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Work For Yourself… Controlled by Others / Miguel Iturria Savón

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Nearly half a century after the devastating “Revolutionary Offensive” of March 1968 — in which the State took control of virtually all private businesses remaining in Cuba — the same government officials that ended the small and medium-sized private ownership, approved a list of 120 activities people can pursue on their own. Nice! The measure becomes a door in the wall of intolerance, but is insufficient because it does not release the means of production now in the hands of the State, which preserves almost absolute control to the detriment of millions of people and the national economy.

Lately many Cubans have sought out the list of approved occupations, to photocopy it, or take notes about it, and distribute it among friends and relatives who were laid off from the inflated company payrolls, or will be laid off in the coming months. The document is a stimulus for the million unemployed that the government has sent home, finishing off the little game of giving everyone a job, but it does not come with sources of raw materials, transportation to distribute production, nor salaries that give dignity to those who work.

In reviewing the list I noticed that of the 120 occupations people can pursue on their own, subject to getting a license and paying taxes, 22 are essentially rural activities and 98 are urban. Thirteen relate to transportation, six to construction, fifteen to culture, five to education, two top public health and a number of agricultural tasks, the priority sector for the freeing up of carriers and carters, animal sellers, palm tree toppers, blacksmiths, diggers, shearers, herbalists and scalping grudge keepers of the army of agricultural inspectors and the officials of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), whose president speaks the new language of power.

The small hole in the wall of control does not preclude state surveillance, but opens a personal path in the totalitarian forest. So, for example, commerce will have messengers, tailors, hairdressers, watchmakers, florists, piñata sellers, barbers and others who will depend on themselves and contribute to the treasury, while employees of State bodegas, stores, cafes, restaurants, and garages will continue on the collective model, without competing with anyone, neither having to find the goods nor pay the taxes on local sales.

For their part, the construction sector will send its employees home to work for themselves as bricklayers, carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians and decorators who, in a few months, will be licensed and paying taxes. Woodworking will be limited, however, because there is no wholesale supply of wood and the costs of tools and equipment is very high, all of it in the hands of government businesses.

Even culture has been freed up a bit with a list of approved activities for self employment. Among the trades authorized are musical instrument tuners, artisans who are both registered and not-registered with the Cuban Association of Craft Artists (ACAA), buyers-sellers of old records,  bookbinders, engravers, photographers, art restorers, and language translators and interpreters.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing because the government still owns all the movie theaters, cultural centers, art schools, art galleries, bookstores and theaters, and the network of centers and businesses that control music programming, dance groups, and of course radio, television and the printed press.  Hardly anything? Right?
Dozens of legitimate jobs have been released to thousands of drivers for hire, parking attendants, bicycle taxi drivers, boat captains, drivers, shoeshiners, manicurists, makeup artists, typists, language and music teachers, school cleaners, and chiropodists — all of whom can now work at their own risk in accordance with demand for their services.

There are those who are quick to associate this great List with profound changes in the model of State domination over individuals. The self-employed activities unleash the hope of independence and self-improvement; but Watch Out! Those who imposed the chaos and appropriated everything in the name of egalitarian ideals are still holding the reins. If they open a door in the wall, it is to retain their power.

José M. Heredia, Poet of a Nation in Waiting / Miguel Iturria Savón

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Jose Maria Heredia (Santiago de Cuba 12/31/1803 – and Mexico 07/05/1839) is the first paradigm of Cuban poetry, despite being the son of a colonial official and living most of his short life outside the island, the center of his certainties, frustrations and hopes.

His careful academic formation and his human and political, determined romantic affiliations and longings for freedom, and also plunged him into the civil struggles of Mexico, scene of his long exile, where he served as judge, prosecutor, legislator, minister and journalist; meanwhile polishing his verses, published in New York in 1825 and in Toluca in 1832.

From Mexico he was aware of the events of Cuba, certain that “once awakened from its colonial slumber, it would weigh much more in the political balance …” because “the cause of freedom in America is proved, while Cuba is not free…” This perception led to his exaltation of the indigenous and to considering the island as “the equilibrium of America” and “the essential element in the harmony of the world,”while challenging the claims of those who saw slavery as a brake on independence.

As a journalist for The Iris, The Conservative and other Mexican periodicals, he castigated the American colonists who demanded the annexation of territory to the United States, calling them “insolent usurpers” and “foreign vagabonds.” In his article Rumors of Invasion, which appeared on April 22, 1826, he called on his colleagues to “exchange the pen for the sword” against Fernando VII in order to liberate Mexico and other American nations from Spanish colonialism.

Biographers, critics and apologists of Heredia have analyzed his poetic contribution, the circumstances of the era, family influences and his participation in the separatist conspiracy of 1822, the cause of his exile. In reclaiming the author of A Star of Cuba, In the Teocalli of Cholula and the Ode to Niagara, the assessment of Jose Marti was instrumental, another poet and independence leader, who lived in Mexico and traced the footsteps of his predecessor.

In an evening of tribute in the United States in 1889, Marti said that Heredia “had had the courage for everything, except to die without returning to his mother and his palms… he, a being in every symbol of the country, left us a path from the cradle to the grave, with the people who created us as colleagues and brothers.”

Marti alluded to Heredia’s controversial letter of April 1836, asking permission from the Captain General of the Island to visit his mother in Matanzas. The interview that he had with the despot in November of that year before visiting his family sparked criticism from Domingo del Monte and other detractors, who considered him the “fallen angel.”

None of them sang the praises of independence and freedom for Cuba like Heredia. Let’s look at some lines that grow with time:

Cuba! You will be free
Pure as the air of light that you breathe
As the rolling waves you see
Embracing your sandy shores.

This “air of light” shines in several of his compositions, almost always external and focused on the island drama, when freedom was envisioned only by pioneers such as himself and Father Feliz Varela.

The country yearned for by José Maria Heredia in The Star of Cuba, has now published his poetry books and uses his verses in history books and literature, but the freedom he dreamed of is still a nightmare. Nearly two centuries after his death, the cantor of a nation in waiting, skeptical, euphoric and visionary, would reveal “the horrors of the moral world and the physical beauties of the world,” before the banishment of new patriots and the complacency of so many intellectuals with the island tyranny.

Calle Obispo / Miguel Iturria Savón

September 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Obispo Street, one of the oldest in Havana, begins in the sea and culminates in Monserrate. It is crossed by dozens of street ranging from the Avenida del Puerto and the neighborhoods adjacent to the Old Quarter, which increases its noisy  and colorful vitality without diminishing the glamor lent it by its shopping centers, museums, libraries, hotels, banks, government agencies and other entities the Office of the City Historian is trying to restore.

Only the Municipal Acts, some newspapers and magazines and two or three history books about the Cuban capital relate the names and locations of the various centers that made Obispo into “the street of the streets,” followed later by Galiano, San Rafael and Prado; it is even compared for its elegance with Rue de Paix (Paris), San Fernando (Barcelona), La Sierpe (Sevilla), the Carrera de San Jeronimo (Madrid) as well as the aged streets of New York.

Almost no one remembers that until 1898 it was crossed each morning by a company of Spanish volunteers who marched under the strains of a band, from the Prado to the sea, where they were spread out to guard the Palacio de los Capitanes Generale, the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the Castillo de la Fuerza, the Spanish Bank and other civilian and military defenses of the colonial period.

Despite the weather, the expropriations of the 1960s and the circumstances that marked the urban involution, Obispo retains its original layout of a noisy, narrow street with shops on both sides of the pedestrian sidewalk passersby who disappear into a corner, go to a boutique or head off to a scheduled meeting.

Centuries later, Obispo oscillates between a colonial provincial atmosphere and a sense of modernity brought by the merchants and public figures during the Republic. The paving stones were replaced by asphalt, reborn entities and stores in ruins, like the House of Happy Father Varela, recycled into a school library; the Hotel Florida, which had among its guests the Spanish philologist Ramón Menéndez Pidal in 1937; the Almendrares  optician and Café Europa, literary scene of the narratives of Carlos Loveira and Luís Bonafoux.

The University of Havana started on Obispo Street, where it was located between 1728 and 1902 in the Dominican Convent, also the venue of Secondary School of Havana, whose students snack in front, in the The Angel Bakery or in the French pastry shop, Brasy. On demolishing the convent, in the late 50’s, the building of the Ministry of Education was built, which shares space with real estate offices.

Where the current Ministry of Finances and Prices was once the Wilson House perfumery and National Bank built by the tycoon Pote; later it was occupied by the General Treasury of the Republic and the Ministry of Finance. Poe should also be credited with The Modern Poetry bookstore, built in 1900 at Obispo and Bernaza, opposite the Ricoy bookstore, now Cervantes, where eminent personalities from the country’s cultural and political spheres met.

These were followed by the Anselmo Lopez piano store, the ironmonger’s, and the Bosque de Boloña store, later relocated to the corner of Compostela. Almost at the beginning and near the Plazoleta de Albear were found the El Casino hat store, and the La Cebada cafe, very popular with the drivers until its sale and conversion to the Floridita Bar, home of writer Ernest Hemingway, who stayed at the hotel Ambos Mundos before acquiring the Vigia in San Francisco de Paula.

Historians and planners say Obispo Street, so hot in summer and cold in winter, owes its charm to its geographical position and the network of shops, banks and bureaucracies, refined by the latest offers of clothing and the cultural flow triggered by the installation of printers, newspapers, bookstores, publishing houses, law firms, pharmacies and other agencies the diverse social sectors attract, turning it into an urban paradigm.

Among financial centers We think of the Bances y Conde Bank, the Spanish Bank, which went bankrupt in 1921, the Trade Development Bank, the Trust Company of Cuba and the Núñez Bank, considered in 1957 to be among the world’s most important institutions.

Obispo integrates the tangible and spiritual heritage of Havana. Many establishments have disappeared, but are the Johnson and Taquechel drugstores are kept, the Anteojo Opticians, and the old houses are repaired for Museums (La Plata), libraries and offices (Department of Housing and Land Registry) and restaurants and cafes for tourists.

EROS AND THANATOS / Miguel Iturria Savón

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Wednesday, September 8, the painter Orestes Carreras Alarcón  opened an exposition of his paintings, Eros and Thanatos, at the Fernando Boada gallery in the municipality Cotorro. There are 12 mixed media paintings worked with charcoal, graphite, acrylic and blended with textures. In them, the painter subordinates color to figuration, focusing on the relationship between eroticism, bullfighting and death. Eroticism as a necessity, death as a part of life and its connections with vigor and energy, symbolized by the human figure.

In this installment, the pursuit of freedom of expression goes through syncretism, the deformation of the faces and the mixtures, a recurring theme in the artist’s work, true to his own vision, oblivious to the market and the colors he uses, knowing that art fairs and local customs often limit the creative pulse.

The work of Orestes Carreras is essentially expressionistic and surreal, highlighting evocative provocative textures, and using universal codes that reveal his creative maturity.
The size of these paintings (almost all of 1.50 by 1.10 meters) forces the viewer to watch from afar due to the texture required to disclose the figurative representation of various steps of the canvas. The natural and human figures that decorate each painting embody a visual approach is neither symmetrical nor one of cartoonish figuration.

We infer, then, that there are beautiful, but not artistic, things, and that symmetry is the main element of beauty, palpable in these paintings that challenge taboos from the aggressiveness of the images to the simplicity of color, with predominantly gray, and combinations of sepia, yellow and blue.

The peculiar spiritual sensitivity of Orestes does not have many precursors in Cuban art, except in the syncretic vision of teachers such as Lam or Mendive, those who differ in the color palette and converge in the figurative overflow. The stylized Greco faces, the recreations of the Guayasamín Aboriginal environment and works of German Otto Dick, appear to be sources for the island artist.

We find ourselves facing strong proposals, disturbing, aggressive and sometimes shocking, although there are distinctions in the lines and intentions contained in each piece, with the interesting and grotesque form of beauty, conceived from stories intertwined with the mythology of Eros, the virility, the mixture, and death.

The paintings Alligator Love, Autumn Gift, Heresies and Narcissus At The Spring, certify the pictorial transgression. Heresies complicates the mixed expression of longing and ancient energies, love between life and death, represented by naked women on bulls, whose large noses hang like condoms, a kind of bridge and sexual limit.

The Narcissus of Orestes is not handsome, lost in looking at his face in the spring; it expresses sexual ecstasy with the fountain as the source, accented by silver graphite, charcoal and textures.

Sex gallops in the images of The Flight, Eruption, Desires and At The Theater. In The Flight a man and a woman are drawn without wings in white and gray. Eruption is an illustrative and subtle work that limits the figure in its space. The same cleanness is observed in Desires which offers two faces of surreal beauty that infer the unisex. At The Theater fantasizes about the promiscuity of four couples making love in the corner of a bed.

In Ochún and Shangó, the painter returns to the syncretic symbolism of the sensual Ochún (deity of the river) and his link with Shangó (owner of the fire), surrounded by their religious icons, sharpened by the artist who now gives us these pieces from his peculiar erotic gaze and perception of death.


Five Prisoners of the Castro Regime (2) / Miguel Iturria Savon

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Five of the 11 young Cubans who attempted to divert a passenger boat across the bay from Havana to Florida on April 3, 2003, remain in prison. In a summary trial held on 8 April, three of them were sentenced to death, a sentence carried out on 11 April. Given life imprisonment were Harold Alcalá Aramburu, Ramón Henry Grillo, Yoanis Tomás González and Maikel Delgado Aramburu, held at Combinado del Este prison. While Wilmer Ledea Perez, 19, was given three decades in the prison of at Guanajay.

The sentences are excessive because the attempt failed and there were no deaths or injuries. The rulings of the Court and the urgency in the executions coincided with the so-called Black Spring of Cuba, which put behind bars 75 peaceful opponents, 15 for each of the Castro spies convicted in the United States, which demonstrates the subordination of Island’s legal system to the opinions of the warlord who has ruled the destiny of the nation for half a century.

In the United States, the five Cuban spies were tried two years after being arrested, with all guarantees and independence of the American legal system, which agreed to several reviews of the cases, while the five prisoners of the boat Baraguá are still denied their requests for review. The spies are represented by lawyers paid by the dictatorship and their families travel, undertake campaigns on their behalf and enjoy official patronage.

Who are the youth who attempted to escape the island? Under what conditions do they remain behind bars? Why are they kept in the prisons of Combinado del Este and Guanajay, where they have been from the spring of 2003?

Last month a an Open Letter to Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, president of the Cuban Parliament, circulated on the Internet, in which Julia Estrella Aramburu, mother of Harold Alcala and Maikel Delgado’s aunt, described the hardships suffered by the convicted five. The document, signed by the rest of the family, blamed the government of Cuba for the lives of these children, who remain in narrow cells two-person cells in each of which live four people, with no sanitation, no running water or access to sunlight they are made to eat on the floor, a porridge of rice and corn; they are visited only every two months in a room where they are restrained and chained at the waist.

Maikel Delgado’s case is compounded by the lack of appetite, hair loss and the death of his mother, who “died for God’s destiny,” said Dr. Ofelia, Fajardo Hospital pathologist, where she went on foot for a routine checkup and three days later she was dead. The family still awaits the outcome of the autopsy.

Of the five prisoners only Ramon Henry Grillo was not from Havana. He emigrated to the capital from the town of Mella, Santiago de Cuba province, and lived with his sister Maritza, who says that he joined the boat at the last minute because he was tied to an oil business and he didn’t want to work for the State.

Yoanis Thomas Gonzalez, 32, is the only one who had a criminal record, but he had served his time, he is not violent and is characterized by his warmth and happiness. He only receive visits from his wife Yudaisi Berita War, though he shares space with Henry Grillo and is supported by the mother of Harold Alcala.

Harold is a Vedado boy who worked in the restaurant located at Gloria and Aguila, in Old Havana, together with the boy from Guanabacoa, Wilmer Ledea Perez, and the late Lorenzo Enrique Copello, the one who used the gun to hijack the boat, but later gave it out without hurting anyone. Harold loves swimming and is a voracious reader. Wilmer lived in Barreras with his mother and brothers and went to the weekend dances in the social circles of Guanabacoa.

In reviewing out the pieces of the pie ordered by Fidel Castro the Court threw out the alleged crimes of terrorism, which does not justify long sentences faced by young people who attempted to escape the island. Relatives of the five prisoners of Castro await justice. Hopefully soon.

Five Prisoners of the Castro Regime / Miguel Iturria Savon

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

On Saturday September 11th at 11:29 a.m. Cubacel sent me a message to my cell phone: “To love justice is to defend the five …” As Cubacel is a communications company the slogan seemed too political to me, almost surreal as it is referred to the Cuban spies of the Wasp Network, convicted in the United States in 2001.

Since that time  the island government has imposed on us a fictionalized version of the life and miracle of the spies, converted by the media into “heroes imprisoned by the empire” where “they fought terrorism and the Miami mafia.”

I will not comment on the amazing metamorphosis of secret agents turned into “pacifists”; the publicity campaign is too expensive for the national economy and for the public’s intelligence. I will refer, however, to five prisoners of the Castro regime who are serving sentences in Havana, although they neither persecuted nor killed killed anyone, nor used state resources on futile missions against our exiles in the United States.

I am speaking about 5 of the 11 youths who, on April 3, 2003, attempted to divert the boat Baraguá from Havana Bay to Florida. When they ran out of fuel at sea they were surrounded by soldiers who ordered them back from the port of Mariel, where were delivered along with the frightened passengers, who were unharmed and moved by the adventure.

There they received a surprise visit by the Commander-in-Chief, who asked some questions and assured them: “This is a cake and everyone is going to eat their little piece.” The cake was distributed five days later by the Havana Provincial Court, which sentenced to death Lorenzo Enrique Copello, Barbaro Lodan and Jorge Luis Martínez Iza, who were executed on 11 April.Wilmer Ledea Pérez, 19, got a 30 year sentence, while Harold Alcala Aramburu, Ramon Henry Grillo, Yoanis Tomas Gonzalez and Maikel Delgado Aramburu are serving life sentences in Area 47 of the Combined del Este prison, known as the Corridor of the Dead.The rest of those involved have already left  prison.

The chronicle of the event is more complex and even goes through the race issue, as the three who were shot were black, although Ramón Henry and Yoanis Tomás are also black and they survived. The summary trial, ordered by the Commander-in-Chief to intimidate those who plan a maritime exodus, did not take into account that those involved were neither criminals nor opponents of the government. Of the 11, only 2 had criminal records, one for “a siege to tourism” and another for a drug case.

Last week I spoke by phone with three of these young prisoners, the mother of two of them and the aunt and sister of Maikel Delgado and Ramon Henry Grillo. None of the five have been made into heroes and martyrs, nor are they proud they tried to divert a ship to escape the island, but they think are victims of intolerance and the subordination of the courts to the Party and Government, which has been led by the Castro brothers since long before they were born.

In the next article we will see what happens to these five prisoners of the Castro regime.

Voices Magazine / Miguel Iturria Savón

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Since August 6, a bunch of copies of Voices Magazine have been circulating in Havana, presented by Yoani Sánchez at the headquarters of Cuba Bloggers Academy, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to disseminating the technologies that are revolutionizing communications and encouraging citizen journalism on the island, which broke the information monopoly of the military government.

Located On the web at: www.vocescubanas.com/voces and vocesvocesvoces@gmail.com, the magazine represents a literary effort from the “grammar” of the bloggers, understood as a “grammar” of the lyrics, images, hypertext, according to Jose Ferrer, author of the decalogue Writing a Cuban Blog, which figures in it along with some twenty artists who exude freshness, wit and diversity in 62 pages taken from the same number of blogs.

Maybe it’s premature to talk about a handful of pages grouped in cyberspace, where every day projects that call on the constancy and incisive view of millions of readers, hungry for links, commentaries and novelty, come and go. Better to rely on the tenacity of Yoani, Reinaldo Escobar, Claudia Cadelo, Orlando Luis, Miriam Celaya and other voices who post almost daily without avoiding or being devoured by the minefield of politics, which breathes life into this assembly of tones and notes which is the symphony offered to Cubans from diverse angles and styles.

The index of Voices doesn’t include any sections or complex formats, the composition is simple and the design fresh. There is a list of authors, titles and pages. Among the names and articles, the reader will choose from are: Report of the Horde, by Orlando Luis Pardo, to Near But Far Away: The Universe Next Door, by Yoss, who comments on the grotesque parody novel of Eduardo del Llano.

In addition to the above-mentioned, the first issue of Voices includes poems, stories, literature, dissections on cyberspace, cultural issues, assessment of controversial figures, suggestive texts, personal dilemmas and replies to recently published material, including Reinaldo Escobar’s The Reach of the Cyber-Dissidence, and Open Letter to the BBC by Miriam Celaya regarding the irritating Fernando Ravsberg.

Voices also brings us Claudia Cadelo, with Leaders of an Alternative Revolution; Eduardo Laporte with the suggestive I Don’t Know What The Dogs Have; Emilio Ichikawa meditates on Paper and Screen; Wendy Guerra satirizes the rhetoric of the streets in Between Perseverance and Freedom: Ivan de la Nuez reveals the western fascination with The Near East; while Jose A. Ponte, (A Childhood Without Comics …), Juan Abreu (A Sexual Education), Mirta Suquet (Prosperity and Kindness …), Miguel Iturria (Martí: Spirituality and Political Manipulation), and Dimas Castellanos (The Limits of Immobility), complete the scriptural polyphony, flavored by the poems of Maykel Iglesias, Jesús Díaz and Luis Marimon, along with the cathartic Hurricane by Ena Lucia Portela, and the sharp and satirical That One Will Not Return, by Yoani Sánchez, about the phantasmagorical Fidel Castro.

Presented in this way, with names, articles and the bloggers at the end, it is more inclusive and interesting than the Cuban Voices platform, the embryo of that Blogger Journey continued in the Island Blogosphere Alternative Academy, which now adds, multiples and interacts with interested readers on this island in a dialog with time.