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The Province of Mayabeque / Miguel Iturria Savón

March 18, 2011 Leave a comment

In 1977, on applying the political-administrative division that increased the provinces of the country to fourteen, the capital was divided into two: Havana City, with 15 municipalities, and Havana, with 19 — two of which came from Pinar del Rio — and which was then subtracted from to create Artemis and Mariel. Thirty-three years later, instead of returning to the old six provinces and adjust the bureaucratic octopus  to the socioeconomic involution of the island, someone decided to multiply again.

The national territory is the same, but as of January 2011 we have 15 instead of 14 provinces, plus the Isle of Youth, as special municipality. The increase is due to the division into two provinces of Havana: Artemis and Mayabeque. The City of Havana returns to Havana, a reduced Havana and its two twin daughters, the first of which we have added three municipalities of Pinar del Rio: Bahia Honda, Candelaria and San Cristobal.

Since almost nobody understands the reason for the bureaucratic and political realignment that increases the number of functionaries and changes people’s hometowns and local boundaries, the official press reports alleged massive adherents, speaks of “geographical consistency,” “material consensus,” the “strong agricultural economy,” theexpectations of improvements in transport and supplies and “identity in motion.” In the case of Mayabeque, it is centered around the river basin which gives it its aboriginal name, whose waters flow through seven towns, from Catalina de Guines to the Gulf of Batabano.

Mayabeque province’s is made up of 11 municipalities with San Jose de las Lajas at the head, which borders the capital as do Bejucal, Jaruco and Santa Cruz del Norte, and Madruga, Quivican Batabano, Melena del Sur, Guines, San Nicholas and Nueva Paz.

The urban centers of each municipality are based in rural and local culture, some with urban pretensions. They are people-islands, surrounded by plains looking into and within Havana as a reference point. They barely have buildable contacts among themselves and lack an articulated system of transport system, although several are crossed by the main road, the national highway or rail links. The greatest economic and cultural role was that of Guines, connected to the capital by rail since 1938, and now relegated San Jose de las Lajas.

Due to its proximity to the main city, San José de las Lajas benefited from industries and agricultural research. It is a small city with only seventy-four thousand inhabitants, without colonial buildings or neoclassical architecture. It differs from Guines and other towns of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the absence of central park with a church, town hall, theater, etc. It is crossed by the Central Road and the train to Havana  — Guines, in crisis for decades.

Except for the fiesta in Bejucel Village — el Parrandas de Bejucal — the Feast of Santa Barbara in Guines, the Mollete Melena del Sur, and the songs repentist poets celebrating the river and the livestock and agricultural traditions of the Havana-Matanzas plane, in the province of Mayabecque the cultural identity awaits the future, as do expectations for development and the dreams of the majority of its overwhelmed people.

Imagine the uprooting of thousands of people on that first of January 2011 as they learned that they are no longer in Havana.

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February 27 2011

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Artemisa Province / Miguel Iturria Savón

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

If the political administrative division of 1977 increased the number of Cuban provinces from 6 to 14, the bureaucratic reshuffling of 2011 raised it to 15, because it reduced the size of the capital, cutting the urban environment in two, and distributing the 19 municipalities of Havana between the new Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces.

As in similar readjustments the State’s reasons for uprooting thousands of inhabitants in Havana and Pinar del Rio, we assume that offices, tensions and expectations grow while the regional boundaries are configured. They change the provincial boundaries but not the municipalities.

As we discussed, the configuration of Mayabeque, composed of 11 municipalities of Habana province, with San Jose de Las Lajas as the top; we will refer to Artemisa, a province cut and pasted from three municipalities from Pinar del Rio (Bahía Honda, Candelaria y San Cristóbal), plus the remaining eight of the extinct Habana province: Alquízar, Bauta, Caimito, Guanajay, Güira de Melena, Mariel, San Antonio de los Baños and Artemisa itself, which was in Pinar del Rio province until 1976, along with Guanajay and Mariel.

The new Artemis, the largest municipality in size and population of the old structure, becomes the thirteenth province in the country by size (4004.27 square km), the eleventh in population (502,392 inhabitants) and the third in population density, preceded by the capital and Santiago de Cuba. Bordered on the south by the Gulf of Batabano, on the east by Havana City and Mayabeque, on the west by Pinar del Rio and the north by the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Of its current territory, the oldest are Alquízar (1616) and Guanajay (1650), followed by San Cristobal (1743), Bauta (1750), Mariel (1768), San Antonio de los Baños (1775), Guira de Melena and Bay Honda (1799). Artemis, founded in 1810, flourished with the development of coffee and the regional sugar industry. The region was the scene of struggles against colonialism and the dictatorships of Machado, Batista and the Castro brothers.

From the geographical point of view  it is dominated by the southern carcásica plains, the flood plain at the western end, given the presence of several rivers, the Sierra del Rosario and the red soils and natural features (caves, sinkholes, lakes, coasts and three bays). Within Mariel Bay we find the Majana cove at the narrowest point of the island (31 km).

For its forest reserves, bays, rivers, reservoirs and agricultural potential, livestock and manufacturing, the new provincial structure raises expectations of development that depend on investments, initiatives and freedoms essential to modernize industry (cement, thermal power, textile, agricultural), maintain the road and rail networks, and promote the tourist attractions (Soroa Natural Park, Las Terrazas, Hotel Moka).

The territorial culture evokes illustrious names such as the novelist Cirilo Villaverde (1912-1894), composers Maria Teresa Vera (1895-1965) and Luis Marquetti (1901-1992), trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, the tres guitar player Pancho Amat, singers Polo Montanes (1955-2002) and Alex Puente, the historian Manuel Isidro Méndez (1882-192), the geographer Antonio Núñez Jiménez and cartoonist Eduardo Abela (1889-1965). A tenth of the improvisational peasants, political cartoons, and other expressions of art and literature nest in the region, coexisting with the centers for military training, pedagogy, sports and science.

If all territory is an ongoing identity with urban, geographic or economic elements that characterize and differentiate one from the other, it remains to be seen if there is a convergence between the municipalities of La Habana and Pinar del Rio added to Artemisa. The changes the nation needs can dynamite, reduce or strengthen the political-administrative intentions designed by the current military bureaucracy.

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March 1 2011

Barnet and His Alter Ego / Miguel Iturria Savón

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

The Florida media commented on the details of the flow of musicians and writers that travel from Havana to Miami or New York, where they perform in clubs and theaters or speak in universities and conference rooms.

Among the literary figures the writer Miguel Barnet, the President of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and the Deputy to the National Assembly, whose presence in New York resulted in opposing opinions of his official chanting, his signature of support for the quick execution of three young men who tried to hijack a boat to escape the island, and his declaration of support for the convicted spies incarcerated in the United States.

I know that someone should unveil the masks of the accomplices of the dictatorship that utilize the springs of the democracy to promote their works and earn money, but I don’t believe that the writer-functionary deserves that much attention. In Cuba barely anyone speaks of him despite the re-releases of his novels (Cimarrón, Gallego, Canción de Rachel) and poems, though sometimes we see him on TV talking about identity or speaking in sessions of the National Popular Power Assembly.

If Barnet wasn’t a simulator accustomed to excluding the creators who challenge the rules of the game, he would not be leading UNEAC nor enjoying awards and invitations to foreign countries. But our grand intellectual commissioner removes the mask at times and reveals his way of thinking, which is very different than the things he says publicly out of fear or convenience.

I now remember my professional contacts with Miguel Barnet in the Fernando Ortiz Foundation towards the end of 2005, while editing my book The Basques in Cuba, still unpublished even though it was approved by the team of investigators and the Board of the Directors, presided over by Barnet and an annoying Trinidad Pérez,

In the first contact Barnet gave me his assessment of the book, talked about its ethno-historic and cultural contribution and weighed data on the confluence of the Canary Islanders, Galicians, Catalans, Hebrew and Chinese, many of whom fled with their descendants, “Frightened by the measures of the Revolutionary government and by its affiliation with Eastern Europe.”

In the second meeting my host exchanged erudition for the proposal to introduce some changes suggested by the UNEAC editor, hired by the Foundation to edit and redesign the work, which I opposed from the ideological suspicions of the specialist. Barnet agreed I was right but insisted on the need to look after the institution, because, “The elite who run the country fears anthropological studies and that would be pretext enough to close the Foundation.” He added that on two occasions he’d had to sit down with Abel Prieto — Minister of Culture — faced with absurd interpretations of the magazine Catauro. “Imagine what would happen if a book like yours were to make value judgments that put the hunters of phantoms on their guard.”

Given his fears I said something about freedom of expression that bothered the writer, who felt the need to talk about himself.

“I was one of those young men of the bourgeoisie who bellowed against the Batista dictatorship until they arrested me and I spent a night in a dungeon, listening to the screams; at dawn the minister of education too me home, my family sent me to the residence in Tarará where I didn’t leave until 1959. I joined the militia and undertook the different tasks of the time, coming to the point of throwing an ashtray at Paulita Grau and distancing myself from Lidia Cabrera during Operation Peter Pan, but years later I went to Miami and asked their forgiveness, and for that State Security called me in; for them it’s all about ideology. I’m not brave but I know the barbarians. They still haven’t apologized for the craziness of the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, nor for the Congress of Education and Culture of 1971. What can we expect from those gentlemen who deny Doctor Hilda Molina permission to travel to Argentina and reunite with her son and meet her grandchildren?”

When I met with Barnet for the third time, in January of February of 2006, the book was ready for printing and we talked about the question of the check in hard currency for my foreign sponsors. That day the conversation was brief and relaxed, but the book hasn’t been released although they paid me for the copyright.

I don’t know if Barnet is one of the Bourbons the Bourbon Eusebio Leal recently spoke about, but for the last five years I understand a little better the caste of the gentlemen who shepherd the country’s intellectual flock.

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February 15 2011

Of Absences and Other Troubles / Miguel Iturria Savon

March 8, 2011 Leave a comment

On February 10 the Havana International Book Fair began in the La Cabaña fortress, extended to March 6 in the capital’s bookshops and in the provincial centers of books and literature, which sold more than 2,000 titles of publishers from Cuba and abroad, among them the Bicentennial Alba collection with a score of works from Latin America and the Caribbean, on the occasion of 200th anniversary of its independence and the 220th anniversary of the Haitian Revolution (1791).

The 20th edition of the fair is dedicated, also, to Jaime Zaruski and Fernando Martínez Heredia, National Award winners for Literature and Social Sciences, respectively.

Our publishers still have not released the names of the major works and authors presented, but there is talk of writers such as the Nicaraguan Rubén Darío (Gruesome Tales), the Dominican Juan Bosch (The Caribbean, imperial Border), the Ecuadorian Edna Iturralde (Simon Was His Name), the winners of essay contests, Casa de las Americas, “Carpentier”, etc . — the essential Jose Marti, José Lezama Lima and the aforementioned Martinez and J. Heredia Zaruski, as well as works that emphasize the historical and social issues from the perception of power at the expense of those writing at the margin of the canons inside or outside the island.

Organized by the Cuban Book Institute and others attached to the Government and the Communist Party, such as the House of Books, UNEAC, the Casa de las Americas and the Office of the Historian of Havana, the Fair circulates titles representing the variety of genres of literature both universal and Cuban, prepared by Arte y Literatura, Letras Cubanas, Ediciones Unión, Ciencias Sociales, Editora Política,  the provincial book centers, the Publications Office of the State Council and texts of specialized flora fauna or science, and publishing collections of Andalusia and regions of Spain and Europe each year setting up their booths at the fair at La Cabaña.

By being dedicated to Latin America and the Caribbean for the Bicentenary of independence, they increased the genres of essay, biography and testimony, primarily on Haiti and Venezuela, whose government is financing many of the books on the market, almost all on the Bolivarian revolution, a recurring theme on the capital’s bookshelves for the last give years.

Notably absent are the Cuban authors who went into exile or created their work in the diaspora, such as the narrators Lino Novas Calvo, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas or Guillermo Rosales; the poets Gastón Baquero, Heberto Padilla and Raul Rivero; the playwright José Triana; the essayists Jorge Manach  Carlos A. Montaner and Rafael Rojas; the biographer Carlos Marquez Sterling biographer and the historians Levi Marrero, Mario Moreno Fraginals.

The catalog of exclusions includes dozens of artists who went to the United States, Mexico, Spain or Germany in recent decades. Names such as Joseph A. Conte, Eliseo Alberto, Jorge A. Aguilera, Wendy Guerra, Emilio Ichikawa, Néstor Díaz de Villegas, Amir Valle and a long list that obviously also includes writers who remain in Cuba, among them dozens of reporters and bloggers who assume freedom of expression and denounce the arbitrariness of power.

Although the books transcend the time of purchase, the new offerings from the Havana Fair are marked by the burden of censorship, the abundance of volumes that attempt to legitimize the dictatorship and the absence of authors demonized by the curators of the culture office. Among the latter we cite Vaclav Havel with “the power of the powerless”, in whose work and referring to the dissent he states they “are a force that defies the order and puts it in danger ….” We finish with those permanently absent from our stands, the visionary George Orwell, with his 1984 and Animal Farm, not to mention the forbidden biographies of Lenin, Stalin or Fidel Castro.

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February 9 2011

Alan Gross’s Attorney / Miguel Iturria Savón

March 5, 2011 Leave a comment

The licensed criminal defense attorney Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa has just made legal news in Cuba as the defense attorney for the American contractor Alan Gross, detained in Havana since a year ago while distributing computers to members of the Jewish community on the island.

Dr. de la Cruz Ochoa is a Specialist in Criminal Law from the University of Havana, where he is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law, and he obtained a Master in Public Law at the University of Valencia, Spain. He served as Attorney General of the Republic of Cuba, and currently works as an advocate of Special Services Legal Practice; he has written articles and papers in his specialty and heads the Cuban Society of Penal Sciences.

The good thing about his designation lies in the authority and respect earned by de la Cruz Ochoa within the Cuban legal framework. The experts tell stories about his time as a prosecutor and his “leap into the abyss” because this character is a “player” who switched sides, from top representative of the public prosecutor to advocate for international criminals.

Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa was replaced as Attorney General of the Republic by General Juan Escalona Reguera, who started in 1989 during the exceptional trial against the famous General Ochoa and other officers of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior, which sparked suspicions about possible kinship between the criminal and General Ochoa who was executed.

The former prosecutor who now defends the alleged U.S. spy has in his favor, in addition to vast experience, knowledge and prestige, the fact of having the freedom to express himself beyond what is permitted by the Communist regime to legal operators. Cruz Ochoa is said to be a walking institution and the majority of judges, lawyers and prosecutors have been his disciples.

Despite his advanced age he is still regarded for his professional competence. His reputation as a prosecutor is strengthened by the ineffectiveness of his successor, there are the stories of his wit, wisdom and honesty in taking on the defense of clients represented in the Special Services Legal Practice, for foreigners.

Remaining to be seen, however, are the political interests working behind the scenes with regards to Alan Gross because, apparently, the contractor arrested and subjected to investigations by state security is a bilateral chess piece being played by the governments of Cuba and United States.

The defender of Alan Gross will have to dig deep and even burn his bridges. The case requires the attorney to divorce himself from the official position regarding censorship of the Internet and other taboo subjects on the island, where civil liberties is an unresolved matter. Given the long history of Cruz Ochoa and his commitment to the regime, it is difficult to think he may break away and be fair. We’ll see what happens.

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February 26 2011

“Compare the Tyrants” / Miguel Iturria Savón

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

“What’s happening with Cuba, when will they rise up?” a friend from Spain asked me, as she eagerly follows the events that have shaken undemocratic regimes in North Africa. I reply that in our island disturbances can occur, but the government still retains the ability to govern as the opposition is weak and most of the population sleeps in fear, indoctrination and indifference.

According to my friend, thousands of people around the world “await the awakening of the Cubans.” I warn her how risky it is to predict insurgencies within different contexts, but she emphasizes possible comparisons and asks me “to compare the tyrants.” I limit myself to “comparing” the Libyan autocrat his Caribbean counterpart.

It is true, in less than two months riots happened from Tunisia to Yemen, from Egypt to Lebanon. Some despots boarded a plane. It remains to be seen what the Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi will do. In power since 1969, he blames foreign television channels that are “working for the devil,” as if he were God. “I’m not leaving in this situation. I will die as a martyr.”

As the Libyan leader will not follow in the footsteps of Ben Ali and Mubarak, he ordered th protesters to be deterred with helicopters and fighter bombers, while hiring mercenaries and denigrating “the dogs that deliver drugs and money and distort reality.”

“I am not a president, I am the leader of the revolution” warned Gaddafi, as if such leadership turns him into a vital monarch and immunizes him against the changes demanded by the crowds who claim their rights and freedoms in ancient Phoenicia.

Colonel Qaddafi, like comandante Castro in Cuba, justifies its hold on power by blaming all the problems of his country in imperialism. Both are allied to the former Soviet Union and survived its debacle. They go so far as to appoint their heirs: Fidel Castro appointed his brother Raul in mid 2006, while Gaddafi chose his son Saif Islam, who is now trying to appease the opposition.

Gaddafi is as eccentric as his tropical counterpart, but he is pragmatic and has oil. The first came to the throne in 1959, shooting thousands of people, dismantling the Cuban economy and society, arming guerrillas in Latin America and intervening in military conflicts in Africa. The second wanted to become the scourge of Europe and the United States, supported the guerrilla movements who raised the Koran against the West and promoted terrorism by Bin Laden.

The Libyan despot dynamited discos in Berlin dynamited and brought down airplanes in flight. The Cuban tyrant committed similar atrocities, supporting by totalitarian regimes and promoting the mass exodus of the population. Both criminalize political dissent and violate the human rights of their peoples.

The popular uprising in Libya intends to shake up the medieval state restored by Gaddafi in 1969. Opponents want to build a modern, democratic state that promotes freedoms and rights. So far, Gaddafi prefers to “burn it the ground rather than surrender.” The death struggle is being waged in cities across the country.

In Cuba, Castro retains governance, but the powder keg can explode at any moment, but increased unemployment and rising prices of commodities suppress expressions of freedom, as a national despair spreads. The majority sleeps on, focused on survival and indolence, but in this island the carousel of history has always been driven by a bold and enlightened minority; this minority exists. Hopefully it will seize the moment.

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March 3 2011