Maggie Alarcón

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

“Crime” & un-just Punishment

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, Culture on September 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Years ago Vanessa Redgrave used the podium of the Oscars on Oscar Night to demand the rights of the Palestinian people. I remember how my mother pointed out to me that there stood a gutsy woman with principles who wasn’t going to allow an opportunity like that one pass. It was back in the early 1970’s and many more like her followed suit using the podium to voice their opinions on political and social matters.

Not that long ago, during the Bush Jr.  administrations invasion of Iraq, the Academy having learnt its lesson, prohibited any artist-presenter from using Oscar night to say anything other than what appeared on the teleprompter. This brought about an appearance of ribbons of peace on the lapels of those who were against the invasion and ribbons in red white and blue donned by those who supported the idea and or the troops.

People in the US have learned that certain podiums are simply considered inappropriate for certain outburst s of opinions.

Is this correct?

Well, no. Not everyone is in favor of establishing guidelines regarding freedom of speech. But there is an issue of ethics in the Amy Vanderbilt sort of way. One would never expect it to be appropriate to shout out in favor of the use of condoms and abortion rights in the middle of a televised wedding for example, although your right to express yourself should never be prohibited.

Last week marked the 15th anniversary of the imprisonment of 5 Cubans, known in Cuba as Heroes and incarcerated in US federal prisons wrongly accused of acts that garnered them sentences from two life sentences to 15 years.

The Cuban government organized a live concert at an open air esplanade where over 30 artists performed honoring these men and demanding that they be set free. People in attendance had yellow ribbons tied to their wrists, around their necks as scarves or on their lapels.  Ribbons were also tied to the many flag posts that separate the esplanade from the US Interest Section in Havana. Yellow ribbons indicating as they do in the US that Cubans want the Cuban Five back home where they belong.

Nearing the end  of the concert was a performance by one of Cuba’s foremost musicians, Robertico Carcassés who is the director and pianist of Interactivo (Interactive) a jazz fusion band which by all accounts is the Suma Cum Laude of musical and artistic excellence.

During the presentation, Carcassés stepped aside from his piano and began to improvise lyrics. During this improvisation he turned around and faced the US Interest Section and requested the Cuban Five be released. He also demanded an end to the 50+ year embargo the US has against Cuba and the internal embargo Cuba has against Cuba. He requested freedom of information on the island, facilitation rights in order to acquire a car and direct voting rights in order to elect a president. He also requested freedom for  “Maria”. (Street term for marijuana).

All of this is really not news to most Cubans. The internal blockade as many refer to it on the island has been an issue that goes back in time. It speaks against red tape, stupidity, and restrictions. A change to the electoral system is something that some, not that many in reality, also have issues with. In my personal opinion, the idea is beautiful but was only good on paper and stone, it died along with the Greeks as have the many columns they once built; true democracy simply doesn’t exist – at least not for now – anywhere in the world. But again, he has the right to dream.

The following day he and his band mates were called to the Cuban Institute of Music and were informed that Carcassés actions the night before had been inappropriate, self serving and were not in line with what the concert had been designed for.  This may or not be true, and it definitely is a matter of opinion. He was then informed that he would not be allowed to perform live till further notice.

Going too far?

If one agrees that a live concert honoring Five Cuban men who have dedicated the better part of their lives to protecting their home land against acts of terrorism,  is not the place for one individual to voice concerns ranging from authorization to buy a car to changing the voting process in Cuba, one also has to bear in mind that prohibiting an artist from performing goes beyond inappropriate, it is downright insane.

Yes , he could have chosen a different place to voice his opinions, yes,  some of those opinions may not necessarily be the most important issues that are wrong with the Cuban Revolution. But in the end, when you come right down to it, the punishment doesn’t  fit the “crime”.

Roberto Carcassés is a 41 year old musician not a politician. He is a man with an enormous following inside and outside of the island, he is living proof that the system of musical education in Cuba is as good as any anywhere in the world, and last week, he not only voiced his personal opinion on aspects within the country that he believes need be mended, he also turned around faced the US Interest Section in Havana and called for an end to the embargo and the freedom of the Cuban Five.

In my book,  when  someone like him does what he did,  and gets the word out on issues that are close to the Cuban peoples hearts, he doesn’t deserve a reprimand, heck! he deserves a medal.

… to err os human, to forgive divine

The US embargo against Cuba is ridiculous … by gimleteye

In Architecture, Arts, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Culture, Education, Environment, Politics, Travel, US on June 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

… by gimleteye

From  EYE ON MIAMI blog


I returned from Cuba yesterday to Miami, less than an hour and a world away. Although I am Anglo. I have lived in the shadow of Cuba for more than two decades.

In Miami, my experience of Cuba has been filtered through a career as a writer, an environmental leader and civic activist struggling against the values and political organization of Cuban American business interests, primarily tied to construction, development and sugar farmers who control politics in Miami and from that base, Florida, and from Florida, the nation.

What hasn’t changed, as a result of my week long cultural visit to the Havana Bienal, is my certainty that while the injuries and suffering of Cuban Americans who lost family, possessions, and their country during the revolution are real, the embargo against Cuba is a failure that serves no purpose.

Cubans know the embargo and its hardships have united their own state; defining hard-liners and moderates and serving to rationalize regional and superpower investments. But it is not fair to say that the embargo serves equal purposes in the United States and Cuba.

Since the late 1950s and the revolution and diaspora, the Florida economy has grown mightily. These decades created a class of Cuban American entrepreneurs and leaders whose power is rooted in Florida land speculation, the construction of suburbs and condominiums, and farmers using Everglades wetlands as their cesspits. Their control is vested through local zoning practices, transportation and national farming and environmental policies endorsed by Congress and the White House irrespective of party control.

Cuba, meanwhile, is a time capsule rooted in the 1950’s. Its significant achievements in universal health care and education are deservedly a matter of national pride. But nowhere on earth has a society been so deeply framed by economic strangulation. Perversely, what the embargo has accomplished is to save Havana (the only part of the nation, I visited on this trip) from Miami-style destruction.

Havana is in an exquisite state of decaying preservation; an oxymoron that also describes the embargo. Equisitely decaying yet existing in its own decay.

In Havana, rainstorms are claiming 18th and 19th century structures that are unfortified against the elements. At the same time as 1950’s era Detroit-made vehicles carry the city on their millionth mile, neighborhoods and houses built in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s exist as testament to entrepreneurial spirit, corruption, life, love and ideological blindness. It is all captured in Havana and suppressed in Miami.

Last week I wrote that the bandwidth for political dialogue is wider in Havana than it is in Miami. Cubans understand perfectly that Hialeah politics are organized around Castro as enemy and villain. They also understand how socialist politics uses Miami as its own bulwark. But in depth, Cubans have their own worries. They may not understand all the ulterior motives: how in the US the revenge motives against Castro empower those whose real purpose is to make money here — millions and billions — by wrecking environmental rules and regulations, controlling building and zoning that might otherwise inhibit platted subdivisions in West and South Miami Dade or restrict water pollution and mercury contamination pouring out of sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee.

The economic crisis in the United States has not served to open public discourse on these matters. To the contrary, the crisis — in part fomented by the local gears of the Growth Machine well documented on this blog — has served to contract public discussion. Newspapers and television have been crippled by debt and fail the public interest test time and again. Miami voters keep re-electing the same incumbent county and city commissioners based on the litmus test of their virulence against Castro.

Meanwhile, Cubans are engaged in uninhibited discussions around the questions of what happens next. Everything has changed around Cuba — China, Brazil, Latin and South America — and Cuba is finally taking tentative, selective steps to open its economy to change. While the pieces are not in place to make large scale, private investment possible — the small and limited efforts are yielding visible results that should encourage bolder action by a new generation of leaders.

What members of Congress need to understand is that the embargo is now a ridiculous farce. In the 1960’s it served to isolate a nation that had decided to accept a fire hose of economic aid from the Soviet Union. For a time, that assistance allowed an ideology to be artificially supported with no real economic growth.

Today, remittances from Cuban Americans — the majority, from the Miami area — are allowing Cuban entrepreneurs to by-pass the embargo. Small farmers, restaurant owners, and now — private homeowners and car owners, too — represent an army of embargo busters. Cuban Americans have destroyed the embargo on a small scale, while depriving American businesses of the chance to participate in the gradual opening of an economy poised to explode at a time when the domestic US economy, and in Florida particularly, is dependent on the kindness of strangers; foreign investors willing to pick up the slack of crushed housing markets.

One of the most interesting conversations I had was on the return flight to Miami with a Cuban American — I never got his name — who had just completed a visit to relatives in Cuba. He could only spend a weekend there because he had to return to work, Monday. I asked him, could the embargo ever work? He said, yes but that you would have to cut off everything. What he meant, was that the tens of thousands of lifelines extended through Cuban Americans to families in Cuba would have to be shut down.

In this way, the embargo would drive Cuba beyond the point of hunger to Eritrean-style deprivation. He said, Cuban Americans would in effect be condemning own relatives who have managed a margin of relative comfort, even wealth, through remittances.

My fellow traveler said: the embargo cannot be effective unless it drives their own families to ruin. Is that what Lincoln Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen and various Miami-Dade county commissioners and other aspiring Florida politicians want? Or do they just want to be re-elected? Havana knows the answer.

Miami — and the nation, by extension — shouts in an echo chamber on Cuba. It is clear Cuba will choose its own course, forward. Whatever hybrid emerges will not be dictated by Hialeah politics. the Latin Builders Association or its megaphones. US foreign policy to Cuba and the embargo have outgrown the purpose of Miami elections. Even Cuban American business leaders who reaped all the bitterness but none of the rewards — unless under-the-table violations of the embargo — must realize change is at hand if only they will listen.


In Arts, Blockade, Cuba, Cuban Embargo, Culture, Education on June 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Tomás Sánchez, “Hombre crucificado en Basurero”

Por Leonardo Padura Fuentes

Lunes, 16 de Abril de 2012


Un hombre, en la azotea de su casa, fuma con la vista perdida en un punto impreciso, lejano, quizás dentro de sí mismo a juzgar por la concentración con que observa. Apenas presta atención al cigarro que consume, absorto en su contemplación o, tal vez, meditaciones. Da una última calada al cigarro y, con gesto preciso, casi elegante, dispara al aire la colilla, propulsándola con sus dedos. La colilla, convertida por este vuelo final en un “cabo de cigarro” va a aterrizar en la terraza de los vecinos, junto a otras dos que ya había lanzado el pensativo fumador de la azotea.

A juzgar por el modo en que el hombre ha lanzado hacia su último destino la colilla del cigarro, se diría que lo ha hecho sin conciencia de su acto. Y tal conclusión sería acertada. El hombre, al subir a la azotea, no pensó por un instante en llevar consigo un cenicero, aunque no habría olvidado nunca sus cigarros yla fosforera. Comomismo lanzó el “cabo” hacia la terraza de los vecinos pudo haberla tirado en su propia azotea, pero como le gusta tanto el gesto de alejar de sí el resto final del cigarro, ha puesto en práctica su bien aceitada habilidad de colocarlo sobre el dedo pulgar y dispararlo con el índice. El hombre, en última instancia, ha actuado mecánica, irreflexiva, espontáneamente al enviar las colillas hacia la terraza de los vecinos: en dos palabras, lo ha hecho sin pensar demasiado y como si no le importara su acto ni sus consecuencias.

Pero el fumador de la azotea no ha estado en realidad tan absorto. Cuando más concentrado parecía estar en sus cavilaciones, de vez en cuando sus pies se han movido rítmicamente y sus labios han reproducido el sonido que, dos casas más allá de la suya, proyecta a todo volumen un reproductor de audio que regala a sus propietarios la melodía (es un decir) de un fañoso reguetón. Esos vecinos, cada día, a cualquier hora encienden el reproductor y disfrutan ostensiblemente de la música (es otro decir) del reguetón de moda. Los fines de semana comienzan la audición bien temprano en la mañana y la terminan ya avanzadala noche. Colocanel audio de su equipo en el máximo volumen que es capaz de emitir, pues así ellos disfrutan mejor del reguetón. Y lo hacen sin conciencia de lo que genera su acto.

Los vecinos del reguetón permanente ya se han acostumbrado a escuchar la música a toda hora y siempre al mayor volumen, y también se han adaptado a vivir respirando el hedor que, dos casas más allá de la suya, expele la cochiquera que otros vecinos construyeron en su patio y que, en verdad, limpian cada vez que pueden, aunque no pueden mucho pues el agua, en esa zona de La Habana, llega a las casas cada cuatro días y su escasez genera los consabidos problemas. En cualquier caso, desde su próspero chiquero esos vecinos regalan a la cuadra la fetidez generada por sus cerdos. Y lo hacen sin importarle demasiado los efectos que provoca su actividad (o inactividad higiénica), pues lo que más les preocupa es el crecimiento de los cerdos que, con su carne y grasa, les garantizan la existencia…

La cadena de desmanes pudiera ser seguida hasta el final de la cuadra, porque otros vecinos barren su casa y lanzan a la acera una basura que incluye deposiciones de sus perros; otro vecino parquea su moto en la misma acera (como están las cosas debe tenerla cerca, no se la vayan a robar) donde, cuando llega el agua, la friega, para tenerla reluciente, como a él le gusta, sin preocuparse por interrumpirle el paso a los transeúntes, menos por hacer correr la mugre y muchísimo menos por haber tirado a la calle la lata de cerveza que, exultante, ha bebido mientras pule su propiedad. Pero todavía hay otro que, como si fuese lo más natural del mundo, saca la basura, ya hediente, cuando acaba de pasar el camión colector; otro, aunque la basura y los cerdos apesten y la música del reguetón casi perfore tímpanos, capaz de colocar en plena acera un sillón de hierro para, en short y sin camisa, tomar la brisa (es un decir) y ver pasar a la gente… La cadena de desmanes, en realidad, no termina allí: cruza la calle lateral, también la frontal, y continúa, con similares o nuevas manifestaciones y se propaga por el barrio, el municipio, la ciudad, el país. Se mueve como una plaga, una pandemia, o peor aún, porque su origen no es un virus o una bacteria, sino algo mucho más intangible pero peligroso: es un estado de ánimo.

No creo, para nada, que Cuba sea el único país del mundo donde se produzcan manifestaciones de falta de urbanidad y respeto a la propiedad, el derecho y la privacidad ajena. Imagino (solo imagino) que algo similar puede ocurrir, digamos (solo digamos) en el devastado y analfabeto Haití,la pobrísima Burundi, o la superpoblada y tuberculosa Bombay. Tampoco pienso que estas actitudes sean nuevas entre nosotros. De alguna manera se practicaron en barrios insalubres y dejados de la mano de Dios, en zonas de alta concentración de personas y por consiguiente, de insultante promiscuidad. Lo que sí creo y pienso es que ese estado de ánimo caracterizado por la indolencia, la falta de conciencia en las consecuencias para los otros de los actos propios, la prevalencia de nuestros problemas (“Lo mío primero”, proclamaba el slogan oficial) y el desprecio por los conflictos y derechos de los otros, se ha entronizado en la vida cubana de un modo que ya ni siquiera calificaría de alarmante. Porque ha pasado a ser natural.

La crisis de los años 1990, durante los cuales la gente en la isla se jugó la supervivencia; el fraccionamiento de los estratos sociales que a partir de entonces comenzó a producirse y no ha dejado de crecer; los consabidos problemas en la educación con el éxodo de viejos y mejor formados maestros; las necesidades económicas permanentes en una ciudadanía que por el resultado de su trabajo obtiene un salario insuficiente para vivir; el quiebre de valores morales antes arraigados, entre otras, son las causas que han permitido, primero, el crecimiento de la marginalidad y, de manera mucho más abarcadora, la indolencia de las actitudes sociales, cotidianas y de convivencia de un porciento creciente de la población.

Si las razones muy concretas antes anotadas tienen un peso enorme en el proceso de generación de estos fenómenos, también habría que anotar como causa de su florecimiento la pérdida de autoridad que se ha vivido. Si bien es cierto que en la esfera política los controles se han mantenido con sus altos niveles de eficiencia, en la social se ha producido una distención en la misma medida en que el Estado no ha sido ni es capaz de garantizarles a los individuos todos los medios necesarios para hacer una vida segura y digna. El quiebre de esta relación introdujo la relajación, y la relajación, el crecimiento de la indolencia a través de la pérdida de las normas más elementales de urbanidad y convivencia que deben imperar en una sociedad que se considere civilizada, gobernada.

Uno de los vecinos de la cuadra de los primeros párrafos, que no lanza colillas, ni cría cerdos, ni agrede oídos con reguetones, ni friega su moto en la acera, más de una vez ha pensado en la alternativa de denunciar a los que incordian física, sonora, olfativamente su privacidad hogareña. Antes probó el recurso del diálogo con sus agresores, y alguna mejora consiguió, aunque debió sufrir la mala cara de los que se consideraban limitados en sus propios derechos (pongo música en mi casa, la acera es libre, vivo de los puercos, le dijeron) y presiente que un nuevo reclamo podría terminar en reacciones desagradables, incluso violentas. Por ello ha pensado en acudir a la única autoridad a su alcance: la policía. (Los hijos del delegado al Poder Popular son adictos al reguetón y también crían cerdos). Pero, luego de haber mostrado el rostro en sus reclamos previos, asume que los denunciados de inmediato sabrán el origen de la queja, y teme por las consecuencias. Además, ¿qué ley regula el mal olor?; ¿cuál es la medida de una música que moleste a otros?… Las perspectivas de la denuncia no parecen promisorias pues, además, supuesto el caso de la intervención policial (la autoridad), ¿qué ocurrirá cuando los agentes se alejen?… La piedra vengadora que le puede quebrar un cristal de una ventana ¿de dónde salió? (El metro cuadrado de cristal nevado anda por los 30 CUC, si lo consigues).

Mientras, el tsunami del fatal estado de ánimo sigue creciendo y propagándose. La muerte de las leyes existentes pero muchas veces no escritas de la urbanidad y la convivencia puede intentar resucitarse con actos punitivos, pero mientras no se llegue a la raíz, cualquier poda será una solución temporal. Y la raíz está en las condiciones de vida de las personas y en la educación.

Las crisis no solo alteran las estructuras de una sociedad. También afectan su salud. Y la sociedad cubana de hoy está enferma de indolencia, pérdida de valores, falta de respeto por el otro y ausencia creciente de urbanidad. Y los desmanes que genera esa insuficiencia siguen creciendo, diría que, lamentablemente, casi indetenibles.




Behind the wall

In Arts, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Culture, Design, LGBT, Politics, Travel, US on May 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Every two years the city of Havana gets a new makeup job. Not paint, and not cement. It’s a makeup job in the sense that it is unfortunately ephemeral but no less beautiful to contemplate and enjoy while it lasts. The Biennale of Havana is the makeup job I refer to and this year it has hit the town hard and is painting it bright red.

Artistic Practices and Social Imaginaries is the theme of this 11th Havana Biennial 2012 and most of the work present is made up of interactive groundbreaking concept art reminiscent of Alexander Calder back when he revolutionized the notion of art and movement as one.

Over one hundred artists from 45

 countries are sharing in this festival of graphic imagery, many in collaborative works, all taking over the streets, the pavement, buildings, scaffolding and breathing in from the energy of the city itself to create in some cases a city of their own.

“Behind the Wall” gives title to one of the more expressive and interactive of the exhibits which stretches along the Malecon Habanero, (Havana ocean front walk). Cuban artists of the younger more provocative generation living both inside and outside the island have chosen this part of town to show their work. Pieces that have in common the desire for peace, belonging, movement and acceptance.

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The Biennale will go on for a month from its inaugural date of May 11th. During this time, over 1,500 legal US visitors will be walking the streets of Havana partaking in the event, learning, and writing about the days they spend here. This year the Biennale is proving that art can create a bridge to bring people together on the common ground of beauty and self expression.

Arles del Rio “Fly Away”

Meanwhile, back home in the US, members of Congress are having a field day over a couple of visas granted to two Cubans. A couple of visas, TWO mind you, not 100, not even 200, just TWO. One was to the historian of the City of Havana and a world renown preservationist, Dr Eusebio Leal Spengler who also happens to be an honorary member of the French Foreign Legion and an invited speaker at the Brookings Institute. The other is Mariela Castro Espín, who is a sexologist, the director of the Center for Sex Education in Cuba and yes, well, her last names give her away, she is also one of the children of Raul Castro.

Neither Mariela nor Eusebio are travelling to the US to do proselytism on behalf of the “communist” regime. They are both visiting the US in regards to their fields of expertise, and because they were invited,  one to speak at  LASA “Latin American Studies Association” and the other at Brookings.

While members of Congress are insulting the current administration’s policy of reasonable and logical engagement with Cuba, and taking the Department of State to task over its decision to grant visas to a couple of Cuban citizens who happen to be academics other North American’s  are taking advantage of the Obama Administrations efforts to close the gap between both nations  by allowing travel and the parting in an artistic and scholarly  event that will help them better understand Cuba.


Rachel Valdés Camejo “…Happily Ever After…”

A Bridge-Building, Cross-Cultural Art Project That’s Also Delicious

In Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, Blockade, CENESEX, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Culture, Design, US on May 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm



From The New York Times

 HAVANA — It was at some point between the guava maki and the grilled sailfish with yuzu that Robert T. Coffland, an American art dealer who is normally reserved by nature, stood up and took off his shirt.Mr. Coffland had complimented his fellow diner, Renny Arozarena, on his floral-print top. Without hesitation, Mr. Arozarena, a Cuban actor, unbuttoned it and handed it to Mr. Coffland. The quiet American reciprocated.

“It was a magical moment of letting go,” said Mr. Coffland, who has a gallery that deals in traditional textiles in Santa Fe, N.M. “I hadn’t even had that much to drink.”

Such bursts of camaraderie were what Craig Shillitto, an architect and a restaurant designer, had in mind when he devised Project Paladar, a 10-day collaboration that pairs 10 chefs, most based in New York, with 10 Cuban chefs in a restaurant built for the event from shipping containers.

Each night, one pair cooks for a mixed group of Cubans and foreigners, mostly American, who sit at long, rough wooden tables. The event, which ends on Sunday, forms part of the 11th Havana Biennial, which began last Friday and runs for a month.

“We wanted people to be able to meet Cubans and eat with them, rather than just see them on the other side of a service counter,” Mr. Shillitto said. “I think some of the relationships that have been created here are going to endure for a long time.”

The project is named for the small, privately owned restaurants, called paladars, that have sprouted up around the country, especially since the government opened more space for private enterprise 18 months ago. Financing and supplies for the event came from private donors, Mr. Shillitto said; the organizers charged some of the foreign guests $250 each to help cover expenses, like the chefs’ travel costs.

The organizers made a point of seating Cubans, who could eat free, alongside visiting diners and said they had invited Cubans of all stripes, from museum curators to the welders who helped build the restaurant.

In a country where many rely on food rations to help get them through the month and the diet produced by state-run farms is a monotony of tubers and beans, the Cuban diners were impressed, puzzled and delighted by turns.

“This is exquisite,” said José Pablo Carrasco, a guitar player who was tucking into the sailfish cooked by Anita Lo, owner of Annisa in New York. “We are not used to eating like this here.”

“I liked that round thing, too,” he added.

The sushi? “The Chinese thing.”

Japanese. “Whatever,” he said. “It was delicious.”

The buzz about the gastronomic encounter apparently was not lost on the political elite. On Wednesday, Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly, and Nilsa Castro Espín, one of President Raúl Castro’s daughters, turned up for a dinner of braised rabbit with white wine and rosemary and Nesquik panna cotta with cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla and pine nuts.

While forging bonds between diners might have been easy, producing world-class food in Havana was not. Chefs brought their own spices, oils, cheeses and knives from America, but some were stunned to discover how hard it is in Cuba to get ingredients and kitchen supplies they consider basic.

“It’s impossible,” declared Eduardo Valle, sous-chef at Del Posto in New York, who deemed the pork in the markets so unpleasant he steered other chefs away from it.

Early in his stay, he went on a mission to procure fresh fish, a surprisingly rare luxury here. He was driven to a house somewhere in Havana — no idea where, he said — and was told to wait in the car. “It was like we were buying weapons,” Mr. Valle said. “Unbelievable.”

On the other hand, the New Yorkers were thrilled by the organic farms scattered around the capital. On a trip to buy supplies on Monday, Marco Canora, owner of the East Village restaurant Hearth, and Mr. Valle chewed on moringa leaves at an organic farm in Alamar, on the outskirts of Havana, and admired a trough seething with Californian red worms, which are used to produce compost. Ms. Lo said it was a question of adapting to what was available.

“People in New York are used to all their tomatoes being the same size with little stickers on them,” Ms. Lo said. “There’s totally food here. There’s just a little more dirt on the roots.”

As the week wore on, the talk turned to future collaboration. Elizabeth Grady, who curated the installation, plans to compile a bilingual book with a recipe from each chef involved.

Enrique Núñez, owner of La Guarida, who spent much of the week buying produce and planning menus with Doug Rodríguez, an American chef of Cuban descent, said the two had planned for Mr. Núñez to go to Mr. Rodríguez’s restaurant Alma de Cuba, in Philadelphia, for a similar exchange.

“This has been one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had with a chef,” Mr. Núñez said of Mr. Rodríguez. “It’s like we’ve known each other for years.”

As for Mr. Coffland, he came away not only with a nice shirt but also with some optimism that the exchange would help bring Cubans and Americans closer.

“It’s the small actions that sometimes have a huge impact,” he said. “That’s what builds ties between countries.”

La Definición…

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Culture, Politics, US on May 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Senel Paz escribió el cuento corto El Lobo, El Bosque Y el Hombre Nuevo también conocido como Fresa y Chocolate como parte de un proyecto más largo, una novela con el título preliminar La Catedral del Helado. El cuento corto le mereció el premio Juan Rulfo y luego los directores de cine Tomas Gutiérrez Alea (Titón) y Juan Carlos Tabío llevaron la obra al celuloide   convirtiéndola en la primera obra cinematográfica post revolución nominada a los premios Oscar en los EEUU en la categoría de película extranjera. 

El titulo para aquellos que nunca han estado en la Habana puede que resulte algo raro salvo que conozcan a alguien que les haya contado que en la capital de Cuba hay un edificio en el mismo centro de la ciudad inspirado en la catedral de Oscar Niemeyer en Brasilia, rodeado de vegetación tropical y con el único propósito de servir helado. Sabores como fresa, chocolate, vainilla y mantecado y muchos más. Senel no escribió un cuento sobre la obesidad ni los peligros dentales para los niños en edad de crecimiento, escribió sobre la intolerancia.  

Recuerdo bien los años en la Universidad de la Habana leyendo una copia presillada de la obra original El Lobo, El Bosque Y el Hombre Nuevo que me pasara una amiga luego de advertirme: “prepárate que esto ha armado un revolú en la Facultad de Derecho que ni te cuento!”. Me lo lei en una sentada y recuerdo que llore. Al fin alguien hablando de un tema que tanto daño le había hecho a tantos. El cuento aparentemente gira en torno a la homofobia pero eso es solo una arista, de lo que nos habla es de intolerancia a todos los niveles. 

Cuba desde 1959 ha transitado por numerosos estadios de intolerancia. Existen motivos más que suficientes pero no voy a detenerme en estos ahora. Comenzando con la primera oleada de emigración, seguido por el puñal trapero que fuera la Operación Peter Pan, luego vino el infame Quinquenio Gris, donde intelectuales y libre pensadores fueron llevados al banquillo de los acusados simplemente porque alguien decidió interpretar a su manera la frase “Con la Revolución todo, contra la Revolución nada”. Luego de eso vino la década de los años 70 donde aquellos que habían abandonado el país volvieron en son de paz para hallar que su patria abandonada los aceptaba mientras que la adoptiva no era igual de complaciente. A la par de esto nació la desconfianza dentro de la isla hacia los que se fueron y los que aceptaban como suyos a los familiares y amigos distanciados. Es una batalla que dura hasta nuestros dias. Es una batalla sin fin debido a que las partes son la misma cosa, son cubanos, y los cubanos por naturaleza son igual de jaraneros como lo son de testarudos.

Hace unos días apareció un artículo en el diario The New York Times, que es tan triste como ridículamente simpático, nos acerca a este tema. Ozzie Guillen, actual director del equipo de los Marlins de Miami, ha sido sancionado debido a que durante una entrevista para la revista Time dijo algo positivo acerca de Fidel Castro. Eso es algo que simplemente no se puede hacer en Miami aun si uno es jugador profesional de pelota y Venezolano. Dicho sea de paso, no la tengo cogida con Miami, estoy casi completamente segura que de haber sido el director de los Yankees de Nueva York o de los Cubs de Chicago le hubiera pasado lo mismo, el tema es que tratándose de Cuba en Miami siempre el escándalo es mayor.

Recientemente conocí a personas que bajo circunstancias habituales nunca hubiera tenido razón de tratar, pero las circunstancias nos juntaron. Somos tan distintos como el aceite y el agua, sin embargo debido a que de manera espontanea decidimos dejar la intolerancia a un lado, nos encontramos hallando soluciones bi-politicas, bi-partidistas, bi- cubanas, para resolver la realidad en la que llevamos tanto tiempo viviendo, una realidad que de una u otra forma nos ha definido. Básicamente, si naciste en la isla antes o después de 1959 y nunca has abandonado el país ni has tenido la intención de hacerlo, eres por definición un comunista y bueno o malo dependiendo del grado de tolerancia. La otra cara de esa misma moneda es  que si naciste antes o después de 1959 y vives en los EEUU, quedas automáticamente y por definición ubicado en el extremo contrario, en ambos casos una definición sustentada en la intolerancia y el odio, y le pido al lector que me perdone, pero sustentada en la estupidez.  

Los cubanos, los que gozan de sentido común, a cualquier lado del estrecho de la Florida son iguales a cualquier otro isleño, no se nos define fácilmente. De manera espontanea pasamos de marea baja a pleamar, nos movemos al ritmo de las fases de la luna, no se nos puede circunscribir a ninguna definición preconcebida políticamente conveniente.

Lo único que hay de “definitorio” en nuestra realidad es que continuamos arrinconados en el extremo de la intolerancia. Al “hombre nuevo” de Senel Paz aun le queda mucho camino por andar.

The unexpected curve

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Culture, History, Politics, Sports, US on May 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Major League Baseball is not my forte but I have been a fan since childhood thanks to my maternal grandmother and her intent on making sure I grew up as knowledgeable as possible about her favorite sport.

I was in New York then, so it was only logical that my “team” would be the Yankees. I have later learnt that “blue” is not exclusive to the Yanks, it is also the color of Cuba´s current “Yankee” equivalent, Havana´s Industriales team who like their predecessor Almendares, also wear blue.

During his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visit to Cuba last month, Andrea Mitchell of NBC was in Havana from where she graced the cities Cathedral with live shots for her daily television news show. Each live feed from Havana was produced with information on the Popes activities in Cuba and spiced with interesting aspects of today’s life on the Island and each aspect was accompanied by a healthy dose of US Cuba relations.

Andrea is a brilliant journalist who has a long standing relationship with the island and a woman of great savoir faire; she is also a baseball enthusiast who knows much about the sport, how important it is in Cuba and how entwined the United States and the Island are in it´s midst’s. It is because of this that I had the opportunity to meet a legend and I will forever be in her debt.

Cuba and the US are so close regarding baseball it could well be the greatest of all ironies. It is the national sport of the two historic enemies in the hemisphere. Granted, Cuba´s relationship to baseball stems from the beginning of the previous century when the island was nothing more than a neo-colony of the US, but in spite of this and of half a century of having to hear from detractors that this is something that separates us from the rest of Latin America, Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959 didn’t dream change the fact that baseball knows no politics when it comes to passion. Eliminating the sport from revolutionary Cuba would have provoked a revolution within the Revolution. So, it´s here to stay.

That is not the irony. The irony is actually embodied in a petit man who reached the ripe age of 101 this April 25th.

Conrado (Connie) Marrero, formally of the Havana Almendares is alive and well living in Havana.  He has lost his eyesight over the years but not his spunk or love of the game. He is lucid and well and can still spend hours talking baseball.

Marrero was one of Cuba´s and the US´s best pitchers of the day. He pitched curve balls to Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. He knew just how to pitch to Ted Williams who could see a ball coming a mile away.  In spite of his advanced years Marrero still recalls moments that for him are memories but for us they are an experience to cherish for a lifetime. As he recounted, “I was pitching a game against the Yankees and DiMaggio came up to bat. After a few really good pitches, some of my best, he hit one out of the park.”  Connie recalls “I went up to him after the game and said ¨Joe, you were really great today!´, and he responded, “Nah, Connie, I guess I was just having a good day.¨ and I said, ¨You crazy Joe?! ALL your days are great!” But when asked who he considers the all time best, Marrero didn’t skip a beat and responded, “They were all great! But the best of the best, in my opinion, was Babe Ruth.”

Marrero signed with the Washington Senators at the ripe age of 39 and given his 5 feet 7 inch 158Lbs frame, one can well understand why the then owner of the Senators, Clark Griffith, registered the unlikely “rookie” as being six years younger. He had his debut with the Washington Senators on April 21 of 1950 and took part in 118 games during five championships; he has been qualified as the oldest living former United States Major League player and he is a Cuban living in Cuba, today.

Conrado Marreros first MLB contract with the Washington Senators.

…therein lies the gist.

Cubas Minister of Culture Speaks of Populisms and Alternative Arts

In Arts, Cuba, Culture, Education, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos on December 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm


Alternative art...on fire???

Version en castellaño 


Cyberspace was heated up a couple of  weeks ago  over a particular incident involving a reggaeton song here in Cuba. Vladia Rubio took the opportunity during the closing ceremony of the International Workshop on Social Networks, to ask Abel Prieto, Cuba’s Minister of Culture and a writer and music lover in his own right about the genre, alternative arts and the arts in general, inclusiveness and elitism.  MAP

By Vladia Rubio

– To what extent should we adopt inclusive and non elitist attitudes, without risking blatant  populism, by which we end up with infamous characters with a shaky cultural foundation who later go around the world as representatives of Cuban culture? 

Abel Prieto

– I think that in topics like the one you approach, the song that’s been so criticized, the role of artistic critique is essential, so as to provide people with a strong sense of knowledge on the matter.  Because one of the biggest traps is to say ‘we’ll give people what they like’, accepting that this is a scenario that simply cannot be improved, modified; of course, wary of the cookie cut patterns. In those matters artistic critique plays an essential role, and I mean a criticism that while being specialized is accessible to young people.  We have to train that critic receiver, capable of consuming culture critically; that is one of the great priorities of any kind of cultural effort we attempt. 

– Alternative art seems to be in fashion as a concept. During this meeting on social networks a part of the debate rested on the concept that “alternative” was a trend towards subversion of power. How do you see Cuban art under  the label of alternative? 

– Cultural industries have become democratic. In the past you had to stand in line at EGREM (Cubas primary recording label)  to cut an album, or you had to present a script to ICAIC  (Cubas film institute) and wait for your turn so that they approved it and, later the possibility of a budget.  Today, you can make a movie and a CD in your home. New technologies favor forms that in the past were industrial. 

– But there are some who seek to take over the epithet of “alternative” to dig trenches in the antipodes of our social project… 

– That trap can also exist. Therefore institutions must have the flexibility, pay  enough attention, to the new creative processes that can be considered “alternative”. I don’t know  of any noteworthy artist in Cuba today   and I believe I’m very close to what’s being done in the provinces, who uses his or her art to attack the Revolution or follow a dissident path. I don’t know of a single one. 

Los Aldeanos as a group of alternative music has been polemic and interpreted from very different points of view. 

– I believe Los Aldeanos are revolutionary people, they were in the United States and maintained  a consequent attitude towards their reality here and there.  In their work, as in the work of many of our rappers, there is a social and ethical criticism related to what we must discuss in Cuba.  What we called “alternative”, that is, what is done in terms of art outside institutions, if it’s authentic, if it’s worthy, it should have a space in our cultural politics. I believe we must always recognize that the cultural organizations around the country have  been always  on the lookout for those areas of creativeness  that are born and grow outside the institutional framework. That is, the barriers will never lay in the  contents of the works, in a given message, but rather in mercenary activities hidden behind any given art form which  receiving money from our enemies pertain to present themselves as art or alternative art. 

…el amor en tiempos de colera…

In Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, CENESEX, Cuba, Culture, Education, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, LGBT, Politics, Social Justice on November 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Por  Alain Darcout Rodríguez para CENESEX

Lisandra y Lisbet son una pareja de lesbianas de más de ocho años de relación estable, los sentimientos que las unen quedan fuera de toda duda, toda vez que decidieron celebrar públicamente su amor en una ceremonia que simulaba el ofrecimiento mutuo de sus votos, o más concretamente, unas nupcias simbólicas, (1) idea que fue apoyada inmediatamente por el grupo FENIX, red social que agrupa a las mujeres lesbianas, bisexuales y heterosexuales que deciden luchar por la diversidad sexual en Cienfuegos.

Pretendían con ello celebrar los avances que en el plano legislativo representa que las modificaciones al Código de Familia, donde finalmente se reconozca la unión legal entre personas del mismo sexo, este ya en manos del Ministerio de Justicia, casi listo para presentar el proyecto de ley ante el pleno de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, y también, la políticamente muy relevante mención que el Documento Base para la 1ra Conferencia Nacional del Partido Comunista de Cuba, hace de forma explícita a la necesidad de enfrentar los prejuicios […] ante [la] orientación sexual […] que puedan originar cualquier forma de discriminación o limitar el ejercicio de los derechos de las personas…

Pero sus deseos sufrieron un pertinaz desengaño, primero, aunque se cercioraron con autoridades jurídicas del territorio que podían realizar la representación varias instituciones se negaron a prestarle el servicio de alquiler del local a pesar de estar incluido dentro de su objeto social, y solo el Grupo Empresarial Palmares de Cienfuegos apoyó la iniciativa y extendió un contrato para dicha celebración; pero a pesar de que la pareja actuó de buena fe declarando sus intensiones a la gerencia, pocos minutos antes de iniciarse la actividad, altos funcionarios de Palmares se personaron en el lugar para delimitar algunas exigencias sobre su ejecución, las cuales no realizaron cuando se firmó el contrato y cobraron el dinero en cuestión.

Dichas exigencias, si bien algunas no dejaban de ser lógicas preocupaciones (canalizadas en el momento más inadecuado) como que ellos eran una entidad estatal y no podían consentir que se hablara de matrimonio, boda, o cualquier otro sinónimo, entre personas del mismo sexo, toda vez que no estaba aprobado por las leyes y no podían cometer una ilegalidad, de pronto, empezaron a extenderse sin límites las proscripciones y mutilaron el guión del espectáculo eliminando desde una simbólica Marcha Nupcial hasta una inofensiva Ave Maria, llegando al punto de prohibir la utilización de cualquier palabra que hiciera alusión a la naturaleza de la bella relación de pareja de Lisandra y Lisbet… total, que al final resultaron ser dos “amigas” (aunque vestidas de novias) celebrando el amor, sí, el abstracto amor del cual todos somos  depositarios y ninguna de las personas LGBT concretos hacedores (lamentablemente aun para muchos que no comprenden esta realidad).

Ante los cuestionamientos del que suscribe esta crónica, Coordinador de la Redes Sociales por la Diversidad en el territorio y Presidente de la Comisión Provincial de Educación Sexual, sencillamente respondieron que eran indicaciones que tenían sin aclarar de quien o donde estaban plasmadas, y más, personalmente me acotaron que incluso si las veían muy “echadas” una encima de la otra ellos tendrían que sacarlas, todo lo cual tuvo una serena pero enérgica respuesta basados en la legalidad y el más elemental respeto a los derechos humanos, a lo que replicaron con una petición que puede resumirse en que al final si se toma lo acontecido como tema (es decir, si trasciende) la soga se romperá por la parte más débil (ellos) pues los demás negarían tal indicación, revelando la doble moral evidente en el discurso de algunos decisores.

Pero lo contraproducente ocurrió más tarde cuando ante el despliegue de la bandera del arcoíris para realizarse unas fotos recibimos la orden de guardarla, o peor, cuando ante el beso inocente de otra pareja, un custodio señaló que podían ser expulsadas del lugar por ese hecho; y otra vez, ante los requerimientos acerca de la justificación de tal proceder, un funcionario de Palmares replicó sin más: yo me acojo al derecho de admisión.

Me pregunto entonces si no es una ilegalidad precisamente que una entidad pretenda establecer normas internas que contravengan las propias leyes del país, porque en Cuba desde las modificaciones al Código Penal a fines de los años 90, la homosexualidad dejó de ser penada por la ley; entonces, como entender que una pareja del mismo sexo pueda expresarse su afecto mutuo, incluso con un beso, delante de un agente del orden (PNR) quien no puede detenerlos por eso pues no violan ley alguna y si puedan los custodios de una entidad de Palmares expulsarlos de un centro recreativo por la misma razón (¿?)

¿A que leyes se acoge Palmares cuando, según su sacrosanto derecho de admisión, pueden expulsar a una pareja del mismo sexo que este bailando “muy juntas” o tengan alguna muestra “inadecuada” de afectos o pueden negarle la entrada a una pareja del mismo sexo (sobre todo hombres, con las mujeres aplican una mirada discrecional, en mi apreciación personal) porque la entrada es por parejas “normales” o pueden negarle la entrada a un trasgénero cualquiera solo por vestir acorde a su identidad sexual?(2).

¿Se rige Palmares por regulaciones legales propias? ¿Ignoran que en nuestro país, como política de estado, se desarrollan históricas jornadas por la libre y responsable orientación sexual e identidad de género desde hace 5 años; se batalla por conquistar toda la justicia social posible, por cambiar todo lo que deba ser cambiado, lo cual tendrá expresión jurídica y tiene ya concreción política expresa? ¿No han discutido aun el Documento Base del PCC para su 1ra Conferencia Nacional?… ¿hasta cuando  tendremos que soportar humillaciones como estas?

Al final, estas libres interpretaciones acerca de la igualdad de derechos consagrados en la Constitución de la República, solo confirman la necesidad de proteger jurídicamente de forma expresa y positiva los derechos de las minorías sexuales.

(1)       Las parejas del mismo sexo no disfrutan las garantías jurídicas que pueda ofrecerles el Estado, entre otras muchas, por ejemplo, sobre el patrimonio construido conjuntamente, pues aun no existe ninguna legislación al respecto en Cuba.

(2)       En verdad, estas disposiciones discriminatorias ocurren en la mayoría de los centros recreativos, estableciéndose, cuando más, días específicos destinados para esta población o solo lugares determinados, política que continúa segregando y no favorece la inte

Great Houses of Havana

In Architecture, Arts, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Culture, Design, History, LGBT, Miami/Cuba, US on October 31, 2011 at 1:35 pm

A little bit of ancient Greece in Vedado. Photo credit Adrián Fernández

One of my favorite all time magazines, Architectural Digest, has had the good fortune to interview one of my favorite architects of all time, Hermes Mallea, a Cuban man of the arts and times who heads together with partner Carey Maloney the architecture and design firm MGroup based in New York City. Mallea has recently published a book entitled “Great Houses of Havana”. Over 100 photographs of some of the most beautiful places in the City of Havana, where on occasion time has stood still and in others it has flowed like a river gathering all that it finds in its path.

Click here (Architectural Digest) for more on the book and enjoy the marvelous photographs of Cuban photographer Adrian Fernandez, who is proving to have an extraordinarily sensitive eye for the immobile.