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The Uncertainty of Julia

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Julia Estrella Aramburu Taboas. neighbor of Aguila 836, Old Havana, will not spend this end of year with her son, Harold Alcala, nor with her nephew, Maikel Delgado.  Both are prisoners in the Combinado del Este prison, sentenced to life since the Spring of 2003.

Harold was 23 and Maikel 29 when they boarded the ferry Baragua that crosses the Havana Bay to the town of Regla.  They didn’t want to cross, but rather to flee the country for Florida, with eight other young men with broken dreams.  Harold and Maikel were not carrying knives, pistols, nor did they use violence or intimidation against the passengers taken hostage, although that does not excuse them from responsibility.

They never reached their destination, only the port of Mariel, where they delivered the passengers to the commando of the Ministry of the Interior who promised to resupply them with fuel in exchange.  The officers didn’t fulfill the agreement.  The jail and a summary trial sealed the fate of these young kidnappers.  They did not kill or injure anyone, but three of them were executed, four condemned to life in prison, one to thirty years in prison (Wilmer Ledea Perez), and three to smaller penalties.

Since then, Julie Estrella Aramburu Taboas works for the modification of such drastic sentences. Barely sleeping, consulting lawyers, preparing and sending documents to the highest level sin the country.  She knows that her descendants committed a crime that placed the lives of innocent people in danger.

“I don’t ask for their release but for a review of the case.  Neither Harold nor Maikal had criminal records.  The attorneys tell me that the sanction is excessive and doesn’t bear a relation to their personal conduct, the participation and actions stemming from the intent to leave the country illegally in a state craft.  In the narrative of the sentencing no action beyond that of a co-participant is described.”

Julia filed two applications on the case.  The first to the Department of Criminal Revision of Havana, answered on October 24, 2007.  The other to the Supreme Court of the Republic, on July 14, 2009.  A month later she asked for a dispatch to President of the Council of State and Ministers, who could not attend to because of overwork.

“The first time they notified me that there had been no change in the social policy context in which these events occurred, that the case remained filed.  The Supreme Court said that they were not in a position to respond to the review process.  Could there be an immutable order with respect to this?”

Between the frustration and uncertainty Julia Estrella sends our the documents she possesses of that summary trial of April 2003.  “Since they are behind bars.  The visits are every three months, chained at the waist.  Harold suffers tension migraines and pain in the joints.  Maikel’s hair is falling out, he has a herniated disk and vision problems.  This December, again, we will not be together.”

The Legacy of War

December 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Sunday, December 6, I read in the newspaper Juventude Rebelde, a story by José Alejandro Rodríguez in which he evoked Operation Tribute, that macabre event in December 1989, when crowds of Cubans filed past the mortal remains of thousands of compatriots who fell in the wars in Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia and other parts in Africa, where they had gone to support one of the warring parties on the orders of the former Soviet Union.

In Warriors of the Legacy, the reporter echoed the official version that justified the invasion of Africa with more than 300,000 Cuban soldiers, now classified–as they were then–as liberators who came in veneration of their ancestors, “the genetic vindication our our Mandingo and Bantu ancestors.”

According to J.A. those warriors, young men for the most part, “fell for us and paved the way to African liberation,” for which they fell at “the frontier of glory” and we must “ask them to enlighten us in these battles of today, so subtle and misleading.”

In contextualizing Operation Tribute and other events of the so-called Cold War, the Cuban media embellish the past and forget certain readings of history to legitimize the promotion of violence in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  The international landscape has changed, but the fabrication of tricks to justify real and imaginary battles is the same, the specters of yesterday use the same arguments.

We are not warriors by inheritance.  The inheritance is terrible and is not summarized with metaphors nor concealing images.  Cuban soldiers and officers did not go to the African wars voluntarily, they were following orders.  The vast majority were serving their Obligatory Military Service.  The liberation of Africa is a myth.  Are Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique or Namibia free?  Free of whom? Of Dos Santos, of Mengistu Halle Marian, of Mugabe, or of the Castros?

The young Cubans who embarked for Angola and Ethiopia were following the siren song of an ideology they were taught in school.  More than internationalists, they were pieces in a political chess game, cannon fodder to glorify the puppeteer controlling the board.

The martyrs of our military presence in Africa were Odysseus no return.  They left on the island the brides without veils, Penelope without palace or loom, children without fathers, mothers and widows without consolation.  Death, desertion, insanity and divided families were part of this inheritance this which involved a nation that lost its innocence.

Two decades after the burial of thousands of Cubans involved in colonial wars in Africa it is childish to wrap the intervention in the same litany, although the vindication of the ancestors, as if all Cubans were of African origin, the blood spilled, the patriotic glory, the liberation and proletarian internationalism adorn the old story of the discourse of power.

Polish films at the Festival of Havana

December 4, 2009 Leave a comment

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During the Havana Film Festival, from December 4th through the 13th, La Sala at 23 and 12 in Vedado premiered 9 Polish movies filmed between 2006 and 2009. All original versions with subtitles in Spanish.

Organized by the Polish Institute of Cinematic Art, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Havana and Tomorrow Promotion Agency, the sample is part of a cycle of events that broadcasts the Polish cinema in the world, through which Cuban visitors enjoyed, between 2007 and 2009, some thirty works by directors such as Andrzej Wajda, whose retrospective was held in November last year.

The opening will be Friday 4 to 8 pm with the showing of 33 Scenes From the Life by the director Malgorzata Szumowska with performances by Julia Jentsch, Peter Gantzler and others who weave the story of Julia, a young photographer who lives happily with her intellectual family, between Krakow and their country house, until circumstances force her to re-assess her point of view and start over.

The remaining works include two comedies and 6 dramas. The former includes Tips from director Andrzej Jakimowki, full of humor, cars, women, love and a child who defies fate in search of his father. While The Magic Tree by Andrzej Maleszka, is a fiction about the power of objects made from the remains of a tree and some children who travel on a flying chair to join their parents in another country.

The dramas in theaters are Plaza de Salvador, by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze; The Garden of Louisa, by Maciej Wojtyszko; Everything Will Be Fine, by Tomasz Wiszniewki; The Pen, by the famous Andrzej Wajda, a multidimensional story based on a story Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz; With Heart in Hand, the renowned Krzysztof Zanussi; and Four Nights with Anna Jerzy Skolimoswki. Plaza de Salvador incorporates real events that took place in Warsaw and features the tragedy of Beata and Bartek, whose family lost their balance when they lose the apartment because of the bankruptcy of the company that built the building.

On the whole, these are films of great artistic merit on dissimilar aspects of contemporary life in the Central European nation, whose filmmakers show they are at the forefront of European cinema. Conflicting or late-blooming love, the friendship between a man and a boy, the impotence of an oligarch in the face of death and the boundaries between normal personal feelings color the essence arguing for such films.

The samples of Polish cinema in La Sala at 23 and 12 in Vedado arrive preceded by awards and are expected to raise the interest of Cuban movie goers, gathered to enjoy international offerings with works from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American nations during the 31st Havana Film Festival.

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The Year of Mathematics

December 4, 2009 Leave a comment

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With the closure of the Eleventh National Congress of Mathematics and Computer Science, held in Havana between November 18 and 20, came the end of the Year of Mathematics in Cuba, launched on October 31, 2008 to promote activities that attract people to this science, improve  enrollment and prepare young people to pursue this career in higher education.

The theoretical debates and educational issues affecting teacher recruitment of future mathematicians were at the center of the analysis, according to Dr. Luis Ramiro Piñeiro Díaz, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics, University of Havana and President of the Cuban Society of Mathematics and Computer Science, who told reporters of the need to elevate the image of the mathematician, encourage teachers and researchers and disseminate the importance of math among parents, children and adolescents.

According to the Dean, “Math makes things happier; you need it everywhere; it helps you do accounting, and calculates the speed of vehicles when crossing the street. Advanced math helps show real patterns; polls are an example.  If there is no math there can be no biotechnology. The best vaccine requires a statistical study of its effectiveness. ”

The academic pointed out that the Year of Mathematics included the Course on Numbers and figures in history, taught in an enjoyable way by the University television program for everyone, as well as work in upper secondary education to enhance the students’ approach to mathematics and other exact sciences like Physics, Chemistry and Biology, affected by the low number of graduates in the country’s higher centers of learning.

In order to reverse the situation, the Minister of Higher Education offered the eleventh-grade students the possibility to take entrance tests in these disciplines. Those selected are now completing their twelfth year in the universities, where they will be on the same track as those in the Pre-University Institutes for the Exact Sciences, in addition to having vocational orientation and taking laboratory classes.

The low number of graduates is palpable even in the faculties of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology at the University of Havana, where 10 or 15 were graduating every year. Actually, 125 students from the western provinces of the Isle of Youth are in the twelfth grade in the higher center of studies. Twenty-two of them graduated in Physics, 25 in Math, 28 in Chemistry, 30 in Biology and 20 in Physical Engineering.

To regain ground and show that the sciences are attractive, other preparation and instruction methods are being used that avoid the stigma of difficult subject matter. “It’s a question of learning to think and developing the capacity for analysis,” affirmed Luis R. Piñeiro, who added that in order to increase the number of alumni, the entrance system has been changed, and more rigorous requirements have been imposed that guarantee a vocation for future mathematicians.

The Year of Mathematics ended with the award of the prize “For Mathematics Education,” that brought together children and young people to express this science through drawings, poems and stories. In addition, they awarded the Pablo Miguel national prize (for outstanding research) and the Raimundo Reguera prize to professors with long-standing experience.

Translated by Regina Anavy