Fifty Year Anniversary of the Lyric Theatre / Miguel Iturria Savon #Cuba

After wrapping up its jubilee year with a program of operas, operettas and zarzuelas of enormous dramatic and musical impact, the National Lyric Theater of Cuba offered three festive events in theGarcía Lorca Hall of the Gran Teatrode la Habana on the weekend of September 14 to 16 to honor the founders and artists who, since 1962, have promoted the lyrical arts, whose beginnings on the island date back to the early 19th century, and especially to 1838 and the TeatroTacón, the current headquarters of the Gran Teatro of Havana (GTH).

Genre notables and representatives of institutions such as the Ballet Nacional and the Opera and Orquesta Sinfónica of GTH appeared each day on the stage to receive diplomas and flowers, awarded by Maestro Alberto Méndez, choreographer and artistic director, and Eduardo Díaz, musical director and the new company director, who was in charge of the gala event, which staged selected segments of Cuban and Universal works brought to the stage during the fifty years of the Lyric Theatre.

Contrasting the cast of young talent there with the outstanding singers, actors, writers and assistants before them in works such as La Traviata, the Magic Flute, the Pharaoh’s Court, or Cecilia Valdés, Amalia Batista and María la O by Cuban artists Gonzalo Roig, Rodrigo Prat and Ernesto Lecuona, respectively; all of these works were reintroduced during the jubilee year.

In the final evening the public applauded classic works by G. Verdi such as Va, Pensiero performed by the Lyrical Chorus; followed by La Donna é Mobile, interpreted by the young tenors Saheed Mohamed, Bryan López and Ernesto Cabrera; the Gran Duo from Cecilia sung by Katia Selva and S. Mohamed; El Cabildo by Lecuona performed by the Lyric Chorus and JJ, the Traditional Dance company; Septimino, from the Merry Widow performed by Milagros de los Angeles, Lili Hernandez, Javier Ojanguren, Junier Estrada, Rey Reyes, Eleonor Cuello, Dayron Peralta and Ian Sánchez.

The program included the Sextet composed by G. Donizetti for Lucía de Lammermoor, P. Mascagni’s Cavallería Rusticana Intermezzo; The Gypsy and bullfighter choral arrangement from La Traviata performed by the Irene Rodríguez Company; also the quartet and the Vals de Musetta, both from Puccini’s La Boheme; the Mazurka of the Parasols, La Romanza from María la O, the duet from the first act of Madame Butterfly, and the triumphant March from Aida, interpreted by the Chorus and the soloists of the Lyric Theatre and choreographed by the Ballet de la Televisión and the other companies already mentioned.

The spectacle, sober and elegant, with minimal use of props, relied on the vocal virtuosity of various performers, the excellent music conducted by Eduardo Díaz and Giovanni Duarte, the choreography of Cristy Domínguez, Johannes García and Alberto Méndez; the effective light design by Carlos Hernández and the choral direction of Catalina Ayón and Denisse Falcón.

According to musicologist Vázquez Millares, the National Lyric Theatre of Cuba reestablshes Havana as the “Philharmonic Capital of the New World”, an operatic tradition of more than 250 years. Its first performance was the Spanish zarzuela Luisa Fernanda by Moreno Torralba, conducted by Maestro Felix Guerrero and Miguel de Grandy and performed by the founding artists of the company. Since its inception, it has staged more than 70 works, among them Italian, French, German, Polish, and Cuban operas, Spanish and Cuban operettas and zarzuelas, many performed in European and American cities and provincial theatres across the island.

Translated by: Marina Villa

September 20 2012

The Sad Centenary of Virgilio Pinera Part III / Angel Santiesteban #Cuba

Most intellectuals and readers agree the first book that managed to provide deep insights about the writer’s life was Virgilio Piñera en persona (Virgilio Piñera in person), an excellent compilation prepared by the critic and researcher Carlos Espinosa. It started to build the pedestal to the work of theintellectual Virgilio. In these pages his family, friends and colleagues speak, and we are able to delve into the soul of the poet.

The book, as we read it, breaks down the dark parallels that remain hidden in the memories of the readers, allowing us to unveil that secret and mysterious universe of the writer’s life.

Since the beginning of the “revolution” he was harassed by machismo and then, by homophobia and envy, that which socialism knows best how to harvest. A morning in 1962, as always, he went out to buy bread with two of his friends. At the entrance to the store, a soldier, suspecting they were threeeffeminates, sent them as delinquents to the police station in Guanabo, and later they were transported in a truck full of prostitutes, pimps and homosexuals, to the Castillo del Principe. At the first chance he called Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and at once Guillermo contacted Carlos Franqui, who in turn suggested talking with Edith García Buchaca, who had some pull in the arts and who was the wife of Carlos Rafael Rodriguez.

Trip to Hell

That night Virgilio remained imprisoned at the Príncipe, in all he was there for more than thirty hours in that hell surrounded by common prisoners. His friends were waiting for his release at Guillermo Cabrera’s house, when he arrived, worn out and battered, without sleep, he started to sob. That night after confirming he had a lot of “fear” – a word that would follow him for the rest of his life – he stayed in Cabrera Infante’s house. That fear later would become terror when he was called to Villa Marista, State Security’s Headquarters, where they told him that his influence on the young was damaging, therefore he was forbidden to have contact with them. From that moment he could no longer get over that state of panic that would follow him until the day of his death.

After that he didn’t want to return to his house in Guanabo. The terror of repeating those experiences was too much for him. In the 70’s came the “Five Grey Years, as they would later be called, but at that moment it was known as “el pavonato” — “the showing-off years” — in honor of that sinister person who managed the arts through revolutionary homophobia, directly controlled by Fidel Castro himself, the homophobe-in-chief. The entire system came down hard on all artists to accomplish what that generation would call: the instruments.

State Security accomplishes its goal: forbidding his creativity

In a letter from 1977, when he was almost 65 years old, he said:

(…) “What it is, dear, is that I don’t have a desire to write, about anything nor to anyone. My life is at an end, I’ve fought a lot, and I’m tired of fighting. I let myself go, that’s all. The days are like drops of water (…) nothing to do with the Theatre. Reading very little (…) no magazines at all. Total literary misinformation (…) tell them that I don’t write to them because I’ve severed my communication with the outside world (…) And that’s what life had in store for me. Death is all that remains, and contemplating old photos of youthful times (…) about this Proust already said it all in the time retrouvé, in that mortal and immortal dance in the house of the prince of Guermantes. Tell them that some days ago the last serving tray (blue) from those wonderful days in the house in Guanabo broke. I think now, and I’m certain that that truly was the life. I thought (how naive!) that we would live there until the end of our days, and there we would grow old with dignity and peace, with the rhythmic cadence you feel when the days remaining are so pleasurable that they cover you with a protective shroud of vitality. But all of that crashed, in the same manner as the sound of the trumpets which are said to mark the final judgement.”

These words from Virgilio encapsulate his absolute censorship, the sadness that ailed him, all the cultural works we lost as a nation. The creative energy of that generation was held hostage against the sacrificial wall. At that time it was impossible to find a work by Virgilio in any bookstore. It was completely prohibited. They hoped to make him a forgotten writer, erase him from Cuban literature. He suffered relentlessly during all of those years, through the months, days and hours, minute by minute, without being able to appease the pain caused by those who defamed him.

He did not accept any ethical compromise

Abilio Estévez says that the first thing he found out about Virgilio was that everything to him was profane except for literature, and he kept that moral without reproach. Virgilio taught him the writer’s code of ethics, the importance of writing well, and not to be partisan (in an economic or political sense). He demonstrated how important freedom is to a writer, and that freedom meant, above all, to be true to oneself.

And knowing this, he abandoned that censored existence. What those who persecuted him did not know is what he one day said to Abilio: “I’m immortal.” The news of his death was reported, ironically, in the newspaper Rebellious Youth, and the news was released after his burial, likely to avoid any type of gathering of intellectuals and admirers to pay homage.

One time he said to his nephew “How unjust they’ve been with me.” Not being allowed to publish or introduce his works was his worse punishment. Now, those who censored him are punished through the publication of his complete works. Some, particularly those from the 70s, will certainly say that’s enough because they conform with the few who never dreamed.

In contrast, my generation wants everything, not just for us, but also for the Cuban people: we want the freedom and dignity that Virgilio Piñera needed to be able to breathe and create.

Translated by: Enrique, @Hachhe, Marina Villa

September 25 2012

Silver Invitation / Regina Coyula #Cuba


As has been my custom, yesterday I went to “Last Thursday,” the space of the magazine Temas (Themes). The theme of Temas was quite attractive to me: Internet, social networks, culture. I arrive late so I missed the presentation of the invited guests, among whom I recognized Iroel Sanchez, former president of the Cuban Book Institute, and Rosa Miriam Elizade, director of the portal Cubadebate. Those I didn’t know turned out to be the blogger Paquito from De Cuba; Milena, I believe from Cubarte; and Juan, professor at UCI (University of Information Sciences); they didn’t say their last names. I concentrated on those I didn’t know, because those I did know couldn’t surprise me.

Paquito and Milena struck me as interesting and inclusive. Paquito loosened up quite a bit to improve the image of the press, which everyone there knew to be horrible. Juan, the professor at UCI, very informative, but his opinions were a tribute to the Cold War. I listened to him reiterate the premise of the political character of the internet representing special interests, but mostly about its creators, and I could not stop thinking of the political activism in official cyber pages and blogs, and all the cyber activity against capitalism that’s posted worldwide. He concluded with the endorsement of the status quo, somewhat out of tune with the mostly young audience which he tried to convince that the intranet was as good as the internet; so much so, that Rafael Hernández, who functioned as moderator, issued menacing words to stop the ensuing harassment.

As often happens in venues where the public has the opportunity to use the microphone, a few like to show off their wisdom, (or what some might interpret as wisdom). Others are happy to hear themselves talk, since they were not paying attention and asked questions that had already been answered.

Not everyone asked to speak in order to waste the two hours scheduled for the venue. Enrique Vega, student of Pedagogy explained that our society is technologically outdated and out of touch, and how can the gap be addressed; Antonio Rodiles from “Estado de SATS” approached the topic of freedom in terms of our poor connectivity and discouragement of usage; Luis Rondón LGBT activist, asked how we can pretend to prepare our society for the internet without the use of the internet; Harold Cárdenas, one of the administrators of the retired blog Cuban Youth (La Joven Cuba), asked when will the debates are going to move from the virtual to the real.

When it was about to get truly interesting, the time expired. While the topic was social networks and culture, the question of the twenty-four thousand pesos surfaced: And what about the Cable?

Translated by: Marina Villa

November 30 2012

Turbulent Phenomenons / Rosa Maria Rodriguez Torrado #Cuba

Found in “Wikipedia Kiwix”

How much does a portable radio cost in Cuba?

It is known that during the first days of November the Eastern Cuban provinces suffered from the passing of hurricane Sandy, and that despite its pretty name, it was a destructive meteorological phenomenon that resulted in more than 10 deaths and multimillion material damages.

It will remain in the memory of the eastern province residents as a cyclone that could have crossed those provinces “as a mere meteorological tantrum”, but due to the general poverty of the area, the humiliating and infinitely bad roof tiles — made of cardboard, asphalt, and sand — used as permanent cover, many zinc rooftops and roofs held down “by the goodwill of God”, rusted by the passage of time, in addition to intense rain and floods, created a unique condition that destroyed, due to this Belcebú hurricane, the puny material possessions of many in the region.

We don’t know if most of the damage happened because when they cut electricity due to the high winds nobody coud use a radio receptor to find out the path of the tropical phenomenon, and if those who did have radio receptors, had batteries to make them functional; or perhaps the civil defense did not function with the usual swiftness and order. It caught my attention that the interviews of the local and provincial authorities, conducted during those days, reported that many families evacuated on their own (auto-evacuated?) to houses of families and friends. I don’t know if that was true, if it was guided from the capital, or if it was an easy way out that the local authorities adopted to save fuel. If that was it, where did the saved fuel go?

A few years ago, my mother and I discovered in a neighborhood store a portable radio, no taller than 10 centimeters, selling for 90 CUCs – hard Cuban currency, not the same as the currency used to pay Cuban workers. Some time afterwards, the dollar market was invaded with Chinese radio receptors at $10 which required batteries, solar and rechargeable — the most commonly used one — but they only lasted as long as it took to charge them.

We hope the state believes the people regarding this situation in order to be prepared, individually and collectively, for another phenomenon of this kind, thereby minimizing impact and damages, so that among the hurt and the sarcasm there will be no need to paraphrase the song of the Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra:hope that radios rain down on the Cuban fields.

Translated by: Marina Villa

November 27 2012

Interview with a State Security Official / Anddy Sierra Alvarez #Cuba

At 2:00 PM on November 22, 2012, I was interviewed at the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) Capri Station, located in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality of Havana, with the Lieutenant called “Junior” from Department 21 (the State Security department that deals with dissidents).

The interview began after 20 minutes since he could not find a place to hold it:

Official: (He introduced himself as a Department of State Security (DSE) official but did not show identification, and began)

What has motivated you to do these types of things? I believe it’s probably due to something that happened in your past, such as losing in sports, or due to the time you were assaulted and not fairly treated.

Interviewee: That was in the past, it no longer interests me.

Official: How did you find out about the course in journalism from the United States Interests Section (SINA)?

Interviewee: Well, I don’t remember well, but I think that since 2009 I was in CAPF (Commission of Attention to Prisoners and Relatives), and visiting the embassy I found out about the course.

Official: I did not know that you were from CAPF, why do you write blogs? referring to everything published that is true and not invented.

The official continues to ask me why I’m writing blogs because it is not in line with my character. You have nothing in common with those people, you are a professional, he says.

Interviewee: I’m not the only professional, Miriam Celaya, Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and many others.

Official: Yes, but there are only a few.

Interviewee: That’s what you say.

Official: Tell me what you intend to change with what you are doing?

Interviewee: Everything that’s wrong. Explain to me why is Estaban Lazo in charge after he had the problem with the pig farm in Oriente.”Nothing happened because the people  were not made aware of the situation and instead of being ousted, he was promoted”. You profess that children in Cuba do not go hungry and if you go to Lumumba there are children there who go to bed with bread in their stomachs but don’t have shoes to wear to school. If this is a free country why is there no freedom of expression?

Official: Well, freedom of expression is relative all around the world. If you watch the news you see protesters suppressed with tear gas and beatings. Here we don’t do that.

Interviewee: So why was Rodiles kicked on the floor?

Official: In reality it did not happen that way. Rodiles resisted arrest.

Interviewee: But that did not warrant being brutally beaten.

Official: What happens is that sometimes, due to insufficient police training, some errors are made. That’s why we are always there to make sure nothing happens. However, department 21 does not look after people like Rodiles, it is department 3.

Interviewee: Then you don’t need to look after me.

Official: Yes, you are from CAPF

Interviewee: I was.

Well, now you know what I think. Tell me, what motivates you to be an official?

Official: Well, “that none of the hungry children in the world are Cuban, that none of the illiterate people in the world are Cuban, that education is free, that violence in Cuba is minute compared to the world index,” he said.

Interviewee: So you are the one that takes care of me.

Official: Yes, since you graduated from the course on journalism.

Interviewee: Then if something happens, I’ll come to look for you.

Official: Yes, you tell them to find the Official Junior from 21 and that’s it. Keep in mind that how the situation evolves depends on you. We are here to maintain a dialogue, not to confront. That depends on you. I don’t wish to call you some day to say, look, what you published here is a lie because I saw that person, “this, this, and this are lies”.

Interviewee: Look, the first time that I was taken prisoner to the Unidad jail in Lisa (Havana municipality), I was interviewed by a young lieutenant like you whose name was Marcos, and he said I was making fun of him, and that he was going to hit me. What would have happened if he had hit me?

Official: You would have been in a fight.

Interviewee: No, if I defend myself by hitting him in the head with the chair, what would have happened given that I did not start the fight? “They would have accused me of disobeying the authorities and other things.” Who would have lost? Me.

Official: Stop, I hope that when I send you a citation, you’ll come.

Interviewee: No, I hope this is the last encounter, why come back to you now that you know what I think.

Official: We need to continue to meet because we must talk about other things, and also one day I’ll tell you not to go to Estado de Sats — to make an example of you, if you go I’ll put you in prison. “I hope that when we talk man to man you’ll have the decency to do what I say.”

Interviewee: Well, if you know that Yoani works for the CIA why don’t you jail her?  What’s published in the newspapers and broadcast on television must be lies since you don’t arrest her, only a way to defame her so that people stay away from her.

Official: I don’t like to talk about people when they are not present, but Yoani is a mercenery. If you don’t know what that means, it means “people who are paid to serve the interest of a foreign country.”

Interviewee: Well in regard to the citations, send them personally to me, don’t go through my mother. If you do, I will not come. That’s personal.

Official: The reason is that you need to be at home but yet you stay elsewhere.

Interviewee: I have rights, don’t I?

Official: Tell me the number of your house.

Interviewee: I don’t remember the number. There are three houses with the same address.

Official: Which is it? The first, second, or third?

Interviewee: The second one

Official: The one with hibiscus on the fence.

Interviewee: All the fences there have hibiscus.

Official: Then what’s the color of the house.

Interviewee: Yellow.

Official: Is it the only one of the three that’s yellow?

Interviewee: Yes

Official: The name of your girlfriend I think is a name of an older person: Caridad, María, Carmen. I have it written with the first surname, I don’t have her last surname, so that I can look for her address and give you the citation personally.

Interviewee: OK

Official: What’s her last surname?

Interviewee: What’s her first surname?

Official: I don’t remember. I have everything written down, but I can’t remember everything.

Interviewee: Caridad is her name. Last surname is Torres.

After two hours of conversation he told me I could go.

Translated by: Marina Villa

November 26 2012

Fiftieth Anniversary of the Missile Crisis / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Image from “”

The final days of that October were grim. At the beach, the rough seas spilled over the sand blowing in the wind. The militia dug trenches, so close to the coast, that their walls caved in. Guanabo was desolate, more so than normal for that time of year, and the locals who stayed after the evacuation of the last few hours did not understand the magnitude of the drama that was evolving in our archipelago. The Cuban rRevolution, the one that claimed to the world that it was so pure, independent and mighty like the palm trees, had just been undressed by the spy planes from North America. The photos of soviet specialists secretly installing the nuclear missiles around the island were seen by the entire world.Fifty years have passed since that monumetal blunder that placed humanity in the fringes of a nuclear hell. Now that there is only a handful of the principle actors of that crisis left, we ask ourselves who really gained anything, and who lost. The answer, coincidentally, is in the published text from Fidel Castro on October 21, 2012 at 10:12a.m. “When Kruschev proposed to install mid range projectile missiles similar to those installed in Turkey by the United States — in the need for solidarity, Cuba did not hesitate to take the risk. Our conduct was pure and ethical. We will never ask for forgiveness from anyone for what we did. It is true that half a century has passed, and we are still here holding our heads up high.”

It was not important then that Cuba was not at all consulted in the dialogue between the United States and the USSR which resolved the conflict. Nor that the Cuban authorities, which are the same as today, found out via the shortwave transmission in Radio Moscow the decisions that had been made. It did seem to bother some when the newspaper Revolución, the official  paper predecessor of the Granma, published the headers: “The USSR orders the removal of missiles from Cuba”. Today the world around us is different, it has changed: the Soviet Union no longer exists. The cold war ended. The missile crisis is history. But, for Cuba there are still remnants of those days; because, lamentable but true, after half a century of economic, political and social disaster, they are still here.

 Translated by: Marina Villa

October 24 2012