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The Queen of Bolero/ Miguel Iturria Savon

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Amidst Cuban flags, famous boleros, and white flowers, thousands of exiles and hundreds of Latin Americans bid farewell to Olga Guillot on Monday, July 12th.  On Friday Guillot checked in to the Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami, that city where she lived in and occasionally performed ever since the 60’s, although Venezuela and Mexico were her first sanctuaries after leaving Cuba in 1961, while her voice still filled all the radios of the country.

Olga Guillot was dubbed the Queen of the Bolero, the Actress who sang, and the Latin-American Diva, among other titles awarded in her 60 year career, half a century of CDs – 14 of which went gold and 10 platinum- roles in dozens of movies, numerous tours around the world, and her nostalgic declarations about the freedom of her native island, where she achieved success at only 16 after performing on the show called The Supreme Court of Art.  She also was part of such vocal groups like the Siboney Quartet, until she debuted as a solo artist in 1945.  She achieved her first international hit when she recorded “Mienteme” (‘Lie to Me’), a song by the Mexican Chamaco Dominguez.

Olga Guillot, who was born on Trocha street in Santiago de Cuba on October 9, 1922, took the bolero all over the world and to new levels with her brilliant interpretations of such classics like “Mienteme”, “Tu Me Acostumbraste”, “La Gloria Eres Tu”, “Lagrimas Negras”, “Soy Tuya”, “La Noche de Anoche”, “Palabras Calladas”, and “Eso y Mas“.  During her artistic career she shared stages with such names as Rita Montaner, Beny More, Nat King Cole, Sara Montiel, Edith Piaf, Armando Manzanero, and Jose Jose (who always referred to her as his artistic Godmother).

Like Celia Cruz, Cachao, and other legends of popular Cuban music, Guillot did not get to return to the island, a subject which always came up in her success and in her frustrations.  Nostalgia marked her human and creative existence, but such artists like Malena Burke, Annia Linares, Vicky Roig, Emilio Estefan, Tito Puente Jr., Meme Solis, and Roberto Lozano, continue evoking her charisma and solidarity through their art.

Despite all the international fame and success achieved by this great artist, her name and her music were both erased from the Cuban music scene.  The state censorship was so deep that for three generations of Cubans, the recordings of the Queen of Bolero is limited to nostalgic references made by parents and grandparents.

While in Miami they are saying goodbye with flowers and flags to the first Hispanic artist to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall, in Cuba some of us music lovers are starting to search through our old acetates of Guillot and we ask our relatives in exile to please send us some recording of that one and only Diva, similar to Rita Montaner, Beny More, and Celia Cruz.

The death of the female voice behind the bolero could serve as an excuse to retrieve the musical and human legacy of Olguita Guillot and pay tribute to her on the other shore of this island divided by foreign passions of national art and culture.

Translated by Raul G.

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Proof of Life

July 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The gods do not descend from the ecstasy of the clouds, nor do psychopaths apologize for the consequences of their actions. Sometimes, however, they need to show signs of life, like people who, in an extreme situation, go to the notary to prove their existence in a public way.

Something like this happened with Fidel Castro Ruz, ex-president of Cuba and still the Secretary of the Communist Party, who a few days ago appeared at the National Center for Scientific Research and, as if this weren’t enough given the state of his health, on Monday the 12th he presented himself in the evening on the Roundtable News Program on Cubavision, where Randy Alonso and the camera crew gave a Proof-of-Life of the “retired” leader, who spoke with a certain coherence for more than an hour.

The public intervention of the ex-leader coincided with the beginning of the release of half a hundred prisoners of conscience from the Black Spring of 2003, and the cessation of the long hunger strike of the journalist Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, subjects evaded by Mr. Castro, who was busy predicting, in an apocalyptic form, the start, destiny and the end of the last battles in the war of the hemisphere, and coming down on the side of his allies.

The media vocation of our oracle coming as no surprise to anyone, many assume that the questions is not that expressed by the new oracle a la Walter Mercado of Cuban politics, who said similar things before his little intestinal fit took him to the operating room, if not as a demonstration of his physical existence and relative improvement health-wise, but so that the ill-intentioned can’t say that this island Narcissus has been turned into stone at the source of social inertia.

So fine, we note a Goal of the old Comandante, who instead of writing another Reflection left the laptop and the wheelchair and sat down at the desk of the television cameras. He doesn’t have a lot of energy, but demonstrated his ability to speak, read and misplace the pages of his notes. The message is that the man is alive, he’s put on a few pounds, and he weaves together some ideas.

The Comandante gives a “proof of life” and, in passing, offers a strong signal about the release of the men he ordered confined in 2003. Are they wrong, those who think the bars opened because of his deteriorating state of health and the taking of real power by his little brother? Is F.C. showing that the decisions are based on his personal arbitration or, at least, bear his signature? Is it a display of heatl to overcome the brevity of previous appearances?

People have already speculated on the “I’m here and now” of the Old-Man-in-Chief, who apparently spoke without breaks or editing, even though the program wasn’t live. His followers would have liked to change the Nike logo track suit for the red and black diamonds of the suit of the Comandante. For them it was another sign of eternity.

We still don’t know if Castro I will speak at the Plaza on July 26, or continue his tour around the scientific institutions of the island. For those of use who aspire to seal the source of his inertia, his public appearances are one sign of hopelessness.

Inn of Death

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

When she kissed Daylaun, aka el Bola, on Sunday evening, May 30, his mother never imagined it would be the last time she would have him in her arms. Dayluan didn’t return from the disco located in the Inn of Santa Maria del Rosario, to the southeast of Havana, but one of his companions reported the misfortune before dawn. She waited for the body at the undertaker’s in Cotorro, together with other boys, mothers, and cops.

Still, no one knows why Daylaun, a young black man of 22, chubby, absent-minded and very noble, was stabbed. Some say he intervened to protect a neighbor in the La Magdalena neighborhood, where he lived with his mother. Others say he was confused with some thug the killers were looking for.

Maybe it’s pure coincidence, but the Santa Maria Inn, the old Manor House of the Counts of Bayonne, converted into a massive public place with free access, has been turned into a weekend hot spot. Young people who can’t afford the discos in Playa and El Vedado congregate there. Alcohol, music, the desire to socialize through dancing and matchmaking, now generated dozens of injured and some dead. The fights escalate just like at the Bello Palmar, another Cotorro restaurant with disco under the open sky, and the fights are spectacular.

It is known that Dayluan was tried last year for a brawl on bus to Guanabo, one of the resorts to the east of the capital; in the end he paid a fine. Now he pays with his life for intervening in a brawl among friends.

As such events shake the tranquil town of Santa Maria del Rosario, founded in 1732 by the owner of the Inn, some citizens are asking the local government to convert the beautiful colonial mansion into a museum to promote the architecture, history and landscape of the region. So far the proposal has fallen on deaf ears.

Daylaun’s mother mourns the absence of her son who went to a party and lost his life, but last year alone three children were stabbed on the weekend between the town of Santa Maria and the Cotorro cemetery. Others lost an arm, an ear and were victims of contusions and non-fatal wounds.

But all the signs indication that maternal tears are not enough against the desire to socialize and the virus of violence. For now, juvenile bravado and police indolence mark the rhythm of each weekend at the Santa Maria del Rosario Inn, a former manor house southeast of Havana.

The Hopelessness of the Commander and Human Rights

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Upon mentioning the death of the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) published, on Saturday June 19, fragments of the interview carried out by Saramago with Rosa Miriam Elizalde (2003) when the writer ignored the repressive Castro wave against the peaceful opposition within the island.

The excerpt concludes with the advice of the novelist for the parties of the left, at the request of the interviewer, who asked to be referred to with terms such as Human Rights, the Left, and Freedom.

“I’d tell the left-wing parties that everything that could be proposed for the people is contained in a bourgeois document known as The Declaration of Human Rights, approved in 1948 in New York. Don’t get tangled up with any other programs. Everything is written there. Do it. Abide by it”.

At the edge of the honesty of Saramago and of the current journalistic impunity of the interviewer, the suggestion of the old narrator remained. In Cuba, however, the government continues violating the most elemental rights of the people, and considers members of the peaceful opposition as agents of the enemy, which justifies persecution and political apartheid.

The author of Up from the Ground, The Stone Raft, and Blindness, considered himself a “libertarian communist” and believed in the ideals of the left, whose tenacious propaganda steals the dreams and hopes of humans, which enslaves people in the name of freedom. If Saramago would have lived under the dictatorship of the proletariat, perhaps then he would have understood the horrors of a socialist utopia, far from promoting and applying civic liberties.

Saramago, like many other left-wing intellectuals clinging to the umbilical cord of the Cuban dictatorship, did not understand that the ends touch.  If the Castro regime survived the collapse of the Soviet Union it was, precisely, because it eliminated freedom of expression, press, and association, in addition to penalizing any contrary opinions, abolishing rights to property, and creating a state system that controlled and subordinated the individual.

Since the rulers of Cuba are more leftist than Jose Saramago, until now it has not even occurred to them to heed the suggestions of the Nobel prize winner in Literature.  If they, by chance, ever read the articles of the Declaration of Human Rights, they’d have the alternative of tossing it to one side and damning the writer.  Taking them into account is equivalent to renouncing power and changing the social model to one that is less revolutionary and more in accordance with human nature.

Either way, the suggestion is worth it.  How do you create a better world if you don’t respect the achievements reached and pre-established by society?

Translated by Raul G.

Computing Freedom Threatened

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

On Wednesday, July 7, while the guests over at the President Hotel in Vedado enjoyed the soccer game between Germany and Spain on the lobby’s screen, I struggled with the internet on one of the computers located in front of the bar.  In a matter of an hour I only managed to check my e-mail and respond to three messages, into one of which I simply copied and pasted a piece of writing I had stored on my Flash Memory stick.

Since I couldn’t attach documents nor view the images sent to me, I called for the specialist of the hotel — young mulata of very few words — who told me that the newly installed program made it difficult to attach, which meant that instead of losing more time and money, the user should instead just open their flash drive and copy and paste on Word what he/she would send, and then just copy it on to the message.

Before these new obstacles I decided to search for other alternatives, although I know that the “Avila Link” installed on various Havana hotels is a malicious program, conceived with the purpose of acting like an agent of the political police, as it forbids the uploading of web sites from The Exile which are censored by the government.

Perhaps that is the reason I cannot access my blog from the hotels in the capital.  Which also explains why I can’t even see Generation Y, Octavo Cerco, Penultimos Dias, or any other blogs written from within or out of the island.  Such installations present risks for tourists and Cubans as they run the risks of possibly having their writings monitored, their passwords recorded, and the use of certain software prohibited.  Even worse — the danger of spam that damages the efforts of so many alternative bloggers and communicators.

We know that running risks is a constant, but it is such madness having to confront these malware products which try to control your servers and install secret programs that record your messages.  Hotels are properties of the State, but the people are neither basic pieces of media nor dogs with muzzles.

If the owners have the right to protect their properties and secrets, we citizens deserve respect for our public images and what we wish to publish.  Adding on to the cost of establishing a connection, we must also point out all the cyber-vigilance we face, all the “gifts” brought to us by spam, and all the combing of our passwords and personal matters.  I think it would be better if they denied us internet altogether in hotels and cyber-cafes, or that they would just abolish all the absurd limitations and authorize connections from home, as is seen in more than half of the world.

That same day Yudeisi, a girl who was not able to chat with her boyfriend in Spain, told me that he had actually bought her a Chinese computer on Paseo and Malecon, and “since he is an expert in computing,” he checked the system inside and out, for “they say that Cuban officials ordered their Asian counterparts to install the filter software known as Green Dam Youth Scort on all computers sold here.”

I barely know any of these new technologies, but my experiences in hotels and cyber-cafes lead me to suspect that information media censors and supervisors still insist on controlling those who search for, and share, information from within Cuba.

Translated by Raul G.

The Test Tunnel

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

If we start from the struggle between the military authorities and the peaceful opposition in Cuba, the first, supported by the Spanish government and the second with the Catholic Church as occasional intermediary, the recent release of five political prisoners and the transfer of six to their home provinces is a first step in the tunnel test, i.e. the search for light on the issue of human rights.

To this type of first-time Goal, we add the announced released o the remaining 47 prisoners of those from the Black Spring of 2003, which approximates a win for the goal of rationality, but is not a definite penalty because it lacks some corner kicks and a lot of pressure on the government to release all the prisoners of conscience and to modify the laws that penalize the opposition and justify the existence of the cards — white, red and yellow — against the thousands of people who try to survive on the margins of the State.

More than 140 political prisoners remain behind bars, not counting those sentenced for defending civil rights but charged with alleged common crimes, such as social dangerousness, assault, or receiving stolen property.

We are looking at a positive gesture from the government, influenced by hunger strikes, the marches of the Ladies in White, denunciations of the human rights violations, the internal economic crisis and the international disrepute of the regime, which seeks legitimacy to get external credits and to get the European Parliament to lift the so-called Common Position, which would improve its image and allow it to concentrate on the country’s basic problems, immersed in collective misery and generalized repression as it is.

But there is a history of prisoner released that eased the humanitarian crisis, without affecting the structure of domination established in the name of a Revolution that hit bottom with the Sovietization of Cuba, in the mid-seventies. From 1977-1979, the prison bars opened to more than 3,660 political prisoners. In 1998 101 prisoners of conscience were freed after Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island.

Such antecedents generate skepticism among groups of exiles and leaders of the opposition, who perceive the prisoner releases as a new media landscape with political purposes and faces far from the real actors: the peaceful opposition facing the military government.

It’s certain that neither the Havana Archbishop — Jaime Ortega Alaminos — nor the Spanish Foreign Minister — Miguel A. Moratinos — suffer the effects of the problem, but their intervention constitutes one point of the island’s political triangle, where the powers-that-be represent the point that exclusively moves the pieces, when they sing songs of protection and their adversary is approaching the goal.

The release of the prisoners of conscience shows the weakness of the Castro regime. Perhaps the beginning of the end, but it is hasty to think that it represents an essential change in the transition to democracy. There are no social changes without internal movements and international pressure. How do we access the highway of freedom without throwing off the blinders of fear and the masks of the group anchored in power? The path of light passes through the test tunnel.

An Invitation to the Pictoral Universe of I. Miranda

July 13, 2010 Leave a comment


For a decade critics have been talking about the poetic, Baroque, telluric and zoomorphic painter Ibrahim Miranda Ramos (Pinar del Rio, 1969), who presents his swarm of metaphors in UNEAC’s Manuela Villa gallery, where he invites us to unravel his allegories on Cuba and the world through the prints of his series Punishment, Bondage and Maps, woven together under the Carpentier title, The Lost Steps, which is presented  through a woodcut on paper, offering a face tattooed with rivers flanked by carts with goods on a red background.

In one of Villa Manuela’s rooms, Miranda surprises the visitor with an installation of multicolored fabrics of varying dimensions titled Without Destiny. The fabrics seem like a pretext to return to the rivers and infer the limits and the crossroads that interweave the searches of the man. The tendentious nearness of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Danube, with the Hudson, the Yangtze, Ganges and Mekong, exemplify the comprehensive geographical point of view of the creator.

Ibrahim Miranda’s search for paths and his philosophical concerns are reflected in the suggestive figures recreated in maps. The originality of his pictorial cartography gallops on the prints, A Pig in Sao Paulo, A Bull in Tel Aviv, Horse in Madrid, Elephant in Berlin, The Beast of Sanlucar, and Horse in London, the first four from 2007, the others acrylic on cloth from 2010.

While this surreal map room is a part of a hermeneutics that challenges our codes and puzzles, it will lead to a conceptualization that goes from history to the perception of the creator and his technical instruments, although initially Ibrahim was inspired by the poem by Jose Lezama Lima, Island Night: Invisible Gardens, and subsequently by the novel by Alejo Carpentier The Lost Steps.

But the authenticity of the maps and their philosophical narrative sense, connect the artist with the route closest to him, the cartography of Cuba, given in two series: Punishment and Bondage, both in collage on paper from 2006.

In the series Punishment, the photographic montage of a nude woman who hits a child, becomes a metaphor to suggest the pain of Cuba, interlaced by overlapping maps that externalize the notion of inside and outside: the island hits its children who, according to the exterior images, ceased to feel but put up with it.

In the series Bondage, less intensely colored, the limits intuited are more external and with a social connotation: discrimination generates emigration. Faces, maps and birds induce spaces and searches.

Other spatial codes animate the poetic and the philosophic uneasiness of the painter. Ibrahim Miranda Ramos, has exhibited in other galleries in Havana, Switzerland, Spain, the United States, Brazil, Austria and Canada, and lectured on his work in museums and universities in Europe and America.

Until mid-July Miranda’s screen prints await us on the walls of Villa Manuela, where his rivers flow and from his maps jump birds and animals who arouse reflection, illuminate memory and enrich our imagination.