked the people to offer their opinions, people said many things and the men in power turned the page. Once again, the same movie, like the “debate” from last year about raising the retirement age, and months later announcing the layoffs of a million workers, with the “approval” of the Party and the Workers Union which is controlled by it.

As it is not possible to understand the chronology of the absurdities and improvisations of those who run the country as if it were a cavalry regiment, I turned off the television and forgot about the weather. What’s the point of knowing about the rain, the cold or the cyclones, if it is the Palace gurus who unleash the hurricane?

I don’t think even in H.G. Welles, with his Time Machine, it would be possible to understand these broken gods who have lost their way, writing appeals and pulling out of their hats useless congresses to try to stitch together the torn national fabric. Of the Castro bulldogs would read The Invisible Man, The Food of the Gods, The Door in the Wall, and other works by Welles it might trigger their imagination and save us the little story of the Party’s role, its congresses, and its guidelines for governance.

Perhaps the Cuban general, like Welles with his fantasies, knows that dreams of domination have no basis in reality. The revolutionaries are not immortal, nor can people believe in a social model that delays transformations and turns its failures into endless nightmares.

The Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, reorganized in 1965, and recognized in the Socialist Constitution of 1976 as “the highest leading force of society and the state,” continued to political orthodoxy outlined by Lenin, founder of the former Soviet Union, to which we tied ourselves for three decades. At the disappearance of this resources and guidance, the island ship was left to the mercy of the winds. The five-year cycle was interrupted; since 1990 the congress has been held or cancelled according to the convenience of the Castro brothers, party secretaries-in-chief.

Now, after a decade of postponements, the wheels of the totalitarian train roll again, boarding the Party faithful. The whys and wherefores are superfluous, the dictatorship knows their masks. If the compass of the party congresses needs to be reset, they will impose guidelines and directions. For me, however, it’s not worth the time that will be wasted in useless discussions. Opening the doors in the wall would require summoning all the forces on the national stage and normalizing life in the country.

November 16, 2010

A Poet of “Sumptuous Sensuality” / Miguel Iturria Savón

Like Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-Madrid, 1873), the great poet, essayist and journalist Gaston Baquero Díaz (Banes, Holguin, 1918 – Madrid, 1997) moved between Cuba and Spain, where he went in March 1959, when the revolution toppled the social pyramid to which his talent had elevated him, despite poverty and racial prejudice. Unlike Madam Gertrudis, who triumphed in Spain and was then became known on the island, Gaston was a goldsmith of letters and a character in the press at the time he abandoned the tropics. For him, Spain was the great stage, the ultimate creative landing stage.

Gastón Baquero belonged to the Origins generation, centered around José Lezama Lima, Eliseo Diego, Fina García Marruz, Cintio Vitier, Gaztelu and other writers of memorable work, united by their creative diversity and art as an essential reason.He began its intense cultural activity in the thirties, despite graduating as an agronomist and sugar chemist. He wrote poems, articles, essays and translated authors from English and French, such as T. E. Eliot, P. Valery, H. Aldmgton and G. Santayana. His first poems and writings have appeared in Havana newspapers and magazines: Social, Verbum, Baraguá, Grafos, Espuela de Plata, Revista Cubana, Orbe, Clavileño, Poeta, América and the celebrated Origins. From 1945 he worked as Chief Editor of the Journal of the Navy, where he wrote the sections “Panorama” and “Compass Needle.”

The poems “Park” and “Dead Girl” announce his adolescent precocity, but the significance of Baquero begins with the poignant Words Written in the Sand for an Innocent (1942), although he had published decenas such as “Federico García Lorca” “Sonnets of Death“, “Song“, “Adam in Paradise” and others included by Cintio Vitier in Ten Cuban Poets (1948), which include “Prelude to a Mask,” “The Knight, the Devil and Death” and “Testament of the Fish,” well-regarded by the critics. And evoking this luminous stage, María Zambrano said, “that the sumptuous richness of life, the delusions of the substance are first that the void …” Hence, he highlighted in the intuitive and precocious poet the “sumptuous sensuality” of his poems.

Before these anthology texts Baquero released Poems of Another Time (1937-1944), including “Sing the Lark at Heaven’s Door“, “Cassandra” and some which were not reissued; they remain bright and airy creations, which will diminish with his entry into professional journalism and public activities.

Gaston Baquero’s Spanish stage, marked by the industrious scriptural silence and some intellectual ostracism despite working at the Institute of Hispanic Culture and for Radio Exterior of Spain, he was prolific in journalism and literature. This period corresponds Poems Written in Spain (1960), Memorial of a Witness (1966), Spells and Investments (1984), Invisible Poems (1991), Autoanthology (1992), and the essays Hispanic Writers of Today (1961), The Development of Marxism in Latin America (1966), Dario, Cernuda and Other Poetic Themes (1969), Indians, Blacks and Whites in the Cauldron of America (1991), Approaching Dulce Maria Loynaz (1993), The Inexhaustible Source (1995) and two volumes of his poems and essays prepared by Alfonso Ortega Carmona and Alfredo Pérez Alencart and edited by the Hispanic Foundation.

His vast work is barely known in Cuba, where his name was removed from the publishing world for extra-literary reasons, until 1999 when Efraín Rodríguez Santana, who received a scholarship in Hispanic studies and gained the confidence of the author in Madrid, published the anthology Gastón Baquero The Sonorous Homeland of Fruit, which contains much of his verse, a Bibliography and an Appendix on his life and work, with texts by Eugenio Florit, Emilio Ballagas, Lezama Lima, Cintio Vitier, Fina García Marruz, Eliseo Diego , Francisco Brines, Jose Kozer, Pius E. Serrano, Felipe Lázaro and others.

The postmortem tribute brought young artists back to the great lyricist, described by Lezama Lima as a sonorous poet “with an incorruptible vocation,” living in “the house of poetry.” Other members of the Origins group shed light on the poet from Banes. To Cintio Vitier, “the mulatto with the face of an African prince,” was a “stunning island behind the fog”, who “oscillates between life and imagination, between emotion and invention, between poetry and the person.”

Critics and supporters of Gaston Baquero carved out the universal coordinates of his poems and literary reviews, which reflect his philosophical and aesthetic principles, marked by eloquence, conjurers of death, Catholicism as a vocation, fantasy and culture, and the premise of the poem as a legitimate character of poetic creation.

As Gaston noted that one should have the courage, at the end of the road, to keep two or three poems representative of the intention he had to write, I will say which I would choose as his fabulous legacy. For the reader, I am sure that the transcendent journey, the rescue of the city, and the poetic play with history, will encourage you to go in pursuit of his verses. My choices are these:
* Words Written in the Sand for the Innocent.
* Testament of the Fish.
* Brandenburg 1526

October 11, 2010

José M. Heredia, Poet of a Nation in Waiting / Miguel Iturria Savón

Jose Maria Heredia (Santiago de Cuba 12/31/1803 – and Mexico 07/05/1839) is the first paradigm of Cuban poetry, despite being the son of a colonial official and living most of his short life outside the island, the center of his certainties, frustrations and hopes.

His careful academic formation and his human and political, determined romantic affiliations and longings for freedom, and also plunged him into the civil struggles of Mexico, scene of his long exile, where he served as judge, prosecutor, legislator, minister and journalist; meanwhile polishing his verses, published in New York in 1825 and in Toluca in 1832.

From Mexico he was aware of the events of Cuba, certain that “once awakened from its colonial slumber, it would weigh much more in the political balance …” because “the cause of freedom in America is proved, while Cuba is not free…” This perception led to his exaltation of the indigenous and to considering the island as “the equilibrium of America” and “the essential element in the harmony of the world,”while challenging the claims of those who saw slavery as a brake on independence.

As a journalist for The Iris, The Conservative and other Mexican periodicals, he castigated the American colonists who demanded the annexation of territory to the United States, calling them “insolent usurpers” and “foreign vagabonds.” In his article Rumors of Invasion, which appeared on April 22, 1826, he called on his colleagues to “exchange the pen for the sword” against Fernando VII in order to liberate Mexico and other American nations from Spanish colonialism.

Biographers, critics and apologists of Heredia have analyzed his poetic contribution, the circumstances of the era, family influences and his participation in the separatist conspiracy of 1822, the cause of his exile. In reclaiming the author of A Star of Cuba, In the Teocalli of Cholula and the Ode to Niagara, the assessment of Jose Marti was instrumental, another poet and independence leader, who lived in Mexico and traced the footsteps of his predecessor.

In an evening of tribute in the United States in 1889, Marti said that Heredia “had had the courage for everything, except to die without returning to his mother and his palms… he, a being in every symbol of the country, left us a path from the cradle to the grave, with the people who created us as colleagues and brothers.”

Marti alluded to Heredia’s controversial letter of April 1836, asking permission from the Captain General of the Island to visit his mother in Matanzas. The interview that he had with the despot in November of that year before visiting his family sparked criticism from Domingo del Monte and other detractors, who considered him the “fallen angel.”

None of them sang the praises of independence and freedom for Cuba like Heredia. Let’s look at some lines that grow with time:

Cuba! You will be free
Pure as the air of light that you breathe
As the rolling waves you see
Embracing your sandy shores.

This “air of light” shines in several of his compositions, almost always external and focused on the island drama, when freedom was envisioned only by pioneers such as himself and Father Feliz Varela.

The country yearned for by José Maria Heredia in The Star of Cuba, has now published his poetry books and uses his verses in history books and literature, but the freedom he dreamed of is still a nightmare. Nearly two centuries after his death, the cantor of a nation in waiting, skeptical, euphoric and visionary, would reveal “the horrors of the moral world and the physical beauties of the world,” before the banishment of new patriots and the complacency of so many intellectuals with the island tyranny.

September 28, 2010

Government Neglect of the Mentally Ill / Miguel Iturria Savón

Last Friday I ran into my friend Nora on a bus, she’s diabetic with a 9-year-old daughter and schizophrenic brother who is a patient in a Havana psychiatric hospital. They take good care of him, after he bounced back and forth between his father’s house and the Mazorra madhouse, during almost two decades of delusions, pills and ghosts that turned him into a human wreck.

On asking Nora about her obvious concern, she told me that the sanatorium summoned her and after several questions they warned her that since her brother had his own house and could count on her help, she should be thinking about moving him back into the paternal home or the house she shares with her husband and daughter, as per the guidelines of the Ministry of Health to reduce the permanent population of the hospitals for the insane and mentally retarded.

For her, the “return” will increase the problems because the death of their father worsened the brother’s insanity and only with the help of the neighbors where they able to get him in Mazorra, where they discharged him as soon as the hallucinations decreased. He was back after two or three months and she could barely go to work. If left in his apartment she had to visit him daily and bear the complaints of the neighbors. The whole thing was also a burden for her daughter and husband; when her brother went into a crisis they had to hide in the house of a neighbor while the husband managed the ambulance or tried to calm down his brother-in-law.

Nora and her brother own their own houses, but he can’t live alone, or with someone else, there is no one who can put up with the ever-increasing problems. For both of them the alternative lies in the health institution. There are, however, worse cases, sick people with no families or with relatives who are very poor, aging or don’t have adequate housing.

I remember, for example, the case of Peter, a 53-year-old schizophrenic without parents or siblings to put up with his rantings. He was homeless and was about to die on the streets of an eastern town until a relative got him into an asylum in Havana, where he improved a lot but then they moved him to a Transit Hospital located in Fontanar. There, among the crazies and the beggars, Peter looks like a zombie waiting for the decision of the Classification Commission, which decides who gets put in the street, who is returned to their province, and who goes into Mazorra.

The former painters Edel Torres and his uncle Manolo are another example of the critical importance of the health institutions for psychiatric patients. For 17 years Edel bounced back and forth between his father’s house and large mental hospital in the capital. When his father died, Manolo moved in with him, but in three years he couldn’t deal with the frequent crises, the cost of food and medicine and the deteriorating house. After a decade of living together, Manolo is a beggar and Edel fights the same voices and demons that haunt him.

Nora and her brother Ernesto, Peter, Edel and Manolo, Alain, and dozens of the insane and retarded who increase like the marabou weed, resulting in a heavy burden on institutions and families. It is not a question of forgetting them in the hospital, or returning them to their “place of origin,” which they would not have left if they were in their right minds. The solution is not to relocate them like obsolete factory workers, if we can’t provide them social protection.

November 11, 2010

The Empire of a Diva / Miguel Iturria Savón

The Havana Ballet Festival, held from October 28 to November 7, and dedicated the Alicia Alonso’s 90th birthday, had moments of greatness with figures and groups from the island, North America and Europe, but it overemphasized the legend of the Prima Ballerina Assoluta, which distorts the situation of the National Ballet, marked by the exodus of its best dancers and choreographers, and by the aesthetic of classicism which distinguishes and limits its creative delivery.

The talent and founding work of Alicia is undeniable, as are her triumphs in New York, Paris, Moscow and other capitals from 1940 to the late sixties. In addition, she forged a generation of ballet dancers, together with her ex-husband, Fernando Alonso, former director of the National Ballet of Cuba; but if the Diva directs from backstage, then her visual problems and the passage of time immobilize her, so that both the School and the Cuban Ballet, mounted in the image of her Pharaonic royalty, exist despite Alicia, although through the system of stars of the Castro regime she is awarded the throne until death, which explains her incessant choreography, master classes and distinctions.

To avoid offending Alonsova’s fans, I will refer to the honors received by the Diva during the 22nd International Ballet Festival of Havana, which drew companies from 18 nations, including: American Ballet Theater, the Royal Ballet of London and the English National Ballet, the ballets of the Operas of Berlin and Munich, the National Dance Company of Spain, the Malandain Biarritz Ballet, the Teresa Carreño Ballet Theater, Stars of New York City Ballet, and guest dancers such as Maruxa Salas and Vladimir Vasiliev, who gave Alicia the Galina Ulanova Foundation Prize of Russia.

During the Festival opening a documentary was presented on the life and creative path of Doña Alicia, honored in turn by the Cinematheque of Cuba, which opened a collection of black and white photographs in the Chaplin gallery, accompanied by posers and scenic objects evocative of the Diva.

The Cinematheque and the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry showed the films: Alice In Wonderland, made in 1962 by Pastor Vega; the short Spiral, by Miriam Talavera (1990), and Alicia, the Eternal Dancer, by Manuel Iglesias (1996); The Origins Gallery of the Great Theater of Havana, meanwhile, home to the Ballet and the Opera, presented the film Sleeping Beauty, with choreographic adaptation by the former ballerina.

The Origins hall inaugurated a beautiful exhibition of small sculptures, Pieces of Memory, by Isabel Santos Red, made from wax, metal and wood, alluding to moments and figures in the ballet, and especially to Alonso.

We know that in all forms of art there is a desire to be in the limelight, but the role of our Diva is the height of Egomania. Alice no longer twirls in the lake of the swans, nor is reincarnated in Carmen or Giselle, but she cannot seem to find the door to retirement.

November 9, 2010

Palms for the Glory of the Despot / Miguel Iturria Savón

Most passers-by hurrying between la Manzana de Gómez and the former Havana Asturian Center, barely notice the presence of five unmoving palm plumes against the front of the neoclassical palace converted to a home for the collections of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Foreign tourists are accustomed to look up and take photographs, and sometimes they ask about the unusual “plants.”

The answer lies in one of the windows of the entrance to the palace, where 29 of the court’s artists painted works to honor the 80th birthday of Fidel Castro in mid-2006. The tyrant was gravely ill and had designated his brother as successor, but his executors ordered the creation — of symbolic value because the metal palm trees and ridiculous before the architectural excellence of the Asturian Center — to evoke the name of the Sierra Maestran hamlet which sheltered the then freedom fighters, who had spent a month escaping from the soldiers of the previous tyranny.

The five palms of the Castro brothers illustrate the subordination of art to tyranny. The sculptures are allegedly the responsibility of the Guayasamin Foundation, with the artists who accompanied the island despot in the opening of the “Chapel of Man.”

Among the creators of the chapel are celebrities such as: Eduardo Abela, Agustín Bejerano, Roberto Diago, Nelson Domínguez, Roberto Fabelo, Flora Fong, Ever Fonseca, Gómez Fresquet, Joel Jovel, Alicia Leal, Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho), Manuel López Oliva, Manuel Mendive, Juan Moreira, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Cosme Proenza, Ernesto Rancaño, Zaida del Río, Eduardo Roca (Choco), Vicente Rodríguez Bonachea, Alfredo Sosa Bravo and others who propose or assume ministerial projects, like those painters and sculptors of medieval courts.

Not all of them illustrated the metal palm trees that “grow” between the flagstones of Parque Central and the Placita de Alvear. If we look up we can appreciate the zoomorphic dualism of the images of Manuel Mendive, the naked woman of Zaida del Rio, the white dove and the red circle of Moreira, the aboriginal with a mask of Sosa Bravo, the human figure of Jover, and drawings with fish, flags and the facades of buildings which embellish the inert plumes with their visual allegories.

More than honoring the tyrant in his eightieth birthday and marking the legend of the reunion with his brother successor, we have a street installation that eventually will change its location, perhaps to the village of Cinco Palmas, situated 25 miles from Media Luna and 40 from Manzanillo, in eastern Cuba, where hunger, isolation and lack of expectations are causing the exodus of its humble villagers.

The work, however, illustrates the connivance of many artists with centralized despotism and exceeds the limits of shame. Maybe it’s a way to avoid suspicion and maintain one’s position at the top of the heap, to secure retail space and foreign travel at the expense of others forced into exile or survival between galleries and local cultural centers, where they teach classes and sponsor community workshops.

November 8, 2010