Julio And Enrique Iglesias, Two Moments In The Life Of Cuba

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group "Gente de Zona". (Networks)

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group “Gente de Zona”. (Networks)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 January 2017 — My mother had a T-shirt with the face of the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, bought in the informal market in the early eighties. At a meeting of the Union of Young Communists they warned her she could not continue to wear it. The author of La vida sigue igual  (Life Remains the Same) had fallen into the blacklist of censorship and after that the garment languished in a drawer in our house.

This January, almost four decades after that point in my childhood, Julio’s son Enrique Iglesias has come to Cuba to film the music video for the single Súbeme la radio (Beam me up to the radio). A legion of fans is preparing to follow him to the locations where he will work alongside director Alejandro Pérez, musician Descemer Bueno and the Puerto Rican duo Zion and Lenox.

Although the national media have handled Iglesias’ visit with caution, the news spread rapidly among the people. There will undoubtedly be crowds around the places where the singer plans to go, in the style of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katty Perry, the Kardashians or Madonna, during their stays on the Island.

This Wednesday, many young people sigh to get an autograph of the successful artist and wait to capture on their cellphone a moment in which he approaches, passes, makes himself seen. They are women who are the same age as my mother was in those years when she was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt with the face of the other Iglesias, the forbidden one.

My mother could never go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch

At that time, the Cuban authorities offered no explanations about the ban. There were only rumors and half-statements: “He made statements against Cuba,” was heard in some official circles; “Julio sang for Pinochet in Chile,” warned the most furious militants, in reference to the artist’s 1977 trip to that South American country.

The truth is that Iglesias, the father, swelled the list of singers who could not be broadcast on radio and television. Has name was added to others excluded, such as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Nelson Ned and even Jose Feliciano. The latter was only broadcast again in the Cuban media much later on.

A few years before he was banned, the film inspired by the life of Julio Iglesias had been a blockbuster in the island’s movie theaters. Many viewers boasted of having seen the film several times in one day and the choruses of its songs displaced the songs of the New Trova.

Iglesias, as well as appealing to artistic tastes, meant a fresh wind at a time when Cuban music was filled with slogans. He spoke of romance, love, loss and oblivion, in a country where the bolero had been set aside and the only passion allowed was that which could be felt by the cause and the Revolution. He took off among young people, tired of so much focus on trench warfare and feeling the need for more flesh and less Utopia.

My mother was never able go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch. Another Iglesias has arrived, his songs are different and the Cuba in which he has landed little resembles that Sovietized island of old. Music just won a match over ideology.

Maduro, Disciple of a School in Decline

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 December 2016 – On television a speech by Nicolas Maduro reverberates. He is talking about international conspiracies, the enemy that wants to end the “Bolivarian” revolution and the “monetary mafias,” a refrain that recalls the deceased Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro, obsessed with blaming others for the disasters caused by his own decisions.

The differences in style between the two leaders are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. Decades have passed between Castro’s interminable oratory about Cuba and the Venezuela ruled by the erratic Maduro.

In that time, we Latin Americans have become suspicious of populist discourses and learned to reveal the seams of the redeemers, who hide authoritarians under their robes. Their political speeches do not work like they did before. Like those hackneyed verses that compare the eyes with the stars or the mouth with a rose, and that now only provoke mockery.

In these times, when from the podium the homeland is invoked too often, the spectrum of foreign interference is constantly dangled and results are never offered, this is the time to be on alert. If the leaders call on us to spill every last drop of blood, while they surround themselves with bodyguards or hide at some “zero point,” we have to cease to believe them.

A dose of skepticism immunizes against these pernicious harangues where it is explained that the country’s problems originate outside the national borders. Suspiciously, the whistleblower never takes any responsibility for the disaster and blames the failure on some alleged externalities and media wars.

Maduro was trained in the school of politics as permanent agitation, a school headquartered in Havana. To make matters worse, the Venezuelan leader has been a mediocre student, who interprets the original script with a lot of huffing and puffing, very little charisma and a huge dose of nonsense. His main blunder has been not to realize that the manual designed by Fidel Castro no longer works.

The Venezuelan leader arrived too late to take advantage of the gullibility that for decades made many people of this continent exalt dictators. His speeches resonate with the past, like bad poems, that neither move our souls nor win our affections.

Extremist Today, Democrat Tomorrow

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 August 2016 – In the nineties, this student was one of the most militant in his university classroom, until he managed to get a fellowship in Spain, and today he writes asking me, “Why do you put up with so much and not rebel?” From a rabid militant of the Young Communist Union (UJC) he went on to carve out a history as a clandestine fighter for the democracy he had to escape to because on this island “little could be done.”

The story of this colleague, who overturned his ideology at breakneck speed, came to mind lately on reading the intense controversy over the work sanction against the Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. The young reporter published on his digital diary a statement by Karina Marron, deputy director for the newspaper Granma, where she defined the current economic and social conditions as the basis for “a perfect storm.”

Along with the disciplinary measure, which consisted in permanent separation from his job at the station, Pantoja had to undergo a process of public disqualification that reached its climax in a text signed by Aixa Hevia, vice president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC). The official accused him of wanting to “create a history that allows him to cross to the Miami media.” Perhaps a projection of what she herself would do if the opportunity presented itself.

It would not be the first time that a well-known face from Cuba’s official journalism ended up “crossing the pond” and declaring on the other side that it was because “at that time I believed, but not any more.” The greatest extremists I have met in my life have ended up this way: burying their red or olive-green attire, without intoning the self-criticism that would give some relief to the victims they caused with their outbursts.

Over time, if ever, the instruments of censorship such as Aixa Hevia undergo a process of selective amnesia and forget all the damage they did to those who demonstrated greater honesty and consistency. They leave behind a trail of colleagues they have betrayed and helped to depose, without even sending them a short note of apology or condolences.

It is not Pantoja, in this case, who is carving out a “history,” but the sectarians like the vice president of UPEC, who is capable of lashing out against someone she should defend. As a representative of the journalists’ union, she should protect her colleague, instead of helping to sink him. But she has preferred to act in harmony with the censors rather than in solidarity with a professional who simply defended freedom of the press, information transparency and the right of his readers to be informed about what journalists think.

This is not about speculating whether Pantoja will exercise his right to perform as a journalist in another country because he is prohibited from doing so in his own. It seems more likely that someday it will be Aixa Hevia who will shed her chameleon skin to change her color in turn, to the dictates of the next power for whom she wants to behave as a mere instrument.

Recipe For Forgetting Fidel Castro

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in Chinese. (EFE)

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in China. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 August 2016 – Turn on the radio and the announcer reads a brief headline: “Fidel Castro, The Great Builder.” The man goes on to explain that the most important works of the country have come from this head that for decades has been covered by an olive-green cap. Weary of so much personality cult, I decided to watch television, but on the main channel a lawyer was detailing the legal legacy of the Maximum Leader and at the end of the program they announced a documentary about “The Invincible Guerrilla.”

For weeks, we Cubans have lived under a veritable bombardment of references to Fidel Castro, which has increased in proportion to the closeness of the date of his 90th birthday, this 13 August. There is no shame nor nuance in this avalanche of images and epithets.

This whole excess of tributes and reminders is, undoubtedly, a desperate attempt to save the former Cuban president from oblivion, to pull him out of that zone of media abandonment in which he has fallen since announcing his departure from power a decade ago.

We have left the man born in the eastern town of Biran, in 1926, in the past, condemning him to the 20th century, burying him alive.

Children now in elementary school have never seen the once loquacious orator speak for hours at a public event. Farmers have breathed a sigh of relief on not having to receive constant recommendations from the “Farmer in Chief” and even housewives are thankful that he does not appear at a congress of the Federation of Cuban Women to teach them how to use a pressure cooker.

The official propaganda knows that people often appeal to short-term memory as a way of protecting themselves. For many young people, Fidel Castro is already as remote as, for my mother in her day, was the dictator Gerardo Machado, a man who so adversely marked the life of my grandmother’s generation.

Followers of the figure of Fidel Castro are taking advantage of the celebrations for his nine decades of life to try to erect a statue of immortality in the heart of the nation. They deify him, forgive him his systematic errors and convert him into the most visible head of a creed. The new religion takes as its premises stubbornness, intolerance for differences, and a visceral hatred – almost like a personal battle – against the United States.

The detractors of “Él,” as many Cubans simply call him, are preparing the arguments to dismantle his myth. They await the moment when the history books no longer equate him with José Martí, but offer a stark, cold and objective analysis of his career. They are the ones who dream of the post-Castro era, of the end of Fidelismo and of the diatribe that will fall on his controversial figure.

Most, however, simply turn the page and shrug their shoulders in a sign of disgust when they hear his name. They are the ones who, right now, turn off the TV and focus on a daily existence that negates every word Fidel Castro ever said in his incendiary speeches, in those times when he planned to build a Utopia and turn us into New Men.

Tired of his omnipresence, they are the ones who will deal the final blow to the myth. And they will do it without hullabaloo or heroic acts. They will simply stop talking to their children about him, there will be no photos in the rooms of their homes showing him with a rifle and epaulettes, they will not confer on their grandchildren the five letters of his name.

The celebration for the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro is, in reality, his farewell: as excessive and exhausting as was his political life.

********

Editor’s note: This text was published Saturday August 13, 2016 in the newspaper O Globo of Brazil

Shameful Friends

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 May 2016 – People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.

In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.

In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?

The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.

Maduro and the Country That is Disintegrating in His Hands

A woman protests against members of the Bolivarian National Guard in the march on Wednesday in Caracas. (EFE / Miguel Gutierrez)

A woman protests against members of the Bolivarian National Guard in the march on Wednesday in Caracas. “We are starving to death. Total dictatorship.” (EFE / Miguel Gutierrez)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2016 — All signs point to the collapse of Venezuela. Every minute that passes the country is disintegrating in the hands of Nicolas Maduro, who insists on maintaining with revolutionary violence a power that he has not known how to keep through efficiency or results. His stubbornness has led a nation rich in resources to misery and his incendiary oratory is now pushing it towards a violent explosion.

In front of the microphones, Maduro claims to defend a chimerical 21st century socialism that only works in the minds of its progenitors. However, his political and repressive actions are aimed at preserving the privileges of a clan that rants against the bourgeoisie while living in opulence and looting the public coffers. He believes in the Robin Hood of the children’s stories, but this time Sherwood Forest has become unlivable, even for the poor.

Power outages, insecurity in the streets, food shortages, emigration of the young and professionals, along with the highest inflation in the world, are some of the signs of deterioration experienced by a nation trapped for almost two decades in a populism that has bled the economy and polarized society.

Corruption, mismanagement and a string of neighboring countries that have behaved more like leeches than allies, have drowned Venezuela in less than twenty years. Few still have the shamelessness to publicly support the delusional regime that has installed itself in Miraflores Palace and brought the nation to the verge of collapse. Even former fellow travellers, such as Spain’s Podemos Party, led by Pablo Iglesias, and former Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica, have distanced themselves from Maduro.

A member of Podemos has criticized the Venezuelan president’s attacks against Spain, while the Uruguayan politician described Hugo Chavez’s heir as “mad as a hatter.” Others, like Raul Castro, remain complicity silent while, from the shadows, weaving the threads of support for the Bolivarian forces. No wonder Evo Morales has rushed to Havana to receive instructions about how to proceed in the face of his floundering comrade.

However, Chavism, and its bad copy “Maduroism,” has entered its endgame. Its motorized faithful can instill fear in the population and the National Electoral Council can delay ad infinitum the review of the signatures on the recall referendum, but this will not restore the popularity enjoyed in the times when a military coup hypnotized millions with revolutionary rhetoric interspersed with anecdotes and songs.

Nicolas Maduro is collapsing and dragging a nation down with him. In this fall into the abyss of violence, a military coup or other demons, he has not shown a single instance of the greatness that would put the interests of Venezuela first, ahead of his party and ideological affiliation. History will remember him in the worst possible terms and he deserves it. He has ruled from caprice and exclusion, ultimately inserting his name on that deplorable list of caudillos, satraps and authoritarians who have trampled our continent.

The Collapse

Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)

Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 26 April 2016 – In films there are final epics. Systems whose final moments pass between the sound of the hammers tearing down a wall and the roar of thousands of people in a plaza. The Castro regime, however, is going through its death throes without glorious images or collective heroics. Its mediocre denouement has become clearer in recent months, in the signs of collapse that can no longer be hidden behind the trappings of the official discourse.

The epilogue of this process, once called Revolution, is strewn with ridiculous and banal events, but they are, indeed, clear symptoms of the end. Like a bad movie with a hurried script and the worst actors, the scenes illustrating the terminal state of this twentieth century fossil seem worthy of a tragicomedy:

  • Raul Castro erupts in fury at a press conference when asked about the existence of political prisoners in Cuba, he gets entangled in his earphones and comes out with some rigmarole a few feet from Barack Obama, who looks like the owner and master of the situation.
  • After the visit of the United States president, the government media releases all their rage at him, while Barack Obama’s speech in the Great Theater of Havana is number one on the list of audiovisual materials most requested in the Weekly Packet.
  • Two Cuban police officers arrive in uniform on the beaches of Florida, after having navigated in a makeshift raft with other illegal migrants who helped them escape from Cuba.
  • A group of Little Pioneers, dressed in their school uniforms and neckerchiefs, contort in sexually explicit movements to the rhythm of reggaeton at an elementary school. They are filmed by an adult and the video is uploaded to the social networks by a proud father who thinks his son is a dance genius.
  • Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accuses Obama of having perpetrated an attack on “our conception, our history, our culture and our symbols” a few days after receiving him at the airport and without having fearlessly said any of these criticisms to his face.
  • An obscure official at the Cuban embassy in Spain says in a chat with “friends of the Revolution” that this is “the most difficult moment and its history,” and calls the coverage of Obama’s visit in the foreign media as a “display of an unparalleled cultural, psychological and media war.”
  • Raul Castro is unanimously reelected as first secretary of the Communist Party for the next five years and choses stagnation. Thus, he loses the last chance to pass into the history books for a gesture of generosity to the nation, as late as it might be, instead of for his personal egoism.
  • Fidel Castro appears at the Congress’s closing ceremony, sheathed in an Adidas jacket, and insists that “we not continue, as in the times of Adam and Eve, eating forbidden apples.”
  • A few days after the end of the Party Congress, the government announces a laughable reduction in prices to try to raise fallen spirits. Now, an engineer no longer has to work two-and-a-half days to buy one quart of cooking oil, he only has to work two days.
  • Thousands of Cubans throng the border between Panama and Costa Rica trying to continue their journey to the United States, without the government of the island investing a single penny to help them have a roof over their heads, a little food and medical care.
  • An economist who explained to the world the benefits of Raul Castro’s reforms and their progress, is expelled from the University of Havana for maintaining contacts with representatives from the United States and passing on information about the procedures of the academic center.
  • Two young people make love in the middle of the San Rafael Boulevard in plain view of dozens of onlookers who film the scene and shout obscene incitements, but the police never arrive. The basic clay of the Revolution escapes in the individual and collective libido.

The credits start to run and in the room where this lousy film is being shown only a few viewers remain. Some grew tired and left, others slept through the long wait, a few monitor the aisles and demand loud applause from the still occupied seats. An old man is trying to feed a new, interminable, filmstrip through the projector… but there is nothing left. Everything is over. All that’s left is for the words “The End” to appear on the screen.