Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva rubricó ayer en Brasilia que el embargo internacional impuesto por EEUU contra Cuba comienza a ser papel mojado. Si el martes su portentosa influencia continental sirvió para que el club de países latinoamericanos abriera la puerta que cerraron en las narices a Fidel hace 50 años, ayer puso el Palacio Presidencial de Planalto a los pies Raúl Castro. "Esta recepción señala una definitiva reinserción de La Habana en el bloque latinoamericano, patrocinada por Brasil", aseguró el coordinador para América Latina del Grupo de Coyuntura Internacional de la Universidad de Sao Paulo (USP), Tullo Vigevani. El gesto de Lula abre una nueva era en América Latina y una carrera desaforada para convertirse en el primer socio comercial de Cuba. "¿Quieren que hagamos como los políticos de la Unión Europea, que se dan las manos y sonríen? Pero ellos no tienen las relaciones fraternas que nosotros tenemos", dijo el presidente cubano poco antes de iniciar la reunión bilateral con su homólogo brasileño. El trasfondo del encuentro fue exclusivamente económico. El ministro de Exteriores de Brasil, Celso Amorim, no ocultó que su país aspira a convertirse en el "socio número uno" de la isla y consideró "absurdo que haya tanta inversión de España, Francia y Europa, y casi ninguna brasileña". En la actualidad, el principal socio comercial y político de Cuba es Venezuela, con un intercambio de 3.000 millones de dólares anuales y millonarias inversiones. Brasil ocupa el décimo lugar, con 496 millones de dólares.
Reservas de petróleo
El anuncio del descubrimiento de cuantiosas reservas de petróleo en el sector cubano del Mar Caribe el pasado mes de octubre afiló los dientes del gigante brasileño del sector, Petrobras. Precisamente ayer, Lula y Raúl firmaron acuerdos para ampliar la explotación y prospección del bloque 37 de la Zona Económica Exclusiva cubana (ZEE) en el Golfo de México. La inversión brasileña será gigantesca. Ya lo aseguró Lula en el transcurso de la última visita que realizó en octubre a La Habana: "Si los resultados sísmicos son positivos y existe la posibilidad de que haya petróleo, despreocúpate Raúl, podrá estar a 500 metros de profundidad, a 700, a 1.000, a 3.000, a 7.000 metros (...), vamos a encontrarlo". Se excedió. La realidad es que Petrobras explora una vasta extensión de 1.600 kilómetros cuadrados con profundidades que oscilan entre 500 y 1.600 metros.
Simpatía hacia Cuba
Pero el esfuerzo de Lula va más lejos. Nunca ha escondido su simpatía hacia el proceso político cubano. "Como presidente de Brasil, todos conocen la pasión que mi generación tiene por la revolución cubana", dijo tras la reunión que mantuvo con Fidel en octubre. Y en la isla no están ciegos. Su diplomacia, enormemente cuidadosa en las relaciones latinoamericanas, eligió concienzudamente el destino del primer viaje oficial de Raúl Castro al extranjero: Brasil.
Esta semana, Lula ha vuelto a tener la oportunidad de lucirse como líder de consenso latinoamericano. Tras bendecir la victoria de Obama en nombre de todos los países presentes en la cumbre celebrada en la ciudad de Sauípe, su primera reacción fue volver a reclamar el fin del embargo estadounidense. "Vamos a crear en Cuba un parque industrial competitivo", dijo ayer el ya "compañero" Lula antes de levantar la copa y brindar por Fidel.
Castro propone canjear prisioneros
En un gesto inesperado tras reunirse con Lula, el presidente cubano Raúl Castro propuso ayer canjear a los “cinco héroes” de su país –ciudadanos de la isla encarcelados en EEUU bajo la acusación de espionaje, uno de ellos condenado a cadena perpetua– por disidentes presos en la isla. Para La Habana podría ser un excelente movimiento para desbloquear su tensa relación con Washington. “Que nos devuelvan a nuestros cinco héroes. Sería un gesto de ambas partes. Llevan diez años presos, fueron condenados a dos cadenas perpetuas. Y a los prisioneros de los que usted habla –en referencia a los presos políticos en cárceles cubanas– se los enviamos mañana mismo, con familia y todo”, aseguró el presidente de Cuba. Consultado sobre el embargo, señaló que su país no tiene ninguna urgencia en que lo levanten porque ha vivido así casi 50 años, pero reiteró su disposición a reunirse “cuando quiera y donde quiera” con Obama en cuanto asuma el poder el 20 de enero. Los expertos consideran que un levantamiento oficial del embargo traería beneficios para ambas partes. Para Cuba porque podría suponer la llegada a la isla de más de dos millones de turistas estadounidenses. Para EEUU, porque se le abriría el mercado petrolero.
Monday, December 29, 2008
But it makes no films about the Cuban resistance movement.
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
The Wall Street Journal, December 29,2008
Hollywood hotshot Benicio Del Toro is not a stand-up comic, but he seemed to be playing one earlier this month when he said he found the role of Cuban Revolution hero Ernesto Guevara, in the new film "Che," like Jesus Christ. "Only Jesus would turn the other cheek. Che wouldn't," Mr. Del Toro explained. Right. And Bernie Madoff is Mother Teresa, only she wasn't into fraud. With next month marking the 50th anniversary of the Castro dictatorship, it's no surprise that the film industry is trying to cash in by celebrating pop-culture icon Guevara. As one of Fidel Castro's lieutenants in the Sierra Maestra and a Castro enforcer in the years following the rebel victory, his name is synonymous with the Cuban Revolution.
Interesting films are hard to come by these days and "Che" is a good example of the problem. Rebel glamour sells T-shirts and coffee mugs so why not another airbrushed rerun of Guevara's life? Or, more precisely, some mythical version of it, sanitized for the mass market. Meanwhile the real marvel of the past 50 years in Cuba -- the steady stream of heroic nonconformists who have risked all in their aspiration to think, speak and act freely -- remains the untold epic of our time. If Mr. Del Toro's "Christ" comment is foolish, it's nothing compared to film director Steven Soderbergh's explanation of why we should care about Che. Bad things happen in society when "you make profit the point of everything," the movie director told Politico.com. Che's "dream of a classless society, a society that isn't built on the profit motive, is still relevant. The arguments still going on are about his methodology."
Putting aside for a moment the hilarity of Mr. Soderbergh's personal revulsion with profits, the "methodology" that he suggests is debatable is otherwise known as murder. Che had a "homicidal idea of justice," Alvaro Vargas Llosa explained in The New Republic in 2005, after researching his life. In his April 1967 "Message to the Tricontinental," Che spoke these words: "hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective and cold-blooded killing machine."
The results of Che's utopian agenda aren't much to admire either. As author Paul Berman explained in 2004 in Slate, "The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster."
The miserable Argentine was killed in 1967 in the Bolivian Andes while trying to spread revolution in South America. But his vision of how to govern lives on in the Cuba of today. It is a slave plantation, where a handful of wealthy white men impose their "morality" on the masses, most of whom are black and who suffer unspeakable privation with zero civil liberties.
There is something rich about the supposedly hip, countercultural Hollywood elite making common cause with Cuba's privileged establishment in 2008. Its victims -- artists, musicians, human-rights activists, journalists, bloggers, writers, poets and others deprived of freedom of conscience -- would seem to deserve solidarity from their brethren living in freedom. Instead, the ever-so avant-garde Soderberghs side with the politburo. The Cuban regime loves its apologists. They give cover and deflect international criticism while at home the regime brutalizes its people. Reports from the island are that since Raúl took over from Fidel in 2006, the repression has gotten worse.
Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Varela Project, which collected more than 11,000 signatures calling for free elections and civil liberties in 2002, says that in recent months there has been a crackdown, "with a fierce persecution against Varela Project activists, other members of the opposition, and the ongoing scandal of not freeing the prisoners of conscience."
Among Castro's captives is Oscar Elias Biscet, an Afro-Cuban doctor who is renowned for his commitment to peaceful resistance and is serving a 25-year sentence. Fifty-eight journalists, writers and democracy advocates rounded up in March 2003 also languish in Fidel's deplorable jails. The total number of political prisoners is not known but is undoubtedly much higher.
State security and rapid-response brigades -- aka thugs paid to rough up dissidents -- have been fully employed this year. But, despite the terror and the threat of imprisonment, the Cuban spirit still struggles for freedom.
At least five resistance publications now circulate in eastern Cuba. Thirty-two-year-old blogger Yoani Sánchez has been warned to keep quiet, but she still chronicles the ridiculousness of Che economics, giving a voice to ordinary Cubans who live lives of desperation. The Ladies in White -- wives, sisters and mothers of prisoners of conscience -- still walk quietly in Havana on Sundays. Rock bands mock the old dictator. This is the wonder of the revolution: Fifty years of state terror hasn't silenced the resistance. Maybe one day Hollywood will make a film about it.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008
Días atrás, en una de esas aberraciones que se publican con enfermiza frecuencia en los periódicos cubanos, y cuyo título no es preciso mencionar, se hacía referencia a las clínicas mutualistas, en las que antes de 1959 se prestaban servicios médicos a los socios que pagaban una mensualidad por ese derecho. En aquel enrevesado texto se presentaba esta variante de servicio de salud cooperativo como un privilegio de la medicina prerrevolucionaria del que solo podían gozar los que contaban con recursos medianamente elevados y al que las clases humildes no tenían acceso.
Me sentí verdaderamente sorprendida ante tamaño embuste. Yo no sé cómo serían las cosas en un pueblito perdido como Birán, lugar donde los más pobres campesinos cobraban de sus patronos salarios de miseria, gracias a lo cual vivieron con toda holgura y pudieron estudiar los campesinos ricos, hijos de esos propietarios; pero sí puedo asegurar que aquí, en la capital, toda mi familia mis abuelos, mis padres y mis hermanos, así como mis tíos y primos, éramos “asociados” de alguna clínica mutual; y ninguno de nosotros era hijo de terratenientes, ni siquiera de pequeños comerciantes o de propietarios de inmuebles, sino –como en mi caso personal- nieta de un humilde vendedor ambulante de café cuyos clientes eran, en su mayoría, los trabajadores de la Droguería Sarrá (Teniente Rey y Compostela, en La Habana Vieja) e hija de un obrero calificado y una ama de casa. Todos nos atendíamos en la clínica Acción Médica, ubicada en Coco y Rabí, Santos Suárez, donde nacimos mis hermanos y yo; por cierto, mediante cesárea, sin que esto significara un incremento de la cuota mensual (unos 2 pesos mensuales) que se pagaban por cada miembro asociado. El chequeo médico periódico que nos hacían allí estaba incluido en el pago de esa mensualidad, siempre había reactivos, equipos y materiales para cada examen y éramos atendidos por excelentes profesionales. En la mutual mi madre fue operada también de las amígdalas y de una apendicitis aguda cuando era niña; allí trataban a mi hermano mayor su asma bronquial. Éramos una sencilla familia de gente trabajadora en la que los mayores trabajaban y se ocupaban de garantizar la atención médica de sus hijos.
En verdad existían muchos cubanos pobres que no tenían esa opción, sobre todo en zonas rurales. Ahora, en cambio, todos tienen la posibilidad de que los atienda un médico pero no siempre tienen el acceso a las tecnologías correspondientes para la realización certera y eficaz de un diagnóstico o a las medicinas que requiere el tratamiento de su enfermedad.
Lamentablemente muchos jóvenes ignoran que medicina gratuita hubo en Cuba incluso desde la etapa colonial. De hecho, hospitales tan conocidos como el Calixto García, Emergencias o Maternidad de Línea, por citar ejemplos, brindaban atención gratuita y de calidad durante el período republicano; sin mencionar las Casas de Socorro, más cercanas a los barrios populares y en los que se atendían también gratuitamente hasta los más humildes. Ellos, y ciertos adultos desmemoriados (que siempre los hay), podrían dejarse engañar por las tergiversaciones de la prensa; aunque, inevitablemente, también podría llegar el día en que comprueben por sí mismos las lindezas de la medicina revolucionaria.
Las clínicas mutualistas fueron barridas por la revolución hacia la mitad de los años 60 y sustituidas por los policlínicos que en un principio, como todas las cosas en este sistema, ofrecían una atención eficiente y realmente cubrían cualquier servicio médico que se requiriera en lo relativo a atención primaria sistemática, cuerpo de guardia y urgencias; hasta que en un día aciago surgió la fatal idea de los consultorios del médico de la familia, verdadero epitafio para un sistema de salud ya moribundo. Porque, hoy por hoy -lo sabemos todos- el otrora flamante sistema de salud, orgullo y vitrina del régimen, se encuentra en un estado calamitoso.
No voy a mencionar, para no abundar con verdades de Perogrullo, el deterioro e insalubridad de los hospitales, policlínicos y consultorios de barrios. Quiero ser justa en reconocer que todavía existen en Cuba muchos médicos y otros profesionales de la salud, cuyo talento y buen trato para con los pacientes es incuestionable; pero también es hora de acabar con el mito de las “gratuidades”. Y afirmo que no es gratuita la atención ni la medicina porque desde el primer momento en que se asiste con un enfermo a cualquier consulta se inicia un angustioso, largo y costoso vía crucis: una parte del personal médico especializado está “cumpliendo misión” (eufemismo con que se designa a los especialistas cubanos enviados a prestar servicios en otros países, dicen que “hermanos”) lo que provoca aglomeraciones en las salas de espera de cada consulta ante la insuficiente cantidad de médicos disponibles para los nativos de la Isla; después resulta que muchas veces no hay reactivos para los análisis que se necesitan, o no hay material para los rayos X, o los equipos de ultrasonidos, de ecocardiograma o de resonancia están averiados y entonces quedan dos opciones: o se acude a una amistad que le “resuelve”, regalito mediante, en el único hospital en que funciona un equipo, o deberá esperar pacientemente (que lo único verdadero en este sistema es el paciente) su turno de ecocardiograma o de ultrasonido para dentro de dos o tres meses, si antes no sufre el infarto.
Añádase a esto la falta de medicamentos en moneda nacional que, sin embargo, sí aparecen en CUC, por lo que los galenos, una vez determinado un diagnóstico (a veces casi mediante bola de cristal), sugieren compasivos y en voz baja a los pacientes o familiares: Ve a ver si puedes comprar esto en las farmacias de CUC, en las donaciones que entran por las Iglesias o si algún pariente o amigo te lo manda “de afuera”. Y esto no es fábula. El pasado año, meses antes de la muerte de mi padre, fue preciso comprar pentoxifilina, el medicamento que le recetó la neuróloga, que solo lo había en las farmacias de los privilegiados a un costo de18.80 CUC (algo más de 450 pesos corrientes) por la exigua cantidad de 20 tabletas. Debía tomar tres tabletas diarias, así pues, calcúlese el precio del tratamiento. Eso sin contar el proceso de avance de su enfermedad, cuando necesitó una silla de ruedas, un levín para alimentarse, una sonda de uretra con su colector, un hule anti-escaras, agujas, jeringuillas, algodón, torundas, alcohol y otros medicamentos. Todos estos recursos, inexistentes en los centros de salud, aparecieron gracias a la infinita indulgencia de familiares y amigos que pudieron ayudar y no por las bondades del sistema de salud. No voy a mencionar tampoco el tema de los alimentos prescritos. Después de más de 47 años de trabajo de un obrero, el sistema médico revolucionario no era capaz de garantizarle ni siquiera la posibilidad de una muerte digna y medianamente gratuita. Hoy en Cuba, cada familia que tiene un enfermo grave o de cuidado debe convertirse forzosamente en un pequeño sistema de salud con los recursos que pueda agenciarse por sí misma.
Lo anterior no es una excepción, sino apenas una muestra. Me consta que el sábado 27 de septiembre de 2008, en la sala de terapia intensiva del hospital pediátrico de Centro Habana no había jeringuillas enterales, de las que se utilizan para pasar los alimentos por levín y que se venden –de plástico- en CUC a un costo de 2.85 (alrededor de 70 pesos corrientes) la unidad; dos semanas atrás asistí al insólito hecho de que en el Instituto de Gastroenterología de esta ciudad solo había disponible una silla de ruedas para el traslado interno de los pacientes; que en la ambulancia “especializada” que transportó a una familiar mía a ese centro no había camilla ni paramédicos, de manera que la ataron a una silla en la parte posterior del vehículo, tal como si fuera un costal de viandas; que acceder a una cama Fowler o a otros adminículos que humanizan la atención al paciente constituyen quimeras… La lista de miserias que pudieran aportar otros, con sus experiencias personales en cada caso, sería interminable y la respuesta oficial sería solo una: el bloqueo. Sí, es un bloqueo: un bloqueo sistemático y selectivo que golpea solo a los de abajo, porque los ancianos señores de la casta brahmánica insular, pese a que sabemos de algunos de ellos que están muy enfermos, jamás han sido vistos como pacientes en las sucias salas de espera u otras dependencias de nuestros maltrechos hospitales, aunque ahora fantaseen con lo contrario.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
La policía cubana ha detenido a un centenar de opositores esta semana en Cuba para evitar su participación en las marchas que conmemoraron el miércoles el 60º aniversario de la Declaración de los Derechos Humanos, según denunció la organización Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos (CCDH). La mayoría de los detenidos ya han sido puestos en libertad, anunció ayer el presidente de la CCDH, Elizardo Sánchez, quien denunció que la actuación del Gobierno había reventado la marcha convocada frente a la sede de la Unesco en La Habana.
Elizardo Sánchez afirmó que el Gobierno cubano ha lanzado "una nueva oleada de represión política" con "entre 60 y 100 detenidos". "Estamos todavía identificando los nombres, eso es normal, y hay que esperar a que eso se confirme", indicó Sánchez, tras explicar que el próximo lunes contará con un balance definitivo del número de arrestos. El presidente de la CCDH aseguró que las detenciones se produjeron en todas las provincias del país.
La disidencia cubana convocó el miércoles distintos actos que incluyeron una marcha de las Damas de Blanco, organización de mujeres familiares de los 75 opositores condenados en 2003; la manifestación en un parque ante la sede de la Unesco en La Habana y un acto de la organización Agenda para la Transición. La manifestación ante la Unesco fue abortada por la oleada de detenciones.
Damas de Blanco
Unos 30 miembros de Damas de Blanco desfilaron sin incidentes por La Habana con flores y camisetas impresas con el rostro de sus parientes detenidos. Laura Pollán, miembro del grupo, aseguró: "El Gobierno cubano es como una moneda: una cara es la que presenta al mundo y otra es la que presenta dentro del país".
El régimen cubano también llevó a cabo su acto conmemorativo del 60º aniversario de la Declaración de los Derechos Humanos, durante el que el ministro de Exteriores, Felipe Pérez Roque, aseguró que sigue "en proceso" la aplicación de los pactos -el de los Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales y el de Derechos Civiles y Políticos de la ONU- firmados por Cuba el pasado mes de febrero. Pérez Roque aseguró que el régimen comunista ha construido una "sociedad imperfecta" pero con "avances innegables".
By Mark Gonzales
December 12, 2008
During his two-day tryout last month in the Dominican Republic, Dayan Viciedo's weight was a bigger concern to several major-league scouts than his ability to hit a breaking pitch. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen shared those concerns after he saw the 19-year-old Cuban third baseman on television. To quell those worries, Viciedo plans to start a workout program next week in Florida with countryman and Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez in an effort to make a strong impression in spring training.
"I did hear Ozzie's commentary," Viciedo said Friday in a conference call shortly after the Sox announced his signing of a four-year, $10 million contract. "I have some work to do before I get to spring training." The 6-foot-1-inch Viciedo said he weighs 246 pounds but wants to get down to 230 before reporting to camp in late February. A National League scouting director who raved about the youngster's hitting ability said Viciedo had lost 14 pounds before working out in front of about 100 major league scouts at the Sox's and Yankees' Dominican academies. The scout projected him as a first-round draft pick.
"We wanted him pretty badly," the scout said. "I was impressed by the way he ripped breaking pitches." A scouting director for an American League team said Viciedo's hitting ability would make him a "top-three pick" if he were in the amateur draft. But for Viciedo to have a reasonable shot to compete at third base against leading candidate Josh Fields, he'll have to report in shape, as Guillen pointed out last week.
Viciedo likely will start the season in the minors but said he would play anywhere he is asked to in an effort to help the Sox and advance his chances. He cited the success and comfort level of fellow Cubans Ramirez and Jose Contreras, along with a contract that includes a $4 million bonus, as reasons for signing with the Sox. "[Ramirez's] success made me extremely happy," Viciedo said. "Cuban baseball, I feel, is good baseball. We have good players in Cuba. His success has motivated me to work a little harder, and I feel with him and his motivation and what he did last year, I can also be successful."
An NL scouting director who watched Viciedo's workouts believed he would start at Double A but could advance quickly if he continued to hit for power and polish his fielding. Viciedo will receive contracts worth $1 million in 2009, $1.25 million in 2010-11 and $2.5 million in 2012.
Viciedo gained notice internationally at 15 when he was named the most valuable player of the world junior championships in Mexico. He batted .296 with 32 home runs and 123 RBIs in 233 games over the last three seasons with Villa Clara of the Cuban League and posted a slugging percentage of better than .500 in two of his three seasons in Serie Nacional, Cuba's top-level league. The Sox also signed outfielder Dewayne Wise to a $550,000 contract, leaving closer Bobby Jenks as their only unsigned arbitration-eligible player.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Chicago Tribune, December 12, 2008
By Mark Gonzales
The White Sox announced the signing of 19-year-old Cuban third baseman Dayan Viciedo to a four-year, $10 million contract and also agreed to terms with outfielder Dewayne Wise on a $550,000 contract. Viciedo will receive a $4 million bonus and will earn $1 million in 2009, $1.25 million in 2010 and 2011 and $2.5 million in 2012. The signing of Wise leaves closer Bobby Jenks as the Sox's only arbitration eligible player.
Chicago Tribune, December 12, 2008
By Mark Gonzales
Dayan Viciedo looks forward to several challenges now that his four-year, $10 million contract with the White Sox became official Friday. The 19-year-old Cuban third baseman knows he needs to lose 16 pounds, give or take a few ounces, before spring training starts in mid-February. "I feel like at 230 I'll be at a very good weight," the 6-foot-1 Viciedo said Friday on a conference call with reporters. "Two-thirty is the target weight."
Viciedo said the knowledge of having two fellow Cubans in Alexei Ramirez and Jose Contreras on the Sox's roster swayed him toward the Sox. He will start workouts next week in Florida with Ramirez, who will help acclimate him to the United States. Viciedo said he also is motivated by the fact that Josh Fields has the inside track at starting at third base. "It motivates me to go to spring training and give everything I have," Viciedo said. Viciedo has been projected by several scouts as a first baseman or designated hitter, but he has worked out in right field and said he will play any position asked.
Viciedo, 19, played three seasons with Villa Clara in the Cuban League, batting .296 (237-801) with 32 home runs and 123 RBI in 233 games. Viciedo compiled a .500-plus slugging percentage in two of his three seasons playing in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top-level league. Viciedo hit .294 (52-177) with 10 home runs and 38 RBI in 57 games with Villa Clara in 2007-08. He was named to the CL All-Star Team during the 2005-06 season after hitting .337 (109-323) with 14 home runs, 58 RBI and a .542 slugging percentage. At age 15, Viciedo was named Most Valuable Player of the World Junior Championships in Villahermosa, Mexico. Viciedo declined to address issues regarding Cuba, the country he defected from last summer.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cuban authorities arrested more than 30 people in the days leading up to International Human Rights Day this week, a New York-based human rights watchdog said Thursday. Human Rights Watch cited press reports and Cuban human rights groups as saying many of those arrested were trying to travel to Havana for marches on December 10, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The Cuban government should immediately and unconditionally free the dissidents who have been arbitrarily detained in recent days," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from the Cuban government, but Havana labels dissidents "mercenaries" in the pay of the United States, which has maintained sanctions against the Communist-run island for more than four decades. Washington openly works with Cuban dissidents. The statement said some of those arrested had since been released and it was not known how many remained in detention. Rights groups say Cuban authorities have in the past briefly held dissidents planning protests.
Around 30 family members and supporters of dissidents jailed since 2003 marched through Havana Wednesday to mark the rights day. Another planned protest in the capital was canceled, but it was unclear why. Havana recently signed two U.N. accords on civil and political rights and the European Union in June voted to lift sanctions imposed on Cuba after the 2003 arrest of 75 dissidents. Around 50 are still in jail. Foreign Minister Felipe Perez said Wednesday Cuba would undergo a review by a U.N. rights council earlier next year. The local Cuban Commission for Human Rights, which is illegal but tolerated, estimates there are around 200 people in prison for political reasons. The group said Wednesday around 50 people were detained this week to prevent them attending events and meetings in Havana.
(Reporting by Claudia Parsons in New York and Patrick Markey in Havana, Editing by Anthony Boadle)
Thursday, December 11, 2008
“The government of Raul Castro is arresting human rights advocates for wanting to celebrate a declaration of human rights—it’s business as usual, the new boss is the same as the old boss,” said Sarah Wasserman, Chief Operating Officer of the Human Rights Foundation. “For a country that denies violating human rights, this is the epitome of hypocrisy; it’s evident that the Cuban government’s signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to notable pomp, circumstance, and self-congratulation earlier this year was just window-dressing.”
Civil society leaders around the island planned a number of peaceful activities to commemorate International Human Rights Day, including street marches, congregations in public and private spaces, and the distribution of copies of the UDHR text. In an attempt to prevent these activities, officials from Cuba’s security apparatus arrested likely participants from around the country.
Human rights activist and former political prisoner Lazaro Alonso was detained this Tuesday while walking home with his wife Belinda Salas, president of FLAMUR (Latin American Federation of Rural Women) and leader of the campaign “Con la Misma Moneda.” Eight policemen intercepted Salas and her husband at around 1 p.m. and physically beat them, arresting Alonso and leaving Salas unconscious on the street. She has not heard from her husband since then, and Cuban authorities refuse to disclose his whereabouts.
Last week, award-winning blogger Yoani Sanchez was forbidden from participating in a bloggers’ meeting she had spent six months organizing.“These are not isolated incidents but part of the continuing decades-long campaign of harassment and intimidation perpetrated by the Cuban state against citizens that aspire to enjoy the individual rights the Cuban government claims to respect,” said Wasserman.
Such repression is in clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in Article 20 of the UDHR and Article 21 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Cuba signed the latter in February of this year. What many observers hailed as a symbol of positive change in Cuba, however, has meant little for those living there. A formal request by 13 civil society groups, spearheaded by the National Cuban Liberal Party (PLNC), asking the government to publicize the ICCPR and discuss its contents in a public forum has received only government intimidation as a response.
“If the Cuban government wants to demonstrate improvement on human rights, it should start by honoring its international commitments by respecting the rights of human rights defenders to celebrate Human Rights Day,” concluded Wasserman.
After more than 48 hours of illegal detention, Lazaro Alonso has been freed, badly bruised.
HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Armando Valladares, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Sarah Wasserman, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Domingo, 07 de diciembre de 2008
Entre los días 5 y 6 de diciembre han empezado a realizarse los primeros intercambios de un taller de conocimientos entre personas que mantienen blogs en Internet desde la Isla y otros interesados en acercarse a este medio.
Concebido desde sus inicios como un itinerario de estudio con varias etapas, el encuentro se vio privado de su sesión inaugural porque agentes del Ministerio del Interior citaron a algunos participantes para anunciarles, de manera oficial, que se les prohibía asistir a la inauguración en la ciudad de Pinar del Río. No es posible ofrecer una prueba documentada de esta prohibición porque dichos agentes se negaron a confirmarla por escrito.
Pero la libertad halla caminos que la represión no encuentra. Por eso los participantes del taller, fieles a su opción por el diálogo y la búsqueda de alternativas viables, acuden a otras modalidades para iniciar el itinerario sin tener que trasladarse físicamente de un territorio a otro.
Han sido varios los temas iniciales: Apuntes generales sobre una bitácora animado por Yoani Sánchez, donde se abordan cuestiones técnicas relacionadas con los programas informáticos apropiados para un blog; La redacción en un blog propuesto por Reinaldo Escobar, donde se debate la aplicación de las normas periodísticas de redacción al nuevo lenguaje del ciberespacio , y finalmente La ética blogger donde Eugenio Leal introduce conceptos relacionados con la conducta ética en esta novedosa forma de transmitir ideas e información. Los textos debatidos y otros que surjan se publicarán en un sitio web.
Los intercambios de experiencias se produjeron en un clima informal, de respeto por las opiniones distintas y de debate propositivo. Promovieron esta experiencia los colaboradores de la revista digital Convivencia (http://www.convivenciacuba.es ) y del portal Desde Cuba (http://www.desdecuba.com ) entre otros.
Estos primeros pasos constituyen una auténtica gestión de conocimientos. Entre las iniciativas sugeridas está la de redactar por los participantes una convocatoria para un concurso de blogs cubanos, que se lanzará para el año 2009. Estas nuevas variantes de itinerario de estudio sobre bitácoras cubanas permanecerán abiertas a todos los interesados.
6 de diciembre de 2008.
Right-handed pitcher Yadel Marti and OF Yasser Gomez were dismissed. Two people close to the team said the pair was caught trying to defect to the U.S. Marti was named the top pitcher at the inaugural World Baseball Classic
HAVANA (AP) November 21, 2008 -- Ace pitcher Yadel Marti and star outfielder Yasser Gomez have been thrown off Cuba's top league team for "a grave act of indiscipline," likely ending their hopes of playing in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
The one-sentence announcement on Friday in the Communist Party newspaper Granma offered no details on why Marti, picked to the all-tournament team at the 2006 WBC, and Gomez, a former Olympian, were released from Havana's Industriales.
Two people close to the team said the action came after the pair was caught trying to defect to the United States. The two people spoke on condition of anonymity and did not elaborate, fearing it could lead to problems with the Industriales.
Marti was 1-0 with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in 12 2-3 innings during four games in the inaugural WBC, when Cuba finished second to Japan.
The right-hander joined Daisuke Matsuzaka and Chan Ho Park as the all-WBC pitchers. Marti and his teammates were welcomed home as heroes after the event, climbing aboard a convoy of green military jeeps and parading through Havana's streets.
Marti talked publicly about how Cuba would seek revenge during the 2009 WBC and he was expected to again be one of the national team's stars in the tournament this spring. But Friday's announcement virtually guarantees neither he nor Gomez will play baseball for Cuba again in any capacity.
The 29-year-old Marti began his career with the island's top baseball league in 1999 with the Metropolitanos of Havana, the capital's second-tier squad. He was a short, thin prospect who scouts thought did not have the physical stature to become a star, but his excellent control and craftiness on the mound helped him win a spot on the Industriales in 2002.
The 28-year-old Gomez is a left-hander who batted third slot in the Industriales' lineup and hit .394 in 2007. He began playing in Cuba's top league as a teenager and was part of the Olympic team at the Sydney Games in 2000, which took the silver medal. He was left off Cuba's 2006 WBC squad.
Both Gomez and Marti failed to secure spots on the Cuban team that finished second at the Olympic Games in Beijing, absences that surprised many in baseball circles.
Gomez had lived in a Havana apartment building adjacent to the aging stadium where the Industriales play. The building is full of players and their families and painted in the colors of Industriales, blue and white, with a script "I" logo. He moved to a new apartment in the capital's Vedado district sometime ago, however.
Marti has a home in another part of the city, but did not answer his home or cellular phones on Friday. The Industriales refused to comment.
Like many elite Cuban athletes, baseball players draw small salaries and often travel by bus, but have some perks the general population does not, including the use of a state-owned car or the right to purchase their own vehicle. The government does not consider its baseball players professionals, but the island's National Baseball League is far-and-away the most-followed in this baseball-mad country.
The Industriales are the class of the league. The team has first choice of the top baseball talent born in and around Havana and vies with Santiago, the island's second-largest city, for the largest and most-devoted fan base.
It was the team of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who was the most famous player on Industriales and in Cuba when he defected to the United States, eventually winning a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1998.
Livan Hernandez, the 1997 World Series MVP for the Florida Marlins, was also a star of the team before fleeing the island. Rey Ordonez was an Industriales backup shortstop before becoming a three-time Gold Glover with the New York Mets.
Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
for National Geographic News
December 9, 2008
Stone idols collected over the last two years at an archaeological site in Cuba were manufactured from exotic imported material for elite Indians, according to U.S. and Cuban researchers who announced their finds this week. The relics, combined with new translations of Spanish colony "newspapers" from the 1500s, help paint a picture of the Indian populations that Christopher Columbus encountered during his first voyage to the New World in 1492.
(Watch related video: "Columbus' 1492 Journey Continues to Spark Controversy" [October 5, 2006].)
In recent years, archeologists have worked to map the size and location of residential areas at the El Chorro de Maita site in hopes of learning how Cuba's Arawakan Indians were affected by Spanish conquest, said Jim Knight, a University of Alabama archaeologist who supervises work at the site.
Stone Idols a Status Symbol
In the process of mapping, Knight and his colleagues happened upon several thousand pottery and stone artifacts, including the small stone idols. "They took exotic, fine-grain metamorphic rocks and gradually reduced them into forms that look very crude, but you can tell that the intended product was an [idol]," said Knight, whose work is funded in part by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
"We know now that the society had an elite class and that the crude idols were meant for the elite," he said, adding that the idols were human-shaped figures representing gods and were likely worn on necklaces. The origins of the unusual stone are unknown, but it was probably imported, Knight said. Columbus's voyage landed him in northeastern Cuba, where researchers say he would have encountered Arawakan Indians. While Knight said there is no evidence that Columbus visited El Chorro de Maita, the researcher is certain that the settlement was occupied by Arawakans, who were organized by chiefdoms. They were an agriculturist people, reliant on root crops instead of corn, but there is a lack of specific information about names of tribes and their specific locations, according to Knight.
Translating the "News"
To complement the findings at El Chorro, researchers are using historical documents—including handwritten materials made by Spanish colonizers of Cuba. The documents are written in a barely recognizable form of Spanish that today few people understand, Knight said. But they are rich in information, he adds. One 16th-century document, for example, offers a detailed inventory of an early Spanish colonizer's possessions. John Worth, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of West Florida, is analyzing the documents, which are housed in Spain. "I'm trying to sort through the details of how this all took place," Worth said. "The sources are excellent with respect to the broad generalities of what happened during the 1500s and 1600s and later, but they are generally not specific enough to be able to zero in on the Chorro site in particular."
Worth said he hopes the old documents will provide clues to how long Cuba's Arawakan culture may have survived post-conquest. "Right now there is a lot we don't know, such as the exact names of the people who lived near the Chorro site," Worth said. "We want to know if there were pure indigenous populations versus pure Spanish or if there was a mixing ground during this early period." Researchers also want to know if the Cuban Indians went extinct without descendants or if there was a gradual process as native groups were given a type of autonomy that led to mixing, Worth said. "While living there, for instance, did they work on Spanish plantations? Did they die or become more assimilated?" The documents mention encomiendas—or colonial labor systems imposed by the Spanish crown during the time of the conquests. And Worth has found references to specific chiefs.
"If possible, I would like to be able to identify the original group name of those who lived in the vicinity of El Chorro de Maita and to then find out precisely where each chiefdom might have been located," he said. "This project is an example of how the integration of archaeological and historical research allows more balanced perspectives on the contact between Europeans and indigenous communities of the Caribbean," said Marcos Martinón-Torres, a researcher with the Institute of Archeology at the University College London who is not part of the study. "Rather than using potentially biased European texts alone, the combination of sources allows more nuanced perspectives where both Europeans and indigenous peoples are represented."
Dennis Blanton, curator of Native American archeology at Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia, was not part of the Cuba dig. Blanton said the work provides an opportunity to do cross-cultural comparative studies of native chiefdom societies in Cuba and elsewhere in the world, including the eastern United States. The work also provides added insight into 16th- and 17th-century Spanish activity in the New World, Blanton said. "We're curious to see how Spanish policies changed over time," he said. "This work provides a wonderful opportunity to see how they were conducting themselves in the midst of native people at the very beginning. This is probably an unprecedented glimpse at 'chapter one' of the Spanish encounters."
© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
One spring in New York City, I visited with famed Puerto Rican singer and percussionist, Choco Orta. ' You have to hear this CD', she said and proceeded to play a CD by Havana's Pedro Luis Ferrer. I was hooked on his harmonies, voice, and guitar playing immediately. During my next trip to Havana, I found the Maestro for an interview.
Nueva Trova singer, composer and musician, Pedro Luis Ferrer is from Yanguaji in the old province of Las Villas. He is self-proficient, with his own recording studio at home. Sitting in the air-conditioned studio, we talked. But first, coffee was made, as Ferrer is a 'cafetero' and smiles warmly as his daughter, Elena, who also sings with Ferrer, brought coffee and joined us.
Q:Tell us about your music and history,
Pedro Luis Ferrer: I am a Nueva Trova musician. By Trova, I mean the type of music I write. Popular music that encompasses the most affective types of feelings in songs to concert music as well. I write music for piano, guitar, orchestra and symphonies. In general, I have a great deal of interest in music, but I consider myself to be a pop musician, because the way I like to project myself is precisely, in one way or another, to be able to communicate with the masses, although I do concede that the elite classes exist". I believe that the masses transform themselves with time, however, within that population mass there are sectors who attend to more important matters. Sometimes I write music that later I find out, doesn’t really assimilate with the interests of the masses. I started working as a professional musician in 1970, I worked with several bands, some of which were as a hobby, they didn’t really have any professional possibilities. Then I started working as a solo artist in the eighties with my own band. It was actually a group of accompanying musicians. I’ve always presented myself this way since I’ve been working solo. I consider myself to be a troubadour since I compose and sing with the guitar. The guitar is any instrument I really like, not only to accompany me, but also as a concert instrument.
Q: Did you study music in school?
PLF: I am self-educated. Even though I have studied music a lot, and consider myself to be knowledgeable in music, I think of myself as self-taught, because truthfully, I am not an academic musician. I’ve had several professors who have helped me out.
Q: Are there any influences that perhaps originate from your family?
PLF: Yes, in my family I have uncles and my father...I consider them to be great poets — they wrote poetry. I had aunts who were music professors as well. My family was always involved with art and I believe that somehow that always shapes they way we become. It’s not the most decisive factor, because within that same environment there are also family members who don’t have an artistic calling. My background, as I said, is self-educated, although I’ve been shaped, I believe, very seriously within the music scene. I’ve studied music, I’ve studied staff, composition, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, anything that is related to music of any form I’ve studied it, and without praising myself, or saying that I am a better musician than anyone - that is not even the case - but I cannot say that I improvise without any knowledge, that is the truth
When I was a child, back home, my uncle was a music composer. He was an excellent composer within his era — back in the forties. And I learned from watching my uncle write poetry, and from my father writing poetry, and from my uncle writing songs I learned to write songs as well. I always had, from an early age, a creative calling, let’s say. I’ve always liked to be able to express how I felt, or what I wanted to say through music. Some people like to sing what other people write. I wanted to have my own version of the world. I felt I had things to say, and I started saying them. At first it was with a lot of errors, it was missing a few things, let’s say, but little by little life gave me a bit of maturity. It was a fairly critical environment in my own family, because my uncle Raul, for example, who was a poet, well, he never forgave even a gesture which he might have considered not done adequately. And things like that are important. Having people who are close to you who don’t allow you to fall in love with the garbage you create. That teaches you to be more selective and to understand that, even though perfection is not possible, there is a way to get close, and you have to strive to reach them. I do believe that family, in this case, I was lucky to have them close by, and also, later, to have close friends as well. I met people who helped me out a lot. They also instilled in me a critical spirit towards the things I created. And today I continue to be the same way; it takes me a while to fall in love with the things that I do, even though I love what I do. When I do finish something I do fall in love with it, but it’s not easy for me to fall in love with it since I have a critical sense of the things that I actually do.
Q: I don’t know much about the history of Nueva Trova. How did this movement begin?
PLF: Nueva Trova. I have a point to make about this issue. First of all, I believe that Nueva Trova comes from origins such as Silvio [Rodriquez], Pablo [Milanes], Noel, Vicente Feliz, and maybe one or two others. It is an aesthetic movement that evolved with the creative elements of Silvio and Pablo Milanes. I believe that they are the ones who truly defined the esthetics of what is now known as Nueva Trova. After that, everything has been defined as Nueva Trova. So what happens? Let me give you a bit of history: in Cuba, people develop Cuban history and they forget that Cuba was once Spain — Cuba became a nation at the beginning of last century, precisely because of the intervention of the United States during the war. Cuba used to be Spain. You can say that Cuba came to be at the beginning of last century practically, and before that, Cuba’s history was, in one way or another, Spain’s history as far as cultural issues and everything else is concerned. The influence of our culture or the formation of our culture initiates from African elements which resided in Spain’s intention to bring Africans to Cuba — slaves. And from that Spanish culture we get our guitar influences. When we became an independent nation from Spain, life went on, and the guitar became a "Cubanized" element, so to speak. And there was a great tradition of music composers who mainly wrote with the guitar. I believe that [the guitar] is a constant element in our culture the way Trova was and always has been, since it is a part of our culture, as it is part of the culture of many places of the world. There are definitely many troubadours in the entire world. It is Cuban because we took it over, in a sense, but only for that reason. We did not invent it, and we’re not the only ones who write music using the guitar. And when the revolution succeeded, a Nueva Trova concept was developed. I believe that starting from everything that young people wrote with the guitar, after the revolution, in one way or another, was placed under the Nueva Trova category. A lot of people composed, emulating the styles of Yalun Sanza, Pablo and Silvio, and what was to become — I mean, emulation, was diluted with esthetics and essential elements [of music]. I believe that those who truly set the standards for esthetics were Silvio, Pablo and Noel as part of a movement which had been done previously by Jose Antonio Mendiz and Portillo de la Luz during the feeling movement. There were a lot of people who contributed to the feeling movement, however, it was Jose Antonio Mendiz and Portillo de la Luz who jump started that movement. And these are aesthetic movements that have developed naturally within the music genre, which now, after the revolution, has been branded as Nueva Trova. So, there’s Nueva Trova, little Trova, and all of those diminutives, and I think that this modernized denomination has taken away from the fact that within music, as it happens in Trova, there continues to be aesthetic movements. There is no reason to give them the same names because they're different [and] independently, everything is related. All of the Trova that is written today might be related to the Trova that was written at the beginning of the century because of one simple fact, as a poet once said, "you can’t pull the weeds from the ground without shaking the last star in the horizon" — everything is related. But only for that reason. So I believe that Nueva Trova existed as such, and continues to exist. However, there are many other aesthetic movements within the Cuban musical artistry that have been, or have been assumed to be viewed under the same scope, and have been incarce¬rated in a vision that doesn’t seem to be adequate to me because the essence of things is lost. It is not the only movement that existed and it will never be. And that has been a fact overseen by many, and has even caused great harm to its artists when they have been classified as Nueva Trova, and they are not. It is related to the past, it is related to Silvio, Pablo, Sindo Arai, with the the entire world, but a person always has a relationship to the past. It’s impossible not to. But that’s another aesthetic movement. I think there have been various movements within the Cuban musical artistry that are still being defined within the same genre. That’s what I have to say about that subject. I do believe that Nueva Trova exists and that Silvio, Pablo and Noel are the keys to that movement. And there were plenty of people who imitated them somehow, and there was a push to create a massive movement, but those are, sometimes, considered to be political perspectives. And it is a political issue also because ideological issues were combined with esthetics, when ideology is only an ingredient of the aesthetic. Ideology and esthetics cannot be held at the same level when ideology is just an ingredient of the aesthetic and that’s it. Some factors of the art were portrayed as over dimensional, and overstated issues were developed out of predominant interests, purely political interests, they have nothing to do with art, esthetics or anything. Now, I do recognize that there was a movement, and I believe that Silvio’s work was similar to Pablo Milanes’s but I believe that they are the base and the ones that can truly be defined as Nueva Trova. With everything else there has been a great diversity of possibilities and none of the musicologists, aesthetic professionals or anyone has gotten to the point and attempted to clarify these issues. And you continue to see this, because not even in the times of Silvio and Pablo were there ot;her things taking place in song and music here.
Q: What was your part in this movement?
PLF: I’ve never liked to define myself because, first of all, those definitions are unimportant. I come from a creative perspective. I want to be an artist and a composer. And more than a creator, a recreator. That is what interests me. I don’t care about those definitions, I can belong to all of them, they can classify me in all of the categories, they can put me in anything they want to, because that is none of my business. I’m not here to get involved with that, I’m here to do my work, and my work doesn’t follow organizational ideals of any kind. My work follows my personal intentions as a man, because my vision is what must be, and like I said, I am the artist. I am an artist. It’s not even about what’s going on in the world, it’s about me, in order for the work to be mine and I can provide my vision to people around me. To help people on that quest, on that end to diversify the vision of how the world is seen and to expand the horizons of their imagination and their spirituality. That’s who I am. It’s possible that someone wants to associate me with the Nueva Trova movement. And if they want to do that, hell, great! I feel really important! (laughter) They want to associate me with symphonies, awesome! I am really good!
Q: Speaking of which, did you play and sing with the symphony?
PLF: Well, I like music, generally speaking. I have written many different compositions for concerts, and I like it. They expand my horizons. Concert music or music that is not necessarily associated with song allows me the ability to travel through terrains that song limits. Song is a very brief act that has to have a level of synthesis and preciseness. Song is an art, a specific in which the concept is left up to me, musically speaking, similar to the way in which a poem is not a song. Song allows me the concept, and so does the poem. I need to write my poems as well, and they have nothing to do with song, and the same thing happens to music. A song is something that helps me to bring those two worlds together — the two worlds that interest me: poetry and music. And that is what I do with songs, with the guaracha, and all of those things.
Q: I love to hear you sing. Your group has a tremendous chorus. Where I live there is a chorus group and they sing three or four parts. Is there a choir or chorus group here that sings your material?
PLF: Well, there are some choirs that are arranging some of my work. The other day I got a record of mine that a choir played. I like choir music, but choral music doesn’t interest me. It interests me in the sense that a choir implies the participation of the people, and that is interesting to me. And it’s not that choral music doesn’t interest me altogether, what happens is that, I believe that people who are dedicated to choral music have their own ways, or give the music a direction that is not organic. There is a lot of choral work that I believe is organic, and I like that, but although I like choral arrangements, I’m not someone who has wanted to get involved with it. There are some choirs who have sung my work, but I believe that choirs should be an institution that should invite the public to join in. And sometimes, because of the sophisticated nature of the arrangements, they have succeeded only at segregating the public from participation. Because everything can be elaborate, but with elaborate arrangements you cannot always see the details. Things have to be simple and they should be - they don’t have to be - things are the way they are. Everyone does whatever they want to do, and I do what I do for myself, and what I like is simply a very small piece of the truth. I like it a lot. To me, the work with vocals is very important because it involves—it is a type of reaffirmation of the consensus of what is being sung. It involves making the song less of an individual act. It makes it less solitary. The project involves inviting the public to join. When people hear others sing, it makes them sing as well. I believe that the choir is an enormous opportunity to communicate with society.
Q: This last work you did has been around for a couple of years now, but do you have any more recent material?
PLF: Look, I’ve recorded very little. In Cuba, I’ve only recorded three albums. I think there was a point that where, because of that, I worked towards creating my own conditions and environment to record my music. I wanted to record with my sound and with the tranquility that I need to record. The studios, the so called professional studios, don’t allow the tranquility I need, and I also stumble against the bureaucracy that has always been a thorn in my side. It has caused me a great deal of damage. Therefore I haven’t recorded much. Here I’ve recorded three albums: one that was published without being completed since there were staffs without string arrangements—it was incomplete and it was published anyway. There was a second album titled Debajo del vivo and a third album entitled Puma de Arena.
Q: When were they released?
PLF: Between 1975 and 1984, more or less.
Q: How did you end up working with Caliente?
PLF: Well, Caliente showed up in my life, because after a few years of recording on my own, I started talking to a group of people about a record I was interested in releasing. So among a large group of people who came to listen to my material, to see which offers would not convince me to sign, Caliente was there as another one of these people, and they were really interested in my music. I can tell you that the album was practically finished when they came to see me— it was practically completed. But there were some adjustments that needed to be made since I had used certain instruments—some strings, for example, that were played with keyboard, and they wanted to use a real keyboard, and real strings for the parts where I used a keyboard—I didn’t have a lot of resources to pay for a real string arrangement. And there were a few things that were added, some things that were improved as far as recording was concerned, because I had recorded the material as a demo initially with the intention of getting a buyer and improving some of the recordings. But they appeared when the concept and the the work had been practically elaborated. That’s the truth. And I’m telling you this because this album that Caliente recently released — first I have to clarify something about Caliente: Caliente signed a contract with me which I didn’t sign directly with them, I signed with Harbor Beach — I didn’t sign with Caliente, rather, I signed with Harbor Beach. Harbor Beach sells them [artists’] material. I don’t know if they are one of the same, I imagine it probably is.
Q: Caliente has a small company.
PLF: It’s a small company. I don’t like to be unfair and I believe that they gave me a great opportunity to release this material and I am very grateful to them for that. Because they gave me the opportunity, they believed in the material and the edition they released is very good. There are plenty of errors, the text and information is full of errors. I’ll tell you more about that.
PLF: Yes, totally. There are a lot of mistakes; but I am coming from the angle of recognizing the good part. They trusted my work, they gambled on my work and they released my work and for that, I am grateful. The concept was nice, it’s good, is worthy of applause. They made several mistakes in the information, in the lyrics there are many things that are incorrect, which shows a lack of effort in the care that they should have had in those sort of things. I made a list of things of all of the mistakes which I had trusted they would correct in another edition or release, but I don’t think they did it, they haven’t done so, or perhaps there hasn't been another edition, I don’t know. But I do want to start by saying that I am completely grateful because they took a chance on my music and, in one sense, it gives precedence to the album. I don’t think that they have done a great job with the distribution, it has been two years, but what I do want to clarify, the delicate point of this subject is, that two years have gone by and I haven’t had any type of communication with them, which I believe is a total violation of the contract we signed together. They are under obligation to provide me a report every six months of everything; the accounting statements and everything else. I am not saying that there is any money, I am not talking about that, I am talking about my right to be informed about everything that is going on with a subject that is important to me and a commitment that we made. We’ve been under contract for two years and they haven’t provided me any type of information, nor have they called me once. Nothing. They just called me and I told them that I was willing to sit down with them, but they’ve been out of contact with me. So there’s no explanation for that.
Q: Do you own the rights to your songs?
PLF: Well, I also signed a publishing contract with them and I they haven’t given me any sort of explanation in two years about anything.
Q: Well, you should probably get an attorney.
PLF: Yes, yes. I believe that’s what we’re going to do. I think we have to do that because things can’t continue to go on this way. However, I am telling you , I don’t want to be unfair with anyone. They could have had difficulties, I don’t doubt it. I don’t know what those difficulties were, but I am not a mind reader.
Q: Well, but not every record label work that way.
PLF: Yes, I agree, but they made a number of mistakes on this record. Look, first of all this album was recorded in my personal studio.
PLF: Yes. This album is the result of the work that I did independently. It was a lot of work, and pulling resources from underground. That compromises the work because of the esthetics. The basic story of the recording was this: the company obligated me to do some of the work at Abdala studios, which I could have completed here. So, when they release the album, they indicate that the album was recorded mainly at the Abdala studios, and that is a lie. The secondary studio, the very important point is that the secondary studio was studio Abdala...the secondary. So what happens with all of this? The person who recorded at Abdala was Charlie de los Santos, the company’s engineer. Apparently he is Maria’s husband, the company’s director. Charlie de los Santos, the engineer, is a very capable person and I have great deal of respect for them, I appreciate the tons of advise and collaborations that was made for the album. But there is a truth: he was not the main sound engineer of this album. The main sound engineer was someone else, someone who recorded here with me. So if you write down that Abdala was the main studio, then that means that he was the main engineer who recorded the album. And if you indicate that my studio was the secondary studio, then that means that the person who recorded with me, the one who actually did most of the work, was the secondary engineer. And another thing that is incorrect is that Charlie de los Santos is co-producer of the album, because Charlie de los Santos heard this album when the company had sent it in to see if the recordings were good. The recording was practically complete. I am telling you these things because you’re a journalist, and I have to tell someone since they haven’t given me the opportunity to speak with them in two years. So, I believe that they have lost all of the rights to that contract because in two years, without providing me any information, I believe that the laws of the United States, in order to have [contractual] rights, you have to comply with the obligations. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?
Q: I think so. I don’t know...not talking to your artist for two years....
PLF: Two years! And the phone just rang less than a week ago.
Q: I think that company has many problems in general. They probably don’t talk to their other artists either. I don’t know.
PLF: I don’t understand that. They have never once contacted me. I was surprised to hear from them a week ago. And I just found out that there is a movie that released in the United States about Reynaldo Arenas’ work [Before Night Falls © 2000] , in which they use my song "Mariposa" almost in its entirety.
Q: And did they pay you for that?
PLF: Yes, but I just found out about it. I was asking myself, why was it that in two years they never called me, and now, out of the blue, they call me, and then I find out that they are trying to get paid by those people. And I’m thinking, what is this? What is going on?
Q: Yes, I ask because you should have the rights to your songs and lyrics.
PLF: I signed a publishing contract with them, but within that contract it is understood that they have certain obligations due me, and that on a regular basis they must submit a report to me. I have a right to see those accounting statements and they have alienated me. They have not sent me any kind of information in two years.
Q: What are you going to do now? Are you recording again?
PLF: Yes. I’m always recording! Always recording. I have a lot of music recorded. I have enough music to release five or six albums.
Q: But are you thinking about signing with a different label to record a new album?
PLF: I would like to release a new album and I feel that they have breached the contract with me two years ago, but what I don’t understand is that, on one hand, they don’t meet their obligations, but , on the other hand, they want their rights. That can’t be.
Q: But, in general, have you played in other countries?
PLF: I’ve been on tours to other countries, but not through them [Caliente]. On my own. They never promoted my album at all. They didn’t do a thing for that album, the truth is that they never did anything, nothing. It doesn’t bother me. You know why I say this? Because yesterday, an American journalist called me, who said he was coming to see me, he said Charlie de los Santos had told him about me. I told the reporter, well, I’m sorry, but the people that work with Charlie de los Santos haven’t been in touch with me for over two years. They just called me a week ago, and I find out that they’re trying to collect on some of my money. And I had thought that they had resigned to anything that had to do with me, and it just can’t be that you can violate my rights that easily. It is very unforgiving. You know why? Because, I’ve had my stumbles with bureaucracy here, and I have dealt with people who have tried to do me wrong. So, these things, handled in this sort of manner, add up to the pile of disasters. And I just cannot comprehend, I don’t have any sort of explanation why they...look, if you don’t want to continue working with me, just tell me. But you have me under obligation anyhow, you signed a contract with me and you have certain obligations, like it or not. And I didn’t sell an album last year precisely because I didn’t want to take the initiative in violating my obligati;ons. I didn’t want to do exactly what they did. I waited two years.
Q; I think they should have called and said, look, there are some problems. But not being in touch, that’s not right.
PLF: I think what worked in this case was the fact that I told them that, the first chance I had, I would deny anything having to do with what they released about Charlie being the co-producer of the album, and that matter about the studio. I told them that I would not continue working with them in that manner. I was meeting all of my contractual obligations, but from the moment that they did not provide me with a clear explanation within the timeframe set forth in the contract and established by law, I informed them that I did not wish to continue working with them. What they did was disappear and never gave me an explanation.
Q: Your style is very different — it’s not very commercial, the way a lot of companies like it. Are you playing much here in Havana?
PLF: No. The truth is that in Havana, I rarely make an appearance. There aren’t many places to play. The problem with live shows here is that it’s turned into — you do it mainly, how can I say this, as a hobby, or as a show of respect for people or the culture. From the financial point of view, I spend money when I play live shows. I have to spend money, so I am becoming a potential migrant...we have to migrate to other places, and then we’ll see if we can come back with that money and put up a concert or something, but no, what you get paid for shows here is purely symbolic. It’s better to do studio work, make music for documentaries, films, record for someone, or make an orchestra arrangement. That, financially, is practically better that doing live shows.
Q: Do you have a particular recording project in mind?
PLF: No, no clear projects right now. There are projects, things are being talked about, but I’ve told everyone that if they don’t...look, what happens? They tell you, let’s do this. You make a commitment. Then, unilaterally, they cancel things, and you stop making other commitments, and no one is held liable. So, anyone who wants to talk to me, I tell them, I demand from them - I work with seven musicians - if you want me to go on tour with you on such a date, I have to rehearse with these musicians for a certain amount of time. You have to send me the money to pay these musicians, because I have to pay them to rehearse. They’re rehearsing, and after they rehearse, you cancel the tour. What are people supposed to live off of? These people worked for you. I can’t do that. So what happens? Since they don’t make any guarantees, I don’t guarantee anything either. Because, if you say, we have a tour, I have ten concerts in these places, in France, for example, and there are ten concerts, which might turn out to be more, but here is 50% of the monies up front so you can rehearse with your musicians, and you can pay them for rehearsals. I’ll say, perfect, I’ll pencil in the date for you. But if you tell me that we’re going to France, and then you say it’s off. Do you know what they did to me? I wrote off a project to go to the United States precisely because they had asked me to go at the end of the year, and some people came to talk to me about a project that was taking place here in the Caribbean, and I had to go to Spain. And the people from Spain canceled the project and I had abandoned the other projects. My musicians stopped doing other things they were working on, and that created a huge financial burden on us because we didn’t make money we could have made and I need money for my equipment and other things. So, no one is serious. I make no promises to people who don’t want to commit, because if you don’t give me a commitment, I won’t give you a commitment. You see how it goes? And a lot of people who come to Cuba to do business have heard, or hear that I’m the type of person that doesn’t get along with organizations, so to speak. So, since they have predetermined interests, they don’t want to lose those interests, and that’s why they leave me on the sidelines. They don’t want anything to do with me. That happens as well. That doesn’t mean that it happens all the time, but it happens. No one is going to risk their business because of me. Why should they?
Photo courtesy Caliente
Q: Did you go to Miami?
PLF: I’ve been to Miami several times, as a matter of fact, before I started working with Caliente, I was in Miami two seasons. I played a concert.
Q: And how did it go?
PLF: Wonderful. An exquisite crowd. People love me a lot there. Places were always packed. It was very nice. I went with Caliente also, but Caliente didn’t do what they were supposed to do for me. It was just one of the ways that they worked things with me. It was something I just couldn’t understand because he could have put together a great concert in Miami. There was a concert organized at the university and it came out really well. But they put us in these small places like Starfish, very small, hardly anyone fits in there. It was a nice place, but they didn’t take advantage of the possibilities.
Q: I think you need a theater, not just a dance hall.
PLF: My music also gets people dancing, because I also play guaracha and soneras as well. I am not a salsero but I am a guarachero and the guaracha works perfectly for that as well. But the festive nature of a place doesn’t bother me, because I even have political songs that are quite festive. I like playing in concerts. I prefer it over theaters. Theaters are a bit cold. I’d rather be in a place where people can have a drink...
As the Maestro was ready to join the rest of his group for rehearsal, we ended our talk. Ferrer is one of the most brilliant and well versed people I have interviewed. His breadth of knwoledge runs from music to politics, history and art, to the latest video and computer equipement. Keep an eye out for the Caliente CD that can still be found in many CD stores. And hope that we will all be graced by a visit one day.
Click on 'refresh' or 'reload' in your browser window to view a video clip of Pedro Luis Ferrer.
and sharp social critic. Fidel Castro is not a fan.
June 13, 2005
Cuban troubadour Pedro Luís Ferrer is well known, and well loved, on the island, but he hasn't been blessed with the good fortune and official backing enjoyed by the Buena Vista Social Club musicians. Born seven years before Fidel Castro’s march into Havana, Ferrer has matured with the Cuban Revolution, confronting in the process its contradictions and limitations, and his own ambivalence about what it has wrought. Although he has released only three albums in Cuba in 35 years (and three others abroad), his witty, sardonic social commentary so irked the Castro regime that in the late 90s the government banned his music from the state-run media--which in Cuba means all media.
Ostracized by the artistic establishment and many of his musical colleagues, Ferrer took his music underground, playing giving private concerts in friends’ homes, performances that were often recorded by fans and distributed illegally.
Ferrer's latest album, Rústico, which was released in the U.S. in April, is filled with love songs and humor set to a reworked mix of traditional Cuban musical styles. It's more danceable than some of his earlier work, which focused on the stark social contradictions of the post-Soviet bloc 1990s on the island, but its social critique is every bit as biting. In “Fundamento,” Ferrer implores, “I want to be told the truth/Down with the little lies/Because my mind gets messed up/And there may be a riot.” In another, he deals with the contradiction between first world vegetarianism and the reality of Cuba, where meat—a national obsession—is prohibitively expensive.
Ferrer recently sat for an email interview with Mother Jones from his home in Havana.
Mother Jones: What audience do you have in mind when you are making music?
Pedro Luis Ferrer: Someone said wisely that “art does not give responses to those who do not ask questions of it.” I offer my art to audiences who ask questions of art. I feel comforted when I encounter people who identify with my work, as it takes away the solitude.
MJ: Do you consider yourself a poet?
PLF: I can assure you that I am passionate about poetry. However, that’s not enough to be a poet. I feel that I have achieved moments of authentic poetry within and beyond my songs, but I tend to throw out more than I save because I am not easily enamored of what I make. I try to be a poet.
MJ: Tell me a little bit about your early life.
PLF: I am self-taught, and not just in respect to music. I was born in a very small town in the north of Sancti Spíritus province—in the part of the country known as “the cradle of the Revolution”—and then moved to Havana at age 11. I attended school until seventh grade, which I repeated twice, and never returned to school.
MJ: How has your background influenced your art?
PLF: I think that it has been influential in all aspects, because I never differentiated between my work and my zeal for learning. I simply saw myself as obligated to study even the most elemental things, and one day I realized that I was illiterate; I did not even know how to write.
As a self-taught musician, I’ve studied music with rigor and have dedicated a lot of time to the guitar; I am always studying something related to my vocation. I am interested in poetry, literature, and philosophy.
MJ: I read that at the beginning of your career you wanted to have a rock band. What effect did that have on the route your career has taken?
PLF: I started working as a professional musician in 1969 with a rock group called Los Dada (The Dadaists), which experimented with essences of Cuban music. I did not know anything about rock, but they fell in love with my voice and arranged and adapted some of my first songs. When I decided to work on my own, I tried to reproduce that same instrumental format, but it wasn’t possible because of the lack of material resources, and so I ended up working with a completely acoustic format that was closer to traditional Cuban music.
MJ: Cubanía (Cubanness) is talked about a lot in Cuba these days, in terms of what is considered patriotic and authentically belonging to Cuban culture. How does the concept of Cubanía relate to your own art?
PLF: I am my own version of Cubanía, and I refuse to let myself by trampled by the dictates of the past or of tradition. I think that all attempts at rancid nationalism are dangerous. Tradition offers us effective resources for communication, with its arsenal of common codes and signs, but a repetition of tradition tends to bore and tire society. Cultures need to conserve themselves by constant renovation, which is my objective in making music.
MJ: Do you feel a social duty as an artist?
PLF: I cannot speak of society as if I did not form a part of it. Every human being has an obligation to society, like it or not, and artists specifically have a [social] responsibility.
MJ: How easy is it to buy one of your albums in Cuba?
PLF: My collection of recordings is quite small, if you take into account that I have been making music professionally since 1969. I’ve had three full-length albums released in Cuba: Pedro Luís Ferrer, Debajo de mi voz, (Underneath My Voice) and Espuma y arena (Foam and Sand). It has been years since I have had an album released on the island—save a compilation of songs from those albums which was made without consulting me.
MJ: How do you manage to distribute your music these days?
PLF: In reality, I don’t do anything to distribute my music. I simply create music, and I offer it to others for it to be broadcast, be they the public or a record company. I was on television sometimes, years ago. Some of my songs (those that do not bother the bureaucracy) are heard on the radio. Many of my reflective and critical songs have circulated on the island by means of spontaneous distribution by a portion of the population that identifies with them.
MJ: Do you think that your music circulated more in the 1970s and 1980s, and if so, what caused that change?
PLF: My music was broadcast in the official media in the 1970s and 1980s, I made music for television series and I recorded some songs that quickly took root in the popular consciousness, like “Inseminación Artificial” [a cow’s sexually charged lament on the industrialization of Cuba’s agriculture, which became wildly popular in Cuba]. But at the same time that those successful public favorites were being broadcast, songs of mine that the bureaucracy deemed offensive or strange were silenced. There were many controversies and arguments with TV producers who refused to broadcast the most critical songs of my repertoire. Then one day, they took all of them out of circulation, even the ones that I composed in obvious support of the Revolution.
From then on, my music began to be transmitted directly by the people who identified with the lyrics of my most controversial songs, by means of fans producing informal tape-recordings. Later, when there was no longer any official venue which would allow me to perform, I sang in the yards and on the roofs of my friends and colleagues. It was an experience that has marked me profoundly; I learned that artists are thunder, and the people are the wind. I think that this was the best and most free manner by which my music has been heard—without intermediaries or censoring. Some of my songs have never been heard on the radio or TV, yet that does not impede the public from singing along with me at concerts.
MJ: What’s your attitude toward the Cuban Revolution?
PLF: I think that the worst thing that can happen to a people is revolution, because it denotes a certain incapacity for harmonious evolution without the destructive charge of implied violence. Having said that, I have respect for the Revolution of 1959, a complex process that overthrew the tyranny of Fulgencio Batista. My family, like many others on the island, suffered imprisonment and mistreatment under Batista. I was born into a home where the Revolution signified the aspiration to live in a world full of social justice.
Today I feel that some things have truly been achieved by the Revolution, and that others have not. In the strict political meaning of the word, I do not consider myself a revolutionary—if we are to understand revolution as an attempt to transform the world by use of violence. I believe in, and try to stimulate, the capacity for evolution by devising ideas and methods which can make a non-violent transformation possible.
MJ: There has been a good deal of animosity between Cuba and the exile community in Miami over the years. What were your opinions of Miami when you spent time there?
PLF: I was taught from childhood that the worst of the worst lived in Miami. The discourse of the Cuban Revolution always spoke out against racism and social marginalization, and at the same time degraded those citizens who did not share the established political creed as gusanos (worms). By that token, I who grew up in the cradle of the Revolution was ready to strike from the map those depreciable beings who obeyed the postulates of Miami—a cave only inhabited by batistianos [supporters of Batista] and torturers. For a long time, that was Miami to me. Certainly Miami was the spot chosen by those who killed and tortured multitudes of Cubans during Batista’s reign, but islanders who had nothing to do whatsoever with that history also ended up in Miami, and the ideology did not want to admit to diversity among the opposition. In reality, people who risked their lives for the Revolution of 1959 sought refuge in Miami, as well as people who believed in socialism—people who were sincere believers in internationalism and went to the war in Angola.
Visiting Miami was very instructive for me. I went through a long, contradictory, complicated, and painful process to strip myself of the ideology that had made me a mortal enemy of those who thought differently politically. I can now say that I have friends there too, and I lament profoundly having been at one time a carrier of that discriminatory ideology which made many decent and honest people who now live in Miami suffer.
MJ: Your newest album, “Rústico,” sounds quite different than your album from 2000, “100% Cubano,” which was more of a statement on Cuban society. What brought about this change in your work?
PLF: Well, “100% Cubano” was not exactly an album conceived of as such from the beginning, nor was it my last album released. I went to Florida to record it, because I felt the need to record some songs—which had been popular on the island [through] spontaneous tape-recordings by the people who attended my sporadic concerts—with studio quality. It joins together chronologically a group of songs by era—the late 1980s and early 1990s—which continue to be relevant, and a few love songs. Out of this came a very modest edition in the United States.
We are now in the year 2005, and as one can image, I have changed in all ways possible. I record in my own studio in my home in Havana, with the impulse of my musical research and experimentation. “Rústico” is the first complete part of an experimental phase, where an large number of traditional aesthetic strands are woven to form a new offering. It is a point of departure towards something more expansive.
MJ: How comprehensible do you think your songs are for audiences who are not familiar with Cuban culture and idiosyncrasy? Has this crossed your mind as you are producing your music?
As comprehensible as songs made in New York for someone who is not familiar with that [city]. The artist is not guilty of anyone’s ignorance, save their own, and at times not even that.
I do not intend to make Cuban culture prevail over any other, nor to diminish it. In reference to the idiosyncrasy, there is not just one way of being Cuban, rather many and infinite ways. It has been said that Cubans are a certain way—party-loving, vulgar, jokesters, lively—and certainly there are many Cubans like that. But there are also different types of Cubans; [philosopher and writer] José Martí, for example, was not festive or a partier, but rather was profoundly dramatic. I think that it is fundamental to acknowledge the infinite diversity which joins us together—which is something that continues to propel my work.
Lygia Navarro is a former editorial intern at Mother Jones.