‘I Was Desperate to Get Off That Island, Which to Me Seemed Like a Disaster Ruled by a Demon’

Writer and actor Jorge Luis Camacho during an interview last May with Radio France International. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Madrid, August 15, 2021 — Jorge Luis Camacho was born in 1956 in Cardenas, Matanzas province.  As he recalls, the Cuban flag — “an annexationist flag” which incorporated a star from the flag of the United States —was raised there for the first time. For forty years he has been a resident of Paris, where he has worked mainly as an actor and screenwriter.

Now he has written his second novel, the saga Cuban Symphony, composed in three parts: Allegro ma non troppo, Tempo Marziale and Da Capo. He tells 14ymedio that he was trying to examine the odd phenomenon of Castroism: “A dictatorship that took over in less than two years but which cannot be dislodged, even today.” The overriding desire to write it, he says, came from an organic necessity that forced him to imagine, in a diffuse and subtle way, the end of the regime.

In this interview he reads some passages from the ending: “Some predict that a popular uprising will sweep away everything in Cuba, others that the economic disaster will force the regime to negotiate with the opposition. What nobody imagines is that Cuba will stay the same.”

Yaiza Santos. Writing Allegro ma non troppo relies on a lot of historical documentation, which is cited at the end. For the story of the main family, who lost their sugar refinery after the Revolution, were you inspired by someone you knew, by some personal experience?

Jorge Luis Camacho. No. the history of Cuba is filled with such people. It isn’t necessary to listen to someone who has lived through it. When I wrote Symphony, I found someone, Nicolas Gutierrez, whom I thank in the book. His story is virtually the same as Julio’s. But I didn’t want to have direct contact with a family that would expect me to respect certain rules. I wanted to invent the characters, which gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. If history is very present, it’s because there was a moment when it seemed to me that reality was so rich that fiction alone could not continue reading

reflect it. History and fiction complement each other.

Yaiza Santos. One of the most remarkable things about the first volume, which coincides precisely with first year after the triumph of the Revolution, are those historical asides at the end of each chapter. Seeing them together is impressive: the restoration of the death penalty, the executions, the abolition of the separation of powers, the nationalizations… It was all very obvious from the beginning and yet many were enthralled with Cuban Revolution, a phenomenon that to some extent exists to this day. How do you explain this?

Jorge Luis Camacho. Frankly, I have no explanation for this. I think one of the things driving it, for example, is that some Europeans have a kind of love-hate relationship with the United States for reasons that I don’t quite understand but which are real. But I don’t think that explains the whole phenomenon. I like to say that communism, or the communist left, is a non-theistic religion. The left is waiting for a messiah and every time one comes along, they say, “Ah, this is the one.” First it was Lenin, then Stalin, followed by Mao, then Fidel came, then Chavez… then they all failed.

But the messianic left doesn’t care. They will love the next one just the same. I think it has something to do with Christianity. Even though very few communist leftists would believe me if I said they were religious, they are. Look at what just happened in Peru. It’s surprising that, just at the moment when Venezuela is a disaster, when Cuba is a disaster, people voted for a communist, who is open about it. And in six months we will see everything that he has destroyed.

Look at what just happened in Peru. It’s surprising that, just at the moment when Venezuela is a disaster, when Cuba is a disaster, people voted for communist.

Yaiza Santos. It seems metaphorical that you have a character in the book named Libertad [meaning liberty, or freedom], for Libertad Lamarque, who suffers from cancer.

Jorge Luis Camacho. Libertad’s cancer is the cancer of liberty in Cuba, with Batista and the rest. Even though Cuba had a constitution that outlawed capital punishment, it still had a lot of problems. Libertad’s illness worsens as liberty in Cuba gradually disappears.

Yaiza Santos. I was referring to a broader metaphor. Freedom is very fragile and contains within it a dark well capable of generating its own destruction. There is another character named Cohen, who says: “It is typical for autocracies to promise things that society has not achieved by itself, and only tyrannies can create the illusion of obtaining them.”

Jorge Luis Camacho. It’s not an accident that his name is Cohen. Getting back to Libertad and what she represents, if you notice in the first scene there is a crazy lady who throws herself in front of the car and says, “Liberty, liberty, don’t abandon me!” This could also be the response of uneducated people, who don’t have a compass and who throw themselves at anything, as has now happened now with the Peruvians.

Yaiza Santos. Part I manages to be suspenseful even though we know how it ends. What does the reader find in the other two volumes?

Jorge Luis Camacho. Part II takes place during the 1960s, after the new regime comes to power. That’s why it’s called Tempo Marziale. All three parts have Italian titles because they’re musical. And it’s called Cuban Symphony because it’s also a story about frustration.

Julio had wanted to be a musician but couldn’t because he’s the only one left in the family capable of getting its sugar refinery back. What’s beautiful in the end is that his son, who is a musician, wrote a short symphony when was 12 years old for his father and uncle when they were at Playa Girón, at the Bay of Pigs. [By the way] it’s not not called that because it has something to do with pigs; it’s because there are some very cute little tricolor fish that live in those waters. His son becomes a professional musician, expands the symphony and performs it on the day Julio is giving a speech at the family’s rebuilt factory, which obviously represents the country.

I don’t describe how freedom comes about but rather imply that it happens due to a social disaster that everyone could foresee. What’s curious is that the book was published in June and, less than a month later, the protests of July 11 occurred. The main character in my story is called Julio [July] and the chant that was repeated most often during those protests — “Libertad” — is the name of his mother. I feel like a magician [laughs].

If I made that joke, I’d end up prison for ten years. Now he’s saying this in front of me because we’re all together

Yaiza Santos. How did you leave Cuba for France? Had you already rejected the Revolution or did that come later?

Jorge Luis Camacho. I was always against the Revolution. I never had any appreciation for that system, despite the fact that I was raised by my older sister — my mother, like Julio’s, died of cancer when I was six years old — whose husband admired the Revolution and even became a party member. I had already been expelled from the Higher Institute of the Arts in Havana, allegedly for political reasons.

I was desperate to get off that island, which to me seemed like a disaster ruled by a demon. I didn’t believe anything he said. I have an anecdote about that. I was participating in a series sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When I got to the theater, I realized it was an event in honor of the army. The theater looked like a field of beans, everyone dressed in green, a horror.

Raul Castro was there and I heard him telling counterrevolutionary stories about how he explained to his mother what communism was. He told her, “Mama, we now own a banana orchard because this is socialism. When we no longer own a banana orchard, that will be communism.”

I thought, “These people must be kidding me. And taking my life away.” I thought that if I made a joke, I’d end up prison for ten years. Now he’s saying this in front of me because we’re all together, eating things that I had never seen in my life except in the movies. That confirmed my intuitions. I left Cuba with a lot of… I don’t like to use the word hate but, yes, I hated them.

I also left for love. I was hopelessly in love with a woman who was half French. She was the daughter of an impoverished baroness who had become a dancer at the Moulin Rouge and had married a Cuban dancer.

Yaiza Santos. How is your relationship with other Cubans living in Paris? Do you feel part of the Cuban exile community in France?

Jorge Luis Camacho. Yes and no. Because I lived and work as though I were French. I am clearly the only founder of the French screenwriter’s guild whose native language is not French. I knew Cubans in France but I was not actively involved in that world. I was also not very politically active at that time.

French governments, both of the left and the right, have a kind of admiration, no matter how ridiculous that might seem, for Fidel Castro.

Yaiza Santos. What attitudes have you found among the French towards Cuba?

Jorge Luis Camacho. Well, I’ve known some French people who were as anti-Castro as I, to the point that I thought that they were working for the French secret service. For the most part, French governments of both the left and the right have a kind of admiration, no matter how ridiculous that might seem, for Fidel Castro.

It’s surprising but right here in Paris, in the gay district, you see guys wearing Che Guevara T-shirts. Here was a homophobe, an absolute murderer, and yet there are people who believe he’s a symbol of freedom. France, both the people and the government, is not anti-Castro. Fidel Castro was welcomed with great fanfare by Mitterrand. Then Hollande welcomed the lesser but no less diabolical tyrant Raul, and many intellectuals attended the banquet that the president gave for the dictator.

Yaiza Santos. Would you go back to Cuba?

Today, for being lucky enough to have written this novel at this historic, consequential moment — because we’re all waiting to see liberty fully realized — I think so. I think I can play a role. I don’t know what but I will have a roll to play. Even though I have an eighteen-year-old son in France whom I don’t want to be away from, going to Cuba, acting on Cuban television or in Cuban movies… all these are things I dream about. Working for Cuba from France for a new Cuban government would also be something I’d like very much to do. Of course, all of us who live overseas think we have a role to play. I think it’s up to Cuba to decide whether to give us that role or not.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Change in Cuba Has No Turning Back

Cuban musician Pavel Urkiza. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Madrid, July 31, 2021 — The singer, composer and music producer Pavel Urkiza was born in Kiev (Ukraine), but right away, when he was three months old, he was taken to Havana where he grew up. His parents, both engineers, were part of the first Cuban student brigade in the Soviet Union. You glimpse the pain when he says that he met his mother when he was five years old: his mother’s family took over caring for the child and sent the woman back to the USSR, to “fulfill the mission of the Revolution.” Urkiza, over time, learned to forgive her: “She melted down, she had a mental disorder.”

This conversation reached his familial twists and turns unintentionally, because what 14ymedio wanted to talk about with Urkiza – a complete musician, founder of Gema and Pavel, the cult duo that put to music the harsh early 90s in Cuba with its opposites of the New Trova and the slogans – was his latest song release, Todo Por Ti (Everything for You), which he sings along with Daymé Arocena and which extols the historic July 11 demonstrations.

Yaiza Santos:  Did you have any of “Todo Por Ti” composed before July 11, or did it come to you at that moment?

Pavel Urkiza: I composed it the following day. I had already done two things in November: the first, “A Drop of Truth,” in homage to the San Isidro Movement and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara; and the second, “The National Whistle,” as a result of the call they sent out to whistle every day at nine at night. This was inspired by a film of Fernando Pérez titled “Life is to Whistle” (1998), in which, curiously, a character decrees the happiness of all Cubans for 2020. And that is very strong, because things really did begin to move a little more in 2020, with people like Luis Manuel Otero and Maykel Osorbo, people for whom, as Carlos Manuel Álvarez says, the Revolution was made and whom the Revolution abandoned, relegated, and marginalized.

On July 12 I spoke with Eliécer Jiménez-Almeida, a tremendously talented brother, and we said “we have to do something.” I composed the song and decided to write to Daymé Arocena, who lives in Toronto now, and she answered me almost crying, very emotional. Her husband, Pablo Dewin, also a visual artist, filmed Daymé, and Eliécer did the editing. He had the idea of doing it in a square format, so that it would be easier to watch on cell phones. The mixing and mastering of the song was done by my Madrid brother Javier Monteverde in the studio where I worked when I lived in Spain. And that’s how the theme arose. On July 21st at 7 in the morning it was already launched on the social networks.

Yaiza Santos:  And it was immediately answered by Abel Prieto . . .

Pavel Urkiza: More than that, he posted it on Casa de las Américas. That’s strong! That means it hurt. He begins like this [reads]: “Yesterday the song Todo Por Ti by Pavel Urquiza and Daymé Arocena was released on YouTube. Insignificant as a work of art, they want it to work as political propaganda. They used images of ’the people’ for the video clip when they attack a patrol car and policemen who, most of the time, retreat from aggressions by the people.” The guy is lost, he is ridiculous. I read it and continue reading

decided to reply to him on Facebook as well.
Yaiza Santos: If something exposes these reactions in the regime, it’s because the music has made them very nervous …

Pavel Urkiza: From Patria y Vida [Homeland and Life]. That was the first and it is an indisputable theme. It simply changed the motto, and showed that “homeland or death” has become obsolete and forgotten . . . Later many things have come out, but they seem to me rude, very aggressive — “Díaz-Canel singao” [motherfucker] and such. And the message that I want is another, more sophisticated one, you understand? In addition, Daymé Arocena right now is one of the Cuban artists with the most reach — young, with light, but she also comes from that place that Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Osorbo come from, persons of the people who will no longer give more. That’s also why it hurt them, because this song is on another level.

If you read Abel Prieto’s reasoning, everything is with questions. In my answer I say to him: “I find it curious that you — I am treating you as ’usted’ [using the formal ’you’ in Spanish] — question the song with questions. Do you doubt its arguments?” Yotuel Romero has been called “hustler” and “mercenary,” but Abel Prieto knows that he can’t say “mercenary” or “hustler” to me, because I know very well how the leaders in Cuba live. So I tell him: “I know that you go to Cimeq [the Surgical Medical Research Center], to the 43 clinic [the Kohly Clinic, only for high-ranking State officials] . . . I’ll tell you about things I know, because I come from a powerful family in Cuba, my mother’s family.”

My uncle replaced Che Guevara when he stepped down as Minister of Industry, my other uncle was head of Fidel Castro’s bodyguard at the beginning of the Revolution, my aunt was a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior . . . People I have nothing in common with and they stayed at my house in Cuba, anyway . . . Abel Prieto knew my grandmother well, the actress Raquel Revuelta, who became Vice Minister of Culture.

Yaiza Santos: Music is such an important factor in the change in Cuba, and nobody saw it coming.

Pavel Urkiza: As I said in my message to Abel Prieto, freedom also conquers with the cutting edge of ideas, and that is what the songs are doing.

Yaiza Santos: You’ve brought up your family history.

Pavel Urkiza: I come from privilege. My maternal family was from the old communists. My maternal grandmother, the one who raised me, was born in 1903 and did not baptize her children. And my grandfather, Fidel Domenech, who did not know the Revolution, was also an old communist [from the Communist Party of Cuba, founded in 1925]. Many of them were linked to the Revolution, but they came into conflict with the process, and there are many communists whom Fidel himself removed from political life.

Yaiza Santos:  When did you become aware and how did you decide to say: “I don’t want this, I’m leaving Cuba”?

Pavel Urkiza: At 17 years old, when the Mariel thing happened, I had already begun to question many things. The acts of repudiation that were carried out in Cuba against those who wanted to leave . . . People died there, it was a fascist thing. But I didn’t know the world, I hadn’t gone out. The first time I left Cuba was in 1985, to Czechoslovakia. Later, when you enter university [he studied Industrial Economics in Havana], you begin to see another world, to have a more critical sense.

My own grandmother Raquel was a very critical person, and she had a great communist friend, with whom she had many conversations that I listened to. They said they were corrupt, that this was not socialism. In fact, in 1987 my grandmother directed a play, Public Opinion, written by a Romanian [Aurel Baranga], which was a complete questioning of the socialist system. She was a highly respected woman in Cuba and she could do it. When homosexuals were persecuted, she took many out of UMAP [the labor camps called Military Production Aid Units] and put them in her theater group. I owe a lot to her in the sense of looking at reality with a critical eye and with an artistic eye as well.

Yaiza Santos:  What about the rest of your relatives, did you question them?

Pavel Urkiza: With my aunt the colonel, above all, that she raised me and that she was blind. One day I went out to the street naked and began to write on the wall “down with the dictatorship,” and my aunt, imagine this, followed after me, erasing what I had written . . . In the 80s I also began to read Milan Kundera, for example, covered with brown paper, hidden, and when perestroika came, they got out of hand. Those Novedades de Moscow and Sputnik magazines, which nobody was interested in because they were the same crap, continued to arrive in Cuba and with perestroika we began to read them and we began to understand, to question a pile of things and to realize that what we were experiencing was a total failure.

I also had an episode of repression. One day I went with the pianist Omar Sosa to a hotel to visit a musician who played, and the police arrived, put us in a patrol car and locked us in a cell. That’s nothing, of course. There are people who have suffered really deep, really harsh repression, like María Elena Cruz Varela. As I say, I’ve been privileged; I was gradually realizing through my friends, through people who were visiting their homes, seeing how they lived, and I began to really ask myself whether this revolution was a great sham. By ’92 I was already ’green’.

Yaiza Santos:  In that year, you left for Spain — also thanks to your grandmother Raquel — not to return.

Pavel Urkiza: I went out with the group Teatro Estudio de Cuba, to the celebrations of the fifth centennial of the discovery of America. The theater group also helpd me a lot, because artists tend to be more critical of reality and have access to certain reading and other types of music, things that begin to open your mind to realize that you’re living in a bubble, deceived by a system that makes you believe that this is the best thing in the world. And I came to the Spain of ’92, which was great.

Yaiza Santos:  What impression did the Spanish opinion of Cuba make on you at that time?

Pavel Urkiza: They were super defenders of the Revolution, and we somehow tried to make them see what the reality was like. In fact, I think that many began to see it differently, decided to travel to Cuba and realized that there really is something wrong there. Many were disappointed and others were not, among them great friends of mine. But that’s fine with me, everything is tolerable. That’s the great thing about a democracy: you can think what you want and so can I and we can debate and respect each other. All well and good, and the one more people vote for wins the election, that’s the way it is. As the U.S. Constitution says, “We the people,” we are the ones who tell the Government what to do, the Government doesn’t tell us.

Yaiza Santos:  And why did you go to the United States?

Pavel Urkiza: Well, I married an American, a love story that didn’t work out in the end, but here I stayed. After living in Washington, I came to Miami because it has social capital and it has a good climate. It’s a place where we Cubans feel at home, and it is really a very cosmopolitan city. The world’s view of Miami is quite stigmatized: the mafia thing and all that is something that belongs to the past. In fact, in the city of Miami the Democrats win.

I think the United States in general is a stigmatized country. Even living in Spain you despise it a little. Because you grow up with that! When you start to live the experience, you say, “Wait, I have to think for myself.” And I believe that the United States has many virtues. It is a country of laws, there is greatness here.

And I’ll tell you something: I always had leftist tendencies, obviously, and when I was in Spain I already began to say that I was a humanist, but now I feel that I’m an anarchist-humanist-libertarian. The left has disappointed me a lot. There is a whole strategy there that has nothing to do with real desire to change for the good of the people. I already wrote a song about it in La Ruta de las almas (The Route of Souls) — Resurrection – which says “free me from everything I have learned, return me to the point of nothingness, to the total absence of accumulated life.” I’ve had to rebuild myself, but from my own vision, not from the one they put in me there.

Yaiza Santos:  How do you see Cuba from now on, after July 11? Is change coming?

Pavel Urkiza: This has no turning back, it has no turning back. It may take another five years, but it will come about. People are not going to stay calm anymore. As that woman said in one of the videos of the protests, that she is also an old woman, do you think that this old woman is a criminal? This is how I will remember July 11 all my life: the moment when the people of Cuba took off the cloak of silence.

Translated by Tomás A.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘In Cuba Your Mind Cannot Advance Because You Are Focused on Your Survival’

Journalist Náyare Menoyo, director of the documentary ‘Leonardo Padura, a Squalid and Moving Story’, which won her the King of Spain International Journalism Award. (EFE / Zipi)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Madrid, 20 June 2021 — Náyare Menoyo (Baracoa, 1995) created Leonardo Padura, A Squalid and Moving Story as a graduation project from the University of Havana, where she studied Journalism. She did it, she tells this newspaper, “alone, alone, alone,” with a camera her faculty lent her and the help of her cameraman friend, who did the work for free.

The documentary, premiered out of competition at the Havana Film Festival in 2019, has just received one of the King of Spain International Journalism Awards, the Television Award, among whose recipients is also Don Quixote, won by another Cuban, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, director of the independent magazine El Estornudo.

“It has the value of being a television piece presented by the Havana School of Communication in which things are said that cannot be said in Cuba,” the jury said in its ruling. “It is a work with limitations that reflects remarkable height and elegance.”

Menoyo, who lives in Madrid and will be starting a Master’s degree at the Complutense University in the fall, spoke with 14ymedio about the award and her projects.

14ymedio. How did you approach Padura to make the documentary?

Menoyo. I first encountered Padura as a writer, because I started reading his books, and the more I read, the more I liked them. Later, studying journalism, despite the fact that he is a writer who has little visibility within the Cuban State media, the professors always set him as an example, not of a good writer but of a good journalist, and recommended many of his texts.

About halfway through the run, we put together a magazine as a final project on emigration, the subject and the issue we were presenting, and it occurred to me that we could interview Padura, because the film Return to Ithaca was being aired, for which he was a screenwriter. That was my first personal approach.

Padura is not on television. If it is announced that an interview is going to be broadcast, ultimately on the day that it is going to be shown it is not aired. They state there were technical difficulties, the show was lost… continue reading

I searched the Etecsa phone listings and called him. I apologized for calling him at home but I had no other way to contact him. With tremendous Cubanness, he responded that I should not worry, that it was OK, that he worked at home, where he met with people and that I should come over. He was granting me the interview.

From there, my career continued and I discovered that I really liked television, so I said: I’m going to graduate with a documentary and it’s going to be about Padura, because this is the only time I would be able to do a documentary about this writer and decide as many things as possible I want to say about him. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do it at any other time in Cuba, much less when I finished at the university, when I would have to do my social service commitment. I was not going to be able to.

It also made me very angry that a sector of the people who direct Cuban culture were so unsympathetic towards him. Despite there being the Padura National Prize for Literature, and despite his being a world-renowned writer, his books are rarely taken to the Book Fair, his presentations are not scheduled, and it is almost impossible to find any of his books in bookstores. Padura is not on television. If it is announced that an interview is going to be broadcast, ultimately the day that it is going to be shown it is not aired. They state there were technical difficulties or that the show was lost… Fifty thousand stories. My contribution was to make his work visible.

I also wanted, more than presenting the award-winning writer, to make a documentary with a biographical cut, to bring him closer to those readers who know him and who know who he is but who are not able to see him anywhere.

Obviously, it is not a documentary that attacks the Government, it is not a documentary that speaks directly about anything political

14ymedio. You complained bitterly a few days ago that no representative of the Cuban Embassy was present at the awards ceremony and that no official media has sought you out about the award. However, the documentary does not talk about politics at all and, if there is any reference, it is veiled. What explanation can you find for the officials to ignore the documentary and the award?

Menoyo. What can I tell you. It’s nonsense. The stubbornness of some people who run Cuba and that is why things that are so bad and it is difficult for them to change. Obviously, it is not a documentary that attacks the Government, it is not a documentary that speaks directly about anything political. It’s not that I wanted to make the things he says subtle for any reason, but that they came out that way. My goal was not to make a political memorandum, but a personal portrait of Leonardo Padura.

In the Communication Faculty they have a program, transmitted through the Havana Channel, to publish the students’ work when they graduate so it doesn’t remain mere university work, and it includes a prior interview with the director. They interviewed me, we commented on the documentary, everything was good, and it was going to be broadcast to coincide with the news of the award. They announced that it was going to be put on, everyone was waiting, but the documentary did not air. Did anyone call me to explain why the documentary was not shown? No one. Has the documentary been played after three months? It has not. A friend, who was not the person assigned to call me, told me that it had technical failures. A lie, it had no technical flaw, it is pure and hard censorship.

Now, with the award, there are those who say that it may be because Carlos Manuel Álvarez was first, who is a very talented journalist but “has a discourse against the Cuban regime,” but that is also an excuse, that is also a lie. Because when the documentary was mentioned at the Trieste Festival, it didn’t appear in any media either, nor did anyone call me to interview me.

A friend who was not the person assigned to call me, told me that it had technical failures. A lie, it had no technical flaw, it is pure and hard censorship

14ymedio. And what was the reaction when it premiered at the Havana Festival?

Menoyo. Supposedly the documentary was going to be shown only once, not in a competition but at the exhibition. But at the premiere it was full, people had to sit on the floor, there were people who were left outside, and they put it on again. The second time there was Padura and, the same, the room was full, full. In the end we ended up doing three projections. I was very happy. From what I expected when I made the documentary, with the resources that I had, versus what happened, it has been fabulous.

14ymedio. Why did you decide to come to Spain, what are you doing in Madrid, what are your dreams from now on?

Menoyo. It is a complicated question. I am in Spain because the economic situation in Cuba did not satisfy me. In Cuba, one can spend a lifetime working, honestly and hard, and never have a home. Or have five or six jobs and, in the end, have the money, but there is no chicken or oil [to buy]. Wages had risen when I left Cuba, and mine was the equivalent of about 180 euros. But the State paid me in one currency and the food and basic necessities stores only accepted MLC (freely convertible currency). Though I worked on television and had a salary, I could not buy things because the State paid me in Cuban pesos and I did not have relatives living abroad who could send me foreign money.

In Cuba, it is not that you die of hunger, but you do not eat what you need to live and you do not even eat what you want to eat and what you like; it’s what you can. A survival. I didn’t want to live my whole life like that. I used to say: “Well, now my parents are young, but when they get old, how will I support them? How do I give them what they need to live? And professionally, you can always do things that you feel proud of, but those things are accomplished through a lot, a lot of work, a lot of wear and tear, and in the end, you are so tired that you take the wheel and you do the same thing you said you were never going to do again. Because if you have to have five jobs but you are full of worries, that you don’t have the money to pay the rent, that the house is in bad shape, how can you buy a pair of shoes. If you have that in your head, you cannot think. Your mind cannot advance, you cannot focus on a project, because you are focused on your survival.

It seemed to me that Spain was a good country to go because of the culture, because of the language, because if I could do journalism somewhere, it would be here, because of the cultural similarities. I want to work on Spanish Television! [laughs] I want to do the whole migration thing. I don’t want to be in Spain writing for a Cuban medium because it is like being there in the middle of the Atlantic. I want to do journalism but I want to do it in a Spanish medium. That’s where I am.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘My Father’s Two Great Mistakes: The 1952 Coup d’état and Freeing Fidel Castro in 1956’

14ymedio biggerRoberto Batista, one of the sons of Fulgencio Batista and author of ‘Son of Batista’ (Verbum). (Courtesy)14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Madrid, 25 April2021 — Lawyer Roberto Batista (b. New York, 1947) did not pay much attention to his friends at first, when they told him that he had to write a book. “I, who had not written since high school, would say: but write what and about what? Who would be interested in my life?” he tells 14ymedio. His friends replied: “Your last name is part of Cuban history and your testimony is necessary for future generations; you have to do it out of historic duty.” Sometime later, his book, which ended up being called Son of Batista (Verbum), developed by itself, “with a lot of pain and a lot of grief.”

In it, he faces, with unresolved doubts, the figure of Fulgencio Batista, for whom he asks a fair trial. “My father, a politician, had his virtues and his mistakes,” writes his son in a passage. “He came out of nowhere and, with enormous efforts, knew how to excel to reach unsuspected heights and, without a doubt, had to make decisions and execute debatable and disputed actions.”

For this reason, he reflects, “there is no choice but to obey the constitutional writings. This is where the political maturity of the peoples is demonstrated. My father failed to fulfill this purpose and his error took a heavy toll.”

Batista’s Son shows, he acknowledges, “an open wound.”

Yaiza Santos: Far from being your father’s exoneration, you critically question him in the book. At some point you refer to “his Greek tragedy”: having before him “an extraordinary father figure confronted with the public man who, from the highest acknowledgements, at any given point, he damaged by seizing power unlawfully.” Where was Batista’s mistake?

Roberto Batista:  I can tell you the two great mistakes, the only ones that matter to the history of Cuba: the first, the 10 March 1952 coup d’état, and the second, freeing Fidel Castro from the Isla de Pinos prison in 1956. continue reading

My father’s government, in its last stages, turned Cuba into the third economic power in America at that time, that must be acknowledged

Yaiza Santos: Regarding these issues, you make it clear in the book, you did not discuss them with your father, despite the fact that he died when you were already a 26-year-old adult.

Roberto Batista: Since I left Cuba on that fateful night of 30 December 1958, which I describe in the book, I suffered a shock that prevented me from talking about Cuban issues until 1998. And I remember this date: it was a night I stayed working until very late, and it came to me as an inspiration: why can’t I talk about Cuba, why can’t I learn about my country, why can’t I review the history of those turbulent years? My father did try to tell me things frequently, but I did not respond to his desire to continue the conversation.

He did tell us one thing very clearly: that he had written the books he wrote in exile for a reason, because those books pick up truths and historical facts, many of them based on international statistics. My father’s government, in its last stages, turned Cuba into the third economic power in America at that time, that must be acknowledged.

In my eyes, my father’s government had two stages: from 1952 to 1954, after the coup, he was a dictator with absolute power. However, in 1954 they elected him president, and although it is true that the opposition did not participate in the elections, there were senators and representatives of the opposition in the Cuban Chambers, and he reestablished the Constitution of 1940 with all the necessary guarantees. That is acknowledged. It was in this very fruitful period that he launched Cuba into its greatest known prosperity.

Yaiza Santos: You do not shy away from controversy. For example, regarding Batista’s alleged corruption, you concede: “Did he abuse power so much, embezzle public money? Corrupt, tyrant? My son’s heart makes me think that, at home, he was a great father, understanding, home-loving and very tender.  However, his inner strength could have played a trick on him and he perhaps went beyond the limits of what was constitutionally allowed.”

Roberto Batista: My father was a born entrepreneur, a man of great inner strength, and this led him to commit that coup. Sometimes the boundaries were crossed, but it must be taken into account that, in that Cuba, there were very disturbing elements, sabotage in the cities, attacks, an opposition that continuously advocated against the Government, so a completely desperate public order was created. In a Cuba that had practically already entered a civil war, outrages were committed on both sides. But it was never true, as Bohemia magazine went on to say and later denied, that my father had caused 20,000 deaths. Between one side and the other, no more than a thousand deaths were caused, and that too is proven.

The public figure of my father has been 80% or more a product of Castro’s propaganda. Therefore, there are lots of lies

Yaiza Santos: You are also very emphatic about the accusations of collusion with the mafia. You say: “There is no evidence.” But of course, there is the image installed in the collective imagination, to a great extent by films like The Godfather.

Roberto Batista: My father’s public figure has been 80% or more a product of Castro’s propaganda. Therefore, there are lots of lies. What’s more, there is academic work by a history professor at a New Jersey university that proves that Batista had nothing to do with the mafia. This Hollywood fiction gave rise to interpreting my father in a way that suited them, because Castro’s propaganda was very good at creating the image of Batista the mobster. It is another fallacy of the many that have been alleged about my father.

And you see, I am not a son who says “my father was perfect”; he was a president, a politician, a military man who had lights and shadows, and who, in his family environment was a didactic, noble, affectionate, sweet father, and who also knew how to command. He would look at you and you already knew perfectly well what you had to do; he didn’t need to raise his voice or wave his hands or anything like that. Quietly, one look, and everyone at peace.

Yaiza Santos: You tell of a happy childhood until the night you had to leave Cuba. From that point, it is very well described, it was a shock for an 11-year-old boy to receive attacks that he did not know how to interpret very well. The deterioration is reflected very well in this phrase: “We must remember that, at that time, people were not speaking to us.” How long did you have this feeling in exile?

Roberto Batista: Quite a long time. In the confusion that was that departure from Cuba, which my father had planned only two or three days before but that very few knew about, people turned against us, and many, who were our supporters or friends, even very close friends, turned their backs on us. Those who previously organized banquets or tributes to my father as good friends, would later meet my mother in the elevator of a New York hotel and not greet her. That anguish stayed with me in my late teens and youth for many, many years. About ten years after leaving Cuba, things began to soften and people treated us differently. For example, when we arrived in Spain in the sixties, although I suffered a lot, we could enjoy a more acceptable life. But it is a wound that never healed and will remain there until I die.

Those who previously organized banquets or tributes to my father as good friends would later meet my mother in the elevator of a New York hotel and not greet her

Yaiza Santos: The trauma affected your most intimate life. Exposing that masculine frailty, the way you do in the book, is not typical of men, in general.

Roberto Batista: It is very painful for me to have to verbalize what you are mentioning. I better refer you to Son of Batista, where it is well described.

Yaiza Santos: Going back to your life in Madrid, it will shock people that even in Franco’s Spain you suffered from finding hostility towards your surname, especially at the university, where you even avoided certain professors who were communist sympathizers.

Roberto Batista: I was not a run-of-the-mill student: I had a political surname, in addition, adulterated, well-worn and threadbare, exposed to all kinds of lies. I also have to say that, at the Law School [of the Complutense University] I made great friends, and also at the Pre-university before then, and they had the sensitivity and respect not to mention the subject of Cuba. Because any Cuban accent on the street, any question about Cuba, threw me into a state of mind and physicality that sometimes even made me shake. For the rest, I have many anecdotes from that time. A very curious one that no one knows and I did not include in the book is the one when we were just onlookers at a university protest, in the second year of my degree studies, a friend and I ended up being arrested by The Grays (Franco’s police) and were held in the dungeons of La Puerta del Sol*.

 Yaiza Santos: And how did you get out of there?

Roberto Batista: It so happens that my friend had relatives at that time who were close to the ministerial leadership – I am saying it as best I can so as not to compromise anyone – who showed up and took us out after midnight. We had been there since one in the afternoon.

 It was very painful for him to ponder how that country, which could host so many people of ideology contrary to American democracy, would not grant him the respect he deserved

Yaiza Santos: Another funny anecdote is that you had to renounce your American citizenship to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1966.

Roberto Batista: It wasn’t remotely funny, but very painful for me. After that, I was stateless for many years, something that differentiates you from ordinary mortals.

Yaiza Santos: How many years were you in that condition?

Roberto Batista: Until 1975, when I acquired Cuban citizenship for a few years. Later, I became a Spanish citizen in 1985.

Yaiza Santos: It is often said that “Fulgencio Batista was a puppet of the United States,” but he died without the United States granting him a visa.

Roberto Batista: A person who not once, but twice, was received by President Roosevelt, in ’38 and ’42, and who, throughout his entire political career, sided with the United States, without allowing, however, for them to have interference in Cuba… It was very painful for him to ponder how that country, which could host so many people of ideology contrary to American democracy, would not grant him the respect he deserved.

Yaiza Santos: What would the Cuban exile have to do to help Cuba to have democracy?

Roberto Batista: You ask me a political question and I am not a political scientist, although I try with all my might to follow Cuban news as frequently as possible. It is already known that the exile today is not the exile of 1959 or that of the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. It is a very different exile, with very conflicting tendencies, and I do not see that it is a political force important enough to achieve change in Cuba.

I believe in the new Cuban generations, and I hope that those who have remained after this “geriatric” congress, as Yoani Sánchez aptly named it, will be brave enough to lead Cuba to a reform

I believe in the new Cuban generations, and I hope that those who have remained after this “geriatric” congress, as Yoani Sánchez aptly named it, will be brave enough to lead Cuba to a reform. The new generations have bravely faced power, and the power ignores them, but at least they have had no choice but to listen to them.

Yaiza Santos: You refer to the San Isidro Movement, to the 27N

Roberto Batista: Of course, of course. I have great faith in the new generations, and I believe that the San Isidro Movement is very important, just like the Patriotic Union of Cuba, with its hunger strikes. They all deserve my highest respect, my sympathy and my support for the great heroic work they are doing.

Yaiza Santos: Why is communism still being respected?

Roberto Batista: That is believed by fools. After seeing the horror of Cuba, 62 years of a totalitarian, repressive and cruel dictatorship, plus Maduro’s Bolivarian Bolsheviks, who can believe that communism can be something beneficial for a country, since the only thing it brings is misery and lack of respect for others? As much as they camouflage things, at the moment of truth they are regimes called to the most absolute failure.

 Yaiza Santos: Would you go back to Cuba?

Roberto Batista: Only when the time comes, when human rights are respected and there is a liberal Constitution based on democratic principles, with its separation of powers, executive, legislative and judicial. If there are guarantees to return, I would return with great pleasure. I am looking forward to doing it, and so are my children.

*Translator’s note: La Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) is a public square in Madrid, one of the best known and busiest places in the city, Kilometer 0 of the radial network of Spanish roads.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

“Cuba has Helped to Bleed Venezuela, the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg”

Hugo Chávez with Fidel Castro in Havana, in 1994. (Prensa Latina)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Madrid | 27 February 2021– Throughout the past five years journalists, behind the pseudonym Diego G. Maldonado, documented in detail, with direct sources, newspaper archives and cross-public data, to what extent Cuba has blood-sucked Venezuela dried, stretching to the recesses of the Armed Forces and intelligence services. The result of this research is La Invasión Consentida (Debate) [The Authorized Invasion (Debate)], published at the end of 2019 in Mexico, and currently in Spain. Its authors answer, via e-mail to maintain safety, 14ymedio’s questions.

14ymedio. When did you think it was time to write this book?

Maldonado. The issue always caught our attention and the attention of so many people because of its political implications, and because we have never before seen Venezuelan Government’s attachment to another country, and so much deference from a president to another government. But we began to think about thoroughly investigating the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba in 2013, after the death of Hugo Chávez. The fact that the president had decided to receive treatment in Cuba rather than in his own country and that he agonized there, was quite revealing of the dynamics he had established with the Government of Cuba.

14ymedio. The book begins in 2009, “Year 10” of the Bolivarian revolution, and ends a decade later. What are the main data that show that in this time everything had gotten worse in Venezuela?

Maldonado. All socioeconomic indicators show that the situation has worsened. Venezuela is today one of the poorest countries in the region. We have had years with the highest inflation in the world, the national currency has practically disappeared, public services have collapsed, monthly salaries, which in 2019 were equivalent to about 8 dollars, today are less than one dollar a month, and more than five million people have left the country. Venezuela was one of the main oil exporters, and today the industry is ruined. You live through the unimaginable: in a country used to having the cheapest gasoline in the world – it cost less than water – there is a shortage of gasoline, and it’s now dollarized. The book details the crash of the economy. continue reading

During that decade, the political field circle was closed. For students of the process, it was clear that fraud and imposition would come by force once the popularity of Chavismo ended. Chavismo summed it up in the slogan “they will not return.” During a decade, we went from the 2009 approval of the indefinite reelection to Maduro’s great fraud in the electoral farce of 2018. In 2015, we saw the last free elections, when the opposition won the qualified majority in Parliament. From then on, with unbeknownst to the Assembly, the Government permanently removed its mask.

14ymedio. In the first pages, we see Chávez say: “Cuba is part of this homeland, of this union […] the infinite Cuba we love. For Cuba we cry, for Cuba we fight, and for Cuba we are willing to die fighting…”, but that outburst did not always exist. The Chávez of the first hour was the one who said: “I am not a Marxist but I am not an anti-Marxist. I am not a communist but I am not an anti-communist.” What was the beginning of Hugo Chávez’s idyll with Cuba?

Maldonado.There may have been a romantic idea of the Cuban Revolution since his youth, but it is very likely that the idyll, as such, began in 1994, when the Cuban Government invited him to the Island, receiving him as a celebrity. It was reinforced from 2002, after the coup, when Chávez decided to entrust Cubans with intelligence tasks to protect themselves against future military conspiracies. The Chávez of the first hour was a presidential candidate and a rookie in power, aware that the Cuban dictatorship was frowned upon among Venezuelans and, strategically, he navigated in ambiguity during the 1998 election campaign and in his two first years of government, when he presented himself as a politician with no other ideology than Bolivarian jingoism.

14ymedio. And vice versa? It is clear in the book that Fidel’s appetite for Venezuela – or Venezuelan oil – coincides with the beginning of the Revolution. The rivalry between Rómulo Betancourt and Castro as two opposing Latin American figures is very interesting: both liberated their countries from dictatorships, but one was a democrat who consolidated his country, and the other, a dictator who destroyed his. When does Castro discover that Chávez can be useful to him?

Maldonado. Everything indicates that it would have been starting in 1994, when Castro received him at Havana airport with State honors, and with greater security in 2000, when he signed the first major bilateral cooperation agreement, which guaranteed Cuba an oil supply under favorable terms and opened the door for all kinds of business.

14ymedio. The substance of the book, from its title, is that the Cuban regime entered Venezuela but not vice versa. Cuba has everything, oil, armed forces within the Venezuelan intelligence apparatus, and Venezuela?

Maldonado. If truth be told, Venezuela has never had any kind of influence on the Cuban government or its decisions. Maduro could not even prevent them from confiscating his participation in the Cienfuegos refinery, reactivated with Venezuelan funds during Chávez’s time. Nor in the Cuban Armed Forces. No Cuban officer is suitable for a Venezuelan one. Venezuela’s role against Cuba is completely passive.

14ymedio. It is known about the medical missions and the oil, but not the entire network of interference. What were you most surprised to discover?

Maldonado. It is a difficult question. Throughout the investigation, many things surprised us, but there were some that struck us in particular. For example, the Chávez government paid Cuban instructors, who had never left Cuba, to come to teach Venezuelan culture and to work on a supposed program to strengthen national identity. The Culture mission, designed in Cuba and bought by Chávez, was one of the grossest political indoctrination operations in poor neighborhoods. It was surprising to hear a Cuban say that he had taken a 15-day course to teach our traditions here as if it were a course in origami.

It was also shocking to discover that in a country with unemployment and underemployment problems, the Government was paying Cuban drivers and tractor operators to carry out land work, or that it imported workers, administrators and secretaries, and even clowns from Cuba, or that Fidel would personally take charge of the purchase of medical equipment for Venezuela and when spare parts could not be bought due to the embargo on Cuba, or that Venezuela would buy old dismantled sugar mills from Cuba as if they were new. There are many more things, but the saddest thing was discovering the scope of Cuban penetration in the Armed Forces and the submission of Venezuelan officers.

14ymedio. María Werlau’s book Cuba’s Intervention in Venezuela: A Strategic Occupation with Global Implications has the same purpose as yours, with the difference that your sources are not only bibliographic, but direct. Where did you find it most difficult to find these people?

Maldonado. There were many difficulties due to the fear that exists to speak about the subject on the part of Venezuelans and Cubans. It is understandable, but the investigation took five years, a long time. Many Cubans who worked in Venezuela and who escaped to other countries refused to give us their testimony for fear that we were agents of the Venezuelan or Cuban governments. Many Venezuelan public employees had great reservations against speaking and did not tell everything. The phone was blocked many times. The biggest difficulty was overcoming fear. Fortunately, some trusted that we would not reveal their identity and offered us valuable clues, information and testimonies to put the puzzle together.

14ymedio. Another thing that is not discussed so much is the working conditions of Cubans in Venezuela. Could you elaborate on this from your experience with the sources?

Maldonado. Certainly, this is not discussed a lot, and it is regrettable because, with the open complicity of the Venezuelan Government and those of other countries, Cuban workers are exploited by Havana, monitored and subjected to a semi-slavery regime. The book dedicates a chapter to explain their situation. They earn a tiny fraction of what Venezuela pays the Cuban government for their work. Out of $10,000 a month, they will only see $300, and the Cuban Government keeps the rest. The case of computer scientists is disgraceful, because Cuba charges for an hour or two what it pays them in a month. They accept it because it is ten times more than what they would earn in Cuba. It is unfortunate for a country to obtain its principal source of hard currency from the exploitation of its citizens’ work, in what Havana denominates “exportation of professional services”, which the world perceives as a legitimate and very normal activity.

14ymedio. In the book, you also show that the history of Cuban meddling in Venezuela is also a history of corruption.

Maldonado. Clearly. All agreements – there are thousands – are confidential, and there is no way to subject them to public control or scrutiny. Neither Cuba nor Venezuela are accountable. Many transactions have been made through companies in tax havens. In fact, some things have become known through document leaks like the Panama Papers. It has been possible to document the losses in some failed joint ventures for the amount that was allocated in the budget, but so far, it is impossible to have a global idea.

14ymedio. Despite the shortage in Venezuela, denounced by the opposition and international organizations, the Maduro regime continues to send fuel to Cuba. Why?

Maldonado. It is unusual that a country that subsidized Cuba, its greatest benefactor in recent years, ended up owing the Island. A government that is not capable of guaranteeing food for its own population, or public services or medicines, and that no longer even manages to produce gasoline to satisfy domestic demand, despite having the largest oil reserves in the world, has gone so far as to import gasoline to send fuel to Cuba.

What is Venezuela paying Havana? We can speculate, but there is no way to see the bill, to know what Cuba is charging, because both governments hide it with zeal. The only thing that is clear is Maduro’s relationship of dependence and vassalage towards the Cuban government. Chavismo turned Venezuela into a satellite of Havana.

14ymedio. Sometimes alarm voices are heard in other countries (such as Mexico, with López Obrador, or in Spain, with the Podemos party of Vice President Pablo Iglesias), who say “could this become Venezuela”? Do you think they are founded?

Maldonado. Each country has its specificities. They are fears that are latent but that we would have to document thoroughly in order to be able to give a proper opinion on whether they are founded or not. There are populist attitudes everywhere.

14ymedio. What are the red flags? How does a prosperous and democratic society start to rot?

Maldonado. I would say that the crisis of political representation, such as apathy or lack of confidence is a warning sign for anyone. Why do the citizens of a certain country stop believing in its institutions, in justice, why does part of the population begin to hear mermaid songs? In the case of Venezuela, the traditional parties took democracy for granted, they did not know how to renew themselves, they stopped meeting the demands of the majority, and they also engaged in personal political revenge. That, not counting the tremendous damage inflicted by corruption. It is not easy to notice the precise moment when the snowball begins to roll downhill.

14ymedio. “Well, Venezuela is not Cuba.” Do you agree with this statement?

Maldonado. Each time, there are fewer and fewer people who say that. In fact, we haven’t heard it in a long time. Venezuela is not Cuba – let’s say that technically there is one difference or another – but it is quite similar. Both countries share a lack of liberties and economic precariousness. And their peoples also share a lack of hope. That, perhaps, is the worst. The Venezuelan government has gone to great lengths to destroy what was once the richest country in South America, and the Cuban government has helped to bleed the goose that laid the golden egg.

14ymedio. Did Hugo Chávez die in Venezuela?

Maldonado. Due to the opacity with which everything was handled, Venezuelans have no certainty as to where his physical death occurred. We do not know if he took his last breath at Havana’s Cimeq or at Caracas Military Hospital, as the Venezuelan Government swore in March 2013. But, for all intents and purposes, the Hugo Chávez we knew died in Cuba. We saw him alive there for the last time. On that island, to which he gave everything, he disappeared forever.

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Editing Clarification: María Werlau, author of Cuba’s Intervention in Venezuela tells us that “it is incorrect” to say that her book is based “only on bibliographic sources.” “[My] book cites numerous direct sources as well as other publications of my authorship that were developed with direct sources”, she adds in an email sent to the Web.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Medical Missions Are "The Great Capitalist Slave Business" of the Cuban Government

Doctors and nurses of the “Henry Reeve” Doctors Contingent in a ceremony in Havana before traveling to Italy to help in the COVID-19 epidemic. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Pascual / Yaiza Santos, Madrid, September 22, 2020 — Cuban Prisoners Defenders (CPD) made public this Tuesday its complaint in front of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it presented on August 24 in the names of 622 doctors from the Island who have been on missions abroad.

In May of 2019, CPD, headquartered in Madrid, announced the presentation of the first complaint, against six Cuban politicians including President Miguel Díaz-Canel and his predecessor, Raúl Castro. The document contained the testimonies of 110 doctors who denounced the conditions in which they were forced to work on international missions.

“We are denouncing situations of authentic slavery for hundreds of thousands of people. We believe that the prosecutor of the ICC could perfectly investigate those acts as crimes against humanity,” affirmed CPD member Spanish lawyer Blas Jesús Imbroda, at that time. continue reading

This Tuesday, in an online press conference, the president of CPD Javier Larrondo gave a hard recounting of the figures and data from the testimony of several hundred professionals included in the complaint, which he says has been very well received in international bodies.

According to the organization’s data, the missions usually last three years and between 50,000 and 100,000 professionals participate in them annually, 70% of them doctors, but also engineers, teachers, and athletes. Larrondo noted that the work of these professionals entails a profit for Cuba of $8.5 billion net ($6.4 billion in 2018, according to the most recent available official data). This is three times the profit that tourism reports, he detailed, while calling the missions “the great capitalist slave business of that country.”

The reports agree that the professionals are forced to participate in “conditions of slavery” with long workdays and restrictions on their freedom, such as, for example, being forbidden to drive a car or having to ask a supervisor’s permission to marry. The law, moreover, penalizes with from three to eight years in prison those who leave the missions, as written in article 135 of the Penal Code.

In most cases, the Cuban Governments takes away the professionals’ passports to retain them and pays them between 10% and 25% of the salary that it charges the receiving countries, under the argument that Havana needs money to finance the Health System.

Larrondo emphasized that these professionals are subject to Cuban law, and specifically Decree 306 of 2012, “On the treatment of the professionals and athletes who require authorization to travel abroad,” and Resolution 168 which, among other restrictions, includes returning to Cuba when the mission ends, informing the immediate superior “of romantic relationships with nationals or foreigners,” asking permission to travel to distant provinces or places, observing curfew from six in the evening, and asking permission to “arrange invitations to family members.”

“They have a special passport and it doesn’t work for customs. They can’t travel without authorization and never without the entire family.”

Nor are they allowed to take a copy of their university degree. “Without passport or degree, you aren’t a person,” said the president of CPD. “What does this sound like if not human trafficking and prostitution?” he stated.

Among the conditions that the healthcare workers suffer in these missions, the NGO included political work and obligatory proselytizing by the bosses, under the threat of being repudiated by their own colleagues.

Two of the doctors who are part of the complaint joined Larrondo. One of them, Manoreys Rojas, who now lives in the US and hasn’t seen his children in six years, told how when he left for the mission to Ecuador in July of 2014, he did it “to fulfill a program that he was not prepared for.”

He did it “because it was a way out economically, the only way to escape the country.” Rojas claims that the Cuban Government places its doctors in the worst parts of the cities, where they frequently suffer robberies, and that it forces them to do proselytizing work and to produce falsely inflated statistics. As for the objective of the missions, he is forceful: “pocketing money [by the government] at any cost and by any means possible.”

For example, medicines were sold by Cuba to Ecuador for $13.8 million, “medicines that they weren’t even able to use.”

Another doctor, Leonel Rodríguez Álvarez, had a similar experience. An internal medicine specialist, he was first in Guatemala and then in Ecuador, where he is now a university professor. Rodríguez related that Cuba sent Island nurses to Guatamala with a course of barely a few months in anesthesia and that they passed them off as specialized anesthetists, which caused conflicts with local doctors, who refused to work with them.

Also, he confirmed that State Security agents were sent to the missions passed off as healthcare workers. “Those of us who already had some experience, we realize when we are having an exchange with people who aren’t of our profession.” These people, specified Rodríguez, are also easily identified because they have a vigilant attitude, denouncing, for example, conflicting opinions. That the Cuba’s G2 security services intervenes in the missions, he asserts, “is an open secret.”

On that subject Larrondo gives as proof the case of Bolivia, where it was demonstrated that of the 702 members of the mission, only 205 were doctors.

The plaintiff organization argues that the ICC can hold accountable the 58 nations that have signed conventions against slavery.

This June, CPD directly accused Norway and Luxembourg of contributing to the financing of the system of slavery of Cuban doctors in Haiti and Cape Verde, and asked them to revise their triangular collaboration agreements to continue being an example in human rights for the entire world and to avoid facing a complaint before the Human Rights Court of the European Union.

The brigade in Haiti was established in 1999 and remains today, with almost 350 healthcare workers of whom the total number of qualified doctors is unknown. Norway, a country that doesn’t belong to the European Union (EU), although it does to the European Economic Area, has contributed a total of $2.5 million via three agreements of this triangular type since 2012 in the support of that mission.

The money provided by Oslo was mostly destined for the construction of permanent medical infrastructure, but a consignment of around $800,000 was planned for the Cubans who, in that country earn $250 per month, an amount lower than the already very poor salary of local doctors, who pocket some $400.

In the case of Luxembourg, which is a member of the EU, the cooperation dates back to this March, when it signed an agreement equipped for almost half a million Euros for the establishment of a contingent of Cuban doctors in Cape Verde.

According to CPD, the group established in that African archipelago is made up of 79 workers who provide support in different areas of health, as well as 33 members of the Henry Reeve brigade to combat COVID-19 financed by a tripartite accord with the European country.

In the specific case of the workers in Cape Verde, CPD cited an example of the vigilance to which they are subjected. According to a report, on August 7, 2017 a communication was sent between the office of then-Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales, to the embassy in Madrid with a copy to the ambassador in Cape Verde in which was requested, by order of Colonel Jesús López-Gavilán, head of the Health department of the Ministry of the Interior, that an official from the diplomatic headquarters in Spain come to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport to supervise the layover that five doctors would have to make from Cape Verde.

The instruction was for them “to be investigated and check their communication with family members abroad” since, according to the sender, one of them had demonstrated “strong indications and intentions to ’desert.’”

Taking part in the press conference this Tuesday was Gilles Campedel, from the organization Prodie Santé, which has launched what it has called the International Brigade of Free Doctors. It is a project which, he said, is already present in 17 countries, and under whose protection Cuban doctors can work with just compensation – not less than 2,500 Euros per month, according to Campedel – and without intermediaries. “We have fantastic doctors and countries with the desire to receive them,” emphasized Campedel, who stressed that the pandemic is a good opportunity to get it off the ground.

The judge Edel González, ex-president of the Provincial Judicial Power of Villa Clara, seemed to agree that the brigades must “provide a service, but of quality, with transparency.” The objective of any analysis of the missions, he asserts, “is not to eliminate them but to humanize them.” After legally analyzing the complaint, he concludes that the punishments of the doctors who violate the law, like prohibiting them from reuniting with their families, is unconstitutional.

José Daniel Ferrer, president of the human rights organization Unpacu, expressed gratitude for the work of Prisoners Defenders in his case – the organization asked for his release on numerous occasions – and praised the creation of the brigade set up by Prodie Santé.

Ferrer, who noted that he has suffered a police cordon around his home for 74 days, addressed the politicians of other countries who participated in the press conference, including the Spaniard Javier Nart and the Argentinian representative Lucila Lehman, to ask them: “To what extent are the politicians and public opinion of your respective countries aware of the situation? What more can be done to show that the regime is neither in solidarity nor progressive?”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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Hay Festival Suspends Its Event In Havana / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

Wendy Guerra was among Cubans excluded from the Havana Hay Festival as reported by artists in exile. (Casa de America)
Wendy Guerra was among Cubans excluded from the Havana Hay Festival as reported by artists in exile. (Casa de America)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 21 January 2016 – For now, Cuba will not celebrate the Hay Festival planned for this coming week in Havana, as confirmed by the event organizers. The Hay Festival originated in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye in 1988, and since 1996 has been celebrated in several foreign cities, among them Kells (Ireland), happening now, Segovia (Spain), Mexico City, Arequipa (Peru) and Cartagena de Indias (Colombia).

The news that the Cuban capital would host a Hay Festival event as a part of the Hay Festival in Cartagena was announce in the first week of December, along with the controversy that accompanied that announcement. According to complaints from artists in exile, the festival organizers had proposed names of Cuban authors, among them Wendy Guera, Ena Lucia Portela and Yoani Sanchez, but “the pressure on the organizers from the Ministry of Culture finally forced them to not be included in the program.” Another source said that the organization simply accepted “an official list” that was presented to them. continue reading

Asked about the issue, the Hay Festival organization flatly refused to accept any kind of censorship, saying that the program in Havana was not closed, and that although there was still no final guest list, conversations with the Cuban Book Institute went “very well.” Cristina Fuentes, director of the Hay Festival for Latin America said, “We have suggested foreign participants, talking with Cubans and the suggestions are all first-rate.” She emphasized, “There is no censorship nor problems right now.”

On 24 December the Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported that the Havana Hay Festival would take place on 25-26 January. Quoting Jesus David Curbelo, the director of the Dulce Maria Loynaz Cultural Center and “one of the organizers of the event for Cuba,” the ACN confirmed that it was, ”just an experiment” and that there would be “two key events: literary workshops in the morning and author talks in the afternoon.”

The international guest list included Daniel Mordzinski, Andrés Trapiello, Jon Lee Anderson, Guadalupe Nettel and Hanif Kureishi, while Cuban guests included Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Antón Arrufat, Mirta Yáñez, Reynaldo González, Marilyn Bobes, Dazra Novak and Rafael Grillo. Conspicuous by their absence were authors living in Cuba who had participated in other versions of the Hay Festival, such as Wendy Guerra, Ena Lucia Portela and Yoani Sanchez.

In addition, the ACN mentioned that the Hay Festival was being promoted by Bogota 39, an initiative that in 2009 brought together 39 young Latin American writers under 40, “all with one or more works published and read in their countries, but unknown beyond their borders,” forgetting that one of these was Wendy Guerra.

An official cable echoed the Spanish agency EFE, and hence, the Mexican newspaper El Universal and the Colombian magazine Arcadia. However, the Hay Festival did not comment publicly and insisted to 14ymedio, “The program is not yet closed.” Their idea, they said, was “to start with something very small and grow,” adding, “We don’t have to include all the Cuban authors the first year.”

By that time the controversy had jumped to the social networks. The Twitter account @HayFestivalCuba, now cancelled, denounced the planned event, saying “No to censorship at the Havana Hay Festival.” Some tweets were directed to the guests themselves according to the list published by the official press, such as the journalist Jon Lee Anderson and the writer Hanif Kureishi. Also participating in the exchanges on Twitter were the Mexican musician Armando Vega Gil, and the Barcelona writer Lolita Bosch.

This Tuesday, Cristina Fuentes told 14ymedio that the Hay Festival has postponed the project in Havana. “It is complicated for a number of reasons and we are going to leave it for another year,” she said, without clarifications. In a more extensive message, she said: “The organization of an event like this can only be done if the conditions are right for its realization, which could not be guaranteed, so we are not going to go forward with the project. It is because of this that our organization is not announcing, right now, the scheduling of this series of events on the island.” Fuentes concluded, “We would love to work in Cuba and hope it will be possible in the future.”

Defined as a non-profit company, the Hay Festival aims, according to its website, for the “dissemination of literature at local and international levels to promote dialogue and cultural exchange, education and development”, but has not been without controversy. In February 2015, it canceled the event that had been held in Xalapa, Veracruz since 2011, after pressure from Mexican intellectuals who denounced the partisan use of the festival by the government of Veracruz, and noted that 11 journalists had been killed and four others had disappeared in that Mexican state.

Rafael Rojas: “The Cuban Regime Seeks A 2018 Generational Shift Without Democratization” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

The historian Rafael Rojas. (Rodolfo Valtierra / courtesy)
The historian Rafael Rojas. (Rodolfo Valtierra / courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 11 September 2015 — Rafael Rojas (b. Santa Clara, 1965) has published Historia mínima de la revolución cubana (A Brief History of the Cuban Revolution) in Mexico, where he has lived for the last twenty years. In fewer than 200 pages, the historian covers the events on the island between 1952, when Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship was established, and 1976, the date of the Constitution adopted by the National Assembly of Peoples Power, which institutionalized the process of change initiated in 1959, plus a brief introduction about Cuba since its declaration of independence.

Rojas spoke with 14ymedio, not only of Cuba’s past but also about the island’s present and possible future.

Yaiza Santos. This book serves to demystify certain episodes magnified by Revolutionary propaganda and to recover other episodes that were buried. What “demystified” moments would you highlight?

Rafael Rojas. I would start with the vision of the old regime, totally negative, which the official history has transmitted: that of a neocolonial nation that has no sovereignty, is poor, underdeveloped, backward, authoritarian… over a time covering almost half a century, without distinction of periods. continue reading

The first chapter of the book is a reconstruction of Cuba prior to the Revolution, which speaks of the high rates of economic growth; of high social indicators, including the high rate of literacy compared with other Latin American countries; the great development of per capita consumption; and also the level of cultural and political development. And, also, the Cuban State’s elements of sovereignty.

I think it is always important to emphasize the degree of autonomy it once had in international relations. For example, the Authentic Party government, subsequent to the Constitution of 1940, created an alliance with Latin American governments engaged in what is called “Revolutionary nationalism,” very much in the Mexican tradition. It was a foreign policy that was not subordinated to the politics of the United States.

This contradicts Cuba’s current foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, when he said in Washington that “the United States and Cuban have never had normal relations.” He spoke there about the Platt Amendment, which he said was imposed by a military occupation, but that is not true: the Cuban Congress approved it in 1901. Nor did he mention, as Fidel Castro traditionally did in his speeches, that the amendment was repealed in 1934 as a consequence of a nationalist revolution in 1933 that created a democracy quite advanced for Latin America. I detail that: the 1940 Constitution, the 1943 Electoral Code, which is also very advanced, and the whole social policy of the Authentic Party government, including the first Batista government.

“The first chapter is a reconstruction of Cuba prior to the Revolution, which speaks of the high rates of economic and social growth”

Yaiza Santos. In addition to the plurality of parties and the press…

Rafael Rojas. That of the media is fundamental. The Batista dictatorship wouldn’t have fallen without the decisive intervention of the media and public opinion. The most widely read magazine in Cuba was Bohemia, which also circulated in Latin America. They magazine undertook a tremendous defense of Fidel Castro when he was imprisoned on the Isle of Pines and beyond.

Yaiza Santos. Another thing that has been forgotten: at the beginning of the Revolution there was still free opinion.

Rafael Rojas. I would say for the first two years. At the end of the 1960s the media was nationalized, although there are some that continued, such as EL Mundo or Revolución, until 1965, when Granma newspaper was created and the other newspapers were eliminated.

Yaiza Santos. Something very powerful in the Cuban case is how it managed to put itself at the center of the world.

Rafael Rojas. In the middle of the Cold War. A totally deliberate thing. The audacity of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders in placing an island of the Hispanic Caribbean a few miles from the United States in the middle of the Cold War through an alliance with the socialist camp… It was quite an operation! And it subjected Cuba to all the possible tensions of the Cold War, with all the disastrous consequences.

The audacity of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders in placing an island of the Hispanic Caribbean a few miles from the United States in the middle of the Cold War…”

Yaiza Santos. What would the whole continent have been had it not had that bastion there, which radiated and still radiates today?

Rafael Rojas. I think that the history of Cuba would have been quite different. It would have moved toward a regime with authoritarian elements, like every revolution, but it would have been very difficult to create a single party. Certainly a hegemonic party, PRI-like, but not unique, and there would have been greater public freedoms. Not to mention that Cuban economic development would have continued the course that began in the 1940s.

Yaiza Santos. You’re a big supporter of the resestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, and this has provoked opinions, especially in the exile in Miami. What do you think will happen now?

Rafael Rojas. To start, from a point of view strictly of relations with the United States, normalization does not imply, to my way of thinking, a reinforcement or uncritical legitimization–without tensions, without conflicts–of the Cuban regime. I believe that what it will imply is that the traditional policy of the United States toward Cuba changes directions, methods, without losing certain basic premises, such as the defense of democracy, the rejection of violations of human rights or the rejection of repression.

I don’t think that the United States will discard these premises of its foreign policy. That doesn’t mean that with the opening of embassies a transition to democracy will automatically be achieved. I think that is a slightly magnified view.

With regards to the economic question, the reestablishment of relations with the United States reinforces the elements of state capitalism that have been created in Cuba and will consolidate a new economic class which, as we know, is very interwoven with the military sectors. Of that I have no doubt: this military corporate caste is strengthened with the reestablishment of relations.

But there could also be an element that encourages the emergence of small and medium private business with national capital that is not totally subordinated to the military corporate caste. At the same time, I think that this reestablishment of relations and the integration of Cuba into the international community will greatly activate the civil society on the island.

That doesn’t mean that with the opening of embassies a transition to democracy will automatically be achieved. I think that is a slightly magnified view

Yaiza Santos. And on the part of the Government? Will there be people in the Communist Party who are already thinking about what will happen next?

Rafael Rojas. In fact the official political agenda already provides for the idea of a succession of powers in February 2018. Raul has said many times: he will leave the presidency then, and he has said that the succession would favor the new generations. That would mean a generational transfer of the Chief of State, without democratizing the political system. The regime will remain the same from the institutional point of view: a single party, control of the media, control of civil society, penalization of the opposition – it is this status of illegitimacy of the opposition that justifies, through the laws and the penal code, all the beatings, repudiations, abuses, short-term detentions… Everything we see on the weekends.

But that’s where other actors get involved: there is a real opposition in Cuba, there is a civil society that can gain autonomy and there is an international community that does not ignore the violation of human rights. Starting with the US State Department itself: in its latest global report on human rights the criticisms of Cuba are harsh, and in the diplomatic notes that have been exchanged between the two governments throughout the negotiation, they have almost always mentioned the cases of repression, from the beating of Antonio Rodiles to the harassment of the Ladies in White, and the situation of El Sexto. This isn’t going to go away; the State Department will be in better shape to negotiate with its allies a more effective policy on human rights in Cuba.

“There are sectors of the Government, the State and the Party who have been interacting with reformist intellectuals in recent years”

Yaiza Santos. Is there a figure within the Cuban government who can lead a transition to democracy?

Rafael Rojas. Right now, I don’t see one, but it’s clear that there are sectors of the government, the State and the Party that have had relationships with reformist intellectuals in recent years and who have shown sympathy for some of the reform projects. For example, one reform that leads to a new law of associations, that permits greater development of non-governmental organizations or of autonomous organizations, which I believe would favor the opposition. Or a new electoral law that eliminates the candidate fees and that would allow truly independent candidates, outside State institutions, to present themselves for election and achieve a place in the National Assembly.

Clearly, there are not figures who define themselves from an openly reformist position, because political reform continues to be largely taboo within the regime and it is something that we can say is deliberately delayed by Raul Castro’s government.

Now, I think we will see a diversification of the ruling political class, especially after 2018.

Yaiza Santos. How will the exile be integrated into this process of normalization?

Rafael Rojas. It is very difficult to respond to that question. There is a sector of the exile, that which has been more integrated with the associations and political institutions of the United States, which feels betrayed by the Obama administration. While there are other sectors who don’t follow this line. Very probably we will also see a diversification within the exile.

I think the stigmatization of the opposition permeates a part of the population

My main criticism is that in my judgment, unfortunately, a sector of the internal opposition is frequently subordinates itself to this agenda of resistance to the reestablishment of relations. And then I do think, unlike my colleagues in Miami, that the opposition is a minority.

The vast majority of the Cuban people in effect has elements of disenchantment with the official positions of the Cuban government, and for the most part looks forward to a greater connection to the world. The Bendixen poll is impressive in this regard: 97% of Cubans support reestablishment of relations and Barack Obama got a 80% approval rating compared to 47% for Raul and 44% for Fidel. But I would also say that the Cuban government’s smear campaign against the opposition has been successful. We see it in the lack of solidarity with Tania Bruguera, in the constant support for acts of repudiation, and in the beatings. I think the stigmatization of the opposition permeates a part of the population.

Juan Abreu: “Executions in Cuba Are an Untold Story” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Fall from Grace,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 38 x 46 cm)
Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Fall from Grace,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 38 x 46 cm)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 27 June 2015 – Painter and writer Juan Abreu (b. Havana, 1952) has taken on the inordinate task of painting, one by one, all those executed by the Castro regime. The work in progress is entitled 1959 but encompasses 2003, the year in which Lorenzo Capello, Barbaro Sevilla and Jorge Martinez were sentenced to death in a summary trial, accused of “acts of terrorism” after trying to reroute a passenger ferry to escape to the United States. They were the last executed by the Cuban government. “Let it be known,” says Abreu.

The project emerged, he says, recently, by chance: “I was doing some paintings that had to do with the firing squads in Cuba, because I was struck by the character, the loner that they are going to kill. I had seen some paintings by Marlene Dumas of Palestinians and then I approached the subject. When I started researching, suddenly the faces of all these people began to appear. I began to look at the faces and read, and suddenly I realized that I was going to have to paint this. Not only as a kind of pictorial adventure, which it is, because of the quantity of portraits and the complexity of the genre, but also because it seems to me that I have a certain moral responsibility.” continue reading

Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Carlos Baez’ (born in 1937, shot in 1965), fragment (oil on canvas, 27 x 35 cm)
Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Carlos Baez’ (born in 1937, shot in 1965), fragment (oil on canvas, 27 x 35 cm)

Of the executions in Cuba, he continues, “It is an untold story. Not only untold, but also they have tried to hide it, and when they have spoken of it, the effort has always been to discredit the protagonists, branded as outlaws or murderers. These accusations lack any kind of historical evidence. They were people who rebelled, the same as Fidel Castro rebelled against Batista, they rebelled against Fidel Castro.”

The death penalty, explains Abreu, was not contemplated in the 1940 Constitution which the Revolution originally claimed it would restore: “They [the Castro regime] imposed it. The trials completely lacked any kind of safeguard. Sometimes even the lawyer spoke worse of the condemned than the prosecutor did. They were Soviet-style trials: you already knew you were guilty as soon as they caught you; you knew that they were going to kill you or put you in jail for thirty years.”

In order to gather as much information as possible, he contacted some of the few people who have devoted themselves to the topic in the United States, like Maria Werlau, from the Cuba Archive, or Luis Gonzales Infante, a former political prisoner who sent Abreu his book Rostros/Faces, where he compiles names and photos of those dead by execution, from hunger strike or in combat during the El Escambray uprising, those seven years that historians like Rafael Rojas consider a civil war and that Fidel Castro called a “fight against bandits.”

Evilio-Abreu-Gonzalez-Oil-cmsJPG_CYMIMA20150625_0014_16

Other documents he has found easily on the Internet, like videos from the period and photographs from the free press that still existed in Cuba when the Revolution triumphed. Hence, the executions of Enrique Despaigne, doubled over by two shots at the edge of a ditch, or Cornelio Rojas, whose hat flew together with his brains against the execution wall. Abreu confesses that what impacted him most was “the gruesomeness and cruelty” of some of the cases.

Like that of Antonio Chao Flores, who at 16 years of age fought against Batista – the magazine Bohemia had him on its cover as a hero of the Revolution – and at 18 years of age he fought against Castro, and was required to drag himself from his cell in the La Cabana fortress to the execution wall without the leg he had lost in combat because the guard took his crutches from him. “It is from the savagery of the system’s punishment mechanism that one feels fury that all this that has happened has been forgotten. If I was Chilean or Argentinean, this would immediately demand attention.”

Abreu says that the project is becoming gigantic and that he cannot stop. For now, he has painted some twenty of the 6,000 total that he estimates were executed in Cuba in that almost half-century. Via a Youtube video [see below] he seeks photographs from all who may be aware of any victim.

No one has answered him from Cuba – “There, to have a relative who was a prisoner or who had been shot, was anathema, because of the amount of false propaganda against them” – but people have answered him from the United States. For example, one sent him the photograph of her neighbor in Cuba, whom she knew from childhood, who used to greet her kindly and whom she eventually learned was made a prisoner and executed. It was when media control was complete, and an absolute silence, when propaganda was not served, covered these kinds of cases.

“The death penalty in Cuba has always been used as a means of social threat. When they ask me, “But why has the regime lasted so long?” I answer: It has lasted for many reasons, but among them because it is a system that kills. You know that they will kill you. And there is no safeguard: There is no judge or lawyer who can defend you, and if they decide that you have to be killed, they will kill you. And if you do anything against the system, they will kill you. Death is a very effective deterrent.”

Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Man Alone,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 35 x 27 cm, collection of Carles Enrich)
Juan Abreu: ‘1959. Man Alone,’ fragment (oil on canvas, 35 x 27 cm, collection of Carles Enrich)

Forged by the generation of his friends Reinaldo Arenas and Rene Ariza, Abreu says that “kind of strange fury” that he feels about Cuba has not abandoned him since he left the Island with the Mariel Boatlift, and that after so many years, he has decided to stop fighting it. “Towards Reinaldo (Arenas), for example, it seemed to me a great betrayal. In our last conversation, two or three days before he killed himself, we were talking about that precisely, and he told me, ‘Up to the last minute. Our war with those people is to the last breath of life.’ It surprised me a little why he was saying that to me, but of course, he already had his plans. Maybe I like lost causes, but I will continue infuriated.”

By way of poetic revenge, he hopes that his project 1959 – which he calls “completely insane” – ends up one day in a museum. “Because a hundred years from now, when no one remembers who Fidel Castro was, these paintings will be here and people will say, ‘And what about these, so pretty?’ And that, truthfully, is very comforting.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDmzdQFbBtE#t=101

“Literature Does Not Matter. Many Other Things In Cuba Matter More” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

David Miklos, Ahmel Echevarría and Carlos Alberto Aguilera inthe meeting organized by CIDE in Mexico City. (14ymedio)
David Miklos, Ahmel Echevarría and Carlos Alberto Aguilera inthe meeting organized by CIDE in Mexico City. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 22 June 2015 – The Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico City organized from 16 to 18 June, the meeting “Poetics of the Present: Narrating Cuba 1956 to 2015,” opened by critic Christopher Domínguez Michael and closed by the journalist Homero Campa. It was a meeting between young writers living on the island and intellectuals of the same generation living in exile.

The first group included the narrators Jorge Enrique Lage and Ahmel Echevarria, members of what has been called “Generation Zero” of Cuban literature; for the second there was Walfrido Dorta, a researcher of the City University of New York,Waldo Perez Cino, an editor living in Leiden (Netherlands), and the poet, novelist and essayist Carlos Alberto Aguilera, co-founder of the journal Diaspora(s), who is currently living in Prague.

At the end of the session, in which  the Mexican writer David Miklos and the Cuban historian living in Mexico Rafael Rojas also participated, 14ymedio spoke with five special guests. Their answers are a sample of the different approaches and fruitful dialogue that took place during those three days. continue reading

14ymedio, Yaiza Santos. In a society where the free market exists, the relationship between writers and readers can clearly be seen, for example, in how many books are sold. Those of you on the island, how do you observe your relationship with your readers?

Jorge Enrique Lage. I don’t observe. But it is because there is no physical media in Cuba, no space for criticism. There is no infrastructure that allows you to think in those terms: has my book sold, how successful has it been… I don’t expect criticism, and the feedback with readers comes when you talk to them. But reading reviews or knowing that all the books sold in a bookstore, I’m oblivious.

Nor do I care. Because the problem of lack of space is critical, but not for literature. Literature doesn’t matter. It is critical for everything else. Lacking space for journalism, truthful journalism, current commentaries on politics and economics. And when there is space for all that, it will at some point include space for literary criticism.

Ahmel Echevarria. I think this relationship is mostly displayed in the presentation of a book, and a literary activity or simply in a party with friends, because I don’t believe that at the level of the State – well, to call it the State is to say everything, because everything belongs to the State – there are devices that are analyzing that.

When the book fair is analyzed statistically, there are numbers that I’m not very sure reflect what actually happens: there are a number of people attending the book fair, but in reality, of those hundreds or thousands of people, how many people are consuming literature? So, like Jorge, I don’t expect this statistic for me. What interests me in thinking about literature, making literature, is having fun, talking with friends, and the rest, if it comes it comes.

Question. Has nothing changed with the digital landscape? I think, for example, that you, some on the island, some outside, as has been mentioned in this symposium, keep in touch via the Internet.

Carlos Alberto Aguilera. It is that one doesn’t write for the readers. Who are the readers? The readers don’t exist. I’m not saying that a reader doesn’t exist, that head that can connect with your literature and in some way is going to understand it or recycle it, or do something with it.

This happens in very determined micro-communities. But they are not the readers. There is no way to write for the readers: it is too large a mass, too heterogeneous. If my book can sell or not, it’s not a question for me: it’s a question for the publisher. It doesn’t interest me, and it has never been a constraint to the way I write.

“That what we call Cuban literature, the less Cuban it is, and the less literature as an institution is, the better.”

Waldo Pérez Cino. I agree totally with Aguilera, but invert the point of view: he says for an author, the readers don’t exist, but for the readers, the authors do exist. And from this point of view, the Internet has produced a kind of de-territorialization, of circulation of the book, of circulation of texts, and of the way the visibility of authors circulates. What Carlos said is true, but if you look at it in reverse, effectively there is a chance for the readers, for those potential readers, who even when they have not read a particular author, they can identify a name, a mark of style or an attachment. Thirty years ago, it would probably have been impossible to circulate references to as many authors as today.

Walfrido Dorta. Look, right now I’m reading the last column of Gilberto Padilla in On Cuba, which is just about online literature and the phenomena of literature produced starting only from what the reader asks for. A model totally opposite to that offered by Aguilera. Padilla speaks of those teenagers who write novelas in installments and continue with what their readers are asking for. With this, clearly, online literature is moving in diametrically opposed patterns.

Question. What specific thing would you like to happen tomorrow, for example, to improve the state of Cuban literature?

Carlos Alberto Aguilera. Which was totally destroyed. Seriously. I think that what we call Cuban literature, the less Cuban it is, and the less literature as an institution is, the better.

Walfrido Dorta. That there would be independent publishers. That the State not be the only source of any kind of initiative. That will greatly threaten the state of things. Beyond that, improving writing, and in terms of intellectual networks, this is the first thing that will have to fade into the past.

Jorge Enrique Lage. I would not ask for anything. Literature is one of the centers of my life, but in Cuba there are so many things lacking, that to ask something for literature would be irresponsible. Literature doesn’t matter. Many other things in Cuba matter now, and we are talking of thousands, millions of people, for whom literature in their lives means nothing and they need so many other things.

So I would separate Cuban literature in relation to the “Change” [in the Cuban political system]. I see it as two separate spheres: although at some point they connect, but literature has nothing to do with the Change. The Change is for other reasons, other needs.

In Cuba, many things other than literature matter now, there are millions of people for whom literature in their lives means nothing and they need so many other things.

Ahmel Echevarria. For me, if anything, that they fix the streets.

Waldo Pérez Cino. I think that for literature, neither for the Cuban nor the Icelander, you cannot do anything institutionally. Literature is what is, or it is not what it is not, period. It exists to the extent that it is written, and that it is produced. What could be done, perhaps, is for distribution (or circulation, although that’s used more for periodicals than books), but, well, that would not be for literature. And much less for literature marked with a national seal.

Question. For those who live outside Cuba, do you see yourselves returning to Cuba, living in Cuba, working in Cuba, at some point?

Walfrido Dorta. No, not right now. But to throw stones at yourself is irresponsible and uncertain, then I don’t know. One has very fresh in one’s mind the limitations, the traumas, and the impediments that are still there; they weigh heavily when it comes time to decide.

Waldo Pérez Cino. In my case, at least, a “final” return, to use a Cuban government adjective – “final” exit – no, I don’t see it at all. But I can perfectly imagine, not now, but indeed in the future, a kind of coming and going, of in some way being in Cuba, of spending seasons in Cuba and seasons outside.

Walfrido Dorta. When one hears the question, you think now about the “final,” which was my answer. Coming and going, yes, I see it, clearly. Because for example, if one chooses an academic career in the United States, the links with Cuban institutions are almost inevitable.

Carlos Alberto Aguilera. If you are talking about something final, it is not a question I ask myself, and it is not something final… I have never been back, and I have refused to be published inside Cuba, even in journals I admire, such as “La Noria,” as long as there is this regime. And it is a personal question. If I see myself returning to Cuba, coming and going, I think I would only go to Cuba if the worst happens – my mom lives in Cuba – otherwise, no.