Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From the Cuban Blogosphere - Introducing Erasmo Calzadilla and The Havana Times (Part I)

La blogosfera cubana esta en candela - The Cuban blogosphere is on fire. So in order to capture a bit of that fire, today I will kick off a new semi-weekly feature on El Yuma called,

"From the Cuban Blogosphere."

New blogs are appearing weekly and new groups and portals promoting and hosting those blogs are proliferating rapidly despite, or perhaps because of the Cuban government's simultaneous repression of some blogs and promotion of others.

Periodically, as I follow these developments in Cuban cyberspace, I will post links to, descriptions of, and if necessary, translations of the most interesting of these new blogs and portals. So here goes...

Introducing Erasmo Calzadilla of The Havana Times.

Thanks to the advice of Carlos Alzuguary that was the subject of one of my previous posts, I recently discovered The Havana, an English-language news and culture portal that was founded in Cuba in October 2008. Originally run from Cuba as a kind of "private venture" by the state-employed, foreign-born interpreter Circles Robinson (yes, that seems to be his real name), the site is now operated out of Nicaragua, where the Robinson lives after losing his job in Cuba. In fact, with the owner based in Nicaragua, the web master living in Spain, the writers reporting from Cuba, and the translators working mostly from the United States, The Havana Times is a true "transnational" operation that illustrates the power of the web in overcoming low budgets and long distances.

While I will have more to say about this on-line portal in my on-going series of posts Let a Thousand Bloggers Bloom, here I only want to introduce and highlight a number of recent posts by blogger Erasmo Calzadilla (pictured above). Calzadilla's blog/diary is available at The Havana Times in both English and Spanish.

As we learn from Calzadilla's own blog posts (Beating the Bush for Work, Parts I and II) and from Ernesto Luis Pardo's profile of him in a recent article at In These Times, Calzadilla, 34, is a former professor who was fired from his university, INSTEC, after, according to Pardo, "posting a series of entries on controversial topics, such as the naïveté of foreigners when it comes to Cuba, or how gay Cuban couples have nowhere to go to have sex."

Calzadilla detailed his dismissal from the faculty and his itinerant search for another job on his blog, writing, "I was fired by the university for teaching - according to the administration - 'a philosophy that did not concur with the program that emanates from the Central Committee of the Communist Party' (in their own words)." Later, he applied to teach at the Lenin School of all places, the ideologically rigid, "magnet" high school for Cuba's best-and-brightest from where he himself had previously graduated. However, his "disciplinary problems" (see inset below) at INSTEC prevented his being hired by La Lenin. Now teaching at another school, Calzadilla continues to write for Havana Times.

What follows are some selected quotes from his sharp, witty, and often sarcastic introduction at The Havana Times. My next post will focus on Calzadilla's latest entry, "Insufficient Arguments against Yoani."

"HT has become a part of my life in recent times. This digital newspaper pulled me from out of the cave in which I had secluded myself, with my books and PC, and forced me to look more closely at my reality. Let’s say that I’ve learned how to value this reality more fairly. Before, I tended to kick and complain heedlessly, now I kick with a good bit more seriousness...

"It seems one is unable to show dissatisfaction with the top-down government (I’m taking a course in the use of euphemisms) and its disastrous consequences for this nation without immediately being associated with transnationals, the empire, capitalism, etc...

"I am a staunch enemy of everything that impedes the freedom and spiritual development of human beings, and therefore I’m against any asymmetry in the access to power. To put it another way, I am opposed to any social actor who accumulates more power than others; say, for example, the transnationals in relation to small companies, or the community in relation to the individual, or one gender with regard to another, or a dictator (malevolent or benign) in relation to the citizens over which they rule.

"I repeat: Anyone who concentrates in their hands any form of capital that exceeds that of other potential actors -even if supposedly for the common good- in the long run will engender imbalanced social dynamics, which in turn will give birth to alienation, violence, generalized stupidity and everything that denigrates and humiliates human beings."

Can I get an Amen!

Like many others at The Havana Times, Calzadilla seems to be a progressive intellectual critic of how the Cuban political and economic system works, not an opponent or dissident calling for a fundamental change of that system. Change WITHIN not OF the system seems to be the mantra. As the Cubans like to say, "Puedes jugar con la cadena pero no con el mono" - you can play with the chain but not with the monkey.

Still, his and others' criticisms of the inner workings of Cuban socialism and how that often negatively impacts the lives of the Cuban people is quite innovative and revelatory as it is expressed in writing (well, in kilobytes really), on a regular basis, by Cubans who live and work on the island, and who write publicly without using pseudonyms, for a publication that seems to be sui-generis and totally independent of any Cuban state or party institution.

While written from a leftist (perhaps utopian idealist) perspective, posts at The Havana Times often focus on the Cuban system's mind-numbing, inhuman bureaucracy, its tendency toward the abuse of power, the strict ideological control over all media and educational institutions, and the lack of decentralized, democratic venues and mechanisms for true popular participation.

Continue reading Part II - "Insufficient Arguments..."

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