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
Since the last week of December, the Cuban news media turned the propaganda time chart on the 52nd anniversary of the Revolution, whose reviled founders stayed in power and in the disgust of the population, submerged in silence and the routine of a half-century of slogans and promises.
There was a Revolution but at these heights nobody remembers when it lost its way. Perhaps from 1961 to 1968, on eliminating private property, imposing the state monopoly on the means of production and adopting the tropical version of the Soviet model. Maybe in the middle of the seventies, on institutionalizing the socialist process, sending troops to the African wars and following orders from Moscow, whose regimen fell in 1991.
But it’s not necessary to highlight the matter, for January 1st isn’t any more than a date associated with an imaginary Revolution of Castro-communism; on whose legitimizing calendar other anniversaries of fighting actions are revisited, like 26 July 1953, evoking the failed assault on the “Moncada” and “Céspedes” barracks, which happened in Santiago de Cuba and Bayamo; and 2 December 1956, which commemorates the landing of the yacht Granma in the south of Oriente, considered afterward as Revolutionary Armed Forces Day, founded by decree in October of 1959.
For the past half-century they have been exaggerating the size of the traces of these events, of such indubitable influence in the country’s destiny, crammed down our throats by the attackers who prepared the ill-fated expedition of the Granma, whose survivors started the guerrilla focus which carried out the rural skirmishes of the so-called Rebel Army, one of the forces that fought against the tyranny of General Batista, who fled Havana at daybreak, 31 December 1958.
These facts, retold to the point of exhaustion by the historians and the government’s communication media, have as a common denominator the violence and the necessity of imposing the leadership of the manipulator, Fidel Castro.
To assault the barracks in the eastern zone of the country, the participants bought arms, practiced marksmanship in various places around Havana and crossed the island, besides risking the lives of people who were enjoying the Carnival in Santiago de Cuba, killing dozens of soldiers and exposing their own men. The failure complemented the adventure, but it is worth asking: What would have happened if they had taken it? If the idea was to climb the mountains, why didn’t they just do that?
If we leave behind the problems created by the attackers, the punishments after trial really were benign, the Castros and their followers only spent a year and a half locked up. On getting out, they went to Mexico “to prepare the insurrection,” instead of just climbing the mountains without spending on travel, yachts, fuel, nor violating the laws of a neighboring state.
Behind the expedition of the Granma, bought from the American Robert B. Erikson in Tuxpan with the money from the ex-president Carlos Prío Socarras (1948-1952), is hidden Castro’s proposed inscription in history of imitating the independence fighters of the 19th Century, who armed themselves in the United States and disembarked on various points of the island.
The map of their crossing reveals their irresponsibility and their headstrong nature. If they had left from the furthest point of Yucatan, in only hours they would arrive at the mountains of Pinar del Rio, closer to Havana, without having to cover almost all the Gulf of Mexico and the south of the island to the eastern end, the setting of confrontations just like the hills of Escambray, headquarters of the guerrillas of the Student Directorate, who defied the agents of tyranny in the capital and other towns in the east.
The legitimizing crowing comes to a head with the propaganda about the victory on that faraway first of January 1959, an anniversary that, paradoxically, is associated with the longest dictatorship in our history.
Translated by: JT
January 15 2011
While the international press spreads the case of the American contractor Alan Gross, held prisoner on the island for supposed espionage, and lodged a year ago in a special room of a Havana military hospital, another US citizen survives in a wheelchair in the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. He is Chris Walter Johnson, he was taken prisoner at the Rancho Boyeros airport in August 2009 and tried on this past 26th of December 2010.
Chris Walter Johnson wasn’t contracted by any US agency nor was he in contact with the Jewish island residents who today deny knowing Alan Gross. A decade ago, he came as a tourist and enjoyed the sunshine, the girls, and the other kindnesses of the tropics, including marijuana, which he consumed from adolescence in Los Angeles, California, one of the states of the American Union where you can acquire it by medical prescription and the authorities are betting on its legalization.
The citizen Chris Walter Johnson, 58-years-old, is a ship captain and owner of a small fishing business. In ten years he traveled twice to Cuba, where he cultivated friendships, had girlfriends, and a daughter.
Chris’s disgrace began in July 2009, on meeting a Cuban married to a Mexican woman, who proposed that they go to Cancún to buy clothes. Besides clothing, they acquired a kilogram of marijuana, brought in by Chris in a jelly jar and in a bag placed in his underwear. On returning, the Yankee sailor made things more complicated by offering the Customs officials who detected the drugs at the Havana airport two thousand dollars. Instead of returning to the hotel, he was lodged in La Condesa, a prison for foreigners, accused of drug trafficking and attempted bribery.
The accelerated deterioration of his health motivated Chris’s transfer to the hospital for inmates located in the jail at Combinado del Este. There he waits in a wheelchair, among sick murderers, the pains of an old diving accident, depression, and hope.
An MRI detected that Chris suffers a tumor lesion in his medullar canal, which requires surgical intervention. He suffers, besides, from degenerative disk disease, positional vertigo which prevents him from standing up, and osteoporosis. The medical commission which examined him believes that, because of these problems, Chris Walter Johnson is not compatible with the regimen of imprisonment. His clinical chart was analyzed in the trial which took place this past December 27th.
After a year and four months of being locked up, the case of Chris Walter Johnson was adjudicated and awaited sentencing. The prosecutor asked for 20 years imprisonment, but for his deplorable state of health it is possible that in short order his furlough or expulsion from national territory could be ordered, but between Cuba and the United States there is no agreement that regulates extradition.
Perhaps Chris may not be one of those thousands of patients who invent reasons to obtain prescriptions for marijuana in California, one of the 13 states in the American Union which is betting on the legalization of this recreational drug, which produces a state of relaxation and serves to treat glaucoma, diabetes, depression, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy side-effects among other things; but at the same time it is contraindicated for diverse conditions such as headache, chronic bronchitis, etc., which also produce lesions in memory. God willing you recuperate outside Combinado del Este. Happy 2011, Mister Chris.
Translated by: JT
January 11 2011
As an end of year gift, the fourth edition of the magazine Voces is now circulating on the ‘Net, located at www.vocescubanas.com/voces and presented this past 26th of December in the apartment of Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, founders of the Cuban Blogger Academy, which has published these pages without censorship since August, far from official mandates and political factions.
In the same way as the previous issues, Voces bets on the freedom of expression from a position of freshness and originality. Its format includes texts from 20 authors on 60 pages, with cartoons by Belén Cerros, blogger “La Vida Agridulce”, the index and back pages designs of Rolando Pulido, and composition in the care of writer and photographer Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, responsible for drawings and figures that match up games with letters, arrows, and numbers that create suggestive blank spaces which compensate for the simplicity and absence of sections, footnotes, authors’ notes, and editorial fluff.
Voces 4 deals with themes and figures that cover the vastness of interests of those who approach the Cuban from cyberspace. Exiled and unexiled voices that measure the island’s space in its connection with the world: social, political, and cultural problems, poems, book reviews, narrative pieces, chronicles and current analyses, such as “Truth as Life’s Logic”, which constitutes the communique-denunciation of Hip Hop Patriot Squadron, with which the magazine ends.
It starts with the essay of Vicente Echerri “About a Fractured Identity”, which analyzes the destruction — and the transformation — of the Cuban nation, the identity to which we cling; the abolition of the social contract and other problems that change triumphalist visions of the island’s future.
The sociopolitical theme is approached with critical and polemic sense in texts such as “Cuban Socialism: Juggling At The Edge of The Abyss”, from Reinaldo Escobar, who reports on General Castro’s discussion before the regime’s Parliament; “In Defense of Wikileaks”, from Ernesto Fernández Busto; while Iván de la Nuez offers “Politics: Humanity’s Heritage?”, while Rosa Maria Rodríguez Torrado chips away with “The Honey of Power, Reforms, and Plantation?”, and José Gabriel Barrenechea asks “Is Reform Beginning?”.
Poetry, better dealt with than in the previous edition, brings us four unpublished works, two from the dramatist and narrator Abilio Estévez, who bequeaths “Of the Gods/Of the Tightrope Walker”; while Feliz Luis Viera gives us two unpublished poems from “The Fatherland is an Orange”, one about whores and the other around the notion of a fatherland.
The diverse narrative gallops through the testimony of Yoani Sánchez (“Country Girl of Havana Center”); the travel chronicle “In Puerto Plaza, Without a Visa”, by Armando Añel; the story “In the Office”, by Mabel Cuesta, and the fiction of Omar Alfonso Requena — “A Probable Vasumitra”. Jorge Enrique Lage’s “Flash Forward”, the 12 posts of the anonymous Zorphdark and 19 untitled vignettes from Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, who fantasizes about his encounter with Aki, a Japanese girl who serves him under the pretext of offering her enlightening writings about love and existential aloneness.
Voces 4 includes, in its turn, four pieces of literary and cultural criticism. Tania Favela broaches “The Temptations of Lucio Gaitán”, reviews the book “An Old Trip” by Manuel Periera; also described by Eliseo Alberto, who dedicates the title “Favorable Wind” to it. To Miguel Iturria Savón is owed “The Carnival and the Dead”, about the novel of the same name by Ernesto Santana, Kafka Prize of 2010. While Néstor Díaz de Villegas surprises us with “The Philosophy of T-Che”, where he compares the legend of Jim Morrison — “false idol of a liberation theology” — with the market imperatives that the images of Che, Scarface, and other contemporary icons impose.
Translated by: JT
January 12 2011