La Avellaneda / Miguel Iturria Savón

If Jose Maria Heredia (1803-1839) and José Martí (1853-1895) live on for their poetry of patriotic concerns, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-Madrid, 1873) slipped into immortality for her lyrical, narrative and theatrical contributions. The three were a kind of tropical cyclone that converged on the tongue in the nineteenth century; though they didn’t coincide on the map of the island. She admired Heredia and went to Niagara Falls to evoke him with another Oda. Meanwhile José Martí binds them in their differences and rescues them as symbols of the nation that works.

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda was like a mirror superimposed on horizons. For her, Spain was the promised dream of her Andalusian father, the home of ancestors who knew how to lift the drowsy parochialism. She left with her family in April 1836. Her sonnet Leaving is a cry of love and Cubanness, an expression of the uprooting and anticipation that accompanied her to the Peninsula, where she established himself independently in spite of prejudice and ethical and social conventions. Her life ranged from Cadiz, Seville and Madrid, in a succession of creative goals and personal passions, against the grain of cultural otherness and her native condition: a beautiful criolla, rebellious and cultured.

This writer with the fascinating personality, complex and authentic, sensitive, and talented, breached the nineteenth century hierarchy and the patriarchal ideology to establish herself in the cultural field of Spain through the press, printing and theater stages. She signed her poems with the pseudonym “La Peregrina,” The Pilgrim. Her loving correspondence is a cultural heritage of human depth and pre-feminist affirmation, a theme that runs through her dramas, comedies and stories, in which women compete with other characters and drive the plot.

Avellaneda’s literary profile falls within the Spanish context of early romanticism. Her first publications were poems which started to appear in 1838 in the newspapers and magazines of Andalusian cities. Critics say that the originality of her frame of mind exceeded the thematic and stylistic expectations of feminine writing of that era. Fame surprised her when her tragedy Leoncia was released in Cadiz, Granada and Seville, although she excelled in drama, comedy, novels, and poetry, and wrote essays and letters that recreate certain keys of her lyrical, passionate relationships and dramatic characters that populated her imagination.

In 1841 she published her first volume of poems and her novel Sab, inspired by a young slave, black and virtuous. These were followed by the novel Two Women (1842), banned in Cuba as was Sab; the stories Espatolino, The Baroness de Joux, and the Biography of the Countess of Merlin; and the dramas Alfonso Munio and Prince of Viana, all in 1844, for which she was honored by the Liceo de Madrid — which gave prizes to two of her poems — and the Laurel Crown, and she was named to the Society of Merit. Between 1844 and 1858 she also published the drama Egilona, an autobiographical article for the Mellado Dictionary of History and Geography,  the novel Guatimozin, The Last Emperor of Mexico, and the second enlarged edition of her Poems. Meanwhile her other works premiered: Saul, Flavio Recaredo, The Truth Wins Appearances, The Daughter of Flowers, Errors of the Heart, and Balthazar; as well as the comedies, Like and Dislike, The Daughter of King René, The Oracle of Thalia and The Millionaire and the Suitcase, These were well represented in Cuba where she returned in 1859 with her second husband, the Spanish official Domingo Verdugo, who witnessed two extraliterary failures of his wife: her rejection for membership to the Royal Spanish Academy of Language (1853); and the staging of the play The Three Lovers, which led to scandals and duels. She also left us with the unpublished work, The Diary of Love.

During her second stay on the island (1859-1864), she continued the intense social and intellectual life she had enjoyed in the cities in Spain. She is honored in her birthplace of Camaguey, and in Matanzas, Cárdenas and the Tacón Theater of in Havana, where the poet Luisa Perez de Zambrana offered a laurel wreath carved in gold, on behalf of the capital’s intelligentsia; meanwhile in Cienfuegos the Avellaneda Theatre is named after her.

In 1860 she founded the Cuban Album Review of the Good and the Beautiful, directed and written in collaboration with renowned countrymen who shook the cultural and literary torpor of the island. In 1863 she published the novel The Boatman Artist, and immersed herself in grief at the death of her husband, who was then the head of the Government in Pinar del Rio, a position he held earlier in Cienfuegos and Cardenas. She returned to Madrid, where she dedicated her last years to preparing her Collected Works.

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, one of the leading voices of letters in Latin America, has been widely studied by the critics. Experts believe that her main contribution lies in the domain of the metric, because she cultivated all types of verses from the rhythmic arsenal of the neoclassical to the Romanesque. They say that she was influential in the theater among Spanish playwrights of her generation; but not in Cuba, where her works were less frequently staged and seen as part of the work coming from the mainland; but her impact on the island is in her poetry and prose, with its historical-biographical and reflexive character, despite the fact that poetry here was then more intimate than the novel and expressive lines of La Peregrina.

For her excellence, breadth and sense of renewal, the work of Avellaneda still moves the sensibilities of those who approach her writing. Her subtle spirit, her innate pride and the rebellion voiced in her poems, novels and dramatic characters, seem to gallop in the stillness of the treasured books in the library collections of Cuba and Spain.

October 3, 2010

Television’s Amnesia on its 60th Anniversary / Miguel Iturria Savón

To the calendar of Cuban celebrations we add, these days, the sixtieth anniversary of the beginning of television, recorded on October 24, 1950, which started in the building in the Vedado neighborhood occupied by the Institute of Radio and Television, expropriated from the founders of the medium, who went with their images and sounds to other lands of America, where they found new support for cultural information.

With the expropriation of the television studios, radio stations, magazines and newspapers of the island, the revolutionary government created a monopoly on information to manipulate the means of expression and to gag culture. The design imposed has not changed in five decades. The censorship is evident in the National Television News, aired three times a day, and the mono-thematic Roundtable talk show, which underpins the discourse of power and promotes a collective idiocy.

I will not dwell on those programs that interweave half-truths and outright lies, because their fabrications spread in all areas, including shows about literature, history, sports, and even tele-classes that distort reality according to policy, understood as whatever our nation’s leaders perceive it to be, given that we are still governed by the same group that took over the country in 1959.

Six decades after that sign that surprised a few who expected a miracle in their own homes, television is essential. The small screen is the greatest means of entertainment and information to millions of people. Compared with television, radio broadcasts and productions of cinemas and theaters are just one option. The TV comes into every home and enriches or impoverishes the spirituality of family members.

Television, like the movies, relies on technical, human and financial support. It draws from the press and radio, literature, history, geography, political events and artistic performances, and sports, and calls on science, education and other areas of life that inspire its programming.

But back to sixtieth anniversary of the founding of television in Cuba, one of the first countries to broadcast it in Latin America, along with radio which began on the island in 1921. The radio stations, along with the television studios and channels seem obvious to us, since we almost all grew up with them and they are there, just press a button and sit and watch and listen, change the channel or turn it off.

Broadcasters now evoke the initial moments of our television, interviewing directors, writers, producers, actors and camera operators, in long appearances before the cameras, in addition to dramas, dance and music that marked the early times, and figures such as Enrique Santisteban, Germán Pinelli, Consuelo Vidal, Cepero Brito, Eva Rodríguez, Rosita Fornés or Manolo Ortega. But there are no mentions of the founding entrepreneurs or the stars who went into exile during the dictatorship.

And speaking of dictatorships, we remember that 58 of the 60 years traversed by Cuban television have been lived under tyrannies who “tightened the belt” on television and other media. The first, led by General Fulgencio Batista between March 1952 and December 1958, did not exercise absolute censorship. The second, under the leadership of Castro since 1959, has put the press, radio and television under the complete control of the ideology department of the Communist Party, which justifies what is excluded from the media, fabricates heroes and news, and draws a zone of silence around prisons, law enforcement, government inefficiency, political immobility, corruption and other evils of a system that has hit bottom.

The complicity of our television producers with centralized despotism has no limits. Nothing comes to the small screen without passing through the filter of censorship, one of the keys to converting the people en masse. We will see until when. On television a reporter will announce the changes and breathe life into a freedom where all voices will be heard. Only then will we celebrate with joy that transmission of October 24, 1950.

November 4, 2010

The Press That Devalues the Writer / Miguel Iturria Savón

In October, when the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, author of The City and the Dogs, Conversation in the Cathedral and The Feast of the Goat, the Cuban press downplayed the contributions of the great novelist and wasted ink on slander, due to the author’s criticism of Castro, whose spokesmen break their spears over anyone who demystifies our dictatorship.

Long ago, however, the American reporter Joseph Pulitzer suggested that “real journalism never takes sides, no matter what happens,” advice rejected in Cuba and elsewhere on the planet. On this Caribbean island bias is still the norm and censorship the law, because the media are in government hands and are based on ideological simplifications, which idealize allies and demonize enemies.

For Pulitzer, “A free press must always advocate for progress and reform. Never tolerate injustice or corruption. Fight demagogues of all stripes. Belong to no party. Oppose privileges and public pillage. Offer its sympathy to the poor and always remain devoted to the good.”

He noted further that the media has to be ethical and professional and provide two sides of every coin, that is, the version of each warring party, always equally displayed. “If not, then it isn’t journalism: It’s just trash, and the worst kind, that is the typical garbage that sells itself to any political or economic interest distinct from the real truth of things.”

In Cuba we are far from applying those definitions, although we know that in other latitudes Pulitzer’s advice is included in the codes of ethics of newspapers, magazines, digital media and radio and television stations. Set-ups and half-truths are expensive because the media are based on news sources, but to reverse the pyramid and expose the voices of people without an agenda, elucidates the problems and oxygenates the atmosphere.

There is very little credibility in the press. By design it is a part of the ideological department of a single party and of ministerial interests, so that its perception does not approximate reality, as it excludes its images, including art, literature and socio-historical notions of the country.

When Pedro de la Hoz, Granma’s cultural writer, lashed out against Mario Vargas Llosa, he accomplished nothing more than to demonstrate the impunity and self-censorship of those who serve a regime that loathes ethics and truth and opposes any critical appreciation, even in the case of a writer recognized with awards such as the Prince of Asturias Prize in Letters (1986), the Cervantes Prize (1994) and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

November 5, 2010

Half Joking, But Serious / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Friday, October 22, at 6:00 PM, Gorki Águila, leader of the rock band Porno para Ricardo, hosted in his apartment the opening of the Paja Recold studio, and the collective exposition, We Put The Wall and What, which can be enjoyed by those interested until the end of November, at Avenida 35, number 4204, corner of 42 in Playa Municipality, Havana.

Paja Recold occupies two rooms of Gorki Águila’s apartment, which he has converted into a center for music and exhibitions, where the members of Porno para Ricardo can practice their songs, record their own discs and offer discussions about art and literature despite the government’s prohibitions and the political police, which insist that the record market, concert venues, radio and television are all in the hands of the Cuban State.

Half jokingly, but serious. with the same youthful freshness of the challenging and charming songs by Gorki, Ciro Díaz, Hebert Domínguez and Renay Cairus, the pictures include posters, graffiti, drawings, photography, mounted texts and pictorial creations from Noel Morera, Arturo Cuenca, Luis Trápaga, Ruben Cruces, Ricardo Orta and others who address social and erotic themes, among these the photography of Hebert Domínguez, “Column, slander” by Fernando Ruiz, and the drawing “My dolls” Claudia Cadelo.

Calling attention to some figures and allegories is “Crisificcion,” by L. Trápaga, “Uncorking” by R. Orta, “Drunks,” by Heriberto Manero and the offerings of Cuenca, Morera and Claudio Fuentes, well-known in the island’s visual arts and photography.

Although the exhibition is amusing and defiant in tone, it brings the style of the boys of Porno para Ricardo, whose power to draw in an audience is proven by the thousands of fans who play their albums: “Rock for the meaty masses,” “I’m porno, I’m popular,” “I don’t like politics but it likes me,” and “Faded red album.”

The collages, paintings, drawings and photographs on display at the home of Gorki Aguila until November have no commercial or competitive intention; they reflect the interaction of intellectuals who seek spaces for freedom outside of the censorship and institutional norms.

Those wishing more information on Paja Recold and its musical and cultural offerings, should contact Gorki at the address above, or go to the blogs of Ciro Díaz y Claudia Cadelo on the Voces Cubanas platform.

November 2, 2010

Voices Magazine / Miguel Iturria Savón

Since August 6, a bunch of copies of Voices Magazine have been circulating in Havana, presented by Yoani Sánchez at the headquarters of Cuba Bloggers Academy, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to disseminating the technologies that are revolutionizing communications and encouraging citizen journalism on the island, which broke the information monopoly of the military government.

Located On the web at: www.vocescubanas.com/voces and vocesvocesvoces@gmail.com, the magazine represents a literary effort from the “grammar” of the bloggers, understood as a “grammar” of the lyrics, images, hypertext, according to Jose Ferrer, author of the decalogue Writing a Cuban Blog, which figures in it along with some twenty artists who exude freshness, wit and diversity in 62 pages taken from the same number of blogs.

Maybe it’s premature to talk about a handful of pages grouped in cyberspace, where every day projects that call on the constancy and incisive view of millions of readers, hungry for links, commentaries and novelty, come and go. Better to rely on the tenacity of Yoani, Reinaldo Escobar, Claudia Cadelo, Orlando Luis, Miriam Celaya and other voices who post almost daily without avoiding or being devoured by the minefield of politics, which breathes life into this assembly of tones and notes which is the symphony offered to Cubans from diverse angles and styles.

The index of Voices doesn’t include any sections or complex formats, the composition is simple and the design fresh. There is a list of authors, titles and pages. Among the names and articles, the reader will choose from are: Report of the Horde, by Orlando Luis Pardo, to Near But Far Away: The Universe Next Door, by Yoss, who comments on the grotesque parody novel of Eduardo del Llano.

In addition to the above-mentioned, the first issue of Voices includes poems, stories, literature, dissections on cyberspace, cultural issues, assessment of controversial figures, suggestive texts, personal dilemmas and replies to recently published material, including Reinaldo Escobar’s The Reach of the Cyber-Dissidence, and Open Letter to the BBC by Miriam Celaya regarding the irritating Fernando Ravsberg.

Voices also brings us Claudia Cadelo, with Leaders of an Alternative Revolution; Eduardo Laporte with the suggestive I Don’t Know What The Dogs Have; Emilio Ichikawa meditates on Paper and Screen; Wendy Guerra satirizes the rhetoric of the streets in Between Perseverance and Freedom: Ivan de la Nuez reveals the western fascination with The Near East; while Jose A. Ponte, (A Childhood Without Comics …), Juan Abreu (A Sexual Education), Mirta Suquet (Prosperity and Kindness …), Miguel Iturria (Martí: Spirituality and Political Manipulation), and Dimas Castellanos (The Limits of Immobility), complete the scriptural polyphony, flavored by the poems of Maykel Iglesias, Jesús Díaz and Luis Marimon, along with the cathartic Hurricane by Ena Lucia Portela, and the sharp and satirical That One Will Not Return, by Yoani Sánchez, about the phantasmagorical Fidel Castro.

Presented in this way, with names, articles and the bloggers at the end, it is more inclusive and interesting than the Cuban Voices platform, the embryo of that Blogger Journey continued in the Island Blogosphere Alternative Academy, which now adds, multiples and interacts with interested readers on this island in a dialog with time.

September 18, 2010

From the Mirror to the Vacuum / Miguel Iturria Savón

In 1992, at the conclusion of a conference on the writer José María Chacón y Calvo in the Office of the Historian of the City, during the symposium conducted by the Provincial Directorate of Culture, they gave me two tomes on the economic thought of Ernesto Guevara, one of the commanders of the guerrillas led by Castro, who was named as Chairman of the Central Bank and Minister of Industry for the Revolutionary Government before he went to the jungles of Africa and then Bolivia, to expand his communist ideas.

As the books seemed like a joke to me I left them on the table, but one of the organizers insisted on giving them to me; I had to tell him they weren’t originals, because Che was not an economist nor did he have time to write such pamphlets.

I suppose the scene has been repeated for decades, because each year the Cuban publishers discover and publish “unpublished” libels attributed to the guerrilla, as well as biographies about his life and work, leaving aside, of course, the black legend of his crimes, his ineffectiveness as a government official and his military failures in Africa and Bolivia, where he intended to establish dictatorships similar to that of his partners in Cuba, who have justified their long tenure in power for half a century with little anecdotes of freedom, the blockade and other myths.

Books, films, articles, photographs, key chains, shirts, posters and radio and TV media make up the arsenal that supports this mythologized boutique hero, fabricated by the historians and the media in Cuba with the complicity of the liberal press of the United States and the Left in Europe and Latin America, whose greed knows no limits or shame.

In overestimating the likes of Guevara, the Castros or Hugo Chavez, the media affiliates itself with totalitarianism. Like those pre-Columbian Incas who worshiped the dead to enslave the living, the architects of the socialist propaganda distort the truth and legitimize anti-democratic dictatorships.

Faced with such manipulation it would be worth viewing the film Che: The Other Side of an Idol, by Cuban filmmaker Agustin Blazquez, who offered the testimony of some victims of the Argentine guerrilla, who shot scores of people on occupying the city of Santa Clara, as well as hundreds of soldiers of the former regime in the Cabaña Fort, where he ordered summary executions, without lawyers or witnesses, and collective trials with disproportionate sentences.

That Che was a Marxist and true to his ideals is fine; that he committed errors and made arbitrary decisions during the war, also fine; but to portray him as a humanist, liberator and Christian is a mockery of the guerrilla, who rejected the respect of his worshipers in a letter to his mother from a prison in Mexico: “I am not Christ nor a philanthropist, I am quite the opposite of Christ. I fight for things that I believe in with every weapon at my disposal and try to kill the other so that he won’t nail me to any cross…”

Guevara was perhaps more honest than his Caribbean bosses and lacked the time to become corrupt and cling to power, because he left the island in 1965 in search of new adventures; which does not absolve him of the excesses of the Castro regime because his time in government posts helped destroy the Cuban economy and industry, which has subsequently been marked by improvisation, irresponsibility and extortion of workers.

Those who sanctify the guerilla who disappeared in 1968 ignore the testimony of his pride, arrogance and contempt for the lives of animals and people. They forget the participation of Guevara in Sovietizing Cuba. This architect of the violence nurtured in Moscow managed to install nuclear missiles on our island and when they were withdrawn he confirmed to the British journalist Sam Russell: “If the missiles had remained in Cuba, we would have used them against the very heart of the United States including New York City. ”

Every time I recall the overdose of images, books and speeches about the past of this protagonist what comes to my mind is the puppy killed on his orders, and the hundreds of useless sacrifices he ordered. I think, then, of his passage from the mirror to the vacuum, when the chaos of those who created him ceases.

Almodóvar, A Filmmaker Without Borders / Miguel Iturria Savón

Sunday, October 17, the All of Almodóvar cycle presented at the Chaplin Room of the Cinematheque Board of Cuba ended; it had from from the first Friday at 2:00 and 6:00 PM with a different film each day, and was the largest showing of the Spanish filmmaker in Havana, where he is known for its controversial approach to subject of homosexuals and the desecration of institutions like the Catholic Church and issues that are taboo in his country, though his dramas and comedies are not an argument against Spain nor the human race, but a reflexive and implausible game that invites viewers to joyful entertainment.

Pedro Almodóvar, who has created his films to suit himself is an icon of contemporary cinema, controversial and protean, loved and demonized, provocative and essential. The aesthetic development of his achievements marked a before and after in the seventh art in Spain and Latin America, where his films fascinate with their musical selections, the use of melodrama and lack of inhibition of human conflict in their stories, especially for shunned characters, recreated in all their nuances, miseries and attractions.

Almodóvar’s narrative pulse and atmosphere present embodiments of the decade of the eighties and nineties and early 2000s, surprising hundreds of moviegoers waiting for this all-encompassing show. Between old and new deliveries we enjoyed: What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), for which Carmen Maura won acting awards; Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (1989), with Antonio Banderas; All About My Mother (1999), which received the Cannes Award, the FIPRESCI Award for best film and Oscar for best foreign film; Talk to Her (2002), an Oscar winner for best screenplay, music and Golden Globe for best foreign film; Bad Education (1995), nominated for the Goya and Oscar; and Broken Embraces (2009), a story dominated by fate, jealousy, betrayal and a guilt complex, very well received by critics and nominated for a Golden Globe and Goya.

Also shown were: Labyrinth of Passion (1982), Dark Habits (1983), Law of Desire and Matador (1986), High Heels (1991), Kika (1993), Live Flesh (1997), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1998), The Flower of My Secret, Return (2006) and Pepi, Lucy, Bom and Other Girls On The Heap.

If in the satirical melodrama Dark Habits, based on a play by Jean Genet, Almodóvar satirized to the Catholic Church, in Matador, as controversial and criticized as the previous attacks on the bullfighting art, he introduced the story of a retired bullfighter who begins a series of sex crimes.

More refreshing and better artistically were High Heels and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In High Heels, a famous singer returns to Madrid after a long stay in America and discovers that her daughter, played by Victoria Abril, is marrying her former lover, which unravels longings and passions, punctuated by music and transvestism. In Women, considered an excellent gallery of outcasts, he also used musical melodrama and comedy.

Smiles and reflections greeted: The Flower of My Secret, one of his best dramas; the multiple prize-winning All About My Mother; The Labyrinth of Passion and gay-themed dramas Law of Desire and Bad Education.

Of greater human depth and artistic excellence are both, Live Flesh, based on the novel by Ruth Rendell; Talk to Her and Return. In the first, three men who meet in the residence of a diplomat in Madrid, are marked for the rest of their lives on setting of a brawl that leaves one of them in a wheelchair and the others in jail. The second recreates a chance encounter between two strangers who harmonize elsewhere in extreme circumstances. Return is a film of women, performed by notable actresses: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cruz, Chus Lampreave and Cuban Maria Isabel Diaz.

And speaking of the “Almodóvar Girls” we note, finally, that the autumn enjoyment of this season of the Spanish director’s films, focused in the Chaplin Room as many females as Knights Templar of transvestism.

October 24, 2010

EROS AND THANATOS / Miguel Iturria Savón

Wednesday, September 8, the painter Orestes Carreras Alarcón opened an exposition of his paintings, Eros and Thanatos, at the Fernando Boada gallery in the municipality Cotorro. There are 12 mixed media paintings worked with charcoal, graphite, acrylic and blended with textures. In them, the painter subordinates color to figuration, focusing on the relationship between eroticism, bullfighting and death. Eroticism as a necessity, death as a part of life and its connections with vigor and energy, symbolized by the human figure.

In this installment, the pursuit of freedom of expression goes through syncretism, the deformation of the faces and the mixtures, a recurring theme in the artist’s work, true to his own vision, oblivious to the market and the colors he uses, knowing that art fairs and local customs often limit the creative pulse.

The work of Orestes Carreras is essentially expressionistic and surreal, highlighting evocative provocative textures, and using universal codes that reveal his creative maturity.

The size of these paintings (almost all of 1.50 by 1.10 meters) forces the viewer to watch from afar due to the texture required to disclose the figurative representation of various steps of the canvas. The natural and human figures that decorate each painting embody a visual approach is neither symmetrical nor one of cartoonish figuration.

We infer, then, that there are beautiful, but not artistic, things, and that symmetry is the main element of beauty, palpable in these paintings that challenge taboos from the aggressiveness of the images to the simplicity of color, with predominantly gray, and combinations of sepia, yellow and blue.

The peculiar spiritual sensitivity of Orestes does not have many precursors in Cuban art, except in the syncretic vision of teachers such as Lam or Mendive, those who differ in the color palette and converge in the figurative overflow. The stylized Greco faces, the recreations of the Guayasamín Aboriginal environment and works of German Otto Dick, appear to be sources for the island artist.

We find ourselves facing strong proposals, disturbing, aggressive and sometimes shocking, although there are distinctions in the lines and intentions contained in each piece, with the interesting and grotesque form of beauty, conceived from stories intertwined with the mythology of Eros, the virility, the mixture, and death.

The paintings Alligator Love, Autumn Gift, Heresies and Narcissus At The Spring, certify the pictorial transgression. Heresies complicates the mixed expression of longing and ancient energies, love between life and death, represented by naked women on bulls, whose large noses hang like condoms, a kind of bridge and sexual limit.

The Narcissus of Orestes is not handsome, lost in looking at his face in the spring; it expresses sexual ecstasy with the fountain as the source, accented by silver graphite, charcoal and textures.

Sex gallops in the images of The Flight, Eruption, Desires and At The Theater. In The Flight a man and a woman are drawn without wings in white and gray. Eruption is an illustrative and subtle work that limits the figure in its space. The same cleanness is observed in Desires which offers two faces of surreal beauty that infer the unisex. At The Theater fantasizes about the promiscuity of four couples making love in the corner of a bed.

In Ochún and Shangó, the painter returns to the syncretic symbolism of the sensual Ochún (deity of the river) and his link with Shangó (owner of the fire), surrounded by their religious icons, sharpened by the artist who now gives us these pieces from his peculiar erotic gaze and perception of death.

September 24, 2010

Eternal Rest for Art / Miguel Iturria Savón

Only two cemeteries in Paris and Barcelona exceed in funeral sculptures and architectural layout the majesty of the Cementerio de Colon (Columbus Cemetery) which occupies 140 acres in the elegant district of Vedado and is bounded by a fence that silences the bustling Havana, while those who make the cross as they walk or drive along Avenue Zapata, the obligatory destiny of the mortals who don’t avoid the Catholic rituals of burial and exhumation, nor opted for cremation in the ovens common in some hospitals in the city.

Built in the late 1860’s for a population five times greater than the 100,000 inhabitants at the time, the cemetery was expanded and remodeled later, according to the flow of crises or bonanzas crossing the island, whose elites turned it into a spiritual space that evokes life from death.

Although there are 20 more cemeteries in Havana, the Colon cemetery is home to one of five Cubans, which represents 80% of funerals in the capital and almost 20% of those in the whole country. It is a material challenge with ethical consequences for the cemetery personnel, facing shortages, theft, abandonment of family vaults and lost tombs, ossuaries and monuments of historical, architectural and cultural interest.

The stones of memory that try to perpetuate life in the sunny acres of this capital mausoleum are a testimony to the imagination, the social level, aesthetic taste and even human behavior and the desire for uniqueness among many Havanans.

Archive specialists say that at the end of 2009 the vast necropolis housed one hundred thousand remains in the state ossuaries, while the total number of individuals was one million two hundred thousand, which requires constant exhumation and use of the incinerator as an alternative for many remains unclaimed by family. This kind dispossession of the moral remains is a daily occurrence at the site, barely visible to passersby and tourists visiting the ancient streets of the cemetery, whose state varies based on the quality of materials used in vaults, tombs and sculptures.

To insure that there is a significant investment by the Office of the Historian of the City, the Provincial Department of Community Services, which administers the burial grounds, and institutions of Spain, the nation most represented after Cuba, as its vast descendants on the island acquired plots and mausoleums built to evoke their native Andalusia, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Castile, Catalonia, Galicia, Canary Islands, Navarra and the Basque Country, Valencia, etc.

Weather, climate, the exodus or the misery of families who owned the vaults, the death of some of them and the lack of materials in the administration seem to fit in with the redesign of a city that is over two million people and requires new solutions to the logical extinction of people.

Recent investments were directed to restore the north gate, of great symbolic value, the central chapel, and monuments of historical and social interest, in addition to replacing the caps on thousands of vaults and meet the ongoing needs of cleaning and gardening. The challenge of increased cost lies in the endless restorations of statues, mausoleums and monuments erected to figures and symbols of the city, such as La Milagrosa which viewed by most of the four thousand people who come daily to the most famous necropolis of Cuba.

Colon Cemetery, a kind of museum with walls running for four kilometers through Havana, is a life’s work to preserves its universality. Living together there for eternity and in perfect harmony are a Byzantine dome, an Egyptian pyramid, a Westernized obelisk, the entrance to a Roman catacomb, a Florentine Gothic palace, the miraculous French Lady of Lourdes and four very Cuban royal palms. Other groups of sculptures and mausoleums dedicated to heroes, dignitaries and artists of the colonial and republican period confirm the power, spiritual wealth and values bequeathed by our predecessors.

Preserving this monumental jewel of the island’s culture is equivalent to writing on the stones of memory and recalling our own names to relatives who journeyed through the brief galaxy of life.

September 12, 2010

Demagoguery in Education Too / Miguel Iturria Savón


School Principal: So your daughter has come to start her schooling. And which do you prefer, the sea or the mountain?
Mother: The sea or the mountain?
Principal: Yes, the seas of mediocrity or the mountains of incongruities.

The school year is starting with the Cuban education system transforming itself to try to adapt its programs to the structural crisis affecting the country, which suffers from general despair, financial ruin, foreign dependence, and the old schemes that try to model the thinking and block the paths of children, youth and adults.

In these primitive days the official press interviews the leaders and managers of the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, who agree to speak about the rigor of the education, the rising educational level, state subsidies, and the need for political and ideological work.

They also speak of the importance of the mother tongue, educational assessments, continuity of studies and exams at higher level, and of the return to the classrooms of 10,000 retired teachers, and the incorporation of nearly 2,000 who worked in political and mass organizations.

The highlight of the transformations lies in the creation of 300 mixed centers where trade schools, technical schools, basic high schools and pre-university high schools coexist. The innovations include the reduction in boarding schools from primary through university; the opening of teaching schools in all provinces; the revitalization of Professional Technical Education; the elimination of the position of general teacher, the architects of which destroyed the middle schools; formation of double major professors in the middle and upper levels, who will be full time during the first and second courses and who will be teaching pedagogy from the third.

Some of these changes re old ideas warmed over, such as the reopening of schools teaching in each province, or the return of pre-university high schools to the cities, after decades of forced closure to put the kids in boarding schools where they work in the field, far from the family environment. There are still, of course, dozens of schools in remote locations and without conditions for the formation of the New Man conceived by the ideologues of the Communist Utopia.

And speaking of the past, we remember that in Cuba, since the educational reform undertaken by our teachers during the U.S. Occupation from 1899 to 1902, special importance was given to primary education and to arts and crafts, free and compulsory since 1901, six decades before the nationalization of education which did away with the coexistence of different models of education, abolished private schools and the prestigious Teachers Normal Schools and other institutions that shaped generations of Cubans.

The 2010-2011 school year begins with more propaganda than educational changes. As life is a continuous learning adventure, we hope that those who administer the axes of wisdom have learned that the keys of knowledge are passed on through rigor, freedom of conscience and the need to communicate and share in an environment of respect and acceptance.

September 10, 2010

Work For Yourself… Controlled by Others / Miguel Iturria Savón

Nearly half a century after the devastating “Revolutionary Offensive” of March 1968 — in which the State took control of virtually all private businesses remaining in Cuba — the same government officials that ended the small and medium-sized private ownership, approved a list of 120 activities people can pursue on their own. Nice! The measure becomes a door in the wall of intolerance, but is insufficient because it does not release the means of production now in the hands of the State, which preserves almost absolute control to the detriment of millions of people and the national economy.

Lately many Cubans have sought out the list of approved occupations, to photocopy it, or take notes about it, and distribute it among friends and relatives who were laid off from the inflated company payrolls, or will be laid off in the coming months. The document is a stimulus for the million unemployed that the government has sent home, finishing off the little game of giving everyone a job, but it does not come with sources of raw materials, transportation to distribute production, nor salaries that give dignity to those who work.

In reviewing the list I noticed that of the 120 occupations people can pursue on their own, subject to getting a license and paying taxes, 22 are essentially rural activities and 98 are urban. Thirteen relate to transportation, six to construction, fifteen to culture, five to education, two top public health and a number of agricultural tasks, the priority sector for the freeing up of carriers and carters, animal sellers, palm tree toppers, blacksmiths, diggers, shearers, herbalists and scalping grudge keepers of the army of agricultural inspectors and the officials of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), whose president speaks the new language of power.

The small hole in the wall of control does not preclude state surveillance, but opens a personal path in the totalitarian forest. So, for example, commerce will have messengers, tailors, hairdressers, watchmakers, florists, piñata sellers, barbers and others who will depend on themselves and contribute to the treasury, while employees of State bodegas, stores, cafes, restaurants, and garages will continue on the collective model, without competing with anyone, neither having to find the goods nor pay the taxes on local sales.

For their part, the construction sector will send its employees home to work for themselves as bricklayers, carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians and decorators who, in a few months, will be licensed and paying taxes. Woodworking will be limited, however, because there is no wholesale supply of wood and the costs of tools and equipment is very high, all of it in the hands of government businesses.

Even culture has been freed up a bit with a list of approved activities for self employment. Among the trades authorized are musical instrument tuners, artisans who are both registered and not-registered with the Cuban Association of Craft Artists (ACAA), buyers-sellers of old records, bookbinders, engravers, photographers, art restorers, and language translators and interpreters.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing because the government still owns all the movie theaters, cultural centers, art schools, art galleries, bookstores and theaters, and the network of centers and businesses that control music programming, dance groups, and of course radio, television and the printed press. Hardly anything? Right?
Dozens of legitimate jobs have been released to thousands of drivers for hire, parking attendants, bicycle taxi drivers, boat captains, drivers, shoeshiners, manicurists, makeup artists, typists, language and music teachers, school cleaners, and chiropodists — all of whom can now work at their own risk in accordance with demand for their services.

There are those who are quick to associate this great List with profound changes in the model of State domination over individuals. The self-employed activities unleash the hope of independence and self-improvement; but Watch Out! Those who imposed the chaos and appropriated everything in the name of egalitarian ideals are still holding the reins. If they open a door in the wall, it is to retain their power.

September 30, 2010

The Idiots’ Dinner / Miguel Iturria Savón

Two signs about 30 inches wide by six feet long were displayed by state officials in many offices and shopping centers in Havana and in other cities in Cuba. They both have the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) logo. One says: “Caring for the neighborhood, vigilant and united”; and the other says, “Combative and united with the Fatherland.”

These signs are dedicated the “official holiday” for the fiftieth anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, founded by Fidel Castro on September 28, 1962. His purpose was to persecute, betray and control the enemies of his government, then understood as collaborators of the former regime, but later expanded to include anyone suspected of speaking out against the decisions of the Maximum Leader.

From the outset, the CDR became a kind of Neighborhood Inquisition, with a management structure at national, provincial and municipal levels, in turn subdivided into Zones, urban blocks and rural villages; all ready to expose a neighbor, shout slogans, assign tasks and carry out the many directives and orders that might occur to the government mandarins and the single party.

For half a century the history of this grassroots organization has had a record of vileness impossible to calculate. Through it, many things became widespread: coercion at home, collective snitching, the “secret operational work of the police,” surveillance of the neighbors, family distrust, the mobilization of the people to mass political rallies, agriculture, health campaigns, acts of repudiation, and support for the so-called People’s Power elections.

With the CDRs the Castro regime acquired a “flexible entity” of unquestionable auxiliary value. Perhaps the secret purpose of its creation at a time of social disintegration was to make the people accomplices and hostages of their own repression and to harness them to “Revolutionary tasks.” This organization, decimated but visible, marked the lives of millions of Cubans, who still depend on the “endorsement” or “good opinion” of the president of their block’s CDR to obtain a local position, a job as a custodian or a grocer.

To not belong to the CDR is a challenge that inscribes your name in bold type on the political police blacklist. Whoever says “No” when they knock on the door falls out of favor, however much of a “combatant” they may have been, however virtuous or humane. Failure to pay your CDR dues or to attend their worthless meetings is equivalent to untying the strings of the lackluster Revolutionary fanfare, whose icons continue on despite the passage of time, along with the police reports and the dependence of thousands of unfortunates who felt important before “the call of the Fatherland.”

The CDRs are as discredited as the  Cuban Workers Center (CTC), the only labor union allowed, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Association of Combatants, and other organizations that move no one, but which play a role in the bureaucratic structure of a regime that came to power in the name of freedom and eliminated all the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Now that the government is dismissing half a million people, the CDR leaders will explain the need for a “labor adjustment” as if they were idiots invited to the table of power. Many will eat the soup on the 27th, waiting for the 28th, with their hands in their pockets wondering when they will return to work. Perhaps with the help of the CDR, that takes care of the neighborhood, “combative, vigilant and united for the Fatherland,” just like in 1962.  Congratulations!

October 3, 2010

The Validity of our Anthem / Miguel Iturria Savón

Since 1980, Cubans have celebrated 20 October as National Culture Day, in evocation of a local date of warrior exaltation, the triumphal entry of the small Bayamo Liberation Army, centered around the planter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who on 10 October 1868 gave freedom to the slaves of his sugar mill and proclaimed the beginning of the struggle for the independence of Cuba.

As the colonial regiment commanded by Julian Udaeta surrendered before the cheering citizens, supporters of independence, Céspedes and his followers celebrated the victory in the Plaza of the Parish Church with a ceremony and a festive conga for the people.

At that time, Pedro Figueredo Cisneros distributed the verses of The Bayamesa, whose music and lyrics he had composed in the previous year with the help of his wife, the poet Isabel Vazquez, upon request of the illustrious Francisco Maceo Osorio, who later was the assistant Carlos Manuel de Cespedes along with Figueredo.

It has been said that amid the euphoria, the creator and Bayamese patriot improvised lyrics about his horse to sing in chorus for the first time, but the testimonies of his contemporaries reveal that music and the verses were known by many conspirators who had kept silent for their own safety. Perucho, they called Peter Figueredo, played the score at home to dozens of trusted friends and entrusted the orchestration of the piece to the maestro Manuel Muñoz Cedeño, who first performed it publicly in the main parish on the occasion of Corpus Christi, in the presence of the priest Diego José Baptista and the aforementioned Julian Udaeta, military governor of Bayamo, which faulted the instrumentalists for the subversive nature of the march.

The Bayamo Anthem, played on 20 October 1868 and published on 22 and 27 of that month and year in The Free Cuban, embedded itself in the minds of the independence fighters, who often sang it in combat or to start sessions of the House of Representatives, a sort of parliament in the jungle.

Although José Martí praised what happened on that October 20, 1868 and reproduced in Patria the stanzas of the Bayamo Anthem, in June 1892, and on January 21 and October 4, 1893, it was the Constituent Assembly in November 1900 which declared it a national symbol.

In October we commemorate other historic ephemera, such as the discovery of America – 12 October 1492 – and the arrival of Christopher Columbus on our shores days later, an event of great significance for the encounters of peoples and cultures, and international mobility that erupted between Europe and the so-called West Indies.

More than a fact of cultural consequence, the evocations of October 10 and 20, 1868, signals the warrior affinity of those who rule the island like those Captain Generals appointed by the Spanish overlords until 1898.

The story gallops in the memory of the people, but does not model the culture, it complements it. We will have to rewrite the story of war, unilateral and simplistic, that creates myths and masks the oppression. Today, as in 1868, the stanzas of the Bayamo Anthem, turned into the National Anthem, represent a dilemma of our reality, but no one calls to combat nor thinks about guns. Is it that we fear a “glorious death” or that we have gotten used to “living with shame and ignominy”?



Translator’s Addition:

October 13, 2010

Descending the Pyramid / Miguel Iturria Savón

From all sides comes the news of layoffs in Cuba, some with the illustrious names and surnames of officials who rose to the top of the pyramid of power, where at times they renew the loyalties and new figures swear fidelity and allegiance to the gerontocracy perched on the top of the triangle.

Some days ago, a note in the newspaper Granma, and read on National Television News, railed against Yadira Garcia, replaced as Minister of Basic Industries, the agency in charge of sectors such as nickel, petroleum, cement and electricity.

The illustrious lady was appointed five years ago, following the exploits of her predecessor, a man named Marcos Portal, married to a niece of Commander-in-Chief, but with the reputation of a pragmatic and modern technocrat. No one commented on the incident; who cares about the ups and downs of the roller coaster?

We know that in the crowded roster of the Cuban bureaucracy officials compete for the favors of the despot; the more they humble themselves they more they receive, surviving in office or ascending to a higher position; which is obvious if we start from the immobility at the heights of the kingdom.

Among the highest and most subservient officials there is no shortage of females; some have already gone to a better life; others continue fighting it out administratively. Among the most famous ladies appear several guests of the Olive Green Inferno and Paradise, like Celia Sanchez Manduley, lover and secretary of the Commander-in-Chief, Vilma Espin Guillois, the now deceased wife of General Castro; Melba Hernandez and the suicide Haydee Santa Maria, wives the distinguished Jesus Montane Oropesa and Armando Hart Dávalos respectively.

Thus, between “the history of struggle” and undershorts of the husband — or lover — these women traveled from the top to death in decision-making positions in the chronology of despotism. Around Celia was spun the legend of benefactress of the poor and guardian of the roles of the Maximum Leader. She must have been in the habit of asking and “denouncing the evil done.” There are still the naive who write to the Council of State, as if to Saint Celia, who died in January 1980, could meet their demands.

To our knowledge, the ascents of Yadira García differed and converged with the mentioned guerrillas; principally in her struggles with the seductive Commander in Chief, fascinated by her charms when she was studying engineering. Indiscreet officials count on “loyalty to the leader,” an amatory vocation and a passion for the great tasks of the courtesan. Thus, Yadira, like other famous ousted ones, rose from the Federation of University Students to the Bureau of the Communist Youth and thence to the Party Central Committee, which named her First Secretary in Matanzas and later Ideological Secretary, a kind of Ministry of Truth of the regime.

I suspect that her subordinates in Basic Industry will not be surprised, because in Matanzas she already got her comeuppance when she was leading the region. They had to replace her in 2000 following the uncovering of corruption in Varadero, but the Commander appointed her head of the “Battle for the Rescue of Elian,” and then consecrated her Minister. Maybe she will now re-emerge, like a phoenix, as she doesn’t lack experience, is attractive and wants to survive.

I think the daily Granma should not rail against the ladies and gentlemen who descend the pyramid of power. It would be better to say goodbye, thank you and good luck in the basement, where they join the legion of poor people who struggle every day without cars, mansions and money, like the old Mao Zedong when he led China, an ally of our Olive-Green Little Gods.

October 17, 2010

An Obsolete Argument / Miguel Iturria Savón

Cartoon: Soon you will recover from unemployment and we can return to uncertainty.

Unemployment is the topic of conversation in thousands of Cuban homes, the layoff plan like a bird of ill omen in the minds of half a million people who will be thrown in the streets by the end of 2010, plunging into uncertainty even the elderly retirees, who worry about the fate of a son or daughter who will hang up their gloves and lose their salary.

Not least because the layoffs announced by the government will reach one million three hundred thousand, although gradually, in three stages, with the Union supporting the State employer and without any rights to strike, prohibited since 1959.

Although the granting of permits to engage in self-employment in dozens of rural and urban occupants has been announced as a palliative, uncertainties remain. Some wonder: who will make the initial investment in a country were almost everyone depends on a state salary?

Many doubt the intentions of the bureaucracy to, in fact, authorize the new trades. They remember that three hundred thousand Cubans agreed to start their own business in 1994, and had to abandon them in the fast of a government offensive against the self-employed, besieged by an army of inspectors and by the impossibility of acquiring raw materials, destined for the network of state workplaces.

The most cynical believe that the government is looking for a way to get out of its predicament while avoiding public disorder. How can you trust them if just two years ago every workplace had to analyze General Raul Castro’s speech that denigrated the self-employed and lambasted them for the diversion of resources?

There are answers from all sides, some completely childish, like those elderly who are unable to retrain themselves to understand the reality. These people put an end to the household gossip, saying, “The Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 was necessary,” and “private property is the cause of exploitation,” or, “collectivism fails because of the egotism of a handful the shameless.”

I heard the last straw yesterday at the home of a friend who worked as an electrician at the West Indian Steel, in southeast Havana, where the layoffs will affect 500 workers by the end of 2010, although this metal monster already dropped four thousand workers between the late eighties and 2006.

The friend and his father-in-law were speaking calmly about the subject, when the old man recalled that he was the union leader at West Indian Steel and he knows that behind the problems of that country is the long arm of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Faced with such a long arm, my friend smiled.

Maybe he’s right, with the eloquence of an ostrich… But the elderly who wield childish arguments to justify the unjustifiable have nothing to contribute to the changes looming on the horizon in Cuba.

October 15, 2010