The Great Alumbrón*

"The Great Blackout" by Pedro Pablo Oliva

Pinar del Río is a city without movie theaters, an urban place where cars barely pass and at night the streets are dark and empty. However, some personal projects shine in the midst of such paralysis. One of these is Pedro Pablo Oliva’s workshop, with its room halfway between a family home and an art gallery. There they invite you in, give you coffee, show you the canvas hung on the wall or the sculpture tucked into a corner, without asking who you are, where you came from. The first time I visited, Oliva was adding brushstrokes to a Fidel Castro in oils, seen through an X-ray machine. He was floating with his scraggly beard and between his hands in held a nearly asphyxiated maiden, who resembled — irrefutably — Cuba. At the bottom of the painting, tiny people with empty eye sockets watched the force with which the Maximum Leader strangled the country.

I went home treasuring the affection the painter, his wife Yamilia, and his daughters, one with the beautiful name “Azul,” had all shared with me. I felt that with people like that it was possible to embrace, the understanding, the debate; it was even possible to revitalize, to rejuvenate, the streets of Pinar del Río. A few months later I learned that repudiation meetings had also marked this place, when Yamilia began to stage a series of public performances under the title, “Without Permission.” She chose December 10, Human Rights Day, a day when the demons of intolerance on this Island, run riot. The result, a mob of people screaming in front of her door, blocking her from taking her easels outside so that passersby could fill them with color in the plazas and parks. A year later, also on Human Rights Day, the scene was repeated, this time with the threat of sticks and stones forcing her to stay inside.

From her mobile, Yamilia sent her message asking for help, and I remember uploading to Twitter that S.O.S. coming from the west. At one point I even recommended publicly that Pedro Pablo Oliva, an emblematic figure in our culture, express himself about what was happening so close to him. A few days ago I received his response, along with his permission to make it public. His words are so free and filled with reconciliation that I think it’s worthwhile to share them with you. When I read them, I knew that the movie theater in Pinar del Río would reopen some day, and that this urban and civic immobility would give way to a more lively, less sectarian city. The great blackout that he painted in the most difficult years of the Special Period, has given rise to a candle here… a firefly there.

Video of works by Yamilia Pérez

Letter from Pedro Pablo Oliva:


First I want to say hello and ask after your and your husband’s health, the last time we met was in Obispo Street as a result of the meeting you requested with the official who abducted you (to put it in a poetic way) in those ugly and awkward days. He taught me the marks of violence.

I will get to the point so as not to run on and on.

I imagine you are aware of the declaration that the Home-Workshop (a project I’ve had for 10 years) issued relating to the art performance of Yamilia Pérez Estrella, at that time my wife, in the province of Pinar del Río, it’s still on the Internet.

In some of the paragraphs of that declaration I expressed my position, but if you like I can state other things much more clearly.

I am, I was and I will be against the use of violence, manipulated or not, to silence any thought or idea, it is truly shameful to use aggression to impose a way of thinking or to try to use it to intimidate. Every act of this kind generates rejection and repulsion and is no help at all in the so necessary unifying of this country marked by political and family conflicts.
On the other hand, I have always thought and believed that the artist needs more open spaces for communication, and fights for this.

My generation, on the other hand, believed in the social function of art, and I, at least, assumed it proudly, hence my desire for a work that tried to reflect its context and that brought a critical analysis of society. For this I’ve been censored more than once.

Yamilia joins me in the desire to change the world, to try to make it better, always from different positions, she from direct confrontation as Tania Bruguera did, or does, I from the place where social projects are born, questioning or not, criticizing or not. Something that we totally agree on is: this is not a perfect society, nor are others I’ve experienced.

I dream of a different society, Utopia is that man I am and have lived year after year, successes and failures, but I do not stop fighting for that dream.

I am, Yoani, one of those who believe that opposites need to express themselves like day and night, wet and dry, I think fearlessly of the need for more than one party because people have the right to group together based on affinity of thought and philosophy and the precious agreement of dreams.

If you were to ask me one day (which I doubt) what party I would like to belong to I would answer one that does not imprison its children for thinking differently, one that permits the flow of ideas like a river that runs between two shores, one where I know its children are where they receive the sweet embrace of the motherland, where they respect that a woman can love another woman and a man another man. One that grows, step by step in the enchanted spell of love. Where the horizon is seen not as an end but as a beginning, the party that does not say, “this is,” but that opens like the wings of a butterfly, where children are protected from the hateful ghost of hunger and the terrible scourge of dogmas. A party that understands that the new generations need to lead the country and express themselves as the wind and the rain express themselves, and much more, Yoani, that would take forever to name and that form a part of the dream that this man aspires to.

If I have learned in all these years that one person can’t remain for so much time leading a country, I can understand the presence of a party of 20 or 30 years, even 50; but not always led by the same image, the faces, the manner and the way of thinking; changes are needed every so often, each man may have a different method.

Forgive my disintegration and incoherence. You know that Yamilia has a work that is too short, but it has spirit and guts to overcome any obstacle in the process of creation.

This is my position, there is no other, I am sorry to see so much official apparatus circling around a thin girl to stop her from an artistic act one day someone wrongly determined was dissent, if ten Yamilias arose I imagine they would deploy a whole army.

I assure you, Yoani, that this man lives without fear.

My love to you,
Pedro Pablo Oliva

Translator’s note: Alumbrón is a “made up” Cuban word which comes from “alumbrar” or illuminate. Rather than note when the lights go off, and call it a “black-out”, no electricity is assumed to be the normal state and electricity the exception, so when the lights come on the illumination, or alumbrón becomes the exceptional event that is named and remarked on.

10 thoughts on “The Great Alumbrón*


    (Radio Martí, 01/07/1911) – Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez will receive this Friday at the Dutch embassy in Havana Prince Claus Award which was awarded last year in Holland by the foundation that bears the same name.

    The award is given annually to artists, intellectuals and cultural organizations that are distinguished in their respective countries to proclaim liberty and to resist authoritarianism.

    Sanchez was unable to travel to Amsterdam on 17 December to receive the prize because the authorities on the island did not get the permit (white card) to leave the island.

    Click on the audio to hear the report by Mr Alfredo Jacomino, who spoke to Yoani Sánchez.

  2. EUROPA PRESS: A former senior official flees Castro of Cuba and seeks asylum in U.S.

    MADRID-Pedro Alvarez Borrego, a former senior official in the regime of Raúl Castro who was in charge of trade between the island and the United States, escaped from Cuba and sought asylum in U.S. territory, as reported by the Miami media.
    The leak of former Cuban official was released by the journalist Oscar Suarez through his blog ‘Incredible Universe. ” “Alvarez is a kind of great interest to the Cuban authorities and for that reason the state security want to know how he got out and who helped him,” he told local newspaper ‘El Nuevo Herald. ”

    Alvarez was president of Alimport, the Cuban company that controls the trade with the United States, a charge that was dismissed in June 2009 for alleged corruption. In the last weeks of 2010 he was detained several times in the Research Department of Havana, says the blog citing sources close to the former official.

    The circumstances of his departure from the island have not been specified, but according to some versions cited by El Nuevo Herald “the ex-president of the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba have managed to leave Cuba by air and drag.

    The leak happened from the past 27 and 29 December. Alvarez had telephoned his mother from an undetermined point to say no more return to Cuba, said the journalist’s release.

    The decision of former Cuban official may have been motivated by the death of his wife, Olga de la Cruz, who died on November 4 following the accident of the Cuban official airline Aerocaribbean, covering the Santiago de Cuba-Havana , which killed all passengers and crew.

    Several Cuban dissidents in the United States have confirmed the versions released on ‘Incredible Universe. ” According to Frank Calzon, director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, a U.S. official had informed him that Alvarez was in that country.

    But what is still not clear is his whereabouts. “In these hours of speculation says it could be in (state of) Virginia, and others have to say that it is in Miami. Surely the American authorities know where he is, how he escaped and other domestic data and cutting less adventurous,” says Suárez in another letter.


    The director of lobby group US-Cuba Democracy, Mauricio Claver-Carone, emphasized the importance was the fact that Alvarez is in U.S. territory, being an officer who was responsible for the control of the negotiations concerning exports between Cuba and the United States.

    “The few businesses called the scheme, the strategy of lobbying in Washington and intimacies of politicians during his trip to Cuba” said Claver-Carone. “There must be several American politicians worried about what might disclose Alvarez on his trip to Cuba,” he added cited by El Nuevo Herald. ”

    Smith, meanwhile, believes that U.S. authorities were behind Alvarez to learn, as well as details of his escaped, some “to see how finances are in Cuba, Castro’s medical condition, and moves to try to Havana get to the island afloat, among a long list of questions. ”

    During Alimport Alvarez management – from 1998 to 2009 – United States became the fifth largest trading partner of Cuba, achieving in 2008 imports reached 711.5 million dollars (549 million euros), a figure record considering that Washington has maintained 50 years Have a trade blockade to Havana, according to the regime itself, has caused losses to the island of billions of dollars.

  3. YOUTUBE: Gorki, CIRO y Hebert entrevista 7 of “Porno Para Ricardo” talk about the intimidation and arrest tthey suffered in order to prevent them to play their “I Love my CDR” concert

    Porno Para Ricardo “I Love my CDR” Concert Canceled following Arrests and Threats Musical Instruments would be Confiscated

    NOVEMBER 27, 2010.

    The members of Porno Para Ricardo were arrested on Friday, when traveling toward the home of Silvio Benítez (Liberal Party President of the Republic of Cuba) in Punta Brava, to go and leave some of the instruments they were going to use for the concert “I love my CDR. ” This concert was scheduled to kick off the tour of the same name.

    Ciro Diaz (guitar), Hebert Dominguez (bass) and Claudio Fuentes photographer were taken to the 5th Station of Playa and Gorki Águila (vocals) and William Retureta were taken to the station of Siboney. All were handcuffed and taken in patrol cars to police stations where they were accused of “carrying instruments of dubious origin.”

    Ten hours later they released them.

    The concert scheduled for tonight at 7, will be canceled because the instruments and sound equipment may not be transported and run the risk of being confiscated by the authorities. Gorki Aguila has reported the harassment of a patrol car that follows him everywhere since the announcement of the concert.

    Today, Saturday, November 27, Gorki has been cited by authorities at the Immigration Offices, the reasons are still unknown, but it is feared that the subpoena is related to the invitation that the group has received to travel to Los Angeles, California, to a cultural event that will have Polish leader Lech Walesa and Patty Smith scheduled to be present.

    Porno Para Ricardo

    Havana, November 27, 2010.

  4. NEW NEWS OUT with the expulsion of RAMIRO VALDES.
    Now that the LIBRETA is coming to an END, some other BIG SHOTS,have fled the Country.
    Viva Zapata


    The Associated Press: Cuba announces changes in its Cabinet-January 6

    HAVANA — Cuba is reshuffling its Cabinet, relieving the minister in charge of construction for undisclosed “errors” and stripping a powerful vice president of a secondary role he held as head of the telecommunications ministry.

    Fidel Figueroa was being replaced as head of the Construction Ministry for “errors committed in his job,” according to an official government statement read out on the state-controlled television news on Thursday. His replacement is Rene Mesa Villafana.

    The statement also says Ramiro Valdes would step down as head of the Telecommunications Ministry, while remaining a vice-president and being given new powers to oversee his old ministry, as well as the Construction Ministry.

  6. damir, if the castros are really all that bad for cuba, if you had a magic wand, or just a wish on the matter, would you like to see them toppled? if so how? any chance that those who take power after them would be worse for cuba, or are the castros so bad that anything else would be a chance worth taking?

  7. ***
    Very good translation job. More brave Cubans. Also–Newsweek has an article praising the Cuban standards of living! The real information shows 50 years of misery for Cubans.
    Muy buen trabajo de tradducion. Mas Cubanos valientes. Tambien–la revista Newsweek tiene un articulo dando hosannas al estandard de vida en Cuba! La informacion verdadera ensena 50 anos de miseria por Cubanos.
    John Bibb

  8. Beautiful words by Pedro Pablo Oliva! Specially when it describes the new Political party.

  9. And as always, thanks Yoani for brining to our attention such a dedicated and talented artist, whose great art transcends canvas and sculptures.

  10. Thanks Pedro for your eloquence in exposing the two bloodsucking brothers and their criminal cohorts, whose employment depends on keeping them in power. They have keep the country hostage and selfishly hold on to power and won’t give it up to a younger, more clear thinking generation.

    This is not only a violation of the dignity of the Cuban people and their right to determining their future, but also an immoral position that tramples historically and trans-culturally accepted principles of civil and responsible behavior.

    There is only one pharase that describes this dynasty: economic, genocidal and behavioral terrorists.

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