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Signs of Death

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

In Cuba, the media of mass communication omitted the death of the prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, one of the 75 defenders of human rights who were jailed during the Black Spring of 2003.  The news, without a doubt, has been circulating the entire world as of Tuesday, February 23rd, thanks to the independent communicators and the pages run by exiles who followed his state of health.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a native of Banes, in the province of Holguin, was 41-years-old.  He was on the 80th day of his hunger strike, protesting the beatings given to him by his jailers, who caused a blood clot in his brain last year.  In this grave state he was taken from Camaguey to the prison Combinado East Havana, from where then they sent him to die in Amejeiras Hospital.

Days before, half a hundred Cuban political prisoners solicited Luis Ignacio Lula, president of Brazil, to please intercede in the situation of Zapata Tamayo with the island’s leadership with whom he met with during the Rio Summit, which took place in Mexico.  Parallel to this, Ileana Ros-Lehtienen, US legislator of Cuban origin, asked for the intervention of Pope Benedict XVI.  Even the Spanish government, colloquist for the Castro brothers in Europe, expressed their concern during the meeting with officials of the island that took place in Madrid.

Zapata Tamayo’s sacrifice is another message of death under the Castro regime, a regime whose politics defeats the purpose of the efforts of President Obama of normalizing relations between Washington and Havana and discredits the Spanish government, bent on retiring the Common Position, adopted in 1996 by the European Union as a response to the peak of repression of the communist dictatorship.

The signs of violence against the peaceful protestors characterizes the government of Cuba, where there are 200 jails and almost 100,000 prisoners, of which hundreds are defenders of human rights.  The systematic repression runs parallel to the discourse of “external dangerousness” and the trading of revolutionary dispatches, which conceal the national erosion on behalf of the adventurers who hold power.

Although in January there were four political prisoners released from jail, three of them for completing sentences, the repressive actions confirm the violence of a government that denies the ratification of the bill of Human Rights, sponsored by the United Nations.  The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 93 cases of detentions in December of 2009 and 113 in January 2010.

This intransigence is a message of death and desperation.  Orlando Zapata Tamayo is the latest victim.  The government opts for imposing fear within the island and defies the international community, for it is accustomed to surviving from isolation and the absence of communication with the world. Some allies and the control of the mass media is enough for them.

Living Word and Forgotten Voices

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

cartel-de-miguel-hedez

In one of the stands at the Havana Book Fair, which was held at La Cabana between February 11th and 21st, we found the result of a testimonial project of great interest for Cuban culture. I refer to the Living Word Collection of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Center, consisting of 21 cassettes and 23 CDs with the voices of prominent literary figures of the island.

Since its founding in 1996, The Pablo Cultural Center has promoted testimony and oral history among researchers, journalists, writers and sociologists living in Cuba. To that end it awards the Remembrance Prize and established the Fund for the Word, which has more than a hundred recordings of poets, storytellers, and artists, some from other places but all connected to the island.

It’s fine to rescue in any form the expressive legacy of our creative artists, but after reviewing the dozens of cassettes and compact discs we realized there were regrettable omissions. You would only have to pan a camera over the list of honorees to realize the forgotten voices. And not just those who took flight in search of greater creative freedom, but also poets, novelists, journalists, and historians who write in Cuba. Take, for example, Rafael Alcides or Lina Feria.

The Living Word collection of the Pablo Center was a project started by one of its collaborators, the journalist Orlando Castellanos (1930-1998), who interviewed hundreds of intellectuals and wanted to preserve the memory of our creators. The recordings began in 2000 with the tapes donated by Castellanos, and later sources such as Raul Roa talking about Pablo, taken from the soundtrack of the documentary Pablo (1977), by Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, produced thanks to the Archive of the City Historian. The compilation switched to compact discs in 2004, with the volume dedicated to the Spaniard Federico García Lorca.

The cassettes contain, additionally, some devoted to the poets Luis Rogelio Nogueras, Fayad Jamis, Eliseo Diego, Nicolas Guillen, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Félix Pita Rodríguez, Miguel Barnet, Rafael Alberti, Carilda Oliver, Dulce María Loynaz and Pablo Armando Fernandez. The recordings capture the voices of storytellers like Onelio Jorge Cardoso and Alejo Carpentier, the comedian Enrique Núñez Rodríguez, and the painter René Portocarrero, who speaks of the rhythm and color of Havana.

The compact discs evoke Federico García Lorca in the voices of Cuban and foreign artists (Rafael Alberti, Ian Gibson, Benedetti, Celaya Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and “revive” the characters of muses like Jose Soler Puig, Victor Casaus, Thiago de Mello, Cintio Vitier, Julio Cortazar, Cesar Lopez, Guillermo Rodriguez Rivera, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, and those previously mentioned, Orlando Castellanos, García Márquez, Alejo Carpentier and Rafael Alberti.

At the 2010 Havana International Book Fair we acquired two new Living Word compact discs. Both are dedicated to the centennial of personalities from various fields. One is on the Cuban José Juan Arrom, and the other is about the shepherd-poet Miguel Hernandez, who died in prison in Alicante, Spain, at age 31. Love and war are the themes of the Hispanic bard, in whose voice we now hear the Song of the Soldier Husband, along with tributes by Cuban musicians and writers.

There are voices that are overlooked Collection Living Word — poets, essayists, storytellers, historians and other architects of the written word who live within or outside the country — whose oral testimony would add new shades to the island creation. It is illogical to ask a state-subsidized institution to assume such a great challenge, but censorship is evident, because none among the honorees slips in a critique of the daily absurdities of this society governed by bureaucracy and centralism.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Avatar in Havana?

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

avatar

The Chinese government prohibited the exhibition of the latest film by James Cameron, for they fear that the allegories of the Avatar may stimulate the revolt of millions of people against the successors of Mao Tse Tung.  The Havana mandarins did not see similar ghosts in the spectacular narration from the creator of Terminator and Titanic; we already enjoyed it on television and dozens of digital copies circulate throughout the country from hand to hand.

And that is how I just saw it, without 3D glasses like New York or Beijing- thanks to a pirated copy that circulates on a CD.  My first impression was fascination.  The second was more quiet.  Here goes my review.

It is a sci-fi thriller, a super-production with spectacular special effects, about encounters between humans and aliens from the planet Pandora, where a group of scientists are investigating the natives, while the military aboard the expedition are occupying the territory after the results.  One doctor (Grace), a mutilated sergeant (Jack), and a colonel are the foreign protagonists.  The daughter of the tribal chief and her relatives complete the rest of the plot.  Its development depends on a virtual passage by means of a team that produces the avatar — a living being that is made to act by another and interacts with the natives.

Avatar is a visual story that is entertaining and pleasant, with beautiful scenery and pyrotechnical editing that revive certain myths of the past and certain anxieties of present time, like the issue of the environment, energy sources, and space exploration.  The terrestrial machinery that works against the tribe from Na’vi, blue and athletic beings who live in harmony with nature, evokes the “Noble Savage” of JJ. Rousseau and resurfaces the notion of “our fault” of human advancement that destroyed prior civilizations.

But the script of James Cameron, friend of ambiguity, accomplishes a conciliatory solution.  The love between the avatar and the young Na’vi girl changes his mission, which then takes sides with the tribe and confronts the troops that are attempting to take over the allusive blue planet.  In the last moment of the film, the young Jack wins over the trust of Toruk (God of the Sky) and unites other clans of Pandora that eventually help achieve liberation.

Despite some rehashing of old themes, the movie is full of creativity and generates controversies of political, religious, and social interest.  The usage of special High Definition cameras, capable of various filming techniques in unison, lends to a sensation of profound images and of spectacular actions, generating more than 50% of the $237,000,000 it cost, which was recuperated during the first days of exhibition throughout theaters in the US.

It’s worth watching and enjoying Avatar — another gift from the North American film industry.  We don’t know if it will ever reach the dark theaters of our island, but the new project by James Cameron is already going around in videos and computers.  A little bit of art does a lot of good in this insular Pandora.

Translated by Raul G.

Books and Tributes at the Havana Fair

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

feria-del-libro-de-la-habana-027

On Tuesday, February 9, Cubavision offered prime air-time to the officials of the Institute of the Book, who provided details about the International Book Fair of Havana, which will be held from February 11 to 21 on the grounds of the Morro-Cabaña fortresses and from February 22 to March 7 in the libraries of 15 other cities.

According to Edel Morales, vice-president of the institution, already 300 titles are on sale in 48 bookshops of the capital, including the central Pabellón Cuba and the fairground enclosure of Rancho Boyeros. The Pabellón dedicates its rooms to the cinema and the plastic arts of Russia, guest of honor, whose presence implies the re-opening of the interwoven ties between the island and its former mother country from 1960.

The Russians will have a 430 meter stand in La Cabaña, where 300 publishers will show 3,500 classic and contemporary titles, some dedicated to the language, the arts, history and sciences, and the majority to genres such as poetry, stories, childrens literature and fantastic works. Among the translated writers will be Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Bulgákov and Eugene Tushenkov.

Among the titles of this nation announced are I speak Russian, Basilisa the Beautiful, Soldier of Death and anthologies of stories and poetry prepared by the publisher Art and Literature. Russia brings, in addition, exhibitions on Chekhov’s 150th anniversary, the centenary of the death of A. Tolstoy, cinema posters and interactive activities on children’s drawings and historical and political celebrations, such as the 65th anniversary of the victory over fascism and 50th of the alliance between the USSR and Cuba.

Already The Inkstand circulates a pamphlet with publishers’ offers, presentations of works, meetings, honours, concourses and the personalities invited to the 19th Book Fair of Havana. Printed in El Cañonazo, Cubaliteraria.com’s informative supplement, which reports the writers rewarded by the system of prizes of Cuba: the Alba Narrativa Prize 2010 supported by Fondo Cultural ALBA of Venezuela, and the Dulce M. Loynaz Centre of the Cuban Institute of the Book.

Since the fair of 2010 is dedicated to the writer Reinaldo Gonzalez and the historian Maria del Carmen Barcia, winners of the National Literature and Social Sciences awards, the principal works of these authors have been re-printed. From Reinaldo’s we will be able to acquire The Party of the Sharks, Forever Death in its Brief Passage, Conversation on the Terrace and The Most Human of Men, about Félix B. Caignet. Among Maria del Carmen’s are Blacks in Colonial Havana, The Other Family, The Working Class and Modernity in Cuba 1878-1930, and A Society in Crisis: Havana of the 19th Century.

The Fair will pay tribute to national and foreign artists who reach their centenary, such as the Spanish poet Michael Hernández and the Cuban Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Matanzas, 1810-1844), Dora Alonso, Jose Lezama Lima and the great historian Manuel Moreno Fraginals, the only exiled figure who reappears in the exclusive stands of Havana. For the bicentenary of Plácido they have re-printed his poetry and a collection of articles. To Lezama Lima born in Havana in December 1910, they will dedicate colloquia, pamphlets, two volumes of his complete works and the compilation Lezama Dispersed, by Ciro Bianchi.

On the centenary of Miguel Hernández (Orihuela, Spain, 1910-1942), honoured in Cuba in 1943, the eponymous Foundation that promotes his work joins in sponsoring certain volumes to present at the Havana Book Fair, including his poetry with Roberto Fernandez Retamar’s prologue; Rather Bloodied, Chronicles of the War; The biography of Michael Hernández: Passions, Jail and Death; the anthology Michael Hernández in Cuba (1937-2008), by the Hispanic critic Aitor Larrabide; a book about the musical quality of his poems; the disc A Song for Miguel prepared by the concourse convened by the “Paul de la Torriente Brau” Center, and the premiere of Divided Kingdom, a theatrical work by Amado del Pino concerning the friendship between Michael and Paul, companions in the trenches during the Spanish Civil war.

The Havana Book Fair will offer more than 400 titles printed in Cuba and five million prints, many of which come from Russia, Spain and nations of Latin America.

Translated by: Araby


Speeches of Saturn

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

habana-1959

Anyone who wants to understand what happened on our island during the twentieth century, need only see Cuba the Beautiful, a 43-minute documentary by the filmmaker Ricardo Vega, who has composed a montage of key moments from 1902 to 1994 through archival footage.

The camera of Vega, the director and producer of the CD, surveys the history of the Republic and lingers on the 1959 revolution. The speeches of a euphoric Fidel Castro convey the atmosphere of the period without interference from other characters, interviewers, or explanatory text. Only applause from his supporters and some testimonies and drawings illustrate the voice of the leader, who speaks of goals and projects, and directs how to solve each problem.

A phrase of President Tomás Estrada Palma – “We have a republic, now we need citizens” – disquiets the viewer while listening to the raving Fidel Castro, whose messianic poses illuminate the future and dismantle the structure of the republic.

In Cuba the Beautiful, Castro is the voice. The country is his stage. The verbal incontinence of the political showman needs no comment, as he views life from a position of power, proposing, judging, and disposing in the name of the people. But his populist experiments do not hold up after the fall of the Soviet Union; the island is set adrift; the architect of manipulation hits bottom, but without wavering he then asks for “unity of action.”

The images of the mass exodus, and the testimonies of young people who left on rafts in 1994, allow the filmmaker to juxtapose these with what Castro said in New York in 1955: “Batista is solving the problem of unemployment: thousands of Cubans are forced to leave their homeland …”

Surprising to the audience are other phrases of the leader on democracy, development of livestock and agriculture, education, supplies, and events like the Missile Crisis (1962), the occupation of Prague by Soviet troops (1968), the foundation of the newspaper Granma, and terrorism.

When establishing the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (1960) he stated:

“We will establish a system of collective revolutionary vigilance, so that everyone knows who lives on the block, and what they do … and what relationship they had with the tyranny, and what they are dedicated to, who they meet with, what activities they’re involved in … ”

The voice of the ruler returns like a boomerang from forgotten promises and slogans: “… the high material and cultural level attained by a planned economy …”; full supplies of poultry meat (1961), of groceries (1962), of fish (1963); the guarantee that with nationalization there will be no lack of clothes, shoes, food and medicines for the population, plus the campaigns against the imperialist enemy, those “guilty of backwardness,” and illnesses like dengue hemorrhagic fever and swine flu.

In the exodus scene, the documentary testifies to the ideological orphanhood of the multitudes who escaped the paradise proclaimed by the Communist leader, whose demented leadership divided the nation, spread poverty, and devoured thousands of Cubans.

Saturn Devouring His Son, Peter Paul Rubens

Translated by: Tomás A.

Neither Tough Guys Nor Cowards

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

An Argentine tourist commented to some bloggers in Havana that Cubans don’t fight against the communist dictatorship.  “They don’t fight, they don’t unite for their demands, I haven’t seen signs, strikes, or banging on pots and pans against the government, like what happened in Argentina, Chile or Uruguay during the military regimes.”

The perception has its own logic.  The tourists who interact with some of the opposition describe the problems of the island, smelling of repression and police impunity.  Almost all end up asking, “Where is the courage of the Cubans?  Why don’t they fight for their freedom?”

In principle, they are right, what they can’t understand is that the socialist regime, contrary to the traditional dictatorships, leaves the citizens totally helpless. The group that owns the power also owns the media, the press and the productive forces, which allows them to control the economy, the culture, and the teachings through a party that excludes the rest of the political forces and imposes the ideology of the ruling government.

To this characteristics you add the proclaimed “Social conquests” (Education, health and social security), the supposed fight against the imperialism, the economic embargo and the propaganda about the exceptional Cuban revolution, principal pill of the speech that legitimizes the regime, whose ideologists make their own the most beautiful ideals to justify the violation of the fundamental freedoms of the citizens.

The proclaimed “exceptionality” of Cuba is a myth as deceitful as the Cuban courage. The history shows that systematic repression keeps our people in check. There is a terror incorporated since the 1960s. The massive firing squads, and the exaggerated jail terms against those who dared to dissent still paralyze the citizens. Perhaps this is the reason that the simulation — people faking what they think — the treating of everything as a joke, and the tendency to emigrate instead of facing the dictatorship, confused people of good will who worry about the situation of the island.

Cubans are neither tough nor cowards.  Those who compare us with East Germans, Czechs, Poles, and Romanians, do not know or forget that these nations endured communist totalitarianism that the Soviet Union imposed on them at the end of the Second World War until it fell into a crisis in the mid-eighties.

The Island regime no longer counts on the resources and cooperation of the old Soviet Union, but it receives help from other governments and maintains totalitarian control intact despite the ineffectiveness of its  system of domination.  It is logical to think of the union of the opposition forces in massive demonstrations — like what worked in Argentina or Chile — but this does not work in Cuba.  Here there is a transmutation of values.  We are so saturated with slogans and enemies that people turn the page when they hear talk of bravery and patriotism.

Translated by: Mari Mesa

Passion for China

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment


The economic and social successes of the People’s Republic of China is one of the favorite themes of the media in Cuba, controlled by the ideologues of the Communist Party, who seem fascinated with the development plans of the giant Asian country, a friend of Castroism for half a century.

While economic relations are the unfinished business between both parties, the Cuban soothsayers predict that “in the world today all roads lead to China,” which “was the victim of a temporary recession in 2009, but resumed its momentum” and is moving toward “a harmonious and balanced society,” based on “strategic measures identified by the Communist Party,” which has governed alone for six decades.

The chroniclers of the newspapers Granma, Rebel Youth, and other Island media reported with astonishment the prospects of the Asian giant for 2010, the year in which “China will displace Japan as the second global economy,” raising its influence in international organs and developing commercial ties with Africa and Latin America, where it purchases raw materials and invests in infrastructure and social projects.

The media campaign from Cuba praises China’s hegemony in the world economy, applauds its scientific and technical development, and predicts an interdependence between that nation and the United States, “which can no longer ignore it but tries to contain it” to prevent its emergence as a counterweight.

Our media barely remembers that China is an underdeveloped country, with 1.3 billion inhabitants and an annual growth of about 15 million people, which multiplies its problems, marked by the gap between the city and countryside, the technological dependence on foreign nations, and the low purchasing power of the population, whose cheap manpower favors the enrichment of the communist officials, who deny political liberties and imprison human rights activists.

The passion for the “rapid development” of China confirms the nexus between the Island bureaucracy and the Red mandarins who are transforming that country.  In both there is a savage capitalism with a socialist facade.  The commonality of positions on the international stage are due more to ideological convergence than to the great amount of “cooperation.”

China is a paradigm of changes for the Cuban elite that slows the opening.  What’s more, the fascination appears to be a mirage.  The fear of losing power paralyzes the tropical mandarins, who hide the board before moving the chips. Until now, they have praised the Asian ally and censured the “enemy to the north.”  Will Castroism be a Chinese curse?  Will we continue on the edges of its walls?