Wednesday, July 26, 2006

One of the brilliants

Roberto Fabelo

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Mystery of Martí and Cuba

Julio Antonio Mella, since the decade of the 20’s in the past century, was calling us to discover the mystery of the ultra-democratic program of José Martí. Today, after 80 years, we are better prepared to promote the study, investigate and reach conclusions about that great mystery which is, all in all, Cuba.
Martí’s mystery is basically, that of Cuba. As Lezama Lima used to say from his religious sensibility, Martí is a mystery that accompanied us. Today we, Marxists, have to discover the political, social and cultural reasons, and even those of geographical kind, that is the place occupied by Cuba in geography, that have determined the existence of that mystery we have to investigate, describe and promote its lesson.
In our days, you can try from Cuba’s reality to investigate the relation between the most diverse thinkers, on the political, social and academic level, based on the richness of ideas. When in 1959 I assumed the direction of the Ministry for Education we agreed that there was no better slogan to preside the work of the Minister that the though of the Apostle: To be cultured is the only way to be free.
We were deeply influenced by the ideas of Martí who taught us that Fatherland is Humanity and also when he postulated. The world can graft in our republics, but the stem has to belong to our republics. Those ideas, learned in the Cuban school, encouraged in us a deep-rooted feeling and a vocation for universality. We have never had a feeling of narrow frontiers. Those feelings were in our hearts and in the hearts of many young people in Cuba. Before we were socialists, before we were Marxists, we felt internationalism due to Martí. Before we knew Marx was a giant, as he is, or Engels, or Lenin, many young people in Cuba admired the struggle of the people of Argelia for their freedom, we admired the struggles of the people of Puerto Rico, we admired the struggles against Somoza’s dictatorship, against Pérez Jimenez’ dictatorship, and generally the struggles against all the Latin American dictatorships.
Then we became communists, we became Marxists and we reaffirmed those principles. It wasn’t Marxism what made us internationalists, it were precisely those solidarity and internationalist feelings that led us to Marx and Engels’ thinking. That is why we have affirmed that the intellectual Cuban tradition coordinates the best part of the universal thinking of the history of more than two millenniums and have Karl Marx and Frederick Engels as their high points in Europe and José Martí as the high point in the western hemisphere from Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego.
To extol this identity is in the heart of the Fidel’s revolution in a way that makes it impossible to follow Fidel in its higher manner without understanding the meaning of this relationship between the ideas of Marx and Martí. In a practical order, that constitutes a necessity to secure a fluid relation between politics and the intellectuals in the country.
The bonds of our people with Latin America and the world can only be culturally guaranteed based on the foundations of José Martí. And it is precisely on the foundations of the ideas and the culture forged over two centuries of history in which Martí is its highest example, that the best Cuban politic in the XX century and it will also be in the XXI century has been structured.
Martí is presented today as an essential key of the new thinking that needs not just Cuba, but also America and the world. Those who try to do politics, if they can’t understand this relation, will do bad politic, the same as those who want to do social sciences and do not understand the bond of culture with politics, will be limited in their aspirations.
Fidel, at the 50th anniversary of July 26th, on the monument to Antonio Maceo in Santiago de Cuba, was asking himself, “how will Cuba be in 50 years time, which means, at the 100th anniversary of the Moncada?” And he made some reflections about this. Our generation had always worked to see the work of the Revolution fulfilled, or to see its fruits on a long term, after twenty, or thirty years. Today, many of us have had the privilege to see their realizations in more than four decades, even though it is clear that because of the law of biology, we will not be able to say the same things in twenty, thirty years from now. Nonetheless, we want to influence on their future course and work so that our boys and girls, our children, the young people, the children of our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren can give continuity to it and make the enormous advances reached by our people irreversible, so that Cuba can continue to play that key role in Latin America and the world.
We are faced with a crisis that men of great knowledge consider the deepest since the fall of the Roman Empire. That crisis covers all the three pillars of the so called western culture:
- Christianism, which independent of all theological conception, represents the ethic roots of our culture, symbolized in Love one another, in the work in community and which has been broken by the action of man.
- The philosophical thinking of the XVIII century, mainly European, to which Fidel constantly refers, that we identify with personalities such as Rousseau, Diderot, D. Alambert, Montesquieu and all the great thinkers of the XVIII century that nurtured the French Revolution in 1789. that thinking represents what has been called “modernity” arousing rational thoughts and the ability of men to know and transform reality and is symbolized in that slogan “Freedom, Equity, Fraternity”. We, in that part of the world, assume it with a universal character, which means for all the men without exceptions. That has also been broken.
- And socialism, which represents the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and their followers, as the highest expression reached up to date by European thinking. Socialism also broke down in Europe when the Soviet Union and the so called counties of “true socialism” from Eastern Europe disappeared.
The breaking of these three pillars, as we have mentioned, represents the deepest crisis in the history of the West. In truth, it reveals us, in all its seriousness the tragedy of our world today, that as has Fidel pointed out and underlined the drama can only be overcome with culture and thus with education.
The philosophical and the political thinking, the social and cultural thinking in general of our country forged the best achieved synthesis of the ideas of the so called west that reminds us the famous image of one of the greatest wise-men in America, Don Fernando Ortiz, when he characterized Cuban culture as an ajiaco, a typical Cuban dish where different products are mixed and mixed again to obtain a unique and different taste. It is an ajiaco with a taste of justice in its most universal reach. And the fundamental of that ajiaco lies in José Martí.
Starting from our philosophical and political traditions, I have proposed leaving to a side exclusive isms and schemas brought from Europe, to select the best out of these three currents: Christianity, European modernity and the philosophy it promoted, and the socialists’ ideal, to reach a correct conception to confront the crisis of the western civilization. For those who still keep some prejudices against socialism I recommend they make their selection with justice.
In this way we can relate the thought that represents José Martí and the socialism from Marx, Engels and Lenin and their followers. In that way we can relate everything and we can find the way that the XX century needs. There is potential here for that because it is precisely what is related to the mystery we have been referring to. And that is not by chance, but a product of economical and social laws and from historical and even geographical circumstances that have given rise to the originality of the Cuban case.


With Spain in the Vitality of José Martí
Last May 30th , I had the honor to be invited by the Madrid Athenaeum to take part in its headquarters in a panel about José Martí. The panel was coordinated by the first vice-president of that institution, Mr. Francisco Javier García Núñez. Its president, José Luís Abellán, Paulino García Partida, who was its president some years ago, and the author of this article participated.
The Athenaeum —the library of which keeps an untold number of books read by Martí himself—favored premises of that time in the education of this patriot when he was sent into exile in Spain in 1871, being only eighteen years old and having already suffered the torments of a political prison. On May 30th, the Athenaeum paid tribute —once again— to he who came to it to get information and, above all, to strengthen his thoughts and his conduct in the service of justice.
“Knowing is resolving” and “thinking is serving”, guiding concepts in his life, mark his programmatic essay “Nuestra América” (Our America), published in January, 1891. Put into practice, they united in Martí the arduous advantage that the best children of colonized peoples enjoy: apart from metropolitan absorption, they are able to know their mother countries and, against their thirst for oppression, the peoples they represent and defend. Thus they know more and serve better.
The athenaeum had the good sense of taking for the recent panel —held eleven days after the one hundred eleventh anniversary of the hero’s death— the title “The permanent vitality of José Martí”. It was a commemoration consistent with the significance of someone who Gabriela Mistral described as an inexhaustible mine and who fulfills more than enough the necessary requirement to deserve being called a classic: the capacity to continue passing on fundamental values, included the enjoyment of aesthetics, going against the nap of the passing of time. With Martí it also happens that between his time and ours there are more similarities and coincidences than people usually seem to take for granted.
His infinite topicality rests on strong pillars. The Cuban speaker dealt with some of them in the Madrid Athenaeum, where both the location and the audience encouraged him to devote a lot of his words to one of those pillars: Martí’s bond with Spain, nourished and refined in the universal effort —far from limiting himself to his piece of the world—, the fighter patriot observed human evolution.
The maneuvers of the mounting American imperialism were the object of clarified concern of those efforts. The time which Martí called in the portico of Versos sencillos (Single verses) "that desperate winter” —the winter of 1889-1890—, an International Congress conceived by the host country to join the Continent by mean s of a false commercial reciprocity agreement was held in Washington. To Martí, it was a warning that our peoples must absolutely avoid such a serious danger: “Why be their allies, in the flower of our youth, in the battle the United States is getting ready for, to liberate the rest of the world? Why should they fight their battles against Europe in the republics of America, and test their system of colonization on free people?”
With his systemic coverage of reality, he unraveled the purpose of the United States: “It can be noticed, then, in the press, when one takes a deep look within, a kind of prevailing tactical idea, clear in the very care the most fair take in not to hurt openly, since nobody would call immoral, or the work of a bandit, though it would be, the rash attempt to bring the railroad civilization across America in modern times, like Pizarro brought the Christian faith.” For the Americas, which had escaped “the Spanish tyranny”, it was “the time to proclaim their second independence”, essential to guarantee a balance in the world.
Martí gave as much importance to the increasing contradictions between the dominant Europe and the power preparing to displace it in world hegemony from North America, as to the very nature of these contradictions. Years before he had showed he considered it appropriate to balance American and European investments in Latin America or, in any case, favor the second with “an apparent, accidental preponderance”, in order to counteract the influence of a neighbor who was growing in power and voracity. Nevertheless, he forecast at the same time that in the future “the nations which are rivals, but similar”, would get together against us, and he gave us a concentrated example of these two poles in brackets: “(England, the United States)”.
Regarding Europe, his interest was not just limited to the British Empire. On May 18th , 1895, the day before he died in action, he expressed to Mercado his concern as a result of an interview he had had some days before, in the middle of the campaign, with the New York Herald correspondent. The correspondent told him General Arsenio Martínez Campos admitted his government would prefer to come to an agreement with the United States rather than accept a Cuban victory.
There were only three years left for the rising imperial power to take part in the war and then, between representatives of its government and the Spanish government, and without any Cuban representation, sign the Treaty of Paris. But do not think Martí was surprised by the correspondent’s words about the soldier who would ask to be replaced by his colleague Valeriano Weyler and his criminal concentration of civilian population in Cuba, in order to keep his own image of peacemaker. In 1879 he had shown interest in making peace —in vain— with Martí himself, then in exile for the second time in Spain.
The words said by the Spanish politician and military man to the Yankee journalist are in line with Martí’s prediction of an alliance of “nations which are rivals, but similar” against our peoples: this time, Spain and the United States. In his posthumous letter to Mercado, he expresses the need for stop Cuba from opening “to the annexation [complicity] of the imperialists there [the United States] and the Spanish, that route should be closed —and we are closing with our own blood, to annexation [subjugation] of the peoples of Latin America to the revolting, brutal North which despise them”.Although those who governed Spain had confused and held back a great deal of their country, Martí was not talking about the Spanish people, represented by numerous sons in the ranks of the Cuban Liberation Army, as well as there were Cuban traitors to their country in the ranks of the colonial troops. In November 1891, in a speech essential to his organizational campaign, Con todos, y para el bien de todos (With the people and for the sake of the people) —perhaps the text where he most clearly pointed out those who excluded themselves or deserted from the fight for the common good— he denied, among others, those who spread fear among honest, avenging Spaniards. For him, they were “just like any other Cubans”.
In 1892, in an article published in Patria (Homeland), the newspaper of the revolution, he maintained: “Any person trying to put a fatal wall between Cubans and Spaniards would be nothing less than an enemy of Cuba; their responsibility or senselessness would be greater today, when equally oppressed by the Spanish tradition, with its retinue of contractors, beneficiaries and military men, the children of Cuba and Spain find both deprived of a legitimate future and human entity, while the Cuban and the Spaniard should get together for the sake of the common land and a decorous rebellion, against the incurable, insolent system of a government that drowns their personalities, cancels out their work efforts, raises their children aimlessly in a restless home and pollutes the air they breathe.”
His work in pursuit of the brotherhood of Spanish and Cuban lovers of justice was constant. He was guided by his knowledge of Spain, by its decadent, corrupt government, by its oppressive classes and its people, honest and hard-working. Due to his trust in the Spanish people, he wrote in 1881 an article in which he discussed the climate of war Europe was immerse in and that would break out in the 20th century: “The problem, embittered and more difficult in other nations due to colossal hatreds, has in Spain —thanks to the noble nature and disdain of material fortune her children are renowned for—, less violent and threatening characteristics.
The truth gets there later, but since it has shed less blood, also gets there safer. This is because the love for earthly possessions —which definitively resolves, or speeds up the resolution of all problems—, is distinctly less in the sober and spiritual people of Spain than in other peoples.”
The homesickness can cause idealization, but Martí based his ideas on the stoic, justice-seeking spirit of the popular sectors in Spain. He was not ignorant of the history of the nation whose colonial system was oppressing Cuba. In another article published in Patria, in which he urged the efficient preparation for the war for Cuban independence, he set the story in a world context and quoted several examples which provided the evidence that, on such a scale, “only justice survives” and “it is useless dodging the duties of equity and foundation”. Thus he said: “In this world, all of us, nations and men, must pay the ticket.” With regard to Spain, he specified: “Spain itself, if it still has any vague hope of renewal, it is thanks to the different peoples that make up the Spanish nation, and which have been at a standstill for three centuries.”
Martí was not among those Latin Americans who called Spain “our mother country”. Thinking about what the Spanish colonial regime had represented to our peoples and to most of its own children, he called it once “filicide”. He knew he was a child of what he called our mother America, which came from within itself and, regarding other countries, had roots not only in Europe, but also in Africa.
Together with his fraternal love for the Spanish people, he kept an eye on the history of Spain, the government which he was fighting against. On October 31st and on November 28th, 1893, respectively, he published in Patria “The Moor in Spain” and “Spain in Melilla”. A consistent fighter against colonialism, he made reference in these articles to the complicated relationship between the Iberian country and Muslim peoples, and in the first of these texts he said there was in Melilla “a race which defends its land with the same determination Pelayo defended his own land against other Moors”. Eight years before, he had written that Spain was trying to «mend the royal mantle with pieces of burnoose».
Also with regard to Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Africa, he thought as a fighter against colonialism and demanded: “Let Spain lose all its possessions dishonorably, and do its own work, without appealing to the army for useless second-raters, its idle gentry, and the fifth sin, wrath: it is this way, and by means of a decentralized government for the stubborn people that make up the Spanish nation, that Spain will be able to live up to the world.”
He was categorical in his opinion: “Let us be Moors: just as we —who will probably die at the hands of Spain— would be Spaniards if justice were on the Spaniards side. But let us be Moors!” Thus spoke the revolutionary who in February 1873 welcomed the proclamation of the first Spanish republic.
As if he knew that very soon the Republic would show its debility before Cuba’s wish to be independent —which it was proving with its sacrifices—, he put this challenge to the Spanish liberals: “The republican ideal is the universe.”
He sustained principles the validity of which grow before evils like the violation of peoples’ sovereignty, the increase of inequality, the unfair treatment of migrations —inseparable from the history of plundering suffered by impoverished countries—, warmongering and the rest of the acts associated with the power of the empire which strives to subjugate some countries and turn others into its accomplices. “I neither judge in advance the actions of the Spanish Republic, nor do I think” —wrote the antimonarchic Martí in February of 1873—, “that the Republic should be timid or cowardly. But I do warn it that actions are always prone to injustice; I do remind it that injustice is the death of the respect to others; I do let it know that being unjust is the need for being damned, I do exhort it to never to slander the universal conscience of honor, which does not exclude, certainly, honoring the homeland, but demands that the honor to the homeland lives within universal honor.”

The many faces of Graziella Pogolotti in the Cuban cultural framework

In pedagogy, in art critic, in literature, Graziella Pogolotti generates respect in and outside Cuba. She doesn’t need to presume, she doesn’t need to pose, her wisdom flows with an overwhelming spontaneity.
Apart from the privilege of having been rocked by great Cuban artists, that small woman earned herself through her work, a place in the culture of a country where she was not born, but where she has laid deep and strong roots.
With several national awards and dedicated entirely to the countries’ cultural development, Pogolotti doesn’t have an indulgent sight, but one which is marked by huge aspirations of a country that calls her.
How did the girl Graziella Pogolotti saw the highest representatives of the artistic vanguard of the XX century in Cuba?
As very nice adults. Victor Manuel was a kind of false uncle that would take me to the park when no one wanted to take me there and Carlos Enríquez could have been my godfather if I had been through that experience. For me they were really close people much before than they were artists.
I met others while I was a child, but I was never that close to them.
Others like who?
Like Amelia... I remember her in exhibitions while I was a child, but I got to have a relation with her a lot later, when I was an art critic.
How do you remember her?
She had certain limitations due to her deafness, but when you managed to get over that, she was a very sweet, loving person, who was in harmony with the environment around her, that house environment, the intimacy of the workshop, which was a kind of garage at the back of her house. She was also a very modest person.
How was Graziella Pogolotti’s relation with her father?
He was a severe man, a little authoritarian whenever he remembered he had a paternal function, very disciplined and very ordered, but whenever he wasn’t fulfilling his father role, we had very friendly talks. He could go easily from one thing to the other: from the paternal authority to a conduct very similar to that you have with an adult.
You started writing at the age of fifteen and it were theatrical descriptions. How have you perceived the theatrical development of the country?
I could perceive its development from the age of the ADAD Theater (Academia de Artes Dramáticas (Dramatic Arts Academy)), which was a group that had a function once a month in a small school theater. That group was one of those who inaugurated the renovation of theatrical language, and it introduced the international repertoire of the XX century, but it had a very limited number of spectators, who came once a month to that small place.
Nonetheless, that was one of the seeds for the appearance, in the 1950’s, of a multiplicity of tendencies with the appearance of the theatrical small auditoriums in the area of Vedado as well as in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Those shows covered a spectrum that went from the most experimental searches or the repertoire of the most recent premier in Paris or in New York, to a more commercial theater that tried to guarantee the spectator a nice time many times after it had eaten.
That time of tendency multiplication, which coincided with an everyday tendency, because there were no longer shows once a month, but every day, created a public and contributed to the development of many actors, who frequently acted on theater at the cost of an enormous personal sacrifice (they weren´t paid a salary, they had to contribute with their own resources to the wardrobe, the scenography…). That started to prepare the road for that decisive moment that is produced right before the Revolution with the creation of Teatro Estudio (Studio Theater).
The group receives that inheritance and makes a change of tremendous reach. It doesn’t just stages plays, but it makes a group of actors and directors coincide around a determined theater, culture and society conception. That is a starting point for the Cuban theater.
During the 1960’s there is a multiplicity of tendencies again, many groups are created that don’t have the commercial character of some of the small auditoriums of the 50’s, but they all respond each one to artistic projects.
They cover a very wide repertoire; they give a greater possibility to national dramatic writing and the number of spectators increases dramatically. That is when theater starts to be, in a much greater sense than ever before, a part of the Cuban everyday life.
The next big change occurs with the creation of Teatro escambray (Escambray Theater), which puts forward a new relationship with the spectator, a relation that is open to dialog as well as critic. The group redefines the theatrical spaces outside of the traditional frameworks, and starts constructing based on those new needs, an artistic language which belongs just to it.
That diversity of perspectives has been present throughout the development of Cuban theater, which had without a doubt a decisive change with the triumph of the Revolution, among other things because it established a link with Latin American theater, from which we had been quite far away.
Talking about Latin America and having into account that you opened at the University of Havana the degree French Language and Literature, what place do you give French culture in the formation of national identities in our region?
For many reasons, French culture has played an important role in areas of European and Latin American culture. The two starting points were the ideas of the French Revolution and the Illumination on the XVIII, had a very strong influence on all the starters of Latin American independence, not just on the fighters, but also on the thinkers, on the intellectuals, who saw in that France the place from where new ideas were emerging.
That gave rise to France, and especially Paris, during the XIX and XX, I would say until the Second World War, becoming the emitting center of culture towards what we call the West.
Paris was also the meeting point for writers, artists and students from all over the world, it was the center of an important publishing industry, it was the place were many of the battles of romanticism, impressionism, realism, of the avant-garde took place, ant it was therefore associated to whatever was new. And also, during the colonial time, it was an alternative against Spain, which represented the metropolitan power.
Our cultures had over the XIX and XX century very close talks with France, and especially with its literature. That respect can be seen in Martí when he reads the works of Victor Hugo, in the modernists poets who look back to French symbolism, in the development of the naturalist narrative among us and later on in the avant-garde debate, that can be seen not just in Cuba, but all over Latin America.
What is the Paris of your memories?
It is a Paris that I believe doesn’t exist anymore. I was there for the last time in 1980 and I found a city mucho more bright city, much more spectacular and scenographic, much more influenced by tourism, with infinity of boutiques where there were none before… I just felt the loss of the Barrio Latino (Latin district), which I had known on the time when university was concentrated on that place, around the Sorbona , the Medicine faculty, the old Santa Genoveva (Saint Genoveva) Library, and which had that youth atmosphere, of students from all over the world.
After May 1968, the distribution of the University was reprogrammed, the Barrio Latino (Latin district) was no longer the main center, there were many new universities in the outskirts of the city, and that center of life was transformed and turned into a scenario for tourists.
Having been born in France, with a Russian mother, Italian and English grandparents, how come your roots in Cuba are so solid and have produced so many results?
That is a mystery… There are many cases. There are cases of people who were born here almost by coincidence and lived very few years in Cuba, like José María Heredia, who always saw himself as Cuban in a time when the nation hadn’t been formed yet. There are other writers and artists who lived a long time outside of the country and have nevertheless always kept their roots.
My own father, he lived a long time on other countries, always wanted to be buried here, and he felt himself deeply Cuban.
In which way did I integrate myself? It is very hard to find out. It happened bit by bit, at school, in the neighborhood, on the park, as the history of this country was revealed to me as well.
Also, the feeling of belonging gets deeper as one has to construct things, to make things, like the farmer who feels very close to his land because there is the tree he planted years ago, and the house, maybe poor, but which he constructed with his own hands.
I have been able to participate in the construction of many things here in the teaching and in the culture field. So that is how that feeling has become deeper and deeper.
You have said that there was a time in your life when you felt uncomfortable with a surname that didn’t let you live anonymously. How was that process of reconciliation with your heritage?
I felt very uncomfortable with my surname when I was studying at university because my teachers knew me, they knew my surname, and so they would ask me everything. I was their favorite victim, especially when they hadn’t learned yet the names of the rest of my classmates. I tried to hide, so that they wouldn’t see me, so that they would forget that I was there.
I also wanted to be seen as myself, by my own identity and not as somebody’s daughter.
Then, as I started to make my own path, the surname became less of a burden.
In your opinion, what is the importance of critic?
It is indispensable in every aspect of life, without it there is no possibility of making things better in the social sphere, of diagnosing and resolving problems. More specifically in the field of arts and literature, critic is a way of having a dialog which works with the artists, as well as with the public, and contributes to forming a network of relations in which a culture gets formed.
Culture is not made with isolated pieces of work, no matter how extraordinary they might be. The great Spanish culture of the Golden century was not made just because of Cervantes, Góngora, Quevedo and Lope, but because there was a very wide network where the works of these writers could be placed and talk among themselves.
As the cultural base gets wider and wider, the role of the critic grows in that network.
What does the name Vicentina Antuña remind you?
It reminds me of my professor at university. She was a professor of Latin, which wasn’t precisely one of my favorite subjects; I was very captivated by contemporary.
From that time onwards, we established with Vicentina a permanent dialog. Whenever she finished her class, she would go to have a cup of coffee and around her there was always a group of students who would get together to talk and to discuss any topic, about life, the current moment, a cultural event, political conflicts, university problems. She would animate that dialog; she would favor it without intervening in it in an authoritarian way.
Afterwards we kept a very close communication when she was Director of Culture and of the School of Letters. She developed a very peculiar teaching method through generations of students who went by her classrooms and she left us with a very necessary lecture of critic, rigor and respect for ideas that are different.
What can you tell me of the most recent generation of writers in Cuba?
There has been a process of acceleration for the presence of the new generations. There are very young writers who publish and make themselves known very early in their life, they express themselves in different tendencies, they have broken frontiers and also in many cases, they have a conscience of their profession that took longer to reach before.
There are many writers who are university graduates, time ago, they were mostly self-taught and that implied a much slower process to acquire the experience and to learn the profession.
The possibility of publishing also favors today the confrontation and the maturation of a literary piece of work.
You said sometime: “culture has to become an everyday event”, what is done in Cuba in order to achieve that?
Many things are being tried, but we haven’t achieved what we were hopping for. To produce certain events on a national level and with a wide notification is one of the aspects, in which the Book Fair succeeds, to which a huge amount of people go, not just to buy, but also to spend the day, frequently the entire family, or to the Havana Biennale when it has a urban display… The collection of festivals helps, but the effort can not be limited to those situations that occur just once a year.
If we want to talk about culture integrated to our every day happenings, which has to compliment the everyday work of the institutions, it has to be much more systematic with a deeper communitarian work that is according to the peculiarities in each region, with the cultural preparation of the teachers.
We have a program which leads basically to the fulfillment of that aspiration, but it has to be perfected, it has to undergo critics and adapt into each specific place, not just because culture opens the field of spiritual life, but also because it sharpens sensibility.

Monday, July 24, 2006

World´s interest for the Cuban culture

The Cuban traditional music does not stop its beating at the La Muralla tavern, a warm place at the Plaza Vieja (Old Square), in the historical centre of Havana, capital of the island.
Few steps from there, at the Benny More Café – Tavern, another musical group, together with a dance couple dressed in the old period customs, delight with their art the foreign visitors.
There is good melody, accompanied by guitars, lute, maracas, all Cuban instruments, to consolidate a characteristic of many restaurants as well as other recreation places in Old Havana, where there is no recorded music or rhythms from other parts of the world.
The artistic show, even when it is only a trio or a quartet, -usually are small groups-, cause admiration in the foreign eyes, wishing to know the Cuban music in all its roots.
As a part of the culture of the island, one of the strength of the Cuban tourism, the music (and the dance), is one of the main attractions.
The Historical Centre of the City has been scenario of different artistic expressions, among them the music, with the main goal of promoting the historic and cultural diversity of the island among the main countries issuers of tourist to Cuba.
Another important international event, ContArte, a party of the words, the biggest short stories festival held in Cuba that has been gaining more and more international presence. This time, with the participation of narrators, artists, dancers and other specialists from Algeria, Belgium, Canada, Cameroon, Costa Rica, United States, France, Mexico, Switzerland and Turkey, among others, in an event that combined the oral narration with the singing, the poetry and dance.
Is a complete cultural party at the Cuban capital, that catch the attention of tour operators, travel agents, as well as other professionals of the tourism sector during the International Fair of the leisure industry in the island.

Armando Posse


Oggún (secreto del tambor batá)
Raymundo Gonzalez


Glenda Leon is part of a new generation of international conceptual artists. With similar interests and aspirations of western women, her work is striking in its innovative exploration of post feminist concepts. In this work she gives new life to discarded objects. Notice that the "flowers" in the work are little bow ties and decorations lifted from old women's lingerie. Titled Every Flower Is A Shape Of Time, the idea is to redefine time by expropriating found materials and giving them new life and meaning. Yet in spite of these global concepts, the actual idea of re/using discarded materials is a very Cuban reality. A good example of this are the infamous 50's style American cars still widely used, and maintained by making old parts new.

Lizt Alfonso: "ALAS" -- Wings to fly...

So many outstanding voices cannot be wrong. Such are reviews by renowned U.S. critics for the Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba Company, the only such ensemble from the Caribbean island that has performed on Broadway for several months. It is an all-women dance troupe that has toured countries such as the United States, France, Spain and a number of Latin American countries.
Lizt Alfonso has many followers in Cuba since the late 1990´s when it premiered the show Fuerza y Compas (Force and Rhythm), Elementos (Elements), Homenaje a FGL (Homage to Federico García Lorca) and now Alas (Wings), a successful mixture of strength, classical ballet, flamenco, modern and Cuban dance, music and good theater, staged at Havana´s Grand Theater for three weekends on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until March 26th.
The one hour and fifteen minute play, preformed in the Cuban capital´s most important theater, consists of two acts, the first one of which includes six scenes with a dramatic tone. The second act is made up of three sort of comedy scenes, a genre that the company deals with for the first time.
According to company director Lizt Alfonso, "alas" or wings are symbols referring to the act of flying and the ballet touches the feelings of human beings in their existence and their struggle for life.
In an exclusive interview with Lizt Alfonso for the section Topic of the Week of Radio Havana Cuba´s cultural website in English, the director and dancer talked to us about the show Alas or Wings:
Hello Lizt, and congratulations for the show Alas, which I consider hit, and also for having granted this brief interview for the section Topic of the Week of Radio Havana Cuba´s cultural website in English. We know that your time is precious in the middle of rehearsals. But now, let´s get to the point.
Thank you for letting yourself be carried from your world to ours, which is our main objective in each one of our performances: to become UNO (one).
First of all, I think that, though not the only one, one of the principal positive things of Alas compared to the previous show, Elementos, is its synthesis, without leaving a single loose end in the choreography or visual part of the show. Do you agree with that assertion? Which do you think are the main differences and similarities between Alas and Elementos?
It is evident that another of our main objectives is to make, or let´s say to shape by hand, each one of our shows in a different way so that the outcome be different, diverse. Therefore FUERZA Y COMPÁS is different from ELEMENTOS and the two from ALAS, and also from so many ballets and show that we did before and that are little known by the audience that has been following us since 1998, though our company was set in 1991, and I hope that will continue.
It is true that I enjoy achieving synthesis in everything I do and hate loose ends, but I´ve always seen it that way, not only now. In fact, the technique we use is a synthesis of various techniques: ballet, flamenco, classical Spanish ballet, Cuban folklore, etc, that have marked our style, that is, have created our own personality within the Cuban and foreign dance spectrum. The differences are based on the fact that we are each time more demanding. We are never pleased, always aspire to make something qualitatively better, and the similarities lie on our objectives which don´t change.
For our readers who are sitting by their PCs throughout the world and have not seen it, and on a written page cannot visualize as music and dance show, in our opinion as company director and artistic director of the show, how would you describe Alas?
Like a trip to the souls of human beings, a trip that offers you the chance to open your wings and fly...
Including live music in it is part of our integral concept or perhaps it is in line with current trends?
I´ve never believed in "tendencies". I get close to the artistic event on the basis of what I feel and experience myself and take all those who follow me there.
In all Lizt Alfonso Ballet shows, music is live and plays the role of a protagonist. We have excellent young musicians, who have found here space to create as composers and to stand out as players, too.
I think that the Act II of Alas, mainly the humor scenes, demand much acting from your dancers, was that a challenge only this time or do you think of including this in your future ballets?
My dancers always have to act. In the show Sinceramente FGL or Sincerely FGL, dedicated to the centennial of the birth of great Spanish playwright and intellectual Federico García Lorca, they had to play the leading parts of his works: Yerma, Bernarda, Rosita, in sum, all of Lorca´s women. In Elementos, they played the parts of the Earth, Fire, Water, Wind and Humans. In Alas, they go from themselves to their souls and those of the others, so, whether drama or comedy, they always act and must work hard to be themselves or their characters, according to the requirements of each show or each staging.
I know that you have ballet training and that from our beginnings, flamenco has been a great passion, but, why that mixture, in my opinion marvelous mixture, of flamenco, traditional and folk Cuban dance, modern dance and ballet in the company, and that is more obvious, above all, in the ballet Alas?
It´s a matter of personal formation. I studied ballet, flamenco, Spanish dance, drama, in sum, many things; everything that I mix in my shows is my life. Luckily, the company is seeing us as a dance and show company rather than as a Spanish ballet company. All that mixture, which I prefer to call FUSION is each time more and more firm and structured, that is why, it is more evident for you in ALAS, and you know that the show is handmade but you don´t see the seam or needlework and that is good to us.
Last but not least, and putting the show aside a little bit, talk to me about your vocational formation and cultural community work, your work to train talented little and young girls.
That work is our essence. Cuban National Hero José Martí said: "Each man has the right to be educated and later, in exchange, the duty to contribute to educate others" and Martí is wise. What would happen to the future generations if we don´t comply with that?
So, what we are doing in terms of vocational formation is nothing more than fulfilling our duty and we do it with pleasure. It is hard to do, because you have a lot of responsibility, but is one of the most rewarding jobs of the world. Think of the fact that the dancers who today make up our Company were our students since they were five, seven or ten years old, and today they are professionals who dance on stage along with those who were their teachers.
Thank you very much again for having granted us this interview and I wish you great success now and in the future.
Thank you.

La Primera Feria del Libro en Cuba

La Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana tiene su más lejano antecedente en la primera feria celebrada en Cuba con respaldo estatal entre los días 20 y 27 de mayo de 1937. Tuvo lugar en la explanada de La Punta, Malecón y Paseo de Martí (más conocido como el Paseo del Prado), en los terrenos que por entonces ocupaba la Cárcel de La Habana.
En ella participaron las principales librerías habaneras (Minerva, La Moderna Poesía, Martí, Económica, P.Fernández, Labraña, La Casa Belga, La Divulgación Literaria, Sudamericana, Escuela Nueva), respondiendo al llamado de Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring y José Luciano Franco, quienes por aquella época desarrollaban una destacada labor de promoción cultural comunitaria, con la colaboración de otros intelectuales cubanos.
También estuvieron presentes, con stands propios, la Dirección de Cultura del Ministerio de Educación, la Colonia Hebrea (con sus libros y revistas editados en hebreo y sobre temas cubanos), la revista Carteles (con sus cubiertas multicolores en un ángulo muy concurrido de la Feria), la Editorial Trópico (con sus títulos más recientes, entre ellos la primera antología del cuento cubano contemporáneo preparada por Federico de Ibarzábal), y la Oficina del Historiador de La Habana, con sus Cuadernos de Historia Habanera y otras publicaciones que hoy constituyen patrimonio bibliográfico.
La Feria fue inaugurada con palabras del entonces progresista Alcalde de La Habana, Antonio Beruff Mendieta, y del escritor Alfonso Hernández Catá. La parte artística estuvo a cargo de la Orquesta Sinfónica y de los Niños Cantores de Viena. La clasusuró el doctor José María Chacón y Calvo, director de Cultura del Ministerio de Educación.
Como era de esperar, tal acontecimiento tuvo escasa resonancia en la prensa de la época, salvo alguna atención del afamado periodista habanero Ramón Vasconcelos, quien en su habitual columna Al margen de los días, del periódico El País (mayo 22 de 1937), después de señalar que le había parecido superior en su organización a la primera feria del libro de Madrid, a la cual él asistió, expresaba: «Más cuidada la selección, más atención oficial para el librero. Sólo que no es posible convertir en entusiasmo súbito la indiferencia de un público, de un gran público que discute hasta el precio de los periódicos». Vasconcelos, en el mismo artículo, elogiaba la iniciativa de Roig de Leuchsenring y de José Luciano Franco ("trabajo de gigantes en un clima tan indiferente al esfuerzo neto, sin beneficios personales inmediatos, y tan antilibresco»), y concluía con esta sentencia: «Sin exposiciones, sin ferias de libros, sin inquietudes intelectuales, sin vivencia espiritual, una capital no puede llamarse culta.»
Breve Historia de las Ferias del Libro en Cuba
I, 1982,Palacio de Bellas Artes de La Habana. Presencia modesta como observadores de países latinoamericanos. Muestra especializada dedicada a José Martí, Jorge Dimitrov y Nicolás Guillén.
II, 1984, Hotel Habana Libre y Pabellón Cuba. 25 países y tres organismos internacionales. Muestra especializada: El libro científico-técnico.
III, 1986, Palacio de las Convenciones. 44 países y seis organismos internacionales. Muestra especializada: El libro para niños y jóvenes.
IV, 1990, Pabexpo. 40 países y cuatro organismos internacionales. Muestra especializada: La medicina al servicio de la humanidad.
V, 1992, Pabexpo. 38 países y varios organismos internacionales. Muestra especializada: Quinto Centenario del Encuentro entre Dos Culturas.
VI, 1994, Pabexpo Más de 30 países y varios organismos internacionales. Muestra especializada: El medio ambiente y la alimentación
VII, 1996, Pabexpo. 27 países y varios organismos internacionales. Muestra especializada: La computación hacia el año 2000.
VIII, 1998, Pabexpo. 28 países y tres organismos internacionales. Se dedicó por primera vez a un país: México. Contó con la presencia, en su última jornada, del Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro.
IX, 2000, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña. Más de 30 países y varios organismos internacionales. País invitado de honor: Italia. Se dedicó por primera vez a un autor: Cintio Vitier, Premio Nacional de Literatura 1988.
X, 2001, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña. País invitado de honor: España. Se dedicó a Roberto Fernández Retamar, Premio Nacional de Literatura 1989.
XI, 2002, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña. País invitado de honor:
XII, 2003, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña. País invitado de honor: Comunidad Andina de Naciones (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú y Venezuela). Se dedicó a Pablo Armando Fernández, Premio Nacional de Literatura
XIII, 2004, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña. País invitado de honor: Alemania. Se dedicó a Carilda Oliver Labra, Premio Nacional de Literatura
XIV, 2005, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña. País invitado de honor: Brasil. Se dedicó a Jesús Orta Ruiz "El Indio Naborí" y a Abelardo Estorino, Premios Nacionales de Literatura

Havana, Hemingway’s Muse

The Caribbean archipelago has always been an enigma for many travelers and some, such as the U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway, transformed this magic into literature with cities such as Havana the backdrop of their inventive minds.
As we approach the 45th anniversary of the death of this giant of U.S. letters who was one of the most famous of the so-called “lost generation”, he is still missed in Cuba. Hemingway’s writing often included references to the island such as in To Have and to Have Not, Islands in the Stream, and, of course, the fisherman Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. Indeed, Hemingway’s presence on the island was one of the country’s most enriching experiences of the 20th Century.
Hemingway started writing for the Star in Kansas City, which printed his first experiences of the First World War, and led him to the Toronto Star as its Paris correspondent. His first trip to Cuba was in 1928 on his return to France, albeit a brief visit of a few days in the company of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer via a ferry to Cayo Hueso key. He arrived in Havana with the manuscript of Farewell to Arms in his hands.
Four years later, between April and June of 1932, he was trapped in the Gulf Stream – like his narrative alter ego – his love of fishing bringing him to the Cuban capital, where, upon his third trip to the island in 1933, he began writing some of his best work, including one of his most famous novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He wrote from room number 511 on the 5th floor of the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana where he said he was “in a good place to write”. The room is kept as a small Hemingway attraction, the building having been restored in 1977. The “odors” – as Alejo Charpentier put it – and sensations of Old Havana momentarily held him and he discovered the fruits of the tropics: pineapple, the queen of all fruit, the sweetness of mango, and the sensual pulp of the avocado, along with voluptuous coffee and tobacco – all experiences that are reflected in his article Marlin Off the Morro: A Cuban Letter published in the 1933 Fall edition of Esquire magazine.
Havana Bay, the coast bordering the city, and the poor fishermen from the east of the capital along the shores of Cojímar, all came into play like the fish he caught at sea. Hemingway thus knew the realities of life on the island beyond its hedonistic aspect. His own wife Pauline experienced a clash on the streets of Havana during the tyranny of President Gerardo Machado.
In August 1933, the novelist left for Spain where the Second Republic had been installed and where civil war would soon break out, feeding his journalistic and literary writing. Hemingway expressed sympathy towards the Spanish people and on his way to the Iberian Peninsula learned on the radio he kept on his boat that the government had fallen.
These experiences manifested themselves in his novel To Have and to Have Not published in 1937 in a discussion between Cuba and Cayo Hueso (in Florida), beginning with a description of the city of Havana: “You know how Havana is early in the morning with the vagabonds still sleeping against the walls, even before the ice trucks brought their cargo to the bars. Well, we crossed the little square in front of the wharf and went to the Pearl of San Francisco café and there was only one beggar awake on the square drinking water from the fountain.”
The protagonist of the novel, Henry Morgan, listens to the explication of a young revolutionary as to what his motivations were: “We are the only revolutionary party … we’ve had enough of the old politicians, of Yankee imperialism that strangles us via the tyranny of the army. We’re starting afresh so as to give every person an opportunity. We want to end peasant slavery … divide up the huge sugar estates among those who work them … Today we are governed by rifles, pistols, machine guns and bayonets … I love my country and I would do anything … to free it from this tyranny.”
At the end of his time in Spain with the defeat of the Republic, Ernest Hemingway returned to the United States and then moved to Cuba in April 1939, joined by his new wife Matha Gellhorn who rented a more remote, abandoned place than the Ambos Mundos Hotel - the Finca Vigía in the suburbs of San Francisco de Paula owned by the D´Om family.
It is said that Hemingway at first didn’t want to stay there because it was so far from the city, preferring to spend time in Havana or on his boat, Pilar in the company of his friend, Gregorio Fuentes. But Martha repaied the place and the couple moved in definitively as their new Havana residence. Later, in December 1940, the writer bought the property. It was in the Finca Vigía that he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, among other works. This was his “hang out” until 1961 when he returned to the United States as a sick man and tragically killed himself on July 2nd of the same year. In homage to his work and, above all, his love of Cuba, his residence was converted into the Hemingway Museum.
In his novel Islands in the Stream, which was published posthumously, one can find Havana in his prose in the description of San Isidro Street in the neighborhood of Atarés as well as the wharves of the port and the populous neighborhood of Jesús María, giving particular emphasis to the hills of Casablanca: “On the other side of the Bay I saw the old yellow church and the scattered houses of Regla - green and yellow ones … and behind it all the gray hills close to Cojímar.”

Ramonet.100 Hours with Fidel.

"My book is intended for the new generations that have not had access to the thoughts, to the work of Fidel Castro and that have difficulty learning about his work due to the wall of lies, the slander, and the systematic criticism of the Cuban Revolution, especially in Europe," affirmed French journalist Ignacio Ramonet at a press conference in Havana on last May 19th.
The enormous volume, launched in Cuba a few days ago under the title Cien horas con Fidel (100 hours with Fidel) is already an instant hit in Spain, where the publishing house Mondadori (Debate collection), which published it with the title Fidel Castro. Biografía a dos voces (Fidel Castro. Biography in two voices), just ran out of the first edition of 12,000 copies and has a reprint on the way.
"In Spain, some readers approached me to say that they had no idea what Fidel Castro thinks because the Spanish media talks frequently but never lets Fidel speak," said Ramonet.
The author, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, a respected monthly publication in Paris, commented, "one of the dangers for a professional interviewing Fidel Castro is allowing oneself to be charmed by the personality."
"He has a charismatic personality for a journalist of my generation," he confessed. "He is a witness, an actor, and a protagonist of historic events of such import that obviously, there is or could be a type of fascination."
Being conscious of that danger the author contacted several friends, including well-known individuals named in the book. "I asked them what indispensable questions they would ask if they had the opportunity to talk to Fidel Castro."
"My moral obligation was that these questions would be in the book… and they are in the book."
Accused by certain media agencies in Madrid —and Miami— of having used excerpts from speeches for some pages of the book, Ramonet explained that he did this only under the direction of Fidel himself, who felt that his thoughts were more precisely elaborated in that medium on certain topics.
The author of the book joked about the origins of such criticism, stating that there were people trying to claim that the interview never happened, and that the photos of Fidel with Ramonet were phony.
He told of one Spanish individual, Arcadi Espada, who even wrote on his blog, "In truth, that interview could not have taken place because Fidel Castro has been dead for several weeks or more."
"The extent to which they go to disqualify the interview is that extreme," he commented.
To Ramonet, "a journalist is someone who goes against the current."

Fidel is one of the most censored public figures.

"In France and Spain, Fidel is one of the most censored public figures: censorship by consensus, because when all the world says that this is an atrocious dictatorship and that Fidel is a cruel dictator, it creates such a consensus that even journalists who try to be critical do not dare to say something against prevailing opinion."
"And this is normal," he added. "I have tried to do it and I know what one can suffer. I had an opinion column in a Spanish newspaper and when an excerpt of the book came out in El Pais they censored me… In the name of liberty, they suppressed the freedom of expression, the freedom of opinion! That is consensus, censorship by consensus."
The French editor and journalist emphasized: "I feel that our duty is to try to give voice to those who have no voice. In Spain, France or Europe, the international figure with the least opportunity for expression is Fidel Castro and my duty as a journalist, my honesty as a journalist, is to let him speak."
What is the central theme of this volume of extensive conversations with the Cuban president? "The idea is to explain the mystery of how a boy born in a village far from everything, in a landowning family of extremely humble origins — without great culture we would say today — how that boy educated in the Catholic, reactionary schools of Jesuits who came during the Spanish war… how did he become a revolutionary leader? Where did it come from, how did this creativity emerge…?"
"This is what the book attempts answer."
"I was frightened…
With a tone of humour, Ramonet told how his closeness to the president during four 24-hour periods had led him to fly with Fidel to Ecuador "in his ancient airplane."
"I was frightened … I would not fly in that plane like he does… he is a brave man."
Ramonet described Fidel, in his daily activities, as "a person who always has extraordinary tact with those around him, very respectful, attentive, he doesn’t want to upset people…"
"He is very much a gentleman. You might say that is normal, but I know politicians who in public are very attentive, but in reality are dictators in their own environment," he explained.
He emphasized: "He lives in extremely frugal conditions. There is absolutely nothing luxurious about his surroundings. He lives like a soldier-monk. I asked him how much he makes and he explains this in the book. I told him that I could not live on his salary, obviously. And I am happy that I make a bit more than him!"
Ramonet’s book will soon come out in Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Greece, Russia, Korea, Japan, Italy (Mondadori), Britain and the United States (Penguin Books). In France, it will be published by the end of the year by Fayard. In Spain, 20,000 hardbound copies are for sale accompanied by a documentary on DVD featuring several hours of the exchange between the journalist and the Cuban President.

Alicia Martínez del Hoyo

Born in Havana, in December 21st, 1920. She began studying dance in 1931, in the Ballet School of the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical. Later she moved to the United Staates and kept on her formation with Enrico Zanfretta, Alexandra Fedórova and some other eminent professors from the School of American Ballet. Her professional activity began in 1938, in Broadway, making her debut in the musical comedies “Great Lady” and “Stars in your eyes”. A year later she joined the American Ballet Caravan, forerunner of present-day New York City Ballet. She joined the Ballet Theatre of New York, in 1940, its settling year. From there on she began a brilliant stage of her career, as leading performer of the greatest classical and romantic ballets. She has worked with XX Century choreographic outstanding personalities; she performed the leading roles in the world premieres of important plays like: “Undertow”, “Fall River Legend” and “Theme and Variations”. Her interest for developing ballet art in Cuba, made her to settle the a Ballet Alicia Alonso in Havana, nowadays Ballet Nacional de Cuba. From that moment her activities were shared between the American Ballet Theatre and her own ensemble, which she kept with very scarce, or non, official support until 1959, when the Revolutionary Government supported her labour. Her choreographic versions from great classical ballets are worldwide acknowledged: “Giselle”, “Grand Pas de Quatre”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “La fille mal gardeé” are danced in important companies such as: the Opera Ballets from París, Wien, Prague, the San Carlo of Naples and the Theatre of the Scala de Milan. Prima Ballerina Assoluta and directress of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Alicia is one of the most relevant personalities of dance history and top figure of classical dance within Ibero American cuture. In 1993 she sttled a Chair of Dance named after her in tne Universidad Complutense, of Madrid. Nowadays she presides Fundación Alicia Alonso, in Madrid. She has been acknowled as: Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Havana, the Instituto Superior de Arte (Higher Studies Arts Institute) of Cuba and the Politechnical University of Valencia, Spain, Member of Honour of the Asociación de Directores de Escena de España, Encomienda de la Orden Isabel la Católica, conferred by H.M the King of Spain Juan Carlos I, Gold Medal from the Fine Arts Circle , Madrid; Order of Arts and Letters on the Degree of Commander, France; Pablo Picasso Medal from UNESCO; National Heroine of Labour of the Republic of Cuba.

Salvador Bueno Menéndez

He was born in August 18th, 1917. In 1942 he graduated in the University of Havana as Ph. Doctor. Since then and until 1947 he has worked as Professor of Spanish in a private teaching institutiton. Later he was in charge of the Chair of Grammar and Literature in Pinar del Rìo and Havana High Schools. Through an opposition contests he joined the Chair of History of Cuban and Hispanic American Literature in the School of Philosophy and Letters in the University of Havana. Collaborator of Carteles, Bohemia, Unión, Casa de las Américas, La Gaceta de Cuba, Revista de la Biblioteca Nacional, Cuadernos Americanos (Mexico) and many other Cuban and foreign publishings. He has travelled through the United States of America, Western Europe, Hungary and the late Soviet Union. Author of several anthologíes: Antología del cuento en Cuba (1902-1952), Los mejores ensayistas cubanos, Los mejores cuentos cubanos, Órbita de José Antonio Fernández de Castro. President of the Cuban Academy of Language. Since 1962 he is professor of the School of Arts and Letters of the Unioversity of Havana. Literary adviser of the Josè Martì National Library. National Award on Cultural Research, 2000

Carilda and Poetry

The Soil
When my grandmother came
she brought a bit of Spanish soil,
when my mother left
she took a bit of Cuban soil.
I will not keep with me a bit of homeland,
I want it all on my grave

Carilda Oliver Labra
Renowned poetess Carilda Oliver Labra hugs the entire planet from her home on 81st and Terry Streets in the western Cuban city of Matanzas, the place she has not left and will never leave.
On her old wood rocking chair, caressed by the breeze that comes from her courtyard, where there is a harmonious kingdom of plants, cats, multi-colored birds and fantasies, Carilda takes refuge in the sweet and sour solitude or her memories to disclose her lyric universe to us.
What does family mean to you?
- It is a very encompassing concept which is not only limited to your parents; it also deals with partners, children, uncles and even friends. People who are loved by their family members are really happy, since family is a gift that enriches us spiritually.
What are the most cherished moments you remember?
- On the occasion of one of my father´s birthdays, when I was about six years old, my mother secretly prepared me to play the piano, and I really did it quite well; my dad was so touched that all of us ended up crying. The triumph of the Revolution on January 1st , 1959 was a happy day and a day of great spiritual resonance to me. I´m also pleased to have obtained the National Poetry and National Literature Prizes and my designation as a member of the Cuban Language Academy, recognitions that I consider gifts that fortune has given me.
What do you think are the saddest moments of your life?
- One of them was when my father died, the loss of a family member that you love is always sad, but there are others that I don´t want to remember, because they made me very unhappy; I prefer to live for the happy moments.
Many experts and fans biasly consider you an erotic poet. What´s your opinion on eroticism and love?
- To me eroticism is desire, sensation, spirituality; therefore, love cannot be exempt from eroticism. Love is everywhere, but you cannot be isolated from the world where we live. My work is also social, philosophical, humanistic.
If we choose one of your poems, the one dedicated to the earth shows your deeply rooted Cuban spirit. What motivated you to write it?
- It turns out that my grandmother, who was from Madrid, came to Cuba shortly before the war of independence against that European country and brought a little bit of Spanish soil with her. She usually smelled it thinking that she would never go back to her country and she never returned. When my mother emigrated, inspired by my grandmother´s memory, she made a little bag which she filled with earth from Matanzas. So, in my poem I said: I will not keep with me a bit of homeland, I want it all on my grave.
What are your priorities this birthday?
- To improve my health, go through my published and unpublished work to correct what I´m not happy with, and above all, to continue writing more prose, though I´ll keep on preferring poetry.

Christopher Columbus and Havana

The Christopher Columbus Cemetery in Havana is one of the most prominent works of catholic funerary art in America, during the second half of the 19th Century. Undoubtedly, it is the vastest urban site of those worldwide with the name honoring the Great Genovese Admiral.
After he died in Valladolid on May 20th, 1506 –the 500th anniversary of his death was recalled this year- his body did not rest in peace. On the contrary, it toured a string of nations, inhumations and exhumations: in Spain (from 1506 to 1537 or 1540), Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo, 1537 or 1540 to ¿1795?), Cuba (Havana, from 1796 to 1898) and back to Spain (Seville, ¿from 1898 to the present?).
We can know about details of that curious destiny and very dubious authenticity of remains taken to our capital from Santo Domingo more than two centuries ago, through a valuable article by Havana historian, Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, entitled “Tracing Admiral Christopher Columbus,” (Revista Universidad de La Habana, number 236, pp 7-27).
Spanish and Dominicans experts are still discussing assessments from 1877, when pieces of the body and ashes were discovered in the area where Christopher Colon and his son Diego were at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Santo Domingo. Then, whose body was taken to Havana in 1796? Results of a DNA test proposed by a Spanish researcher are likely to put an end to that old discussion. According to Dr. Leal, Santo Domingo Archbishop Fernando Portillo Torres suggested to bury the corpse of the first admiral in Havana, a city founded –for the third time- together with the bay of the same name.
The colonial capital was reinforced with new military facilities, once it was back to Spanish hands in 1763, eleven months after it surrendered to the English on August 13th, 1762. The Havana Cathedral –its building, in construction, had been the church of the Jesuits, an order that was expelled from the Island in 1767, was built after the establishment of the diocese of Havana. Up to that moment, the diocese a2nd the cathedral of Santiago de Cuba were the only ones in the nation, and that one, from its foundation, was dependable on the Santo Domingo Metropolitan Cathedral.
The government and people in Havana received the coffin containing the body of the worldwide-dubbed “Discoverer of America” on January 19th, 1796. It was transferred to Havana based on a cession from the Spanish section of Santo Domingo to France, under the Treaty of Basel, signed by Manuel Godoy and Napoleon in mid-1795, and on one more reason, given black General Toussaint Louverture´s military pressure on Spaniards to abide by that accord.
By then, Santo Domingo witnessed the revolutionary process led by slaves in 1791 –concluding after less than a decade- with the foundation of the Republic of Haiti, the first black republic of the world.
Catholic Father Jose Agustin Caballero y Rodriguez de la Barrera (Havana, 1762-1835), also a teacher and philosopher, described the Great Admiral as the symbol of the highest virtues of that time in favor of scientific and cultural progress (euro centrism).The ethical thinking prevailed in the “Funeral Sermon to laud His Excellency, Mr. Christopher Columbus, First Admiral, Viceroy and Governor-General of West Indies, his Discoverer and Conqueror.” That praise was published by Estevan Joseph Boloña´s Printers, preceding a “Dedication to the Very Illustrious City Hall of Havana,” written by Father Caballero. Two letters to appreciate that articulate oratory piece sent by the Veraguas Duke, one of Colon´s descendants; these were published in the Havana´s Papel Periodico (newspaper) in May 1796.
In a certain extent, the distinguished Havana celebrities sought and expected that science and art, combined with a flourishing economy, contribute to the future growth of their motherland. Slave sugar cane plantations had fostered economic boom by the 1790s; that ensured the prosperity of slave dealing and African slavery in Cuba. As a matter of fact, the new sugar businessmen in Havana had not distanced too much from the mercantilist purposes that pushed Colon´s expeditions into our land.
During the 20th Century, many publications, literary and historiography works that extolled Colon´s braveness and wisdom as “Discoverer” of Cuba –an island he explored in his first and second voyages- and of the Continent ungratefully called America. Some people held his symbolic presence in Havana as the oldest and most important heritage Cubans possessed, and regretted that his illustrious memory were honored with a modest gravestone at the Cathedral. In 1853, General of the Army and Political Governor Don Juan Manuel de la Pezuela y Cevallos Escalera, Marquis of la Pezuela, suggested to build a monumental cemetery to replace Havana´s General Cemetery (also known as Espada Cemetery, because his main founder had been a bishop with that surname in Havana in 1806; it was shut down in 1878). Pezuela added the name of Christopher Columbus to the above-mentioned funeral project.
However, it was not until 1867 (R.O September 19th) that the ground for the new graveyard was bought. By the way, they cost 40,867 pesos (gold). The Board of Cemeteries held the contest to select the architectonic project in 1870. Calixto Aureliano de Loira y Cardoso (El Ferrol, Galicia 1840-Havana, 1872), who lived in Havana since he was six-year old, and earned an Architecture Degree at the San Fernando Academy in Madrid, was awarded the prize by an exacting jury including military engineer Francisco de Albear y Fernandez de Lara, the brightest and wisest of his time in Havana. Loira died very young –at the age of 32- and Eugenio Rayneri Sorrentino, an efficient builder with a degree at the same Spanish academy, replaced him as chief of the project.
The construction of the Christopher Columbus Cemetery was officially opened on October 30th, 1871, right in the area where the Peace Gate or North Gate, would be erected, and closed in 1886. The highest military officers and ecclesiastic officials of the Spanish government attended the opening of that remarkable event. However, General of the Army and Political Governor Blas Villate de la Hera, Count of Valmaseda, was not present. He was in the eastern territories, heading his troops in fighting against Cuban independence fighters who had launched the Ten-Year War on October 10th, 1868.
The area where the cemetery was built, initially occupied; it was extended northeast in the second decade of the twentieth century. The Peace or North Gate, the main access to the burial ground, is an imposing Romanesque-Byzantine arch of triumph made of local limestone. It is divided in three entrances: the central one, characterized by its height for the entry of funerals and two side gates, for visitors; the iron-gates end in spearheads, closing spaces, with three soaked C (CCC) standing for the name of this cemetery.
It was finished in 1902 with three sculptures (Faith, Hope and Charity) and two medallions, one in each side of the wall, representing the Crucifixion and the miracle of resurrection Jose Vilalta Saavedra (Havana, 1865, ¿Italy, 1912?), first Cuban sculptor of great shapes, sculptured the three figures out of white marble of Carrara.
The construction of a cenotaph was also planned to keep Colon´s remains at the square name after him, between the Northern Gate and the Central Chapel of the burial ground. But neither the construction of the cenotaph and the new transfer were materialized. Only the very distinguished name and surnames of the prominent navigator were left on the gravestone.
After the Independence War (1895-1998), US troops were occupying Havana, the deep recess used as a tomb to keep the sacred body was opened on September 26th, 1898 to take them again to Seville on December 12th of that year.
It is yet to find out if it is true that the remains of the courageous seaman who astonishingly said this is the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen!, departed from the port of Havana.
Nonetheless, we can assure his undertaking and courageous spirit accompanied our city for over hundreds of years, and it is still flying over it, in a Carpenter-like style of the true wonderful, in wings of The Harp and the Shadow.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moors and Christians

More than delicious

National Cuban side that is served with meals which is a mix of black beans and rice. It was introduced during the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime when both countries mixed culturally because of strong ties. The dish takes after the name Gallo Pinto, used in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. For Cubans it means Moors (black) and Christian (whites). The mix of the food.

A necessary history

The Cuban Editorial Industry

On March, 1959 the National Printing House of Cuba was founded. Following this event, the National Alphabetization Campaing spreads its wings all over the island on 1961, the National Editor was created under Alejo Carpentier's heading, little after, on 1962, the Universitary, Pedagogical, Juvenile and Political Editorials followed its steps, the most transcendental chapters of national culture started to be written.
A year later, under the suggesting tittle ''El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha'', the People Library from the National Printing was opened. Cuban culture was enriched by the presence of editorials, printings, editors, designers, book keepers, promoters and above all, writers and readers.

On 1967, the Cuban Institute of Book saw the light aimed at developing the Cuban editorial movement and after only six year of creation, the production exceeded one thousand titles, considerable increase respecting 1967.

According to information provided by the ''Book Mail'', publication from the Cámara del Libro in the latest fair, the Cuban Agency of ISBN holds 130 registered editorials. 53 of them are publishing houses, 30 on a national level and other 23 located around different provinces; the rest are departments or publications areas belonging to universities, scientific institutions, associations, foundations, state organizations and advertising agencies...

The serial publications also occupies an outstanding place at the Cuban editorial panorama rising up to 451 and about one hundred of them in electronic support, according to the Cuban Catalog of Serial Publications on 2002.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Poet

Guillén Batista, Nicolás Cristóbal ( 1902 - 1989 )

He was born in July 10, 1902, in Camagüey and died in Havana, in July 17, 1989. Nicolás Cristóbal Guillén Batista, son of journalist Nicolás Guillén Urra and his wife Argelia Batista
Arrieta. Being very young he intensively took part in cultural and political Cuban live, which brough about his exile several times, He joined the Communist Party in 1937.
He worked as typographer before journalism and becoming known as writer. He began his literary production within postmodernism and reinforced it through 1920´s avant-gardé experiences, soon becoming its
most outstanding representative of black or Afro Antillean poetry. He collaborated in Camagüey Gráfico, Orto, Castalia, Alma Máter, Diario de la Marina, La Semana, El Mundo, Hoy, Vanguardia Obrera, Viernes, La Última Hora and El Nacional
from Caracas, editor in El Camagüeyano, Información, El Loco, Resumen and editor in Las Dos Repúblicas, Lis, Mediodía, Gaceta del Caribe, settled and directed the Unión.magazine
Among his great and numerous poetic work are: Motivos de son, Sóngoro
cosongo. Poemas mulatos, West Indies Ltd., Cantos para soldados y sones para
turistas, El son entero, La paloma de vuelo popular, España. Poema en
cuatro angustias y una esperanza, Tengo, El gran Zoo, El diario que a diario,
La rueda dentada, El corazón con que vivo, Por el mar de las Antillas
anda un barco de papel. In Prosa de prisa some of his his journalistic works are gathered.

After the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 he got some significant diplomatic charges, travelled along several countries in cultural and political missions. He was member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and Deputy to the National Assembly of the People´s Power. President of the National Association of Writers and Artistis of Cuba (UNEAC)
Since it was settled, in 1961, until 1989, year of his death..

His work has been translated into several languages. In 1972 the Prize Roma the Viareggio. Was conferred to him.

National Critics Award by :
Páginas Vueltas, 1982

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Fernando Ortiz
He is born on July 16th, 1881 and dies on April 10th, 1969. In 1883, his mother took him to live to Menorca (Balearic), where he studied the elementary school and graduated of High school in 1895. Student still, published a story in a newspaper of Menorca. In 1895, when beginning the career of Law in the University of Havana, he participated in the foundation of the student publication The Echo of the Class. He continues his studies of Law in Barcelona where he graduated. He graduated of Doctor of law (1901) in the University of Madrid and returned to Havana in 1902. Between 1903 and 1905, he worked in the consular service of the Republic. He studied criminology in Italy and he made acquaintance with Caesar Lombroso and with Enrique Ferri. He collaborated in the magazine of the first one, Archivio di Anthropologia Criminale, Psichiatria e Medicina Legale.

In 1906, he was designated fiscal lawyer of the Audience of Havana. The following year he entered in the Economic Society of Friends of the Country of which ended up being president. Professor for opposition of the Public Law school of the University of Havana. In 1910, he attended as official delegate from Cuba to the First International Congress of Administrative Sciences, taken place in Brussels. That same year he renews the publication of the Revista Bimestre Cubana, organ of the Economic Society. He stays as its director up to 1959. He figured among the initiators of the Popular University in 1914. With José María Chacón y Calvo he founded in 1924 the Society of the Cuban Folklore and that same year founded the magazine Archivos del Folklore Cubano that directed during the five years of its publication. He lived in Washington between 1931 and 1933 and deployed activities against Machado's regime, then prevailing in Cuba.

He founded in 1936 the Spanish American Institution of Culture of which was president until its disappearance, and the Ultra magazine, organ of cultural diffusion. In 1937, he created and was the president of the Society of Afro-Cuban Studies. In 1941, he organized in the Hispanocubana, the Cuban Alliance for a Free World, as a fighting organ against the fascism. In 1942, he gave beginning to a Seminar of Cuban Ethnography in the University of Havana.

He received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa in Humanities of the University of Columbia, in Ethnography of the University of Cuzco and of Law of the University of Santa Clara. Besides in the magazines founded and directed by him , he collaborated in Cuba America , Cuba Contemporánea, Universidad de La Habana, Revista de Arqueología y Etnología, Azul y Rojo, Revista Científica Internacional, El Mundo Ilustrado, Derecho y Sociología, El Mundo, El Cubano Libre, El Fígaro, Remedios Ilustrado, Diario Español, Ilustración Cubana, El Comercio, Letras, Alma Cubana, La Discusión, Bohemia, El Triunfo, La Razón, Revista de Administración, Gráfico, La Reforma Social, El País, Revista de La Habana, La Revista, Heraldo de Cuba, La Nova Catalunya, Revista de Avance, Social, Polémica, Revista Tabaco, Minerva, Diario de la Marina, Islas, La Gaceta de Cuba, Casa de las Américas; Archivos Venezolanos de Folklore; Traducción (Tampa, Florida); El Diluvio (Barcelona); La Nueva Democracia (New York); The Hispanic American Historical Review (North Carolina, USA). Member, also, of the Academy of the History of Cuba. He stood out as figure of first importance in the investigation of the Afro-Cuban folklore where he left published diverse and important titles. He wrote several books of Laws and his works La filosofía penal de los espiritistas y Contrapunto cubano del tabaco y el azúcar were translated to the Portuguese and English, respectively.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Identity and Nation

Cuban culture is a colorful, interesting, an often bizarre mix. This mix of different, often contrasting, factors and influences can be seen at many levels of Cuban culture. In Cuba, the intermingling of races is one of the most obvious examples.

Our Symbols

The flag, which will become the National Flag of Cuba, was raised in Matanzas in May 19th, 1850, the very day that General Narciso López seized the City of Cárdenas, Matanzas province. For 19 years this flag symbolized anticolonial Cuban activities..
Once the Independence War outbroke in October 10th, 1868, the flag was adopted as national emblem by the Asamblea Constituyente de la República de Cuba (Constituent Asembly of the Republic of Cuba) met in Guáimaro, in April 11th, 1869.
Since then, each and every act of the Cuban independent movement was presided by it.. José Martí expressed that the blood shed by independence cleaned the doubtful origin of the flag which will become glorious in the battlefields
The equilateral triangle which outstands is the perfect geometrical shape, because of its equal three sides and three angles, which means equality among men.
The three colours (white blue and red) are related to French revoutionary triptyc of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, and besides they the ideals of justice expressed in white pureness, and altuism and highness of those ideals in blue, with the red, reflection of the blood shed in search of freedom. They also incarnate the new republican and democratic ideals that are synthetized in the citizen of the republic,free and equal, with full rights and duties, opposedly to king´s vassals, according to absolute monarchies´ conception.
Finally, the five-pointed star, with one pointing North to indicate steadiness, expresses the balance between moral and social qualities which must tipify the state, and shines by its own light, it is to say, the independent state.
So, the star symbolizes liberty, the triangle equality and the strips union, perfection and fraternity.
Symbolism on it conferred revolutionary transcendence and allowed to identify Cuban nation perpetual ideals. Narciso López, who was freemason, knew revolutionary, republican and humanist symbolism. Because of this he included them in the Cuban flag. His conception differs this one from the North American, by reflecting not only the ideas of freedom, but also those of equality and fraternity which inspired the French Revolution.
So, it is easy to understand why the Cuba flag became the symbol of generations of patriots and social fighters, the symbol of all Cubans. Its revolutionary content synthetizes the whole ideal of a noble and brave people, the human, generous and steady feeling of a nation thought and forged by itself.

The National Coat of Arms is inspired on the one designed by poet Miguel Teurbe Tolón, under the ideas by Narciso López for the National Flag. The present day Coat of Arms differs something from the one originally made in 1849 as a sketch to La Verdad newspaper, directed by Teurbe in New York and used by López to seal official documents and bonds issued by him, as provisional Chief of State of Cuba, between 1850 and 1851.
Its present-day design was officialy approved by the Assembly of Guáimaro, when the Republic of Cuba was created. According to Law No. 42 it is a Symbol of the Nation.
The aforementioned National Coat of Arms represents the Island of Cuba. It is formed by two archs of similar circles which cut backing their concavity one to the other, like a heart-shaped ogive, and is divided in three bodies, spaces or fields. Cuba, as the key of the Gulf of Mexico, the union of the Cubans, the sun of liberty, the colors of the flag and a typical Cuban landscape are present in the coat of arms.
A red Phrygian cap, emblem from the French Revolution, pointing to the right in its upper part, appears in its design This cap had been used by men who got freedom in ancient times. In its central part appears a five-pointed white star, one of them ponting up, and, just like the flag, it represents the independent state.
The Coat of Arms is hold by a bunch of eleven sticks tied by a red ribbon , x-crossed, meaning union, because strength is in it . The upper horizonal field represents a sea, with two capes, mountains or land points, which symbolizes the position of Cuba between the two Americas and the rising of a new nation.
A golden rod key placed in a blue sea closes the strait. At the bottom, a raising sun spreads its rays all over he sky, remembering the place of Cuba: “The Key of the New World”, the link between America and Europe and North and South America, as well as the shining rise of the new-born state.
In its lower left field appears a rural landscape, green and mountain site, with a blue and clear sky, symbolizing our environment, plain and natural, presided by a palm tree, a royal palm, the typical Cuban tree, with its central leave bud pointing up, emblem of the straight character of the Cuban people.
Its lower right field has five same width stripes, alternating dark blue and white and bending from right to left, and associated to the flag. These blue and white stripes symbolize the department division of the island under Spanish colonialism.
Not exceeding its height, the National Coat of Arms of Cuba, is ornated by a laurel branch at its left representin strength, and an oak branch at its right representing victory.

In August 13th,1867, the Bayamo City Revolutionay Committee met in the house of the lawyer Pedro (Perucho) Figueredo, to make the planes which must unlash the Cuban independence movement. Right there it was suggested to Figueredo himself to compose “Our (Cuban) Marsellaise”. On the dawn of August 14th the revolutionary from Bayamo created the melody which would become the National Anthem of Cuba. It was named La Bayamesa (The Woman from Bayamo) as expression of its revolutionary character and from the place where the Cuban rebelliousness was born.
In May 8th, 1868, Figueredo asked to Manuel Muñoz Cedeño, musician, to orchestrate that march, epic chant far from religious hymns; hymn of war and victory that should appeal to combat and exalt the motherland feeling. In June 11th, 1868 Figueredo made possible that it would be played in the Iglesia Mayor (Main Church) of Bayamo Fourteen months after being created the melody of the National Anthem of Cuba, Figueredo includes its letter.
In October 10th, 1868 the Revolution outbursted, and ten days later, October 20th, Bayamo City is seized by rebel forces. Amidst rebel troops happiness and bustle, mixed with the joyful crowd, side by side with Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and other patriots, and surrounded by the shouts demanding the lyrics of that hymn, Figueredo took out pencil and paper from his pocket and crossing a leg on his horse´s saddle, he wrote the lyrics that, handwritten, copy by copy, was sung for the first time by those met. From then on its notes presided each and every act of the independent movement, and has become an expression the patriotic character of the Cuban people.

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