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.

Citizens… Time To Tighten Your Belts

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 29 December 2016 – My generation knows no good news. We grew up with the grey subsidies of the rationed market, we reached puberty amid the rigors of the Special Period, we raised our children in a country with two currencies, and now they warn us that times of economic stress are coming. It appears there is no respite from this long sequence of disasters, collapses and cuts that we have suffered for decades.

This December the National Assembly of People’s Power acknowledged the negative numbers that reality made clear long ago: Cuba is not growing, production is not recovering, and the so-call Raulist reforms have not given citizens a better life. The island is heading toward the abyss of defaults, cuts in vital sectors of the economy, and continued stagnation.

In other places, the rulers would resign before the panorama facing this nation, due – in great measure – to bad management. However, since the general president did not win office by a popular vote, no one can punish him at the ballot boxes in the next elections. To the opposition that has demanded his departure, the iron fist of repression and punishment is always applied.

Instead of a mea culpa, the officials who, on Tuesday, detailed the economic debacle and in somber tones said it will continue in the coming year, have called for greater productivity, a reduction in superfluous expenses, and using the so-called “efficiency reserves,” the final official euphemism used to explain what little remains in the national treasury.

However, a few hours after concluding the parliamentary session in which such bad omens were unveiled, the second of the three planned test runs began – Friday will be the third – for the huge military parade that will be staged in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution on 2 January. A mass gathering, with parades of war tanks and soldiers marching in lockstep, that will cost Cuba hundreds of thousands of pesos, if not millions.

The traffic on the capital’s most important arteries has been paralyzed as of the early morning hours of yesterday, Wednesday. Thousands of state employees didn’t have to complete their workday, and a long line of buses had to travel from various municipalities to the parade grounds. Countless snacks were distributed among the most faithful participants in what is coming to be seen as a “Raulist coronation.” The younger brother has planned his own investiture in power, now on his own, after the death of the former president Fidel Castro.

Why this waste of military resources in the middle of the crisis that the country is going through? Such delusions of grandeur are not consistent with the 0.9% decline in GDP this year. This military parade, with its boasts of strength and a “baring of teeth,” will squander some of the resources needed to repair the deteriorated roads of the island, to give just one example.

In this city that has suffered serious cuts in public lighting, where the last-hour bus terminal have been overwhelmed before the lack of interprovincial transport, and where a pound of pork costs up to two day’s wages, what will take place this coming Monday is far beyond wastefulness, it is a sign of lack of respect.

And so, there are certain politicians. They call – for the umpteenth time – for a tightening of belts and a reduction in the expectations for a better life, while they waste enormous quantities of national resources playing at war.

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.

Scholarships, Fears And Attractions

The Scholarships offered by World Learning are targeted to 16-to-18 year olds.

The Scholarships offered by World Learning are targeted to 16-to-18 year olds.

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to me to be the pedestrian, or the driver who runs over him.”

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.

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

Cuba’s Journalists Missing in Action

Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)

Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 July 2016 — My father came home with his head spinning. “What is the crime that several Cuban athletes in Finland are accused of?” He had only heard the official statement signed by the Cuban Volleyball Federation read on primetime news on Monday and published in the written press. The text did not clarify the imputed misdeed, so my father speculated: “Illegal sale of tobacco? Theft? Public scandal?”

The rape of a woman, for which the athletes are presumed responsible, was not mentioned in the statement, which constitutes an act of secrecy, concealment of the truth and disrespect for the audience. The official press acts as if we are small children with delicate ears to whom they cannot mention any gory details. Or worse still, as if we don’t deserve to know the seriousness of the accusations.

What happened, again makes clear the straitjacket that prevents information professionals from doing their jobs within the Communist Party-controlled media. This is something that many of them bear with pain and frustrations, while others—the most opportunistic—take advantage of the censorship to do work that is mediocre or convenient for the powers-that-be.

Why has no prominent Prensa Latina correspondent in Europe gone to Finland to report minute-by-minute on what is happening with the athletes from the island?

We suffer omissions of this type every day in the national media. These absences, now chronic, belie the winks that accompany Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel’s call for a journalism more attached to reality and without self-censorship. Where, now, is that official to urge the reporters to investigate and publish the details regarding the fate of the volleyball players?

It is very convenient to urge the journalists to be more daring and to take the time to guide them to be cautious or to remain silent. Such duplicity has been repeated so many times over the last five decades that it has inculcated in the collective imagination the idea that the press is synonymous with propaganda and with being an informer, a representative of the government.

The damage inflicted on Cuban journalism is profound and systematic. Repairing it will take time, a framework of respect for such an honorable profession and even the emergence of a generation of informers who are not marked by the “vices” of the current academy of Cuban journalism. These young people, without compromises with power, are the only hope left to us.