Cuba: A Land Without Messages From the Afterlife / Luis Felipe Rojas

31 May

The title came from Ramón Tirso, one of the most hardened and prolific lecturers that I know on the whole Island. Tirso has spent time in three Cuban universities, studying the most disparate careers among them. From physics to art education, with a stop in pedagogy of the English language (today he speaks four languages), my friend from Camagüey complains about the lack of connection between our country and the rest of the world.

Precisely now that international borders are being erased thanks to the information highway, the country is locked up tight as a drum. Every day Cuban writers (those eternal ambassadors) communicate less and less with the living centers of international literature. The entrenchment of the so-called engaged intellectuals, owing to their affiliations with the ideological apparatus of Havana, has rendered them truly unknown among their peers beyond the seas.

Let’s take for example Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Cuba’s “most successful representative today.” Translated into 18 languages, Padura’s novels are displayed on the shelves of the libraries of prestigious universities, the author is received by important academies of letters but he is unable to be an interlocutor to bring a message to his followers there in the island.

The novels of the author of The Man Who Loved Dogs are sold in our country at a rate of a few hundred copies in the increasingly unattractive Havana Book Fair… and “if I’ve seen you, I don’t remember”, according to the refrain (in other words, I don’t want to remember). The numerous literary prizes (including the National Literature Prize), decorations or even privileged appearances in the only three national newspapers, do not give him a million readers. The only million copies distributed in Cuba are those on the “ration card.”

With an emissary like this, we are perfect strangers.

Warming the arm

Each people needs to stretch its tongue, run it along through the world’s trails so that they know how their village speaks, and in their village they may know what paths their thinkers retrace.  How can they live decades without the interviews, the fears and descriptions of the creative processes of a Borges, Phillip Roth or the best of journalism that marinates Europe or the Middle East?

The fictions of Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas were known from their own saddles in England and the United States, respectively.  If their works are known today within Cuba, it is not due to editorial policy but to the animosity of its rulers.

The painstaking work of some good Cubans and their friends made issues of Havana for a Dead Infant and The Color of Summer pass among the complicit in order to travel what should have been a common path.  But those fictions of which I speak found, more than a thirsty reader, a tired citizen.

A battlefield, a devastated grassland

Making of Havana a fermenting center of the intellectual and combative left in past decades generated one of the most abominable literature that you might find, readers corrupted by the slogans of the barricades and the appellation of being perfect, idiots and Latin Americans, names which are going to take us a century to live down.

A simple practical exercise suffices in order to know how we are doing in terms of literary consumption.  I invite anyone to try to get a permit to access the archives of the Jose Marti National Library, without passing through the tribulations of a hellish bureaucracy or a string of negatives that lead him to desist.

And what, today, is the arsenal of the provincial libraries? When do they ever update their stacks with books that don’t come from the political publishers, Olive Green, the Social Sciences, or those already common bricks that praise comandante Chavez?

From a nearly monthly update as we had in the ’80s, we’ve gone to a laughable annual Havana book fair to see an interesting book from another country. At this rate, in addition to leaving us with no memory of the world, without messages, we are left without readers.

Translated by: Scott Miatech and mlk

27 May 2014

“Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity” Annoy Families of Cubans Working in Venezuela

23 Feb

As the world shouts itself hoarse over what’s happening in Venezuela, the Cuban Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity assures us that this is nothing more than a ruse of the “fascist right” and they’ve launched a tirade in very bad taste from the site “Segunda cita” (Second Quote), belonging to singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez (the worst taste yet).

Making it all worse is that this Network (hopefully not of the Wasps*) totally ignores mothers, daughters, sisters, loved ones, gossipy neighbors and relatives of another ilk who are in suspense for their loved ones in Venezuela. The brave and harmless Cuban workers (for example doctors or the sports instructors of the “Blas Roca” contingent) are trapped in the midst of violence and despair because they’ve been momentarily caught in their flip-flops between Caracaibo and Corralillo, or in the flow of laptop parts between the state of Lara and the town of Majibacoa, in Las Tunas. Their families in Cuban are screaming blue murder and now these intellectuals have come to “fuck it all up,” as a young Guantanameran has written to her boyfriend working as a nurse in Caracas.

“Finally, we call on international solidarity to squelch any attempt to impose violence in a country which is advancing firmly toward a society of justice, equality and peace,” concludes this letter from the “professionals of simulation**”, among whom are poets fighting for their literary event, historians praying to God not to take away their European fellowships, and musicians who aspire to give a concert in the hills of Caracas to put a sound track to the fists of the National Guard and the truncheons wielded by the brave boys of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

Translator’s notes:

*A reference to the Wasp Network of Cuban spies stationed in the United States.

** A sarcastic reference to those who “simulate”… or pretend to believe… so as not to lose their perks.

Spanish post
22 February 2014

Cooperation with the Cuban Artist / Luis Felipe Rojas

10 Feb

Jose Kozer, (taken at the site of “Una Belleza Nueva”)

“Two Cuban filmmakers seeking financial support to complete a documentary on the Cuban poet, José Kozer” stated an article published by the site Café Fuerte (Strong Coffee).

The documentary titled Me, Japanese “Seeks to reflect the personality and work of Kozer, one of the most prolific American authors and simultaneously to explore his identity and his status as an exile,” stated the editor of the site in Miami.

“Kozer, 73 and of Hebrew origin, went into exile in 1960. For three decades he worked as a Professor of Hispanic literature at Queen College of New York and is now retired, living in Hallandale, Florida. He has published more than 50 books of poetry and has written more than nine thousand poems. Last year, he received the Ibero-American Poetry Pablo Neruda Award, awarded by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CNCA) of Chile.” We, the lovers of poetry and words which put together the world, will collaborate in the project (so say I).

Two youngsters, Magdiel Aspillaga and Malena Barrios already have several hours of interviews with Kozer and several of his associates. They intend to raise $ 5,000 to address the process of post-production, including editing, sound, final mix, music and color correction. It’s hoped that the documentary will be 45 minutes to one hour in both English and Spanish.

“Aspillaga, 34, has live in the United States since 2008 and has made two films of fiction, Vedado and Neuralgia. Barrios, 30, has worked as a screenwriter and Assistant Director. Writer Joaquín Badajoz is also one of the producers of the tape,” concludes Cafe Fuerte while detailing the fundraising projects.

Translated by: Carolina Rojas

28 January 2014

A Literature Against the Gallows / Luis Felipe Rojas

5 Jan

Newspaper accounts written by different independent groups of the private sector in Cuba do not supply the images that emerge from the histories, essays and poems produced by the experience of being imprisoned under the Castro dictatorship in the 54 years that it has been in power. From José Martí to Carlos Montenegro; from Pablo de la Torriente Brau to Ernesto Díaz and Huber Matos, there exists a testimonial chain that’s hard to break.

Rafael Saumell provides continuity to Cuba’s imprisonment history and narrates the process in an essay which maps out what it means to be behind bars, inside the moats and the horrors of imprisonment in the island, seen through the eyes of extraordinary authors who wrote about their own personal experiences. From Manzano, Martí, De la Torriente, Montenegro, Díaz…to the present day.

How much of your own experience is there in “La cárcel letrada” (Betania, 2013), how much of your own frayed skin can we find in the book and what did you get out of writing it?

There are several references in the book’s introduction as to how much of me there is in La cárcel letrada.  If you read through those first few pages you will find that the main idea was to intellectualize my experience as a political prisoner within the context of national culture: who preceded me, how they expressed their experiences, what they said and what they denounced. I chose authors and writings that I felt were meaningful, considering that they were representative of different historical eras, several political regimes and varied literary styles. I did not exclude the common prisoner because I was a witness to it in the prisons of Guanajay and in Combinado del Este. I did not live together with them, but I met a lot of inmates who were part of that sector of the prison system. In that aspect, I followed the examples offered by Carlos Montenegro and Pablo de la Torriente Brau. At the same time, I researched, read and analyzed their writings and learned many concepts related to certain literary theories and philosophical principles. I adapted them to the study of each work and author while maintaining a dialogue with my ancestors in slavery and imprisonment.  In this fashion, I tried to carry out a catharsis using the academic essay as a tool and linked the continuity of our political tragedy from the colonial era, the time of the Cuban Republic and the period after 1959.

In addition to being locked up, driven into exile and death, the Castro dictatorship has produced a sub-genre which has been denominated ‘prison literature’. Do you think it will transcend as a style and why?

Prison literature (poetry, story, novel, theater, film, documentary if we refer to Conducta Impropia and Nadie escuchaba, for example), exists although it does not reach the majority of its natural audience (the Cubans who reside in the island) for reasons we all know.  Those of us who write about these matters know we are writing for the future, that is, any fate that our work will meet will be tied to the intensity and the quality of the political changes that may come.  In the meanwhile, in the areas of publishing and academia, lectures and conference circles we are part of the “immense minority” as Juan Ramón Jimenez would say.  For that reason, the work we do will continue to amass and gather dust in the bookshelves until its time comes.  I see it as a sort of unearthing, an illumination of shadows, a hullabaloo and the airing of clean and dirty laundry coming out of the closet, every voice free and liberated. The declassification and the opening of police files, the judicial archives and prison files will be necessary and inevitable.  Moreover, for those events to take place, we first have to uncork the bottle, there has to be a real opening …otherwise the pot and pan will be half covered, only lukewarm. A half truth is a total lie.

What inspires you to keep writing?

What inspires me are: the literary vocation I discovered in my youth; the personal, mental and physiological need that forces me to read a private journal, or sit at a computer in order to thread the ideas that emanate from me; the opinions that I want to share with others; the emotional zeal that I have for literature in general and from which I continue and will continue to learn. I write because I have no other choice but to obey my nature and do what it dictates to me.  Besides, it does not compel me to commit crimes, unless someone ironically says about my work: “he committed a triple crime by writing an essay, a story and a novel.”  Since May 9, 1988 when I left (and I did not abandon) my country, I have all the freedom in the world to write, without fear of censure or fear from a reader who could report and denounce my “counter-revolutionary” writings to the police.  I do not depend on any business or institutional subsidy. I am financially independent and therefore I have earned my intellectual freedom to write what I want and as I see fit.  I am solely responsible for the failures or recognitions of my profession.

What is your connection with Cuba, with Cubans, with the current Cuban literature?

I still have very good contact with Cubans and Cuban literature writers in the four corners of the planet.  I read Tyrians and Trojans alike; I don’t discriminate against authors because they have political beliefs different from mine.  If I took to read only those who agree with my point of view, I would probably only read what I myself wrote and that, of course, is narcissism, egocentricity; it is anti-democratic and unjust, naturally.  I read other Cuban authors because it is my vocation, my duty and because real charity begins at home.  Furthermore, as far as arts and literature, we are at a much higher level and quality of life, we are so much more advanced than the country governed by the “revolutionary government.”

Any advance on what you are cooking up for the future?

As far as any advances, here is what I am planning: a play, a collection of exchange letters and memoires of the entertainment world when I worked as scriptwriter for radio and T.V. programs.  Unless my health fails, I will be very busy with those projects, in addition to the education of my children and grandchildren, the unending nurturing of my relationship with my wife, with my family, with my friends.  Of minor importance is the fact that the economic base for those plans is rooted in my job as Spanish Professor in a Texan university: “I have earned my keep/let there be poetry.”

25 November 2013

Poetry That Does Not Reject Words / Luis Felipe Rojas

4 Jan

I’m fed up with poetry that doesn’t speak, that doesn’t shake you up, that doesn’t give you that punch in the face that we expect from every book. In the end this is the literature of a kind of sado-masochism to which we’ve been accustomed. However, Joaquín Gálvez showed up on December 6 at the regular group at Cafe Demetrio in Coral Gables, with a handful of poems which are a benediction.

I’m talking about the verses woven on Gálvez’s personal blog in his Hábitad (Neo Club Press, 2013) right now. This book is written as though fleeing from the finish line and the applause and it seems to me to be one of the primary resources. “Thief and police: they imprison you, punish you, kill you… / and in the end/ you show them that playing is the only triumph.” The passages flowing with the poetic impulses in Gálvez’s work, cleanse and light the way for those we left behind: perhaps readers.

I imagine that Hábitad undertakes the difficult course of the empty shelves, the book facing the child with his nose pressed to the glass, but it is fortunate that the time is now. Poetry is a very strong antidote for sentimental and lost souls, those who imagine that cannot live without poetry.

Joaquín Gálvez has thrown himself into the vacuum with this new book, has screamed obscenities in the midst of the concert and that is laudable. To write: “I had enemies because of the light with which I could do good,” is an act of magic in poetry itself. This tightrope of words plays with everything to weave the meaning of his life, of our lives, and is bringing light to everyone, facing the gate where we go to throw stones like on condemned to death. For this he has written his Hábitad.

4 December 2013

Detentions and Beatings for Dissidents in Guantanamo

2 Jan

Last December 24, as a reverse Christmas gift, officials of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) arrested human rights activists Yordis Garcia Fournier (Youth Movement for Democracy) and Yobel Sevila Martinez (Eastern Democratic Alliance – ADO) in the city of Guantanamo.

They told reporters from Palenque Vision that they there were brutally beaten and harassed in the presence of a high official of the so-called State Security.  I personally know Yordis as well as Yobel, I know of their humility and bravery, of the commitment they have to Cuban freedom.  In the case of Garcia Fournier, he finished a one-year and some months sentence for a supposed “insult” to authorities in 2008.  Sevila Martinez, like several members of the ADO, has an enormous string of arrests and beatings, ordered precisely by those who say “take care of the public order.”

Translated by mlk.

Note: this video is in Spanish:

27 December 2013

Premiering on Tmblr / Luis Felipe Rojas

26 Dec

Print Screen/Tmblr

Here I am with my friend and brother Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall, a blogger in Barcelona for the cause of freedom in Cuba. A thousand hugs, a thousand “miamis’ once again.

14 December 2013

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