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Goodbye to the 2012 Book Fair

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Although the organizers of The Book Fair of Havana, held from February 9 to 19 in the old fortress of La Cabaña, sent the texts to the provincial bookstores where they will continue the sales and presentations, the event is now part of the past because the capital’s publishers finalized their rituals of promotion and the exhibitors and foreign guests returned home, among them the Brazilian theologian Frei Betto, author of Love fertilizes the universe, who, after his discourse on poverty and the responsibility of the United States for the problems of the world, got in his Mercedes Benz and went to his suite at the luxurious Hotel Melia Habana, located in the exclusive neighborhood of Miramar.

Betto, Ramonet and other intellectuals from Europe and America who attended the Fair exemplify the syndrome of the ideological as an element of legitimacy, marked by works that ratify the discourse of the left, clinging to power in this island for half a century. Books and brochures such as the Second Declaration of Havana, Making a revolution within the revolution, by the deceased Vilma Espin, Asela de los Santos and Yolanda Ferrer; libels from or about Fidel Castro, Ernesto Guevara and Hugo Chavez, and even reprints of Trotsky.

After visiting the booths of The Book Fair, dedicated to the essayists Zoila Lapique, Ambrosio Fornet and Caribbean cultures, it’s worth nothing that the Fair seems like carnival around the walls of the colonial fort and prison, now recycled to host cultural events, where the price of books promote the greed of the thousands of attendees who bring their children to eat and watch the city from the hill, fanned by breezes from the sea, where the medieval streets offer kiosks and restaurants.

This annual festival of Cuban authors and publishers, is an event that excludes those writers who criticize the Cuban authorities, which justifies the absence of the classics of our literature and of creators marginalized by the network of publishers affiliated with the Cuban Book Institute, which prints hundreds of titles on the revolution, socialism, anti-imperialism and other isms that the moths feed on from the shelves.

While the presentations, discussions, tributes and discussions were marked by norms, pacts of silence and euphoria, there was everything. The 2011 National Prize was awarded to Esther Acosta and the National Design Award to the painter Peter Oraá, delivered on Monday the 13th in the Nicolas Guillen Room.

The 2011 David Awards were awarded to Quadrivium, by Alejandro Machado (narrative), a work that outlines “ways in which images, stories, reflections and rewriting of myths and violent fables of knowledge that force the language of the referential.”

Poetry went to The unfinished novel of Bob Kippenbergerg by Larry Gonzalez, captured by “the desire not to be descriptive, nor pathetic in poems that are almost stories”,; and the prize for Literature for Children and Youth went to In every time and in this place, by Lazaro Diaz.

The Alejo Carpentier and Nicolas Guillen went to The art of dying alone, by Ernesto Perez Chang; to Ritual of the fool by Roberto Mendez; Gatherings of The Traveler,  byMayra Beatriz Martinez and Crafts, by Nara Mansur, all published by Letras Cubanas.

Among the samples from “guest cultures” we appreciated Poems of Pedro Mir, National Poet of the Dominican Republic; the interventions of Chiqui Vicioso, poet and playwright of that nation, author of Mischief, Wish-ky Sour, Songs of lawful passion and Threshold of the millennium; Ruler in Hiroona, by the novelist G. C. Thomas Hamilton, who attended with his daughter Monica Woodley; Haitian Lyrics: between reflection and pain. The memory bay, by Evelyn Trouillot; Colloquium life and work by Sergio Pitol, led by the poet Reina Maria Rodriguez.

Readers were able to acquire works of classical authors from Spain and other nations in Europe, Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean, as well as Cuba and Venezuela, whose governments funded award-winning books for the Casa de las Americas and volumes such as First constitutions of Latin America and the Caribbean for the Bicentennial of the Constitution of Venezuela.

Predominating in the offerings were the publishers Artes y Letras, Letras Cubanas, Ediciones UNION, Mini libros de Perú, etc.; Volumes such as Erotic tales of ancient Arabia, by Abdul H. Sadoun; Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust, The nuns, by Denis Diderot, and A Passion in the Desert, a selection of stories by the essayist Alberto Garrandés.

On the occasion of the centennial of Virgilio Piñera Llera several of his books were on sale and  a symposium was organized in memory of the narrator and playwright who transited through the absurdity of existentialism without the “gloating” of José Lezama Lima, his diametric opposite, present as Virgilio in our literature after decades of ostracism.

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February 24 2012

For a Culture Without Custodians

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Alfredo Guevara

In Cuba we barely acknowledge the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, on October 12, 1492, and his arrival on our shores on the 24th, as if the conquest and colonization by Spain were an outstanding bill and not an event from the past of historical and cultural significance. Officially, National Culture Day celebrates the start of the war of Independence — October 10, 1868 — and the entrance of the patriots into Bayamo on the 20th in that same month and year.

Such a bellicose perception distorts the country’s cultural heritage, burdened by the bureaucracy of the State, political ideology and the creation of a system of stars, subject to the network of monopolies that control artistic and literary production.

In the culture that preceded the Revolutionary destructuring process of 1959, influenced by the redesign of relations with the United States starting in 1902, and the migratory waves of Spanish and Caribbean who came in search of jobs and boosted the production and trade of the island , turned into one of the most prosperous nations of the continent.

In the mid-twentieth century Cuba faced socioeconomic changes that bankrupted traditional values: the advance of the so-called mass culture, based on the expansion of radio, TV, film, in education and the media. Urban architecture was driven by public and private, mainly in Havana and Varadero, investing in tourism sites, where the hotel industry and real estate took the lead, which generated jobs and alternative collateral.

With the socio-political changes spontaneous manifestations of culture were interrupted. The affiliation with the socialist model in Eastern Europe led to the system of government agencies that monopolized the areas of artistic creation. The Cuban Book Institute, the National Music Center, the Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), the Council for the Performing Arts, the Institute of Radio and Television, the Center for Art and Design and groups like the National Ballet , Contemporary Dance or the Folk Assembly directed artistic production based on political and governmental interests.

The ICAIC, founded in March 1959, exemplifies the ideological control over the culture. Its founder, Alfredo Guevara, castrated the creative intellect of Cuban filmmakers. This character was essential in the long film industry of the tyranny, in whose controversial way statism was imposed and the critics of the New Cinema excluded, within which Gutierrez Alea, Humberto Solás and others survived.

The bureaucratization required creators to conform to the network of state centers. The officials issued rules, instituted censorship and stressed submission through the award system, including editions of books, recordings and foreign travel, which favored the opportunism and unleashed persecution upon and the exodus of those who challenged the canons of power. In this context, the affiliation to the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC) or UNEAC (Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), became collateral, as artists and writers are legally deprived of personality and tied to the schema.

From the colloquialism of the poetic we turned to poetry of the slogan, the narrative of violence, socialist realism and scriptural grayness that mythologized the Leader and his legion of “heroes.” Purges, epiphanies, trading in praise and even a National Movement for the Nueva Trova to reject the troubadour tradition begun by Pepe Sanchez in the nineteenth century and continued by Sindo Garay and Miguel Matamoros.

You had to march or dance in tune to the rules and precepts of the Leader and his party, at least until 1990, when the lack of economic resources caused by the fall of the Soviet bloc accelerated the crisis of the monopolistic institutions and the exodus of artists to other nations.

Perhaps the best of the official culture is the art education system, as it favored the education of trainers and arts schools tripled. The promotion of community culture and festivals of fans encouraged the emergence of cultural centers, museums, galleries and public libraries, installed in old cinemas, closed schools and new locations.

Alfredo Guevara, founder and former head of the ICAIC, receiving an award from Raul Castro

The imposition of rules and the bowing to the power affected musicians and actors, dancers and visual artists, writers and journalists. The dependence is emphasized in the media and provincial and community institutions also subject to local government bodies.

By submitting intellectuality to the rules of power through punishments and rewards that encourage opportunism and degrade the privileged, a market in perks was created based on dogmas and affiliations. The interplay extends to the new technologies and the shares of power allocated to the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, whose subsidiaries determine the feasibility of projects, editions and travel abroad with very little subtlety.

Despite the passage of time, the exodus of artists and involution of the country, the regime insists on imposing limits on the culture, converting its elites in appendages to the state bureaucracy. Silence and complicity favor the supposed unanimity to the detriment of the differences and freedom that characterize the expressions of art.

October 31 2011

For breaking the silence they called her "hard line"

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Ladies in White and of Iron... "The Streets Belong to the Nation"

The divorce between the management of information and the Cuban reality is repeatedly striking, at least in the official press, a specialist in softening the country’s situation, exalting the allies of the regime, disparaging perceived enemies internal and external, repeating the hallelujahs of the government on reforms, blowing foreign correspondents out of proportion, as if there were a pact between the rules of Press Center in Havana and the agencies represented on the island.

Sometimes we see on television the face of some peaceful opponents, especially the Ladies in White, who from now on parade without the presence of Laura — alma mater of the movement; the blogger Yoani Sanchez, independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, lay communicator Dagoberto Valdes and other Democrats demonized as “agents of empire.” Such a reduction masks the repressors, protected by impunity, the tradition of terror and the indolence of the majority with regards to national events.

As if it were too little for a nation disconnected from the free flow of information and essential freedoms that encourage individual and collective development, not just that the government denies the emerging sectors of civil society, however minor, if not the accredited correspondents in Havana and even a sector of exile they associate with the “reaction of Miami,” as if such “reaction” was not the result of exclusion and intolerance of those who have, for half a century, been leading Cuba against wind or tide.

They speak contemptuously of the opponents as “hard line,” of “the crossroads of dissent,” the efforts of the Ladies in White marching in the streets despite “having no cause and without some of its best-known characters” as a result of the release of the prisoners in the spring of 2003. From Miami they comment, of course, on the increase in and continuing brief detentions, evidenced by the comprehensive report of Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, leader of the Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Independent of respect for opposing views, validated in the right to freedom of expression, as vilified in Cuba as freedom of press, association and others with they violate daily, I think those who speak of the hardline opposition within the island exaggerate.

There is nothing hard in insisting on meeting, celebrating the anniversary of certain events, demanding an end to police harassment, marching peacefully through the streets, giving interviews to Radio Martí and Cubanet and disseminating documents or proposals to the government. What happens is that the we have finally breached the “pact of silence” with which we are infected by the machinery of terror. Is the language hard? Perhaps, but less rabid than the campaigns in the newspaper Granma against the United States.

Since Batista’s coup in 1952, Cuban policy is marked by the hard-line. The struggle between the despot and the opposition ended with the flight of the tyrant on December 31, 1958, before the lawlessness caused by the bombs, the urban “executions,” and the guerrilla actions in the Escambray and Sierra Maestra.

The revolutionaries of the time came to power through violence, shot thousands of people and imposed terror within their own ranks. Thanks to the terror and the alliance with the Soviet Union they eliminated republican institutions and wiped out those who confronted the new dictatorship of the Castros, which is still playing hardball to preserve the revolutionary pipe dream.

To play hardball means to engage in violence, at least for the government. The opponents know that after half a century of “revolutionary” rhetoric, economic involution and demoralization of the population, violence has no horizon. They do not confuse the media declarations with possible actions.

October 21 2011

Illustrious Men Unknown in Cuba

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Clement Rosset

In Paris, Madrid, Bucharest and other European capitals the philosopher Emil Cioran (Romania, 1911-Paris, 1995) was honored months ago, his books were reissued to mark the centenary of the “howling philosopher” who influenced generations of young people. Cioran was evoked by Clément Rosset, Gallic philosopher of Hispanic origin, and by Fernando Savater, his Spanish translator and disciple.

Cioran and Rosset passed through the sharpest areas of reality and made a tragic diagnosis of the human condition, but Rosset, born in Paris in 1939, celebrates the joy of life, the joy of sexuality, the decisiveness of the illusions in humans, the importance of laughter and the weight of randomness in events; while Cioran “part of the smallness of man”, subscribing in his day to the phrase of the Catalan writer Josep Pla, “We are nothing, but it’s hard to admit it.”

Like the books of Emil Cioran, exiled in Paris, Clément Rosset and Fernando Savater, are ignored by the Cuban publishing houses, clinging to Marxism for half a century, sharing data and statements about these illustrious thinkers, unknown on the island.

Cioran and Savater

Speaking of Cioran, Rosset said: “His pessimism is triggered by finding that the paradox of existence is to be something and at the same time, not to count for nothing. It is an atypical pessimism … resulting from knowing the ephemeral nature of man, the smallness of man. ”

Rosset claimed the “tragic thinking” in the face of perfectionism and opposed the radical of Cioran, while acknowledging the lucidity of his arguments and reasons for his skepticism. For Rosset “There is no good in the world but that lucid examination ultimately makes it seem laughable and contemptible.”

The work of both essayists, of unusual originality, was released in France, Spain and other nations of Europe and America. Among the books published in Spain by Clément Rosset are The anti-nature (Taurus, 1974), The logic of the worst (S. Barral, 1976) Reality and its double (Jonathan Cape, 1983), The principle of cruelty (Pre-Texts , 1994), and Force majeure (2000).

We will not dwell on the texts Rosset, defined by Emil Cioran as “… a bon vivant who philosophy has not spoiled.” Now, however, some considerations of Fernando Savater on Cioran, expressed in his article “A man surprised … and surprising.

The Spanish essayist recalls that Cioran “became a great French writer, but remained stateless. Spain was his second spiritual home, the native land of disenchantment, where he was sometimes more popular than in France. His readers were young from the anti-Franco left, but for him “the left was a hotbed of vacuous illusions and unfounded optimism.”

He notes that “the wonder approached us. There was a feeling of implacable hostility to any mobilizing belief and absolute rejection of the promise of future … ”

He describes his encounters with the Romanian philosopher and warns: “… I could never convince him nor trick him … we accepted the pragmatic: are trying to live better, not to reach paradise. After the fall of Ceausescu, Cioran was inclined to a kind of skeptical pragmatism, I saw him celebrate historical events, without triumphant outbursts. ”

Savater calls him “incurably skeptical in theory but capable at times of an almost childlike wonder at the effective mechanisms of the world and the miracles of friendship. Cioran remained in the land of wonder … he was amazed especially in that in life the marvelous coexisted with the horror …”

Some titles of his works have their own voice. We can extract the following: In the heights of despair (1936), Breviary of putrefaction (1949), Syllogisms of Bitterness (1952), The temptation to exist (1956), Falling in time (1966), The inconvenience of having been born (1973) and the last book dating from 1983, My damned self.

The Spanish thinker evoked the grave of the master, “a blue-gray stone, sober and minimalist” in the Montparnasse cemetery, like a great unknown; close to authors such as Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Julio Cortazar and Baudelaire.

Cioran with his hands around his neck

In the end, Savater offered a collection of the “swipes” of Cioran. O share with Cuban readers some of those phrases about life, God, time, death or philosophy. Perhaps they will contribute to our spiritual enrichment.

“We do not always move attracted to light: sometimes it is the shadow that drives us …”

“A walk through the cemetery is an almost automatic lesson in wisdom.”

“The fact that life has no meaning is a reason to live, the only one, the reality.”

“To love your neighbor is unthinkable. Perhaps you would ask one virus to love another virus? ”

“God is a disease we imagine to be cured because no one dies of it today.”

“Nature, seeking a formula to satisfy everyone, finally chose death, which, unsurprisingly, has not satisfied anyone.”

Literature. “The literature begins with praise and ends with exercises.”

“What would become of our tragedies if an insect presented us with his?”

“To glimpse the essence should not be exercised by any trade. We must remain lying down all day, and moan.”

“A people is not so much an accumulation of ideas and theories as of obsessions.”

October 13 2011

Paupers

February 25, 2012 Leave a comment

At dawn last Monday, across 23rd street, between 10 and 12, Vedado, a lady very thin, poorly dressed, half blind and with a cane, begged me to lead her to the next block, that is to the corner of 12 and 21, where she had coffee every morning because she has no kitchen in the room she shares with her son, who goes back and forth from the asylum to the neighborhood. While accompanying her I asked her some things; on leaving her in the cafe I gave her ten pesos to have breakfast; I assumed for lunch she would eat in one of those destitute meal programs for indigents.

It is not pleasant to encounter people who walk out displaying their misery without any intention to do so. They carry it in their faces, dirty and disheveled clothes, shoes, hairstyle and even the soul. With few exceptions, they seem like unburied zombies, ghosts in the sun on the streets of our cities. No one more than they reveals the crisis and lack of opportunities in the country.

Poverty is greater than we suppose. Just look at the gray presence of people walking aimlessly. In that legion of beings alienated by famine, victims of the disparity between wages and prices of commodities, not only beggars belong, but also madmen without state support, the drunks who wander between home to the bar and the old people whose monthly check lasts a week.

Every day, the estimate of number of poor grows. There are the very poor, the totally, partial and circumstantial homeless. All interacting in an association, an association without legal representatives, whose presence belies the official slogans and raises questions about the statistics, so supportive on paper and so limited in their application.

While the beggars, alcoholics, the insane and the elderly who wander through the day and vanish at night, make up the most representative list, the squadron of extreme poverty is compounded by old ladies in the neighborhood, those who count their pesetas and curse the young clerk who alters their balance. The old ladies are followed by unemployed daughters-in-law and daughters, almost all housewives with husbands “can bring home the bacon” and force them to sell anything or to exchange their favors with the grocer, the butcher or the seller at an agricultural kiosk.

Add to the non-exclusive club of paupers the thousands of people who accustom themselves to surviving through devalued work and a symbolic checkbook; beggars of all kinds, thieves of trifles, those who shelter in bus and train terminals, visitors of stinking bars, cheap whorehouses, prohibited gambling houses, the tenements of aggressive people and thieves of storehouses and cafes, who take the risk for a little sugar or rice, a piece of bologna or a box of cigars.

It is true that despite everyday stresses, the pariahs of Cuba still enjoy “perks” in pharmacies, clinics and funeral homes; burials are still free but the mourners pay for the flowers, coffee and cars accompanying the deceased on his last walk; but the panorama of people who survive in the precariousness of Havana and other cities of the island is growing.

October 10 2011

White-collar thieves among the legal profession

February 25, 2012 Leave a comment

The taxes and hard currency in the system of international legal consulting and special notaries — for foreigners — enabled in every Cuban province by the Ministry of Justice, does not appear in the Yearbook of the National Statistics Office, but must be one of the most profitable sources for the state bureaucracy, whose avidity for raising dollars, euros and other strong currencies does not correspond to the paperwork delays, lack of water, air conditioning and the solemnity of the officials who deal with those who come to these places.

Perhaps the only kindness of these offices is the information brochure given to visitors at the headquarters of the International Legal Department located at number 314 16th Street between 3rd and 5th, Miramar, Havana, which lists the services they provide, the cost of the documents legalized and the addresses of branches in the rest of the country, including Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Youth.

The branch of the Legal Havana International is located on 22 Street, number 108 between 3rd and 1st, Miramar; while the Office of Notary Services is on 5th Avenue no. 405, between 4 and 6, Miramar, where the ceremonies are performed for nuptials between Cubans and foreign citizens.

There is also the International Consulting on 24th between 19 and 21, Vedado, empowered to legalize notarized documents or to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, essential for those who seek to formalize other citizenships and foreign travel.

According to the leaflet, the International Legal Counsel is “a law firm that stands for integrity, professional competence and experience gained over more than twenty five years of work.” It provides “legal services to individuals and companies, domestic and foreign, based in Cuba and abroad.” The advice and assistance includes “civil law matters, family, property, administrative, labor, criminal, economic, commercial, financial, tax, maritime trade, foreign investment and intellectual property.”

As in Cuba, corporations, joint ventures, representative offices and travel agents are businesses exclusive to the state, citizens of the island who come to these offices perceived them as a place to be divested of their money in order to process the collation and legalization of documents, the formalization of marriage to a foreigner, immigration documents such as temporary travel permits, permits to reside outside the country, or to leave the country permanently, valued at $ 200 each, which adds to the prior cost of the passport at $55, or its renewal at$30.

Those who marry foreigners must pay the attorney fee of $525 USD, plus 100 for probate, 75 for handling and 10 for seals in local currency. By giving the first firm the foreign contract it will show the notary the legalization of its documents at the Cuban consulate in your country, which cost 500 euros or dollars, depending on the location. If you want to celebrate the marriage you must empty your wallet of hard currency and offer it up.

The international consultants work with Immigration and Nationality and with other institutions to get the certified documents for travel to Cuba (150.00 USD), the certification of criminal records, birth, marriage and death, Acts of last will and proof of degrees and titles, notes and thematic plan, which costs between 100 and 350 dollars each.

For people from other latitudes the costs listed are due to the logic of the tax revenues of any nation, but for Cubans they are abusive, because the offices are a monopoly and they price legal services on the island in hard currency, though they pay our salaries in national pesos, which are valued at 25 for one dollar.

September 22 2011

How Long?

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Cuba has become a universe with its own rules, perhaps somewhere in the the historical past, or in an existential limbo difficult to read facing the outraged crowds who curse the politicians, and the financial institutions in dozens of cities in Europe and North America.

In the island universe things continue at the pace of the Middle Ages. But neither the money nor the economy seem important, rather politics or ideology that sustains the only party, the King Star around which countless planets and satellites orbits, whose life depends on its ability to adapt: generals and ministers, deputies and provincial governors, chiefs and local busybody of all kinds, including artists and writers.

In the orbit of Power stars move, sometimes managing to raise their heads and look up. Some transcend space, while many fall from the top, reeling from the change of passwords of the uniformed little gods. In a special limbo are the faceless: agents of State Security. And finally, just finally, in the confines of that universe are those who are not considered part of it, the men and women who disagree and oppose despotic platform. These are in some way, the kamikazes who show their faces and break the rules.

Because the State owns the means of production, communication, education and the cultural centers, if you do not adjust their patterns you confront the monster. Those who wish to prosper would do better to never forget that the limit is somewhat obscured and the staircase leads to the basement. Most go unnoticed by voting for the designated candidate, showing obedience, not protesting, and neither asking anything from the government nor criticizing it.

Nothing of outrage. Under the socialist universe it is not possible to love as a hero, save for those who come from the past and illuminate the future from above. The worst thing is how natural the collective cynicism is, smelling of a whiff of human degradation. The mental wall helps you survive and you turn your face when they kick your neighbor. Personal bravery is marked-down merchandise. Plurality is on other coasts.

This postponed plurality joins itself at some point in the island’s astrological calendar, the legion of defeated rebels and the intellectuals who perceived the light in the corner of the absolutist firmament, most of them beyond the seas.

In the end, only at the end, and without comments from the foreign press, the opponents figure in, the opponent who are shaking the limbo of prudence and challenging the entelechy of a unique and exclusive scene. Some emerge in the foreign media; sometimes they ricochet within. Meanwhile, most see the bulls from the stands and watch on TV the thousands of angry protestors in the far off plazas of Barcelona, Madrid, Rome or New York.  The question would be, of course, how long?

Note: First published in Cubanet

November 15 2011