Temperamental Old Coots / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

The issue is not just about winning the argument with the United States. It’s also about a legacy created 55 years ago. Of what use to us are their perspectives, when ambitions fade with the passage of time”

The leaders of Cuba are well past working age. Small changes occur at the hands of his brother, Raúl Castro, another long-lived individual who has lived his life and realized the goals he set for himself. What are his ambitions today?

The Cuban desires progress and is at the mercy of old men. Are they perhaps different from others of their age group? As far as I know, an old man does not have the same drive as a young person who is just beginning to face the challenges of the future. continue reading

We are held captive by the arbitrariness of a bunch of geezers…grandfathers once restless in their youth, who now penalize behavior such as they once exhibited…backed up by a poorly-told history that makes heroes out of many, mercenaries out of others, and of those who were not part of their elite group, not even in the shadows are they mentioned. These were members of their beloved and novel revolution.

Their rhetoric is one of equality, yet those who surround them enjoy a level of prestige difficult to achieve. They play at showing solidarity with other peoples, while they trample on their own citizens…self-elected, with no regard for the wishes of their constituents…identified with power, owners of the Island, governing with an ideology that only they believe in…but supported by fellow-travellers, else they would not still be there.

Obsessed with the actions of successive presidents of the United States, to discredit them – and monitor their popularity – is part of their sense of aliveness.

Ready to cease existing when Nature decides, so go the whims of one-time youths who today are in their terminal phase. In the meantime, their legacy has elapsed – in caprice, and much political pride.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 August 2014

Despicable Manipulation / Rebeca Monzo

Yesterday, July 28, I read in the Trabajadores [“Workers”] newspaper about the speech given by 6th grade pioneer Wendy Ferrer during the main event of a celebration in Artemisa marking the 61st anniversary of the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks. I could not help feeling shame and indignation over the vile manipulation that was so evident in the discourse read by this child.

To my understanding, the words and phrases used were not typical of a school-age child. If they were so, it would only be an even more lamentable proof of the terrible distortion fed to our students, a political manipulation that takes precedence over the true history of our country, and over true education. This is truly unfortunate. I believe that it is a civic duty to clarify for this girl, or actually for her teachers, some of the very sensitive aspects of her speech:

I completed my primary school studies — starting with a marvelous and unforgettable Kindergarten, as we then called what are today known as children’s camps — up to 6th grade in a public school, No. 31 of the Los Pinos suburb. Never, in our humble school, did we go without a school breakfast, as was provided in all public schools of that time. Nor did we ever lack notebooks — which I can’t forget included an imprint on the back of the tables for multiplication, addition, subtraction and division — or pencils, which were provided to all students at the start of — and midway through — each term. At that time, public education accounted for 22.3% of the national budget. There was also a private education sector, with wonderful schools founded and directed by great educators. continue reading

The Cuban educational system during the 1950s was made up of 20,000 credentialed teachers and 500,000 students. These figures are documented in the census and statistics of the era and confirmed internationally. Never in the public education sector was there discrimination against a student on the basis of race or religion. If a seeming dearth of black or mixed-race students is evident, this was only due to the fact that in those years, according to the 1953 census (which would be the last until almost 30 years later), 72.8% of the Cuban population was white, 12.4 was black, and 14.5 was mixed-race. At that time our population was six million inhabitants. The private schools were the only ones who had the prerogative to implement selective admissions.

According to my aunt, a great and respected educator and a public school director, the best teachers were to be found in the public schools because the government paid better salaries than the private schools. Also, many of these professors, above all those with specialties in music, art and languages, would also teach classes in private schools. For my lifelong love of music I credit — in addition to my family — those marvelous professors who I had in this subject throughout the course of my primary school studies.

To ignore these facts would be to cast aspersions not only on the Cuban educational system of that time, which was considered one of the best in Ibero-America along with those of Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, but also on all those great Cuban educators who conferred lustre and prestige on our country. Among  them, to mention only a few, for the list would be interminable, we can name the following:

José de la Luz y Caballero, Rafael María Mendive, Enrique José Varona (youth educator), Max Figueroa, Camila Enrique Ureña, Mirta Aguirre, Gaspar Jorge García Galló, Raúl Ferrer, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Vicentina Antuña Tavío, Aurelio Baldor (whose texts are still utilized in Latin America), Ana María Rodríguez, Añorga, Valmaña, and many more who were the mentors of our most celebrated professionals.

For all this, I cannot leave unmentioned that, after 1959, government decrees so pressured the teaching profession that private schools closed down and a massive exodus of educators ensued, damaging the educational system to such a degree that new teachers had to be credentialed on the fly to educate “the new sons and daughters of the homeland”.  The result was a deterioration and decline of education in our country, what with it taking second place to politics. Many of our professionals, in exile today, cannot forget the discrimination they endured in the universities, due to their religious beliefs or sexual orientation, following the triumph of the revolution.

For this and many other reasons, I would suggest to this young pioneer – and to all the children of our country – to fearlessly seek answers from capable persons to clarify their doubts, gathering as much information as they can independently, and taking a bit more responsibility for their own education. Sadly, in our schools today, politics and government orders take precedence over knowledge.

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

31 July 2014

What it Costs to Eat! / Rebeca Monzo

This week I invited to lunch a couple who are friends of mine.  I have among the more “respectable” pensions in this country: 340 CUP (Cuban pesos) — the type of currency which is also used to pay salaries.

I set out early in search of the necessary elements and ingredients to prepare for my friends a “criollo” [traditional Cuban] menu. They live outside the country, and I wanted to treat them to a home-cooked meal. Since there would be four of us to feed, I purchased the following:

Four plantains to make tostones, 10 CUP for the four; 1lb onions, 30 pesos; 1lb peppers, 20 pesos; two small garlic heads, 6 pesos; one avocado, 10 pesos; 2lb rice, 10 pesos; 1lb black beans, 14 pesos; 3lb pork steak, 120 pesos; one large (3lb) mango, 7.50 pesos. After that, I stood in line to buy one loaf of Cuban bread for 10 pesos.

As you might have noticed, a simple luncheon for four cost me “only” 257.50 Cuban pesos. My guests brought a bottle of wine.

The meal was a success and we had a great time, but as you can imagine, my pockets are wobbling until my next pension check. Now you see what a simple meal costs on my planet!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 August 2014

S.O.S.: Angel Santiesteban Transferred and His Whereabouts Unknown

Since yesterday, July 21, Angel Santiesteban Prats is in an unknown location.  I will now relate the events that preceded this new arbitrariness on the part of Cuban State Security.

Joining him in his helplessness is his younger son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban Rodriguez, 16 years old, the son of Angel and the woman who plotted against him with State Security in order to incarcerate him.

The youth — once old enough to escape from the clutches of his mother — asked to tell the truth about what had happened and how he was manipulated by her and by the Castro regime State Security to testify against his father.  Here is the link to his statements.

Obviously, we are very worried about the fate that may await the boy, for we already know through Angel’s own experience that no apologies are made for harassing and incarcerating minors.  In fact, Angel learned the drama of prison at 17 when he was jailed for saying goodbye to his three older brothers who were planning to leave the Island on a boat.  The escape was thwarted, the three “deserters” were captured, along with the youngest (Angel) for “harboring” them.  After a year and a half of incarceration, he was freed because saying goodbye to his brothers was deemed “not a crime.” continue reading

But no one gave him back the lost time and the hard experience he lived through, which – justifiably – became prime material for his prizewinning literature widely regarded for its unflinching realism and strong condemnation of the prison system, among other criticisms.  Angel has already well-explained how the Regime endured this literature without taking much action, awaiting the opportunity to attack him directly, which happened in 2008 by opening the blog and publicizing everything that was of the public domain.

Now the son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban Rodriguez,  worthy seed of a valiant one such as Angel, runs grave risk of going through what his father did, or even worse. Eduardo Angel already has told what State Security did in collusion with his mother, Kenia Rodriguez Diley.

With regard to Angel’s own situation, the Regime continues to punish him for his upright position against it, and does not back down in its efforts to complicate all the judicial interventions to which he has a right by law.  The objective is to eventually water down his claims because they do NOT have any argument that can sustain all the false accusations hanging over him, now that his own son told the truth, unmasking the dictatorship’s judicial farce.

Angel declared on the blog:

“My family has just, coincidentally, found out that the Review Department has sent a letter to my lawyer Lourdes Arzua, who substitutes for Amelia Rodriguez, who was cut from service for six months, where they informed her that I have asked not to have legal representation, which is completely false.  I suppose that the “misunderstanding” is due to my call to that Department, in order to find out if the file had arrived in their hands, after the tribunal denied the number and my name matched.  My lawyer appeared in order to clarify that the number and my name were correct.  Although it appeared a joke, because that number — 444 — was that of a police serial that in 2012 was shown on Cuban television.  I suppose it has to do with some joke that the bosses played with my case.

I was assisted in the call by Chief Oslaydi, who has just been ousted, perhaps for assuring me that she “would correct it and that she would pass the verdict to the Ministry of Justice, which was who, definitively, would determine what measure to take in my case.”  The last time that I spoke with her, her affable and polite manner had changed.  Her behavior was coarse.  I supposed that she had already been visited by State Security officials, and they dictated to her what to write in my case, just as they did with the tribunal that “judged” me, then on Appeal and now on Review.

I always say, I am not naive, that the procedures to restore justice in my case are not for the government to straighten out, because they have never done it, they have never recognized an error, the “Revolution” is not mistaken, thus, its governors are perfect; complaints are made in order to continue sliming people and one day the truth may be known.  Justice demands it because that is our reason for being, what has us jailed, therefore, we must continue forcing them to grow their institutional evil, which they do by refusing to accept the truth as justice.

For my file to arrive at the Review Department more than a year has passed, when normally, and according to their laws, it should take no more than three months to issue an answer.  Once they had to accept the Review, six months from the filing, they invalidated my lawyer Amelia Rodriguez; now they send a letter to the office in a new effort to invalidate my representative and, as in the “trial,” leave me once more “legally defenseless,” as attorney Miguel Iturria, who was my defender then, recognized.

In recent days my lawyer inquired about the course of the file, and they informed her that a document “of the cause” is missing, which the tribunal must present; which contradicts what the ex-chief told me, that the file had already been delivered to a specialist who was working on his exhausting review.

All this foolishness by State Security, I feel it like the kicking of the hanged man.  If they thought that once I was incarcerated they were going to sap my strength, I cannot think anything other than that they calculated this as if they themselves were in my place, but in my case, my strength to fight for the liberty of my country has increased.”

The day after denouncing this new judicial hoax, he declared:

In the most extreme example of “the secretiveness of the State,” State Security is preparing my transfer to a border patrol unit.”

For days now a rumor has been circulating that is now taken as fact, given that the prison authorities await my transfer to be completed so that they can transport a Minister and a Vice-Minister of Construction who are serving sentences for “diversion of resources”.  There is no way that officials will allow these prisoners to coincide with me, fearing that I will obtain information from them and later divulge it on my blog. 

Following the escape of a prisoner and his arrival on the coast of Miami, State Security ordered a reinforcement of the surveillance being conducted on me. They established a 24-hour command post and they’re watching every move I make within the settlement.

A few minutes ago, they just ordered some bars to be soldered to secure the place where they will take me, and they said these had to be in place before tomorrow at the aforementioned border patrol unit.

Evidently, they will keep me there more watched and isolated. Thus begins another chapter in this journey of injustice, all for my my dangerous crime of thinking differently.

I reaffirm that I have more strength than on the first day of my incarceration. It is an honor that they commit these extreme acts against me, for exercising the faculty of thinking and expressing my opposition to the dictatorial regime that has been subjugating our country for more than half a century. Meanwhile, they tolerate murderers, drug traffickers and rapists, barely even harassing or watching them, as they do in my case.

Long live live Cuba, and may She Live Free.

 Sunday, June 20, 2014. Lawton Prison Settlement, 10:30pm. 

 The rumor became a reality

Ángel was transported yesterday, illegally, without his next of kin being notified nor him being permitted to make a telephone call. Since then, he has been held at an unknown location.

The recent confession by Ángel’s son regarding his father’s innocence, and the fact that just a year ago (2 August, 2013), Ángel was transported illegally and arbitrarily, without his family knowing, to the settlement where he currently resides — and that he was held for four days at a location unknown until his relatives investigated the matter outside of official channels, causes us to think that this time the punishment could be more severe.

The sadism of this Regime is enormous, and they are hitting him where it hurts the most: his son. Evidently they’re trying to punish the father for the courage shown by his son, isolate him even more, and prevent him from continuing to denounce to the world the reality of how it is with him and with Cuba.

Now, we are not speaking solely of accusations of human rights violations committed against an adult who is dedicated to his country’s liberty. We are now dealing with a grave violation of the rights of the child during the Kafkaesque proceedings visited upon the father. They used the child as cannon fodder to falsely incriminate a dissident courageous enough to call Raúl Castro a dictator. Now, this child become an adolescent – who has provided a tremendous lesson in courage and honesty to the world – is at the mercy of State Security and its sadistic system for punishing those who dare express themselves freely. The boy’s helplessness is further increased by his father being not only encarcerated, but in a unknown location.

It is not an exaggeration to sound an international alert in support of Ángel and Eduardo Ángel. It is enough to witness the numerous cases publicized by the media regarding the abuses and punishments of the children of dissidents, including their incarceration. One such is the case of the three Alexei brothers, Vianco and Django Vargas Martín , who were jailed starting in late 2012, when the twins Vianco and Django were only 16 years old. They are the children of the dissident Miraida Martín Calderín, a member of the UNPACU [Patriotic Union of Cuba] and the Ladies in White. There is the case of an eight-year-old girl, Yanisleidis Olivier Reve’, daughter of Damaris Rodríguez Revé, member of the Ladies in White, who was held back a grade in school because of her mother’s activism.

From this post I call upon the international community to support Angel and his son, and I emphasize, once again, that the life and health of both are the exclusive responsibility of Raúl Castro. The world is watching and there is no longer any hiding it, even less in the sham accusations against Ángel, ripped apart by a mere boy.

 –The Editor

Translated by mlk and Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

22 July 2014

The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultramar 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality. continue reading

“The shadows lift themselves/ from the same path/ where once was born/ that rare flower; / and the wind breaks through to cut/ the voice of some history.”

There is a flavor here of Machado, a thread connecting us to Paul Eluard, but it is La Avellaneda and Gabriela Mistral who season the bundle of words with which “Testigos de la noche” shows us Janisset, while the publisher Ultramar takes a mature step on its path of promoting literature. We see here a book that stands out through its modesty and economy of resources, both achievements boding well for the poetic profession as well as that other dying star, the readers of poetry, who upon entering the 21st century are seen as odd creatures.

An old poem is a new poem

Would that nothing human were foreign to us. It is like a canticle, a voice emerging from the deep thoughts of someone wiser than we. Nothing human is foreign to me, responding to that poetic subject that Janisset Rivero utilizes to traverse that broad plain that is Testigos.

The expression of love, desperation and fear of death surrounds us since the dawn of the world. Articulated anew by the momentum of Janisset Rivero’s verses, the realization of these timeless themes seems renewed: “The cry of the night/ charges the word/ and later silences…” Thus says one of her perhaps most accomplished compositions. But, is it death? Is it life? Is it the flowering of the fears of all times? We don’t know – Janisset Rivero leaves nothing assumed, and thus we witness another example of how insinuation is perhaps the surest shot.

Contemporaries as we are, we now face the dilemma that all that we poets touch has been touched by others, but the intimism revived in this work becomes addictive and pleasurable. To again read poems of love, hatred, human fears (which by virtue of being human we have all had them), is a good enjoyed by the most cultured.

No one tires of reading letters, messages, cries. No one – human as he may be – can simply walk by the weeping or the smiling rain of a woman. And we have here, readers and listeners, attentive to that voice that has emerged from JR to insert itself as a matter of course, in the skin of the poetic subject that she has utilized to narrate the ancient canticle of her work.

This, is it a new book or an old one? We, are we new or old readers of poetry? I believe that two words, two concepts have brought us together on this night of celebration: friendship and love. JR treats both with the same intensity – “Testigos” shows it.

Poetry without compromise

I do not believe in literary compromises. Somebody said that we writers are gravediggers by birth. We kill a writer to ride his glory, we bury an author because we want to throw off his powerful influence. For this reason, the mentions that JR makes here of her compatriots, of her brethren who have preceded us in death and of the glory of their heroic achievements, are a natural act of gratitude, and not an archetypal “compromise”. At least that is how I have read it and her, and this convinces me more than any instruction or qualification made on the surface, or under pressure.

Why were there not appearing here the shadows or the lights of (Pedro Luis) Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo? “Redeemed at last/ in battle./ They fear still…/ and you shine, Pedro/” … and I would add, OZT, Antonio Maceo, Virgilio Campaneria, Marti, Eusebio Penalver, Zoila Aguia, The Girl (the lovely girl, I would say) of Placetas. The verses in “Testigos…” are not accusations. They are tollings of a bell to remember, they are antidotes to apathy and greetings of a new time that is today and not tomorrow. This manner of greeting without weeping, of remembering without the frigid and obligatory applause, renew a poetry that refuses elegies. The verses of JR are a flower-word-wind, a herald, and for that, poetry is ever grateful.

JR chose the difficult path of touching her dead without placing a banner at the door to the house. This is a happy thing, because it makes her intimate as well as plura; it makes us participants in all that she touches, in all to which she invites us, on this night, and tomorrow.

Miami, June 5, 2014

Yusimí Sijo (L) and the rapper Raudel Collazo (C), Luis Felipe Rojas (R)


Janisset reads portions of her work.

Archived under Cuba.

Translated by GH; and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

6 June 2014

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet / Regina Coyula

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet…

…or thought I was, which is worse. In keeping with this, I would have become a “fine poet of felt verses,” as literary criticism says when it has nothing better to say. Common sense and love of writing have left me here, where I feel so comfortable. I found a very yellowed piece of lined paper bearing this text typed by an Underwood, following an interminable train ride from Santa Clara to Havana taken along with a group of youths who were returning from a rock festival. Speaking of Frank Abel, does anyone know what has become of him?


To Frank Abel Dopico 

The rock-and-rollers love the nocturnality of trains


the rockers run away from home

they beg for money at the station

and they go to another province

to imagine what it’s like to travel.

In the parks

the rockers are blue

they make love and urinate in the solitude of sidewalks

all pleasure they find in the cross-eyed hands of Jimmy Page.

They have a calling to be cops, the rockers

they raise the decibels

exorcism by percussion

it’s the train and it’s Led Zeppelin

there is a monastic silence in the rockers

they tear their hair and they huddle to weep in the corner of the car.

They don’t think of the following day

they clasp their hands and kiss the crucifix.

The sweet rockers

rehearse with amphetamines and other complications

to imagine how it is

to travel.

(June 19, 1990)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 July 2014

There Is None So Blind As He Who Refuses to See / Rebeca Monzo

For several days now I have not published a post, despite my desires to do so and the nagging thought that it wasn’t getting done.

It is true that the World Cup robbed part of my attention, but that was not what impeded my writing. Rather, it was all the tasks that were piling up in relation to an upcoming exhibition of my works. Preparing for this event takes a lot of effort and dedication, as does the negotiating required to obtain adequate materials.

Even so, with all due respect, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, and the statements she delivered in the University of Havana’s Grand Hall, during the unsuitably named magisterial conference. Dr. Chan expressed that, thanks to the Cuban government, our people do not eat junk food. She also praised the work of our public health.

I really do not comprehend how these people, who occupy such relevant posts in the United Nations (UN), take at face value the reports provided by totalitarian regimes, without taking the trouble to check the facts through other means and compare other data.

Most of us know that these people are hosted in our country by high-level officials, and that they are taken over and over to the same places, which obviously are set up for such purposes, e.g.: a certain floor of Almejeiras Hospital, the Biotechnology department, and the La Castellana special school for differentiated teaching, among others. In addition, the visitors are customarily taken down 5th Avenue in Miramar, and they never stop at locations that aren’t set up for these political purposes.

How is it possible that the supreme body that oversees all of these organizations — the UN — has yet to take the trouble to look into these matters more deeply?

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 July 2014

The Ochoa Case: A Turning Point / 14ymedio

IGNACIO VARONA, 14ymedio, Havana, Cuba | 13 July 2014 — The Cuban government’s support for the Soviet tank invasion of Czechoslovakia, the failure of the 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest, the case of Heberto Padilla, the repudiation rallies of 1980, and Cuba’s Black Spring are chief among the breaking points for many who at one time backed the Cuban Revolution. A political process that at its beginnings more than a half century ago enjoyed strong approval inside and outside the island has become increasingly characterized by deception. This persistent flux from believing to not believing has made critics out of former sympathizers, and antagonists out of those who once gave ovations.

Inside Cuba, one instance of major fracture in the support for the revolution was the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa. This event took place on July 13, 1989, exactly 25 years ago. Along with him were executed three high-level officials of the Ministry of Armed Forces (MINFAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). A military court found them guilty of — and condemned them to death for — the crimes of drug trafficking and high treason. continue reading

Never will it be known the true extent of the disillusionment caused by this event in many communist militants as well as the rest of the population. The disappointment amongst the people that emanated from the so-called “Case Number 1” of 1989 fed the decision of many individuals to take the step toward dissension. Numerous dissidents cite this judicial process and its extreme sentences as the moment when they broke with the party line.

The 1990s could not be understood without the precedent of a televised trial that riveted millions of Cubans to the small screen, as if to the most impelling soap opera. After long days of hearing allegations and accusations, a bond was established between the TV audience and the figure of Ochoa that nobody could have foreseen. This “connection” consisted of a combination of respect and pity, to which was added the silent hope that the sentences requested by the prosecutors would not actually be applied in their full severity.

“I sat in front of the television set believing in the system, and when I arose I no longer believed in anything”, said María López, who at that time belonged to the Young Communists League (UJC). A few months after “El Indio” (“The Indian”) — as Ochoa was popularly called by some — Maria turned in her UJC membership card. “I could not tolerate such cruelty, besides which it always seemed to me that what came out in that trial was not the full truth,” she concluded. Like her, an unpublicized number of other militants distanced themselves from the organization, severing their ties or assuming a less aggressive stance.

The “Balseros” (Rafters) Crisis that would occur five years later was comprised of individuals who, besides suffering the miseries of the Special Period, had lived through the trial. Part of the disillusionment that would manifest in fragile vessels crossing the Florida Straits emanated from that event. Although hunger and the lack of prospects where the primary goads toward the exodus, for many of those who launched themselves to the sea, the death of of Arnaldo Ochoa had contributed to severing their emotional ties to the system.

“It was the moment in which totalitarianism removed its mask”, noted Ezequiel Méndez, who is now based in Los Angeles, USA. On that July 13, Ezequiel had guard duty in the unit where he was serving his compulsory military service. He remembers seeing the “long faces of the officers, which gave us to understand that something was going on”. Within the army, the execution of these four military men was especially disturbing, but fear and silence were the major expressions of this emotion. “In the mess hall, when the TV set was turned on for the broadcast of the trial, nobody said a word…everyone was very, very quiet”, recalls Ezequiel about those days.

A quarter century after the effect of those executions, the disappointment has not diminished. Rather, other disappointments have been added to it. The government was never able to recapture lost sympathy, and the days are over when military feats produced heroes.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

“Cuba’s problem is within Cuba” / 14ymedio

Speaking at the Atlantic Forum, Yoani Sánchez tells Mario Vargas Llosa that help is needed to move the center of the discussion to the island.


14ymedio, Madrid, 8 July 2014 — “Cuba’s problem is within Cuba. The locus of the discussion needs to be moved to the island.” This was the powerful message from Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio director, to Nobel prize winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa at the VII Atlantic Forum, at the Casa de América in Madrid, Spain. Vargas Llosa had asked Sánchez how the Cuban opposition could be aided from the outside, whether there might be some common themes to emphasize, such as the embargo. “The embargo, tourism…all of that is just transferring the problem outside. To the White House, to the airports…” said the journalist and blogger, stressing that the way to push for a transition in Cuba from outside the island is not to turn attention elsewhere.

This exchange took place during the event organized by the International Foundation for Liberty, whose theme this year is the economic and institutional consolidation of Ibero-America. Vargas Llosa, foundation president, started off the proceedings by asking Yoani Sánchez about the actual scope of the so-called “Raulist” [for Raúl Castro] reforms on the island. The journalist qualified them as “small transformations caused by necessity and not by political will”, meaning that they do not correspond to the real changes that the country needs. continue reading

However, there are differences between Raúl and his brother, Fidel Castro. “The repression hasn’t ceased,” Sánchez said. “It’s just that the current version of it is more continuous, it’s in every minute, it leaves no evidence so the victims can defend themselves. Fidel was more media-savvy.”

Vargas Llosa also inquired about the birth of 14ymedio, remarking that, because of the many barriers it might face in Cuba, he never thought it would actually be created and maintained. “It’s a digital project because the printing houses in Cuba are under more surveillance than the barracks,” Sánchez explained, leading to a discussion of 14ymedio’s objectives. “Who is our readership? I think of people like my mother who, when I speak to her of injustice and human rights I don’t get her attention, but when I point out that this year she’ll have to double her spending to just maintain her current level of purchasing power, she is interested and exclaims, ‘this needs to change’.”

Sánchez spoke of the diversity of opposition movements on the island, although she emphasized that their principal limitation continues to be the state’s communication media monopoly. “In Cuba there is a great underground market for information,” she said, adding that technology is key to overcoming this barrier.

The Forum also included the writers Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Álvaro Vargas Llosa y Carlos Alberto Montaner, who presented their latest book, “Últimas noticias del nuevo idiota iberoamericano (Ed. Planeta)” [Latest News from the New Ibero-American Idiot, (Planet Publishers)]. The three authors — Colombian, Peruvian and Cuban, respectively — returned to analyzing the changes that have occurred in various Latin American countries and Spain, almost 20 years after the publication of their “Manual del perfecto idiota latinoamericano” [Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot].

Carlos Alberto Montaner pointed out that “the idiot is now also part of political life in Spain” and that the stability of Spain’s democracy is endangered by the presence of radical groups. “If that strange popular front were to become institutionalized and politically powerful, the country would head towards economic folly and alienate investors”, he added.

Nine Cuban activists travelled from the island to attend the Forum. However, Venezuelan opposition member María Corina Machado was unable to attend, having been barred from travelling outside the country because of her alleged implication in a plot to destabilize the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba is Going, But into Exile* / Juan Juan Almeida

According to the authorities, Cubans are now allowed to travel, they can own businesses, and now Cuba is the world champion of freedom. However, even so, desertions from the country continue apace. Within the span of a few hours, ten dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba via Puerto Rico, two tennis players who competed in the Davis Cup, and the members of the women’s Cuban field hockey team, all decide to cross the border to the United States.

Raúl can say what he wants, but judging from events, things — meaning Cuba — are going from bad to worse.

* Translator’s Note:  The first part of the title of this post, “Cuba Va”,  is a play on the title of – and lyrics in – a song by Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez. In the sense that Rodriguez uses the phrase, it can be interpreted as “Cuba will survive” or “Cuba will prevail”.  But the phrase can also be read literally, as in “Cuba is Going” — which is the sense in which the blogger is using it.

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

13 June 2014

Producers of Shoddy Work: Beware! / 14ymedio, Katia Tabares

Wooden toys (14ymedio)
Wooden toys (14ymedio)
  • The 2014 ONDI Awards to outstanding Cuban designers cause us to reflect on the limitations suffered by these professionals.
  • Several winners from years past no longer live in Cuba – they have moved on in search of new professional horizons.

14ymedio, Katia Tabares, Havana, 27 May 2014 — Within the first minutes of conversation with a designer, one realizes that caution is in order. Just as if, while facing a dentist friend, we might smile on just one side of our face so that our cavities wouldn’t show, when we find ourselves around these design professionals, it is best to watch ourselves. Their trained eyes will spot the poorly-lettered sign we’ve hung on the door, the kitschy centerpiece on the table, and the cut of our shirt that binds our arms. Then will we have fallen under the “dictatorship” of visual, functional and decorative quality. May Design have mercy on us!

This is how I felt this past weekend while viewing winners of the 2014 ONDI Awards, given every two years by the National Office of Industrial Design. Exhibited in the gallery of La Rampa cinema, in the capital neighborhood of El Vedado, these images represent a wide variety of conceptual and esthetic solutions. The first prize went to Luis Manuel Ramirez who developed a lighting system and other objects for the home, featuring quality, good taste and potential adaptability to multiple circumstances.

If we attend the exhibition accompanied by the smallest members of the household, they might remain attached to the toys designed by Adriana Horta Ramos and Eduardo Velazco Alvarez, who won the prize in the student category. Using wood as their primary material, these novelties for children ages 3 to 6 are a major cut above the plastic and tacky products that populate the display windows of our stores. continue reading

There is much to admire, as the laurels were distributed among various categories, such as Visual Communication Design, Industrial, Furniture and Apparel, in addition to a Design Project Award. From simple pieces for daily living such as Ernesto Iglesias Diaz’s functional spice containers that won Honorable Mention, to the interior design of the New Varadero International Hotel by Carla Oraa Calzadilla, recognized for its optimum use of space, lighting and furniture selection.

One of the honors went to the project to update the interface of the Infomed digital portal, used by Public Health professionals. It is accessible from the so-called “intranet”, for those users who possess an email connection and nationwide navigation capability. For years this portal has been crying out for an upgrade to its disheveled appearance and is now on its way to achieving it. Yondainer Gutierrez Fernandez and Yelene Bequer Crespo have taken on this task, although the actual carrying-out of their proposal remains to be done.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality. The exodus of a good portion of the graduates of the Institute of Industrial Design (ISDI) points to the dearth of possibilities for the professionals of this field in our country. If right now there were a celebration in the works to bring together previous years’ winners of the ONDI Awards, we would have to await their arrival from all latitudes of the planet where most of them reside.

The material restrictions, the devaluing of good design in projects ranging from a cafeteria interior to a school uniform, make it so the graduates of this specialization see little hope of gaining true recognition for their work, beyond prizes and awards that hardly make good living room decorations. At certain levels, our society underappreciates the detailed work of these adepts in typography, color schemes and drafting. Bureaucrats and high-level officials don’t seem willing to bend toward the “exquisiteness” of good taste. They inhabit the realm of shoddiness, improvisation and arbitrary form.

Our streets are filled with political billboards that look like they came out of a word processor equipped solely with Times New Roman font, bold, red only, and exclamation points galore. Coarse writing, overused symbols, out-of-date visual cues that don’t even work on children, continue to permeate televised ideological propaganda and the design of many public places. Timid official discourse is accompanied by an equally moth-eaten esthetic.

However, a breath of hope traverses these days on 23rd Street in the area around La Rampa cinema. If at least half of the design projects exhibited within these walls were carried out, we would no longer be ashamed to stand before a designer and smile, show off our shirt, the home decoration, the recently painted sign. We would have gained at least a few centimeters on that bad taste that extends in so many directions.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Five Grey Years: Revisiting the Term / Ambrosio Fornet

By Ambrosio Fornet / See here for background information on this series of posts.


It seemed as if the nightmare was something from a remote past, but the truth is that when we awoke, the dinosaur was still there. We haven’t found out — and perhaps will never know — if the media folly was a reaction to an insidious rescue operation, a whimsical expression of favoritism, or a simple show of irresponsibility.

It doesn’t matter. Seen from the perspective of today — the chain reaction it provoked, of which the cycle we are beginning is a link — it was a suicidal act. It threw down a challenge without having the slightest idea of the adversary’s level of expertise, nor of the solidity of a cultural policy that has reinforced itself like an irreversible phenomenon by means of practices that have been going on for three decades now.

This battle having been clearly won — I won’t say the war because the swaggering is not so much the expression of a political tactic as it is a world view based on suspicion and mediocrity — we can open a path to reflection telling ourselves, simply, that what is happening is fitting. We have proof of this in the decision of the Ministry of Culture to support Desiderio [Navarro]’s initiative, coinciding with Abel [Prieto]’s, insofar as filling the void of information and analysis which has prevailed up to now in the area of cultural — that is, anti-cultural — policy, since the first half of the seventies.

As incredible as it may seem, the person who directed the “Imprint” program dedicated to Pavon — whose script had been written by a friend — assured us that she didn’t know who the character was or, more exactly, that she didn’t know what “imprint” the character had left on Cuban culture during his term as President of the National Cultural Council.  Nor would she know it afterwards, because it was covered in a careful mantle of silence in the program. It wouldn’t do to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man. continue reading

Well, we had not left our amazement when a little voice began to hammer our ears: “And why so hard to believe? Why did the young director have to know? Have you, the old people who lived and suffered through that stage, written a book or pamphlet, published a series of articles, led a series of talks on the subject?

In recent years the reporting of individual violations of the perverse display of prejudice, the cynicism of the explanations has been made by the victims in interviews, articles, awards acceptance speeches, but the analysis of the phenomenon was being postponed as have been other things that deserved to be discussed, and for the same reason: to avoid jeopardizing the unity. Along with the historical validity of our national project, the unity is the only thing, in fact, that ensures our superiority over enemies and adversaries.

But just as we should not forget that in a place permanently besieged, as is our country, insisting on differences and disagreements equivalent to “giving ammunition to the enemy” …, it must be remembered that the covenants of silence are often highly risky, because they create a climate of immobility, a unanimous mockery that prevents us from measuring the true extent of the dangers and the integrity of our ranks, in which often slip loquacious opportunists.

We know these drills and maneuvers conducted in Europe and especially in the USSR, and in the latter case, I believe, because even our own militants, among them not a few heroes of labor and descendants of heroes of the war, had been definitively demobilized by the bureaucracy and routine.

Without being a specialist in the field, I dare ask the unfathomable question: “Why not go the workers, especially the communist militants, to defend the Revolution in the USSR?” Very simple: “Because no instructions from above were given.”

We need to stand firm in our trenches, which, of course, are not the best places to exercise democracy, but that does not mean we can afford to abandon the practice of criticism and self-criticism, the only exercise that can set us free of triumphalism and save us from ideological deterioration.


I would not want to weary you with ramblings and criteria that many of you share and that could get us away from our subject. This, as suggested by the title of my talk, proposed by Desiderio, aims at the reasons and practice of Five Grey Years.

I invented the label for methodological reasons, trying to isolate and describe that period so I looked at its dominant trait and featuring contrasts with the previous stage, characterized by its color and its internal dynamics (although not without, as we shall see, frustrations and surprises [1].

But before we go on I would like to make a couple of points clear. First, from where I speak, that is, from what life experience, from which ideological and political position I project my views and reviews on the subject, and in general on issues of culture, their production and reach, with an emphasis on literature-especially-narrative, which is the only field I know from experience. I quickly speak like this because I fear to say anything that seems incomprehensible or strange to some of the young people present.

I come, obviously, from a world that marked my position on many of these problems: the world of pre-revolutionary Cuba, the former republic. From a young age I wanted to write. I would not dare to say I wanted to be a writer because it was a job without a professional profile that could attract suspicion or derision.

“I did not tell anyone I wanted to be writer,” [2] José Soler Puig confessed to a friend, “because people laughed and even thought that was a job for feminine men”

And Virgilio Piñera, in a public message addressed to Fidel in March 1959: “… We, the Cuban writers, we are ’the last card in the deck’, we mean nothing when it comes to economic, social and even in the field of the Letters itself. We want to cooperate shoulder to shoulder with the Revolution, but this requires that we remove the miserable state in which we struggle.” [3]

As you can see, the level of self-esteem of the guild was on the floor. Perhaps the writers’ anecdotes, vain or boastful, irritated or amused his confreres in the corridors of Madrid or Paris, but here were tales of aliens, since the writer was literally outside the circle of his closest friends and the four cats who read Origenes [Magazine] (lucky cats, by the way).

It still seems a miracle that two years after the message of Virgilio I was already editing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and testimonials of mountain children at the Ministry of Education, led by Herminio Almendros, and soon also Proust, Joyce and Kafka for the National Publisher, led by Alejo Carpentier.

From this perspective it became clear that we began to consolidate an alliance between political and artistic avant-garde. The Revolution — the real possibility of life-change — appeared to us as the political expression of the avant-garde artistic aspirations.

So when it began to show its hairy ear of homophobia and then masked the socialist realism, we felt quite confused. What did this have to do with phenomenon so deep, they really had changed the lives of millions of people, making the illiterate literate and feeding the hungry, not letting a single child go without a school, promising to sweep away racial discrimination and machismo, placing in bookstores, at the price of fifty cents or a dollar, all literature, from Homer to Rulfo, from Daphnis and Chloe to my uncle the employee … what did an event of these dimensions have to do with my sexual preferences or the pilgrim image of a virtuous and virile artist, always willing to sing the glories of homelands?

We, the young people whom we thought were the heirs and representatives of the artistic and literary vanguard could not communicate that vision … a serious problem, since in dogmatic circles gaining strength came the idea that aesthetic discrepancies concealed political differences.

Moreover, one could not deny that the new responsibilities also discovered their own shortcomings. If suddenly we had the opportunity to address the millions of potential readers, we could not help but wonder: What now, how to write or, in the case of publisher, to publish?

Is “what everyone understands, what the officials understand,” as Che ironically said? Do we have what “the people like”, thus leaving it stuck in the lowest level, or what I like, so that people refine their tastes and one day become as educated as I am?

Populism, paternalism, elitism, high culture, popular culture, and mass culture for the masses … ghosts of ideological dilemmas and, finally, beginning to traverse on our way, often taking us by surprise …

What I mean is that you have some patience, because it is impossible to speak of the Five Grey Years without referring to the origins of certain conflicts that were incubated in the late seventies. [4]

I will only refer to those who, as mentioned, touch us more closely, others, like the microfraction, for example, beyond the limits of our subject (although they continue to be associated with it because it was a bad sectarianism widespread among intellectuals and political cadres directly linked to the field of ideology).[5]


Socialist realism — literature as pedagogy and hagiography, methodologically oriented toward creating “positive heroes” and the strategic absence of antagonistic conflicts in “among the people” — produced in us, my petit bourgeois friends and I, the same reaction someone experiences when a fly is found in the glass of milk.

Among the Cuban narrators no one, as I recall, had accepted the invitation, but the newly established National Press published heavily edited Soviet novels (some respectable, indeed, such as Sholokhov and those of Alexander Bek — The Highway, by Volokolamsk and Men by Panfilov, actually two parts of the same epic — that accompanied many militants in the frequent demonstrations of the time).

In any case, I, as a young intellectual with no political ideology other than that of Fidel’s (I used to say at the time that I had become a Marxist by watching television, i.e. listening to Fidel), I had two things absolutely clear: return to the past? It was not going to happen. Accept as cultural horizon a manual by Konstantinov and normative aesthetics? No way.

But I would not want to fall into the same thing we criticize, and I know when it comes to defending our truth, our point of view, we tend to be as categorical and dogmatic as the adversary. Socialist realism was not “intrinsically evil”, what was intrinsically evil was the imposition of this formula in the USSR, where what could have been a school, one more literary and artistic current, suddenly became the mandatory official doctrine.

Of the various roles that plays or that literature and art can play — aesthetics, recreation, informative, teaching — the commissars moved the latter to the foreground, to the detriment of the other, what the people and particularly the working class needed was not just simply reading — opening new horizons of expectations — but to educate themselves, assimilate through reading the norms and values of the new society.

This admirable purpose — admirable in theory, and especially since its foundation dating back to the Enlightenment was not aware that “if art educates,” and I quote Gramsci for the umpteenth time, “it does as art not as educative art, because if it is educative art it ceases to be art and an art that denies itself cannot educate anyone.”

We did not even suspect that the legacy of scholastic Marxism was as strong among us, or at least among some intellectuals from the Popular Socialist Party, but one of our most brilliant and respected essayists, Mirta Aguirre, wrote in October 1963:

“Today, in the hands of dialectical materialism, art can and should be a form of exorcism: a form of knowledge that contributes to sweep the minds of men free from the Caliginous shadows of ignorance, a valuable tool for replacing the religious conception of the world by its scientific conception and quick Marxist resource of the defeat of the philosophical idealism.” [6]

One was tempted to ask: can and should art be all that? Or, with a certain nonchalance: is that all that art can and should be? If it had, it would not have taken long to discover that our bewilderment had a shady class origin, because what really happened was that certain ideas were “precarious and on their way to extinction; some intellectuals and artists, “instead of engaging to remove traces from themselves of the ideological remains of a collapsed society,” stubbornly insisted on justifying them. [7]

Actually, what we saw was that under that rigid and precarious artistic guidance model the line between art, education, propaganda and advertising was becoming blurred. The funny thing is that capitalism produced tons of publicity and advertising without mentioning it and even cleverly disguised it under the labels of information and “entertainment.”

But socialism was young and inexperienced; in the famous controversy of December 1963 between Blas Roca and Alfredo Guevara around the display of several films (the Sweet Life by Fellini, Accatone by Pasolini, The Exterminating Angel by Buñuel and Alias Gardelito by Lautaro Murua), Guevara pointed to the newspaper column of Blas Roca — a very respectable man, in other respects — as a column that so superficially addresses the problems of culture, art and film in particular, reducing its significance, if not its function to that of the revolutionary illustrators, seen by others in its immediate perspective. [8]

Needless to clarify, because in politics, as Marti said, the real is not seen — that these aesthetic disputes were part of a struggle for cultural power, for control of certain areas of influence. This became evident in 1961 with the controversy over the movie PM and the subsequent closure of the publication Lunes de Revolución, a measure that led to the creation of La Gaceta de Cuba, a literary publication from the Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) that has lasted until today.

The movie PM turned out to be a historic controversy because it gave rise to “Words to the Intellectuals,” Fidel’s speech which fortunately has served ever since — except during the dramatic pavonato interregnum — as a guiding principle of our cultural policy.

PM was a modest free-cinema essay, a little documentary of Saba Cabrera Infante and Orlando Jiménez Leal which had passed unnoticed by television in a program sponsored by Lunes de Revolución, i.e. by Carlos Franqui and Guillermo Cabrera Infante. The two — Franqui and Guillermo — had one great virtue: a vision of a modern and dynamic art, literature and journalism, as evidenced by the Revolution newspaper and its literary supplement, Lunes (Monday).

But both had also a major flaw, given the circumstances: they were anti visceral, and hated anything that smacked of the Soviet Union and the PSP. The ICAIC  refused to display PM in theaters, sparking the controversy. [9] One would say that at some point both the leadership and the intelligentsia ICAIC PSP rose to the top leadership of the government these dramatic questions: Who are the ones to make films in Cuba? Who are the ones to institutionally represent our writers and artists? The answers were falling from the tree.

But something had slipped from our hands, because during the second half of the decade events occurred that would have dire consequences for the normal development of revolutionary culture: the establishment of the Military Units of Assistance to Production (UMAP), for example — which lasted three years and left a few scars — and the institutional rejection of two prizewinning books from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) literary competition (The Seven Against Thebes by Antón Arrufat, and Out of the Game, by Heberto Padilla), not to speak of passing stories, albeit symptomatic ones, such as the hostile climate aroused among certain functionaries by the appearance of Lezama’s Paradiso (1966), owing to its supposed exaltation of homoeroticism (it was said that copies had been ordered removed from some bookstores).

The unfortunate UMAP initiative, the idea of young homosexuals as well as religious people — above all Jehovah’s Witnesses, who by conviction rejected the use of arms — fulfilling their military service in work units, not combat units, seemed related to the male chauvinist vision of those bourgeois fathers who would send their most rebellious or fearful sons to military schools to “make men out of them.”

I remember having told the friend to whom I previously alluded, when he asked me about discrimination against homosexuals in Cuba, that this attitude had nothing to do with the Revolution, that it was coming to us from ages past via the dual track of Judeo-Christian morality and ignorance, but that perhaps the emotional climate of that permanently besieged place (Cuba) — which included the constant exaltation of virile virtues — as well as the obsession for straightening out so many twisted aspects of the old society, caused us to want to straighten or restore homosexuals, too, who not surprisingly had always been referred-to by euphemisms such as inverts or effeminates. [10]

I totally reject the idea, because it seems to me cynical and inexact, that this naive or stupid voluntarism has anything to do with the aspiration to form a “New Man” — one of the most cherished longings of man, preceding even Christianity — such as was articulated in our environment by Che and as we would ourselves repeat, alluding to Plautus’s homo homini lupus — so quoted by Marx — when we would speak of a society where man would not be wolf to man, but rather his brother.

Now, I am convinced that the pathological level homophobia, as institutional policy, during the Five Grey Years, is a subject of concern not so much to sociologists but to psychoanalysts and priests, that is, to those professionals capable of peering fearlessly into the “obscure abysses of the human soul.” It also would not be superfluous to reflect on those repressive or “disciplinary” methods invented by the bourgeoisie and so well-studied by Foucalt in some chapter of Keep Watch and Punish.


The prizewinning books by Padilla and Arrufat in the UNEAC competition were published with a prologue in which the institution asserted its disagreement with them: they were works that served “our enemies,” but now were going to be useful means to other ends, one of which was to “outline openly the ideological struggle.”

It was then — between November and December of 1968 — when in the magazine Verde Olivo (“Olive Green”) appeared five articles whose authorship is attributed to Luis Pavón Tamayo, an unprovable conjecture because the author used a pseudonym — the sadly famous Leopoldo Ávila — who has yet to be revindicated by anyone.

The first article expouned on the conduct of Guillermo Cabrera Infante who, just a few months earlier, in the magazine Primera Plana of Buenos Aires, had declared himself a fervent enemy of the Revolution…after having strenuously served it during several years as Cultural Attache’ in Brussels.

The two following articles dealt aggressively with Padilla and Arrufat; and the last two, with issues in the intellectual sphere, among them the level of “depolitization” from which, in Ávila’s opinion, our own writers and critics were suffering [11].

I don’t need to emphasize the tense climate that prevailed in those months, because already a group of colleagues — Cubans (Retamar, Desnoes, and I) as well as Latin Americans (Roque Dalton, René Depestre and Carlos Mari’a Gutiérrez) expounded our ideas on the matter in a round table of sorts that we held in May of 1969 and which was published, first, in the magazine Casa de las Americas (“Americas House”) and later in Mexico, by Siglo XXI (“Century XXI”), under the predictable title of The Intellectual and Society [12].

The ideological tournament announced by Avila was hinted at in occasional skirmishes, but had been gradually acquiring an increasingly international character due in part to the attacks on the Revolution that various intellectuals had made in Europe — Dumont, Karol, Ensensbert — and in part also because one of the panelists that had awarded the prize to Arrufat and Padilla, the English critic J.M. Cohen, decided to participate in his way in the debate.

To all this was added the appearance in Paris of the magazine Mundo Nuevo (“New World”), edited by the Uruguayan critic Emir Rodriguez Monegal; very soon thereafter his countryman Angel Rama, relying on reports in The New York Times, denounced the publication as a “cultural facade of the CIA” [13]. In the opinion of the specialists, Mundo Nuevo’s ultimate purpose was to dispute Casa de las Americas convening power and to undermine the image of the “committed” artist or writer that the Cuban Revolution had been proposing as a model for the intellectuals of our America [14].

It was this model, to be sure, that for us served as the reason or basis for the famous “Letter to Neruda” which towards the end of 1966 we caused to be circulated throughout all corners of the continent, and was also what prevailed a year later in the Preparatory Seminar of the Havana Cultural Congress, where it was revealed that a large contingent of our intelligentsia was working out, from Jose Marti’s thoughtand Marxist viewpoints, an anti-colonial school of thought, more in keeping with our reality and with Third World problems than with Eurocentric ideological currents running on both sides of the Atlantic.

The magazine Pensamiento Critico (“Critical Thought”) and the excellent catalog of social science publications that the recently created Instituto del Libro (“Institute of the Book”) was already promoting also fulfilled and important role in this bold process that we would call “consciousness raising” or “cultural decolonization”, and to which, for sure, none of the famous instructional manuals recently imported from the USSR, could contribute anything.

The Havana Cultural Congress was held in January, 1968, with hundreds of intellectuals and artists from the world over participating, in a climate of revolutionary optimism which objectively, nonetheless, was reduced to its minimal expression because hardly two months earlier Che had died in Bolivia — an event that was frustrating the nascent continental emancipation project that had started gestating in 1959.

Meanwhile, the international prestige of Cuban culture had grown thanks to the professionalism and creativity of artists and writers, on the one hand, and the work of cohesion and dissemination accomplished by the Casa de las Americas and the ICAIC on the other; there was the vigorous presence of the cinema, ballet, graphic design, theater, music (with the nascent Nueva Trova), the Conjunto Folklorico, and literature (this last manifesting two emerging modalities: the testimonial/novel and the Narrative of Violence). Observing such a panorama anyone could have said, alluding to Avila’s diagnosis: “If all this is the product of a depoliticized intelligentsia, may God come and see it”.


I would like to conclude this here with the general scheme of prehistory — viewed from a more or less fair perspective, more or less distorted by a participant who, as is natural, tends to bring his own perspective — but I’m afraid the rodeo isn’t over yet. There are still factors, as it were, objective and subjective, national and international that have to be taken into account to get to the point afterwards. So I ask you, please, a little more patience.

What occurred with Out of the Game following its publication we now see as the early stages of the “Padilla case”. He continued living a more or less normal life and announced (I don’t know if he actually gave) a recital at UNEAC of the poems in a book in progress that would have the suggestive title Provocacions — don’t be dirty minded, I was alluding to Arnold Hauser’s observation in the sense that works of art are, justifiably, challenging invitations to dialogue.

In December of 1968 Padilla even had a skirmish with Cabrera Infante in which, upon rejecting his support, he accused him of being a “counterrevolutionary who intends to create a difficult situation for anyone who has not followed his same path”…[15].

Because of a character flaw, Padilla could not remain for long in second place; he took advantage of a survey conducted by El Caiman Barbudo (“The Bearded Caiman”) to attack the editors because they were interested in Urbino’s Passion, the recently published novel by Lisandro Otero, while at the same time belittling Three Trapped Tigers by Cabrera Infante.

Every so often we would hear it said that he was very active as an impromptu consultant to diplomats and foreign journalists travelling through Havana, whom he would instruct on most dissimilar subjects: the destiny of socialism, worldwide revolution, emerging Cuban literature…

And one fine day in April of 1971 we received lamentable rumors, which later were confirmed as fact: that he had been jailed — for three weeks, according to some, or for five, according to others — and that he was going to make some public statements at UNEAC.

These turned out to be a pathetic mea culpa and a hasty list of accusations against friends and acquaintances, both absent and present. Knowing Padilla as we knew him, knowing that his long experience as a press correspondent in Moscow had turned him into an incurable skeptic, it is difficult to believe that his statement — so reminiscent of the shameful “confessions” in the Moscow trials — was not designed as a coded message, aimed at his colleagues all over the world.

Be that as it may, what is certain is that the message, the self-fulfilling prophecy, arrived at its destination. But already days prior, at his arrest becoming known in Europe, the process had been initiated which on this side of the Atlantic would result in the First National Congress on Education and Culture [16].


In effect, on the 9 April 1971, there had appeared in a Paris daily, Le Monde, an open letter which various European and Latin American intellectuals were addressing to Fidel to express their alarm at the arrest, which they saw as a possible new outbreak of sectarianism on the island.

It was like entering the lion’s den without taking proper precautions. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that letter — and the unusual fact that among the signatories appeared Carolos Franque, now become zealous prosecutor of the Revolution — which precipitated the decision to convert the advertised First Congress on Education to First Congress on Education and Culture.This event took place in the conference rooms of the Habana Libre Hotel between April23-30.

In his closing address, Fidel would accuse as arrogant and overbearing those “bourgeois liberals”, instruments of cultural colonialism, that interfered in our internal affairs without the least notion of what our real problems were: the need to defend ourselves against imperialism, the obligation to attend to and provide for millions of children in the schools…

“One has to be completely crazy, infinitely unconscious,” he said, “disconnected from world reality” to think “that the problems of this country can be the problems of two or three lost sheep…”, or that someone, from Paris, London or Rome, could set themselves up as judge to dictate what we should do. Therefore, intellectuals of this type would never return here as judges in our literary competitions, nor as collaborators in our publications…[17]

Seen from the current perspective, this reaction might seem unmeasured, although consistent with a total policy of affirming national identity and sovereignty; in any case, what is certain is that the situation in its entirety marked a point of rupture or chilling between the Revolution and numerous European and Latin American intellectuals who up until then had considered themselves friends and fellow travelers [18].

It remains a representative document, as a revolutionary manifesto of that moment, which it certainly transcended to become a cultural manifesto of the Third World the essay by Retamar Caliban, written just two months after the closing of the Congress.

The country then was going through a period of accumulated tensions, among which stood out the death of Che, the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, which the Cuban government approved, although with much reticence,, the so-called Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 — a process perhaps premature, perhaps even unnecessary of the expropriation of small enterprises and private businesses — and the aborted [sugar cane] harvest of ’70 or the Harvest of the Ten Million [tons], that despite being “the biggest in our history,” as proclaimed by the newspapers, left the country exhausted.

Forced to undergo the imperialist economic blockage, in need of a stable market for its products, especially sugar, Cuba had to radically define its alliances. There occurred a major coming together with the Soviet Union and with the European socialist countries. In 1972 the country would join the Council of Mutual Economic Aid (CAME), which would structurally link our economy with that of the socialist camp.


From the Congress on Education and Culture emerged, with Luis Pavon Tamayo at the helm, a transformed CNC, none of whose directors, as far as I can recall, had any natural ties to the avant garde. The links of continuity had been carefully broken or at minimum reduced. Judging from their actions, the “pavonato” was just that: an attempt to dispute the power, or rather, to remove from power those groups that until then had imposed their predominance on the field of culture and that apparently were not, save a few exceptions, “politically trustworthy”.

The only ones saved, although with their faculties greatly reduced, were those who belonged to autonomous institutions headed by prestigious figures, such as those cases already referenced from La Casa de las Americas and the ICAIC.

We know that in this type of conflict not only are esthetic disagreements or personal phobias resolved but also, and perhaps above all, questions of power, of control of processes and of the hegemony of ideologies.

It is enough to cast a glance at the situation of the publishing houses, the theaters, the magazines, the galleries, the artistic spaces, in short of the promotion and dissemination of artistic and literary culture in the ’60s to realize those groups that we considered the avant garde were the ones who, directly or indirectly, controlled the most important of these.

An obtuse bureaucrat could opine whatever he wanted regarding Farraluque or the theater of the absurd, but Paradiso and La Soprano Calva (“The Bald Soprano”) were there, right at hand; he could reject pop or Death of a Bureaucrat, but Raul Martinez and Titon remained there, engrossed in new projects.

In 1970, to celebrate Lezama’s birthday, his 60th, there appeared in Bohemia a long interview (reproduced in Cuba Internacional), a complete testimonial record in La Gaceta de Cuba and the volume of his complete poems (including the dates) published by The Institute of the Book it collection Letra Cubanas (“Cuban Letters”) [19]. That is, there were tensions and disagreements, but things were not so simple: what the publishers and magazines published, what the galleries exhibited, what the theaters released, what the ICAIC filmed served to show who it was (those of us) who pulled the strings of the “cultural industry”, even to where our ideology became hegemonic, despite the rejection and suspicion of it among those professional ideologists whom we would charitably call the “guardians of doctrine” (headed by a high-level Party functionary who, according to rumors, was Pavon’s political godfather [20].

If I had to summarize in two words what happened, I would say that in ’71, to our detriment, the relative equilibrium that had favored us up to that point was broken and, with that, the consensus on which the political culture had been based.

It was a clear case of before and after: following a phase in which everything was consulted and discussed, although the parties might not always come to agreement, came that of authoritarian order: a political culture imposing itself by decree and other such means, of exclusions and marginalizations, converting the intellectual field into a moor (at least for those carriers of the virus of ideological diversionism and for the youth with proclivities towards extravagance, that is, fans of long hair, the Beatles and tight pants, as well as the Evangelicals and the scapularies).

We were all guilty, in effect, but some were more guilty than others, as could be seen in the case of the homosexuals. Upon them weighed not only suspicions of a political nature, but also scientific certainties, proceeding perhaps from some positivist manual from the late 19th century or from some precept of the Cultural Revolution in China: that homosexuality was a contagious disease, a type of leprosy incubated in classist societies, whose propagation it was necessary to try to impede while avoiding contact — not only physical, but even spiritual — of the infected with the most vulnerable sectors (in this case, the young).

As incredible as it may seem to us today — in effect, the sleep of reason engenders monsters — it is not preposterous to think that this was the foundation, let’s say theoretical, that served in ’71-’72 to establish the “parameters” applied in those high-risk sectors of labor, as were the teaching profession and, above all, the theater.

It had been concluded that the simple influence of the teacher or the actor over the adolescent student or spectator could be risky, which explains that in a commission of the Congress of Education and Culture, upon tackling the issue of the social environment’s influence over education, it should be determined that it was not “permissible that through artistic quality known homosexuals should gain a prestige that would influence the formation of our youth”. Even further: “The cultural media cannot frame the proliferation of false intellectuals who pretend to convert snobbism, extravagance and other social aberrations into expressions of revolutionary art…” [21]

In centers dedicated to teaching or the theater, those workers who would not meet the requirements or “parameters” that would qualify them as trustworthy individuals — that is, revolutionaries and heterosexuals — would be transferred to other workplaces.

The purification or “parametrification” process would be done under the strict oversight of an ad hoc commissioner known from then on in our circle as Torquesada (who not too long ago, incidentally, appeared on another television program, although not as an honored guest).

It will please you to know that although at that time there were still no Marielas equipped to speak with accuracy and wisdom, there were, of course, tribunals to enforce the law. Through their respective trade unions and sheltered by Labor Justice law, the parametrized appealed to the Supreme Tribunal and it determed — in a historic, unprecedented case — that the “parametification” was an unconstitutional measure and that the claimants should be indemnified. [22]

I need not add that to the prejudices regarding sexual conduct were added prejudices about intellectual conduct itself, especially because many members of the “lettered city” [translator’s note: “law degreed professionals”] conceived of their social mission in their capacity as judges, as society’s “critical consciences.”

We know that from ancient times, writing and related activities correspond to the particular conditioning of societies divided into classes and castes, and that, therefore, as much as possible must be done, starting with teaching people to read and write, to at least reduce the resulting inequities; but to pretend that these inequities can be abolished with the stroke of a pen and, even more, that the functions performed by intellectual and manual laborers are interchangeable, makes one think of demagogueries or absurdities.

I remember a journalist around that time who would go around to the cane fields of the country exclaiming, with sincere or fake enthusiasm, “You should write, machete-wielders!” I would have given anything to see their faces and imagine a possible reply: “And you come and cut sugar cane, you scoundrel!”… because manual laborers also have prejudices, which tend to come out when they sense demagoguery or moral duplicity.

From the old society we inherited, some or others of us, the notion that the majority of intellectuals and artists — at least those who do not engage in any truly gainful activities — are a class of “parasites”. That a guiding center of the culture should contribute to reinforcing this prejudice was an unforgivable show of pharisee-ism and incompetence.

In any case, the CNS had made clear that the “old ones” needed to be corralled, including those of us who by then were hardly even 40yrs old… but therefore anyway we were already contaminated, so that the cultural power could be ceded to the younger generation, with the intent of them utilizing that power through experienced and politically trustworthy teams.

Very quickly there became established throughout the country a network of “literary workshops” charged with developing the new writers and the Amateur Movement was frenetically pushed. It was what the country folk, at least from my era, would call “to temper with carbide”. Everyone was in a hurry and the relay could not fail.


I believe that at last –  at last! –we are able to broach the topic suggested by Desiderio as the point of departure for this debate. The mountain can now give birth to its mouse.

In the avalanche of e-mails that were arriving these past few days was one from the storyteller from Santiago, Jose M. Fernandez Pequeno — who today resides in Santo Domingo — who helps me specify exactly an important fact: when did I begin to use the name The Five Grey Years to designate this phenomenon that today we also call the pavonato?

“I believe I was present at the defining moment for the crystallization of the label Five Grey Years,” says Pequeno, evoking the Storytelling Congress that took place in Santiago de Cuba in November of 1980 (and with which materials, by the way, I prepared a pamphlet entitled Forecast for the 80s). In Pequeno’s opinion, it had to do with conjuring the memory of that “unfortunate period,” still so present, so that we could continue to “go forward and grow as persons and as writers. We had to trace a dividing line, and in that sense “I believe that the name served its purpose” [23].

I recall that I would drop it here and there, along the way, at meetings and congresses of UNEAC and the recently created Ministry of Culture, and I further recall that it produced varying reactions, of acceptance or rejection, per the labor background of the individuals with whom I was speaking. But the first time that I used the term in writing was in 1987, in a literary criticism text published in the Casa de las Americas magazine. It said, in discreet footnotes: “Bureaucratic tendencies in the cultural sphere that manifested during the Grey Five years […] note that I don’t define the meaning of the term, as if it went without saying — but the brakes on, but did impede the later development of the various literary trends”.

And further on: “The Grey Five Years, with its emphasis on the didactic, favored the development of the police novel and literature for children and adolescents” [24]. These were elements that objectively, in my judgement, contributed to the grayness of the era, because the “emphasis on the didactic” placed literary creation in a subordinate, ancillary position, where there was hardly any room for experimentation, play, introspection and formal research.

But here I should insert a parentheses so as not to commit the sin, as the adversary would, of being dogmatic and simplistic. Supported by some university chairs, the CNC had let it slip into the ear of the young writers the malicious suspicion that socialist realism was the esthetic of the Revolution, an esthetic that dared not speak its name, among other things because it was never officially adopted in any instance by the Party or the government [25].

And because not all were young and not all was under the control of the CNC and its apprentices, the Five Grey Years, as a moment in time, was also the era of publication or gestation of some master works of our novelistic literature, such as Concierto Barroco (“Baroque Concer”) by Carpentier, and El Pan Dormido (“The Dormant Bread”) by Soler Puig. It was a son of the latter, by the way — Rafael who sadly died in a car accident — who would announce by way of two books of stories, riding from one era to the other, that something new was happening in Cuban storytelling.

And at the end of the decade some young people — I’m quoting a commentary I made at the time — “actualized the discourse” of our storytelling reinserting it in the line of development of Latin American storytelling, what with how they prepared the way for the works of the ’80s to be born with the mark of “that rejuvenating urge, at the discursive as well as thematic level” [26].

That is, already by then the deleterious effects of that normative esthetic that had been so diligently promoted by the workshops and university chairs had started to evaporate. I will go so far as to say that in 1975 the pavonato, as a project of political culture, was in its final throes.

But it is true, as I believe, that the defining characteristic of this era is he binomial dogmatism/mediocrity, the loss of power could not signify its total disappearance, because mediocre and dogmatic individuals are everywhere and they tend to turn into diligent allies of those political corpses that even after death win battles.

I have no qualms in asking the forgiveness of so many comrades who, having personally suffered the pavonato’s abuses – the cruelest of which without doubt was their civil death as professionals, at times for prolonged periods – consider that the term. Five Grey Years not only is euphemistic but even offensive, because it minimizes the degree of the wrongs perpetrated and therefore decreases the responsibility of the guilty.

The majority of those comrades — not all of them “parametrized ones”, for sure, some simply “punished” for their ideological divergences, the ones that would be corrected by working hard en agriculture or industry — proposed the alternative Black Decade [27].

I respect their opinion, but I was referring to something else: to the cultural atmosphere that I have been describing, in which in addition there was bred a revolutionary fervor and what had been searched for and a passionate cause became goals to be met. If the indicators change, it follows that the chronological markers and the coloring should change as well. If instead of defining the pavonato by its mediocrity I define it by its malice, I would have to view it as a dangerous and grotesque phenomenon, because there is nothing more fearful than a dogmatist bent on redeeming and nothing more ridiculous than an ignoramus dictating lessons.

There are events of the period — including the final days of the period – that can be considered crimes of perverted culture and even of perverted patriotism, as was the veto that in 1974 was imposed on the publication in Cuba of Ese Sol del Mundo Moral (“That Sun of the Moral World”), by Cintio Vitier, a Jose Marti-based and Fidelist essay that explains like few others why the immense majority of Cubans are proud to be so. As good guardians of doctrine, the censors warned right away that it was not a Marxist vision of Cuban history. So it appeared in Mexico before it did here; in fact, here it took 20 years to be published, I don’t know if because of dogmatic inertias or of simple editorial laziness [28].

Perhaps never in our environment a sigh of relief so unanimous been heard as that produced before the television screens on the afternoon of the 30 of November of 1976 when, during the closing session of the National Assembly of Popular Power, it was announced that a Ministry of Culture would be created and that the minister would be Armando Hart.

I believe that Hart didn’t even expect to take this position to start to reunite with the people. Old and young. Militants and non-militants. He didn’t ask if one liked the Matamoros or the Beatles, if he appreciated realist painting more than abstract, if he preferred strawberry over chocolate or vice versa; what he asked was if one was willing to work.

I had the impression that the confidence that had been lost would be quickly reestablished and that consensus would again be possible. I remember remarking to my friend Agustin Pi — the legendary Dr. Pi — how surprising was that sudden change in atmosphere, and while I expected that he was going to speak to me of Hart’s impeccable revolutionary path or of his intellectual merits, I heard him say, with a vocabulary that already at that time had fallen into disuse , “It’s just that Hart is a decent person”.

I believe it was in that precise moment when I was absolutely certain that the confounded Five Years were truly a five year period and it had just ended. It’s not that the tensions definitely disappeared, those conflicts of opinion or of interests that never stop emerging in a living culture, rather that the relations were always of mutual respect and authentic interest in the normal development of our culture.

I appreciate your attention and your patience. I hope that my digressions have served at least to offer to the younger generation some information and a perspective that they surely lacked. I recognized that the information is still very general and the point of view very limited, but here I only aimed — abiding by Desiderio’s suggestion — to provide the framework for a possible debate.

I repeat that in my judgement our culture – today as much or perhaps more than ever – is a living thing. For reasons of age I tend to frequently evoke the past, but it is an exercise that I detest when it threatens to become an obsession. At times, speaking before foreign groups about our literary movement, I encounter individuals, mostly men, who insist on asking me only about events that happened 30 or 40 years ago, as if after the “Padilla case” or the exit of Arenas via Mariel nothing had occurred in our domain.

I call that type of curious person Philosophers of Delayed Time or Egyptologists of the Cuban Revolution. But in evoking the Five Grey Years I feel that we are headlong into something that not only concerns the present but also projects us firmly into the future, even were it only for what Santayana spoke about “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. That danger is precisely what we are trying here to avert.

Ambrosio Fornet

Havana, 30 January 2007

1. Sobre la dinámica intelectual del período, véase el recién publicado Polémicas culturales de los sesenta. Sel. y Pról. de Graziella Pogolotti. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2006
2. Cf. Miguel Sabater Reyes: “José Soler Puig fue mi amigo”, en Palabra Nueva, no. 157 (La Habana), noviembre de 2006, p. 54.
3. Virgilio Piñera: “Al señor Fidel Castro”, en: Diario libre, Sección Arte y Literatura (La Habana), 14 de marzo de 1959, p.2. (Se reproduce en Viaje a los frutos. Selección de Ana Cairo. La Habana, Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, 2006, p.58).
4. Ver Nota 12.
5. Refiriéndose a Aníbal Escalante, Secretario de Organización del PSP (y más tarde de las ORI), dijo Fidel: “Al triunfo de la Revolución, poseía gran autoridad, y desde ese cargo actúa prácticamente como jefe de su Partido. Era un hombre capaz, inteligente y buen organizador, pero con el arraigado hábito de filtrar y controlar todo a favor de su Partido.” Cien horas con Fidel. Conversaciones con Ignacio Ramonet. 2ª ed. La Habana, Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado, 2006, p. 249.
6. Mirta Aguirre: “Apuntes sobre la literatura y el arte”, en Cuba Socialista, octubre de 1963. (Se reproduce en Revolución, letras, arte. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1980, p.201.
7. Ibid., p.219. La autora, por supuesto (ver p. 215) descarta la posibilidad de imponer las nuevas ideas mediante la coacción o la violencia.
8. Alfredo Guevara: Revolución es lucidez. La Habana, Ediciones ICAIC, 1998, p.203.
9. El punto de vista del ICAIC fue expresado por Alfredo Guevara en “Las revoluciones no son paseos de rivieras”, entrevista de Wilfredo Cancio publicada en La Gaceta de Cuba en diciembre de 1992. (Se reproduce en Revolución es lucidez, ed. cit. supra, pp.88-90.)
10. Cf. Emilio Bejel: Escribir en Cuba. Entrevistas con escritores cubanos: 1979-1989. Río Piedras, Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1991. pp.155 y ss.
11. Fueron recogidos por Lourdes Casal en El caso Padilla: literatura y Revolución en Cuba (ver nota 15).
12. “Diez años de Revolución: el intelectual y la sociedad”, en Casa de las Américas, no. 56, sept.-oct., 1969; y Roque Dalton, René Depestre, Edmundo Desnoes, et. al.: El intelectual y la sociedad. México, Siglo XXI editores, 1969.
13. Sobre la polémica con Mundo Nuevo, ver Casa de las Américas, no. 39, nov.-dic., 1966. Ver también el exhaustivo estudio de María Eugenia Mudrovcic: “Mundo Nuevo”: Cultura y Guerra Fría en la década del 60. Rosario, Beatriz Viterbo, 1997.
14. Cf. Claudia Gilman: Entre la pluma y el fusil. Debates y dilemas del escritor revolucionario en América Latina. Buenos Aires, Siglo Veintiuno Editores Argentina, 2003.
15. Cf. Heberto Padilla: “Respuesta a Guillermo Cabrera Infante”, en revistas Índice (Madrid), dic. 1968, p. 9, y Primera Plana (Buenos Aires), no. 313, diciembre 24 1968, pp. 88-89. (Se reproduce en El caso Padilla: Literatura y Revolución en Cuba. Documentos. Sel., pról. y notas de Lourdes Casal. New York, Ediciones Nueva Atlántida/Miami, Ediciones Universal, s.f. En su introducción (pp.5-10) Casal hace un recuento de aquellos hechos y situaciones que, a su juicio, condujeron finalmente al “caso” estudiado.
16. La intervención de Padilla en la UNEAC puede verse en Casa de las Américas, no. 65-66, marzo-junio de 1971, pp. 191-203.
17. Cf. Fidel Castro: Discurso de clausura del Primer Congreso Nacional de Educación y Cultura, en Casa de las Américas, no. 65-66, marzo-junio de 1971.
18. La situación se agravó con una “Segunda carta”, de 20 de mayo de 1971. (Se reproduce en Lourdes Casal, El caso Padilla…, ed. cit. en nota 15, pp.123-124.
19. Véanse entrevista de Joaquín G. Santana, artículo de Benito Novás y textos de Lezama y bibliografía en Bohemia, 1º de enero de 1971, pp. 4-15¸ así como homenaje en La Gaceta (no. 88, diciembre de 1970) con textos de Armando Álvarez Bravo, Reinaldo Arenas, Miguel Barnet, Pablo Armando Fernández, Belkis Cuza, Reynaldo González y Rosa I. Boudet.
20. Y probablemente superior jerárquico en lo concerniente a la llamada “esfera de la ideología”.
21. Cf. “Declaración” del Primer Congreso Nacional de Educación y Cultura, en Casa de las Américas, no. 65-66, marzo-junio de 1971.
22. Por lo pronto, que debían abonárseles todos los salarios no percibidos desde su destitución hasta aquel momento.
23. José M. Fernández Pequeño: “Gris, gris, ¿el quinquenio gris?”. Mensaje electrónico del 18 de enero de 2007. (Agradezco a Aida Bahr –una de las organizadoras del Encuentro—la verificación de la fecha.)
24. Cf. A.F.: “Sobre Las iniciales de la tierra”, en Las máscaras del tiempo. La Habana, Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1995, pp. 56 (n.4) y 62 (n.12).
25. Por ejemplo, entre las Tesis y Resoluciones aprobadas por el Primer Congreso del PCC en 1975 no aparece una sola mención al realismo socialista, aunque numerosos pasajes reflejan la convicción de que es la ideología la que rige todo el proceso de producción y valoración de la obra de arte. Especialmente significativo es el pasaje en que se habla de “el nexo del arte socialista con la realidad” y “la cualidad del reflejo vivo y dinámico de que hablara Lenin” (en contraste con el realismo como copia fotográfica). No se olvide, por lo demás, que la condena del Che al realismo socialista, en El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba, fue categórica. (Cf. “Sobre la cultura artística y literaria”, en Tesis y Resoluciones del Primer Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba. La Habana, Depto. De Orientación Revolucionaria del PCC, 1976, pp. 467-510, y esp. 506.
26. Cf. A.F.: “Las máscaras del tiempo en la novela de la Revolución cubana”, en Las máscaras del tiempo, ed. cit., p. 29.
27. Si no me equivoco, el primero en hacerlo fue el poeta César López, entrevistado por Orlando Castellanos. Véase “Defender todo lo defendible, que es mucho”, La Gaceta de Cuba, marzo-abril de 1998, p. 29.
28. Cf. Cintio Vitier: Ese sol del mundo moral. Para una historia de la eticidad cubana. México, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1975. La edición cubana, de Ediciones Unión, apareció en 1995. El libro entró en el plan editorial de Ediciones Unión en 1987, pero diversos factores –entre ellos el inicio del Período Especial—aplazaron durante años la publicación.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

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Postcard from a Journey (3) / Regina Coyula

Nuevitas is my third and last stop on this whirlwind of a trip. The Santiago/Nuevitas journey takes eight hours, two of them in the 16-kilometer stretch between Manatí and Camalote. My trip is the next to last before this itinerary is suspended, pending the repair of the roadway. A passenger who appears to be a regular suggests making the round through Guáimaro, but the driver informs him that around there the roadway is worse. The news spreads through the bus, almost all the passengers know each other and the crew, complaints are heard, but there is nothing to be done.

It is a monotonous journey, a plain copped with trees — and notice I say trees — of the marabou weed variety. I see cows, the only ones during the whole trip; a slender herd, beige spots against the green pasture.

I’m startled by the ghost of the Free Algeria sugar mill in old Manatí. Some rickety structures and two chimneys testify to it. I grew up hearing the phrase “without sugar there is no country,” it was something so understood that to bump up against the ruins of the industry that gave us the title of “the sugar bowl of the world,” inevitably causes me to think of who bears the responsibility for a disaster of such proportions.

Nuevitas, seaport… I don’t manage to distinguish the port, the nitrogenized fertilizer factory releases a yellow smoke and there is threat of a rainstorm. The cloud cover is refreshing, there are no trees; Nuevitas is an industrial city, irregular but monotonous. The “mini train” is the substitute for the bus, an open wagon thrown over a tractor, horse-drawn carriage and bicycle-taxis.

An unexpected event turns out to be amusing. My visit coincides with the police citation given to the lawyers of the Cuban Law Association. A man wearing a cap and dark glasses take photos of us, to which I return the gesture, which disconcerts him, causes him to cross the street quickly and disappear from sight.

It’s almost 4 pm and I’m dying for breakfast. The only restaurant in the city is Nuevimar, where we are the only diners besieged by a legion of flies. The water in the glass looks cloudy and tastes bad. The service is slow, I’m hungry but also apprehensive. I make up for all this in a privately-run bakery that features a varied selection. I’ve had no coffee, and the deprivation is giving me a headache.

The lawyers are very sorry for the unexpected police intrusion; I’m exhausted, sleep-deprived, having traveled more than 19 hours in less than three days; and the trip to Havana is still ahead and due to my lack of experience I’m going to be cold in the Chinese-made Yutong bus. So, I prefer to sleep a little in the bus and train station until the 7pm departure of the bus.

From the window I manage to see a bit of the coast, I don’t see a port nor ships. Nuevitas reminds me a little of Cojímar, but without the charm of Cojímar.

I arrive in Havana at 5 in the morning. A boatman asks me for 7 CUC to take me, then reduces the fee when I threaten to find another taxi. At 5:30 I’m already at home, sleeping.

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Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

2 July 2014

Sarasota / Rebeca Monzo

Map of the Ringling Complex.

I still remember with much fondness the circuses of my childhood, but above all the marvelous and spectacular Ringling Brothers, that would arrive in our country in December — in the early days encamping in the old Sports Palace on Paseo and Primera streets, facing the sea — and later, towards the end of the 1950s, in the then-resplendent Sports City.

Carmen, punctual as is her wont, came to get me at 5am so that we could go together to the meeting place from which the bus would depart that would take us from Miami to Sarasota. We were the first to arrive, even before the bus, because we are both like that, super-careful in meeting our commitments. Little by little the other tourists began arriving until the full group was assembled.

The tour guide was a “cubanaza*”- very amusing and active, with a great love of the arts – who specializes in putting together these types of excursions, all with a cultural purpose. And so, between storytelling, laughs and songs – including interesting raffles of books and small paintings created by some of the tour participants, among whom were writers, a poet and even a painter – we made this long trip which turned out to be most pleasant.

Arriving in Sarasota, the tour personnel provided us with ID wristbands and maps of this lovely place, so that each person could choose their companions and where to begin their journey through this grand cultural complex, a major attraction and pride of this city, which has been converted from the mansion, art gallery, theater and other property that belonged to the family of John and Mable Ringling, which they bequeathed as a heritage legacy, and which since 2000 has been under the guardianship of Florida State University.

Everything, absolutely everything, impressed me because of its grandeur and splendor, but what most amazed me, owing to its magnitude and level of detail, was the impressive scale model of the great circus industry that gave life to this family empire, whose spectacles I enjoyed every winter in my beloved Havana, up until 1959.

The family mansion, called “Cad ´Zan” by its owners — which in the Venetian dialect means “John’s house” — was built by the architect Dwight James Baum in 1924, in the Venetian baroque style, impressive for its luxury and excellent state of preservation.

Another great attraction is the Museum of Art which displays collections of the most famous European painters: El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez, Veronese, Gainsborough, and other great masters. The building is surrounded by splendid gardens, where the sculptures look to be enjoying the marvelous surroundings. We also visited the Asolo Theater, built in 1798, dismantled and transported from Italy to be added to the Ringling complex in 1948, becoming the only 18th century theater in the United States of America.

We returned well into the evening, satisfied and exhausted from so much walking and enjoyment of this well-organized and enjoyable excursion to one of the most interesting corners of this beautiful State of Florida.

*Translator’s note: “Cubanaza(o)” can be said to be a sort of “super Cuban” – someone who is almost a caricature of the Cuban style of speech, mannerisms, attitudes, etc. The term as used by a fellow Cuban to refer to another is often – as in this case – one of endearment.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 May 2014

Not Everything About a Cuban Athlete is Worthwhile / Ivan Garcia

Photo: Taken from "Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers," published in LA Magazine.

There have been so many escapes by Cuban baseball players and boxers that they have stopped being news. The stories behind some of these defections could make a Hollywood script.

From the late-90’s land and sea odyssey of Havana pitcher Orlando “Duque” Hernandez, who signed with the New York Yankees, to the unusual escape of the fabulous shortstop Rey Ordóñez, who jumped over a wall during his team’s warmup in a tournament in Buffalo, New York, in 1993.

Within the plot of an escape there is a blend of diverse ingredients. There’s a bit of everything:  human traffickers, drug cartels, and sports scouts.

Some rafter-ballplayers have tried escaping several times. When caught, they opt for the mea culpa traditional in authoritarian societies. continue reading

There is talk of repealing the embargo barriers that keep Cuban athletes from competing in ball clubs in the United States. But let’s not be naive. The olive-green autocracy loves to play the role of victim.

Before discussing whether Major League Baseball or the professional boxing associations should review their policies for hiring Cuban athletes, the regime should be required to give financial freedom to the athletes.

Let everyone choose their own representative. And set a tax rate similar to that of other nations. It is hard to accuse the team owners of using their athletes as merchandise when the state is doing the same thing.

Even more embarrassing: until last year, coaches and athletes with foreign contracts only received 15% of the money they earned.

Now the state is trying to negotiate with the Major League owners, because the contracts of Cuban ballplayers totalling more than $600 million is a good excuse for fattening its bank accounts.

People in Cuba enthusiastically follow the performance of Pito Abreu or Dayán Viciedo, who started the season with hot bats. Abreu, the home run leader with 10, stokes the dreams of Creole fans.

Fans on this side of the straits want to have a home-run version of the Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera or the Dominican Papi Ortiz. And they believe this man’s last name is Abreu. But the passion goes beyond sport.

There is currently an issue inspiring debate in every corner of Cuba. Many do not approve of the alleged accusations used by Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig to camouflage their future intentions.

This human damage caused by the revolution of Fidel Castro, of encouraging anonymous reports, tip-offs, and confessions, is a clear sign of the ethical and moral decline in society today.

Some Cubans would betray their mother for a trip abroad, a government apartment, or a vacation on the beach. As with lab rats, regime officials used the bait of “prizes” to divide.

Some local athletes, on their way to stardom in foreign clubs, have left people in jail, accused of promoting the “defection of athletes.” This conduct cannot be justified by the reprehensible behavior of a segment of human beings who climb to high position by trampling on corpses.

It is always sad when our sports idols act so miserably. I sincerely hope that Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman can prove their innocence.

We all make mistakes. But some faults can cause reputations to suffer. One of them is betrayal.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from “Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers,” published in LA Magazine.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 May 2014