‘Bring Your Own Power’ – The Cuban Art Factory Rebels Against Government Power Cuts

People queue up at the entrance of the cultural centre The Cuban Art Factory (FAC) at its reopening in 2022. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 October 2023 – The Cuban Art Factory (FAC) has rebelled against the decisions of the two Ministries of Energy & Mining and of Culture. In the face of energy shortages the government imposed an energy plan, which in practice implied that they would have to close, but the centre refused and asked their loyal followers to ’bring their own energy’ to support them.

“Our cultural and social commitment motivates us to re-invent the working structure of the institution to avoid the closure of FAC for the time being. For this reason we are announcing that The Cuban Art Factory will keep its doors open whilst looking for creative solutions that won’t affect the National Grid” (SEN), the centre explained via social media on Saturday.

Signed by its founder and the rest of the team – the musician X Alfonso and the FacinBand – the message explained that they reopened on 5 October (after a month’s programmed closure) with an energy allocation reduced by 80%. Because of this, the consequence would be that they could only open for two days a month instead of the previous 16 (Thursday to Sunday).

“We are aware of the energy situation in Cuba and consequently we have accepted the energy-saving plan established for the state sector, limiting energy use as much as we can in our offices and other FAC spaces, in order to contribute to the reasonable use of the country’s energy resources”, they explain. continue reading

FAC rejects SEN’s energy allocation and says it will keep its doors open with the help of audiences, artistes and any followers from all parts of the country who wish to contribute

In its post the institution defends its position, being as it is the foremost cultural centre on the island – having more than 300 concerts, 70 exhibitions, 60 dance performances, 40 theatre shows, 40 fashion shows, as well as a long list of social actions to its name. “And this is at an affordable ticket price of only 250 CUP, when general access to art in Cuba is increasingly expensive and real experiences of genuine art are becoming pretty scarce”.

FAC rejects SEN’s energy allocation and says it will keep its doors open with the help of audiences, artistes and any followers from all parts of the country who wish to contribute. “Considering the impact of the arts and culture on a society that needs hope and beauty in order to carry on resisting, we feel we have to find creative solutions, without having to create additional burdens”, says the text.

On Saturday, according to the announcement, FAC opened up, having power only from its own generators, plus some lanterns and the light from more than 300 phones of its workers, “who, if FAC were to close, would become unemployed”, the text emphasises, in words which are almost taboo for Cuban officialdom.

“The way we’re going there’ll be no need to shut them up because they won’t have any electricity to operate their motormouths”

“Bring your own light and join us in this adventure for keeping FAC’s heart beating!” they ask.

The resulting torrent of commentary over the whole weekend has been intense. FAC, situated in Calle 26, El Vedado, has become a central point of reference for Havana culture; it is also very much frequented by tourists. In 2019 Time magazine included it in a list of the 100 best venues in the world.

The venue first opened in 2014, in the ruins of a former oil-manufacturing company. Today it occupies two floors, with exhibition areas for photography, design and architecture; a cinema and a theatre; dance studios; bars; a cafe and a restaurant offering international cuisine.

After the long hiccup of the pandemic it reopened its doors in April 2022 using the Cuban Peso as official currency. And in spite of inflation it managed to maintain its previous entry price at 250 CUP.

Many commentators have made enthusiastic proposals for organising the purchase of solar panels for the building, although it would need a huge amount of them, much more than the installation of “torches”, as one contributor suggests. Just maintaining an adequate temperature can be very difficult with a deficit of energy, and on the whole such a project would seem unviable.

Other commentators think the whole thing is just the last straw and they satirise the situation: “If they’re wanting to shut the FAC, tell them to all just shut up”, says one, while another replies: “The way we’re going there’ll be no need to shut them up because they won’t have any electricity to operate their motormouths”.

In a city whose nightlife is increasingly limited by energy problems, an exodus of artistes and a deterioration of entertainment venues, FAC has become one of the last options available for the younger people. Its diverse programme, its numerous spaces and its very location all attract a heterogeneous public hungry for culture.

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

Political Curators in the Cuban Regime Rehabilitate Italo Calvino on his Centenary

Calvino can only be a Cuban ’by force’, which is bad news for Havana and for its friends in the Italian Embassy. (Goodreads)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 15 October 2023 – No one would have guessed that publishing Italo Calvino in Cuba – where an ’absolute freeze’ on his books was declared in 1971 – was going to become a coin of diplomatic currency between Rome and Havana. Scholars and ambassadors, aficionados and bureaucrats, teachers, critics and drowsy leaders are getting together at the moment to celebrate the centenary of the writer – who perhaps would be amused to see just how elastic is memory for the censor, over there in the tropics.

This ’witches coven’ is anything but harmless. Culture – or that which the regime thinks is culture, through much filtering and editing – is one of the ways it tries to convince Europe that some civility remains on the island, and that the Italian embassy’s money can be used to print books, although in microscopic print runs – books which were prohibited in earlier times. To rehabilitate the author, those who once buried him alive – for having defended Herberto Padilla after his arrest by State Security – are now insisting on his origins. Born in Santiago de las Vegas (Havana) in 1923 and married in Havana in 1964 to the Argentinian Esther Singer, Calvino couldn’t be anything else – they argue – than a lost Cuban destiny, or just an Italian by mistake.

Italo’s parents, Mario Calvino and Eva Mameli, moved to the island in 1917, during the period of the Mario García Menocal government. Their house – where their son was born – is today the headquarters of the Institute of Fundamental Investigation into Tropical Agriculture and it keeps a small, almost unspoilt, archive of the family, for the studious.

Calvino’s birthplace in Havana, currently the headquarters of the Institute of Fundamental Investigation into Tropical Agriculture. (Facebook)

Occasionally Menocal and Mario Calvino exchanged letters: “This tree, which is in such poor condition and is little appreciated by those who wait for it to bear fruit – I’d like to see whether you can manage to help it get its vitality back and produce what the country rightly expects it to. Here, they give you a hatchet to do the job. Please know that you can do it properly. You continue reading

have the chance to do something good for Cuba”. The tree – which appears to be a disagreeable metaphor for the country – was saved by the agricultural expert, not without complaining that “there were people who didn’t want it to prosper”.

An article published a few years ago in Opus Habana, the Historian’s Office magazine, praised Eva Mameli for a suspiciously patriotic gesture: swapping the old Cuban flag on the then Special Agronomic Station, where the couple lived, for a new one. Mameli gave birth to Italo in 1923 and two years later they returned to Sanremo in Liguria, Italy.

The very young age of Italo when the Calvinos returned to Italy contributed to how he was brought up as a European without any memory of being creole  

The very young age of Italo when the Calvinos returned to Italy contributed to how he was brought up as a European without any memory of being creole. Calvino could only be Cuban by force – to use Cabrera Infante’s expression – which is bad news for Havana and its friends at the Italian Embassy.

Calvino visited Cuba in 1964; he went to see his parents’ old house, and he married Singer. The Mexican writer Jorge Ibargüengoita well remembers the dull soporific climate of Havana in his chronicle Revolution in the Garden. Calvino – who had awarded one of Ibargüengoita’s novels, as a juror at Casa de la Americas – and his wife and the other invitees had to support a dissertation by Lisandro Otero on Merendero of the Sharks, a corner of the Havana coast where the swimmers who dared to swim ended up devoured.

Commemorative plaque of Calvino’s birthplace in Santiago de las Vegas, unveiled by his daughter Giovanna in 1996. (Cubaperiodistas)

Four years later, thousands of copies of The Cloven Viscount – written by Calvino in 1952 – arrived in the Cuban bookshops, under the banner of Cocuyo, the same publisher as Salinger’s, Faulkner’s and other essential writers. The honeymoon didn’t last long: after Padilla’s detention the memory of the Ligurian born in the tropics fell into disgrace.

This Saturday an official journalist wrote that Cuba was a country from which Calvino “never severed his ties”. He wasn’t wrong: it wasn’t him, it was Cuba, its agents and its cultural investigators – the same ones who today award and publish him with the Italian Embassy’s money – who erased the author of Cosmicomics from their catalogue.

Now, the directors of the Writer’s Union are being photographed with the recently published trilogy, Our Ancestors. The fact that these three elegies to freedom, disention and criticism are being published on the island makes one sigh with relief: the censors will not be reading anything for a thousand years. Neither have the people who paid for these published copies – in a country with a context of absolute editorial debacle – told us whether they will be sold freely rather than to a select group of people – as has occurred with Calvino’s other titles.

Perhaps it’s only in this aching country where one can make sense of Marco Polo’s well-known saying to Kubla Khan in Invisible Cities: “in the middle of hell, it’s not hell” – and where this reading of Calvino is indeed for the Cubans.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Cubans are Prisoners, by Day and by Night, of the Programmed Power Cuts

“The hardest is when the power goes off in the early hours, because with the heat and the mosquitos no one can get any sleep”. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia L. Moya/Francisco Herodes Díaz, Havana/Santiago de Cuba, 3 October 2023 – She looks at her phone and then looks back at the pressure cooker. Noise fills the kitchen. Luisa is softening up some beans in the Marialina district of Santiago de Cuba. She knows it’s only a question of minutes before the power goes off and the cooker goes dead but she’s confident there’ll be enough time for the beans to soften.  The Electricity Union (UNE) distributes a timetable of power cuts for the province. “Everyone keeps a copy of it in their phone because that’s the place where they organise their life”, Luisa tells 14ymedio. In her apartment block, designated as B2 and where she lives with her husband and two children, there’s due to be 14 hours of cuts, divided into two sessions, this Monday.

“The hardest is when the power goes off in the early hours, because with the heat and the mosquitos no one can get any sleep”, complains this 42-year-old Santiago resident. “During the day you try and get done all the things that need electricity while it’s available, but when you go to bed how do you order your body to rest, with all these inconveniences going on”. continue reading

The strict timetable of power cuts, which up to three times a day affects the two sections into which the eastern side of the city is divided, has been available to view for weeks, but “sometimes it isn’t adhered to”

The strict timetable of power cuts, which up to three times a day affects the two sections into which the eastern side of the city is divided, has been available to view for weeks, but “sometimes it isn’t adhered to”, Luisa explains. During September, “when things weren’t so bad, there were days when they were supposed to cut the power off for an hour but then they didn’t, or they did cut it but it came on again before it was due to”.

However, the residents of Marialina complain that on many occasions they cut the power at times when, according to the schedule, it should remain on. “It’s a joke, and since the beginning of October it’s getting even worse. You can see all the people watching their phones, desperately trying to check the times of the power cuts to get all their domestic tasks done before they happen”.

With its columns divided up into hours, and into yellow and white depending on the section of the city, the timetable distributed by UNE has become an all too familiar sight for Santiago residents. “In the beginning I found it all really difficult to understand but now even my little boy says to me: look, mama, it’s our turn again this morning”.

Every month, when the new timetable is published, the residents of Santiago de Cuba send it around to each other. “People put it up everywhere; one friend sent it to me via Messenger and I forwarded it on to everyone I knew”, the woman explains. As if it weren’t enough to have to carry in your head all the details of the food rationing system and its own particular timetable of “module” availability, Cubans now have to learn how to navigate all the twists and turns of this new power cut timetable nonsense too.

A lack of fuel has caused reductions in public transport, an increase in the number of power cuts and a rise in people’s feelings of uncertainty

Next door to Louisa’s flat, a family whose son has emigrated complains that when the power goes off they also lose mobile  internet. “This shouldn’t happen, because Etecsa’s mobile signal masts are supposed to carry on working, but in fact when the power goes off there’s no longer any way to access the internet – it’s a total blackout: of electricity and of connection”, the woman rails.

In Sancti Spiritus on Tuesday, Duanny has just spent his umpteenth morning without electricity. Lying in bed, sweating heavily and with a gesture of discomfort, he took a selfie which he tried to send to friends on WhatsApp. Only after several hours, when the power returned, did the image of this 33-year-old Espiritu resident get posted on the group chat of his friends.

“This October started badly”, says Duanny. October –  which Cubans used to await with relish because it’s when summer temperatures finally begin to fall – has become a bit of a bad joke. A lack of fuel has caused reductions in public transport, an increase in the number of power cuts and a rise in people’s feelings of uncertainty.

“Here, every time things get bad, even if fuel supplies improve later, it never gets back to how it was before”, says Duanny. Trained as a nurse, he uses his knowledge of care for the elderly to describe the current situation in Cuba. “An elderly man has flu or suffers a fracture and is cured, but after going through this he never really gets back to his earlier self – he loses some of his capabilities and his level of health is never quite the same again. That’s what is happening to this country: once it’s lost something there’s no way of getting it back”.

In the end it was all a bit half-done because during one of the power cuts the power came back before it was scheduled to, but then they turned it off one morning when they weren’t scheduled to

The Sancti Spiritus UNE also distributes the dreaded timetable, in which, for this province, they use the alternating colours of red and blue. “I print it out at work with enlarged print and then stick it on the fridge door to help guide my parents because they don’t use the mobile phone much”, he adds. On Monday, the block where Duanny lives had three power cuts scheduled – each one for four hours.

“In the end it was all a bit half-done because during one of the power cuts the power came back before it was scheduled to, but then they turned it off one morning when they weren’t scheduled to”, he told this newspaper. The Espiritu resident doesn’t hide his resentment towards the “privileged Habaneros”: in the Cuban capital the frequency and length of power cuts doesn’t come anywhere near those that ravage the provinces.

On UNE’s Facebook page and on their Telegram channel there are many messages questioning the severity of the power cuts in the provinces of the interior, whilst Havana gets “a free ride” – in Duanny’s opinion. “They don’t even know that it’s October in Havana – they’re still living in September”, he says, annoyed.

On his fridge door, the timetable of cuts announces that there will be eight hours without electricity in Duanny’s neighbourhood on Tuesday. And Luisa, starting early in the day, before the power goes off, has put on the pressure cooker to soften some beans. She prays that the food will be ready before the house is plunged into darkness.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Havana Prohibits Dogs from its Beaches… Where There Are Hardly Ever Any Dogs

“The dogs left all these here, for sure”, says a lifeguard, pointing to all the empty drinks cans discarded on the sand. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerJuan Diego Rodríguez, 14ymedio, Havana, 22 September 2023 – Among the new measures dictated by the Havana government on hygiene and community services, one in particular has caused special irritation. It’s the one which prohibits pets or farm animals from the beach, similar to their prohibition from cemeteries or rubbish dumps, which can entail, according to the resolution which came into force on Wednesday, a fine of between 1,500 and 2,000 pesos.

The Cuban Association for the Defence of Animals (Ceda) declared its  “complete disagreement” with the article in a posting on its social media pages, as, they argue, it goes against the law’s Animal Wefare Decree. This states expressely that “pet owners should clear up their pet’s waste”, they explain in their text, where they propose that, “there can be beaches where pets are not allowed, or months of the year when they’re not allowed, or hours during the day. But it’s not acceptable to ban pets from areas where the families of their owners go to relax”.

Ceda also says that “thanks to the fact that there are people who look after the animals’ health and sustenance”, any animals that were in these locations, for example in cemeteries”, are not any “danger to society, and actually enhance the place because they enhance the sense of security, create a space that is more amenable for people and prevent us from becoming somewhat sterile beings”.

“We won’t accept that those who look after the few animals that actually cause no higiene problem are to penalised”  

In Cuba there are “millions of street animals”, the association concludes: “We won’t accept that those who look after the few animals that actually cause no higiene problem are to penalised, especially when there are no refuges nor any government solutions for mitigating the plight of so many other animals that are suffering and in critical conditions on the streets”. continue reading

Another animal activist, known on social media as Filoxiraptor, argued that: “The animals don’t mess up the beaches or their adjoining areas and I’ve never seen the authorities impose fines for non-compliance of this measure for native and legal people”.

He added also that if there are “community animals” (on the streets) it is through “their being abandoned and there being a lack of awareness about it in the country”, and that, also, “the majority of vets, because of the lack of resources, recommend actually taking them to the beach, to heal their skin problems, tone their muscles and rehabilitate them”.

When 14ymedio visited the three beaches of Santa Maria, Mar Azul and Megano – to the east of the capital – on Friday, they found no pets there. However, it wasn’t because they’d started to rigorously enforce the new law, rather it was simply because that’s how it normally is.

“It’s not usual to bring animals, because most people come by public transport, where they’re prohibited”, explained a bather, who told us he left his two dogs at home in Central Havana, but that he doesn’t agree with the new ruling. “It’ll be because of the mess that the animals leave everywhere”: he indicates with irony the mountain of empty drinks cans discarded on the sand: “Yeah, all the dogs left all these here, sure they did”.

“There’s no need to worry if there are no police about, just imagine the inspectors”, the lifesaver reasoned

Furthermore, when asked about the new law, a lifeguard suggested that there would be no problem bringing pets to the beach. “There’s no need to worry if there are no police about, just imagine the inspectors”, the man reasoned.

The article referring to pets is not the only one that has awakened discontent: the ruling also includes fines of 2,000 to 3,000 pesos for anyone not putting their rubbish into the bins in time. Comments on the official site Cubadebate demonstrate this.

“These measures are very good and I’m glad they’ve introduced them but I want them to tell me where I’m to put my rubbish when all the bins are full, because as far as I know the rubbish collectors don’t come by every day and the bins fill up in less than a day”, says one poster named Daniel. In the same way, Besteiro says: ” In my neighbourhood (EMBIL, Boyeros) it’s common for ten days or more to go by before they collect the rubbish, and with the container full where are you supposed to put yours?”

He asks himself: “What do they do with those who steal the wheels off the rubbish bins and later make handcarts with them and push them past the police? What do they do with the community workers who pull the bins off the wagons and, despite being new, break them?”

“Only mobilize the people’s awareness? And what about the others? The obligation of the Comunales as public servants and cause of this disaster, does that not count?” asks commentator Paloma, who lists: giant rubbish dumps, blocked drains, long-standing leaks, unswept streets, sewage spills, overgrown weeds, pavements destroyed by rubbish collectimg trucks, indifferent employees who mistreat the bins and leave the streets full of rubbish, and much more, has nothing to do with people’s awareness.”

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Varadero Resort For Cubans ‘All Inclusive Scam’

The once luxurious resort of the Hicacos peninsular has been feeling the shadow of what it once was for quite a while. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Olea Gallardo, Havana, 14 September 2023 – In the bus back home to Havana from Varadero, Manuel and his wife, like many other local tourists, talked about nothing else. Every one of them, though having stayed in different hotels, felt that they had been swindled; that despite the stratospherical amount of money they had had to pay for their holiday, in return they had seen only food shortages and terrible service.

Manuel doesn’t even want to remember the name of the establishment where he stayed for four nights in August and payed almost 40,000 pesos for “all inclusive”. “All inclusive? All inclusive scam. All that was available to eat every day was cod or chicken in fricassee, or in sauce, but no pork or beef”, he tells this paper. And he goes on: “The rice was hard, the soft drinks weren’t even the normal canned ones but made up from squash, and the beer was warm, with just a whiskey here or a rum there, terrible, that was all there was to drink.

So, in the end, the couple ended up spending an extra twenty-odd thousand pesos on food from other restaurants, “which in themselves weren’t any big deal”, says Manuel. Even there they didn’t find much satisfaction as the ones that accepted Cuban pesos were the ones that offered limited menus and smaller portions.

In addition, the man lamented: “The room they gave us was dirty, full of hair, with just one tiny towel and nothing else to dry ourselves on. It doesn’t surprise me that we hardly saw any foreign tourists, if they go to Varadero they’re going to be shocked. continue reading

“The room they gave us was dirty, full of hair, with just one tiny towel and nothing else to dry ourselves on”

The once luxurious resort of the Hicacos peninsular has been feeling the shadow of what it once was for quite a while. The most recent decline began during the Covid pandemic, when the country’s borders were closed and the tourist industry was paralysed worldwide, and the residents of Varadero were confined in their homes to avoid infection. The resort has not yet managed to crawl out of this hole, a hole which the so called Tarea Ordenamiento — the ’Ordering Task’* — itself has contributed to, as reported by this paper repeatedly in recent years.

Foreign tourists have abandoned the option of Varadero, says a Spanish tourist, Francisca – who travelled to Cuba in July on a tour which took in the entire island but didn’t include the resort in the Matanzas bay area. “We didn’t go there, on the advice of a relative who had just been there and told us that the beach was disgusting, with a lack of services”, she said. “And actually all the ones we did go to – Costa Verde (in Holguín) and Cayo Santa María (in Camagüey) – also seemed very dirty to us”.

In the face of depleted numbers of international tourists, hotels tried to throw themselves into internal tourism, which, viewing general commentary on social media, hasn’t resulted in a satisfied clientele. And the complaints are not limited to Varadero.

One customer of the Starfish Hotel in Cayo Largo said that the buffet at this five star establishment left “much to be desired” and she did not reccomend the place. Another said: “I’ve just come from the Starfish Cayo Guillermo and there was no sugar even for coffee, I had to bring my own flour so that they could bake me a mini cake because they didn’t have flour either, and they were using honey as a sweetener”.

A third Cuban settled the matter of the island’s beach hotels saying: “My opinion is don’t go to any of them. They’re all bad and what’s more, expensive. There’s no correlation between what you pay and the actual quality, especially with the food”.

*Translator’s note: The “Ordering Task” [Tarea Ordenamiento] is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Mysterious Owners of the Select Restaurant El Biky Open an Outlet in Havana Airport

A little later, some people, humble workmen, judging by their clothing, approached to read the menu at El Biky, then they left, shocked by the prices. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio  Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 12 September 2023 – El Biky, the luxurious restaurant-cafe-confectioners, established nine years ago in the heart of Havana, opened a new outlet on Monday at José Martí International Airport. To be specific, the establishment is just outside Terminal 3, underneath the bridge in the arrivals area, opposite the shopping mall called Boulevard.

The establishment, which has taken a few weeks to be kitted out, according to airport staff, has 13 tables, some large some small. They were still tidying up and finishing everything off at just before 11 on Tuesday.

A little later, a few people, humble workmen, judging by their dress, approached to read the menu, then they left, shocked by the prices. The cheapest dish was “home made” croquettes – chicken or fish ones, very small, at 600 pesos; the most expensive dish was a grilled beef sandwich, at 2,700 pesos. continue reading

The lack of customers contrasted with the number of employees – around a dozen – and the busy traffic of the airport

Four female employees wearing Escasa uniforms (Cuban Airports and Services Company) did sit down at one of the tables, pestered the whole time by a small dog which was then ejected ill-temperedly from the place by a man who appeared to be the owner or manager. The women had no qualms about ordering anything from the menu.

The establishment, which has the logo El Biky clearly displayed, has three areas: a grill in the centre, a bar, and a trailer, similar to a streetfood cart. There was also an allocated place for ice cream which has yet to be opened. The customers have to order at the cash till and pay straight away, and then, with the ticket they’re given, wait for their food.

There’s only one sugar dispenser, which is shared between all of the tables. Far from the glamour that one supposes that the brand has, all the plates and cups are disposable and the sauces are served from a paper mould.

The cheapest dish was “home made” croquettes – chicken or fish ones, very small, at 600 pesos; the most expensive dish was a grilled beef sandwich, at 2,700 pesos. (14ymedio)

The lack of customers contrasted with the number of employees – around a dozen – and the busy traffic of the airport, where you could see passengers arriving on the island with trolleys full up with suitcases. None of them stopped to eat.

High prices and grandiose airs are characteristics which have been attached to El Biky ever since they opened their first establishment on 412 Calle Infanta, between San Lázaro and Concordia in 2014, at the time having the denomination of “non-agricultural cooperative”. Four partners – no one knows their names – refurbished, in just a year, an old building in the capital, which spans a large part of the block in which it is situated.

In contrast to other businesses which went under as a result of Covid restrictions, El Biky never stopped even during the worst period of the pandemic, an issue that has ever since been a source of some suspicion for Havana residents. “It has a different kind of ambience, one that isn’t typical of private businesses”, one Calle Infanta resident told this paper, saying she observes its traffic and its opulence on a daily basis.

The fact that there’s never been any lack of raw materials at the establishment, that its prices have never done anything but increase, and that its owners are a mystery… it all raises some suspicions. And now that they’ve opened an outlet at the airport – another privileged location – it only multiplies these suspicions even more…

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

No More Smell of Gas in Havana as Refinery Runs Out of Supply

The chimney of the Ñico López refinery, painted with red and white stripes, was seen on Wednesday to be effectively switched off. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 September 2023 – The operation of the Ñico López refinery in Havana didn’t last for very long after it was switched on last Wednesday after a year out of operation; the refinery has been responsible for the smell of gas across the capital this week. It stopped operating yesterday.

If, on Monday, Cupet, the Cuba Petroleum Union attempted to calm the population – which still has strong memories of the recent Hotel Saratoga explosion and the fire at the supertanker base in Matanzas – by saying that the unpleasant smell was simply the “product of combustion in the plant’s torch”, on Wednesday it put out a further statement in which it said, “On 5 September there weren’t any complaints from the public, which could be a result of the stopping of Plant 1 of the Ñico López refinery, having completed, for the moment, its refinement work.” That is to say, it has no more fuel to refine.

With great fanfare in the official press it appeared that Ñico López was going to be late in shutting down

The chimney, which from the 14ymedio editor’s point of view seems effectively shut down, was shown with some pomp by the refinery itself on 25 August when it expressed that “the symbol was switched on”. A few days later, vice minister Ramiro Valdés supervised the firing up of Ñico López, which, with great fanfare in the official press, seemed to have had its final shutting down delayed.

There is no let up in the shortage of fuel on the island. The country continues to receive petroleum donated principally by Venezuela, which sent 65,000 barrels a day in August (more than the previous month, at 53,000). In filling stations like the ones in Santiago de Cuba, where these days the queues stretch to kilometres long, this increase hasn’t been noticed.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Eternal Summer, Eternal Hell

Detail from the central panel of the triptych ’The Garden of Delights’ (1500-1505), by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, ’The Woods’, Prado museum Madrid.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 27 August 2023 – It’s been a good year for Reinaldo Arenas. A few moths after re-publishing Antes que anochezca [Before Night Falls], Tusquets rescued El mundo alucinante [Hallucinations] and its to be hoped that more of his titles return to the bookshops during the celebrations for 80 years since his birth.

The indifference with which Cubans have come to the party says much about the country that we currently have. But nothing surprises. Arenas was published for the first and only time in Cuba in 1967. His books continue to enter the country secretively, and although false friends, resentful lovers and posthumous saviours continue to embalm him insolently, no censor is ready to give him absolution for the Tétrica Mofeta [When Skunk in a Funk].

He doesn’t need it, of course. Arenas is a religion unto himself, with cosmogony, martyrs and apocalypse. There isn’t anyone authorised to give him peace except himself or his doubles — Reinaldo, Gabriel and the skunk: three distinct mad beings but with one single essence. The workings of his world, as mystical as they are carnal, as private as they are rich in rumour, hitch themselves to two books which give the impression, only too accurate, of having been written by a dead man.

His ferocious autobiography and last novel, El color del verano The Colour of Summer], execute such a meticulous bombardment of Cuba and its foreign province of Miami, that the more than 300 people mentioned in it — being given the courtesy of their names ’deranged’, and at times not even that — must have cut his books into pieces on at least one occasion. Although his memories end up being deformed as fiction, in The Colour of Summer – subtitled New Garden of Delights, like the painting, The Woods – the language is as loose as the very devil’s. continue reading

In the final and most ardent sewer, we have the dictator Fifo, Raúl and his pets – including the Bloody Shark; in heaven, although exposed to shrapnel, there are Lezama, Casal, la Avellaneda, Heredia and Martí. In the queue for the guillotine and with names changed, are: Miguel Barniz, Tomasito la Goyesca, H. Puntilla, Karilda Olivar Lúbrico, Alejo Sholehov, Delfín Proust or the Queen of the Spiders, and – fanning himself there in Paris – Zebro Sardoya. Running around, wandering the streets hunting for recruits or hiding himself down in the drains, are the raving lunatics – although at any point remote, or on the edge: we are all crazy according to Arenas – the Duchess, the Super-satanic, the Queen, the clandestine Fortune teller, the Triple-ugly, Tedevoro, and finally the Funky Skunk.

The story – which begins with the escape of Avellaneda to Miami and ends when the Cubans, as a result of wearing away the island’s platform, remove it and sink into the sea – contains the most bitter declaration that any writer has ever made about his own country: “This is the story of an island where only the most servile and mediocre people have triumphed. An island subjected to an infinite summer, an infinite tyranny and the unanimous exit stampede of its inhabitants, who, whilst praising the island’s marvels, think only of how to escape from it. This is the story of an island that, whilst apparently covering itself in the glitter of official rhetoric, inside it is ripped apart and hopes only for the final explosion”.

The book would be perfect if Cabrera Infante didn’t exist. For the superstitious reader, The Colour of Summer has too many irritating similarities to Cabrera Infante’s Three Sad Tigers. Both are fragmented, godless, both replace and disrupt men, both are keen on lists and tongue twisters, both rewrite history and are obsessed with sex and with humour as a last refuge. Also, like all Cuban novels – from José Martí’s diary, to Paradiso [Paradise, by José Lezama Lima] and Los pasos perdidos [The Lost Steps, by Alejo Carpentier] – it aspires to serve as a general interpretation of the world. And of the Island.

Nevertheless, I read The Colour of Summer in one sitting – in Spain, in August, arid without let up – without allowing myself to be tormented by paranoia. In any case, if Arenas and Cabrera Infante achieved anything it was to give to certain moments in Cuban history a density resulting in something very vivid and traumatic. And – what is even more disconcerting, knowing both writers – neither of them takes a swipe at the other. In fact, Cabrera Infante wrote a moving obituary of Arenas, about “his life as a persecuted, beaten and caged dog, obliged once again to live forever as a fugitive”. I prefer to read his novels as reincarnations of the same mocking spirit that is only possible in that country. Short-sighted tiger or vengeful slut, Cain or Celestino, the summer or hell. Who knows whether in the end they aren’t the same thing.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

A Hazardous Walk through the Stinking Puddles and Public Toilets on Boulevard de La Habana

On a piece of cardboard, crude letters display that it’s “broken”.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 August 2023 – The umpteenth renovation of Boulevard de La Habana is beginning to show its wrinkles. The make-up of triumphalism with which many bars were reopened on this pedestrian precinct on Calle San Rafael has been fading with the passage of months. The blockages in the plumbing, which became the hallmark of the place for years, have returned in a number of shops and businesses, and in the public toilets – the only ones available in the area.

“It’s like a curse, they fix them, make them nice and then they all get destroyed again”, laments Evaristo, a pensioner who was born here and has spent his life on the corner of San Rafael and Águila. From his balcony he can view the whole street, which is daily one of the busiest in the whole country. Evaristo has watched the Boulevard deteriorate for decades, later seeing it fill up with potholes then the arrival of construction teams for the fifth centenary celebrations of Havana in 2019, and now he feels the impact of the current crisis on its infrastructure and its people.

Although the painted facades are “enduring”, another resident tells 14ymedio, the cafeterias, which began the post pandemic period with vigour, have reduced their range or have been dragged down by the wave of inflation which has made many products prohibitive. The advertising screens which at one time generated some surprise there on the pavements are now all switched off and the previous smell from the drains has come back to permeate the area once again.

The toilet cubicles smell bad, the toilet-bowls have no water and the walls have been painted in a way that resembles the inside of a prison cell. (14ymedio)

The worst deterioration can be found if you decide to go into the public toilets situated on the street linking Calle Galiano with Paseo del Prado. After paying 5 pesos, you’ll find that the hand basins in the gents don’t work and that there’s a piece of card with crude letters saying that it’s “broken”. The toilets smell bad, the toilet-bowls have no water and the walls have been painted in a way that resembles the inside of a prison cell.

On leaving the narrow and stinking toilets, the poor pedestrian would hope for something better outside. But no. There he will have to navigate: the greenish and stinking puddles that spring up in the corners of the boulevard, the balconies, painted but still in danger of collapse, and the stench of rubbish coming from the old shop End of the Century, closed down years ago. During this little journey he’ll have to watch his pockets and speed up his step to get out of the place. From his vantage point, Evaristo will follow him with his gaze until he disappears down some side street.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Cuban Playwright Carlos Celdran’s Play About an ‘Intimate, Hidden and Transgressive’ Jose Marti Arrives in Miami

Scene from the play ’Hierro’ [Iron], by Carlos Celdrán, with actors Caleb Casas and Rachel Pastor. (EFE/Arca Images)
14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Ana Mengotti, Miami, 27 July 2023 – The Cuban playwright Carlos Celdrán, 2016 National Prizewinner for Theatre in his own country and currently resident in Spain, presents his play Hierro in Miami – a work centred on the Cuban war of independence hero José Martí (1853-1895), different from his “edited” biography but not demythologised.

“I’m not attempting to dismantle or criticise Martí, I love Martí. Hierro comes from a love for and identification with him; what I’m trying to do is present his human contradictions in order to understand him better”, Celdrán tells EFE, in the Miami Dade County Auditorium where the play, produced by Arca Images, has its U.S premiere next Thursday.

Hierro, is the title of a poem by Martí, Cuba’s “apostle and martyr”. Martí was a poet and essayist and the play centres on Martí’s private life, which has “not been seen on the stage nor is it discussed in school” – the life of a “great” but “ordinary” man who argues with his wife and even faces up to a possible affair.

Everything that takes place in the play happened in the United States, where Martí lived in exile, apart from interspersed scenes of journeys to other countries – from the beginning of the 1880’s until his return to Cuba in 1895, the year he was killed in combat, fighting against the Spanish military.

Celdrán first premiered this play in Havana in 2020 but performances were interrupted by the Covid pandemic. When Arca Images suggested he take it to Miami he didn’t think twice. continue reading

In the cast, headed by Caleb Casas, Daniel Romero, Claudia Valdés and Rachel Pastor, there are a number of actors from the original Cuban production.

Asked by EFE whether he thought that the Cubans in Miami and those on the island felt the same about Martí he said that the hero continues to be a unifying force. “I think that Marti’s ideology touches all Cubans wherever they are and whatever ideology they have”, he said, and remembers that Martí proposed a republic in which all Cubans would have a place, wherever they were and whatever politics they had.

In Hierro we shall see an “unedited and hidden” Martí, as previously his official biography has been “laundered and edited”, he says.

Though Hierro is performed in Spanish, English speaking audiences will also be able to enjoy the play, through simultaneous translation via wireless headphones.

This is not the first time that Celdrán (who founded Argos Teatro in Cuba in 1996 and has produced his own plays as well as those by Brecht, Beckett, Ibsen, Strindberg and other classical playwrights) has presented work in Miami.

His award winning play Diez millones [Ten Million] was also performed in this city, as well as in other U.S cities, whilst the playwright still lived in Cuba.

Now he is based in Madrid, where he has already presented another of his works, Discurso de agradecimiento [Expression of Gratitude], and is trying to make his mark in a city which, he says, is these days an “international theatre capital”.

The grandson of Spanish grandparents and a Spanish national, Celdrán is trying “not to move away” from his hallmark theatrical style. “What I try to do is work from the human perspective, but there is always a political and social backdrop”, he says.

He is working on a text that may possibly be performed next year in Miami and Spain – a country in which there are, he says, “a lot of stereotypical views” about Cuba, as well as extreme views about the revolution and the daily life of Cubans.

“Spanish people always have either a utopian view of Cuba or a critical one”, says Celdrán, who says that what interests him is that there is “empathy from the audience towards the characters”.

Stereotypes, says the playwright – “the first one would be the island of love, of good sex – they have prejudiced us a lot”.

I show the soul of the Cuban people, I fight against that obvious stereotype and sometimes people are surprised because they expect Cuba to be comical, to be lightweight, to be friendly”, he stresses.

Speaking of recent times in his country, he says that “it’s not easy making theatre in Cuba”, and not only because of the lack of economic resources.

“You’re always in a complicated dialogue with what’s censurable, with the limits of what you can say. And you evade it, you get over it, you go a little further in order to make theatre where you can escape from that confrontation”, he concludes.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Crossing the Street at 23rd and L is a New and Lively Experience for Cubans on Foot

People cross on instinct: they wait for a brave soul to take the plunge and then everyone follows. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 19 July 2023 – The flow of traffic in a busy area like El Vedado in Havana is fast and constant. Anyone who tried to cross the street on Calle 23 this week, where the pedestrian traffic lights were all off, knew this only  too well. The angry drivers’ car horns blare at those who, on the edge of the pavement, try to guess the right moment to cross.

Eight sets of pedestrian traffic signals out of action on Calles 23 and L has unleashed a traffic chaos. On Wednesday, an elderly lady in the crowd waiting to cross asked whether the lack of red/green signals was down to a power cut. “No, there is electricity señora. You can see how the traffic lights for the cars are working ok. But the pedestrian ones are all broken”, someone answered.

For months the people of Havana have witnessed the warning lights breaking down. First one goes, then another, then a few weeks later a stone hits the glass of a third one. And no one repairs the damage.

Finally, this Wednesday, every single one of the lights that are supposed to regulate the pedestrian flow on 23rd and L went off. Now people cross by instinct. It’s common for people to wait until some  brave soul takes the plunge and then everyone follows. At other times the cars slow a little and the pedestrians decide it’s the moment to lunge forward.

As yet, there has been no police officer assigned to regulate the traffic while they fix the lights. The younger people are in a hurry, they just run and lose their fear of the traffic after a few attempts to cross. But the older people and children are always left behind, waiting.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

A Little Dictionary for K

It was also a harmonic gesture that, at 91, Kundera has donated his books and papers to Brno, his native town. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 16 June 2023 – Books. I have just read that, over the last few years, Milan Kundera has lost his memory. It’s dramatic that the only real tool that the novelist can count on is so volatile, it overflows and wears out, the years take it from us. I read Kundera for the first time aged 18 or 19. I remember the book itself perfectly – and it makes me sad to think that one day I will forget it – ripped apart, withered, a book whose pages I let fall out at one time by accident.

It was, of course, the story of the confused love between Tomás and Teresa, Franz and Sabina, and the mysterious crossings over of those lives – it was not their remoteness that made me feel less familiar with them.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – very easy to read but very difficult to understand, according to its author – it was the first novel I bought after leaving my country. I wrapped it in newspaper, disguised the cover, so that when I returned no one would take from me this book that was finally mine. When I finally left my house, my city and my things for the last time, it remained behind. I’m not thinking of going back to get it. Ten years have passed since I last opened that book – as a youth, of whom only a ghost remains – when I came across a sentence: “The eternal return is the heaviest burden”.

Escape. After all the love affairs, the books swapped and lost, the conversations in which nothing much is said, the university evenings, the coffee and the pedantic clouds of smoke, what is left to the reader, of Kundera? It’s the feeling that the books have made an older person of them, they have offered them the memory of a man who aspired to have no biography and whose life itself was, in the end, the story of a century.

To read him in a communist country, where his books enjoyed the ’privilege’ of censorship, was to count upon having a manual for survival in this ochre, gelatinous world that produced communism. And nevertheless, the great lesson that I learnt from Kundera was to escape. To run away from all the leaflets and compromised literature, the parties and ideologies, to reject those who expect a simplistic narrative in black and white or in black and red, a pro or anti-government novel, a story through which the publishers can exploit you as exotic, combative, militant, a martyr of freedom. And even further: not to enter into anyone’s club where they have conveniently already received an audience and applause, on one side or another, or found people to whom they could sell the petty drama of the exile or of the conformist. continue reading

Dissident. I imagine that Kundera hated the word dissident more than any other. The perverse implications of this term – separate, unorthodox, Cain-like – sound like the uttered revenge of someone who remained, an insult from the ’right-minded’. No one wants to be defined as kind of tumour or a leper that was obliged to leave the country. No one wants their books to be marked out for their bitterness or neglect. Dissident no: I’m a novelist, said Kundera too many times. Opposition to communism isn’t dissidence, but individualism and autonomy. The price is solitude. Nothing more tempting.

Complexity. When a writer abandons the shell imposed on him by his environment – the regime, history, the goodbyes, other writers – only the fabric of memory remains. In this dark room, in the coldness of Paris or some other city, out walking with a woman or smoking alone in a cafe, the words come back to you again. “I want my literature to be united with life and for this reason I defend it from every possible attack”. That is the only true liberty, the only true homeland that a novelist can aspire to. All the rest are fictions that are much less useful than any you could invent, and that no one would read.

Music. To open oneself up to the infinite possibilities of a novel and live for months or years inside the world you’re creating – it can’t be compared with any other job. I find an example in the interview that Joaquín Soler Serrano conducted with Kundera in 1980. He remembers his musician father – the writer himself made a living by playing the piano in restaurants – and offers this lesson: have respect for ’form’ that can only be learnt from music: the changes of rhythm, counterpoint and motifs, the subtlety of composing a book to arrive at the echo, the only echo that remains when memory is gone.

Laughter and forgetting. “Optimism is the opium of the people” writes the protagonist of The Joke, in a postcard to his communist girlfriend. At one time I met a young Czech girl and asked her to pronounce the original title, Žert. It sounded – I wouldn’t know how to pronounce it today – like a gob of spit, a rebellious guffaw, which encapsulated not only that novel itself but also the whole of Kundera’s work and his attitude to austere authority. I demanded she repeat the sound over and over many times. She didn’t get, what for me was the revelation of that word, so elastic and remote, perhaps because to understand one’s own language one also needs to abandon it. I don’t know what happened to the girl, who went back to Prague shorty after.

Finale. You learn how to live and how to write from Kundera. You learn an ethic and a certain kind of healthy cynicism, a mistrust of power and its messengers – success, money, party membership card – and the vertigo of entering into one’s own solitude. The fact that, at 91 he has donated his books and papers to the city of Brno, his native town, was also a harmonic gesture. Or at least a way of saving his memory – the heaviest burden – before death came looking for him.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Cuba: Pirates of Yesterday and Today

On the day of the assault, Pérez de Angulo was governor and defended Havana with 65 foot soldiers and 16 on horseback. (Public domain)

14ymedio, Yunior García Aguilera, Madrid, 4 July 2023 – Laws that restrict business to an absurd extent usually generate corruption and all manner of roguery. Following the Conquest and colonisation of the Americas, the maritime powers established a commercial system that created an exclusive relationship between the metropolises and their colonies. Trading with foreigners carried the penalty of a jail sentence, excommunication and confiscation of assets. This measure affected the colonies most of all but it also promoted smuggling and filled the seas with plunderers.

It all started with a few French vessels laying siege to the fleets which arrived in the Canary Islands. Later, these sailors got hold of the Spanish navigation charts and approached the waters of the Caribbean. England, France and Holland saw such substantial gains in these sorts of ventures that they began to invest their own funds in the business. It was the heyday of the black flags with the skulls and crossbones.

As opposed to ordinary pirates, these pirates relied on permission from some country or other to attack and rob from their rivals. When two kingdoms were at war, the offender had to be treated as an enemy soldier, with all the guarantees that implied. In times of peace it was assumed that these pirates had to respect the truce, although the soul of a pirate will nonetheless grant himself a blank cheque to never take this sort of thing seriously.

The buccaneers, for their part, were a kind of pirate of terra firma. The term búcan was the Tainos word for the technique of smoking meat. Many Europeans learnt how to use these skills; they dedicated themselves to smuggling and adopted the name of buccaneers. In Cuba they were mostly to be found in areas like Camagüey and Las Tunas. continue reading

The fledgling Cuban population were victims of pirate assaults on a number of occasions. It’s known that Havana was reduced to ashes in 1538. And in the same year, outside the port of Santiago, the Sevillian captain Diego Pérez battled a French pirate for four days. By day they attacked mercilessly with canon fire. And by night they sent messengers bearing gifts, like good Christian gentlemen, until the French lifted anchor and bid them adieu.

But the most famous attack took place on the tenth of July 1555, led by Jacque de Sores. Ten years earlier, San Cristobal de La Habana was defended by a single canon of 47 hundredweight which they nicknamed “the savage”, evidence of which had been accompanied by exaggeration and ostentation from an early stage. Later the place was “fortified” until it had three canons. At the time of the attack, the governor was Pérez de Angulo, who defended Havana with 65 foot soldiers and 16 others on horseback.

As soon as the French pirate – follower of the famous Pegleg – returned to dry land, Angulo ran terrified to the yucayeque of Guanabacoa. However, the governor, Don Juan de Lobera, stood his ground the best could, defending from the old Fort.

But there wasn’t a great deal of courage in this resistance. Some of his men suggested he surrender, telling him that he could die if he wanted to but he wasn’t going to sacrifice all the others. Sores himself asked who was the madman that was trying to defend Havana with four crossbows. One of his artillerymen even went to negotiate with the pirates, speaking to them in German so that Juan wouldn’t understand a word.

Finally, the pirate conquered the place, although he didn’t find the riches he was hoping for, apart from an emerald ring and a silver dinner service. The Frenchman took hostages and demanded 30 thousand pesos in ransom…as well as some cassava bread loaves! He spared the brave defender’s life and promised not to molest the women.

Angulo, in a final attempt to save his honour, gathered an army together at Matanzas… no exaggeration. There were 95 Spanish, some 200 Africans and around 80 indigenous men. The element of surprise was a key factor, but the indigenous men, who were used to attacking with ferocious noise, alerted the French with their shouting and it was a disaster. The pirate swords repelled the attempt and Havana continued to be under French rule for a few more days.

As a counter-offer, three thousand pesos ransom was offered. However, the inhabitants only managed to get together one third of the amount. Sores, outraged in the face of such destitution (or miserliness), set fire to everything that could be burnt. Angulo was sent to Spain and was tried for cowardice and lack of foresight. He was the last of the civilian governors.

Today, centuries later, buccaneering still survives. And in Cuba many have permission to practice it, which, technically… turns them into pirates?

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

Jose Angel Buesa, the Cuban Poet Ignored by Castrismo

José Ángel Buesa published numerous poems, which today fill Cubans with pride, both on and outside the island. (Verbum)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio,  Jorge Hernández Fonseca, Miami, 26 June 2023 – It is estimated that there are more than three million Cubans (and descendants of Cubans) in exile. One of them was, in his day, José Ángel Buesa. Very early in the Cuban communist revolution, a romantic poet disaffected with the emerging dictatorship was one intellectual too many for a regime which required unconditional support, and a man with Buesa’s integrity could not, in any way, give that. His romanticism collided head on with the firing squads and the Acts of Repudiation of this violent era and he had to exile himself.

The poet passed through the motherland, Spain, and then tried to establish himself in the Canary Islands, from where destiny took him back to a place nearer to home – El Salvador. From there, even closer again, he settled in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where he became a university professor and published numerous poems which today fill Cubans with pride, both on and outside the island. Reading Buesa’s work was forbidden in Cuba for generations. His romanticism was deemed “not good for a people that had to hate the enemy”.

Nevertheless, we have heard from the island recently that there is now a growing affection for the poet. The need for dollars, that the dictatorship suffered from as a consequence of their uselessness and inefficiency, has brought about the publication of Buesa’s poems in high quality print, for sale in Freely Convertible Currency (MLC) – that is, to tourists; but, as the prohibition has been lifted, hearing them even on official radio Cubans are going crazy for his poems – Cubans that didn’t even know that they had a poet of such calibre, born in Cruces but forced into exile as a persona non grata.

We Cuban exiles are no strangers to the critical polemic aimed at the romantic poets. Whatever the personal circumstances of each person, that controversy doesn’t imply censorship of any poetic tendencies, because there is room for everyone, as demonstrated on the island, which censured Buesa over many decades, wanting to tip the scales against him and favouring materialism in literature, and now this Buesomania explodes in their hands simply because of the tenderness of his poems and their depth in singing about love.

José Ángel Buesa deserves a seat of honour at the table of contemporary intellectuals but the Cuban dictatorship isn’t going to grant it because his poetry is the very negation of the philosophical and social policy that they have implanted in a totalitarian manner. Because of this, it is the duty of all good Cubans in exile, in whatever profession, to pay the homage deserved to Buesa, so that he may finally rest in peace in his grave in Miami.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso.

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

Goya and Fabelo, Worlds in Collision

La exposición ’Goya y Fabelo: Mundos’, que reúne piezas de ambos pintores, estará abierta hasta el 30 de julio en la galería Condeduque, en Madrid. (14ymedio)
The exhibition ‘Goya and Fabelo: Mundos’, which brings together pieces by both painters, will be open until July 30 at the Condeduque gallery in Madrid. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger Xavier Carbonell, Madrid, 25 June 2023 – In the land of Roberto Fabelo all the statues have been decapitated and the cities are in ruins. Junk, coffee pots, washbasins, cookpots, drowsy and rugged faces, letters that have forgotten what words they belong to, men who are half asleep or who sleep the sleep of reason – all these define the artist’s work.

The tide has carried Fabelo’s works to Madrid and those who turn up to see them in the little red brick salon in the Condeduque arts centre, surrounded by geometry and order, don’t imagine they’re looking at something collapsed. The return of the master to Europe – he looks cold and black and older – does not come without some reflection and sadness. He comes in search of a father, a lineage that has always been his but one that he now wants to announce: Goya.

The affinity between the painter from Aragón and the Cuban one was marked from the day in which Fabelo painted his first animal with a human face. There’s a certain look that’s essential to both: the depth of the dark layers of the human, in the parts where the light upsets everything and the creatures are saturated with meaning, words and forms. Like Goya, Fabelo fills his pictures with phrases and codes. One of them promises: “if the sun comes up, we’re out of here…”; the other one paints “…on the wings of a fly”. 

In 'Leadership', drawn in 2022 on an immense cardboard, Fabelo figures without admitting it the drama of the island in the last two years. (14 and a half)
In ‘Liderazgo’ [‘Leadership’], painted in 2022 on an immense sheet of cardboard, Fabelo encodes, without admitting it, the drama of the island in the last two years. (14ymedio)

Anyone who has followed Fabelo’s works on his native island, where they form part of domestic life and imagination, will note the transgression imparted by Mundos [Worlds]. From having a certain affinity with the regime – at some points he has attributed his success, with timidity, to Castro’s revolution – he has moved more towards criticism, through the use of symbolism. The fraudulence of power, the manipulation, the possibility of dissent and of withdrawing from the scene, the predominance of the worst always happening – these all impose themselves on top of any other themes. continue reading

Upon entering the Condeduque centre, various Kafkaesque-style cockroaches tell the visitor that they’ve arrived in the dominion of monsters. Lined up like a battalion, they are Los Caprichos [The Caprices] and Los desastres de la guerra [Disasters of War], which make up some of Goya’s twilight works. They’ve already engaged in battle with Fabelo’s rhinoceroses and satyrs. What we witness – in the darkness of the salon held back by time – is the dialogue between two gentlemen who have shared a duel.

From this planetary confrontation, in which Fabelo spars also against other models of his – Durero, Dalí, El Bosco – emerge, unharmed, certain domestic objects, which the Cuban has always treated with kindness, like talismans. In a cauldron there is the Virgin of Kindness, patron of Cuba; the coffee pots have faces, and weep for all the shortages; bullets fired by soviet rifles on the island have become magnetised into a sphere. 

Fabela, like Goya, is an elemental narrator. He’s interested in the weight of a story, the accumulation of gestures and signs with a synthetic capacity which connects him with Monterroso or Borges. In Liderazgo, created in 2022, on an immense sheet of cardboard, Fabelo encodes, without admitting it, the drama of the island of the last two years. The stampede of animals away from a fire or a deluge; the decapitated general, sabre in hand, leaning on an octopus, still insisting on giving orders; the incredible large ugly bird; the ogre; the satyr boxer; a creepy crawly that pleasurably rubs its back against the mud; the whisper of flies – all encapsulate the drama of fleeing or of remaining in an oppressive place. A self portrait of Fabelo as a monster abandoning with fear the margins of his own picture gives us a hint as to the conflict in the life and work of the painter. 

Of course, Fabelo’s calibre is encyclopaedic. His drama belongs to everyone and isn’t confined to the cartography of Cuba or of Cubans. Neither are Goya’s uniforms, swords, canon fire and vermin limited only to the Napoleonic era, all of which ask whether there isn’t anyone that can let them loose. Between both painters gravitate two centuries, annulled by the same sensibility. It’s probable that exile, memory and death, which have always pursued Fabelo, will catch up with him finally in Europe. It’s the price of immortality.

One of the triptych: ‘Discurso de las tres moscas’ [Speech of the Three Flies], oil on canvas, from 2013. (14ymedio)
Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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