Archive for December, 2011

Merry Christmas

Just a few lines to wish my readers a Merry Christmas and a 2012 befitting their best expectations. I am confident that we will have some developments and interesting achievements in matters of democracy. At the very least, I will try to try contribute to the extent of my modest abilities to make it happen.

I take this opportunity to share with you my joy at the birth of my second grandson, Samuel, on Wednesday, December 14th, which I have been busy with, and that’s why I have stayed somewhat away from the blog. I would like to think that my grandchildren will grow up in a free and democratic Cuba established by the will of all Cubans. I hope to get back on track soon, and I will be in touch.

Hugs to all,


December 23 2011

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They…the dissidents

Photo taken from the Internet

If it were possible to classify years the same way winemakers catalogue wine, I would say that 2011 has been a good harvest, good for those Cubans who aspire to a future of civility and of transformations in Cuba, who have seen a gradual but sustained approach among different groups of the alternative civil society, mutual recognition of places and rights common to all, but not so for the government.

I don’t want to be at fault for any unfair or unintended omission, so I will avoid making a list of the ever-growing list of people with different tendencies, generations, professions and backgrounds, who are breaking the isolation of a society long contorted by fear or mistrust between this or that group or individual. Suffice to note that in the course of this year that network of free spaces has emerged spontaneously and freely, and one might surmise that many hopes and aspirations are pinned to that social fabric of an inevitably different and better Cuba.

In fact, I would say that, this year, the very one-party government is the one that has gone to the opposition; not because I say it, but because of the methods and procedures that it employs in its belated intent to resurrect, and in its obvious fear of the unstoppable process to weaken both new and old generations’ faith in the “revolution.” An example of this was the conspiracy orchestrated to… celebrate? the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, based on some guidelines developed in secrecy. An event that was unexpectedly and surprisingly announced, even for the members of the single party, with the additional constraint of an agenda limited to purely economic issues. This gave the high leadership of the party an image of weakness and insecurity, and projected a climate of mistrust and reservation among grassroots activism, while it exhibited the paradox of trying to promote a campaign against “secrecy” from the standpoint of a conspiracy.

In stark contrast, sectors of the alternative civil society have been launching programs and open proposals, have held meetings and events prior to public announcement –even under the harassment and hounding of the political police- unvarnished and without dissimulation or exclusions, and they have been attracting support and good will, especially of those young people who are not attracted by the “new” official promises. The fatuous fires that loosen the frayed olive green epaulets don’t have the appeal of the future that they dream of realizing by themselves, without masters, without dogmas.

Let’s look at today’s Cuba, the one where we have lived this year 2011, and let’s recap: who hides in order to devise compromises, conferences and alliances without consultation? who denies information to the people? who maintains the monopoly of the press and media and seeks to monopolize access to the Internet? who insists on distributing and managing, enforcing the limits and the pace of the transformations they are urging to apply? who harasses free citizens? who offers resistance to the multiparty and the full participation of all Cubans in the search for solutions? who opposes democratic change? does the power of the government legitimize retaining authority by force? Why, then do they say we are “the opposition”?

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 12, 2011

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Vulgarity as a Resource (II)

Rolando Pulido Poster

The recent case of censure against a reggaeton and all the virulent editorial campaign against it –through the official press- bring once again to the spotlight the topic of the cultural revolutionary politics and the controlling function of institutions.  The absence of rights touches everyone, not just from the standpoint of artistic phenomenon (let’s generously refer to it as the reggaeton epidemic), but of the control equally exercised over cultural events, authors and the receiving public.

On the other hand, the fact that a subject with the rank of minister should devote his attention to mediocre work, and that an official academician should cast furious rays from her vain heights with pedantry almost as vulgar and coarse as the very song she criticizes, seems more a pose than the real intention to condemn what the cultural Olympus assumes to be an intolerable vulgarity. The confusion lies, then, in properly ascertaining the limits of vulgarity and limiting at the same time in what spheres of social life vulgarity will be allowed without it constituting a blemish in the purity of the “culture” of this people.

And I say this because I now come to realize such a host of memories about events that are vulgar, called and encouraged by the powers that be, that I find it difficult to see any consistency between the official discourse and its current claim to decency. I find it even more difficult to understand why the Culture Minister, sensitive as he is, has never acted against more severe cases of rudeness in which large groups of people engage. I maintain, for example, that the image of the aberrations of a multitude constitutes an unspeakable vulgarity; a crowd that offends, insults and attacks peaceful citizens expressing their dissent against the government, especially while dissidents elsewhere are referred to as “outraged”, and whose claims are said to be just.  Yes, to be exact, our protesters are a group of women marching peacefully through the streets to church, gladioli in hand, calling for democratic changes and freedom. The vulgarity of the screaming hordes that attack them, which are, in addition, larger in their numbers, is extreme. If, besides that, we know that the mob has been organized and financed by the authorities, that vulgarity attains the category of crime.

I remember other similar hordes that more than 30 years ago reviled and beat any citizen just because he decided to emigrate via the Mariel boat lift or the Peruvian embassy. Those were the most vulgar and hateful scenes I have ever witnessed, and they were convened and powered by the Cuban government. The slogans at the time, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, down with the bunch of worms”, “let the scum go!” and so on, were just as vulgar and low-classed as today’s “acts of repudiation”.

And speaking of rude slogans, who doesn’t remember Felipe Pérez Roque when he was the president of the FEU, (University Student Federation) youth prospectus of the quarry of corruption, who Mr. F., with so much hope and such perks, cultivated so long ago?  Back then, the future Cuban Chancellor introduced a slogan so vulgar that I doubt has been surpassed to this day. The misguided young man would cry out from his rostrum: “Reagan wears a skirt, we wear pants, we have a commander whose cojones roar”….” A rude and submissive ode to the supposedly sacred testicles wrapped in olive green; the same ones in virtue of which, years later, produced the deposing of the idolater who composed that wretched rhyme.

Spurring the vulgarity of the masses has been one of the most useful methods to turn them into the dictatorship’s instrument of the mechanisms of control. What decent Cuban doesn’t shake in the presence of limitless, unbridled and multiplied riffraff, blessed and legitimized as a manifestation of revolutionary zeal?

I still remember and I regress to the long ago March of 1972, when I had my first experience in the school in the countryside in seventh grade. I was twelve, and one of the smallest kids in the camp “The Marquis”, in the fields of Güines. I endured, like other girls, the hard agricultural work on the muddy furrows, the damn thorns that dug into my hands, the sun, the hunger, the fatigue, the promiscuity in the huts with their horrible rebar and jute bunks, the punishment of the mosquitoes, the filthy outhouses, the cold baths, the remoteness of the parents, the lice epidemics that endangered the survival of my two long and very black braids. I thought about running away that first Sunday, when my parents arrived, but just a few days after our arrival at the camp, one of the girls decided to leave with her father, who went to visit one afternoon in mid-week. The girl walked quickly, holding her father’s hand, her wooden suitcase in hand. They immediately convened us as a group to follow her to shout in chorus: “Flunky, flunky, weakling, bitch” over and over again, while they followed her menacingly to the outskirts of the town. The camp director’s specific instructions were to show that girl who was afraid of hard labor the difference between a revolutionary girl and another one with “petty bourgeoisie residues”. There was so much violence in that act that it impressed me deeply. I swear I did not shout or follow them. I stood, rooted to the floor, scared, ashamed. Other girls also froze in terror.  That day, I knew that I would not leave, for I was so afraid that they would do the same to me.  That girl never returned to our school.  Her parents had her transferred to a different one. Our high school’s name was “Forjadores del Futuro” (Forgers of the Future), life’s ironies.  This present was our future then. After becoming an adult, I have often thought of the damage that such repudiation, both verbal and orchestrated by a very revolutionary teacher, must have caused the adolescent. I never heard about her or of that teacher. I hope that, if the teacher is still alive, she feels very ashamed of what she did.

For decades, decency became a lag, a kind of stubborn crust of the capitalist past that held back the development of “revolutionary intransigence.” The schools that proliferated in the coountryside from the very early 70’s and ended up being mandatory, multiplied these evils. Children, now separated from their families, lost the values ​​that their parents had forged over generations. The coexistence and mixtures have resulted in uncontrolled sexual precocity, the multiplication of abortions, messy relationships, often between students and teachers, the loss of privacy, the blurring of the individual in a group, and the standardization of vulgarity. Whoever did not dare utter a curse were “flies”, prudish. You could not be out of tune with the group: all mixed-in, all alike, all vulgar. And those who were not, pretended to be in order to fit in or to avoid public ridicule.

Those waters brought this mud. The following years would be responsible for strengthening the vulgar egalitarianism which assumed the worst values ​​as the best, and imposed them as the norm. We all know the results: today, vulgarity pervades almost every corner of Cuban culture. Any kid in grade school uses the grossest words with an ease that would be the envy of a truck driver, anybody expresses the worst insults in a bus, in a public place or in the middle of a simple dialogue with the lightness and grace typical of one who is reciting a sonnet by Lope de Vega. That is the standard in today’s Cuba, and one of the burdens that will be hardest to surmount in the near future, though now a stern professor and a minister are, surprisingly, stirring against the shocking vulgarity of a reggaeton that masterfully reflects to what level of blatant vulgarity the most cultured people* in our planet have sunk.

*Translator’s note: An oft-repeated claim of Fidel’s.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 2, 2011

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Vulgarity as a Resource (I)

Osmani García, the scapegoat of the day. Photo taken from the Internet

A disproportionate scandal has been unleashed these past few days around a vulgar Cuban video clip officially demonized and quasi-banned by the Culture Minister himself. It is the reggaeton entitled “Chupi Chupi” whose lyrics, in fact, are such a monument to audio-visual vulgarity that it could be considered record-breaking within a genre that is prominent in Cuban music, by its crudeness and by the lack of substance of its lyrics and images, and the obnoxiousness and repetitiveness of its refrain.

It is clear from the preceding paragraph that I detest reggaeton, though I acknowledge and respect the sovereign right of the followers of this (music genre?) to fully enjoy it, provided that, in turn, it does not invade my ears with its aggressive and artless lyrics. However, I am very surprised at the virulence of the official attack on a video clip that basically does not differ too much from others of equally vulgar, pornographic and similar insipid content. And if I understand that the scandal is “disproportionate”,  it’s because in a reggaeton and reggaeton performer’s fight against the formidable cultural and official press apparatus, the song Chupi Chupi and its author, Osmani García, will be able to do little to defend themselves.

On the other hand, I cannot understand such last-minute Puritanism in the face of a phenomenon that has ruled over the Cuban music scene, not in “recent years”, as the high ranking Commissioner with a doctorate in Arts and Sciences claims in an article published by the press (Granma, Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011, pages 4-5) — the artistic Commissioner appointed to sanctify censorship to the public — but for at least the last two decades.  It could be said that the specialist author of the journalistic diatribe, with the rank of Faculty Professor in the Department of Musicology at the Higher Institute of Art –- such are her very polished and lengthy titles and crests — was locked in her ivory tower, just listening to classic music all this time, therefore she had not heard that, in effect, musical vulgarity has claimed the throne in the taste of a good part of the Cuban people. I wonder how someone could be a specialist in musicology and ignore the process of impoverishment that has been gnawing away at Cuban popular music in its own environment.

I say this because it is impossible to drive through the streets of this city without passing a rickshaw dispensing reggaeton in its path, out loud, polluting the environment with its low-life sounds and the marginalization of its lyrics. Some bus drivers have similar habits and share with passengers in their crammed vehicles what they consider the greatest of musical creations, assuming that they are like-minded and want to share. The same goes for many of the classic old cars that serve as taxis on fixed transportation routes, where passengers that pay their fares have to suffer, whether they like it or not, the dissemination of reggaeton at high decibels …  and God help anyone who dares to suggest to the driver to turn down the volume! The driver’s abuse is worse than the very lyrics of the music. If you don’t believe it, just ask Yoani Sánchez, who on one occasion had to get off the car because of the driver’s anger when she protested discretely. Since that time, she has decided to board protected by headphones that allow her to build a defensive anti-reggaeton barrier, and, at the same time, enjoy her own music without making trouble or bothering anyone.

But specifically against the “El Chupi” onslaught…  I started to think about other reggaeton and other lyrics that for several years have occupied the popular taste. Some of these creations are more vulgar and “stupefying” than others, but all are part of a repertoire under whose influence many, who are now in their adolescence and youth, have been brought up. I remember some of those gems, whose lyrics say “suck my sweet sugar cane, Mom …” another cried out in the voice of a cat in heat “Aaaayyy, I like Yumas!*…”  Another urged: “Suck, suck, suck lollipops, take them out of your mouth, and put them in your nose….” And so forth, with the same level of excessively rhythmic idiocy.

These freaks have been a constant even at children’s birthday parties, so-called cultural activities in schools at all levels of education, at the feasts of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, in Pioneer camping trips and — believe it or not — even at day care center celebrations, promoted by the organizers of these activities, namely, teachers, educators, school leaders, cultural promoters, trainers, etc. At such times, it often happens that competitions are held, and those children who best mimic the pelvic movements of adults with ease and are able to “get onto the floor,” are the most applauded and encouraged by adults. So, in effect, a taste for reggaeton has become a widespread phenomenon. Not by chance was “El Chupi” nominated by popular vote for the latest and recent Lucas Awards, the annual Cuban video clip contest, from which it was eliminated by the decision of the Minister, against the proposal of his highly cultured people.

Until today, I think that promoting this type of music has spread in Cuba under official protection, aimed at a particular audience: large masses. Disseminating meaningless lyrics, keeping the public in an apathetic and lethargic state before the repetition of such empty refrains, appealing to the exaltation of the sensual and sexual as a way to alleviate the angst of so many hardships, reducing people to a state of idiocy, eroding minds and dehumanizing has been a “cultural” strategy employed by the authorities to channel and control energies, far from claims and reasoning.  On the other hand, this type of thing tends to reinforce the image of a sexual paradise that is so appealing for the purposes of encouraging tourism, an economic stake par excellence for the government, only that, apparently, the image of the Cuban culture that was being presented is becoming too obscene and, for some unknown reason, they are putting an end to it.

At any rate, it is known that censure and bans only serve to encourage the consumption of the forbidden. These days, people have not stopped commenting on “the case of El Chupi,” and those who didn’t yet own a copy of the video clip ran to get it, the reverse effect of the reaction that turns subversive, and therefore, attractive, everything that upsets the authorities. Perhaps it is time for media owners to understand that banning is not what it’s about, but diversifying areas and options.  It is time to open up true and total artistic and esthetic freedom and to allow all avenues for creativity to flow through.  That would make Cubans a more cultured and selective peoples. May reggaeton not continue to be the only popular nor banned music. This could be another of so many beginnings we need.

*Translator’s note: Yumas are people born in the US.

November 28 2011

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