Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Other Cuban Triangle, or Can you do the Postmambo?

Before I began writting El Yuma, I only regularly read two blogs: Yoani Sanchez's Generacion Y and Phil Peters' blog The Cuban Triangle

Phil's great idea was to blog about the contentious and often antagonistic relationship among the three cities that most impact Cuban-U.S. politics (for better or worse):

La Habana

La Pequeña Habana (aka, Miami) and

Washington, D.C.

That's the Cuban triangle we know best - but mostly because of current geopolitics and modern migration patterns.  However there's another, older, deeper Cuban triangle.  Or two...

One is what ethno-musicologists like Ned Sublette call "The Fertile Crescent": Haiti, Cuba, and Louisiana.

The other Cuban Triangle is the subject of a new course that starts today that Ned and I are team-teaching this semester at Baruch College:

Ned and I share a fascination with the history and rich musical culture of each of these cities and an interest in the many connections among them.  For those of you who don't know Ned or his work, he is an ethnomusicologist, músico, singer-songwriter, radio and music producer, author/historian, political pundit, Ned's-lister (kind of like a blogger whose posts have a shorter shelf-life but a more narrowly defined audience), all-around roots music guru, and now most importantly a Postmamboist extraorinaire!

In fact, our class could easily be renamed simply, "NED 101," given the fact that it is the formal rolling out of the "Postmamboist method" and due to the fact that three of our six books were written by the man himself (see below for the list and links).  You can click here to read the full text of Ned's "Principles of Postmamboism" to see if you too are a Postmamboist.  But for a shortened version, keep reading...:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shameless Self Promotion - El Yuma in CubaNews

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd one day be featured as the centerfold for the month of January!

Miracles, it seems, do happen. The January issue of CubaNews, one of the leading sources of balanced business, cultural, and political information about Cuba, has a very flattering profile of El Yuma in its pages.

I only have two complaints:

First, while the kick off quote, "do nothing at all," accurately captures my words, my larger point was to draw a distinction between what individual American citizens could or should do to support the Cuban people (publicize, celebrate, donate, etc.), while arguing that the U.S. government should "get out of the way."

In using these words, "do nothing at all," I was actually quoting the lay Catholic leader, Dagoberto Valdes, who told the then Chief of the U.S. Interests Section, Joseph Sullivan, back in the mid-1990s, "If you really want to help us, I ask that you not help us at all." Valdes was responding to Sullivan's excitement when he visited the headquarters of Valdes' Vitral magazine in Pinar del Rio and asked, "This is just the kind of independent, critical voice we want to promote in Cuba. How can we help?"

My other complaint is even more serious: "Wow my head looks BIG in that photo!" But I guess I can't blame the photographer. Remember, if you don't like the message, don't blame the messenger.

This month's CubaNews also features a great analysis by Tracey Eaton of the recent crackdown on the countercultural poetry and performance group Omni-Zona Franca. In the article, Eaton interviews the French anthropologist Marie Laure Geoffray as well as Cuban political scientist Armando Chaguaceda, both of whom have studied (and participated in) some of these alternative, grass-roots youth movements firsthand.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Making of Generation Y - by Yoani Sánchez

In my interview of Yoani Sánchez from July, 2008 (English and Spanish), and on numerous previous occasions here at El Yuma (see here and here, for examples), I have tried to shed light on the genesis and evolution her blog Generacion Y.

As promised, later this week I will add a new post, "Los Hijos de Yoani," in my 5-part series, "Let a Thousand Bloggers Bloom," chronicling some of the more noteworthy details of this genesis and evolution, especially as it has transformed from an exercise in individual catharsis into a collaborative project of group solidarity and simultaneously moving from cyberspace into public space. I will also describe the recent blossoming of these efforts over the past year into four collaborative blogging projects both larger than and inspired by the success of Generacion Y - Una Isla Virtual, Academia Blogger, Voces Cubanas, and Translating Cuba - all of which count on global citizen solidarity and what Sanchez calls, "la red ciudadana."

Here, however, I want to share with readers of El Yuma my translation of the fascinating and revelatory post, "Generación Y: el making of," by Sanchez that appeared on the blog Penultimos Dias yesterday, January 19th, 2010.  (Tracey Eaton has already posted his own summary of and reaction to the post at his blog Along the Malecon).

I have taken the liberty of adding a number of illustrative images to the post. 

The next voice you hear will be that of Yoani...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Summary of the Cuba IT & Social Media Summit and Live Blogging Compilation

"Let us be clear from the start,
our aim in convening this
Cuba IT & Social Media Summit
is not to subvert the Cuban regime;
it is to empower the Cuban people."

This statement was made by the organizers both at the Summit's kick off in the morning and clearly reiterated again during the closing session.

Also, at the close of the conference, the organizers addressed their invocation of Chatham House Rules (i.e. the confidentiality of participants) - an issue that I addressed in my first post about the summit and one that has drawn criticism from some bloggers (see here for one example).

Essentially, as I had suspected the use of Chatham House Rules was justified for the following three reasons:
  1. To avoid the maliciousness of those who would want to derail or misrepresent the proceedings;
  2. To foster an effective discussion of the issues involved;
  3. And to promote a frank and open discussion, allowing participants to think outside the box and entertain new ideas, positions, strategies, and approaches to Cuba without being pigeon-hold and without having those ideas directly attributed to them or their organizations or companies.
One final debate that came up toward the end of the Summit deserves special attention.  This debate arose from one of the most interesting, provocative, and counter-intuitive readings distributed to participants prior to the Summit, "Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent," by Bruce Etling et al (June, 2009).

Among other things, this report asks two counterintuitive questions:

(1) Is the Internet a breeding/ recruiting ground for Islamic radicals and, more importantly for Cuba,

(2) Is there any necessary and direct connection between greater Internet connectivity/access and greater (Western style) democracy? 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stand With Haiti: Donate to Partners in Health

The banner photo you see above of El Yuma drenched in sweat playing the clave in an overcrowded community center surrounded by Cuban musicians was taken in La casa de las tradiciones (The house of traditions - see house rules to the right) the summer of 2003 in the historic Tivoli section of Santiago de Cuba. 

The music and culture of that Cuban city and its vast surrounding countryside has long been influenced by the rest of the Caribbean.  Haiti, just 48 miles directly to the east, and Jamaica, 87 miles to the south, have led in this influence. 

In fact, the city is still awash with Cubans sporting French and English last names like Jones and Betancourt.  Take a look at the Tumba Francesa folkloric dancer in the photo to the left taken during that same 2003 trip to Santiago.  Also check out the photos below of the group's unusual drums. 

Once during an earlier visit to the city, I even met an elderly man in Tivoli who started reciting Marc Antony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen," from Shakespeare's Julius Cesar to me when he learned that he was in the presence of Un Yuma

It turned out he had been born and raised in Jamaica where, because his mother was the maid at an elite British boarding school, he was able to attend classes for free - that is until his father moved the family to Cuba when he got a job there (in the 30s, 40, or 50s?) cutting sugar cane.

Small world indeed!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cuba IT & Social Media Summit - January 15, 2010

Tomorrow I will participate in the event, "Cuba IT and Social Media Summit," hosted here in Manhattan at the Americas' Society and sponosred by the Cuba Study Group.

While we are operating under "Chatham House Rules" (i.e., confidentiality of participants) in order to provide anonymity to some of the speakers and to foster a frank and open discussion, I will share with readers my impressions of the event as it takes place, as well as posting portions of my own presentation which grows out of some of what I have already been covering here at El Yuma:

"Let A Thousand Bloggers Bloom:
Obstacles and Opportunities to the Further Growth of
Cuba’s Burgeoning Blogosphere
and its Possible Impact on Cuban Civil Society"

That's quite a mouthful!

What follows are links to the various items on the reading list that the organizers provided to all participants in preparation for the event.

"The Dictator’s Dilemma? The Internet and U.S. Policy toward Cuba" by Taylor C Boas.

"The Myth of Technological Determinism" by Nelson Valdés.

"Yoani Sanchez Interview" by Ted Henken.

"A Black Market Finds a Home in the Web’s Back Alleys" by Mark Lacey. New York Times, 3 Jan. 2010.

"Clive Thompson on Cuba's Potential Tech Boom" by Clive Thompson., 22 June 2009.

"Cuba Vive Otra Revolución en la Red" by Maite Rico. El Pais, 3 Jan. 2010.

"Divided Cuban Community Meets on 'Facebook Planet'" by Jeff Franks. Reuters, 15 Oct. 2009.

"Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent" by Bruce Etling, John Kelly, Robert Faris, and John Palfrey.

"Our Hapless Man in Havana" by Christopher Sabatini. Foreign Policy, 7 Jan. 2010.

"Protesta Alumnos del ISA el 22 de octubre del 2009, La Habana, Cuba" at YouTube.

"Technology Helping Lift Veil on Real Cuba" by Miriam Marquez. Miami Herald, 3 Apr. 2009.

"U.S. Wants Microsoft to End Message Ban in Iran, Cuba" by Mark Drajem. Bloomberg, 29 Oct. 2009.

"The Social Factor: Innovate, Ignite, and Win Through Mass Collaboration and Social Networking" by Maria Azua. IBM Press, 2009.

Participants were also provided the following document which I will post over the weekend.

"New U.S. Regulatory Framework for Telecom & Satellite Industry in Cuba" - Council of the Americas' Cuba Working Group - March 2009.  The document highlights recent U.S. regulatory changes for the Telecom and satellite industry in Cuba.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Julia's Idea: Cuba, the U.S., and Haiti

"This terrible tragedy in Haiti presents a perfect opportunity for the U.S. and Cuba, both of whom already have extensive development (USAID) and medical missions (300+ Cuban doctors) in Haiti, to put politics aside for a moment and work together in providing rescue and relief."
The above quote is my own paraphrasing of part of a presentation I attended this evening by Julia Sweig at the Foreign Policy Association.

While Sweig was visiting the FPA to promote her new book, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, her comments focused more narrowly on the changing political reality in Cuba over the past 3 years (2006-2009) and how Washington has (and has not) successfully responded to and engaged Havana.

In response to my own question about the role and effectiveness of the USAID program in Cuba, Sweig was unequivocal (again, I'm paraphrasing):

"They should either defund it and close it down, or refocus it on some of the many goals that both nations have in common - drug interdiction, the environment, migration, etc. While recent reports indicate that the arrested contractor may have been working with good intentions, when our policy (covert or overt) is still regime change, these programs can only be counter-productive if our overall goal is productive engagement."

The Plot Thickens: A Social Worker Aiding Jews or A Spy Conspiring with Counterrevolutionaries? (updated)

This morning's New York Times offered us this tasty morsel to go along with our morning coffee.

"Contractor Jailed in Cuba Was Aiding Religious Groups, U.S. Says"

Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey report that our man (in jail) in Havana is named Alan P. Gross.

Though Cuba has accused him of being an spy, American officials now reveal that he is in fact "a social worker who had gone to Cuba to provide communications equipment to Jewish groups."

See another preliminary report on the case from The Washington Post.  The Post story has been translated into Spanish by the Nuevo Herald.

My analysis:
This is the first time we learn the contractor's name, Alan P. Gross.  (Tracey Eaton at Along the Malecon has done some good spadework on Gross' background here and here).

The fact that Gross is reported to be a social worker (as opposed to a spy) and seems to have been aiding religious groups, Jewish ones at that! (as opposed to dissidents or bloggers), is sure to muddy the waters in the debate over USAID programs in "enemy" states, giving even more "legs" to this already quite sensational (and still developing) story.

Monday, January 11, 2010

David Calzado y su Charanga Habanera (update)

This just in from music critic Jon Pareles in today's New York Times, Monday, January 11, 2010.

David Calzado and His Charanga Habanera at S.O.B.’s.
Mr. Calzado, rear center, leads one of Cuba’s top bands.
Photo by Willie Davis for The New York Times

Hopped-Up Modern Salsa From Havana

Music Review | David Calzado and His Charanga Habanera

By JON PARELES, New York Times, January 10, 2010

An audience packed with cheering Cubans greeted David Calzado and his Charanga Habanera at S.O.B.’s on Friday night, in a rare and welcome American appearance by one of Cuba’s top bands — signaling, perhaps, an Obama administration thaw in Cuban-American relations. Formed in 1988 and persisting through multiple personnel changes, Charanga Habanera has made hits in Cuba through the 1990s and 2000s, and its set raced through them in an exultant, nearly nonstop two-hour medley. In songs like “Soy Cubano, Soy Popular” (“I Am Cuban, I Am Popular”), the band sang of its own fame and success, and the crowd proved it by shouting along, verse and chorus.

Charanga Habanera isn’t a charanga group, the traditional Cuban ensemble with violins and flute. Since the early 1990s it has played timba, the hopped-up modern salsa that developed through constant performing on Havana’s club circuit. Timba uses every bit of the Afro-Cuban propulsion of mambo, rumba and guaguancó, with voices and trumpets jabbing back and forth. Often it pushes the salsa rhythms even harder with choppy, stop-start bass lines that give the rest of the band something to hurdle. Timba lyrics also hint at the everyday struggles of Cubans.

Aroldis Chapman: Better Red than Dead!

Given that Phil Peters, who usually keeps us all updated on the goings-on in the world of pelota cubana at his blog The Cuban Triangle, has temporarily gone fishin', I will pass on the following info for all you sportsfans out there in cyberspace.

Aroldis Chapman to sign with the Reds
By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports

Cuban left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman (photo to the right by Gregory Bull/AP Photo), whose defection sparked a bidding war among major league teams that coveted his 100-mph fastball, agreed Sunday morning to sign for $30 million with the Cincinnati Reds, sources close the negotiations told Yahoo! Sports.

The Reds had been “going after him like crazy,” according to one source, and outbid several other teams, including the Los Angeles Angels, Florida Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays.

The 22-year-old Chapman’s value has steadily climbed since a Dec. 15 workout in Houston in which he wasn’t throwing at full speed and still hit 97 mph. His potential as a front-of-the-line starter intrigued teams from coast to coast.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

David Calzado y su Charanga Habanera: La Musica en (y afuera de) Cuba (I)

Just over ten years ago, in the late spring of 1999, I found myself in La Casa de la Musica, across the Almendares river from El Vedado in Playa (Havana) at a concert for a Cuban group I had up to that point never heard of before, La Charanga Habanera.

Since I had gone looking for some Cuban "roots" music a la Buena Vista Social Club, I was shocked and a more than a little disappointed to find what I then thought of as a cheap Cuban "boy" band playing a super-charged genre of 1990s dance music known as "timba," a form of what we Yuma's call "salsa" on steroids. Most of the lyrics were quite unintelligible to me then and the much of the stage show was lost on my supposedly more "serious" sensibilities.

Despite my general disappointment at not finding what I was searching for (after paying something like a $40 cover), a few vivid images imprinted themselves in my memory bank at that long-ago concert. First, I remember the stage filled with 8-10 musicians, along with a group of four or five sleek young pretty boys leading the large, mostly Cuban female crowd with smooth vocals and lots of erotic synchronized choreography.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Saying "No" to the "Tarjeta Blanca" (Exit Permit): New Facebook Group Launched

Just Say "NO" to the "White Card" or "Exit Permit"
(No a la “Tarjeta Blanca” o “Permiso de Salida”)

Aimed at ending Cuba's exit permit requirement and debating restrictions on the free movement of Cubans in general, a group of young Cubans (residing both inside and outside the island) has formed on Facebook.

The group was founded by Angel A. Rodriguez Mustelier (left), and includes Cuban blogger and University of Havana professor Elaine Diaz Rodriguez (right) and emigree scholar Arturo Lopez Levy (right) among more than 100 others so far.

The name of the group is: "NO más 'Tarjeta Blanca' (White Card) o (or) 'Permiso de Salida' (Exit Permit)"

Here is my translation of the group's description:

Category: Common Interest - Politics

Description: Progressive, Revolutionary (Progresista, Revolucionario)
  • In favor of the Cuban People (En favor del Pueblo)
  • Against Corruption, both external and internal (Contra la Corrupción, Externa e Interna)
  • Open to Consturctive Debate (Abierto al Debate Positivo)
  • With the Goal of Unity (Con Fines de Unir)
  • For a Single Cause (Por una Sola Causa)
The group also includes the following description:

"Raul Castro has governed Cuba since February 24, 2008, with a modern intent and expressed aim at grudually eliminating what he once described as 'excessive prohibitions' on the island."  (Raúl Castro gobierna Cuba desde el 24 de febrero de 2008 con un ímpetu modernista y eliminación gradual de lo que él describió alguna vez como el "exceso de prohibiciones" en la isla).
Finally, there is a link to a Study Guide in Spanish on the "Free Movement of People" from Human Rights Education Associates that culls togehter international law on the topic posted by Lopez Levy.

Yankees, Gringos, Yumas, Bolillos, Guajiros, Gabachos, Güeros, and Guiris - Concurso Etimológico (Part II)

On November 6 of last year, just a week of so after inaugurating El Yuma, I kicked off un concurso etimológico (an etymological contest).

In honor of the Yankees' victory in the World Series that had just then taken place, I asked my readers to take a stab giving the origins of three (in)famous words from the inter-American lexicon: Yankee, Gringo, and Yuma.

Over the following week I received a total of 7 responses, which I think is the most I've received yet for any single post. (I think my recipe for flan was #2!) You can click on the link to the contest above to see the responses sent in so far by Evidencias, Vic, and Sydney.

Before I reveal the winners and award prizes (yes - there are prizes - see below)! I wanted to give our new readers a chance to weigh in too.

Also, having just traveled down to Austin, Tejas, for a rockin' family wedding last weekend (that's me gettin' my groove on below) and been reminded of a whole host of other, similar "border" words, I wanted to expand this adventure a bit by adding 5 more words from the "Borderlands" lexicon - 4 of the 5 starting with "G".






Hint: At different times and places in my own life, I have been called 4 out of 5 of the above words - usually affectionately!

Rules: Please 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!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Rules: Anya Landau French & Eugene Robinson on the New TSA Regulations

No es facil!

It sure ain't easy to be Cuban or Cuban-American these days if you want to travel between the U.S. and Cuba. Yes, both governments have made some moves to de-politicize most types of travel and now Cuban-Americans can return to Cuba to visit their relatives and send them money at will.

However, Cuban-Americans still pay through the nose to the charter companies and especially to the Cuban government (having to constantly "habilitar" and "prorogar" their passports at usurious rates). The Cuban government also still reserves the right to deny anyone entry to their homeland, to say nothing of having to ask permission to leave in the first place and to pay a monthly fee while abroad to maintain the right to return.

On top of this, if you've never experienced the Orwellian ordeal of flying the 90 miles from Miami directly to notorious Terminal 2 of Jose Marti International Airport consider yourself lucky. It is a strange atmosphere that combines political suspicion, petty envy, and economic blackmail, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that most travellers come loaded down with gifts and goods for their families. Getting through immigration, collecting your bags, and successfully running the gamut of customs officials without paying a bribe or having anything confiscated is a near miracle.

Not satisfied that Cuba was beating us at the game of security paranoia and political manipulation (especially when their fear of us is much more "clear and present" than ours is of them), the Obama Administration has decided to imitate them by issuing a set of "New Rules" that would make even Bill Maher envious.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Haroldo Dilla on Socialist Criticisms and Yoani Sanchez: The Best Thing (about Cuba) I've Read (in Spanish) this Week (VI)

Although I'm currently down in Austin, Tejas, waitin on the "3:10 to Yuma" (actually, it's the 2:16 to La Guardia, but it's delayed 'till 3:10) after spending the weekend doin the Texas two-step with my new Tejano in laws, I want to point your attention to a sharply written article by Haroldo Dilla that came out in the Dominican newspaper 7 dias today, Sunday, January 3, 2010.

The article, "Y sin embargo, Cuba se mueve," is an incisive and critically-minded assessment of the back-and-forth between a group of mostly young Cuban artists and intellectuals who published an open letter condemning recent repressive, "bureaucratic-authoritarian" actions of Cuba's cultural commisars and blogger Yoani Sanchez whose own recent post both celebrated and criticized the letter's authors. (In a previous post of my own, I gave a quick assessment of this dialogue and translated the entire letter and part of Sanchez's response to it into English).

Essentially, while Dilla grants that Sanchez has the absolute right to differ with and even criticize the letter's authors (in fact, he does so himself), he finds the language and tone she uses to do so uncharacteristically intolerant - especially since she has gained her current position of influence through her own demand for and exercise of tolerance.

I disagree with his characterization of her criticisms.

While she does use harsh and somewhat dismissive language when referring to the socialist critics (e.g., "hate to say I told you so"; "what took you so long?"; "thanx, but no thanx"), Sanchez's larger, more important point is that rights for only some (even if that "some" is broader and more inclusive of "autonomous, progressive projects" than is the rigid status quo) in the end it is rights for none at all, since the rights, that wider tolerance, and those new spaces are purchased at the price of the exclusion from the debate about the present and future of Cuba of certain individuals, political positions, and points of view (for instance, Sanchez mentions Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and Liberals).

In other words, Sanchez does not criticize the letter's authors because of their political position (autonomous democratic socialist), but because they seem to only demand and defend the right of greater autonomy and grass-roots cultural and social projects within a revolutionary and explicitly socialist society - while leaving "fuera del juego" (out of the game) anyone and everyone (like herself) who favors a change OF the country's political-economic-social system.

That is, "cambios DENTRO del sistema" vs. "cambio DEL sistema". Or, as Fidel's old slippery "Words to the Intellectuals" put it: "Dentro de la revolucion, todo; contra (or was it "fuera de") la revolucion, nada". The tricky and very tight spaces between those three words - "dentro," "fuera," and "contra" - are what's at stake here.

Can those "adentro" recognize the rights of those "afuera" (tanto afuera del sistema como afuera del pais) and even others who might even be explicitly "en contra" to participate in the construction of Cuba's present and future (and vice versa), without resorting to coercion and violence? That's a tall order for a nation under historic threat from abroad and for a people whose talents and opinions have long embargoed by their own government...

While I will try to translate parts of Dilla's article later this week, in the meantime check out the original Spanish version here and pasted below.