Calle Obispo / Miguel Iturria Savón

Obispo Street, one of the oldest in Havana, begins in the sea and culminates in Monserrate. It is crossed by dozens of street ranging from the Avenida del Puerto and the neighborhoods adjacent to the Old Quarter, which increases its noisy and colorful vitality without diminishing the glamor lent it by its shopping centers, museums, libraries, hotels, banks, government agencies and other entities the Office of the City Historian is trying to restore.

Only the Municipal Acts, some newspapers and magazines and two or three history books about the Cuban capital relate the names and locations of the various centers that made Obispo into “the street of the streets,” followed later by Galiano, San Rafael and Prado; it is even compared for its elegance with Rue de Paix (Paris), San Fernando (Barcelona), La Sierpe (Sevilla), the Carrera de San Jeronimo (Madrid) as well as the aged streets of New York.

Almost no one remembers that until 1898 it was crossed each morning by a company of Spanish volunteers who marched under the strains of a band, from the Prado to the sea, where they were spread out to guard the Palacio de los Capitanes Generale, the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the Castillo de la Fuerza, the Spanish Bank and other civilian and military defenses of the colonial period.

Despite the weather, the expropriations of the 1960s and the circumstances that marked the urban involution, Obispo retains its original layout of a noisy, narrow street with shops on both sides of the pedestrian sidewalk passersby who disappear into a corner, go to a boutique or head off to a scheduled meeting.

Centuries later, Obispo oscillates between a colonial provincial atmosphere and a sense of modernity brought by the merchants and public figures during the Republic. The paving stones were replaced by asphalt, reborn entities and stores in ruins, like the House of Happy Father Varela, recycled into a school library; the Hotel Florida, which had among its guests the Spanish philologist Ramón Menéndez Pidal in 1937; the Almendrares optician and Café Europa, literary scene of the narratives of Carlos Loveira and Luís Bonafoux.

The University of Havana started on Obispo Street, where it was located between 1728 and 1902 in the Dominican Convent, also the venue of Secondary School of Havana, whose students snack in front, in the The Angel Bakery or in the French pastry shop, Brasy. On demolishing the convent, in the late 50’s, the building of the Ministry of Education was built, which shares space with real estate offices.

Where the current Ministry of Finances and Prices was once the Wilson House perfumery and National Bank built by the tycoon Pote; later it was occupied by the General Treasury of the Republic and the Ministry of Finance. Poe should also be credited with The Modern Poetry bookstore, built in 1900 at Obispo and Bernaza, opposite the Ricoy bookstore, now Cervantes, where eminent personalities from the country’s cultural and political spheres met.

These were followed by the Anselmo Lopez piano store, the ironmonger’s, and the Bosque de Boloña store, later relocated to the corner of Compostela. Almost at the beginning and near the Plazoleta de Albear were found the El Casino hat store, and the La Cebada cafe, very popular with the drivers until its sale and conversion to the Floridita Bar, home of writer Ernest Hemingway, who stayed at the hotel Ambos Mundos before acquiring the Vigia in San Francisco de Paula.

Historians and planners say Obispo Street, so hot in summer and cold in winter, owes its charm to its geographical position and the network of shops, banks and bureaucracies, refined by the latest offers of clothing and the cultural flow triggered by the installation of printers, newspapers, bookstores, publishing houses, law firms, pharmacies and other agencies the diverse social sectors attract, turning it into an urban paradigm.

Among financial centers We think of the Bances y Conde Bank, the Spanish Bank, which went bankrupt in 1921, the Trade Development Bank, the Trust Company of Cuba and the Núñez Bank, considered in 1957 to be among the world’s most important institutions.

Obispo integrates the tangible and spiritual heritage of Havana. Many establishments have disappeared, but are the Johnson and Taquechel drugstores are kept, the Anteojo Opticians, and the old houses are repaired for Museums (La Plata), libraries and offices (Department of Housing and Land Registry) and restaurants and cafes for tourists.

September 26, 2010

Five Prisoners of the Castro Regime (2) / Miguel Iturria Savon

Five of the 11 young Cubans who attempted to divert a passenger boat across the bay from Havana to Florida on April 3, 2003, remain in prison. In a summary trial held on 8 April, three of them were sentenced to death, a sentence carried out on 11 April. Given life imprisonment were Harold Alcalá Aramburu, Ramón Henry Grillo, Yoanis Tomás González and Maikel Delgado Aramburu, held at Combinado del Este prison. While Wilmer Ledea Perez, 19, was given three decades in the prison of at Guanajay.

The sentences are excessive because the attempt failed and there were no deaths or injuries. The rulings of the Court and the urgency in the executions coincided with the so-called Black Spring of Cuba, which put behind bars 75 peaceful opponents, 15 for each of the Castro spies convicted in the United States, which demonstrates the subordination of Island’s legal system to the opinions of the warlord who has ruled the destiny of the nation for half a century.

In the United States, the five Cuban spies were tried two years after being arrested, with all guarantees and independence of the American legal system, which agreed to several reviews of the cases, while the five prisoners of the boat Baraguá are still denied their requests for review. The spies are represented by lawyers paid by the dictatorship and their families travel, undertake campaigns on their behalf and enjoy official patronage.

Who are the youth who attempted to escape the island? Under what conditions do they remain behind bars? Why are they kept in the prisons of Combinado del Este and Guanajay, where they have been from the spring of 2003?

Last month a an Open Letter to Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, president of the Cuban Parliament, circulated on the Internet, in which Julia Estrella Aramburu, mother of Harold Alcala and Maikel Delgado’s aunt, described the hardships suffered by the convicted five. The document, signed by the rest of the family, blamed the government of Cuba for the lives of these children, who remain in narrow cells two-person cells in each of which live four people, with no sanitation, no running water or access to sunlight they are made to eat on the floor, a porridge of rice and corn; they are visited only every two months in a room where they are restrained and chained at the waist.

Maikel Delgado’s case is compounded by the lack of appetite, hair loss and the death of his mother, who “died for God’s destiny,” said Dr. Ofelia, Fajardo Hospital pathologist, where she went on foot for a routine checkup and three days later she was dead. The family still awaits the outcome of the autopsy.

Of the five prisoners only Ramon Henry Grillo was not from Havana. He emigrated to the capital from the town of Mella, Santiago de Cuba province, and lived with his sister Maritza, who says that he joined the boat at the last minute because he was tied to an oil business and he didn’t want to work for the State.

Yoanis Thomas Gonzalez, 32, is the only one who had a criminal record, but he had served his time, he is not violent and is characterized by his warmth and happiness. He only receive visits from his wife Yudaisi Berita War, though he shares space with Henry Grillo and is supported by the mother of Harold Alcala.

Harold is a Vedado boy who worked in the restaurant located at Gloria and Aguila, in Old Havana, together with the boy from Guanabacoa, Wilmer Ledea Perez, and the late Lorenzo Enrique Copello, the one who used the gun to hijack the boat, but later gave it out without hurting anyone. Harold loves swimming and is a voracious reader. Wilmer lived in Barreras with his mother and brothers and went to the weekend dances in the social circles of Guanabacoa.

In reviewing out the pieces of the pie ordered by Fidel Castro the Court threw out the alleged crimes of terrorism, which does not justify long sentences faced by young people who attempted to escape the island. Relatives of the five prisoners of Castro await justice. Hopefully soon.

September 21, 2010

Five Prisoners of the Castro Regime / Miguel Iturria Savon

On Saturday September 11th at 11:29 a.m. Cubacel sent me a message to my cell phone: “To love justice is to defend the five …” As Cubacel is a communications company the slogan seemed too political to me, almost surreal as it is referred to the Cuban spies of the Wasp Network, convicted in the United States in 2001.

Since that time the island government has imposed on us a fictionalized version of the life and miracle of the spies, converted by the media into “heroes imprisoned by the empire” where “they fought terrorism and the Miami mafia.”

I will not comment on the amazing metamorphosis of secret agents turned into “pacifists”; the publicity campaign is too expensive for the national economy and for the public’s intelligence. I will refer, however, to five prisoners of the Castro regime who are serving sentences in Havana, although they neither persecuted nor killed killed anyone, nor used state resources on futile missions against our exiles in the United States.

I am speaking about 5 of the 11 youths who, on April 3, 2003, attempted to divert the boat Baraguá from Havana Bay to Florida. When they ran out of fuel at sea they were surrounded by soldiers who ordered them back from the port of Mariel, where were delivered along with the frightened passengers, who were unharmed and moved by the adventure.

There they received a surprise visit by the Commander-in-Chief, who asked some questions and assured them: “This is a cake and everyone is going to eat their little piece.” The cake was distributed five days later by the Havana Provincial Court, which sentenced to death Lorenzo Enrique Copello, Barbaro Lodan and Jorge Luis Martínez Iza, who were executed on 11 April.Wilmer Ledea Pérez, 19, got a 30 year sentence, while Harold Alcala Aramburu, Ramon Henry Grillo, Yoanis Tomas Gonzalez and Maikel Delgado Aramburu are serving life sentences in Area 47 of the Combined del Este prison, known as the Corridor of the Dead.The rest of those involved have already left prison.

The chronicle of the event is more complex and even goes through the race issue, as the three who were shot were black, although Ramón Henry and Yoanis Tomás are also black and they survived. The summary trial, ordered by the Commander-in-Chief to intimidate those who plan a maritime exodus, did not take into account that those involved were neither criminals nor opponents of the government. Of the 11, only 2 had criminal records, one for “a siege to tourism” and another for a drug case.

Last week I spoke by phone with three of these young prisoners, the mother of two of them and the aunt and sister of Maikel Delgado and Ramon Henry Grillo. None of the five have been made into heroes and martyrs, nor are they proud they tried to divert a ship to escape the island, but they think are victims of intolerance and the subordination of the courts to the Party and Government, which has been led by the Castro brothers since long before they were born.

In the next article we will see what happens to these five prisoners of the Castro regime.

September 20, 2010

Lives Condemed Due to Medical Malpractice / Miguel Iturría Savón

Yadima Évora Casales is a 25-year-old Cuban mother from Vista Hermosa in San Miguel del Padron, Havana. She believes she is a victim of deceit and manipulation at the hands of officials from the institutions that “respond” to the interest of the country’s citizens.

Her tragedy began five years ago when she became pregnant. Since she was healthy no one worried about difficulties in labor. The doctors who examined her did not realize that her uterus–high, narrow and backward–would prevent a natural birth and necessitate a Cesarean.

Since no Cesarean was prescribed consequences were awful for herself and the baby, who suffers from severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy which causes spastic quadriplegia (a form of cerebral palsy), according to documents given to Joel L. Carbonell Guilar, leader of the Organization of Human Rights of Free Cubans who recently reported the case to international organizations in the face of the apathy of officials from the Clinic of San Miguel de Padron.

In December 2006, Yadima went to the Hijas de Galicia Hospital with contractions, however, since her due date was January 19th the gynecologists sent her home. She went back on January 23rd with new contractions, she was again sent home because of a lack of beds. Upon leaving the hospital, a family friend who is also a doctor recommended that she return on the 26th, he would attend her during his shift. She returned that day to the maternity ward; five days later she was recognized and monitored by doctors but none of them realized she was past her due date. On the 30th her water broke in front of the attending doctor who recommended she sleep because she was not dilated.

Yadima did not dilate. She cried and the baby struggled to be born. The next morning another gynecologist put her on the monitor and the machines began to make noise. The baby’s heart was failing. The doctors decided to perform an emergency Cesarean. Her baby was alive and cyanotic (his skin was blue due to lack of oxygen). Three weeks later they returned home where Yadima discovered that the child could not hold up his head. “He’ll do it later” the specialists told her at her first appointment.

Four years later her baby requires special care to hold up his head, he does not walk, does not chew or have control of his sphincter and suffers from spasms in his hands and feet. He requires physical therapy and medications that are not accessible to Yadima and her family. Solutions are not available at the local clinics or the Julito Dias and Pedro Borras because the specialists and technicians are being sent on medical missions to other countries.

The tragedy of Yadima and her child, Ernesto Arias Evora, is worse because of their living conditions. They live with 11 family members in a small run down house with dirt floors and cement roof. She requested aid from government organizations such as the Administrative Council and the Housing and Health Directorate. After interviews and visits from officials and social workers who “elevated the case”, she wrote the State Council.

Yadima Evora Casales cannot work and waits for aide. She and her child were victims of medical negligence and are being bounced around by officials that have led her to believe they have solved her problem with a check for 158 pesos a month–the equivalent of 6 cuc, not enough for food and medicine.

This mother asks the government agencies for a wheelchair with head support, a blender to make meals for the child, diapers, a bed and medicine. She dreams of a room with ventilation, a bathroom and a kitchen to ease the plight of her child. She is still waiting.

She was told by Joel L. Carbonell that she must combine her plea with the demand, since article 26 of the Cuban Constitution allows for “reparation and compensation” for damages caused by State agents and officials. She also learned about the rules for the protection of children and youth and the obligations assumed by the island’s government when they agreed to the terms of the Instruments for Human Rights and the Conventions of Children’s’ rights.

Translated by: Lita Q.

September 8, 2010

A Rebelious Offspring / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Tuesday, June 15th, I ran into Juan Juan Almeida in the International Legal Office on 21 24, El Vedado. As we said goodbye, he told me he was starting a hunger strike on that day demanding the exit permit to continue his medical treatment outside Cuba. I visited him twice at his apartment on 41 and Conill before August 23rd, when he suspended his fast at the request of the Archbishop of Havana, who interceded on his behalf before General Castro’s government.

On Monday, August 23rd, Juan Juan seemed like the shadow of his shadow. In 69 days he went from 230 to 150 pounds. If it were not for his lucidity and good humor, I would have thought I was in the presence of a zombie. We talked for 20 minutes and I left before the arrival of his sister Glenda, who lives three blocks away and was keeping an eye on his hardships.

As I walked along Tulipán looking for the bus that would take me home, I thought again about this striker: extraordinary, cheerful, making jokes, the enemy of any type of inflexibility, able to listen even to the delirious fantasies of the State Security agents who have been breathing down his neck since he lost the protection of his father, a comandante of the revolution with an artistic vocation and a passion for power.

During his hunger strike, Juan Juan made statements to the foreign press accredited in Cuba, spoke with several bloggers and independent journalists, went out with signs to public places two or three times, received friends and people who oppose the regime, was the subject of controversy and attacks and political asylum proposals from governments in Europe and America.

For a great part of the world it is difficult to understand that a man would begin a hunger strike because he is not allowed to leave his country to continue the treatment he was receiving in Europe. It has a certain logic, since adults decide what to do with their lives, except in the case of Cuba and North Korea, where the State attributes to itself the authority to decide who enters or leaves the country.

For a segment of Cubans in exile, Juan Juan Almeida is loathsome due to his paternal origin. He has Castroism’s stamp of origin; he was educated as an officer of the Minister of Internal Security in the former Soviet Union and practiced his profession until he fell into disgrace. Perhaps he´s not forgiven for the publication of a book in which he satirizes his own life and the errors and horrors of the demigods who took hold of power and devour their own children.

I don´t think he worries much about the conflicting opinions of those who judge him through a political lens. Juan did not distance himself from the power circle in order to climb in the opposition. As I listened to him on Monday, August 23rd, I thought that this charismatic and cheerful down-to-earth Cuban believes more in the smile and the handshake of those who greet him than in all the slogans and hallelujahs he heard since he was born.

P.S. Congratulations, Juan Juan! We are all happy for your liberation

Translated by: Espirituana

August 27, 2010

First the Drainage / Miguel Iturria Savón

While Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and other multimillionaires develop a campaign to donate at least 50% of their fortunes to social sectors, the government of General Castro accelerates the end of the benefits granted to the Cuban people during half a century of promises and State domination.

To the extent that the ship of totalitarianism wobbles, the promise of giving is substituted by the one of taking away. In the end, the “gratuidades” (free services), “precios subvencionados”(subsidized prices) and subsidies for the elderly and disabled can be spared. However, the ideological battles, the apocalyptic prophecies of the former ruling chatterbox and the catalog of prohibitions that prevent citizens from unleashing their own initiatives and living from their own efforts without governmental guardianship, remain.

Yes, it is time to put an end to the egalitarian illusion; we have had our fill of utopias, offerings, miseries and disinformation. But it is also time to eliminate the state monopoly over the means of production, commerce, agriculture, transportation, fishing and other areas of the economy and society, which are blocked by the concentration of power in the one party and its chieftains who hold on to power.

Whose idea was it to regulate individual consumption of food, the clothes we wore, the toys that our children could receive, or to let a ministry decide the prices of articles? How is it possible that a network of government officials imposes the will of a uniformed chieftain on millions of people, or that the parliament unanimously approves “the leader’s proposals”?

If the methods of distribution are no longer sustainable and it is necessary to drain the swamp, we have to clear the obstructed flows and normalize relations between those who create wealth and those who administer it. The law that favors one side only will not solve the problems. If the obsolete productive and commercial structures in the hands of Father State are not privatized, we will continue to be bogged down.

Now there is talk of eliminating the subsidized cigarettes we have had since 1971, but let us remember that someone raised prices from 5 and 10 cents per pack to 8 and 10 pesos. Maybe it was the same people who raised the prices of rice, beans, chicken, pork and other staples included in the ridiculous Ration Book, which is in the same process of extinction as the regime that instituted it.

The end of subsidies should not imply an increase in poverty. People work because of their needs, not because of slogans. If the monopolizing state lacks the raw materials to produce and cannot – or doesn’t want to – pay workers what is necessary to live on, it will have to steer the situation through decentralizing changes and maneuvers. To pay with the devalued national currency and sell in foreign currency is equivalent to taking people for fools.

It is not a question of offering people a “Dinner for Idiots” nor of excluding those who need protection. Let the waters flow to drain the swamp. The rest will come little by little.

September 2, 2010

Culture and Power, Together and Restless / Miguel Iturria Savón

As in medieval times, when music, painting and other artistic expressions were under the wing of the Catholic church, in Cuba culture is sponsored by the State. But artists don’t knock on the doors of cathedrals nor present their projects to the despot, since there is a network of institutions that rule and control film, the performing arts, the plastic arts, books and literature, architecture and even the media.

I was thinking of the subjection of culture to the State on Monday, August 23rd, as I enjoyed the concert offered by Zenaida Romeu and her Camerata before the power elite, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women, created by the former First Lady to empower the females of the country.

Zenaida’s words as she presented each piece caught my attention. With delicacy and precision she spoke of music as an expression of liberty. I suppose that General Castro and his entourage did not notice that detail. Enveloped in the interpretive magic of these women, they were not attentive to these subtleties.

Many of our creative people sometimes act on stages that reaffirm the relationship between art and power. The Universal Hall of the Armed Forces, the steps of the University of Havana, the Plaza of the Revolution or the Black Flags Park on the Malecón, in front of the United States’ Interests Office, are only some of the ritual places.

It is almost impossible to control the manifestations of art and literature, since creation is a natural need of man as a social being. The predominance of the State can achieve, at most, that an intellectual elite, docile and well-trained, direct culture toward political ends.

With the revolutionary process started in 1959, culture continued its march, but its rhythm was changed. In half a century of messianic populism, several components of daily life and tangible and spiritual elements of the social dynamic were altered. There are reversible damages and representative faces of “revolutionary art”.

Upon the disruption of the social order, the sociopolitical scheme was changed. The association with the socialist model led by the former Soviet Union made way for the development of official organizations that monopolize each area of artistic creation. The Instituto Cubano del Libro (Cuban Books Institute), the Centro Nacional de la Música (National Music Center), the Instituto de Arte e Industria Cinematográfica (Institute of Film Arts and Industry), the Consejo de las Artes Escénicas (Performing Arts Council), the Instituto de la Radio y la Televisión (Radio and Television Institute), the Centro de Artes Plásticas y Diseño (Plastic Arts and Design Institute) and other groups direct the artistic production according to political and government interests.

The commissaries dictated standards, demanded fidelity, and imposed mass culture through control of the radio, film, education and the media; but the creative universe of the island went into crisis around 1990, with the fall of the socialist allies that provided the resources for the country, accelerating the exodus of artists to other countries. But the bureaucratization of culture was maintained, intent on tying the creators to the network of State centers that instituted censorship and submission through awards, publication, recordings and travel, favoring opportunists and excluding those who defy the doctrine of the power holders.

Many public shows take place in this context of political schemes, as in the times of praising and singing to the Lord, when music and other artistic expressions revolved around the cathedral and the artists were dependent on generous patrons.

Translated by: Espirituana

August 29, 2010

Cuba’s Theatrical Metaphors / Miguel Iturria Savón

A friend from Miami told me over the internet last Friday, that in July he saw two theatrical works representing the island in festivals in the United States, “where there is a real invasion of Cuban artists, including orchestras, troubadours, reggaetoneros, and dance and theater groups, almost all very good, although some are irritating due to the ambivalence of their music or the statements they make, not thinking that here there are no issues of ‘enemy propaganda’ or ‘ideological diversionism’.”

The theater groups representing Cuba in the United States were El Público and Buendía, both revitalizing collectives due to their way of making and conceiving of theater. The former performed The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, shown as part of GLBT Performing Arts Theater’s “Out in the Tropics,” at the Colony Theater of Miami Beach. The latter performed their versions of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, premiered in Havana and seen now at the Latino Festival of Theater, organized each year by the Goodman Theater of Chicago, from where they went on to perform at the Manuel Artime Miami stage.

I won’t tackle the three proposals, whose focuses, montages, and spell-casting strategies reveal the plurality of Cuban theater, marked by universal and local themes, austere stage settings, and dialogue that implicates the audience, whose eagerness is visible in Havana’s halls.

I’ll focus on The Visit of the Old Dame, a cruel and stark comedy rewritten by Flora Lauten (director) and Raquel Carrió (adviser) based upon the original by the German author, Friedrich Durrenmatt. The original plotline is preserved, but with a smaller cast that condenses characters and changes some details of language and narrative style, which suits its proximity to our Cuban reality.

With The Visit of the Old Dame, Buendía offered a theatrical metaphor of Cuban daily life, marked by confinement, misery, and intolerance. After decades of exile, now wealthy Clara Zajanin returns to the impoverished town of Gula, where she’s received as a prodigy child and future omen. She evokes her shadowy and frustrated past, the betrayal of a young-lover-turned-town-mayor, who will be the target of her vengeance, while the townspeople who once detested her now flatter her in hopes of loans and other favors.

Such an expansive scenic view would seem a pretext to create a dialogue with the public about the problems that erode human existence, recreated by the magic of theater, with excellent performances, live music that enhances the nostalgia in Martha Strada’s mythical voice, and illuminating references to the island’s context. For Buendía‘s cast, it’s as if foreign plays serve to support our imaginariums and utopias, the way to deal with that which is mythic and ordinary and to polemicize the present and future.

There’s an overflow of charm and splendid performances upon that altarpiece of scenic passions, where comedy wins the bout over tragedy and the masks reveal something of the mythic and the ordinary, without evading the problems of the present and future.

Those of us who follow the island’s theater scene know that Buendía Theater, founded in 1986 by the actor and professor Flora Lauten, is grounded in an intelligent selection of works, whose versions reach the public and speak to them of the issues, challenges, and circumstances that can move their lives.
The favorable reception by the public and critics in Chicago and Miami of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, Buendía‘s recent works, will likely stimulate the further creative research of this drama collective, with their headquarters in the Coptic church on Loma and 39th Streets, in Havana’s Plaza municipality, where their sessions are held, along with their Research Workshop and Center for the Education of Actors, Directors, and Technicians.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 16, 2010

His Own War / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Saturday, August 7, Cuban television aired another chapter in the media tragicomedy of Fidel Castro Ruz, who chaired the special session of the so-called People’s Power National Assembly, to which he spoke about the disaster that will be triggered in the Persian Gulf if the U.S. government dares to underestimate the threats of Iran, whose government is developing a plan of nuclear weapons, destabilizing the region.

The parliamentary track became a pre-scripted session of claiming the limelight. Castro resumed his role of universal guru and the deputies confirmed their loyalty to the tyrant, interrupting him with applause, complacent questions, and congratulations on his 84th birthday. Without moving from his chair, the former leader showed off his dramatic poses, enhanced by his raving verbal and mental excesses; meanwhile, the entourage of fawningly servile adulators, avidly listened to the Caudillo’s prophecies.

More than a conclave of national interest, the Saturday assembly between the despot and his legislators, became a meeting of shadow plays that accentuated the desperation. Neither the yawns of the Caudillo’s brother, multiplied by zero among so many blunders, nor Alarcon’s caution in conducting the “debates,” justified the irresponsible diatribe of the aged commander, sick from power and prominence.

In this role play of Fidel Castro he fired his last cartridges against the people of Cuba, suffocated by half a century of totalitarianism. Castro, like Stalin, Mao and Franco, intends to rule until the end of his days, with the the reins of power in the hands of his worshipers, whose veneration and servility are beyond doubt.

Castro fought his own war against our island, though disguised his legacy of deaths, mass exoduses, economic devastation, collective misery, generalized corruption and external dependency; camouflaged in speeches from his own barricades of the Cold War, when he was exporting the Socialist Utopia and destabilizing the countries in the region.

The cynicism of the cacique and his vassals elicits guffaws more than sympathy. His recent public interventions, the “reflections” that his amanuenses write in his name, and the 800-page tome on the strategy of his victory, represent his closing mutterings.

In reviewing the Parliament session of August 7, the foreign correspondents accredited in Havana will be respectful and circumspect. Perhaps Patricia Grog, Andrea Rodríguez and Fernando Ravsberg will show their admiration for the island patriarch and describe the warnings against the United States, which now “seeks to humiliate the people of Iran,” whose ayatollahs are Castro’s allies.

Cubans, weary of tragicomedies and verbal bombast, know that Castro’s prophecies of war and the applause of his legislators, are one more branch on the tree of cynicism. More of the same from the pit of inertia.

August 13, 2010

Live Culture at Casa Gaia / Miguel Iturría Savón

There’s a discrepancy between the sign board and program schedule at the Casa Gaia, located in Teniente Rey, between Águila and Cuba Streets in the historic quarter of Havana. That’s where art and thought now come together, but the sign board at the entrance announces the staging of Flechas del Ángel del Olvido (The Angel of Oblivion’s Arrows), scheduled to run Friday through Sunday until 29 November, under the direction of Esther Cardoso Villanueva, the director of the center.

Maybe it’s hard to take down the sign board. Perhaps the play continues to be on the sign board with sporadic interruptions and new options for patrons. Maybe it’s a strategy to avoid chaos on the premise, the top floor of which holds hundreds of people.

I myself am happy, since from Friday, July 23, to Sunday, July 25, I was invited by phone to the series of activities that the “dialogue among friends” disseminates under the title Estado de Sats (The State of Sats), which signifies “being attentive, awake and conscious of real transformation” in order to expand “open exchange and diversity as principal resources.”

There were three days of open discussions and lectures. Cuba and the future as the central theme. There were visual arts presentations, conferences, audiovisual projections, and concerts. A large crowd, in spite of the outdated sign board.

A collective exhibit of visual arts was launched on Friday at 8:00pm in the Vivarta Studio-theater, located in the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall, under the title Recargable (Rechargable), with works by 15 young artists, one from Spain and another from Taiwan. The works alone are worthy of appreciation and deserve exhaustive commentary.

From the cinema, on Saturday at 8:00pm, Sats screened the documentary Memorias del Desarrollo (Memories of Development) by Miguel Coyula, who, through analysis and manipulation of images conveys the alienation of the individual and reflects upon how art reflects reality. The film was described by Sundance Film Festival as a “subliminal and cinematic collage that forges new cinematographic dimensions by way of multiple expository levels that intercept one another in a sort of picaresque saga about desire and decadence.”

The open discussions, conferences and presentations regarding cultural projects merit a special mention. On Friday morning Prof. Carlos Simón Forcade presented “Imagination and Growth within the Cuban Social Project”; following him was Antonio Correa Iglesias, PhD, and undergrad Ana María Socarrás Piñón with the topics, “Epistemology, Cognitive Sciences and Neural Networks: towards a Plural Zone in the Building of Knowledge” and “Contemporary Cuban Art or The 70s Generation?: Alternative Projects vs. the Visual Arts in Offcial Media”. In the evening, the AISHA Company project was held, as was the Art and Society Open Discussion with writer Víctor Fowler as moderator, and performances by Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico, Luis Eligio Pérez, Maylin Machado, and Glenda Salazar.

On Saturday morning Dr. Antonio G. Rodiles presented “Complexity and Society”, while Carmelo Mesa-Lago by way of video projection, dealt with “The Economy of Cuba at the Crossroads: External and Internal Crisis”. In the evening, the “Raise the Voices” project and the Economy and Society open discussions occurred, with Hiram Hernández, Jorge Calaforra, Ramón García, and the quoted A.G. Rodiles.

On Sunday morning, the engineer Jorge Calaforra explained the “Cuban and Global Perspective for 2030” and Dr. Alexis Jardines presented “Cuba: Premodernity and Thinktanks”, referring to Western liberal democracies, ethical schisms in the national project, and factors such as the island’s intellectual potential and a thesis on the hollowness of “capitalism” and “socialism” as concepts. The evening session belonged to the “OMNI-FREE TRADE ZONE” and an open discussion about “Futures and Visions of Cuba”, lead by Castor Álvarez, Dimitri Prieto, Gabriel Calahorra, and Romina Ruiz.

The Casa Gaia sessions on Art and Thought culminated on Sunday night with the “A Good Thing Jam Session”, described by organizers as a “spectacle of textures and fragments as vehicles of national history and identity”, with rotating, projected images and rhythmic counterpoint music (jazz, hip-hop), all falling somewhere along the spectrum of blunt emotionalism (Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico) and sensible civility (trova and danceable elements).

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 3, 2010

Young But Not Rebels / Miguel Iturría Savón

As August progresses, as if the summer sun and rain weren’t enough, the official press is punishing us with news that tests the boundaries of even the complete joke represented by the newspaper Granma, the Communist Party organ, and Juventud Rebelde — Rebel Youth — the newspaper for the younger generation, two sides of the totalitarian coin, accustomed to embellishing statistics, interviewing “leaders” and courtesans, pointing their magnifying glass at events in the United States and giving a pat on the back to allies like Iran and North Korea.

As each edition reiterates the twisted perception of the world versus the wonders that happen on this island, these media beat us over the head with the little story of Comandante-Saviour-of-the-World and the disasters in other latitudes that confirm his prophecies. To the worst leader in our nation’s history they dedicate poems, art works, celebrations for his 84th birthday and comments on the 896 page tome he wrote when he was seriously ill; it can’t be topped, right?

In this satirical operetta is inscribed the interview published by Mayte María Jiménez, on Saturday, August 14, in Juventud Rebelde, of Maydel Gómez Lago, 23 from Cienfuegos, who is a recent graduate in Pedagogy and the designated president of the FEU (Federation of University Students). If anyone would like to see Maydel’s teeth and to know “What Cuba dreams of in the future?”, I suggest you get the newspaper or ask Google the title “Creative and in love with life” (Creativos y enamorados de la vida).

As we know how they fabricate these puppets converted into leaders of this or that organization, I am not going to question this girl’s biography nor repeat the questions and answers. Maydel seems less intelligent than Carlos Lage and nicer than Felipe Pérez Roque, two men who ascended the ladder to the top tier of the Cuban government years ago from the little position now occupied by her. Lucky girl!

The girl spoke, of course, of the ideological political work and the academic plane, of being more creative to strengthen the Revolution, of giving continuity to the leadership of the FEU, which Julio A. Mella and José A. Echeverría gave their lives for, and bet on “an eternally socialist and revolutionary Cuba,” Come on! The same as always. Nothing about the autonomy of the university nor how to extract the FEU from the clutches of despotism.

On Tuesday, August 17 Juventud Rebelde provided one of its pages to another young official. His name is Jesús Lara Sotelo and he emerged by drawing Fidel Castro, to whom he dedicated his most recent work, “The Triumph of the Prophecy,” now exhibited at the Hotel Nacional, and displayed on August 13 at the Cuba Pavilion, where the celebration With Fidel and For Peace was held. We know through the journalist José Luis Estrada Betancourt, whose interview appeared on page 6 under the title of the picture.

Rather than a marionette, Lara Sotelo seems more like a pygmy with a brush in front of a colossal and ancient David. In his responses to the reporter, the new Painter of the Olive-Green Court could displace Alexis Leyva (“Kcho”), who encouraged him “through a mutual friend.” Thanks to the push (or the order, who knows?) from other celebrities of the eternal army, like Alex Castro, who presented him with photos of his father; Armando Hart, ex-minister of culture, and the pianist Frank Fernández, who blessed him with a homonymous work.

As a reward, the new portraitist of the tyranny left on a trip to the Basque Country, where he will exhibit his mural, “Haiti is another Guernica,” in the Make Bacon salon. The young palace decorator is clever and manipulative, right?

August 24, 2010

Repression as Signs of Identity / Miguel Iturría Savón

From the silence, the impunity, and with the same contempt for the activists who promote human rights in Cuba, the political police triggered the arrests and threats in Havana and other cities in the country, between July 10 and August 12, which coincides with the resumption of activities by ex-president Fidel Castro and the official celebration of his birthday, on Thursday, August 13.

As the press is an area where the real world and that world designed by the ideologues of power meet, it is enough to compare the newspaper Granma and the official media who display the tyrant’s need to be in the limelight on the island, with Cubanet and other pages from exile, that report the daily events from alternate sources, without censorship or half-truths.

To illustrate the repression it’s worth some examples of arrests, threats made to people in their homes and at police stations, beatings behind bars, “persuasive conversations” in offices of the “apparatus,” statements, written denunciations and unusual outbursts, like that of Colonel Samper to Alfredo Guillaume (age 82), to whom he said, “It’s not worth wasting a bullet on you, but we would save resources.”

A reported dated July 26 and signed by Joel Lázaro Carbonell Guilar, leader of the group Human Rights Free Cubans, illustrated with names and recent violations the Articles 3, 9 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Articles 9 (sub-paragraph a), 58 and 59 of the Cuban Constitution. According to the activist: “They include acts of genocide and torture against members of civil society, victims of detentions, threats, mistreatment, kidnappings on the public street and being besieged by mobs organized by the political police.” He adds that, “the events remain unpunished and the damage to the injured is not repaired.”

Yoel Lázaro Guilar refers to the cases of Lilvio Fernández Luis, leader of the Comisión Martiana, taken from his house to a cell in Villa Marista; Alfredo Fernández Silva, president of the Partido 30 de noviembre, taken by force from his home and help in a distant place for 10 hours; Juana M. Oquendo Gómez, executive of the Partido Liberal Ortodoxo, detained and threatened in front of her son, whom they detained to pressure her; and the kidnapping of the elderly man Alfredo Guillaume.

The arrests gained intensity on July 12, before the anniversary of the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo (resulting in 41 deaths, including children); the days before the July 26 anniversary, celebrated in Santa Clara; the lead up to the August 5 anniversary of the Maleconazo riot in 1994; and August 12 as a gift from the Minister of the Interior to Fidel Castro on his 84th birthday (August 13). Activists calculated that there were more than 100 arrests on August 5.

Ricardo Medina, a theologian and representative of the Liberal Catholic Church was arrested on August 4 together with the activist Hugo Damián at the Pinar del Rio bus station, where he was to greet the layman Dagoberto Valdés. He was taken by an official from State Security with Ricardo’s dossier, and freed two days later.

The arrests in July on the Malecon in Havana and on August 5 in the Park at Calzada and K in Vedado, added the names of journalists and independent librarians who enlarged the list of opponents interrogated in Santa Clara, Holguín and Guantánamo.

The siege against human rights defenders in mid-July and August coincided with the release of a dozen prisoners of conscience, and with the media role of Fidel Castro, who retakes the ideological reins of the regime and announces universal catastrophes.

August 18, 2010

Writers, Awards and Nonsense / Miguel Iturría Savón

As a teenager I imagined that writers were wise, sensible, creative, focused and responsible people. For me, a poet was a chosen of God in communion with men, capable to singing to the moon, describing encounters with the stars, and shouting the word freedom before the rifles of the tyrant. With the passage of time I met several literary types and discovered the human profile of some poets and writers.

I didn’t imagine, however, that there was a trafficking in praise, a commerce in applause, and even poems and stories made to order. Perhaps in exchange for prizes, publications, trips, and positions at cultural institutions. So I thought until I read an August 14 article in the daily paper Juventud Rebelde — Rebel Youth — by José Luis Estrada Betancourt, “The Poets Are on This Side.

Incredible but true. The writer starts with a fragment from Declaration of Love by Carilda Oliver Labra, National Literature Prize of 1997, who read this work, and continues with her Song to Fidel, in the recent fair at the Cuba Pavilion where she participated with other literary celebrities in the recital, “With Fidel and For Peace,” organized by the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) the previous day, on the occasion of the Island tyrant’s 84th birthday.

In reviewing the evening, the journalist set out the certainties around the peace of the figures assembled with Carilda Oliver, who came from Matanzas to receive the Youth Teacher Prize, awarded by the Asociación Hermanos Saiz and given out by Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture. The writers lists the names of the other personalities, quotes the worlds of novelist Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, and ends with a poetic apology by Nancy Morejón to the despot who calls for world peace after half a century of shooting off canons.

As it never rains but it pours, on Saturday night I saw on the National Television News the faces of Fernández Retamar, César López, Barnet, Carilda, Pablo A. Fernández and other scribblers with more excuses than published books, all attentive to the orders of the Caudillo, ever ready to grab a stick and frighten the sparrows.

If Carilda Oliver re-read her old Song to Fidel, Miguel Barnet repeats the pacifist chant Coma Andante, and Nancy Morejón described the fortune of being loyal to Fidel, it’s all consistent with the Juventud Rebelde reported who affirmed without blushing that “The Poets Are on This Side,” as if the island had only one shore and the mission of the rhapsodies consisted of denigrating a nation enslaved by its enlightened ringleader.

Although time has taught us that some poets sell their verses and write tributes for a crumb of power, we know that on other shores of the island’s geography there are dozens of writers without prizes nor choruses, sensitive and creative people who suffer for a geranium, discover the beauty of the rain, and challenge the campaigns of the despot who convenes the debased.

August 19, 2010

Free From Fear / Miguel Iturría Savón

During May, a Spanish friend of mine brought me three books.  One was from Xavier Rubert de Ventos about the book of Aung Suu Kyi (leader of the Burmese opposition), and two others were published by Cubanet in 2006; the first was about the essay The Power of the Powerless from the Czech writer and politician Vaclav Havel, and the second was How The Night Came, written by the ex-commander Huber Matos who tells about the Cuban revolutionary process and about the installation of the Castro dictatorship.

They are three different works that differ and converge in regards to the subject of totalitarianism, and which offer some key suggestions on how to confront fear and repression.  Since they are books that are banned in Cuba, I will briefly comment about the one least smuggled throughout our island, the one written by Aung Suu Kyi entitled Free from Fear, edited in Barcelona in 1995 by Galaxia Gutenberg.

Aung Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.  The previous year she had won the elections in Burma, while heading the National Democratic League, but the military prevented her from taking power.  Despite the deprivation and confinement she still is under, she analyzes the essential problems of her country.  They are general reflections that reach out to readers of various interests, and they do not harm the sensibility of those whose opinions differ.

In Free from Fear, which contains a prologue by Vaclav Havel and Maria Luisa Penela, the leader of the opposition movement of the Asian archipelago describes the corruption in her country, the most intimate of mechanisms used by those who hold on to despotic power, and the need to overcoming fear- that emotion which deforms the soul and bends willpower, gives way to oportunism and other attitudes that favor domination over the masses, which we can relate to here on this end.

She highlights that “Fear turns us into complices of oppression, just like bravery makes us allies of the truth” She then warns that, “In order to reach that truth we should free ourselves from the debilitating virus known as fear, which erodes our reason and conscience, eclipses us, hurts us, and humiliates us.”

The vital experience of the author allows her to appreciate the fact that “Servitude is not only a condition, but also a passion,” a passion previously described by Hegel and Goblot, and later analyzed by Canetti and H. Arendt, according to X.R. Ventos, who assures that Suu Kyi, like Havel, “inverts the logic of distinction between a deprived morale that refers to sentiments or convictions, and a supposed public morality, that should be a secretive, astute, Machiavellian, and full of historic Missions or of Universal Destinies, or Utopian revolutions.  This mix of cynicism constitutes the current political “common sense” that Suu Kyi denounces as a variant of fear itself.”

The Burmese fighter is demanding an intimate moral compromise before prudence or political knowledge:  “Less ideals and more principals, less ideology and more integrity.”

In closing, we must point out that: “One of the most harmful forms of fear is the one that masquerades as common sense or prudence, and rejects as thoughtless or frivolous small acts of courage that maintain the sense of dignity and respect for oneself. ”

She appeals for a “heroism without illusions” recalling that “saints are sinners who continue on with the struggle.”  A struggle… more heroic when conscience holds that its objectives are as unreachable as they are unrenounceable.

Aung Suu Kyi’s book, like the generalizations made by Vaclav Havel in The Power of the Powerless, acquires a value thanks to its universality, its accurate perceptions about totalitarianism, and because it differs from traditional politics and the electoral discourses offered by Justice, Freedom, or Abundance, but without freeing us from the fear that keeps us from reaching those goals.

Translated by Raul G.

August 8, 2010

Retiring the Demons / Miguel Iturría Savón

I heard an old joke the other day while I waited at the bus terminal in Havana. It was about the ex-president Fidel Castro Ruz, who returned to the media during the last weeks of July, despite his deteriorated state of health. Such an appearance was subject of much irreverence. However, the official press of the island only pointed out the tragic, yet comical, declarations made by the veteran commander.

In the joke, Fidel comes out of hell and explores the island, where he confirms that nobody remembers him. He also notices that there are no statues, monuments, plazas, or institutions that evoke his name or his work. Finally, he arrives at the National Library and after he searches around for a while he finds an encyclopedia that includes this in the index card: “Fidel Castro Ruz, Cuban dictator who reigned during the era of “Los Van Van.”*

I only hear Fidel Castro’s (and his brother Raul’s) names every once in a while in jokes. Up to now, there are certain comparative relations between taunts and the supporting media of the mandarins, whose figures surpass the popular imagination, especially Fidel, who is bent on giving off the notion that he is healthy and well, while warning about international catastrophes as if he did not live on the island, or as if it were impossible for him to get out of his state of limbo.

Such jokes prove that not even excessive power can free a man from being made fun of. At the bus stop and in the buses, their names are barely ever mentioned. In public areas like parks, waiting rooms, and in long lines outside stores, there are more than enough allusions made to unleash the criticisms, especially among young people, whose irreverence shatters the limits of respect.

Trapped in the time of the Castros, with so much propaganda about heroes, wars, blockades, productive methods, historic anniversaries, and social promises, people who lack agendas express their opinions with jokes and brief phrases that demystify the rhetoric and confirm the hopelessness; as if all the scarcities and tensions of immediacy bring to the forefront the narrow interests and petty passions of official discourse.

The more Fidel Castro tries to confuse or misinform Cubans (like a gas lamp in the middle of a dark cave), the more their indifference grows in regards to his “historical legacy.” The jokes replace the “veneration” that the people show him. For many, he is no longer the Commander, but instead he is the Mummy, the Ghost, the Deceased One, the Prophet of War, the Risen Devil, or the Old Hag.

Raul Casto, who is less historic and less popular cannot avoid the list of retired demons, which includes Ramiro Valdes Menendez, the triad of Jose Ramon (Balaguer, Machado Ventura and the Spaniard Fernandez), Ricardo Alarcon (spokesperson for the heroes), and semi-gods like Abelardo Colome Ibarra (aka Furry), Casas Regueiro, Ulises del Toro (General Marabu), and other uniformed figures who head all sorts of ministries and make up the Political Bureau of the Communist Party.

*Los Van Van — a popular Cuban musical group

Translated by Raul G.

August 11, 2010