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Archive for May, 2011

Forgotten Combatants / Miguel Iturria Savón

May 29, 2011 1 comment

They are beginning to fade, the echoes of the insane propaganda about the challenge among the exiles who landed at the Bay of Pigs, April 17, 1961, and the policemen and militiamen who counterattacked in the name of the Revolutionary government, unaware that Castro’s interwoven dictatorship backed by the Soviet Union, whose tanks and machine guns influenced the defeat of Brigade 2506, which marks a before and after in the ruin of the nation.

Neither the bulky official bibliography nor the few testimonies of the defeated shake the boredom of most Cubans, hence the need to revisit the issue from the perspective of the losers, those heroes who demonized like the Mambises of the nineteenth century and the enemies of Machado or Batista, looking for help from the U.S. authorities to defeat Castro, who in the days previous executed dozens of opponents and imprisoned thousands of potential conspirators.

Brigade 2506 was the armed wing of the exile groups, led then by José Miró Cardona, former Prime Minister the Government of Cuba in 1959. It included 1,500 men trained in camps in Central America, Puerto Rico, Louisiana and Florida.

The small army controlled the road to San Blas and moved many miles in three days of unequal combat, as Castro mobilized more than 40,000 well-armed troops. The mission was to establish a “beachhead” 40 miles wide on the eastern shore of Bay of Pigs, from Playa Larga in the north to the Playa Girón in central and Caleta Verde to the south. If they managed that strip of land they would institute a provisional government there, which would request international assistance.

The lack of ammunition and other supplies before the regime’s aerial counteroffensive and the intervention the artillery and Soviet tanks, marked the denouement in favor of the dictatorship. The brigade lost 69 men in combat, 10 were shot, 9 were suffocated while being moved to Havana, 10 died on the boat back and 1,174 were captured and tried in April 1962. The Castro government reported 1,250 dead and 3,000 injured.

Despite being sentenced to death in a public and televised trial, the sentence was changed to 30 years of forced labor or the payment of compensation amounting to almost 53 million dollars at a rate of 500,000 for Jose Perez San Roman, Chief of Brigade 2506 and each of its two commanders, and from 50 thousand to 20 thousand for each fighter. With the exception of 9 who remained behind bars until 1986, the rest were released in December 1962 when the Committee of Families created in exile deposited the ransom in the accounts of government, raised by private donations.

The Bay of Pigs action is the most significant event in the civil war that broke out in Cuba during the establishment of totalitarianism, whose dictatorship we still suffer. Guerrilla warfare in the mountains of Escambray, the Oriente and Pinar del Rio, plus the missile crisis in October 1962, are events of the the same national conflict that involved third parties in favor of the Democrats or the Communists.

Two decades later, the propaganda machine continued to demonize those defeated fighters, while exalting the handful of leaders who were victorious, as if they were not responsible for the island’s socio-economic disaster.

Among the expeditionaries of that spring who confronted the dictatorship that flourished in our nation, beyond these days from Florida, are the names of Ernelio Oliva, second commander, Captain Luis Morse, Eduardo Zayas Bazán, Mario Martínez Malo, Santiago Jont, Esteban Bovo, Julio González Rebull, John E. Pou, Arturo Cobo, Cesar Eli, John Clark and others who deserve the honor of the nation when freedom is no longer a dream.

April 26 2011

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Today As It Was Yesterday / Miguel Iturria Savón

May 29, 2011 Leave a comment

They say that Benny Moré, before becoming “the barbarian of rhythm of Cuban music,” passed the hat in the bars of the Avenida del Puerto in Havana, where he sang with his guitar for a plate of food and three rums. In one of those bars he discovered the famous Miguel Matamoros, who needed another voice that alternated with his own. The rest is history: Benny displayed his talent in Mexico, New York and then in the recording studios and nightclubs in Cuba.

History repeats itself on our island and in the countries n the continent. At the end of the nineties Polo Montanes rose to fame, the natural Guajiro from Pinar del Rio, discovered by a foreign producer at a recreation center in the province. Polo triumphed in Colombia before being released in Havana.

Decades after the “Barbarian of Rhythm” passed the hat, talented musicians depend on the currencies of the tourists who go to bars, restaurants and hotels along the Avenida del Puerto, Prado, Obispo and other streets of Havana, where they surprise by offering sones and guarachas for diners.

Tourists are not as lavish but the menus are expensive and they assume that they include the creole rhythms, jazz and the universal songs played with local flavor by small groups. Maybe that’s why they don’t understand why one of the musicians passes the hat and tries to sell an album at the end of each set.

If you conversed with the artists you would know that despite their professional level and after playing ten or twelve hours a day, they take home only what is collected with the hat or the gourd, because their salary in local currency is shameful.

The income earned by singers and instrumentalists is the equivalent to 160 CUC per month for the group. Of that number, 50% goes to the company that represents them, 10% to the tax office (ONAT), and the rest is divided between them, almost eight dollars a month.

The musicians are paid for four to eight days a month, although they perform 15 to 30. This also includes procuring the instruments, sound, transportation, promotion and managing the day or night contracts, including the Salon Rosado de the Tropical and music houses of Havana, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba, where the administration gives priority to the highest-rated bands, though they do not represent the most authentic Cuban music.

To make matters worse, they must have an affiliation with a company of the ministries of Culture and Tourism, and respect for the rules of the corps of inspectors who seize instruments, impose fines or close down their contracts if they see them selling discs or other irregularities, though they encourage bribery to compensate for their own salaries.

The rules of the businesses contribute to dozens of vocal and instrumental groups being deactivated every month, required to perform 19 activities a month when artistic demand is decreasing and for lack of budget they’re closing  the venues. This excess has been criticized by the likes of Adalberto Alvarez, Juan Formell, Lourdes Torres and Tony Pinelly, who told a radio station of the capital that “if companies flew through the air they couldn’t pay for the damage they do to the artists.”

The musicians have to pay for their own CDs and compete with the emerging reggaeton artists and figured benefited by television and on state labels, which opens the doors of agencies that pay better and offer their shows in hard currency, inspired by foreign rhythms and patrons.

While the musicians survive by passing the hat, some authors with access to the mass media censor “the imitation of foreign” and seek “to promote Cuban music without ignoring the universal.” Rafael Lay, director of the Aragon orchestra, told the newspaper Juventud Rebelde that he was surprised to know that the brass band of the twentieth century is not “appropriate to perform in the music venues,” whose programmers prefer reggaeton.

A former singer of the group warns that the problem is worse in the provinces: “From Havana it’s impossible to know the talent that is lost in the interior, which influences the exodus of groups and principals to the capital which then becomes a bridge to overseas.”

Some think that passing the hat is demeaning and that “we are paralyzed in time,” that it’s enough to travel to Mexico, the United States or Spain to look at to other figures and see how the mechanisms of promotion work, less bureaucratic than in Cuba, where voices such as Lourdes Torres and Leo Vera work in cabarets and have no CDs out.

Everything seems to indicate that, “Today is like yesterday,” the silenced soneros have to wait for someone to discover them in the bars and promote them abroad, to be recognized on the island, as happened with the aging members of the Buena Vista Social Club.

April 12 2011

Whirlwind of Colors / Miguel Iturria Savón

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

According Dannys Montes de Oca Moreda, curator of Whirlwind II, exhibited from 9 May to 9 June in Havana Gallery, “it is in order that that object that hasn’t told a story before,” a maxim contradicted by the young artists who presented The Whirlwind in the capital last fall, a continuation of the show in the Antonio M. Claret Cultural Center in Santiago de Cuba, where the logic promotional showed an emerging group that looks at nature and reality from the expressions of art.

Whirlwind II brings many “intellectual games, transporting and interchanging, representatives of one or another direction,” as a “spaces of friction between one artist and another, a work with another and the possibilities of interaction” between architects, although each production has its own standards and individual poetry that integrates the whole and “embraces a kind of epochal sensitivity and different ways to build their imagination.”

The whirlwind of the Havana Gallery becomes the pretext that “rising in the middle of chaos, is the possibility of a subsequent order,” as “dispersed particles, riots, which then settle into a new and different structure.” It includes novels,  from known thirty-somethings in the provinces and temporal intermedia whose methodological diversity defies “sectarian logic” between painting, video, new technologies and the post conceptual, indicator of a claim of advocacy and partnership.

Everything fits into this mapping or visual imagery, except the possibility of classifying it. They are works that bring intensity and technical deployment of original art scenes, and poetic, philosophical and human sensitivity, marked by the social dynamics of creation, far from extreme positions around the “autonomy of the aesthetic” or “the re-politicalization of art.”

As “only art can accept disorder without reservation,” counterpoint artists converge in Whirlwind II such as: Pavel Acosta (Camagüey, 1975); Yunior Acosta (Villa Clara, 1978); Nadal Antelmo (Cárdenas, 1968); Kevin Beovides (Havana , 1978), Carlos Caballero (Camagüey, 1978), Alejandro Campins (Manzanillo, 1981), Susan P. Dalahanate (Havana, 1984), Lisandra I. Garcia (Havana, 1989), Marianela Orozco (Sancti Spiritus, 1973), Levi Orta (Havana, 1978), Michel Perez Chicken (Manzanillo, 1981), Harold Adislen Reyes and Vazquez, both born in 1984 in Havana.

Pavel Acosta presents photos of the Stolen Talent and Stolen Spaces series in which a sense of time and history is condensed that seems to  translate into film and video, which alters or disrupts the caught identity. He also uses the photography of Harold Vazquez, whose analytical and deconstructive structure proceeds through the image as a document recreated with slogans in the X-Places series and  “Jeló mai frén,” printed digitally. Photo printing tied to the acrylic is centered in the offerings of Lisandra I. Garcia, a friend of the portrait as a pretext of artistic reflection in Seven Days, where she infers moderation and balance.

Yunior Acosta highlights concerns about the ecological as an essential element of human subsistence. His caustic look at our natural condition nests in Good Luck (gypsum, rabbit’s foot and bird feathers), Finding Heights (taxidermy and bones of birds) and the woodcut Horse Frolicking in the Meadow.

Video and audiovisual configure the offerings of Susana P. Dalahanate, able to philosophize about the rituals of life, significant in the metaphorical Untitled (28 minutes), where someone takes earth from a bed with a shovel. Chela, by Lisandra Garcia; Self-management and Time Off from the Spaniard Orta Levi Nuria Güell; and even more the memorable Directed Dream of Marianela Orozco, who ventures into the everyday through video. Orozco surprises with Accession, digital printing and poetic construction.

Nadal Antelmo and Kevin Beovides start from new technologies. The first with Networks (2007-2010). Word in Progress, a photographic installation for space and for the web. The second offers Greek, digital storytelling, or cyber-literature; landscape Zen and Deadhead, the three from 2008.

Philosophical concerns and aesthetic pleasure are found in the offerings of Carlos Caballero, creator of the paintings On the Other Side of the Meadow, and Untitled (Ray); Alejandro Campins, author of The Son, Keep Out and Suo Chang Mountain (oil-canvas from 2010 and 2011); Michel Perez Pollo, whose paradoxical and animist look in The Shore of the Beach and Model for the Shore of the Beach. While Reyes Adislen offers scenes of childhood as a boundary between the naive and the twisted, given in the series League, made with acrylic, tempera and collage on cardboard.

May 27 2011

Between Absurdities and Eviction / Miguel Iturria Savón

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Only sometimes, when a beam of light penetrates her neurons, Francisca Herrera Cuellar, 95, acknowledges her granddaughter Maritza Cruz León Pérez, who fought, on her behalf, an eviction order the Municipal Court of the Plaza municipality, to try to protext her from the imminent collapse of the small family apartment in upper floors of Linea 1060 between 12 and 14, Vedado, where she moved into the rooms vacated by the officer Francisco Martínez Blanes, beneficiary of a new house Ayestarán between Capdevila and Concepción from the Ministry of the Interior.

Before moving to a space in better condition, Maritza Cruz León Pérez, 50, lived in two rooms with a barbecue together with her grandmother, her mother of 72, an uncle of 68 and her daughter, 21. The building dates from 1920 and was declared uninhabitable in the mid-eighties by the Municipal Department of Housing, whose shelter commission has no means to accommodate the tenants of the old residence, one among many in Vedado to be demolished, anticipating the abandonment of each family, forced to shore up their area while awaiting the collapse or transfer to another house, because in Cuba the government controls the housing and prohibits its sale.

Francisca Herrera Cuéllar, age 95

The history of institutional harassment against Cruz Maritza and her family includes previous claims against the Housing Department and the Shelter Commission of the Plaza municipality; it continued with the legal placement of Francisco Martínez Blanes, who months after her departure accused the elderly Francisca Cuellar Herrera of usurping her unoccupied property; it continues with the rallying of local officials, because the building belongs to the so-called “frozen zone” of the Ministry of the Interior; it is entangled with the secrecy of the ministry; it is widened with the summons for postponed trial and with the attempted arrest and eviction order, which the police considered inappropriate.The housing challenge between the granddaughter of the apoplectic old woman and the guardians of the space that was left empty, had its final at the trial held on 18 May. Maritza Cruz Leon went with the documents that proved the state of necessity of her relatives, the medical certificate of the vegetative grandmother, the technical report on the property and requests made to move her family to two less deplorable rooms. Fortunately, the court ruled that no crime was committed in this case.

If the authorities did not respond to their complaints or show interest in apartment vacated in  order the return to place of origin by “arbitrary exercise of law”, the alternative would be to wait for death in the collapse; a regrettable episode, but a common one in our island reality.

May 25 2011

Improper Conduct / Miguel Iturria Savón

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

There are those who believe that history is written only by those in power, by means of textbooks, testimonials, biographies, means of communication and other supports of dominance that certify the version of the victors. Cuban history of the 20th Century confirms the rule, but in conflict with the story of the main characters who jump the fences of the socio-political angle.

In this parallel history is written the documentary “Improper Conduct“, from the Collection of Cuban Cinema Dador, conceived in the middle of the 1980s for the French channel Antena 2 by Margaret Memegoz and Barbet Schroedr under the direction of Nestor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal, with script by Michel Dumoulin, montage by Michel Pion Mon and Alain Tortevoix, Dominique Merlin behind the cameras and Nicole Flipo as producer.

Improper Conduct“, based on interviews of exiled Cubans in the cities of Europe and America, offers another view of the country at odds with the official history, recreated through testimonials, images of parades and statements of Fidel Castro about events unleashed by the group who seized power on the island and imposed a reign of terror. The work preserves freshness and a sense of the present, even though it is narrating facts from 1959 to 1980.

The title reuses the expression used by officials to justify the massive dragnets of the 1960s and 70s against hippies, homosexuals, and “those unadaptable to the revolutionary process”, victims of accusations and public ridicule in the neighborhoods, student and labor centers, who were sent to the Military Production Support Units (UMAP), tropical versions of the extermination camps created by the Nazis during the Second World War (1939-1945).

Having become a classic of our cinematography, “Improper Conduct” is a deluxe documentary for its photographic excellence, the montage of images, the panning of faces, the interaction between questions and responses, the self-assurance of the interviewees and unpedantic authenticity of their testimonials; in contrast with that expressed by F. Castro, who masks his intolerance and repression with reasons of state.

Predominant are the testimonies of artists, writers, and ex-functionaries submerged in the atmosphere of an era from the personal story of each. Personalities parade across the screen like Carlos Franqui, founder of Rebel Radio and ex-director of the magazine Revolution, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, creator of the weekly cultural Revolutionary Mondays, the poet Heberto Padilla, the narrator Reinaldo Arenas Fuentes, the theatric René Ariza, the ex-political prisoner Armando Valladares, and intellectuals such as Lorenzo Monreal, Jorge Lazo, José Mario, Rafael De Palet, Héctor Aldao, Mireya Robles, Juan Abreu, Elaine del Castillo, Susan Sontag, Ana María Simo and Martha Frayle, among others who probed that as of yet unexhausted fragment of national horror.

Improper Conduct” evokes the “Night of the Three Ps” (taken from putas (whores), proxenetas (pimps), and “pájaros” (Johns)), collective humiliations and political and moral trials unleashed against relatives in places like the University of Havana and other teaching centers of the country, blacklists and assemblies of insults that took thousands of innocents to prison. Details about interrogations, absurd suspicions, the claims of hippies, homosexuals, whores, vagrants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses; the places of urban imprisonment; the buses with the blacked-out windows headed to the fields of Camagüey, with fences of electrified spikes, days working in the fields, mistreatment, hunger, and suicides.

Almost nothing escapes the sights of those who carry out this hell on earth. One shows drawings of the barracks, the punishment cells, and the wires. Another evokes the camp’s slogan: “Work makes you men” (Lenin), similar to “Work will set you free” (Hitler), posted at the entrance to Auschwitz.

The film reveals the vicious circle of persecution and persecuted and investigates why there was so much paranoia, especially the preoccupation of Raúl Castro and Ramiro Valdés concerning the gay problem; it recalls Raul’s trip to Bulgaria and Ramiro’s interview with the mayor of Shanghai (China), who told him how they killed them with poles in a traditional feast and threw them in the river as a lesson.

From the images and testimonies of “Improper Conduct” a new prostitution returns with the State as the pimp, tourism at the service of power, the granularity of control at the neighborhood level and the massive exodus from Mariel to Florida (22 April through 16 September 1980), a true plebiscite against governmental despotism.

To see this audiovisual fragment once more about a Cuba buried by repression, censorship and collective laziness, it is incumbent to ask ourselves “what were we doing when those things were going on?” or “What are we doing now with these horror stories? The why is indispensable to recover our memory, cleanse our wounds, and redesign the new nation.

(Translator’s note: This documentary, presented in 12 parts, can be seen on YouTube. It should not be missed.)

Translated by: JT

May 17 2011

Chronicle of a Kidnapping in Havana / Miguel Iturria Savón

May 17, 2011 Leave a comment

The Cuban Model isn't working any more. / Unfortunately your LOCK is working.

On Friday, April 22, on the corner of H and Calzada, Vedado, Havana, I was intercepted at 3:45 p.m. by a Lada car without police plates, from which four plainclothes agents of State Security emerged. Taken by surprise, I tried to ask them for their arrest warrant; meanwhile the leader ordered, “Get in Iturria, your time has come,” and one of the cops punched me and pushed me in with the help of another.

In the vehicle they took my belongings (cell phone, camera, a book, papers and identity card). Already underway, they went down G to 23rd and from there to 41st and 31st. At the Marianao Military Hospital they doubled back toward Siboney and got out at the San Agustin police station in the city of La Lisa.

During part of the ride they kept me with my hands handcuffed behind me and my head down. The driver responded to cell phone calls with phrases like “I’m carrying the cargo, call later,”pick up ten teams and wait for me at Section 30.” By his side an officer in his fifties, tall, black, thick lips and a face of disgust; he was the only one wearing military boots.

At the station they searched me minutely. I was in the lobby under the watch of the guy who punched me–swarthy balding thirty-something with a face of hatred–and the young mulatto from the back seat, until a sub-officer took me to an average shabby office, where one of the military guys came in who had been at my house on March 8 when I refused the summons for an interview with the “Official Octavio,” who shows up looking for two chairs; but then comes Captain Tamayo and they take me to a place with air conditioning, starting the repetitive “verbal exchange” with Tamayo, escorted by subordinates who were at home, both fierce and silent.

Tamayo is white, of medium size and light eyes. He suffers from oral incontinence and likes to dazzle with statistics that show State Security’s control over the on the peaceful opposition, exile organizations, independent journalists and alternative bloggers, whom he denigrates and minimizes incessantly, which contradicts the low importance he gives to them.

He mentions contemptuously Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, President of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights; Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, leader of the Cuban Association of Jurists; communicators Juan González Febles, director of Digital Weekly Spring; Julio Aleaga Pesant, Jose Alvarez and others like me “who exceed the limits of tolerance that we have set” and “dare to refuse the subpoenas from State Security, without knowing that we do not need to comply with the articles of the Criminal Procedure Act, it enough for us to issue a verbal subpoena; be warned so you won’t be detained again in the street.”

In his monologue, Tamayo combines the information and statistics with praise for the Commander-in-Chief, “the man of the century”, and General Raul Castro, “modest and humane like the Commander.” He ponders the “historic generation that leads the revolution,” the health system, education, sporting achievement and participation in elections and political events.

To compensate, he unleashes his grievances against the hardships of the past in Cuba (although he was born in 1970), attacks the aggression of the United States toward the island (quoting the words of President Obama in Chile), global capitalism and poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America. To make matters worse, he blames the economic embargo as the cause of our problems and thinks “if the Yankees allowed tourism and allowed us to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, it would save socialism and we would live better.”

He spoke about his farming origins and the poverty of his family, as he was born in a village in the Sierra Maestra in the Contramaestre municipality in Santiago de Cuba Province. He reiterated that he spent 23 yeas in the Ministry of the Interior, where he barely earned enough to eat despite having a house in Havana and being a communist. He lamented not being able to drink a bottle of rum every week and bring gift boxes to his relatives in the mountains.

More than interrogate me, Tamayo combined the discourse of power with threats against those who think differently. He warned that his department had a file on each one of the 109 independent communicators in the country, “Lists to present to the prosecutor as we did in 2003.” He added that “State Security decides who gets permission to leave and who would rot on the island.”

Before such a codified mentality I limited myself to asking a few ironic questions and rectifying certain of his opinions with conflicting data. I told him that he served a totalitarian tyranny and not a socialist revolution, that what remains of the slogans, rituals and masks of the terrified majority who depend on the State, seems increasingly like an Arab sultanate; that the economic embargo and the supposed external aggression are not the cause of the national disaster, nor the inefficiency, the corruption and the lack of freedoms and opportunities to liberate the productive force and initiatives of citizens.

At eight in the evening the official returned my belongings as “a goodwill gesture,” in the expectation that I would “not make a circus out of what happened.” I assured his that I would continue to write without censorship and would denounce the kidnapping arranged by him.

April 27 2011

Granma, Napoleon and the Insurgents / Miguel Iturria Savón

May 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Tuesday 9 May, on listening to the reading, on the National Television News, of the official daily press note from Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, I remembered the old joke about Napoleon, Granma and the Battle of Waterloo: “If Napoleon had had a newspaper like Granma nobody would know, yet, of his defeat at Waterloo. ”

The praise has a Spanish-Creole version: “If the Spanish monarchy had had to rely on reports from Granma, the world still wouldn’t know who lost, in 1898, the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.”

The evocation of the joke about the usual disinformation of the partisan scrap of paper comes to mind because in the press note above, as serious as the pompous voice of the announcer, the paper reports on the police who caused the death of the peaceful opponent Wilfredo Soto Juan Garcia, who received a beating on Thursday May 5 at Vidal Park in Santa Clara, from where he was taken to the police station and from there to the provincial hospital, where he died three days later.

The free-form and biased version from Granma doesn’t limit itself to masking the death of former political prisoner and member of the Central Opposition Coalition; as if that were not enough it goes on to talk of alleged criminal record of the decedent’s and blames his death on his health problems, which did have but which were compounded by the caresses of the military.

Granma’s press note would not have been written if the incident had no significance in and out of the island. The night before, the Spanish reporter Mauricio Vicent published in El Pais (Spain): “Death of a dissident after being beaten up by the police.” The Spanish writer cites the twitter of Yoani Sanchez, who warned that “this police brutality is not an isolated case.”

The network of bloggers and independent journalists such as Guillermo Fariñas, Martha Beatriz Roque and others, knew the agony of Soto Garcia, whose crime was to refuse to leave the park in their city, located 280 km from Havana.

Clothes make the man. Granma distorts what happened instead of denouncing it and demanding criminal responsibility for those responsible for the death of a sick citizen, kicked in the public street. In February and March 2010, Granma and Cuban National Television News denigrated Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in prison after a prolonged hunger strike to demand an end to the beatings in prison. They also slandered the journalist Guillermo Fariñas Hernandez for declaring a hunger strike to demand the release of ailing political prisoners.

Granma reporters, like Napoleon, who sent Paris fictitious reports from the battlefields, and like the colonial government in Cuba, who embellished the reports to Madrid and described supporters of independence as “rascals, lowlifes and highwaymen,” entangled themselves in a lie rather than conform to the truth.

May 15 2011