One of the most thankless and complicated exercises required of Cuba specialists is having to divine what lies behind -or beneath- developments in the country.
A year and a half ago when democrat Barack Obama became president of the United States, Raul Castro was already president of Cuba. On both sides of the Florida Straits, the winds of renewal seemed to blow, for domestic and international matters, in both style and policy. Both leaders spoke of the need for change. One area thought to be a likely focus was Cuban-American relations. The most optimistic spoke of loosening and even eliminating the embargo, given its failure to achieve its goal of toppling the regime in Havana and its repudiation by the international community. Moreover, the new Cuban president spoke of his openness to dialogue on any issue with the sole condition being respect for the independence and sovereignty of the island.
History is addicted to the creation of cliches, drawn generally from a more or less visible reality held up as typifying a society, an age, or a country. And so with Cuba, known in certain periods known as the "Key of the Gulf" (of Mexico) because of its geographical location, or the "Pearl of the Empire" (the Spanish empire of the Americas), has been identified for much of the last century with sugar above all else.
It will soon be three years since Cuban president Raul Castro acknowledged the necessity of introducing structural and conceptual changes in the social and economic model of the country, which is plagued by endemic inefficiency, contradictions, unpredictable factors, and bureaucratic measures and countermeasures that block any movement towards a possible tapping of the creative and productive potential of the island and its people.
With books in hand, the Russians have returned to Cuba.
The only viable normative approach regarding nuclear weapons is their total and universal elimination under strict verification. This cannot be achieved by incremental steps but only by the negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention as advocated by the UN Secretary-General.
At times it seemed like he was long dead, and the news that he had died on January 28, just past his 91st birthday, does not dispel the strange sensation of being but not living (or living and not being) that this man generated. Because for almost half a century J.D.Salinger may have been dead the way writers usually die: they stop writing. And yet no one can deny that thanks to what he had written, this death was impossible, because Salinger was, is, and will always be terribly (to use one of his favourite adverbs) immortal.
Haiti was the first independent country of Latin America. In the last years of the 18th century the French colony of Santo Domingo, which occupied the western half of the island of Hispaniola saw the coffee and sugar cane plantations that had produced such immense wealth for Europe set ablaze. The fires were started by black slaves, whether brought over from Africa or born in the colony, who had the audacity to think that the enlightenment dream that liberty, equality, and fraternity were possible for all men applied to them as well, the most exploited and unequal, though men nonetheless.
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to see Katyn, the latest film of the great Polish director Andrej Wajda. Since then I have been haunted by the final scenes in which we "see" what we already know: the execution of 20,000 officers of the Polish Army by the soldiers of the occupying Soviet Army which, in mid-1939, in keeping with a provision of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, invaded eastern Poland.
A little over a year ago the world was swept by surprise when it learned that Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. We had been witness to a change that many felt was unthinkable: a young black man renowned for his intelligence became president of the most powerful country on earth, one that had been a bastion of racism and that in recent years has become a hotbed of conservatism, an exporter of war, and neo-liberal economic Eden.
If a person's past is the accumulation of the life experiences that made him who he is, the future embodies the dreams and the expectations of what this person wants to be and what he needs to have a better life, materially and spiritually. This ability to direct one's gaze forward and try to extract from the present the qualities of the future is one of the intrinsic components of the human condition and the source of people's and societies' ability to endure.
Cuba's official newspaper and organ of the Communist Party recently published a story that stunned the populace: in a country where the lack of food has become endemic and causes the people dire economic hardship, it happened that tonnes of agricultural products were left to rot outside the city of Havana because there were neither the containers nor the vehicles nor the organisational capacity to transport them.
Cubans are used to living with crises, limits, shortages, emergency plans, "special" -and less "special"- periods. That may be why for a number of months many Cubans have been watching with detachment the economic and financial crisis that has been battering the world for two years now. Even politicians and the media contributed to this sense that in Cuba there would be no job cuts, no foreclosed homes (because no one can legally buy one, for a start), and no gutting of social programmes.
When in 1982 Ridley Scott filmed his prophetic and futuristic Blade Runner and showed the city of Los Angeles devastated by acid rain, sealed off, and darkened by a ceiling of clouds of a dense gas, that future (November 2019, in the film) seemed so remote and so poetic that few would have ever imagined it could come true. Now, ten years from that date, the world has deteriorated to the point that the images from Blade Runner amaze us less and frighten us more because we know how close we are to living on a planet similar to the one shown in the film.
Chiasso is a small city in the Swiss Ticino blessed with a wonderful climate and splendid nature, lakes and mountains, and blessed as well with the historic fortune of being a part of the Helvetic Confederation and thus having Swiss political and social features, plus, given its proximity to Italy, its people not only speak the language of Dante but also enjoy his country's splendid cuisine. As they say, it can't get better than that.
R. was born and raised in Havana and as part of the cultural formation he received there he is an ardent fan of the Industriales, the city's baseball team, and he prefers mangos to apples. R. left Cuba when he was about 30, settled in Spain, married M., a young Spanish woman, and had a son, P., with her. The son is a native of Madrid, and because of this he roots for Real Madrid, and he devours apples. P. will never be a fan of the Industriales, nor will he feel what R. feels listening to Benny More or Celia Cruz sing, because P. is not Cuban.
It's important to remember that before an end of the US embargo of Cuba became even remotely conceivable, certain major international developments had to take place: the profound political shift in Latin America, the moving election of the first black president of the United States (a man, moreover, committed to change in its widest sense), and the financial and economic cataclysm that has shaken the capitalist system to its roots. Without these events, the embargo/blockade of Cuba, decreed 47 years ago, may have continued for who knows how long in its perennial form, condemned by many in international fora, denounced by the Cuban government, suffered through by the Cuban people, and kept in place by successive US administrations that believed it could force political change in Havana.
We Cubans may be the people least frightened by the ominous talk of the "economic crisis" that is stalking the world and has already devastated so many. A prolonged submersion in the sea of shortages and severe limitations that led down into the hell of widespread poverty during the post-Soviet decade of the 1990s -euphemistically dubbed the "Special Period in Times of Peace"- taught us to weather extended periods of every kind of scarcity -food, electricity, transport, housing, medicine, clothing, and much more- and to come through it alive, albeit all too often battered.
On November 23, 1963, I was just an eight-year-old boy. I remember that historic afternoon with a vividness that always startles me: I was on the patio of my house when a neighbour named Merida entered and announced jubilantly that they had killed that "son of a bitch" Kennedy.
For a number of years, and with increasing frequency, the historic leaders of the Cuban revolution (first Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul, currently president) have expressed concern that the major danger facing the country's political system and the revolutionary process that they began half a century ago is disintegration from within.
The image of a single, homogeneous Cuba is increasingly the stuff of dreams. The single-party, command-economy socialist island of the Caribbean with a monolithic society and politics is giving way to a Cuba of social diversity moving towards a plurality that would have been unimaginable twenty years ago, writes Leonardo Padura, a Cuban writer and journalist whose novels have been translated into a dozen languages. In this article, Padura writes that since the 1990s and the profound economic crisis that the Cuban government dubbed the \"special period in times of peace\", the protectionist ceiling that the state tried to extend over every inhabitant of the island shattered, and there was an emergence of a variety of ways of seeing reality, interpreting it, and living it. Since that period Cuba has turned into a country of many looks and many faces: in addition to the official Cuba of the television and press, there is an underground Cuba, beset by marginalisation of both areas and people; and then there is the mirage of tourism, exclusive beach resorts and clubs only for foreigners, among other Cubas.