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100 Years of the Fat One of Trocadero

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Jose Lezama Lima (1910-1976) is not gone.  This is the feeling you get when you visit the museum of the master of Cuban prose in Trocadero street, in central Havana.

You don’t need to be supernatural to sense the weary, asthmatic breathing of the fat Lezama while you pass through the halls of this house, residence of one of the greatest authors of this green island.

The Cuban intellectual was born on December 19, 1910.  And like nearly all the geniuses, he was misunderstood in his time.  His father, Jose Lezama Rodda, of Basque heritage, founded, and eventually lost, a sugar business in Cuba.

Rosa Lima Rosado, his mother, formed part of a family of independent thought.  At the end of the 19th century, she felt obligated to leave the island.  she knew and collaborated with the national hero of Cuba, Jose Marti, in his exile in Florida.

Lezama Lima had two sisters, Rosa and Eloisa, who both died early in their lives.  From when he was a boy, like every good Habanero, he played baseball and caused trouble with his friends from the neighborhood.  He was an infielder, and had pretty good hands.

But one day when he was an adolescent, his friends went to find him for game, and Lezama told them “I’m not coming out today, I’m going to stay in and read.”  He had started reading Plato’s Symposium.  He was fifteen years old, and since he was eight he was a voracious reader of Salgari and Dumas, Cervantes and his Quixote.

He became a lawyer, and began to work in a simple post of the secretary of the Superior Counsel of Social Defense, in the jail of the Castillo del Príncipe, the main jail in Havana.  And from this date forward, he was a great man of letters.

In 1937, his collection of poetry The Death of Narciso, was published, which was written in 1931.  In his day, another giant, Cintio Vitier, affirmed:  “All the poetry of Mariano Brull, Emililo Ballagas, Eugenio Florti, like witches riding brooms, flew out the window when I read ‘Danae wrote about the golden time by the Nile,’ the first verse of the Death of Narciso.  Cuban poetry changed overnight.”

Later, he began to circulate in cultural reviews of high esteem, edited in Cuba in the decade of 1940-1950.  It was in Origins, perhaps, where Lezama Lima made his impression as a writer.

In 1959, el comandante Fidel Castro arrived, along with his hurricane of radical reforms.  So much machismo and testosterone; the caudillo style and an Olympian disdain for the free thinkers, caused more than a problem for the massive Jose Lezama.

Despite being married since 1964 to Maria Luisa Bautista, a noted literature professor, the fat Lezama was a closet gay.  We already know how the Castro government treated homosexuals in this time.

They were turbulent times.  Whoever had different sexual orientations was sent to prison or to a type of concentration camp called UMAPs (Military Units in Support of Production).  And even though Lezama never received a punishment that severe, he suffered. The greatest scandal arrived in 1966.

The name of the scandal was the supreme novel of Cuban literature: Paradiso.  It had a limited edition.  It put in check the iron censorship of the state, that always held literature suspect, bourgeoisie, and counterrevolutionary.  The sexual adventures of Jose Cemi disquieted the Criollo hierarchy, who saw in the gays, and sodomy, a latent danger to the concept of the New Man, dreamed up by Che.

In spite of everything, the Maestro never wanted to abandon his country.  In Cuba he found his muse.  His house on Trocadero was his heart, he came to say.  And there he shut himself in amongst his writings.  Tightly.

Difficult years.  The economic shortages affected the population.  And Lezama, an incurable luxurophile, suffered from royal hunger. He made up for it, and then some, whenever a friend invited him to dinner.  It was said that at receptions in Western embassies, on certain nights of ferocious appetite, Lezama devoured an army of croquettes and canapes.

He died in 1976, his fame faded due to censorship and official acknowledgment of a low profile. They then turned him into an exquisite cadaver. A common thing for Fidel Castro’s government with critical intellectual figures or those with little loyalty to the regime. Once they’re buried, of course.

The big guy who would have been one hundred this year died in house No. 162 on Trocadero Street. His thick anatomy permeates the house turned into a museum. If you feel, as you tour the grounds, the coughing and asthmatic wheezing of the Master, don’t be frightened. It is Lezama who would like to greet you.

December 16 2010

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Times of Crisis Even for the Prostitutes

December 15, 2010 1 comment

They are hard to convince. These girls in short shorts and tights; lots of cleavage and excessive lipstick does not stop the police harassment or the years in jail if they’re caught. Or sexually transmitted diseases.

Nor do they fear the cold winds and the dampness visited on Havana these days. There they are, on the hunt for clients. They stand in groups of three outside a nightclub.

In the 21st century, the hooker of Generation C (all of them were born with the Castro Revolution) are used to partying, drinks and sex with cocaine or a good marijuana joint with the tourists.

It’s desirable. Hook up with a ‘Paco’ (Spaniard) or an old Canadian. But these are times of crisis. “The Spanish who come here are cheap now,” says Yordana, 16, sitting in a park with some friends.

They take advantage of it to offer their services. Sex on demand. And not too expensive from the perspective of a foreigner or a Cuban loaded with silver who goes out at night fishing for whores. And they also promote themselves. “We are meaty mulatas silicone tits,” says one of them. For a blow job, 5 dollars, 10 for penetration, and 20 for a lesbian display.

Still and all, if you’re not up for that and are a little short on “bullets” (cash), and you treat them nicely and buy them some beers, as a bonus they’ll allow you to masturbate, but you can’t touch them.

The morning is coming in Havana. The cold wind has chased the Bohemians, sodomites and whore hunters off to their beds. But Yordana and her friends are hesitant to go home without money.

They walk the length of Linea Street, and stop at the entrance to each nocturnal attraction, at this hour full of boys and tourists who passed out drinks, to see if anyone is seduced by their hard flesh.

But it’s not their lucky night. The competition is fierce. A group of hookers, none of who are older than 15, have already “marked the territory” and taken the clients. Tired of walking, the girls take off their high heels and head for the bus stop, heads hanging. The cold gets into their bones. They hug themselves, trying to warm up.

On 23rd Street, four guys with a quart of cheap rum eye them lasciviously and make a proposal. Walking along with their working clothes and dried cement on their arms. The hookers were doubtful.

“Show me the money,” said one of them. An older gentleman showed them a wad of bills. “We’re bricklayers and we’re partying. We’re about to spend 300 convertible pesos (360 dollars,),” he said in a hoarse voice with his libido in the clouds.

they talked it over and Yordana, the leader, accepted. “They were a mess. But it’s the end of the year and we need money. And after spending a whole night with the cold and not even some cocoa or a nice drink of rum, we deserve to go home with some money,” emphasized Yordana.

The sun was coming up when they went off in a group, arm in arm, singing ballads along the Malecon. These are times of crisis, even for the hookers.

After Vampires in Havana, It’s the Turn of the Zombies

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment


In 1985, long before the vampire theme became a literary and movie phenomenon, Cuban filmmaker Juan Padrón, premiered Vampires in Havana, an animated film that ranked 50 in the top 100 Latin American films.

Now, Alejandro Brugués, another Cuban director, puts the finishing touches to Juan of the Dead, a zombie story co-produced with Spain. “It will be more successful than the Vampires, because it is a story that unfolds in these times and the artists are so well characterized they frighten you,” said Jesus, a gourmet who watched moments of the shooting by the Havana seawall.

The subject of zombies is closely associated with Haiti and Voodoo. “In Cuba there have also been stories of the ‘living dead’, particularly in eastern parts of the island, where a major Haitian community settled,”says Roberto, 40, grandson of a Haitian.

In the book Castro’s Final Hour, Andres Oppenheimer wrote that we Cubans are like zombies. So we seemed to the Argentine journalist in 2001 and so we still seem to some foreigners. Like Gerhard, a German tourist who asked, “Why you want more zombies than are already here?”

Opinions aside, the fact is that Juan of the Dead, starring the actor Alexis Diaz de Villegas, besides breaking audience records in Cuba, could break them in other countries. “And not only because of the fictional zombies, but also for the additional morbidity that comes from knowing that the Revolution has aged and several of its leaders have been zombified,” said Magaly, an art student, laughing maliciously.

Cuba: More than 50 Opponents Arrested on Human Rights Day

December 13, 2010 1 comment

More than 50 dissidents and activists were arrested on December 10 in Cuba by the combined forces of the National Police and State Security for attempting to mark the International Day of Human Rights, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation led by Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 and the Republic of Cuba is a signatory. In several parts of the capital, the atmosphere was tense with the notable activity of students and workers, who were mobilized to counter the marches planned by the Ladies in White and other organizations of the emerging civil society.

Around the University of Havana, hundreds of students from the Faculty of Law were jammed in the staircase and its surroundings. They had been convened with the objective of holding a counter-march to respond to the expected walk of the Woman in White.

“We have been here since 11 this morning. They told us our mission was to contain and delivery a worthy response to the provocations of the mercenary groups,” said a university student.

Other sites of the Plaza de la Revolution municipality, likely meeting points for the dissident groups, were monitored or taken by young people who celebrated and listened to music.

Such was the case Villalón Park. Many young people, keeping pace with government slogans and songs from the new trova, attended a ceremony to mark the World Festival of Youth and Students to be held in South Africa.

Coincidentally, local activists and opponents, including Dr. Darsi Ferrer, had planned to hold a rally there to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the most famous document of the United Nations.

Outside of Havana, several acts of repudiation and arrests were reported, according to independent journalists in Villa Clara and Holguin. At Guantanamo, the opponent Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina had planned an event in a plaza in the eastern province.

Through Twitter, Martha Beatriz Roque reported that the Ladies in White were divided into three groups. Two groups demonstrated at the entrance of the Combinado del Este and 1580 prisons, on the outskirts of Havana, where 11 political prisoners remain from the Group of 75. The third group walked near the Ministry of Justice and the Directorate of Prisons, in the Vedado.

They went with pink gladioli in their hands. As on the night of Thursday the 9th, when they had to endure verbal and physical aggression by government mobs throughout their walks through the central streets of the capital.

In 1998, the president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, Oscar Elias Biscet, convened a 50th commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at Buttari Park, and since that time it has become common for Cuban authorities to ban, suppress and arrest those try to celebrate on 10 December in public places. “Legally there is no violation of law. Cuba is a signatory to the Universal Declaration. Therefore there is an inconsistency of legal procedures,” says Larisa Diversent, an independent attorney.

The government of the Castro brothers does not recognize the opposition, accusing it of “being in the service of the U.S. and other forces of reaction.” This is one of the reasons why the human rights activists are not allowed to demonstrate.

It is also because the government believes that “in Cuba human rights are fully respected.” The opposition thinks the opposite. “Not allowing us to demonstrate is proof of it,” says a Havana opponent.

Although the dissidence in Cuba is peaceful, the regime always fears on that date. Perhaps a bit more in 2010, when in recent weeks in several locations, there have been protests and incidents involving ordinary citizens.

Photo: EFE. The Ladies in White at the entrance on a prison in Havana, on December 10.

Tending Bridges

December 11, 2010 Leave a comment

A contagious song by a Cuban salsero asks in its chorus for a long bridge to be built between La Havana and Miami. Perhaps in the not so distant future the engineers and architects will consider such a possibility.

The so-called City of the Sun appears to be an appendix of Latin America. In jest, it is said that the next Congress of the Communist Party, expected for April 2011, will designate Miami ‘a new Cuban province’.

In Florida live more than 800 thousand Cubans. That number of inhabitants is more than that of ten of the fourteen provinces on the island. While the politicians in Cuba and the United States carry on with their cold war language, the common people, musicians and intellectuals, have broken dikes that only a few decades ago were a minefield set by the Castro government.

In Havana it makes news each time important musicians appear in comedy programs or debates from Miami. Thanks to the illegal satellite antenna, for which families pay the equivalent of 12 dollars a month, it is known that orchestras like Adalberto y su Son, La Charanga Habanera, Bamboleo or the songwriters Silvio Rodriguez and Amaury Perez, among other musicians, have participated in television programs from the other side of the puddle.

Segments conducted or directed by distinguished humorists and presenters like Alexis Valdes or Carlos Otero, who decided to emigrate a while back. A few years back, if you spoke in public or private with Cuban ‘deserters’ they would label you as a ‘traitor to the homeland’.

The politics of tending bridges is not applauded by all Cubans on either shore. In Miami, compatriots that have suffered the typhoons of Fidel Castro’s radical politics, have burned or taken axes to the CDs of musicians from the island who have performed in Florida.

I can understand their pain. I know exile is hard. I have my family and friends far away. I know from firsthand accounts, of the rigors of the jails for those that have dissented publicly. I think of the hundreds who were shot by the regime during the first years of the Revolution.

All that happened and can not be thrown in the garbage. But there should be a before and an after. A turning point in the way we reason. Try dialogs, not monologues. Hate affects lucidity. Also in Cuba we have ideological Talibans. And there is good reason behind those who shout for the flow of a cultural interchange in both directions.

The Cuban government kicks and screams when an intellectual, academic or musician is denied their visa by the  American authorities. Of course this is wrong. Just like I think it’s a cruel joke to list Cuba among the other countries that practice terrorism. But Castro is also intolerant.

I don’t see the hour when Willy Chirino or Gloria Estefan will be allowed to sing in Havana. The Cuban authorities should apologize with their heads lowered and build a mausoleum for that giant of the guaracha that  was Celia Cruz, censored by the national media.

Before we speak of democracy and of what kind of society we Cubans want in the future, the Castro brothers should abolish the perverse permission required for people born in Cuba to enter and leave the country.

The politicians dictate laws and decrees that later burn their hands. They become a boomerang. You can’t divide what’s united. And all Cubans, regardless of where they live, were born of the same homeland. And the dinosaurs of the cold war can like it or not.

Photo: Cubans dance with Adalberto Alvarez y su Son at ‘La Casa de Tula’, in Miami.

Translated by: Yulys Rodriguez

Havana is Waiting for Chico and Rita

December 11, 2010 Leave a comment

It would have been perfect. That Chico and Rita, by the Spaniards Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, could have inaugurated the 32nd edition of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, scheduled from the 2nd to the 12th of December in Havana and other Cuban cities.

If they’d exhibited at the event, it wouldn’t have gotten a lot of play. As already happened in 2000 with Calle 54, the film where Trueba — then not having been seen for several years — set the stage for the reunion of Bebo and Chucho Valdés and sat them down to play the piano.

Starting from a love story between two Habanero mulattos, Chico and Rita exposes facets of Cuban music and Latin jazz in a very original style, with animation. The plot develops in Havana and New York. Until then, everything goes well.

The problem is that the soundtrack is from Bebo Valdés, 92-years-old. And the tape is dedicated to him. Bebo, Chucho’s father, is considered a ‘deserter’ by the Castro regime.

That’s not the only obstacle. There are also some statements of Javier Mariscal, who has said “the Castro Brothers are a disaster as agents”, which set one off that the island “gets worse every time”.

It is a shame that in Cuba everything passes through the political sieve.The people pay the consequences of not being able to see a pleasant movie that narrates part of their rich musical heritage in the theaters.

One has to content oneself with knowing that Chico and Rita was very well received in London and already received a prize at an animated film festival in Holland. On February 25, 2011, it will be premiered in Spain and might even be nominated for an Oscar.

Or do like always: hope that a DVD copy shows up, ‘burn’ it, and pass it along clandestinely. If we Cubans are accustomed to anything, it’s movie and television piracy.

Translated by: JT

The Time of the Cuban Opposition

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

There is no doubt the dissidence on the island is looking for a space. The document: A Future for Cuba. Issued on December 2, it is counter-proposals to the government’s measures — a balanced document that fits this time in Cuba — from a group of ten people, among them the economist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello and Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique.

They have put their feet on the ground, their proposals in writing. At times, the Cuban opposition,weighed down by mediocrity, internal squabbles and divided by personal egos and despotic behavior among its leaders, was shipwrecked on the rocks of its own disarray. There was no valid reference, no starting point. Add to that the penetration by the moles of the special services, it is a cause that has become fragmented.

As unfinished business, they still have to try to reach large portions of the population. But they do try. In this December 2010, conditions are ripe for the dissidence to take a 180 degree turn in their political work.

They can count on new tools. Almost all opposition groups have websites where they release their platforms and proposals for the future that is upon us. Important figures and veterans like Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, Elizardo Sanchez and Martha Beatriz, among others, have personal blogs.

There are other elements that promote a greater field of competition. The release of prisoners from the Black Spring of 2003 — although 12 remain behind bars– seems to send the message that the government of the Castro brothers will not go back to filling the jails with prisoners of conscience. At least for now.

Also the dialogue initiated by General Raul Castro with the hierarchy of the Cuban church and the government of Spain after the death of Orlando Zapata and following the government mob violence toward the Ladies in White (which continues against Reina Luisa Tamayo), is a sign that the regime needs political oxygen. And a truce to try to apply their timid economic reforms.

Throughout its history, the Cuban opposition has had brilliant moments. The Varela Project of Payá Sardiñas in 1998, despite some errors of law, was a well-intentioned proposal to try to democratic change.

Previously, the Working Group of the Internal Dissidence issued sensible documents like The Homeland Belongs to All, signed by Vladimiro Roca, Martha Beatriz, René Gómez Manzano and Félix Bonne Carcasses in 1997. Also Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet has undertaken specific activities for social justice and human rights.

Then in March 2003, came the hard blow, with the arrests of 75 valuable opponents. To this was added the unveiling of undercover informants in different groups outside government control.

After seven years extolled in sectarian and exclusive position, now the dissent attempts to take the path of concord. They do not ask to be a homogeneous movement. Only that their members agree on the main arguments and points of agreement achieved, to articulate a calm discourse and bring along the citizenry.

These points of agreement exist. It is calculated that 70% of the people on the island are very disgusted with the current economic and political situation. Examples include outbreaks of civil disobedience and public protests of citizens outside the dissent.

Most of the internal opposition has always been in favor of dialogue between all parties. The Castro government is the one who refuses and does not consider them as an important actor. But the current situations, and those that can be foreseen, could rearrange the cards on the table.

Maybe this is the time for the dissidence. In their hands are concrete workable proposals. Martha Beatriz already launched a good signal. They need a final push. To continue fighting in opposition.