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


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.

Now Havana Wants to be Dulcinea

From left to right, Yunior García Aguilera, Rosa Montero, Eva Orúe and Gioconda Belli, during the reading of the manifesto at the Madrid Book Fair. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García Aguilera, Madrid, 12 June 2023 — At the recent Madrid Book Fair, they read out a manifesto: Literature, always on the side of freedom. The regime in Havana, always quick with a smart answer, put out a riposte in the name of Casa de las Americas, with the title: On the side of Don Quixote.

They accuse the editors of the manifesto of “giving in to the campaign by the hegemonic press against anyone who refuses to accept the dictates of Washington.” How very ironic, coming from a people who bend over backwards to the dictates of Moscow, to go out to battle with this faded old cliché. Perhaps they don’t realise that their “joker” convinces no one anymore? Maybe they just have absolutely no imagination left at all? Are they that mediocre that all they can do is cling onto arguments that are so obsolete, so yellowing and worn out with endless, interminable use?

Perhaps it needs to be gently pointed out to the Cuban regime that the principal promoter of this manifesto is Gioconda Belli, winner, no less, of the Casa de las Americas Prize in 1978, amongst many other honours. The Nicaraguan poet and novelist doesn’t need to ’give in to any campaign’ – because she has been, along with her compatriot Sergio Ramírez, at the centre of attacks from a deranged dictator like Daniel Ortega. Also, these two have received the support of an overwhelming majority of intellectuals,  along with all of the other people who have been forced into exile – although Havana maintains a stony silence on such immense injustice.

Among the signatories of the Manifesto are some huge names – some of which the centre, at 3a and G in El Vedado hasn’t yet been able to invite to attend. And it’s probable that some names have been gathered in error (something which has already been rectified) but there we see other names like: Rosa Montero, Juan Carlos Chirinos, Joan Manuel Serrat… and the list just keeps growing.

The Cuban authoritarianism’s declaration, having nothing to put forward in its defence, takes futile refuge in the pages of Quixote and tries to pass itself off as Dulcinea del Toboso. They demand that we judge them as good and just people, though everyone knows that there’s nothing left to celebrate there.

The land of Dulce María Loynaz is just a sad wasteland today, in which the hospitals and the schools fall to bits whilst the number of luxury hotels and the number of prisons multiplies. Cuban artistes suffer censorship today like in the worst times of the pavonatowhilst they see all their rights flattened and with no right of reply. Every Cuban tilts against absurd windmills every single day, carrying out great heroic feats just to obtain a plate of food and dreaming about escape from this hell. continue reading

In Cervantes’ book, Dulcinea represents the platonic love of the protagonist – although in reality she is the idealised form of a country girl called Aldonza Lorenzo, whom the author describes, in a cruel manner, with shades of humour, saying that she  was the woman who was the most skilled at salting a pig in the whole of La Mancha. And even when Sancho Panza presents Quixote with a supposed Dulcinea it’s really a foul smelling wench with a hairy wart on her top lip. Don Quixote, a prisoner in his own delirium, justifies the woman’s ugliness by saying that she’s been the victim of some “magic curse”.

It’s understandable, that a regime which has nothing at all positive to show in its master plan, would insist on appealing to Utopias. But more than sixty years have already passed and real life could not be more dystopian than it is now. It is utterly unforgivable that they continue with this fraud, passing themselves off as some kind of joke princess with the hairy wart on her top lip. These people neither want nor plan for any project for their peoples’ freedom. The only, only, thing that interests them is clinging onto absolute power at all costs. The reality of Cuba is not a Cervantes one, it’s an Orwellian one.

We Cubans are totally screwed off now with this stupid endless obsession with romanticising the misery and suffering of a people. The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, wants us to be a modern Numancia, although the inhabitants of that village situated on the Muela mountain ended up dying of starvation, from slavery or by suicide. Not long ago, Josep Borell said that Cuba will be the Mallorca of the Caribbean. As the top representative for foreign affairs in the EU he didn’t seem in the slightest bit worried about the more than one thousand political prisoners, nor about all the violations of human rights: he saw only beaches of white sand where European tourists go to get tanned. He only sees the threat from the Chinese and the Russians’ plundering our land whilst Europe fails to grap its own share of the pie.

But Cuba does not want to be any kind Numancia, nor a Mallorca, even less a Dulcinea. Cuba wants to be free. And then, when we are, we will tear down all of those windmills.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

Some 300 ‘Almendron’ Taxis Queue Up For Diesel at an ‘Exclusive’ Gas/Petrol Station in Havana

From Monday, the petrol/gas station El Futuro [the future] will be selling diesel only to private transport companies. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 12 June 2023 – At least 300 private almendron* taxis queued up this Monday at the gas station El Futuro, on Calle 100 / Vento – in the Havana district of Rancho Boyeros. At this service centre, which from today will sell diesel only to private haulage firms, the police were directing the taxis in three at a time, in the order of their arrival.

Some of the drivers, who had actually run out of fuel while they were waiting, ended up having to push their cars in order to stay in the queue.

In a brief publicity announcement on its website the provincial government had warned that in order to be served it is necessary to have the correct operator’s licence.

The maximum allowed quantity of fuel per vehicle is 100 litres, and only in the vehicle’s tank – it’s not permitted to use a separate canister or other container. They explain that “people will be served in order of arrival, governed by a record that will be kept at the service centre”.

“It’s important to explain that one can still get fuel at the four other service centres created for the purpose and that this kind of activity will continue to be maintained in the province”, said the text, without specifying anything.

This measure coincides with the start of the new tariff for private taxis announced last week and which have caused discontent amongst drivers. According to one article published in Tribuna de La Habana, the prices charged will be obligatory between five in the morning until nine in the evening. Outside of these hours, say the authorities, “the tarriff will be by agreement between client and operator (supply and demand)”.

The police were directing the taxis in three at a time, in order of their arrival.(14ymedio)

The official newspaper includes, with details, the different taxi routes and planned pricing. Short journeys are fixed at 45 pesos, medium ones are between 70 and 100, and the longest ones, such as from Guanabo Beach to Old Havana are capped at 170.

The man in the street and in various centres of work isn’t so much worried about the prices but rather the lack of available transport. A young vet said this Monday: “Whether a taxi costs me whatever it needs to, what does that even matter when the problem is that there aren’t any”. She had to pay 2,000 pesos for a 12 km journey.

*Translator’s note: Almendron borrows the Spanish word for ‘almond’ to refer to old American cars, derived from their ‘almond-shape.’

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

More Than 40 Intellectuals Sign a Manifesto Against Dictators’ ‘Siege’ on Freedom of Expression

The Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli, in an archive photo. (EFE/Víctor Lerena)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Madrid, 7 June 2023 – More than 40 intellectuals from Spain and Latin America have signed a manifesto against the”siege” on freedom of expression imposed by “dictatorial” regimes – an initiative led by the Nicaraguan writer Giaconda Belli, stripped of her nationality by Daniel Ortega’s government.

Literature, always on the side of freedom and democracy, is the document’s title, signed by intellectuals from Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba. It will be read out next Friday at the Madrid Book Fair.

Belli will share the reading with Spanish writer Rosa Montero, Cuban opposition leader Yunior García and Venezualan author Juan Carlos Chirinos.

Between February and March the Nicaraguan authorities withdrew the nationality of more than 300 people critical of Daniel Ortega, including Belli, “for betrayal of the country”.

Among those signing are: Héctor Abad Faciolince, Alberto Anaut, Nuria Azancot, Valeria Correa-Fiz, Antonio Lucas, Inés Martín Rodrigo, Joan Manuel Serrat, Juan Cruz, Alfonso Mateo-Sagasta, Soledad Puértolas, Carme Riera, Germán Solís, Dani Torregrosa, Manuel Vilas, Juan Villoro, Alexis Díaz Pimienta y Fernando Iwasaki.

They demand democracy and respect for human rights in countries “where totalitarian regimes have left the mark of death, prison, plunder, confiscation and banishment on those who have opposed the “dictatorships”. continue reading

“Countries which brand critics as traitors and condemn them in farces that they call ’courts’ without proof nor the right to defend themselves” – they say. “Countries where citizens are subjected to a regime of terror and espionage, where they remove a citizen’s nationality, steal their possessions, force them abroad and refuse their return”.

These are the countries where they shut down language academies and poetry festivals, silence civil society and the independent media are gagged”, they declare.

And they emphasise the need to never forget or be indifferent to these situations, and to support those writers, artists and media who denounce them from exile.

The signatories encourage the writers to work actively and coordinatedly in this fight against the abuse and violation of human rights.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

The Cuban Writer Nancy Morejon Censors Herself at the Paris Festival of Poetry

“I’m sad that hatred disguised as freedom of expression ended up imposing itself on art”, declared Nancy Morejón to the official communist press agency Prensa Latina. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 7 June 2023 – The Cuban poet Nancy Morejón has announced that she will not participate in any part of the Marché de la Poésie (Poetry Marketplace), which takes place from this Wednesday until next Monday in the Saint-Sulpice de Paris Square.

A note in Prensa Latina says that the organisers “censured” the “recognised poet”, although the only thing that happened was that, because of complaints from various intellectuals led by Jacobo Machover, the Festival’s presidency of honour was taken from her.

“I’m sad that hatred disguised as freedom of expression ended up imposing itself on art”, declared Nancy Morejón to the official press agency, who insist: “The idea of culture was marginalised by giving prominence to politics, after the decision by the organisers to remove Morejón from the honorary presidency due to external pressures regarding the intellectual’s commitment to the Cuban Revolution.

The poet decided not to attend – not even as an observer – any of the events that were arranged in the programme, which has guests of honour from Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica. Nevertheless, she did “share” with Prensa Latina “some aspects” that she would have tried to address in the speech she had planned to give, before being removed from the honorary presidency. continue reading

“My speech expressed the idea that poetry is a shared common ground and is a message of peace and of love”, along with a desire that “beautiful words should preach in favour of full dignity for men and women from all regions”, Morejón declared to the official Cuban agency.

One day before the inauguration of the Marketplace, the Cuban ambassador in Paris got together with the poet and other writers close to the regime.

The decision by the festival organisers had – the previous week – been attributed to the “machinery of imperialist hatred” by the island’s Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso.

In a press release, the organisers of Poetry Marketplace had nevertheless already given assurances that their decision was justified in the defence of “all the forms of freedom, whether in creativity, opinion or expression” that characterise the event.

Signed by Yves Boudier, president of the ’c/i/r/c/é’ association which sponsors the Marketplace, the text referenced the existence of “pressures, rumours and attempts” launched by both sides of the conflict – the cultural authorities in Cuba and Morejón’s detractors – which contributed to the reasons for the cancellation.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

The Characters of ‘The Waiting’ Live in a Cuba that is Adrift

’La espera’ [The Wait] is a feature film made in Guantánamo and is directed by Daniel Ross. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 5 June 2023 – A universe in miniature tries to survive in Cuba, despite neglect and dirt. It is the house of the Republican poet Regino E Boti (1878-1958) in Guantánamo. Poor and adrift, the only riches in the shack are the bottles of amber liquor and a battalion of chickens that let no one sleep. Its occupant, and protagonist of the film La Espera [The Wait] by Daniel Ross, is the poet’s grandson who shares both his first name and surname.

The film, a fiction about loss and sorrow which was premiered in France last month, is based around the house itself, and Boti, who moves between its rooms like some kind of Minotaur. Bearded and unsociable, yet very noble, the man receives his few friends and offers them everything he has: sweet potatoes, eggs, alcohol and company. It’s the sole comfort that remains for him after the death of his wife, whose clothes he keeps carefully on the marriage bed, “because objects also have souls”.

His routine is stifling: wake up with a hangover, make coffee, switch on the radio – always guantanamero music – feed the animals and spend time on little artisan crafts like drawing or making models out of matches – which he later sells.

When the meditation and the silence appear to have reached a climax and Boti seems to have reached something resembling peace, a huge explosion sounds in the vicinity of his shack. These are the mines which go off outside the nearby U.S naval base whenever a Cuban tries to cross into the zone. Someone – it’s not known who – leaves the shoes of the dead on the doorstep of the house, which Boti throws up onto the flat roof like some kind of ritual.

Fortunately, after each explosion his friends arrive, also loners: Moya – a Quixotic beggar and meditation enthusiast; and a soldier from the Cuban frontier brigade who never gives his name.

Via this soldier – in love with a female soldier whom he tries to “knock over” with poetry – Boti discovers something about life in the base. The savagery in the  brigade shocks him, and for this reason he agrees to look continue reading

after a little dog which ran across the border and came back chubby and fit thanks to the Americans’ feeding him. It was an absurd gesture but the party leaders in Cuba then declared the animal a “traitor” and ordered it to be hunted down.

Boti clings so much to the dog’s affection, that he sees in her, if distantly, a copy of the love he had for his mother. Accustomed to seeing ghosts, the trust which the dog shows him seems to him more pure and dignified than any human behaviour. In any case, Moya – who we see for the last time naked, euphoric and gripping a rifle as he heads into the mountains – and also the soldier, both have something bestial, wild about them, and for this reason it’s easier to show them the door.

One views both the house and the naval base – as if they were living creatures – with rancour, in a country that would, if it were able, abolish the existence of both: Boti’s shack because, with its junk and hundred-year-old furniture, it reminds us that the past was better; the military buildings because they are the thorn that Fidel Castro could never remove from his heel.

Daniel Ross’s camera captures the harshness of Guantánamo, the suffocation in Boti’s mind which, in many ways he reproduces in the house itself. The director has shown that it’s more and more difficult to produce a film on the island, and that the cinema of today is just a survivor that’s moving closer to the abyss. Nontheless, the young creator overcomes the technical obstacles impeccably.

If anything should be particularly pointed out about the film, it’s rather the quality of the story, whose rhythm is more tiring than it should be and it quickly abandons some very powerful symbols and motifs. To resort excessively to fixed planes, to focus over and over on objects and landscapes, and to work less on actual dialogue, threatens the economy of the narrative. Nor was it a good idea to insist on including the final sex scenes, which end up clouding the symbolism of the absent wife – otherwise plotted subtly by means of the clothes, the dog, the glass of water and the poems.

Despite these neglected areas – and those of the performances, which, perhaps because they are course end up being endearing – ‘The Wait’ will go on to have success at international festivals and it promises to be just the start of a career in film for Daniel Ross.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

‘When I Left Cuba’, the Untold Story of the 4,000 Minors Who Fled to Spain

Photograph by publisher Casa Vacía showing a group of Cubans in Spain in 1966 — just some of the children who travelled to the country. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerXavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 21 May 2023 – On 25 April 1969, Remberto Pérez was reunited with his family in the United States after two years separation. He’d escaped from Cuba just as he’d turned fifteen – the Armed Forces were ready to call him up – and he headed for Madrid, where a Franciscan priest, Antonio Camiñas, took charge of looking after him until his parents could leave the island.

Las Tunas had become an inhospitable city for the Pérez family. His father spent long days under the hot sun in the east of the island, under constant threat of a machete, and unpaid: this was Fidel Castro’s punishment for asking permission to leave the island. His mother, after saying goodbye to her son Remberto at the airport, discovered that she’d become pregnant for the fourth time.

His sister María also remained behind, and after more than fifty years she hasn’t forgotten what those last years in Cuba meant for the family. Two years after Remberto’s departure in 1967, they all managed to emigrate to the United States.

Remberto and María had much to talk about: he had become one of the so called “children of father Camiñas” — between 1966 and 1974 the Franciscan managed to give refuge to around 4,000 minors in Spain for as long as was necessary — she had witnessed the deterioration of the country just as she had witnessed the deterioration of the family itself.

“I said goodbye to a fat little boy and met up in New York with a tall handsome youth who dressed like The Beatles”, remembers María Pérez, 69, in conversation with 14ymedio. “Nevertheless, he was shocked when he saw us. My father was very suntanned, I was very skinny and my mother wasn’t well”.

The siblings decided to tell Remberto’s and the stories of the other children – those children of what some people have named Operation Madrid – in the book Cuando salí de Cuba [When I Left Cuba] (Casa Vacía), with the collaboration of the historian Ricardo Quiza. continue reading

The silent protagonist of the story – which brings together 50 testimonies – is Antonio Camiñas, a priest, born in Remedios in the old province of Las Villas and expelled by Castro to Spain. For María Pérez, it is “a moving story” that has been ignored for decades by Cubans.

Camiñas arranged for the welcoming of the island’s children from the church of San Francisco el Grande in Madrid – which became his general headquarters; the minors had been on the point of being recruited into Castro’s armed forces.

“The main reason for getting the children out  was the Military Service Act which required young men aged 15-27 to remain in Cuba”, Pérez explained. “However, the immediate danger were the UMAP [internment work camps for ‘undesirables’]– the military units that give support to manufacturing, because the boys were nearly all religious and from anti-establishment families, that had expressed their desire to leave the country”.

“Everyone remembers Camiñas as a kind of angel but one with his feet firmly on the ground”, he says. “He was very Cuban. They said he smoked a lot. He gave all the boys affectionate nicknames. He was also a very practical man”.

Photo by publisher Casa Vacía: Father Antonio Carmiñas with the aunt and uncle of siblings Remberto and María Pérez, authors of the book ‘When I Left Cuba’. (EFE)

Food, clothing, medication, transport: Camiñas was an administrative genius who shared his skills with other priests and Cuban families in Spain. The children will never forget the black Cadillac owned by Isabel de Falla – a millionaire from the old Cuban nobility – which picked them up from Barajas airport. “It was like an ocean liner cruising through the streets of Madrid”, they record in their testimonies.

Camiñas, Pérez says, never wanted to publicise his work, not only out of discretion but because he considered it his mission as a religious human being. The children are grown up now but that doesn’t prevent them from “going back in time” through the retelling of the tale – to the El Escorial hostel, the Casa de Campo and Navacerrada, where Camiñas gave them shelter.

It’s the voices which are important in ‘When I left Cuba’ – a book of testimony, not a history book. It will fall to more studious writers, says Pérez, to explain some of the deeper questions surrounding Operation Madrid, such as: how did Camiñas manage to avoid Castro interfering in his plans? Was there some secret agreement between the regime and Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator who died not many years later in 1975? Why did Cuban propagandists decide to hide the childrens’ story instead of using it to discredit those who chose exile, as it did with Operation Peter Pan, in 1960?

“The objective of the book is to open up a window to such questions”, admits Pérez. Not even the families involved are sure where the plan came from. In Cuba in 1966 they began to talk about that “route” for getting the children to Spain. You had to go to the embassy, obtain the documents and pay for the passage.

“It cost me a lot to think that the Cuban government wasn’t in agreement with the Spanish one. Nearly 4,000 children couldn’t leave a country without the regime knowing”, he reflects. Spain and Cuba, he adds, never broke off relations and Castro had a certain kind of friendship with Franco, of whom he said that “he never treated his government badly”.

At first it was a bit disorganised, says the co-author of ‘When I left Cuba’ – for example, the case of the boy who arrived at Barajas but there was no one there to pick him up. “A police officer spoke to him and took him to an office where, by chance, they knew about Camiñas’s work. One of the officials took him home and he stayed there until he was taken to the priest a day or two after”, he says.

In another case a boy of 11 was taken in a bus directly to the church of San Francisco el Grande. “Because of these situations Camiñas began to organise daily visits to the airport to see whether there had been any children who arrived unaccompanied. There were many people who helped him”, he explains.

At the Escorial and the other hostels the children lived out their adolescence as fully as circumstances allowed. They collected pesetas to travel into Madrid for walks, went on tourist trails, were well liked by everyone and talked nonstop. “They cried during the night; in the morning they got up to play ball”, says Pérez. “Of the ones that I know, none blamed their parents for the decision that they made”. 

Eventually the time came to tell the whole story. Remberto came home and said to his sister: “Oskar Schindler saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust and the whole world knows about it. But father Camiñas saved nearly 4,000 Cuban children and today no one remembers who he was”. 

María’s first idea was to approach the writer Enrique del Risco, who couldn’t take on the project but recommended Ricardo Quiza as a collaborator. The process took two years, during which dozens of “children” were interviewed. “It’s all recorded”, Pérez assures us, thinking about a possible audiovisual future for the project. 

After seeing the results and the reception of ‘When I left Cuba’, both Pérez siblings are convinced that it will get harder and harder for the regime to hide the story of Operation Madrid. “My parents were sure of one thing: they wanted to save their children. I believe that they did”, says María, whose memory “beats and goes on beating” for the island – as it goes in the song by Luis Aguilé which gave its title to the book.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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.

The Cuban Regime Hijacked the Academy of Languages for Critcising Daniel Ortega

From left to right: Jorge Fornet, current director of ACuL, the writer Arturo Arango, Professor Luisa Campuzano and the dramatist Reinaldo Montero. (Facebook/OHC)

14ymedio bigger Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 15 May 2023 – On 20 June 2022, the Cuban Language Academy (ACuL) sent out a laconic message: the poet Roberto Méndez, who should have led the institution until 2026, gave up his post “for health reasons”. His successor would be the essayist Jorge Fornet, the then vice-director and one of the confidantes of the regime in Casa de las Americas. The change was unexpected and, looking for an explanation, 14ymedio contacted Méndez. The writer never replied.

Nevertheless, another member of the Academy, interviewed under condition of anonymity, explained to this newspaper why Méndez was relieved of his duties, what tensions the institution had been living under in recent months, and how it had been hijacked by the government.

The crisis of power began in May 2022, when Daniel Ortega put before his parliament the closure of the Nicaraguan Academy of Languages, “sister” to the Cuban one. This measure put the Havana academics ‘in check’: either they condemned them – as many organisations and intellectuals were doing – or they stayed silent, showing a lack of autonomy and a complicity with Ortega, an ally of the Cuban regime.

“Contrary to all predictions, Méndez decided to sign a document of solidarity with the Nicaraguan academics”, says the member of the Academy interviewed by 14ymedio. In addition, the writer supported an announcement by the Spanish Royal Academy (RAE) which expressed its “deep concerns” with Ortega’s action and vindicated “the freedom of thought, expression and association” in the country.

The poor turnout of members, on 21 April, to the traditional homage to Miguel de Cervantes on the Day of Language, in San Juan de Dios Park, was telling. (Facebook/OHC)

“Méndez’s letter was not widely seen nor disseminated”, says this newspaper’s source inside the Academy. “The publishing of the document was not down to a personal decision: it was something agreed by the five members of the government Junta. The plenary session was not affiliated with this business”. 

He had only been director of the Academy for four months.  continue reading

When Roberto Méndez began as director of the Academy on 18 February 2022, the Communist Party’s newspaper welcomed his being chosen for the post and said that everything remained “in good hands”. However, the official press has kept silent since his resignation and didn’t announce that Jorge Fornet had taken over the role in January. 

After months in limbo, the Academy attempted to return to its normal functioning. Fornet, who worked for years as right hand man to the cultural coordinator Roberto Fernández Retamar, was finally presented as leader of the Academy at the ninth International Congress of the Spanish Language in Cádiz, Spain, in March.

“There are some leaders that are awarded their role like it were a prize, but there are other cases in which it looks more like they’ve been bought. That is the case with Fornet”, thinks the Academy member interviewed by this journal. 

Despite his loyalty at Casa de las Americas, Fornet’s trajectory has not been irreproachable in the eyes of the regime. Author of numerous essays about the cultural politics of the Revolution, and son of the similarly “problematic” writer Ambrosio Fornet, the essayist is remembered for a volume that was never sold in Cuban bookshops: The 71: Anatomy of a Crisisa formidable analysis written in the year in which the poet Heberto Padilla was arrested by the State Security. 

“The appointment of Fornet is an attempt to “cleanse” him once and for all, of all of his lacking in orthodoxy. The government wants to set him on the right road, that’s why he was offered the job. And it looks like it’s getting results”, says the Academy source. 

The “voluntary” defenestration of Roberto Méndez and the ascent of Fornet had, besides, a higher objective: to gain a definitive control over the ACuL, an institution which defended to the hilt its autonomy throughout the Republic and which Fidel Castro, from 1959 onwards, tried in vain to dismantle.

“As the Revolution failed to eliminate the Academy, it decided to infiltrate it” – just like it did with the masons and many other institutions – explains the interviewee. The ACuL’s resistance to Castro, with with Dulce María Loynaz as leader, is legendary.

Watched closely by Perla Rosales, the implacable deputy director of the Historians’ Office – and their supreme leader in practice -, the Academy members knew how to disguise…[their hijacking by the regime] (Facebook/OHC)

Méndez himself related, in a published article, how when he was a young man and recently arrived in Havana, the corporation [Academy] seemed to him like an anachronism compared with the institutions created by the Revolution. It was a “strange mixture of retired professors and ruined nobles”, all brought together in Loynaz’s large house, in Calles 19 and E in El Vedado, which functioned as one of the bases of the institution.

With the passage of time, and in the face of the extreme age of the writer [Loynaz], the Academy was regulated by intellectuals affiliated to the government and agents of counterintelligence, who infiltrated the corporation little by little: Lisandro Otero, Salvador Bueno, Roberto Fernández Retamar and Nancy Morejón. In 2012, after decades of suffocation by the regime, the ACuL was absorbed into the Historians’ Office, at that time led by Eusebio Leal. Under Leal’s patronage, the corporation began its definitive relocation to the San Gerónimo school building in Old Havana.

“The key to understanding how the Academy functions today is to observe the essayist Graziella Pogolotti, a figure who has received very little attention but who is the person that dictates the government instructions to the corporation”, says our interviewee. “The decisions that Graziella implements, with help from Professor Luisa Campuzano, are those which the Ministry of Culture have taken.

It was Pogolotti (she who also had links to the State Security) who, according to our source, arranged the dismissal of Rogelio Rodríguez Coronel, director of the ACuL up until 2022, and his substitution by a “malleable” candidate like Roberto Méndez.

“Bearing in mind the Academy’s team, Méndez was announced as the ideal director” said the source. “No one was going to choose a novelist like Leonardo Padura, who joined the corporation in 2019. Nor a writer like Mirta Yáñez, who has never meddled in problems. The same goes for less ‘noisy’ academics like the linguist Sergio Valdés Bernal or the historian Eduardo Torres Cuevas. The ‘old camajanes‘ [rough translation: lazy old parasites] of Cuban literature, like Antón Arrufat or Reynaldo González, would never have accepted the role”.

Méndez didn’t have any qualms in accepting Graziella Pogliotti’s idea, says the source. “Everyone else said no”, he insists.

It is very revealing that the condemnation of Daniel Ortega, aside from its limited repercussions, didn’t lead to the expulsion of Méndez from the ACuL, the academic observes. “The regime itself also has an image of cordiality to maintain in front of the Association of Spanish Language Academies (Asale) and the RAE”. Havana won’t dare to repeat Managua’s [Nicaragua] action.

Regarding Jorge Fornet, he remains under surveillance and is “still disposed to be bought”, he concludes. Meanwhile, the essayist continues to lead the Academy and continues to try and establish a working rhythm there, amongst all the crises and divisions.

The small turnout of the Academy’s members on 21 April at the traditional tribute to Miguel de Cervantes on the Day of Languages, in San Juan de Dios Park, was very telling. Watched closely by Perla Rosales, the implacable deputy director of the Historians’ Office – and their supreme leader in practice – the Academy knew how to disguise their definitive hijacking by the regime, with smiles and bouquets of flowers.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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 Study Examines the Birth of a Dialect of English in Miami Which is Influenced by Spanish

Calle Ocho in Little Havana (Miami), during carnival. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 14 May 2023 – The city of Miami lives under the influence of the Spanish language, which is spoken by a large proportion of the population. There is now being born a possible new dialect of English which uses certain expressions from Spanish, in generations which are bilingual, according to a study by the Florida International University (FIU) published in English World-Wide, a magazine which specialises in variants of the language.

On Thursday the FIU published some of the results of a study which shows that certain expressions exclusive to Miami are evidence of the emergence of an English dialect (a kind of Miami English) in the south of Florida, which is what results when two languages come into close contact.

In one case, the study shows, expressions in Spanish are being “borrowed” and translated directly into English and then used by bilingual generations.

“Carrying out an investigation such as this one, one is reminded that there is no such thing as a ’real’ or a ’pretend’ word, there are only words, and all of them come from somewhere”, said the FIU linguist Phillip Carter, the author of the study.

“Every word has its own history and that applies to all words spoken in Miami”, said Carter, who has studied spoken English in the city for a decade, understood as a variant with a subtle Spanish structural influence, spoken principally by second, third or fourth generation native English speakers. continue reading

Previously, the specialist has studied so-called “carbon copies”, which is when a speaker translates an expression literally, from one language to another.

The study reveals that this is what is happening in Miami, that is to say that Spanish expressions are being introduced into the local English language.

For example: “Bajar del carro” becomes “get down from the car”, and not “get out of the car”, the latter being the standard English way of saying it, influenced by the Spanish expression spoken in south Florida.

The phrase “una empanada de carne” becomes “a meat empanada” in place of the more common “beef empanada”, because, says the study, in Spanish it all depends on the context: “carne” may refer to any meat (including chicken or pork) or specifically only beef.

“There does not exist a single language that has not borrowed words from another”, said Carter, after pointing out that “borrowing is an unavoidable reality in all the languages of the world” and that when the majority of a population speaks two languages “you get a lot of interesting linguistic connections”.

The study includes a series of expressions in common usage in Miami in a number of English speaking groups, focusing principally on first generation Cuban Americans born in Cuba who emigrated after the age of 12, but also on second generation Cuban Americans born and brought up in Miami and who speak more English than Spanish.

Although some Spanish influenced expressions weren’t used by second generation speakers in Miami, nevertheless, they were not completely abandoned, the study concluded.

“Get down from the car” (“Bájate del auto”) and “super hungry” (“súper hambriento”), for example, remained in use.

Actually, “meat empanada” (“empanada de carne”) and “give me a chance” (“dame una oportunidad”) were used with the same frequency by the second generation as by the immigrant one.

“This shows that the Miamians rate certain phrases in different ways and don’t see them as being grammatically incorrect”, said Carter, adding that “it’s how dialects are born”.

Carter also wanted to know how these kinds of Spanish-influenced expressions were perceived by Miami residents compared with their reception by English speakers from other parts of the U.S.A.

For this he selected more than 50 sentences that Miami natives found to be more favourable than did speakers from outside of south Florida.

For example, the aforementioned “get down from the car” and “super hungry” sounded wrong to people from the rest of the country, whilst for people in Miami they sounded “perfect” or “correct”.

Carter says that the data suggests there’s a fine line that separates what sounds “foreign” from what sounds acceptable in Miami.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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 Soldier’s Daughter

Painted by the Cuban Jorge Arche about 1935, ‘The Letter’ is one of the most enigmatic pictures held by the National Museum of Fine Art in Havana. (MNBA)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 7 May 2023 – I re-read Dulce María Loynaz, I listen to recordings of her voice, I submerge myself in her world. I see her descending to the lounge of her house in an iron elevator. She opens the grille and exits, fanning herself, passing between the armchairs and yellowing sculptures. She recites what may have been a monologue from ancient tragedy: “I live alone, I have no children. I lost my husband, I lost my brothers. I’m not afraid of anything — imagine! I am the daughter of a soldier. The daughters of soldiers are not afraid and neither should they be”.

Her life, which spanned a whole century, took her from Havana to Ankara, and later to Damascus, Tripoli, Cairo, New York, Mexico, Salamanca and her much-loved Tenerife. It must have been strange for a woman like her to later become anchored in one city and one house. She must have felt that only her presence, her authority — that authority which her departed ones and her books gave her — prevented her from being under siege. 

How did she survive for so many years? What did she eat? Who visited her, or who cut her hair? Which allies remained with her? Did they watch over her, or denounce her? Steal from her to frighten her? What nightmares could frighten a woman like that? How did she tolerate the harshness of being old in Cuba? She did, however, always manage to keep herself above any vulgarity and above people’s questioning. 

Dulce María’s dignity, however, reaches a point at which it was difficult to maintain: at the Cervantes Prize acceptance ceremony in 1992 she loses the ability to speak. Her speech is read for her by Lisandro Otero — as lifelessly as a ventriloquist’s dummy. Otero, a commissioner with pretentions of being a writer, “a pastiche of Carpentier and Durrell” — as Pedilla described him — and one who would never have arrived at the assembly hall of the University of Alcalá under his own merit, must have trembled with jealousy when, years later, Guillermo Cabrera Infante was awarded the same prize. continue reading

Miraculously, Dulce María’s words are not distorted by the other person’s voice. She speaks about Cervantes and his “immortal book”, and allows herself, before the Spanish royals, an anecdote about the War of Independence: In 1895, her father, Enrique Loynaz del Castillo, took part in an expedition to Ciénaga de Zapata. Breaking into the jungle, he comes across someone asleep: it’s a Spanish soldier who’s somehow been left behind, and who’s head is resting on a copy of Don Quixote.

In a lovely episode from Soldados de Salamina [Soldiers from Salamina], the man manages to escape, but he leaves behind the book and a leather case, “rich with jewels”. Loynaz eventually returns the booty but keeps the book, which he’s started to read underneath a tree, in order to avoid the bother of having to cross the swamp. After a while the other soldiers hear his guffaws. “Carry on laughing”, his companions tell him, and they beg him to read the book out loud to them — because he’d discovered “a way of escaping from hell”.

“It isn’t hard to cry on your own. However, it’s almost impossible to laugh on your own”, the elderly woman finishes by saying, through the man’s voice. The nervous faces in the hall wait, sure in the knowledge that there’ll be some words of criticism for Castro’s regime, a final, rousing fighting speech. However, instead Dulce María talks about writing as a salvation for the “pursued and the misplaced”, like Cervantes, like captain Loynaz, like herself. Did she need to add anything else?

Dulce María returns for a final time to Havana. She tells someone that she’s come to think about Havana in the same way that she thinks about animals — dogs and birds. Her father never agreed to keeping the latter in cages, because in her house, she says, there was always a great passion for freedom. And what a house it was to live in. Carpentier tells us that the the Loynaz siblings had turned the working day on its head. They woke up at five in the afternoon and, as if emerging from coffins, they lived by night. It’s well known that all of them were poets and all had a great sense of memory.

The house was Dulce María’s other ‘avatar’. In her lament for the mansion’s “final days” — written, as a prophecy, in 1958 — she misses “that effervescent life”. In one of her last interviews, her voice trembles: “It made me suffer a lot in my life seeing the sorry state that the house got into over the last few years. But I couldn’t do anything to save it. So the only thing I hope and wish for is that it ends up by just collapsing”.

A woman’s best quality is her mystery. Dulce María always respected that. One can re-read her with much pleasure, but nothing impresses one more than her ethics. Around her — today as much as yesterday — swarm the political writers, the satirists, militants, spies, sectarians, the effete, the dissidents, the exiled, the indifferent, the mediocre, the brilliant, the vulgar and the opportunists. Any old snitch or informer can provoke her with a question but she doesn’t bat an eyelid. “The Havana of today? Better not to talk about it. Excuse me”. And she gets up to go and look at her collection of fans. 

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

The Guitar Maker Gibson Donates Guitars to Students at Cuban Art Schools

Photograph provided by Gibson, of students of songwriting from the Cuban National School of Art. (EFE/Gibson)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 11 May 2023 — Gibson, the iconic brand leader in musical instrument manufacture, has donated 52 acoustic guitars as well as sets of strings and other equipment to students from the Cuban National School of Art, mediated by American ex-football player Derek Walker, goodwill ambassador for Gibson Gives.

According to an announcement on Wednesday, Gibson Gives, the charitable arm of Gibson, donated a hundred sets of guitar strings, guitar picks and 52 Epiphone acoustic guitars to 21 music education programmes run nationally by the school.

In addition, “in the next few months” Gibson will give 100 more Epiphone guitars to the school, which forms part of the state education system.

“The composition of Cuban songs has a rich history and a global impact; we’re delighted to do our bit to help assure that this tradition continues to prosper with the next generation”, said Dendy Jarrett, executive director of Gibson Gives.

Zulema Armas, deputy director of communications and international relations at the National Centre for Art Schools on the island, agreed that the donation was made with great vision for the future.

“By putting instruments like these high quality guitars into the hands of our aspiring artists you are contributing to the development of young talent who will be the future stars of all the main stages, thus making the world a better place through their creativity and vitality”, said Armas. continue reading

Walker, who was a professional player in the American National Football League (NFL) as defence wing, delivered the instruments and equipment personally to the students.

“I’m still very grateful to Gibson for believing in my initial vision of giving picks and strings to Cuban students. In less than one year I’m amazed that we’ve been able to donate Epiphone guitars to 21 music schools throughout Cuba”, said Walker.

The announcement added that all of Gibson Gives donations are destined to “give the gift of music”.

In the last three years, Gibson Gives, the “philanthropic arm of Gibson”, the famous guitar brand founded in 1894, has raised more than three and a half million dollars throughout the world through its mission.

“Gibson Gives believes that investing in musical education will produce better people, better leaders and a better world”, says the organisation.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

‘Eros and Politics’, by the Irreverent Juan Abreu, Stands Out Amongst Books by Cuban Authors Published in April

All the latest monthly literary releases, including works by recently deceased authors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 1 May 2023 – To celebrate the centenary of the Cuban author Fina García Marruz, who died in June 2022, the Spanish publishing house Huso has reprinted her book Pequeñas memorias [Little Memories], which they first published in 1955. Wife of essayist Cintio Vitier and member of Grupo Orígenes, García Marruz was one of the most influential voices of twentieth century Cuban poetry. 

According to her niece — also a writer — Josefina de Diego, the author of Pequeñas memorias doesn’t only offer conventional anecdotes but also an inventory of memories “with a deep and intensive poetic charge”, as well as a portrait of her own character. The volume is also a “beautiful homage to a person who dedicated her whole life, with love, respect and passion, to literature”.

The narrator and dramatist Abilio Estévez, who recently published the short story collection Cómo conocí al sembrador de árboles [How I Met the Tree-Planter] (Tusquets), provides readers with the play Las palomas y el general [ The Doves and the General] (a ceremony by Tierra Caliente in thirteen insane episodes). According to Abel González Melo, it’s a book that “dissects, from the very ruins of Utopia  the voracious labyrinth of barbarity”, and which follows the legacy of novels about Latin American dictators.

The new edition of Eros y política [Eros and Politics] (Alegoría), by Juan Abreu, was presented at the Café Guijon in Madrid on 26 April, by the deputy of the Popular Party – Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo. The scathing and irreverent portraits of numerous Spanish public figures — accompanied by his own illustrations — consolidates the author as one of the most liberal voices in written prose among Cuban exiles. continue reading

The poet and critic Roberto Méndez revives, through his biography Felipe Castro and the Catholic University Association (Universal), the story of the Galician Jesuit who founded one of the island’s most active youth institutions during the Republican era, which Fidel Castro set about closing down after 1959. The association, still active in Miami, played an essential role in supporting the Cuban exiles who organised the expedition against the dictatorship in the Bay of Pigs in 1961. 

Un día como hoy [One Day Like Today] (Bahía), by Alcides Herrera, presented in New York this month as part of a tribute to its author, was described as a “neo-historicist exercise in parody” by Elvia Rosa Castro. In his pages, she added, Herrera subverts the “institutionalised history drowned in its own tedium and in its own lessons and regulations” and turns it into a story. 

A new edition of El negrero [The Slave Trader] has been added to the Verbum catalogue: the unorthodox biography which Lino Novás Calvo wrote about the colonial slaver Pedro Blanco Fernández de Trava. The Spanish writer José Manuel Caballero Bonald, who died in 2021, described Calvo thus: “He may be included in the list of great creators of marine adventure novels — writers like Conrad, Stevenson, London and Melville”. 

The literary magazine Bifronte, coordinated between 2005 and 2006 by writers Luis Felipe Rojas and Michael Hernández – with the support of the bishop of Holguín — was digitised and made available to readers by Rialta. In its editions there appeared texts by writers who were polemical and “difficult” (for the regime) and who eventually had to abandon the country — people such as Antonio José Ponte, Rafael Vilches, Carlos Esquivel and Ernesto Santana.

Bifronte was born for dialogue, for conveying ideas and for putting together a new vehicle that would steer ahead, towards tomorrow. One particular conviction? Never just one, but similar ones to this one were prized: that culture never survives a false unanimity” — a belief held by its editors since its first launch. The magazine published stories, poetry, articles, reviews and interviews, with its focus on contemporary Cuban literature. 

The death of storyteller and promoter Eduardo Heras Leon motivated a polemic about his role in the cultural politics of the Revolution. Since the announcement of his passing on 13 April, many of his students from the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Centre for Literary Training (founded with the foresight of Fidel Castro) as well as many Cuban writers on and outside of the island, remembered distinct episodes from Heras’s life and offered up judgements on his complicity with the regime. 

Also recently deceased — in the U.S. — is the writer and teacher Lourdes Gil. The Cuban Cultural Centre in New York, an institution with which she collaborated closely, remembered her as “a complete Martí specialist and dear friend”. Gil directed the literary magazines Romanica and Lyra, and had a recognised academic career in the United States, a country she arrived in as a young girl in 1961 as part of Operation Peter Pan

With the awarding of the Cervantes Prize to the Venezuelan poet Tafael Cadenas on 24 April, the relationship between literature and democracy gained a new prominence in Latin America. During the prize ceremony, the author of Derrota [Defeat] declared the urgency with which the world must defend freedoms in countries like Venezuela – which, along with Cuba and Nicaragua represents the most retrograde and therefore toxic form of leftist politics in the region — and asked that literature “recreate”, through education, democratic thought. 

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

All the Books and the Shade

View of the General Historical Library of the University of Salamanca, where hundreds of manuscripts and incunabula have been kept since the year 1254. (Antoine Tavenaux)

14ymedio biggerXavier Carbonell, Salamanca 23, April 2023 – As winter worsened, curled up in my train seat I received a message from an old acquaintance. He was one of the librarians from my village whose wooden house with coloured roof-tiles, not far from the park, I had visited more than 15 years ago. Are you the student, he asked, to whom I gave the Encyclopaedia Britannica?

That was a long time ago — all the cities and the friendships lost, the time I started to smoke, university, significant relationships, the death of my grandfather, reading, discotheques and ghosts. Of course it had been me. I immediately saw myself grabbing a good bicycle, soliciting the help of some friends — only one of them came along — and heading for the librarian’s huge house.

A few weeks earlier I had stolen a Borges anthology from my school. What that volume had to offer, even just by flicking through it at random, was not something that one ever forgets: “Ireneo Funes died in 1889, from a lung infection”.  And: “Our mind is porous for forgetfulness”.  Or, if one played chess: “God moves the player, and the player moves the chess piece. Which God behind another God starts the game off?”

Any age is good for reading Borges, but 17 is ideal. Infancy is already just a memory; youth has only just begun. The blind man — “slow prisoner from a sleepy time” — arrives to accompany you in that rite of passage. I learnt from Borges that there was a sacred book, or more exactly a multiple of books: the Encyclopedia Britannica. The hunt for one of these, with the objective of giving it an honourary place in the bookcase, was like searching for a magical object.

Victim of a naivety that today would feel delicious, I came to believe that the  Encyclopedia Britannica itself was as imaginary as Tlön, or any other one of those many made up titles that Borges alludes to and which later — as happened with The Approach to Almotásim — ended up being listed as real titles by gullible librarians. continue reading

I soon learnt that not only had the volumes existed since 1768 but that several of them had arrived on the island in the forties and fifties, bought by enthusiasts of the English language. The Britannica, declared the reviews and even Borges himself, understands the universe and puts it within our own arm’s reach. Thousands of engravings, maps, diagrams and fold-outs illustrated its articles and turned any one of its volumes into a cabinet of wonders, an optimum and immeasurable inventory. No reader’s lifetime would be long enough to enable them to digest the immensity of its volumes’ knowledge.

I don’t know how I came across the woman who, without having read Borges, was the owner of the 1929 edition. She had collected in a box some twenty or more copies, all with their gilt lettering and Prussian blue covers. I examined the books: among them there was evidence of moth larvae having drilled tunnels through the paper, through all the words – written passages chewed up with the dispassion of a reader. She asked me whether, despite this, I wanted to take the box. I answered yes, knowing that she was presenting me with a time-bomb, a veritable colony of implacable enemies that, after devouring the Britannica, would continue their expeditions through the rest of my bookcase.

The moths lived off the encyclopaedia until, years later, a kind of imperial decree forced me to get it out of the house. Deciding to save at least a fragment of that kingdom, I went through hundreds of thousands of pages, one at a time, cutting out articles I couldn’t lose, along with all their relevant maps and prints. Having to mutilate a book is the worst kind of torture that a reader can be subjected to. I tore a whole encyclopaedia to bits.

As I write this — too long after that day — I am looking again at those pages that I rescued. I carried them with me from the island and they form part of my collection of lucky charms. I have, with one beautiful Egyptian engraving, the word Rosetta. I have a little album in which pictures of archways and columns adorn the definitions of words like abbey, or romanesque. Unusual words like microtomy — the art of carefully cutting up plants and animals in order to study them — and the Quixotic bascinet and the biography of a German called Knipperdollink. There are also gentlemen, all kinds of trees, monsters, explorers, little devils and uncommon alphabets.

(My encyclopaedia wasn’t a dream, and the loose pages that I still keep do reassure me in that respect. I found out later that H.G. Wells, like Borges, had given the books an additional use: as an aficionado of toy soldiers, he used the volumes in his collection as the mountains and trenches of his battlefields).

Anyone who isn’t acquainted with these books, who hasn’t held one of these blue tomes in their hands — made up of “an infinite number of infinitely slender sheets” — cannot imagine the significance of the Encyclopedia Britannica for those who, at one time or another, like young people eternally aged, were their owners. As the blind man said, in that anthology which I stole 15 years ago: “Somebody else, on some other hazy afternoon, got to own all the books, and the shade.”

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

‘I Do Not Rule Out an Uprising Against the Cuban Regime, But There Are Many Factors Against It’

Reyes, just like other priests and clerics on the island, like Castor José Álvarez or Nadieska Almeida, have denounced the regime’s abuses in recent years. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Madrid, 22 April 2023 – On a visit to Madrid, a Catholic priest from Camagüey, Alberto Reyes, talks about Cuba as an island out of time. “There’s no present and no future there”, he says, “only the lethargy of continuity”. The most obvious symptom: the ‘re-election’ of Miguel Díaz-Canel, a decisive bet on continuing stalemate and antiquated discussion whilst the country’s place in its allies’ games — those of Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Mexico — becomes increasingly unclear.

Real life, however, goes on regardless: repression, fear, shortages and many reasons to emigrate, says Reyes, one of the voices inside the Catholic Church most critical of the regime, in conversation with 14ymedio. Not only have repressive actions been gaining ground but also the whole of the repressive environment itself. There are more and more people summoned by the security services and many warning notices issued. Any demonstration against the government is quickly checked. People are very afraid”, he says.

The general situation, the priest explains, is one of “learned defencelessness”, which means that since the 11 July 2021 [11J] protests, Cubans have been “inoculated” with the idea that there’s nothing further that they can do. One year after the protests, interviewed by this journal, Reyes had offered his diagnosis: “As a people we are tired and worn down, and life is ebbing away in the fight for survival; we are a people that has learnt to defend itself in any way it can, and which goes out to march and applaud with energy while at the same time planning a final exit from the country.”

The situation has only got worse, because now the predominant emotion, he says, is desperation and a longing for escape. “As there have now been so many escape routes opened – I’m thinking of Nicaragua, the financial support of the U.S., or the possibility of achieving  Spanish citizenship, as well as the illegal method of escape by small boat, which still continues — the focus is firmly on abroad”. There’s an almost universal mindset: “Why would I make myself a target when I’ve got the chance to leave and get away from this nightmare?” continue reading

A general sense of fear is preventing the uprising that many hope for.  Reyes says that across the island there are private protests and discussion, as well as small demonstrations against the regime but a protest like that of 11J is very difficult to bring about. “Also, there’s a lack of opposition leadership”, he notes, “Who will coordinate a demonstration? Who will channel the people’s energy? Who will speak out? I don’t rule out the possibility of an uprising, in fact I think it’s quite a strong probability but there are many factors working against it”. 

Regarding those already in exile, the priest is pleased that there are many of them who are working seriously towards Cuba’s future. Nevertheless, he says, “change needs to come from within”. “An exile can support, can assist, but it’s not that easy. You do what you can, with integrity”, he adds.

The island’s Catholic Church, on the other hand, has its own limits. The recent visit by Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who asked for “an amnesty or some other form of clemency” for the island’s political prisoners doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the regime, which has continued to demand severe sentences for those who participated in 11J. The island’s Episcopal Conference continues, it would seem, with the same strategy of non-confrontation.

However, Reyes is unequivocal: despite its social impact and works of charity, “the church isn’t a philanthropic organisation nor a political party”. It’s mission is essentially religious although it has not neglected for one minute to accompany the families of political prisoners or the creation of social initiatives to alleviate the people’s misery. The other side, he laments – the prayers and the being close to the people – “isn’t often in the news”.

“Regarding the political and social arena, we try, from where we are, to accompany people in their desperate times. We also try to shine light on people’s consciences and help people to think. If a priest writes an article or an invitation to reflect, I’m happy about that and I share it”, he says. Reyes, just like other priests and clerics on the island, like Castor José Álvarez and Nadieska Almeida, have denounced the regime’s abuses in recent years.

As there’s little sign of the country opening up to a new era, the most urgent problem is the exodus of young people. “I understand that”, he says. “They want to leave, live, make the most of the only life they have. When they can, they go. What’s the result? We have the most aged population in the region”.

Meanwhile, Díaz-Canel’s government, which ratified almost all of its cabinet members’ posts, moves closer every day towards countries like Russia — whose invasion of Ukraine it has witnessed with its own eyes — and local allies like Mexico or Nicaragua. In Reyes’ view, people don’t care much about the regime’s diplomacy. “There are more important things that they have to attend to, like getting daily bread to eat”. 

Nonetheless, the arrival of ambassadors and foreign politicians in Havana to greet Diaz-Canel as architect of the continuity of the Castro regimes never ceases to be disheartening: “If they keep on shoring up the system with economic assistance it will last a thousand years and this brings us to the same conclusion that everyone has: the most sensible thing is to escape”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.

The Fuel Shortage Leaves Havana’s La Rampa Deserted — No Cars, No People

Calle 23 in El Vedado, Havana, was seen to be deserted on Saturday afternoon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 16 April 2023 – ’Up La Rampa and down La Rampa!’ was the slogan used by all the people who flocked to Calle 23 in El Vedado, Havana at the weekends in order to get to or from the Malecón sea wall, or a cinema or the queue for the Coppelia ice cream parlour. All that activity has now gone, leaving behind  a deserted avenue, which, this Saturday at 5.30pm was seen to be empty of cars and pedestrians.

The fuel crisis has significantly transformed the view of what once was the left-hand atrium of Havana’s heart. There are closed cafeterias, restaurants only operating at half throttle and pavements/sidewalks lacking the usual activity of the capital’s residents, provincial visitors who used to come and check out the liveliest area of the city, or tourists keen to check out its bars and cabarets.

“We’re selling very little because there’s hardly anyone on the street”, Yusier laments — a waiter in a nearby private cafeteria which has had to resort to serving only on the terrace in order to keep both salons open. “People aren’t coming here from other areas now because afterwards they don’t have any way of getting back home, with the state that the bus service is in”.

In order to mitigate the fall in demand, the private business has set up a service which delivers pizzas, other foods and cold drinks to customers’ homes. “But it’s not the same as going out for a stroll and then having a meal, it’s a different experience. It’s people that give life to places and right now El Vedado is dead”, concludes Yusier.

The various taxi collectives that use Calle 23 as part of their routes are similarly reduced in service. On Saturday afternoon, three women were waiting on the main corner of El Vedado and Calle G, arms waving to try and flag down an almendron* cab. “I’ve been here an hour and there’s nothing. If I don’t get a cab soon I’m just going to walk it”, one of them told 14ymedio. continue reading

The centre of Calle G is an area of gardens and park benches which up until a few years ago was full of children and adolescents at the weekends. “We’ve moved on from complaining about them to missing them”, admits Maria del Carmen, resident of a three storey building on Avenida de los Presidentes, near to Calle 23. “Before, they wouldn’t let us sleep, and now what keeps us awake is the fact that they aren’t there! Where are they all?”

Maria del Carmen remembers the busy days when the pedestrian walkway down the middle of Calle G was packed from Friday onwards with all of Havana’s different urban tribes. There were rockeros, frikis, emos, góticos, aprendices de vampiros, raperos, mikis, repas** and whatever other groups there might happen to be in the most important city in the country. There were frequent complaints from residents and the police raided the area constantly and imposed fines.

Today, only the memory remains of that carnival of extravagant costumes, guitars, make-up and laughter. Niorvis, 32, worked as a caretaker for a nearby state restaurant which has been under repair for more than five years. “I spent my adolescence between Calle G and La Rampa, so that when I pass by there now it looks like a funeral parlour. All the passion is gone”.

If the fuel of passion is important for filling city squares, bringing people with a common interest together and keeping a group of friends singing until the early hours, it is no less certain that it is hydrocarbons which allow people from all parts of the city to meet up in one place. “The meeting up in Calle G has been snuffed out by police harassment, the number of people leaving the country, and transport problems”, Niorvis surmised.

Whilst he is evoking the past, a solitary bus passes in front of the man’s gaze, somewhat overladen and tilting with an excess of passengers. Dozens of people who are waiting at the Quixote Park bus stop get ready to try and board the vehicle. The bus can barely take on half a dozen before awkwardly heading out into the broad avenue, where only the clattering noise of the dilapidated vehicle can be heard.

When the bus has departed, temperatures rise at the bus stop. “I’m not leaving my house ever again”, says a woman carrying her child in her arms. “You can’t even relax when you do go out because every journey becomes a pain, like this one”, adds someone else. “But, guys, this is all gonna get fixed soon and there’s gonna be so much fuel you’ll even be able to gargle with it”, jokes another.

It’s getting late and the buildings begin to take on a reddish hue. In the whole of avenida 23 the only things that are moving with any dynamism are the forklift trucks and the labourers working on the construction which will be the tallest building in Cuba: the López-Calleja tower, so-named by people in allusion to the magnate of the military consortium Gaesa, who died last year.

A few shop signs begin to light up and La Rampa by night becomes a zone of shadows and silence.

Translator’s notes:

*’Almendron’ is the word used to refer to the classic American cars, generally in use as taxis, and in particular as shared, fixed-route taxis. The word comes from “almond” in reference to the shape of these ’ancient’ vehicles.

**This link (if your browser is able to convert it to English) describes in detail the various ’tribes’ and the sources and meanings of their names.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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.