Tag Archives: Fidel Castro

On Cuba, Hope and Change

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President Obama, a man who actively promotes the audacity of hope and based his presidential campaigns on the idea of change, has combined both concepts in his long gaze at Cuba: he hopes Castro will change. However, that option isn’t remotely possible in Cuba. Back in 2003, Castro Bros. added to the Cuban Constitution that the socialist character of the Cuban revolution is irrevocable.

Lest you think the Cold War is over, and it’s time to move on, Raul Castro is there to remind you not to forget. Both Castro and Obama had agreed to announce the news of a new dawn for Cuba-USA relations, simultaneously, at noon on December 17th, a day that has particular significance in Cuban lore, as it celebrates San Lázaro, the patron saint of the needy, the one who brings hope to the people.

Obama conducted his press conference standing up in a properly lit room. He’s a young man, during his second presidential term, talking naturally. Castro, a player from the Eisenhower era, was sitting down in an obscure mahogany time capsule. He read from several sheets of paper (paper!), with the affected tone reserved for a grandiloquent speech, the only tone with which he has always addressed the Cuban people.

Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, was wearing civilian clothes. Castro showed up in his military uniform with all the medals he has bestowed on himself over the years (he’s been the head of the Cuban Army since he and his older brother took power in 1959). That choice of attire was carefully considered.

Raul Castro appeared between two black-and-white framed photos. In one, he poses with a comrade in arms who died fighting the previous dictator —not Fidel, the one before him. The other photo shows Raul with his late wife, the most powerful woman in Cuba in the last half-century. As much as the president of the United States wants to move forward, Raul Castro is a man living in the past.

But if the retro look wasn’t enough, then Castro opened his mouth. These were his first words: “Since I was elected President…” That’s exactly the moment the educated audience should have known this is a complete farce: Raul Castro has never been elected.

The agreement to open an American embassy in Havana was preceded by a quid pro quo mambo in which an American spy serving time in Cuba was traded for three Cuban spies. (According to the trophy-of-war selfie Raul Castro took with them upon their arrival, his spies were well fed in their American prisons). The USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who lost most of his teeth and over 100 pounds in his Cuban prison, was released on “humanitarian grounds” after five years of wrongful imprisonment for handing out laptops and cellphones to the Cuban Jewish community.

Additionally, Obama announced he wants to revisit Cuba’s standing in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Yet, the same day of this exchange, the long tentacle of North Korean repression reentered America’s collective consciousness by dictating to Sony Pictures (and its global audience), that if Sony releases “The Interview,” there will be terrorist retaliations.

Nothing has changed in Cuba since July 2013, when the Chong Chong Gang, a North Korean ship, was caught in Panamanian waters carrying 240 tons of weapons concealed under sacks of sugar. The ship and the weapons were coming from Cuba, from the same regime that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in the early sixties, the same regime this new development is trying to appease.

In his inaugural speech on January 20, 2009, Obama hinted at the Castro dynasty: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” But Castro’s fist is as tight as it has ever been.

On the morning of December 20th, 2014, the news of a Cuban Coast Guard sinking a vessel, carrying women and children, that was fleeing the island started to reach English media outlets. So far, one passenger has been reported missing. Expect more snubs to the US government (and the Cuban people) where this came from.

There’s a parable that illustrates the doomed relationship between Obama and Castro. A man sees a scorpion drowning in a puddle. He weighs the outcome of his actions, but decides that his nature is to nurture, so he picks up the scorpion. The scorpion’s nature is to sting. The man reacts to this venom by opening the hand, which drops the scorpion back in the water. With his limbs beginning to swell and about to hallucinate, the man sees a scorpion in a puddle. And he feels an urge to save the creature.

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Alexis Romay
New Jersey

This text was published originally on Translating Cuba.

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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Open letter to the Smithsonian Institution

Open letter to the Smithsonian Institution

To Whom It May Concern:

The very prestigious Smithsonian Institution ranks amongst the most prominent cultural organizations in the United States and throughout the world. In its mission statement, it defines itself as “an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge.”

This mission statement, however, is contradicted by the fact that the Smithsonian Audio Collection distributes the entire catalog of Paredón Records. This recording company, owned by Barbara Dane, published between 1970 and 1985, “fifty albums that covered major left-wing and liberation movements on five continents during the turbulent years of the 1970s”.

Though not particularly my cup of tea, I have nothing against Ms. Dane’s taste in music or content. I strongly believe in freedom of expression, the same way I believe that we are all entitled to our own ideology, bigotry, you name it. What deeply disturbs me is the lack of sensitivity and cultural awareness of the Smithsonian Institution. I marvel at the fact that the beacon that pledges to increase and spread knowledge didn’t double check with any Spanish speaker, particularly Cuban, before deciding to carry this material in its collection.

“Paredón,” you see, is a word that has specific weight and very negative connotations. It means “Firing squad.” Paredón is a painful reminder of one of Cuba’s darkest episodes in recent memory. Starting on January 1959, Fidel and Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and their subordinates, presided over hundreds of kangaroo courts where the defendants were quickly found guilty, sentenced to death by firing squad, and executed within days if not hours of the verdict, while the masses on the streets clamored “paredón” in a blood frenzy unparalleled in Cuba’s history.

According to Cuba Archive –a non-partisan, non-profit organization that is developing a comprehensive registry of disappearances and fatalities of a political nature resulting from the Cuban Revolution– from January 1959 to December of that year, there were 770 documented cases of execution by fire squad.

Would the Smithsonian Institution carry the catalog of something called “Pogrom Records”? How about “Lynching Records”? Would they distribute those albums? The answer is probably no. And yet, if the blood to spatter the walls is Cuban and Fidel Castro is the responsible for the bloodshed, the exception becomes the rule and the ethical dilemma vanishes.

I expect nothing of Ms. Dane who “worked tirelessly to release unapologetically partisan, radical, and passionate recordings of singers, activists,” artists who probably didn’t know the meaning of the Spanish word paredón and how by recording under that label they would seem to be supporting death by firing squad without due process. But from the Smithsonian Institution, at the very least, a public apology and, moreover, a condemnation of this trigger happy esthetic seems to be in order.

Alexis Romay

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