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Fire Balaguer

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment


Under the banner Fire Balaguer, hundreds of internauts are demanding the resignation of the Minister of Public Health of the Cuban regime, whom they consider responsible for the dismal performance of the island’s medical system, shaken in January by the death of more than 30 patients in the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, whose images are circulating on the Internet.

The campaign, launched on Twitter some days ago by Yoani Sanchez, author of the blog Generación Y, has supporters inside and outside Cuba, where there had been no debate about the death of the patients in the large mental hospital in the capital, victims of cold, hunger. and abuse.

José Ramón Balaguer is a militant Castroist. He has held positions in the military and the bureaucratic apparatus of the Communist Party, which he represented in one of the eastern provinces. As Ambassador to the former Soviet Union he witnessed the end of socialism in Europe. Since 2005 he has headed the Ministry of Health, which has been severely affected by lack of resources and by the marketing of medical services to other nations, which requires the neglect of our own clinics and hospitals.

Firing Balaguer is a logical demand, but inconceivable for the proud island leaders, who sacrifice their cronies only when they have stopped being useful or reliable for the Castro brothers, who have governed Cuba like a family farm for a half century. J. R. Balaguer, like Ramiro Valdés and José R. Machado Ventura, is now more visible in the media, which highlights his presence in provincial hospitals and medical meetings, where he speaks of demand and quality.

The deterioration of the health sector, a mainstay of “the successes of the revolution,” has been analyzed by the bloggers and independent journalists, whose chronicles, posts, comments, and pictures about clinics and hospitals testify to the problems ignored by the official press, which clings to ideological goals and slogans.

Although since January the Ministry of Health has adopted some measures to improve care for patients in psychiatric hospitals, the reality is pathetic. The Fire Balaguer campaign reflects the outrage of citizen journalism to the apathy of the authorities. Bloggers and twitterers call for public debate and an end to impunity.

The circulation of the pictures taken by the experts from the Interior Ministry demonstrates the ineptitude of those who keep state secrets. As it is not ven remotely possible to stir the waters of effectiveness under a non-functioning regime, the Cuban cybernauts appeal to the public conscience and try to shake off the social lethargy. The images bear witness to the disaster of the Cuban health system, headed by Mr. Balaguer.

Translated by: Tomás A.

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Those Russians

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

feria-del-libro-de-la-habana-025

The Book Fair has finished its run in the bookstores of the interior of Cuba, but the Cuban press is still celebrating Russia and its culture, as in the days when we marched arm-in-arm with the “indestructible Soviet Union.” But now the bolos* don’t speak of socialism, can’t remember the “Great Lenin,” and don’t send ships with food, weapons, and oil to their Caribbean backyard. Now they’ve returned with some literary works, dozens of films and exhibits on World War II, and the 50th anniversary of relations between Moscow and Havana. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Ordinary Cubans also suffer from amnesia. None of the thousands of Cuban engineers who studied in that country keep up the Siberian bear hugs. The houses of the Soviet technicians and advisers, even the military bases of the former allies, have all been recycled. When the resource pipeline was shut off, and advice on how to build communism stopped, so ended our admiration for the greatness of the Russian soul.

But melancholy nests in the circles of power. A few days ago Raúl Castro fondly recalled his years of learning in the military academies of Moscow, where he used to return for guidance up until 1990. Other generals and ministers expressed nostalgia for the decades of meetings, travel, and vodkas.

The Russians of those days don’t have much to do with the functionaries who now preside over the delegation that came to the Havana Book Fair. In the photos published by the press, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiles beside General Raúl Castro and the Cuban minister, with whom he signed papers and talked about strategic relationships. Behind the words there are plenty of differences. The mandarins of the island are old-timers who flirt, do business, and ask for loans to the country.

Thanks to the Russians of those days, they dismantled our nation. To the Moscow comrades they owe the power that they still wield through blood and fire. The legacy of the Soviet empire was the technical, military, academic, and philosophical support for voluntary socialism, and its imposition by the Castro brothers. Even the instruction manuals on how to repress the Cuban opposition were produced in the secret headquarters of the homeland of Lenin. The officers of the Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior are the best students of the Slavic troika.

The censors who make editorial decisions about the books we read on the island are the nursery-school graduates of those experts of real socialism. The cultural heritage of the Russians still hangs over the founders, who do not measure up to the exclusive standards set in the offices of the Communist Party, heir to its Soviet counterpart.

A veneer of cynicism covers this display of gratitude to the former Soviet Union. Because the Russians have come to prefer the films of Eisenstein, the art of Konstantin S. Stanislavski, or reading the epic portrayals by Tolstoy, the psychological acuity of Dostoevsky, the irony of Chekhov, and the biting criticism of Soviet society recreated by Mikhail Bulgakov in his novels.

Translator’s note:  “bolos” (literally “bowling pins”) is Cuban slang for “Russians”

Translated by: Tomás A.

Living Word and Forgotten Voices

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

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In one of the stands at the Havana Book Fair, which was held at La Cabana between February 11th and 21st, we found the result of a testimonial project of great interest for Cuban culture. I refer to the Living Word Collection of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Center, consisting of 21 cassettes and 23 CDs with the voices of prominent literary figures of the island.

Since its founding in 1996, The Pablo Cultural Center has promoted testimony and oral history among researchers, journalists, writers and sociologists living in Cuba. To that end it awards the Remembrance Prize and established the Fund for the Word, which has more than a hundred recordings of poets, storytellers, and artists, some from other places but all connected to the island.

It’s fine to rescue in any form the expressive legacy of our creative artists, but after reviewing the dozens of cassettes and compact discs we realized there were regrettable omissions. You would only have to pan a camera over the list of honorees to realize the forgotten voices. And not just those who took flight in search of greater creative freedom, but also poets, novelists, journalists, and historians who write in Cuba. Take, for example, Rafael Alcides or Lina Feria.

The Living Word collection of the Pablo Center was a project started by one of its collaborators, the journalist Orlando Castellanos (1930-1998), who interviewed hundreds of intellectuals and wanted to preserve the memory of our creators. The recordings began in 2000 with the tapes donated by Castellanos, and later sources such as Raul Roa talking about Pablo, taken from the soundtrack of the documentary Pablo (1977), by Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, produced thanks to the Archive of the City Historian. The compilation switched to compact discs in 2004, with the volume dedicated to the Spaniard Federico García Lorca.

The cassettes contain, additionally, some devoted to the poets Luis Rogelio Nogueras, Fayad Jamis, Eliseo Diego, Nicolas Guillen, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Félix Pita Rodríguez, Miguel Barnet, Rafael Alberti, Carilda Oliver, Dulce María Loynaz and Pablo Armando Fernandez. The recordings capture the voices of storytellers like Onelio Jorge Cardoso and Alejo Carpentier, the comedian Enrique Núñez Rodríguez, and the painter René Portocarrero, who speaks of the rhythm and color of Havana.

The compact discs evoke Federico García Lorca in the voices of Cuban and foreign artists (Rafael Alberti, Ian Gibson, Benedetti, Celaya Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and “revive” the characters of muses like Jose Soler Puig, Victor Casaus, Thiago de Mello, Cintio Vitier, Julio Cortazar, Cesar Lopez, Guillermo Rodriguez Rivera, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, and those previously mentioned, Orlando Castellanos, García Márquez, Alejo Carpentier and Rafael Alberti.

At the 2010 Havana International Book Fair we acquired two new Living Word compact discs. Both are dedicated to the centennial of personalities from various fields. One is on the Cuban José Juan Arrom, and the other is about the shepherd-poet Miguel Hernandez, who died in prison in Alicante, Spain, at age 31. Love and war are the themes of the Hispanic bard, in whose voice we now hear the Song of the Soldier Husband, along with tributes by Cuban musicians and writers.

There are voices that are overlooked Collection Living Word — poets, essayists, storytellers, historians and other architects of the written word who live within or outside the country — whose oral testimony would add new shades to the island creation. It is illogical to ask a state-subsidized institution to assume such a great challenge, but censorship is evident, because none among the honorees slips in a critique of the daily absurdities of this society governed by bureaucracy and centralism.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Speeches of Saturn

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

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Anyone who wants to understand what happened on our island during the twentieth century, need only see Cuba the Beautiful, a 43-minute documentary by the filmmaker Ricardo Vega, who has composed a montage of key moments from 1902 to 1994 through archival footage.

The camera of Vega, the director and producer of the CD, surveys the history of the Republic and lingers on the 1959 revolution. The speeches of a euphoric Fidel Castro convey the atmosphere of the period without interference from other characters, interviewers, or explanatory text. Only applause from his supporters and some testimonies and drawings illustrate the voice of the leader, who speaks of goals and projects, and directs how to solve each problem.

A phrase of President Tomás Estrada Palma – “We have a republic, now we need citizens” – disquiets the viewer while listening to the raving Fidel Castro, whose messianic poses illuminate the future and dismantle the structure of the republic.

In Cuba the Beautiful, Castro is the voice. The country is his stage. The verbal incontinence of the political showman needs no comment, as he views life from a position of power, proposing, judging, and disposing in the name of the people. But his populist experiments do not hold up after the fall of the Soviet Union; the island is set adrift; the architect of manipulation hits bottom, but without wavering he then asks for “unity of action.”

The images of the mass exodus, and the testimonies of young people who left on rafts in 1994, allow the filmmaker to juxtapose these with what Castro said in New York in 1955: “Batista is solving the problem of unemployment: thousands of Cubans are forced to leave their homeland …”

Surprising to the audience are other phrases of the leader on democracy, development of livestock and agriculture, education, supplies, and events like the Missile Crisis (1962), the occupation of Prague by Soviet troops (1968), the foundation of the newspaper Granma, and terrorism.

When establishing the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (1960) he stated:

“We will establish a system of collective revolutionary vigilance, so that everyone knows who lives on the block, and what they do … and what relationship they had with the tyranny, and what they are dedicated to, who they meet with, what activities they’re involved in … ”

The voice of the ruler returns like a boomerang from forgotten promises and slogans: “… the high material and cultural level attained by a planned economy …”; full supplies of poultry meat (1961), of groceries (1962), of fish (1963); the guarantee that with nationalization there will be no lack of clothes, shoes, food and medicines for the population, plus the campaigns against the imperialist enemy, those “guilty of backwardness,” and illnesses like dengue hemorrhagic fever and swine flu.

In the exodus scene, the documentary testifies to the ideological orphanhood of the multitudes who escaped the paradise proclaimed by the Communist leader, whose demented leadership divided the nation, spread poverty, and devoured thousands of Cubans.

Saturn Devouring His Son, Peter Paul Rubens

Translated by: Tomás A.

Coats, blankets and chocolate

February 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Since the last days of December we Cubans are living with coats, blankets and hot chocolate. The women barely wash. No one turns on their cold shower. We save water and squander cologne. The teenagers don’t meet in the parks. The streets are nearly empty. It’s possible to get a seat on the bus.  The meteorologists have become prophets.

The change in habits is due to the low temperatures.  The cold waves arrive from the north like the remittances from exiled families.  Although no snow falls, the thermometers range between 21 and 33 degrees Celsius above zero; it is 15, 12 and even colder in places like Playa Giron (4.5 degrees on January 7), Ciego de Ávila (5.2), Fallas (5.4), Caibarién (10.7) y Bainoa, where on February 18, 1966 it registered the coldest ever in Cuba (0.6 degrees), still unbeatable according to Dr. Jose Rubiera, Director of the Forecast Center of the Meteorological Institute.

The expert believes that the records are normal for the winter season and are below previous statistics, but we Cubans have fragile memories and we are so used to the heat and humidity that the slightest drop makes us shiver. He says that in winter the nights are clear, less cloudy and the temperatures tend to drop, while they rise during the day.

He advises that it is less common to have low temperatures extended for many days; this has affected the succession of several cold fronts due to low temperatures in the northern hemisphere, where it fell below zero in Florida in the United States; there were strong winds in Europe and snow in a southern country like Romania.

The meteorologist explained that this is not due to global warming, because climate change is a process that occurs over long periods, a long-term phenomenon unrelated to variances from one year to another, or within the same season.

I agree with Dr. Rubiera. Don’t panic or pay too much attention to the prophets of doom, because global warming is an increase in global temperature, not only with hotter summers but with less severe winters.

Our winter is delightful. On this island a Canadian or a Northern European feels now like he does in summer in his country. For them, the tropical climate is a paradise in December, January, February and March. Tourism rises in those months. In a few weeks, when the thermometer rises to 25 or 30 degrees Celsius, we will be nostalgic for the cold of January. Then we will store away the blankets and coats.

Translated by: Tomás A.