Category Archives: Cuba

The Cuban diet and the politics of hunger

Del refranero, por Garrincha

Today I didn’t need my morning coffee. I woke up to a pair of articles about the profound socio-economic crisis in Cuba, which became acute in the early nineties with the collapse of the socialist bloc. What those champions of euphemism called “The Special Period.” One of the articles, in Spanish, was published by that usually faithful friend of Cuba’s Granma newspaper, El País, from Madrid; the other, in English, appeared in The Independent, from London.

Both were based on a study published today by the British Medical Journal. About what? Hunger. But not the infamy of starving a population. That’s in poor taste. About hunger as a cure for obesity. The thesis that unites them is simple: while we ate cabbage as appetizer, main course and dessert —the first person plural is intentional: I experienced this first-hand—, we were doing a favor to the nutritionists and cardiologists of the first world, who then would go around shouting to the four winds that the lower the body weight, the lower the cardiovascular mortality. “A textbook example in real life,” declared a Spanish scientist who wasn’t part of the “experiment,” although what he really wanted to say is: “they were dying of hunger, but not of heart disease.”

It turns out that when Cubans were fainting on their bikes, or being overcome by polyneuritis —a severe inflammation of multiple nerves— or simply dying from lack of food, this was part of a long-range plan: to demonstrate to the British Medical Journal, to the international press —and to the world at large— that if you take food and transportation away from a population, the trouser sizes of men and women will be drastically reduced. One can’t but wonder why they don’t also recommend trying bulimia and anorexia.

Although separated by language, both articles have in common a contempt for the Cuban people, and they remind one of the great achievements of tropical totalitarianism: The Castro brothers have not only created a theme park so that those who love far off utopia have an island as a point of reference and place to visit; even before that, they have made Cuba into a giant laboratory where every human being is a guinea pig.

***
[Translation: MJ Porter.
Illustration: Santana].

“Nemesis” Art Protest Honors Cuba’s Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

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Press release from Cuba Archive

April 7, 2013, New York City.

Last night, artist Geandy Pavón staged his latest “Nemesis” upon the façade of the building of Cuba’s permanent mission to the United Nations at 315 Lexington Avenue, New York city.

In Greek mythology, “nemesis” represents the persecutory memory of divine justice. The innovative art-protest consists of digitally projecting images onto buildings hosting Cuban government offices. Pavón “imposes the face of the victim upon the assassin using light as an analogy of truth, reason, and justice.”

Saturday night’s performance was dedicated to Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Payá, age 60, was founder of a movement calling for a peaceful change to democracy widely regarded as Cuba´s leading opposition leader (see www.OswaldoPaya.org in Spanish). Cepero, age 32, was an activist of the group. Both died July 22, 2012 after what the Cuban government reported as an accident of the car in which they were traveling with two foreigners. But, the family reports having evidence, now corroborated by the driver from Spain, that a vehicle in their pursuit had caused the crash. Plus, the two Cubans had apparently survived the crash and died later of unverifiable causes. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, among others, have reported on the case.

The art-protest was timed to coincide with a visit to New York city of two of Payá’s three children, Rosa María and Oswaldo Jr., who were invited and on site. (See video of Nemesis Payá-Cepero.) Rosa María, age 24, has been on an international tour calling for an independent investigation of the deaths.

Mr. Pavón launched his art-protest in March 2010 at the same building of the Cuban Mission to the U.N. with the image of Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata, who died February 2010 while on hunger strike. Since then, he has staged Nemesis in Barcelona, Madrid, Washington, DC, and on several different occasions in New York city. In May 2011, he displayed the image of Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei at China’s consulate in New York.

Geandy Pavón was born in Cuba and graduated from the National School of Fine Arts in Havana. He was part of the independent group “La Campana,” formed in 1988 to produce art critical of the lack of freedom in Cuban society. Exiled since 1996, he lives in New Jersey. His work can be found in private and public collections throughout Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S. (See www.geandypavon.com.)

Cuba Archive called for an international investigation soon after the death of Payá and Cepero and produced a report on their case as well as on “Strange Accidents and Unexplained Deaths.” (See www.CubaArchive.org, Reports and Alerts & Releases.)

*See PDF version and the Spanish translation at www.CubaArchive.org.

Next Sunday, on ABC, I will talk about the Cuban “elections”

Tiempo
Yesterday, I went to the ABC studios to a live-taping of Tiempo, which will broadcast next Sunday (March 3rd) at 11:30 am on Channel 7. Joe Torres, the host, invited Cuban scholar Ted Henken and yours truly to talk about the Cuban “elections.”

Although the name of the program is in Spanish, the interview was conducted in English. This is the local ABC station. If you miss it, I will post it here as soon as the link is available.

A voter’s confessions

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Yesterday, my friend Enrique Del Risco spelled out his reasons why people should not try to convince him to join the blue mass or the red mass. I wrote him a note telling him that I subscribed them, and I also thanked him since he had saved me from having to write something similar. There is little to add to what Del Risco so eloquently said [in Spanish]. Nevertheless, I told him that I would try to insert some comments in the gaps he leaves between paragraphs of irrefutable arguments. Here are my notes.

Not only do I not want people to try to convince me. I do not want to convince anyone. We are all grown ups.

When the next occupant of the White House is announced, my candidate will not have won or lost. The reason is simple: I don’t have a candidate. I am going to vote for one of the two, obviously, but —watch out— whomever wins my vote is not my candidate.

I do not care about the arguments that made my friends, neighbors, colleagues, relatives and acquaintances vote for the Democrat or the Republican. Voting is their right.

Of the reasons that made me decide for one of the two, I give you the most generic (that, nevertheless, is not trivial): I like the other candidate less.

Today, in the long walk to work, I saw early rising New Yorkers carrying lapel buttons with the faces of Obama (most) or Romney (the minority). I looked and smiled at them, and thought: “another thing that I will never do.”

It does not matter who wins the presidential election. When I turned my back to the ballot box after having voted, I had already won. Participating in the democratic process is, on its own, my victory. (If you think that I am exaggerating, please look at my happy face).

Why does this mundane exercise make me so happy? Because I grew up in land of one party rule. There are no elections in Cuba, and even my dog knows that. But in 1999, I had my own election. And I chose to escape. On that occasion, I voted with my feet.

Do not ask me for whom I voted today. My candidate choice is between me and the ballot box.

***
[Translation: Ernesto Ariel Suárez.]

Press release from Cuba Archive

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​We reproduce below our release of July 2007 on two massacres occurring in the month of July. Sadly, the Cuban regime enjoys continued impunity despite these and many other crimes against humanity. Let’s continue to ask the international community to demand accountability for the historic and ongoing crimes of the Cuban dictatorship and to assist the Cuban people in attaining all their rightful freedoms.

CUBA: JULY ANNIVERSARIES OF TWO MASSACRES — Unpunished, but not forgotten

July 6, 2007, Summit, New Jersey.

Among the most flagrant atrocities committed by the Castro regime in its long history of human rights’ abuses, two incidents stand out —the Canimar River Massacre of 1980 and the Tugboat Massacre of 1994. Both took place in the month of July and poignantly illustrate the Cuban leadership’s profound disregard for human life and their egregious violation of the fundamental right of citizens to leave their country.

On July 6, 1980 three youngsters hijacked an excursion boat that was to navigate inland along the scenic Canimar river flowing into Matanzas Bay. Surprised passengers screamed their approval to go to the United States, but the security guard resisted and shot at the youngsters, who wounded him with firearms clandestinely obtained from their military service. Concerned for his health, they sent him back to shore with a passenger who refused to leave. Alerted authorities commanded a chase. High-speed Cuban Navy patrol boats fired on the escapees and attempted to sink the vessel. Then, a Cuban Air Force plane overflew the boat and opened fire. Finally, most not yet wounded or dead drowned when a special boat used for heavy industrial work was brought in to ram and sink the vessel.

The excursion boat had capacity for one hundred passengers, yet only ten survived. Reportedly, there were at least 56 victims, including four children, ages 3, 9, 11, and 17. The actual number was kept secret and recovered bodies were not handed to the families, communal funerals forbidden. The Cuban government claimed it was an accident, but survivors were threatened with prison into silence and kept under surveillance for years.

Fourteen years later, on July 13, 1994, a group of around seventy family members and friends, including many children, boarded the tugboat “13 de Marzo” in the middle of the night planning to escape to the United States. As they made their way out of Havana’s harbor, three tugboats that had been waiting in the dark started a chase. Relentlessly, they sprayed the boat with high-pressure water jets, ripping children from their parents’ arms and sweeping passengers off to sea. Finally, the attackers rammed the “13 de Marzo” enough to make it sink. Passengers who had taken refuge in the cargo hold were pinned down and desperately pounded on the walls, the children wailing in horror, as they went down. Survivors who then clung to life in high seas, contended with the three pursuing tugboats circling them and creating wave turbulence and eddies for them to drown. The attack stopped suddenly when a merchant ship with a Greek flag approached Havana Harbor and Cuban Navy ships picked up survivors. Brought to shore, the stunned women and children were interrogated and sent home. The men were kept in detention for months and given psychotropic drugs. No bodies of the 37 victims (including 11 children) were returned to their families for burial. Survivors and relatives of the dead were denied information and put under surveillance. Many were dismissed from their jobs and systematically harassed by the authorities.

It later transpired that an infiltrator in the group had helped plan the operation to set an example with its violent suppression. The Cuban government claimed it was an accident and blamed it on the escapees and United States’ immigration policies. An international outcry prompted the government to promise an investigation, but instead it awarded the head of the operation, tugboat pilot Jesús González Machín, received a “Hero of the Cuban Revolution” medal. Requests by international organizations for information and redress have been all disregarded.

These and similar tragedies in Cuba remain largely ignored by world media and public opinion. Yet, the Castro regime has for decades systematically murdered civilians for trying to escape their country. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, may have been killed by government authorities for attempting to escape by sea, for seeking asylum in foreign embassies, or trying to cross into the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo. Today the U.S. Naval base in Cuba remains sealed off by barbed wire and mines, with Cuban border guards ready to shoot to kill. Cuba’s Penal Code punishes attempts to leave the national territory without government authorization with up to twenty years in prison or death. Over the course of decades thousands have served prison, under dire conditions, for these so-called crimes. Still today, a number of political prisoners are serving very long sentences for attempting to escape the country.

Cuba Archive calls on world governments, international organizations, and all people of goodwill to hold the Cuban government accountable for its crimes and demand respect for the fundamental rights of Cuba’s citizens to life, safety, and the right to leave their country at will.

See www.CubaArchive.org for details on victims of exit attempts. Website sections “Reports” and “Case Profiles” have detailed reports on both massacres and other cases. The Multimedia section has several short interviews narrating killings in exit attempts. The database has individual case records for all documented victims.

“Cecilio Valdes, King of Havana” goes to Philadelphia

I am thrilled to introduce four songs from Paquito D’Rivera’s zarzuela, entitled Cecilio Valdés, King of Havana, an opera in the Spanish style with libretto by Enrique del Risco, and lyrics by Enrique del Risco and Alexis Romay.

The story of Cecilio… is loosely based on Cecilia Valdés —Cuba’s most famous opera, from the early XX Century— it takes place in contemporary Cuba, and it adds a racial undertone to the theme of impossible love inherited from Montescos and Capuletos.

The songs were performed, in the order in which they appear in the opera, in Philadelphia, at the Lenfest Hall at Curtis Institute of Music, on June 13, 2012, during the New Works Forum of the annual conference organized by Opera America.

In “Don’t Tell Me You Don’t Know,” Cecilio’s wife explains to a foreign tourist the state of Cuban affairs.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Alexis Romay
Mezzo-soprano: Katy Pracht
Piano: Jerome Tan

“Patricia’s Song,” is sung by the female lead as she refuses an advance from a suitor and demands to be respected according to her high social status.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Alexis Romay and Enrique del Risco
Soprano: Evelyn Santiago
Piano: Jerome Tan

In “Nothing Lasts Forever,” Patricia’s father, fearing that he is falling from grace with the government, commands his daughter to marry the nephew of his Spanish business partner.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Enrique del Risco
Soprano: Evelyn Santiago
Baritone: Eric Dubin
Piano: Jerome Tan

“Betrayal,” features Patricia’s father and Cecilio’s mother as they admonish their respective children for engaging in an interracial romance.

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: Alexis Romay
Soprano: Evelyn Santiago
Baritone: Eric Dubin
Piano: Jerome Tan

Enjoy the drama!

Just a Minute, by Paquito D’Rivera

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Just a Minute!

When the organizers of the Transient Glory Symposium asked me to write a one-minute long piece for the wonderful Young People’s Chorus of New York City, I thought they were pulling my leg. But then I remembered Chopin’s famous “One Minute Waltz” (that very few players finish on time), called my poet friend Alexis Romay for some help with the lyrics, and got down to work.

First thing I did was to set a page with 30 bars and the metronome mark of 120 quarter notes a minute on it. Then I accommodated a simple rhythmic melody to the Spanish and English words I’d written already with the ones Alexis sent me; so starting with the phrase: Un minuto, tengo solo un minuto para cantar esta canción. All I’ve got is a minute to sing this song, I little by little built a bilingual, sort of humoristic song that lasted exactly that. Just a minute!

Paquito D’Rivera
February 2012

***

Un minuto

Music: Paquito D’Rivera
Lyrics: P. D’Rivera & Alexis Romay

Un minuto, un minuto.
No preguntes cómo o cuándo,
el tiempo pasa volando.
Tengo solo un minuto
para cantar esta canción.

All I’ve got is a minute
To sing this song.

Just a minute?
Do you mean it?

Hurry up, please it’s time!
Don’t you see, time is gold?

Un minuto diminuto,
¡y no tengo sustituto!

Just one minute,
Only a minute, got a minute.
Solo tengo un minuto.
Un minuto diminuto.
Solo un minuto.
Un minuto.

Hurry up, time flies!
All I’ve got is one minute.
Y el tiempo pasa volando.
Se acabó el minuto.

Ssshhhh!!!

On (Cuban) dissidents and other pests

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The first thing tyrants (and those who support them) do is to dehumanize their enemies. In doing so, they give their allies and followers carte blanche to deal with the dissidents as if they were vermin. The logic of this action is as simple as it is macabre: it is not the same to beat up women on any given street, in broad daylight (what Castro’s thugs did over and over to the the late Laura Pollán, depicted in the photo above) than to just crush a pest who has already been conveniently stripped off her humanity.

Qaddafi had a name for those who opposed him: “rats.” Fidel Castro calls them “worms.” His niece, Mariela Castro Espín, calls them “despicable parasites.”

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Twelve years

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Today I am celebrating twelve years of living in the United States: twelve years of not having to look over my shoulder when I speak, twelve years of not going to bed hungry, twelve years of not waking up in fear.

July 26th, a significant day

By Mariano Vidal

20110727-110448.jpgToday, July 26th is a significant day for me.

For instance, Hoyt Wilhelm was born on this day. Not too many people know that the arm of this knuckleballing pitcher was actually deformed from throwing the weird pitch that relies on no spin and no wind.

Two favorite poets were born on this day. Although not that far away from each other, their native languages could not have been more different. This is where being bi-lingual is a joy. One was the Irish George Bernard Shaw, and the other was Antonio Machado, who although born in Andalusia, did most of his work in Soria, one of my favorite Spanish cities, where black truffles grow. He wrote:

¡Chopos del camino blanco, álamos de la ribera,
espuma de la montaña
ante la azul lejanía;
sol del día, claro día!
¡Hermosa tierra de España!

(Poplars upon the white path, riverbank elms
Mountain haze
Before the blue beyond;
Sun of the day, clear day!
Beautiful Spanish land!)

Jean Shepherd, the American writer, was born on July 26th. His radio show in the early 70s, kept me both amused and awake while I was doing my architectural school homework. I learned how to play the kazoo by listening to his rendition of “The bear missed the train” (a variation of “Bei mir bist du shoen”). You may be familiar with “A Christmas Story,” a movie based on one of his books. It’s about the kid who wants a Red Ryder BB gun and the mom who worries that he is “going to shoot his eye out.” I had a BB gun just like that when I turned nine years old. The movie narrator is Jean Shepherd himself.

Vivian Vance was born on this day. She played Ethel in the “I love Lucy” TV program. She came from a wealthy family and didn’t have to do the show and battle Fred, who was an ornery alcoholic. They hated each other passionately, but managed to make me laugh, perhaps even more than Lucy and Ricky.

Sandra Bullock was also born on this day. If she alone does not make you forget Castro’s 26th of July Movement, nothing will.

*****
Photo: Vivian Vance and William Frawley as Fred and Ethel Mertz in “I Love Lucy.”