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Archive for January, 2012

Royal Order / Miguel Iturria Savon

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Some days back, during a friendly toast to the new year, a Havana lawyer was referring to the most absurd trials of 2011 in which he was involved as an advocate. According to the jurist, almost no one calculates the implications of the environment and the events leading up to certain crimes, not only for victims and offenders, let alone those in the legal profession, who sometimes have to deal with inscrutable ordinances that influence decisions.

The lawyer said that among the “jewels of law” in the recent past there was a sensational trial in the Provincial Court of Havana, motivated primarily by a visit from the Chief of the National Botanical Gardens, located on the outskirts of the capital, where it borders with other “green lungs” such as Lenin Park and the National Zoo.

Walking through the Botanical Garden areas with the Director, the President asked about the provenance of several species, conservation work and scientific projects in development. Finally he reported that the biggest problem of the institution was due to indiscriminate felling of timber trees of African origin by poachers, against which ordered exemplary measures were ordered to put an end to the practice.

As always, the energies of the police were activated to capture and prosecute those lumberjacks caught red-handed, who would have to pay as if they were the perpetrators of the trees ravaged for years on the site and in surrounding areas, as if presumed responsible for the hole in the layer ozone and global warming.

Consequently, the men caught with the ax in hand were prosecuted for “ongoing burglary of trees,” before television cameras filming the spectacle, which one assumes they passed on to the ruler.

During the hearing they brought up facts and exaggerated claims, such as that the logging had an impact on basins in the region, and deteriorated the quality of oxygen in the capital of Cuba, affecting the lungs of the city.

In short: a universal and general phenomenon like the logging of trees in a botanical garden with limited perimeter boundaries, fell on the shoulders of a group of offenders, whose sentences ranged to ten years in prison.

Maybe that’s why one of the defense lawyers, at the start his concluding oral arguments, said that listening to the rhetoric used by prosecutor, he felt that he could not breathe and his throat was parched. Is it too much?

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January 30 2012

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New Cracks in the Wall / Miguel Iturria Savon

January 21, 2012 Leave a comment

In early November Cubans on the island and in exile and discussed the pros and cons of Decree 288 which amends the General Housing Act 1988, which prevented the sale of real estate, stripped homeowners who left the country of their property, and made it difficult to transfer their houses through dozens of rules and prohibitions that favored the corruption of thousands of employees at all levels.

The decree is like a crack in the wall of the island’s bureaucratic framework, but to survive the dictatorship needs to abolish the absurd measures and ease the lives of the people in order to focus on the challenges posed by the crisis, foreign dependency, technological advances and the removal of the entitlements granted before 1990.

So far the changes are not essential, but reflect the need to free up some sectors of the economy and limit corruption so as to be able to speak of movement. Cuba moves to the beat of the traffic lights. The powers-that-be alternate the red light with green and yellow as the spark of hope.

Let’s look at the green lights that shake the State web and open paths to freedom:

  • From 2008 to the present 740,000 acres of land — out of 16 million acres in agriculture — have been assigned in personal usufruct.
  • Self-employment has been extended with the authorizing of almost 200 categories of private business. There are 333,000 self-employed, among whom are 1,438 owners of mini restaurants.
  • The layoffs of a million and a half State employees has begun, which affects the workers but frees them from their habitual dependence and makes the economy more healthy.
  • In September the sale of old cars was approved for Cubans, and of new cars for foreigners resident in Cuba and employees authorized by the government.
  • The purchase of cellphone, computers and other appliances was authorized, as well as the construction of homes by people’s “own efforts.”

“The camel’s nose under the tent.” The reforms are slow and insufficient. The red light still guarantees governability. Let’s see:

  • The Communist Party retains the state-political monopoly by controlling the media, education, economy, health sector, public administration, the armed forces and police.
  • Laws criminalize the opposition and encroach on freedoms of speech, press, association, assembly, elections and other rights.
  • Despite the legal emigration of 38,000 people a year, Cubans who travel must apply for an expensive State Travel Permit, while exiles need an Entry Permit.
  • The government freed more than one hundred political prisoners, but increased repression against the peaceful opposition.
  • The elimination of subsidies, increased taxes and the gradual cessation of food rationing increases the collective poverty.

It seems otherwise, but so much control may be the “Achilles heel” of the authorities, unable to resolve the failure of the system, the endemic corruption, theft as a way of life, and economic dependence on Venezuela, China and other allies. The government purchases from abroad eighty percent of the food consumed by the country.

The dilemma doesn’t lie in the willingness to make changes by those above, nor in the creation of opportunities to lift citizens out of poverty, but on opening the doors of the wall, gradually or abruptly, according to the pushing or the impatience of those below.

Note: Published originally in Cubanet.

November 16 2011

Prize Winning Doors

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

As an unexpected Christmas present, Doors to the Imagination: New Cuban Literature arrived in Havana last week. The volume compiles the prize winners and honorable mentions from the Voices of Change writing contest, sponsored in mid-2008 by the Independent Libraries of Cuba Project.

Although the formal presentation has not yet been made, a dozen copies circulated among some of the authors, who will not see their texts in the network of bookstores and libraries in this country by order of the censor issued by the Ministry of Culture and its monopoly the Cuban Institute of the Book, which hampers the insular literature, disconnecting the creators from their natural readers and those of alternative voices.

Doors to the Imagination is an anthology of 412 pages, prepared by the Independent Libraries and El Cambio Publishers in Miami, Florida. It begins with a note from the editor, the Prologue of the essayist Carlos A. Montaner, the Presentation of Gisela Delgado Sablon, texts in the genres of winning essay, letter, testimony, poetry, short story and novel, the most beautiful selection of acrylics on canvas by Armando Valladares, illustrator of the cover, and the collection of works art provided by Arturo F. Mosquera, who provides the data of the artists on pages 381-407.

Save for the elimination of several essays and testimonies to fit the limits of the volume, and the details that about the authors regarding their written offerings, this is a worthy compilation of literary, artistic and typographic material in which converge freedom expression and the commitment to the insular reality, noticeable in the essays, letters, testimonies and to a lesser extent, in poetry and narrative, whose tensions pulse in the creation.

Montaner warns that this “other” literature has “fine essays about the future, such as those of Manuel Cuesta (an intelligent reflection on the necessary changes and the need for institutions to support them) and Julio A. Aleaga Pesant, referring to the phenomenon of globalization and technological innovation … Also … Lucas Garve, who travels to the past and delves elegantly into the Cuban press in the late nineteenth century to find out how and why Julian del Casal, who was never in Paris … could comment on the French painting of Gustave Moreau … ”

The essays culminate with Francisco Blanco Sanabria, author of The Cineclub Max Linder, and Alberto Mendez with The Ostrich Syndrome in Cuban culture. While the epistles, polemical and incisive, summon officials and question statements and problems affecting the country such as the Charter of Raul Bolivar Martinez to Eliades Acosta, former Head of Culture of the Communist Party; that of Julio A. Rojas Portal to former Minister Felipe Perez Roque and that of Leannes Acosta Imbert to Mariela Castro Espin.

Two letters differ from the placement but link the political with personal introspection: the Testimonial Letter of former Captain of Counterintelligence Ernesto Borges Pérez to his mother (Yvonne Perez) and Letter to my Father, Maria del Carmen Pino. Both written behind bars, from which they expose the intimate and family tragedies caused by the Cuban military regime’s repression.

The rhythm increases with the testimonies, accentuated in the poems and multiplied in the narrative, whose stories and novels are the pinnacle of the work of imaginative flight, architecture, composition and diversity of voices and styles that coined the stories.

They excel in the testimony of Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, who takes up his experiences of war in Angola with a realistic and tragic sense; as Sedeño Nereida Perez moves the reader with The Story of My Life, which chronicles the challenges of her family from Communist repression; a theme addressed in turn by Orestes Suárez Torres in 25 Kilometers of Terror and Nilda Leyva Gonzalez in Danger, Don’t Read about harassment from State Security against a doctor who read the novels of the exiled writer Zoe Valdes.

In poetry quality prevails despite the difference in styles and the creative gap between the writers, doomed between memory, history, love, the city and other goblins and ghosts embodied in the verses. The poems of Joaquín Cabeza de León excel, he won first prize with Crystals of Memory; followed by Masks and Rituals for an Empty Curtain by Miguel Iturria Savon; Foot on the Line, by Luis Felipe Rojas; different verses from former political prisoner Ricardo González Alfonso; The Price of Being Alive (Marlon Faustino Guerra), Isla (Francisco Conde) and A Woman and a Thousand Abysses, by Maria del Carmen Pino.

The prize-winning narrators in Voices of Change look at the world from its environment. Memory, the existential city, the daily absurdity and loneliness of man before by the active power of the imagination of Michel Enriquez Perea, author of Mutiny; Wilmer Hidalgo Oliva (The Night that Jesus was Mistaken in Havana), Juan Gonzalez Febles (Nonato Talks to the Dead), Yasser Iturria Medina (The Handsome Don’t Drink Soup), Alfonso Odelín Torna (Page 66) and Luis Cino Hernandez (Claudio).

To these great stories is added the novella Archaic Shadows by Yasser Iturria, who shares his passion for scientific research with literature. Archaic Shadows is an experimental piece without concessions to the reader, an unquestionable narrative pulse and disturbing fictitious game.

In Doors to the Imagination literary texts alternate with nearly one hundred illustrations by Cuban artists who enrich and elevate the value of the anthology.

Originally published in Cubanet.

January 3 2012

French Cinema Festival in Cuba

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

The 14th annual Festival of French Cinema, June 2 through the 23rd screened in various venues from La Habana to Rialto de Santiago de Cuba, having brought 20 feature fiction films and 6 documentaries that attracted thousands of spectators who attended the Acapulco, Chaplin, Infanta, Yara y Glauber Rocha cinemas.

Organized by ICAIC, Cuba Film Archive, the Alliance Francais, the French group ‘Cinemania’ and the French Embassy, the event is sponsored by the French Institute, Air France, UniFrance, Peugeot, Havana Club, Ciego Montero, Occidental Miramar, and other corporations. As in every year, an artistic delegation attends, consisting of directors, actors, screenwriters and promoters, who present their films and grant interviews during the first week.

The dramatic solidity, the variety of schools, the virtuoso performances, the originality of their stories, and the leadership of the producers mark the return of Lumier’s disciples, in whose films the dilemmas of French society become tangible, in harmony with challenges from other latitudes.

In the 2011 edition, the director Jacques Perrin and his co-writer Francois Sarano – creators of the impressive documentary ‘Oceans’ – took part, opening the exhibition on Tuesday the second in the Chaplin, and were on again on the 12th. Phillipe Lioret, producer of the features ‘Welcome’ and ‘Mademoiselle’, the producer Emilio Maille (The Crazy Life), and the actors Ronan Choisy (The Refuge) and the Cuban actress Yahima Torres, lead role in The Black Venus all came.

Without a competitive character, French films circulate through our theatres like a celebration of island culture that fertilizes the footsteps of that country’s immigrants among us since the 18th century. Since we’ve come to expect works that entertain and make us think from Gallic cinema, the viewers pursue premiere tapes like the cycle that pays homage to the multi-award-winning actress Sandrine Bonnaire, the protagonist of Mademoiselle, The Queen Plays, The Ceremony, Vagabond, Our loves, and the documentary Her name is Sabine, her directorial and screenwriting debut.

Within the mixed selection of Sandrine the emphasis is on Mademoiselle, awarded the best actress in the Festival of Romantic Film in Cabourg. Along with Jacques Gamblin and Isabelle Candelier, she plays Claire, a young woman without a history that works as a traveling doctor and is married with two children, but is transformed when she meets a half crazy actor transformed into a sad clown by forces of joy.

Movie buffs are also seeking out “The girl from the train,” by director Andre Teclune, a 2009 story about a lie that turns into a political event highlighted by the media; “God’s office,” by Claire Simon; “Of Gods and Men,” by Xavier Beauvois, inspired by the lives of the Trappist  monks kidnapped in 1996 in an Algerian monastery; “Black Venus,” by Abdallatif Kechiche; and the documentaries “La vida loca,” a Spanish-Mexican co-production about the rivalry between the Mara 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha gangs in El Salvador and “Brook by Brook, an intimate portrait,” in which playwright Peter Brook talks with his son Simon about his career in theatre, cinema, and opera and about his travels.

The Black Venus, played by Yahima Torres, Andre Jacobs and Olivier Gourviet, takes up with grace and ease the mythical Hottentot Venus, the pseudonym of Saartijie Baartman, a beautiful young South African from a tribe that impressed nineteenth century westerners with their spectacular buttocks.

The program is filled with the most allusive works of French cinema, such as Welcome, The Shelter, The Tempelbach Children, The Song of the Bride and documentaries that blend fact, art and fiction, such as Phaedra, Operation Luna, The Rabbit Hunter and Ray Lema: A World to Share.

January Caravan / Miguel Iturria Savon

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

While the Chinese calendars proclaim 2010 as the Lunar Year centered on the dragon, the Cuban news reported on Sunday, January 8, images of the Liberation Caravan from that long ago 1959.

As if it hadn’t happened half a century ago, broadcasters and camera operators worked to synchronize the euphoria of the past with the elderly and women in some parts of the central highway gathered in turn around malts and soft drinks to recall the event.

The sorry spectacle speaks of the fleeing morals of those characters degraded after they came to power. The rational lucidity of trafficking in misery to attract hundreds of people to the places where Commander-in Chief passed, and is a ritual that hardly fools anyone.

This happens  because in Cuba the mass media remain wedded to the past, the past as a source of legitimacy and a foreboding mirror of power. If something remains of that Revolutionary entelechy it is the protagonists of the hard-core of the process that twisted its way into the arms of the defunct Soviet Union.

Half a century later Cuba is the crepuscular laboratory of Latin America. Maybe that’s why young people dream of emigrating to the north, while the official press is throwing out the symbols of the past and the old men of the State Council are doing business with foreign millionaires and prepare their offspring to take over, as with Kim in North Korea.

If one of those tourists who portray the ruins of Havana asked about the achievements of the Revolution, we would have to tell them some allegorical jokes of the hell and sad statistics. Here are some.

  • In January 1959 there were 14 prisons in Cuba and three thousand prisoners. Half a century later, the figure rises to more than 200 prisons and eighty thousand prisoners.
  • The number of cattle declined from six million to just one million head.
  • We were the first country in Latin America in communications, and now we are below Haiti and El Salvador in Internet access.
  • Cuba was a country open to the world, but the Cubans were owners of 70 percent of the means of production, now nationalized and turned into state property.
  • The island exported many rubles worth of food; now it buys 70% of what is consumed.
  • In the 50’s only seventy thousand Cubans emigrated to the United States. From 2001 to 2010,  168,000 were naturalized in that country and 315,000 established legal residence there while 35,000 attempted to cross the Straits of Florida.

Since no one flees from freedom this Liberation Caravan generates expectations that end in frustration. Why then celebrate the success of our mandarins? Is it a way of rewarding the toothless old men who generate lines to buy malts and soft drinks on 8 January of each year?

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January 11 2012

The Celebration of Alicia / Miguel Iturria Savon

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

With the Gala of the National Ballet of Cuba for the 80th anniversary of Alicia Alonso’s stage debut on Thursday, December 29, and the presentation of the Nutcracker on Sunday, December 1, the Gran Teatro of Havana closed its 2011 season and inaugurated its 2012 programming.

The super spectacle of Thursday was the touchstone of the great Diva of Cuba, who received dozens of honors during the year end, devoted to praising her legacy as a dancer and choreographer on the occasion of 90th birthday of her birth, which took place in Havana in 1921, and her artistic debut at the Auditorium, the current “Amadeo Roldán,” in the distant year of 1931.

As Alicia has witnessed almost one century and the beginning of another, she had the good fortune to hear — she can no longer see or walk — the documentary that contains the highlights of her long career stage and the audience’s applause for the interpreters of eight pieces with her own choreographic versions.

Among the choreographies were Sleeping Beauty — with the great waltz in the first act — Excuses, Naked Light of Love, inspired by the poem of José Lezama Lima, Preciosa and the Wind, based on poems by Federico Garcia Lorca; Twilight Falls, Dialogue at 4, The Magic Flute, which recreates passages of Mozart’s strange opera, and the Gottschald Symphony about the European composer.

The choreographic passages of Doña Alicia, who still heads the National Ballet of Cuba, from which she excluded Fernando Alonso — her ex-husband and first dancer who accompanied her in her glorious beginnings in New York — demonstrate her total commitment to the art of dancing and will remain in the collective memory.

In both the anthology program on Thursday, December 29, about Alicia’s stage debut, as well the representation of the Nutcracker on Sunday, January 1st, the Maestro Giovanni Duarte, director of the Orchestra of the Gran Teatro of Havana, shone, along with the classical virtuosity of young soloists from the National Ballet, such as Viengsay Valdés, Sadaysi Arencibia, Irene Rodríguez — first figure of the Spanish Ballet of Havana — Anet Delgado, Ariadna Suárez, Luis Valle, Arián Molina and others.

Alicia Alonso triumphed in the American Ballet Theater in New York in the forties of last century and founded in Havana, in 1948, the Alicia Alonso Company, the genesis of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, founded in 1959 with government support. Since then she revolves in the pantheon of Island dance with divine status and absolute command.

First published in Cubanet

January 9 2012

Die Hard / Miguel Iturria Savon

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

There are pathetic and laughable reports, which seem to be the result of manipulation and the desire to perpetuate at all costs by certain figures of the state, without looking at their reflection in the mirror. This is the case of Fidel Castro being in the Guinness Book of World Records for being “the person who has most often survived assassination attempts,” a total of 638, as reported by the official website Cubadebate.cu, and picked up by the international media days later.

The review supports the negotiating power of the legitimizers of the retired tyrant, who didn’t manage to get the Nobel Peace Prize for the ailing warrior, but managed to slip his name into the Guinness book for 2011. Something is better than nothing, right?

The whole thing is laughable because the cubiche authorities didn’t even mention the awarded Guinness records, despised as frivolous and decadent by Fidel Castro himself, who designated his brother Raul as his successor after 47 years of ruling the island as a medieval fiefdom (1959 to 2006).

Before the funeral record of F. Castro, movie lovers will remember the actor Bruce Wells and his amazing fight for life in Die Hard.

Before the mortuary record of F. Castro, friends will be remembering the movie actor Bruce Wells and his amazing fight for life in the film Die Hard. Meanwhile, fans of mathematics, aided by a calculator, will look at the accounts. If the failed attacks are true, someone tried to send the Caribbean patriarch to hell approximately 13.7 times per year in fewer than five decades, which is equivalent to 1.13 times a month and 0.03 times a day. Tough old guy, eh!

There will be no lack of those who now evoke the adventures of Pinocchio and his immersion in the belly of the whale — the CIA for Castro. So many of the followers of the rationalist Descartes will be smiling with disdain thinking of the hypothesis of absolute doubt.

Because it is difficult to imagine a subject with more lives than the cat, some will think of a kitty in a municipal pound, which he would need more than nine lives to steal the dogs’ food without suffering an injury, as F. Castro, unlike general of Independence Antonio Maceo, does not exhibit even a scratch despite his military adventures and long stay on the throne.  Would they have asked for a certificate of injury by some of the 638 attacks?

If memory serves, the new Guinness Prize Winner is an amazing guy. Who does not remember his invention of dwarf cows that gave more than 200 liters of milk a day? Or his successes in the country’s sugar production, which reached a million tons per year instead of the prior eight million and reduced the number of sugar mills from 163 to 42. Or the Commander’s effort to replace the production of fruits and vegetables by the daring plan to grow coffee in a “Havana Cordon,” though coffee refused to germinate in Havana. We recall that the “historic leader” concerned about citizen order, multiplied the number of prisons on the island from 14 to 200; he reduced the cattle population of six million head to just one million, a triumph comparable to the taking over of the countryside by the marabou weed and the disappearance of thousands of opponents and rafters so he might govern without problems.

Yes, in addition to Tribune of the People, Ineffable Wizard and Universal Prophet, Fidel Castro was a tough guy to kill. He was so secure that he walked around the island with a regiment of guards and snipers. When he traveled abroad he took his own bed, food and the palace cook, rented three floors in a luxury hotel and brought along hundreds of bodyguards in a plane bigger than his. Could that be why the bad guys from the CIA forgot about him in July 2006?

First published in Cubanet.

Translated by Unstated

December 22 2011