During the first two weeks of January, the Cuban press omitted news of interest to the island population. They forgot, for example, the declaration of the spy Gerardo Hernández, imprisoned in the United States since 2001, who, in a desperate appeal denied our government the affirmation that the small planes shot down by Castro’s orders fell in international waters.
To the intent to save this spy, an exodus got together towards the United States of Pedro Álvarez, ex-president of the Alimport enterprise and of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, who was, besides, Vice-Minister of Foreign Trade and was in charge of all the food and medicine purchases in the United States in 2001, arrangements that even the island populace doesn´t know thanks to the omission of the press, so partisan and governmental that it leaves us in limbo.
In January 2011 the old news policy continues of legitimizing the regime measuring the manipulation of successes, the praises of the health care system, the passion for convenient figures, and masking figures of the past as if they stopped the vanities of time.
The news game of January includes another chapter against Luís Posada Carriles, the violence in Southern Sudan and other international disgraces, almost all of which occurred in “enemy territory”, including the European Economic Community, which just denied them visa-less transit to the Union to citizens of Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, which worried Cuban censors, to whom it seemed find that our government maintains the Exit Visa and insists upon an Invitation Card to pariahs of the island.
The official press released the latest dismissals and naming of ministers ordered by General Castro; praised the anti-democratic opinions of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and his counterpart in Nicaragua, Cuba’s playmates. They also reported on the British cruise ships that will stop in Havana in 2011, which promotes tourism and hard currency income. Forgotten, however, was the award ceremony for the Prince Claus Prize given to Yoani Sanchez, held on Friday the 7th at the residence of the Ambassador from Holland in our capital, because the military government refused an exit permit for the famous blogger for the eighth time.
Offsetting the omissions several articles praised past figures who came down from their statues and applauded the leaders who rebuild socialism. Julio Antonio Mella, died in Mexico in January 1929, and Jose Marti Perez, born on January 28, 1853 and died in combat in May 1895, are the gladiators of the past who should guide us to victory.
In the tribute to Mella, the inert god of the steps, they praised his work as founder of the Federation of University Students and the Communist Party of Cuba, from which was ousted for opposing the policy guidelines of the Soviet Union, so he went to Mexico, where he was accepted into the political body of the Marxists, where he shared the bed of the Italian model Tina Modotti, a lover of other communists. These things are said by contemporaries of the hero, not by Granma and Juventud Rebelde, who claim that Mella was not shot by Modotti’s husband, but by hired assassins of President Gerardo Machado, our first tyrant.
Although Jose Marti is the most trumpeted ethical and spiritual national icon, the scribes of our press take down his bronze busts and put him out to pasture in the meetings of bureaucrats and generals who rule the island as a military camp. Maybe that’s why, among so many omissions and tributes, ordinary people perceive Marti, Mella and other oversized figures as symbols of the past.
Since the last week of December, the Cuban news media turned the propaganda time chart on the 52nd anniversary of the Revolution, whose reviled founders stayed in power and in the disgust of the population, submerged in silence and the routine of a half-century of slogans and promises.
There was a Revolution but at these heights nobody remembers when it lost its way. Perhaps from 1961 to 1968, on eliminating private property, imposing the state monopoly on the means of production and adopting the tropical version of the Soviet model. Maybe in the middle of the seventies, on institutionalizing the socialist process, sending troops to the African wars and following orders from Moscow, whose regimen fell in 1991.
But it’s not necessary to highlight the matter, for January 1st isn’t any more than a date associated with an imaginary Revolution of Castro-communism; on whose legitimizing calendar other anniversaries of fighting actions are revisited, like 26 July 1953, evoking the failed assault on the “Moncada” and “Céspedes” barracks, which happened in Santiago de Cuba and Bayamo; and 2 December 1956, which commemorates the landing of the yacht Granma in the south of Oriente, considered afterward as Revolutionary Armed Forces Day, founded by decree in October of 1959.
For the past half-century they have been exaggerating the size of the traces of these events, of such indubitable influence in the country’s destiny, crammed down our throats by the attackers who prepared the ill-fated expedition of the Granma, whose survivors started the guerrilla focus which carried out the rural skirmishes of the so-called Rebel Army, one of the forces that fought against the tyranny of General Batista, who fled Havana at daybreak, 31 December 1958.
These facts, retold to the point of exhaustion by the historians and the government’s communication media, have as a common denominator the violence and the necessity of imposing the leadership of the manipulator, Fidel Castro.
To assault the barracks in the eastern zone of the country, the participants bought arms, practiced marksmanship in various places around Havana and crossed the island, besides risking the lives of people who were enjoying the Carnival in Santiago de Cuba, killing dozens of soldiers and exposing their own men. The failure complemented the adventure, but it is worth asking: What would have happened if they had taken it? If the idea was to climb the mountains, why didn’t they just do that?
If we leave behind the problems created by the attackers, the punishments after trial really were benign, the Castros and their followers only spent a year and a half locked up. On getting out, they went to Mexico “to prepare the insurrection,” instead of just climbing the mountains without spending on travel, yachts, fuel, nor violating the laws of a neighboring state.
Behind the expedition of the Granma, bought from the American Robert B. Erikson in Tuxpan with the money from the ex-president Carlos Prío Socarras (1948-1952), is hidden Castro’s proposed inscription in history of imitating the independence fighters of the 19th Century, who armed themselves in the United States and disembarked on various points of the island.
The map of their crossing reveals their irresponsibility and their headstrong nature. If they had left from the furthest point of Yucatan, in only hours they would arrive at the mountains of Pinar del Rio, closer to Havana, without having to cover almost all the Gulf of Mexico and the south of the island to the eastern end, the setting of confrontations just like the hills of Escambray, headquarters of the guerrillas of the Student Directorate, who defied the agents of tyranny in the capital and other towns in the east.
The legitimizing crowing comes to a head with the propaganda about the victory on that faraway first of January 1959, an anniversary that, paradoxically, is associated with the longest dictatorship in our history.
Translated by: JT
January 15 2011
While the international press spreads the case of the American contractor Alan Gross, held prisoner on the island for supposed espionage, and lodged a year ago in a special room of a Havana military hospital, another US citizen survives in a wheelchair in the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. He is Chris Walter Johnson, he was taken prisoner at the Rancho Boyeros airport in August 2009 and tried on this past 26th of December 2010.
Chris Walter Johnson wasn’t contracted by any US agency nor was he in contact with the Jewish island residents who today deny knowing Alan Gross. A decade ago, he came as a tourist and enjoyed the sunshine, the girls, and the other kindnesses of the tropics, including marijuana, which he consumed from adolescence in Los Angeles, California, one of the states of the American Union where you can acquire it by medical prescription and the authorities are betting on its legalization.
The citizen Chris Walter Johnson, 58-years-old, is a ship captain and owner of a small fishing business. In ten years he traveled twice to Cuba, where he cultivated friendships, had girlfriends, and a daughter.
Chris’s disgrace began in July 2009, on meeting a Cuban married to a Mexican woman, who proposed that they go to Cancún to buy clothes. Besides clothing, they acquired a kilogram of marijuana, brought in by Chris in a jelly jar and in a bag placed in his underwear. On returning, the Yankee sailor made things more complicated by offering the Customs officials who detected the drugs at the Havana airport two thousand dollars. Instead of returning to the hotel, he was lodged in La Condesa, a prison for foreigners, accused of drug trafficking and attempted bribery.
The accelerated deterioration of his health motivated Chris’s transfer to the hospital for inmates located in the jail at Combinado del Este. There he waits in a wheelchair, among sick murderers, the pains of an old diving accident, depression, and hope.
An MRI detected that Chris suffers a tumor lesion in his medullar canal, which requires surgical intervention. He suffers, besides, from degenerative disk disease, positional vertigo which prevents him from standing up, and osteoporosis. The medical commission which examined him believes that, because of these problems, Chris Walter Johnson is not compatible with the regimen of imprisonment. His clinical chart was analyzed in the trial which took place this past December 27th.
After a year and four months of being locked up, the case of Chris Walter Johnson was adjudicated and awaited sentencing. The prosecutor asked for 20 years imprisonment, but for his deplorable state of health it is possible that in short order his furlough or expulsion from national territory could be ordered, but between Cuba and the United States there is no agreement that regulates extradition.
Perhaps Chris may not be one of those thousands of patients who invent reasons to obtain prescriptions for marijuana in California, one of the 13 states in the American Union which is betting on the legalization of this recreational drug, which produces a state of relaxation and serves to treat glaucoma, diabetes, depression, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy side-effects among other things; but at the same time it is contraindicated for diverse conditions such as headache, chronic bronchitis, etc., which also produce lesions in memory. God willing you recuperate outside Combinado del Este. Happy 2011, Mister Chris.
Translated by: JT
January 11 2011
As an end of year gift, the fourth edition of the magazine Voces is now circulating on the ‘Net, located at www.vocescubanas.com/voces and presented this past 26th of December in the apartment of Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, founders of the Cuban Blogger Academy, which has published these pages without censorship since August, far from official mandates and political factions.
In the same way as the previous issues, Voces bets on the freedom of expression from a position of freshness and originality. Its format includes texts from 20 authors on 60 pages, with cartoons by Belén Cerros, blogger “La Vida Agridulce”, the index and back pages designs of Rolando Pulido, and composition in the care of writer and photographer Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, responsible for drawings and figures that match up games with letters, arrows, and numbers that create suggestive blank spaces which compensate for the simplicity and absence of sections, footnotes, authors’ notes, and editorial fluff.
Voces 4 deals with themes and figures that cover the vastness of interests of those who approach the Cuban from cyberspace. Exiled and unexiled voices that measure the island’s space in its connection with the world: social, political, and cultural problems, poems, book reviews, narrative pieces, chronicles and current analyses, such as “Truth as Life’s Logic”, which constitutes the communique-denunciation of Hip Hop Patriot Squadron, with which the magazine ends.
It starts with the essay of Vicente Echerri “About a Fractured Identity”, which analyzes the destruction — and the transformation — of the Cuban nation, the identity to which we cling; the abolition of the social contract and other problems that change triumphalist visions of the island’s future.
The sociopolitical theme is approached with critical and polemic sense in texts such as “Cuban Socialism: Juggling At The Edge of The Abyss”, from Reinaldo Escobar, who reports on General Castro’s discussion before the regime’s Parliament; “In Defense of Wikileaks”, from Ernesto Fernández Busto; while Iván de la Nuez offers “Politics: Humanity’s Heritage?”, while Rosa Maria Rodríguez Torrado chips away with “The Honey of Power, Reforms, and Plantation?”, and José Gabriel Barrenechea asks “Is Reform Beginning?”.
Poetry, better dealt with than in the previous edition, brings us four unpublished works, two from the dramatist and narrator Abilio Estévez, who bequeaths “Of the Gods/Of the Tightrope Walker”; while Feliz Luis Viera gives us two unpublished poems from “The Fatherland is an Orange”, one about whores and the other around the notion of a fatherland.
The diverse narrative gallops through the testimony of Yoani Sánchez (“Country Girl of Havana Center”); the travel chronicle “In Puerto Plaza, Without a Visa”, by Armando Añel; the story “In the Office”, by Mabel Cuesta, and the fiction of Omar Alfonso Requena — “A Probable Vasumitra”. Jorge Enrique Lage’s “Flash Forward”, the 12 posts of the anonymous Zorphdark and 19 untitled vignettes from Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, who fantasizes about his encounter with Aki, a Japanese girl who serves him under the pretext of offering her enlightening writings about love and existential aloneness.
Voces 4 includes, in its turn, four pieces of literary and cultural criticism. Tania Favela broaches “The Temptations of Lucio Gaitán”, reviews the book “An Old Trip” by Manuel Periera; also described by Eliseo Alberto, who dedicates the title “Favorable Wind” to it. To Miguel Iturria Savón is owed “The Carnival and the Dead”, about the novel of the same name by Ernesto Santana, Kafka Prize of 2010. While Néstor Díaz de Villegas surprises us with “The Philosophy of T-Che”, where he compares the legend of Jim Morrison — “false idol of a liberation theology” — with the market imperatives that the images of Che, Scarface, and other contemporary icons impose.
Translated by: JT
January 12 2011
I suspect that somewhere from the island firmament, the writer José Lezama Lima (Havana, 1910-1976) is smiling at his supporters, or winking at the editor who introduced the latest edition of his Collected Works. Our literary rhino should be happy with so many celebrations. “Seeing is believing”, he would say at one of the gatherings for his Centennial, nearly four decades after his death, which was preceded by ostracism and suspicion because of his “detachment from reality.”
The sanctification of the author of Death of Narcissus (1937) and the controversial Paradiso (1966), represents the triumph over the censorship imposed at the time of revolutionary change, more suited to the aesthetics of violence and socialist realism. Censorship is still standing, but dead authors do not frighten the curators of the culture, who reprinted the poems, essays and novels of Lezama Lima, in addition to his letters, interviews and lost texts reborn in anthologies, in seminars, conferences , documentaries and even feature films.
Those who think that behind the exaltation of Lezama Lima there are ulterior motives, are right — particularly in this year of his centennial, a year marked by crisis and despair generated by the same dictatorship that buried in silence so many writers and artists. Lezama himself, decades ago, recognizing the adverse historical circumstances, said that “a country frustrated in political essentials can achieve virtues and expressions by other more royal hunting grounds.”
For him, art and literature were more enduring royal preserves; centers of gravity in his life and his work, dedicated to jumping beyond the immediate and transcending the political roughness and daily gossip. Thus, his creative fertility did not take the path of social protest, but the inclusive tradition that rescues the Cuban essence and merges with other legacies through a long artistic language.
The great Lezama Lima’s unique poetic corpus and controversial theory of the image should be like an engine of history. For him, “poetry is like the dream of a doctrine.” His enormous talent and erudition confirmed the riddle in poems of rupture such as Death of Narcissus (1937), Enemy rumor (1941), Concealed Adventures (1945), Persistance (1949) and Giver (1960), complemented by essays that offer new critical perspective and the novel Paradiso, published by the UNEAC in 1966 and reissued by Letras Cubanas in 1989, with an indispensable foreword by Cintio Vitier.
The Death of Narcissus and Paradiso represent his ticket to literary immortality. The imaginative display, linguistic input and the way he retells the myths of the past and beings them closer to the island horizon, caused critics to see in Lezama Lima our Luis de Góngora.
Paradiso, described as secretive and scandalous, recreates the family and personal guts of Lezama Lima himself, who submitted to the reader the geometry of words, but he gives away his arsenal of parables, cultural associations, metaphors, dreams and unexpected visions. We should search the work and recreate ourselvs in it as a cathedral of history, friendship and culture far from the melodramatic thrillers and detective novels.
It is also possible to read the essays, Analecta (1953), The American expression (1957), Treaties in Havana (1958), The bewitched (1970) and the compilation Image and Possibility of 1981. In 2010 studies on cultural dissemination undertaken by Lezama Lima resurfaced in magazines that identified his generation, consisting of figures that, with him, enriched the spiritual heritage of Cuba. From Verbum (1937) to Origens (1944-1956), past Silver Spur (1939-1941), Poet, Clavileño, Nadie Parecía and Fray Junipero (1943).
Origins, with 40 issues in a decade, was compared with the Revista de Occidente (Spain), with the River Platte South and the Mexican Contemporáneos e Hijo Prodigo. In Origins, Lezama and his colleagues structured the first literary movement that made poetry its essential form of knowledge, aesthetic enjoyment and understanding of the world. Here are the voices of our poetic transcendentalism, who include, in addition to Lezama, Gastón Baquero, Eliseo Diego, Cintio Vitier and Fina García Marruz.
A hundred years after his birth Lezama Lima is still more talked about than read, but he is also reborn as a paradigm of the creator outside the socio-political reality of the country, where the calm waters and the daily hardship stimulate the search for other estates of greater royalty.
Originally posted: December 28 2010
The Villa Manuela Gallery extended until the end of November the exhibition Beyond the border, of the painter and engraver Eduardo Roca Salazar (Choco), who according to N. Echevarria, “returns to drawing and even makes a foray into three dimensionality through a set of “sculptured” figures, the inclusion of “Choir” (2010), anchored in earlier works, in which collagraphy forms a structural axis.”
Choco, like Fabelo, Medive or Sosabravo is an artist with his own style and identity, indeed quite oversized. He belongs to the generation of the seventies and studied at the School of Art Instructors and the National Art School, which, combined with his talent and hard work opened institutional spaces within and outside the island.
His resume includes prizes, citations and awards for his prints in exhibitions in Bulgaria, Cuba, Spain and Japan; personal and collective exhibitions in and beyond our island, and works in collections of museums and art institutes in Havana, Chicago, Mexico, Palma de Mallorca, Tama, Kochi (Japan) and Germany.
Although Choco studied painting and triumphed with his prints, years ago he showed a preference for collagraphy and sculptures of glued paper, which require perseverance, craft, and a love of manual meticulousness, enriched by the composition and the work of color in each offering, whose corporeality and expression infers eroticism and vitality.
His geometric symbolism in “Reflejos” (2004-2010), made up of four medium-sized pieces of mixed media, appears as if looking through glass, not water. In these profiles can be seen traces of African features, palpable in a previous series of great visual intensity, such as the sculptures “Juegos de Cabeza” and “Bemba Colora”, tied to the ethnic origin of the creator.
The sculpture “Abrazos” (glued paper of 158 by 40 and 22 cm), asymmetric and symbolic, demonstrates mastery of the body and offers readings that break from the sensuality and texture of the piece; while in “La Siesta”, a work of background and figure, the color and technique enhance the expression, enriched by stripes, lines and numerical indications that hint at hidden messages.
In mixed-media creations such as “Beyond the Border “, “The Wall That Surrounds Us”, “Silence” and “Torso”, Choco demonstrates his figurative mastery in the exploration of the tactile, addressed in a number of sculptures, prints and collagraphs that travel from lyricism to a subtle everyday intimacy, but evade other realities.
Translated by Rick Schwag
November 28 2010