Monday, November 30, 2009

"A Deep and Terrible Idealism" - The Best Thing (about Cuba) I've read (translated from Spanish) this week (III)

Back in the late 1990s when I was in grad school, I briefly subscribed to The Nation, one of the United States' oldest and leading "progressive" or "leftist" magazines. However, I found most of the articles downright paranoid and so let my subscription lapse after the first year. I much preferred (and prefer) the more ironic and less clearly partisan journalistic approach of The New Yorker.

Now, after enduring 8 years of George W. and his endless lies and triangulations, I must grant that the editors at The Nation may have had a solid foundation for their paranoia.

After reading, "Travels by Taxi: Reflections on Cuba," the lead article in the forthcoming December 14 edition of The Nation (now available on-line) by Cuban writer José Manuel Prieto, I may just have to re-subscribe to that old lefty rag.

The article, adapted from the book-length manuscript, La Revolucion Cubana explicada a los taxistas (incisively translated here by my Baruch colleague Esther Allen) takes off from the provocative premise of the author's undying frustration at attempting to explain the nuances and ultimate failure of a revolution that instead inspires an inexplicable admiration in an unending series of cabbies he has met across the world - from New York, to Madrid, to Mexico City.

While each and every paragraph is filled with unexpected gems of observation, memoir, analysis, wit, and wisdom, I'll leave you with just this taste from the opening page...

"I debated whether to smile or take umbrage, eternally amazed by the tremendous popularity of the Cuban Revolution among the taxi drivers of the world.

"Once, in Rome, I kept my mouth shut, as in fact I've mostly kept it shut, lost in a monologue I know I'll never impose on any poor cabbie's good nature. A monologue about this enormous mistake: the astonishing popularity of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. About everything I'd like to add, to nuance, amazed as I am to see it all reduced to a single name. And about the distress it always gives me--or rather, the perplexity."
Also, you gotta love a guy who can write a sophisticated, humorous, and convincing (at least to me) article that includes these two true, if seemingly contradictory, declarations:

"The Cuban Revolution is a resounding failure."
"The Cuban Revolution won."

PS: The Nation's website also features a 10 minute video interview with the author by Nation contributor Daniel Wilkinson, the deputy director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch. Prieto also has his own blog here.

Flan (Endgame)

'Nuf said.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Flan de Leche a la Cubana

Sugar, condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, and vanilla extract...

Hungry yet?

So, if the lechón asado recipe from yesterday left you hankering for something sweet (and a bit easier and less time-consuming to prepare), here is our very own Flan de Leche a la Cubana* recipe (with a few adjustments in honor of our Dominican neighbors here in Washington Heights, Nueba Yol (aka, Nueva York, aka, New York).

*As our step-by-step pictures show, we have referred to the recipe of Cuba's very own Julia Child, the one-and-only Nitza Villapol, in her book Cocina Cubana.

1 cup of sugar.
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces).
1 can of evaporated milk (12 ounces).
A pinch of salt (una pisquita de sal).
A dash of cinnamon.
5 eggs.
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

A mixing bowl.

A pressure cooker (no Cuban kitchen is complete without one).

Una flanera (see photo of ours from "Da Heights").

A small strainer.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Japy San Guivi!

Como se dice Turkey en cubano?

Lechón asado, don't you know!

Y como se dice Cranberries?

Well, flan, of course.*

In honor of those adventurous souls who want to translate their boring Yuma Thanksgiving to reflect a bit of the color and spirit of the traditional Cuban holiday celebrating the always popular San Guivi (syncrotized with the orisha known as Chanchó Ayé in Santeria - patron saint of pork lovers around the world!), I have decided to post my not-so-secret recipe for the Cuban national dish, Lechón Asado. (I'm plagiarizing this recipe from my own book, Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook).

Lechón asado/Lechón a la criolla
(roasted pork/roast suckling pig)

The preparation of roast suckling pig is a day-long event, usually engaged in by the whole family on special occasions. It is the Cuban equivalent of the American Thanksgiving turkey, only a lot bigger, juicier, and tastier (though perhaps not as healthy, given the amount of yummy pig fat involved)!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Agreeing to Disagree - The Best Things (about Cuba) I've read (in Spanish) this week (II)

I've just read two provocative and well reasoned blog posts about the unfolding situation on the ground in Cuba, "Repression as a Means of Distraction" (by Alejandro Armengol, Blog Cuaderno de Cuba) and about the debate over lifting the travel ban, "Of Tourists and Suitcases" (by Frank Rodriguez, Blog de Emilio Echikawa).

While I don't share the totality of either argument, both reflections are highly recommended for their civil, rational tone, critical analysis, and original point of view. Also, both are notable since they openly differ with the latest actions and statements from Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and their blogger movement, but do so in a spirit of clear sympathy and solidarity.

¡Qué Vengan Los Yuma!

Last Thursday, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a much anticipated hearing on the topic, "Is It Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba?" (see the full 3-hour webcast). While this is not a new subject for Cuba-watchers, there are a pair of bills currently winding their way through the Congress that seek to do just that. Current prospects for the change aren't good, however, what with the pro-embargo lobby donating generously to the Democratic members of Congress and with Nancy Pelosi saying essentially, "Yeah, but now ain't the time...".

However, those who favor the openning managed to bring together a new and quite forceful group of speakers, including activist and dissident Miriam Leiva (who addressed the gathering from the U.S. Interest Section in Cuba) and blogger Yoani Sanchez (who sent in her own powerful and typically literary statement). Coverage of Sanchez's participation from the Miami/Nuevo Herald is here and here, with a quick summary of parallel events in Cuba and on her blog here.

Phil Peters has covered this ground comprehensively on his own blog, The Cuban Triangle and, in fact, was an invited speaker at the hearing.

I leave you with an excerpt from the statement of La Flaca Indomable, "In the suitcases - A reflection on the necessary liberalization of Americans' travel to Cuba":

"Eliminating these long obsolete travel restrictions would mean the end of the main elements with which official propaganda has repeatedly satanized American Administrations, and the anachronistic travel permit that we Cubans need to enter and leave our country would be even more ridiculous. Of the phrase spoken by Pope John Paul II that January 1998 in the Plaza of the Revolution - 'Let Cuba open itself to the world, and let the world open itself to Cuba' - only the first part would remain to be accomplished..."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reinaldo Escobar Is My Brother

"This is not a political statement. It has no 'interested' motive, it seeks to provoke no immediate action 'for' or 'against' this or that side in the (undeclared) war between the United States and Cuba or over the Cuban revolution.

It is on the contrary a human and personal statement and an anguished plea for the Cuban journalist, blogger, and buen esposo Reinaldo Escobar who is my brother.

He is more my brother than many who are nearer to me by race and nationality, because he and I see things exactly the same way. He and I deplore the ongoing war that has long been ravaging his country. We deplore it for exactly the same reasons: human reasons, reasons of sanity, justice and (can I say it?) love.

We deplore the needless destruction, the fantastic and callous ravaging of human life, the rape of the culture and spirit of an exhausted people (los dos embargos - desde afuera y desde adentro). It is surely evident that this carnage serves no purpose that can be discerned and indeed contradicts the alleged intentions of the two proud, mighty, and self-important nations that have claimed to be the defenders of the people they are destroying..."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Otra Bomba de La Flaca (y mas por la manana)

Talk about audacity!

First, it was an in-your-face audio/video of this wisp of a woman with a tongue of fire dressing down a nameless, faceless immigration official and demanding to know WHY? she was being denied permission to leave the country.

A week later, we were met with another spectacle, this time a guerrilla video of an undercover infiltration operation in full Euro-trash disguise (platnum blod wig and a tight black skirt to boot), with la bloguera guerrillera revealing herself and voicing her criticisms as a chancletera orgullosa de Centro Habana.

Finally, the endgame, or so we thought... We get word of kidnappings and beatings - followed by a round of international condemnations and recriminations.

Then, just when we thought La Flaca could not pull another bomba out of her seemingly bottomless hat of tricks, we get Siete Preguntas (well, there are actually 14, but who's counting)!

By the time you read this - Obama's answers will have been posted. Raul, the clock is ticking...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Clumsy and Anachronisitc" - Can I Get an Amen!?

For those pundits and politicians who have been trying to use the attack on Yoani Sanchez and her fellow bloggers last weekend as an argument against the Obama Administration's opening negotiations with Cuba, repealing the travel ban, or doing away with the "clumsy and anachronistic" embargo, here are three fresh quotes to consider:

The first is from Sanchez's latest blog post, "Made in the U.S.A.," the second from a Human Rights Watch report, "New Castro, Same Cuba," released today, and the third from an op-ed, "Lift the Ban," published in the Miami Herald yesterday by U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Representative Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

La Flaca
Made in the U.S.A.
"It is these trade restrictions, so clumsy and anachronistic in my judgment, that can be used as justification both for the setbacks in productivity and to repress those who think differently."

New Castro, Same Cuba
"Efforts by the US government to press for change by imposing a sweeping embargo have proven to be a costly and misguided failure. The embargo has inflicted severe hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, while doing nothing to improve the human rights situation in Cuba. Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, alienating Washington's potential allies on this issue."

Lugar and Berman
Lift the Ban - Let Americans Visit Cuba
"Isolation from outside visitors only strengthens the Castro regime. U.S. travelers' dollars ... could aid the underground economy and the small self-employed sector permitted by the state, strengthening an important foundation of independence from Cuba's authoritarian system... [O]ver the last five decades, it has become clear that isolation will not induce the Castro regime to take steps toward political liberalization. Conditionality is not leverage in this case. Our current approach has made any policy changes contingent on Havana, not U.S. interests, and it has left Washington an isolated bystander, watching events on the island unfold at a distance."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Vamos a Cuba! Well, Perhaps Not

You would think that in a "free" society, we would no longer have to worry about our government "protecting" us by banning books or restricting the free movement of its citizens.

You'd be wrong.

Today, McClatchy and the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from the Florida ACLU hoping to reverse a lower court's decision in February that upheld Miami-Dade officials' 2006 removal of the "objectionable" children's book, "Vamos a Cuba" (and its English language counterpart "A Visit to Cuba"), from the city's libraries.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Arriba Periodismo Ciudadano; Abajo Violencia Verbal: Video Interview with Yoani Sanchez (July 2008)

On a trip to Havana in July 2008, I had the good fortune of tracking down and interviewing the fearless, indefagable and now world-reknown Cuban blogger, Yoani Sánchez.

When I called her home to arrange the meeting and interview, her intrepid husband, the journalist and fellow blogger Reinaldo Escobar answered the phone and invited me to meet them over lunch later that day. My visit soon took on a typically surreal Cuban socialist quality, however, when Escobar explained that while they lived on the 14th floor, the building’s elevator only reached the 12th floor, from where I would have to proceed by foot.

In fact, when I arrived the elevator was not working at all, forcing me to ascend all 14 floors on foot, arriving drenched in sweat and out of breath. Upon seeing my state of exhaustion, Escobar commented ironically, “They must’ve told you the elevator was broken… And you must’ve believed them!”

Laughing, he quickly handed me an ice-cold blackmarket Bucanero beer and explained that he, in fact, was the buliding’s elevator repair man.
“Twenty years ago when they expelled me from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, I decided to study engineering. In today’s Cuba there is just as much need for a good repair man as there is for a good journalist. Except that the first profession requires no ideological training. Really, I sould thank them for granting me my freedom.”
Soon thereafter I transcribed that interview (available in Spanish here and here) and then translated parts of it into English. However, due to my then negligible skills editing video for YouTube or at managing a blog, the video we shot of the interview has only been shown in public once and has so far remained off-line.

No more! I have just edited and uploaded the entire 50 minute video onto YouTube in 13 separate thematic parts. A list of links to the 13 clips is available here in chronological order.

You can also access individual clips here:

[1] The Origins of Generacion Y (4:19)
[2] The portal (2:19)
[3] The connection between Generacion Y and the Polemica Intelectual (6:37)
[4] Sanchez explains the terms "Violencia Verbal" and "Periodismo Ciudadano" (5:19)
[5] The evolution, insults, and applause generated by Generacion Y (4:07)
[6] Sanchez's favorite blogs from within Cuba (3:01)
[7] Sanchez's favoirte blogs about Cuba from abroad (1:37)
[8] Obstacles to blogging in Cuba and strategies for overcoming them (3:43)
[9] A description of Generacioin Y's "citizen network" abroad and of the use of minidisks (3:13)
[10] How the "citizen network" helps with the translation of Generacion Y (2:01)
[11] Sanchez on how she finances her blog and on remaining independent (4:31)
[12] Sanchez's thoughts on Raul Castro's leadership and on his speech from July 26, 2008 (2:55)
[13] Sanchez's thoughts on Obama's candidacy and possible changes in U.S-Cuban relations that could result from his election (5:07)


The best thing (about Cuba) I've read (in Spanish) this week (I): Haroldo Dilla - "Cuba: algo mas que un simple chancleteo"

Today I will inaugurate a new weekly (mas o menos) feature on my blog.

Some of the best writing about Cuba is published not surprisingly en cubano (as famed Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen liked to say) and thus largely inaccessible to my unfortunately many, many Yuma compatriotas (para no decir companeros), who do not easily read, speak, or understand the language (yet).

Until they learn cubano (hasta cuando?), I will help the cause of inter-American understanding (entre nuestra America y la otra America, como diria Marti) by highlighting one story, essay, blog, article, song, speech, joke, etc. not available in English.

While I can't promise a full translation (I do still have a day job), I will provide a quick summary and link to the original source (en cubano).

Ojo: My highlighting of a "best thing" should not be taken as an unequivocal endorsement of its content, sentiment, judgment, or political positioning. Instead, I aim to draw attention to what I consider important, thoughtful, serious contributions to critical dialogue and debate (whether I agree with them or not) - often from heterodox points of view.

So, here goes...
Haroldo Dilla - "Cuba: algo mas que un simple chancleteo"*
"Cuba: Something More Than Mere Gutter Talk"

Pull quote: "But in this 'ciberchancleteo' Yoani rescues two ideas that are vital for the future of Cuba. Above all, she defends her right, as well as that of her fellow bloggers and of the many millions of Cubans (including exiles), to live in their homeland, freely express their opinions, and work to realize their goals. In the second place, she calls attention to the duty of those in positions of power to open up public spaces to all opinions, above all when these same officials have used public spaces (in this case nothing more and nothing less than a university in Miami) to sloppily disqualify those who already suffer from repression and stigmatization by the reigning power."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dear Mr. Obama - We've Seen This Movie Before...

In late February, 1996, as President Bill Clinton entered the last laps of a tough, though ultimately successful re-election campaign, he was confronted with a Cuban monkey wrench dropped directly into U.S. presidential politics.

Up to that point the Clinton administration had indicated its steadfast opposition to the Helms-Burton Act, which aimed at tightening the U.S. Embargo by adding third-country sanctions, strengthening the claims of Cuban-Americans for expropriated property, and transforming what had always been a presidential prerogative into a policy imbued with the force of law. In fact, the bill had been tabled a year earlier in 1995 when Helms faced an intractable Democratic filibuster.

All that changed on the morning of February 24 when Cuban fighter jets shot down two private planes operated by the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue. While his administration had initially - and correctly - opposed the bill on principle, Clinton quickly reversed course and signed the bill with great fanfare, unwilling to risk losing any Cuban-American votes in the exile-rich swing states of Florida and New Jersey. (See criticism of the Act from Global Exchange and the American Enterprise Institute - a rare case when these two ideological enemies were in strong agreement!)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Neither Victims Nor Executioners: Claudia Cadelo and Yoani Sanchez blog about their detention

Cuban blogger Claudia Cadelo provides this fascinating, blow-by-blow description of her detention on her blog Octavo Cerco. Most interesting, perhaps, are her repeated efforts to tweet as she, Yoani, and a friend are forced into unmarked cars by state security agents aided by two slightly sheepish, uniformed police officers.

Cadelo follows up with this post, declaring with Camus that she will be "neither a victim nor an executioner."

Later, Sanchez put up two posts of her own. The first accuses Cuban state security of kiddnapping her and her friends, while the second responds to those who smirk at her situation implying, "she had it coming," and blaming her for provoking the incident.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez Detained, Beaten

I thought I'd spend a quiet weekend away from New York City and away from my blog. However, it seems that we're seeing the first signs of a violent crackdown against Cuba's incipient independent blogger movement.

See the preliminary report from Juan Tamayo of the Miami Herald here.

Tamayo's longer, follow-up story on Cuba's blogging phenomenon was published on Monday and Tuesday in the Herald. It is here (in English) and here (in Spanish).

CubaEncuentro has it's own report on the incident here.

CNN also caught up with Sanchez at home hobbling around on crutches after her ordeal. The video with English translation is here. A second video is here.

Yankees, Gringos, and Yumas - Concurso Etimológico

A few years ago while visiting Cuba, I noticed an unusual number of Cubans sporting Yankees caps. It was back when the Cuban pitcher, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, had joined the team. This struck me as supremely ironic. In a country where "Abajo Yanqui Invasor!" (Down with the Invading Yankees!) had become a slogan (and perhaps for good reason following the Bay of Pigs), America's team is closely followed and even revered.

But it's not just newly arrived Cuban peloteros like El Duque or Aroldis Chapman, the most recent Cuban free-agent defector to flirt with becoming a Yankee. Jorge Posada, catcher for this year's World Champion Yankees, is in fact a walking Caribbean trifecta. His father is Cuban, his mother is Dominican, and he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Never was there a truer Yankee!

So in honor of the 2009 Yankees (not the Yanquis!) who are celebrating their victory in the Canyon of Heroes in southern Manhattan as I write these words, I propose a etymological contest (Un Concurso Etimológico).

Take a stab at telling our readers the origins of these three (in)famous words from the inter-American lexicon:




Rules: Do not resort to Google or Wikipedia for help in your answers. I'm more interested in getting the unvarnished, mythic, and "urban legendary" ideas about the origins of these words. I do have my own theories - but feel free to let 'er rip with your own.

Prizes: The most creative, enlightening, and accurate responses will get one of my Cuban music CD compliations (I have a survery/sampler version, a bolero version, and am working on a new Cuban hip-hop sampler). Winner's choice!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Heat and Light

Can we talk? Can we listen? Can we hear one another?

In the header above, I explain that I intended this blog to serve as a platform where "one Yuma (me) could share his toughts on all things Cuban, a subject that often generates more heat than light."

Recent heated events in Miami and Havana have made my words seem somewhat prophetic. But, then again, it's not rocket science to accurately predict that Cubans of different opinioins and political persuasions will come to (verbal) blows. The tendency toward personal attacks, disqualification of anyone who thinks differently, and EL GRITO!!! - in short "verbal violence" - is a trait deeply rooted in Cuba's political culture (tanto en La Habana como en La Pequena Habana).