Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New book on Micro-Enterprise in Cuba: "Vivir en la cuerda floja" by Elena Sacchetti

My Italian friend and colleague Elena Sacchetti has just published a new book on micro-enterprise in Cuba.  Based on her dissertation in Social Anthropology at the University of Sevilla and on research she conducted over a number of years in Cuba, the book examines changing "work cultures and social identities" on the island.

You can view a PDF of the book's front and back cover and its table of contents here.

You can order the book for your own library here, here, or here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Who was Malcolm X: Criminal, Minister, Humanist, Revolutionary, or Martyr?

Over the weekend I finished reading the 500+ page new biography of Malcolm X by Manning Marable:

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

The very aptly titled book traces this extraordinary and quintessentially American's multiple reinventions and transformations over the course of his all too brief 39 years.  The man who we know today as Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, to fiercely proud and independent Garveyite parents and died (assassinated by his former Nation of Islam "brothers" - likely with the foreknowledge and possibly the assistance of the NYPD and the FBI) just a few blocks from where I live in Washington Heights, New York City in 1965.

Spookily, the place of his assassination was the Audubon Ballroom, now The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center, located at 3940 Broadway (Malcolm was between 39 and 40 years old when he was killed).

Because his mother's family was from the West Indies, Malcolm was very light skinned and had a red tint to his hair, leading him to take on various nicknames when he moved to the East Coast including Detroit Red, New York Red, and Big Red.  He even performed briefly as part of a stage act in New York under the stage name Jack Carlton.

Later during his six years in prison in Massachusetts for armed robbery (a trumped up conviction because he and his African American partner had done the jobs with a pair of white women - who were also their lovers), fellow prisoners named him Satan for his characteristic screaming out against a God who he then denied the very existence of.

But of course, prison served him also as the cocoon where he would make his most important reinvention, becoming Malcolm X and joining Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam soon after his release in the early 1950s.

During his time in the Nation (which ended in 1964), Malcolm was alternately known as Malachi Shabazz and Malik Shabazz, taking the last name of the mythical Afro-Asiatic Shabazz tribe as did many members of the Nation of Islam.

However, his final and prematurely interrupted reinvention came during the final year of his life after leaving the Nation when he made the Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all able Muslims once in their lives.  Now he was known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, an orthodox Muslim who increasingly sought to link the fate of African Americans to that of the newly independent African nations and the larger struggles for revolution and self-determination in the emerging Third World.

Apart from the idea of his extraordinary life of constant growth, revision, and reinvention, here are a few more things that I took away from Marable's very readable, comprehensive, meticulously researched biography:

* Growing out of his Meccan pilgrimage, Malcolm returned east once again in 1964 spending nearly half of the final year of his life crisscrossing the African continent, visiting heads-of-state, and building alliances meant to serve him and his new twin organizations back at home, The Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI) and The Organization of African-American Unity (OAAU).

* The FBI (and later the NYPD) had Malcolm under constant surveillance during the last 15 years of his life, successfully infiltrating both the Nation of Islam and other groups he was part of.  Still, his "minders" developed a grudging respect for him and his almost fakir-like focus, work-ethic, and puritanical habits.  They had great trouble uncovering any "dirt" on Malcolm despite Hoover's demands.

* Though his constant growth and multiple reinventions are awe-inspiring, most of his contemporaries and followers had great difficulty always understanding and keeping up with him, leaving him vulnerable to misinterpretation, slander, and violent attack from all sides.  Also, his own organizations, MMI and OAAU, like the Nation of Islam itself, were rigidly organized, top-down groups built in the image of Malcolm himself, making them extremely un-democratic, rife with internal rivalries and conflict, and unable to survive the death of their founder and leader.

* The book is an extremely useful companion and corrective to the American classic, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to the liberal Black Republican reporter Alex Haley). The bio retraces many of the same mythic episodes described in the Autobiography, but with an eye to deflating the self-created legend of "X" in order to uncover the at turns driven, shy, humorous, unsure, and strangely vulnerable man behind the "X."

* The personal and sexual "bombs" contained within Marable's bio that have generated some controversy prior to the book's publication do little to detract from the subject's extraordinary life, and to my mind, only show him to be more fully human and filled, like all of us, with complexity and contradiction.  These "bombs" are that he had had a homosexual relationship with a wealthy white patron in the late-1940s (attributed to a friend in the Autobiography); that he was a largely absent father, "virulent misogynist, and a horribly neglectful husband" (see Toure's review in the NYT; also see this other fascinating review and article) who had a stormy, loveless, and unfulfilling relationship to his wife Betty (both seem to have had affairs); and that one of the ways that Elijah Muhammad betrayed him was by taking as a secretary and impregnating Malcolm's "first love," Evelyn Williams, among numerous other young secretaries.

* Malcolm's initial salvation, the Nation of Islam, eventually became his greatest adversary. The Nation comes across in the bio as an internally fractured, mafia-like organization, with a frail, ailing leader, increasingly run by power hungry thugs and underlings who could accept no dissent or criticism and were bent on destroying Malcolm's reputation within the Nation (to eliminate a potential power rival) and assassinating him after he left (to get rid of the man best positioned to expose and overshadow the sect).  However, it remains to be seen whether the Nation was a greater enemy and adversary for Malcolm than the FBI and the NYPD, both of whom seem to have been very busy pulling various strings aimed at eliminating the increasingly dangerous and influential Malcolm.

* Finally, there are brief if interesting sections in the bio that refer to Malcolm's meetings with Castro and possibly Che Guevara (see above), easily his closest ideological analogue at the time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"This will be your last time" - A reflection on my final conversation in Cuba (update)

"This will be your last time": 
A reflection on my final conversation in Cuba

(Para leer la versión original de esta reflexión en español, vea aquí: "Esta sera tu ultima vez". Está en la nueva página de mi blog "El~Yuma" en español: http://elyumaes.blogspot.com/).

My name is Ted Henken. I am an Associate Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, where I chair the Department of Black and Hispanic Studies. My main expertise is in Cuban Studies, a subject to which I have dedicated the bulk of my scholarly activity over the past 15 years. This focus is evident in the various things I have published about Cuba during that time. I have also had the pleasure of traveling to the island many times where I have many close friends and colleagues.

As part of an ongoing research project I just made a trip to Cuba.  I spent 12 days there (April 15-27) and carried out more than 40 interviews with a very diverse group of bloggers and micro-entrepreneurs.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What is #TwitterEncuentro? Find out at the corner of 23 & 12, July 1, 4 p.m.

When I got to my office today, my Twitter (@ElYuma), e-mail (yumated@gmail.com) and Facebook accounts were all filled with messages about a new Twitter oriented blog and an upcoming gathering of Cuba's growing Twitter community at the corner of 23 & 12 on July 1 @ 4 p.m. in El Vedado (where else?).

You can visit the new #TwitterEncuentro blog, check them out on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter (#TwittHab & @leunamrguez) to learn more about the gathering.  If I were in Cuba, I'd be there will bells on!

Here's my quick translation of some of the first posts on the blog, which was started on June 2, 2011 by Leunam Rodríguez, who describes himself as "Martiano, cubano, humanista, sencillo y aventurero".
Latest Post (June 16, 2011):
Explotó la bomba en Twitter. A todos los twitteros en la Habana, Cuba, les invitamos al encuentro #TwittHab, el viernes 1ro de Julio, desde las 4:00 pm en la pizzeria Cinecitá, en esquina de 23 y 12. Con la propuesta de "Quiero conocerte" un grupo numeroso de usuarios de Twitter nos reuniremos para charlar, reirnos y compartir experiencias. No faltes, esperaremos por los mas complicados. Invitamos igual a los uauarios de todas las redes sociales a sumarse: Facebook, Meneame, Tuenti etc...

Síguenos en Twitter con los hashtag #TwittHab y #Twitterencuentro. Esto es un movimiento que crece y se desarrolla sobre la marcha. Ahora mismo @JuventudRebelde nos ayuda con la visualidad del encuentro. Tú puedes colaborar también dando ideas, retuiteando y participando en nuestros debates en las redes scoiales.Gracias a @elainediaz2033 y otros amigos, ya estamos en Facebook con una Página de #TwittHab y la convocatoria al Evento #TwittHab, ¡SUMATE YA!, han confirmado 18 hasta el momento. Desde este Blog puedes también confirmar tu participación dejando tu mensaje en los comentarios de este post.

First Post (June 2, 2011):
¡Comenzó la aventura!

Sin dudas hoy ha sido un día intenso pero de mucha alegría. Esta mañana ha nacido #Twitterencuentro: El blog de convocatoria para encuentros reales de twitteros. Este proyecto responde al deseo que tenemos los internautas de humanizar las redes sociales. Twitter ha demostrado su gran poder de convocatoria recientemente al ser medio impulsor de los sucesos ocurridos en #España y que están en pleno desarrollo con hashtags como #spanishrevolucion #democraciarealya #15m #acampadasol y otros que surgen al calor de los eventos. Esta vez, Twitter nos sirve de herramienta para llegar hasta la persona, esa que detrás de una @ expresa sus criterios, dudas, insatisfacciones y aspiraciones. Este es un Blog para el encuentro, para la hermandad, la amistad, el amor, los “piquetes”, la alegría, la fiesta. No tiene dueños ni ideologías dominantes, no promueve marcas ni campañas electorales, no es Spam, no es espía, no es un “oscuro rincón del mundo”. Es un sitio de empatía y tolerancia. Una gran aldea que alberga a todos sus visitantes.

Agradezco mucho a aquellos que desde Twitter se han hecho eco de este Blog entre los que ya puedo contar a: @salvatore300 @LegendarioCuba @Guajiritasoy @Laguantanamera @rosymar_cu @marianaict @chiringadecuba @yurisander @jimmyc2424 @MiCarolino @Juliic @RoninZen

y en especial a mis colegas de #radiocubana del Portal de la Radio Cubana en Internet en #Cuba: @isiadsmith @lisejm @silketranslator @audaos @radionline @manolitoweb

A todos y cada uno de ustedes muchas gracias por respaldar este anhelo en fase de cumplimiento. No me molesta en nada confesar que soy todo un neófito en el mundo bloguero, toda ayuda o sugerencia será bienvenida. En los días venideros aparecerán mejoras, cualquier inconveniente o cambio inesperado me excuso al afirmar que esto más que nada es un área de experimentación. Aprovecho para reiterar que el objetivo de este Blog es ser un espacio de convocatoria para encuentros reales de twitteros. Para ello propongo idear hashtags que sigan una formula unánime y consensuada. De esta manera ha surgido ya #TwittHab y #TwittMtz para convocar a encuentros en las provincias Habana y Matanzas de mi bella #Cuba. En el caso de #TwittHab estamos en fase de llegar a un acuerdo con respecto al horario y el lugar de encuentro. Si deseas participar puedes comenzar respondiendo la encuesta que aparece en este Blog. Tú puedes sugerir otros hashtags para convocatorias en tu región, para ello será necesario que solicites la opinión de otros twitteros y entonces será bienvenida tu propuesta.

En fin, deseo que puedas sentirte a gusto, que encuentres lo que buscas y que se realicen muchos encuentros en todas partes de este maltrecho pero único planeta. Somos la voz de la Unidad, podemos hacer la diferencia. ¡Súmate!

Monday, June 13, 2011

3 New Cuba Blogs: Half-Wired, Pais de Pixeles, & Estado de Sats

Here are three new (or new to me) blogs to add to your reading list and blogroll.

Half-Wired (H/T Along the Malecón)

Pais de Pixeles (H/T OLPL)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

La Polemica "Blogotal": An enlightening note from Miriam Celaya

A few weeks ago, following the publication of a long interview I did with Luis Manuel Garcia of Cuba Encuentro about the Cuban blogosphere (Part 1 and Part 2), the blogger Miriam Celaya sent me the following message via e-mail.

I have waited until now to publish it because I wanted to get her permission.

Now that she has given me permission to share it here, I think it will be an especially enlightening addition to the ongoing "Polemica Blogotal" that is currently producing both heat and light from all corners of the Cuban blogosphere.

Skip to the links below to catch up on previous parts of this rich and I think very healthy dialogue/debate.

Que siga la polemica!

Miriam wrote:

I've been reading the interview you did about "blogolandia" that was published at Cubaencuentro. I would like to make an observation, with all respect, on a claim that you make in the second part of the interview (that was published on May 20).
Here is the question put to you:
"To what extent are official blogs “official” - if we understand official blogs as those whose opening has been provided by the Government and whose authors basically agree with the official position? To what extent have they assumed a certain independence of mind, while still avoiding any confrontation with authorities? Are there in them shades of opinion, diversity, spontaneity, or can you talk about that kind of blogosphere as a disciplined squad official bloggers?"
Well, I think your answer is complete, only the end of it mentions something that does not conform to reality at least not in my case and that of other bloggers I know, when, in relation to the independence of alternative bloggers you say, and I quote:
"But, watch it, we must also acknowledge that they enjoy access through embassies of countries that in turn have their own policies. One might think that they too are controlled, censored, or censor themselves in order to preserve this access. One might think that they will not say: 'Down with the embargo,' 'Return the Cuban five,' etc., from the US Interests Section, although it is true that they have repeatedly criticized U.S. policies, demonstrating their independence."
Look Ted, the embassies from which I connect have never questioned what I publish, neither have they imposed any doctrines on me nor conditioned my access on my publishing or not publishing some content.
In fact, I have received a proposal to connect from the USIS (although I have published articles and have signed documents that oppose the embargo and declare myself as vertically opposed to the interference and the annexation, also in direct talks with U.S. officials I have criticized the existence of a transition program, implemented during the Bush administration).
I declined to connect from there, partly because that place is too crowded for my taste, and because thumb drives are subject to scrutiny, which I've never experienced in the embassies I connect from. That's not counting all the security controls that one must pass through to access the USIS.
The truth is that I do not like going there, unless when necessary (like when I applied for a US visa). At the Dutch, Swedish, and Czech embassies the only conditions they have for using the Internet are not accessing pornography sites and the like, nothing more.
Another element that tends to be confusing: In those embassies access by pro-government bloggers is not denied. They are the ones who do not request it, and that is enough for me.
To end my comment on your response, I would not use my blog to champion the cause of the Cuban Five simply because they have the mainstream media, all state resources at their disposal for this campaign, and even those resources which Cubans humorously refer to as “The Ministry of the Cuban Five," with Ricardo Alarcón, President of the National Assembly, charged with advocating for them.
In the campaign for the liberation of “The Cuban Five,” millions of dollars have been spent, which could have been valuable resources for health or education programs, but which the Cuban government uses at its whim.
I prefer to advocate for those who do not have their own voice or resources, but I do believe, as does James Carter, that “The Five,” guilty or not, have already been sufficiently punished and that it would be a smart gesture by U.S. authorities to release them, and consequently, the imprisonment of these five spies would cease to be a central theme in the politics of a country where 11 million people remain virtually imprisoned or are simply hostages of the government.
Sorry if you think of that my observation is meddling. I respect your opinion, which moreover, is very moderate, but I thought it would be appropriate to offer my views without disqualifying yours.
I do not know how to remain silent when I have an argument to make.
And forgive me as well for such a long message; time is valuable, even for this transgressive blogger who lives on an island so disconnected from its time.

Keep reading for links to the debate:

Nick Miroff on Cuba & Hi-Speed Internet

With a little help from Venezuela, Cuba emerges from the data dark ages

Cuba, the least connected country in the hemisphere, awaits high-speed internet.
Nick Miroff, Global Post - June 10, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What they're saying in China about Cuba's new self-employment experiments

From ChinaDaily.com.cn

Read full article here.

"The growth of self-employed Cubans not only marks a major shift toward a larger private sector in the socialist economy, but could lead to great changes in traditional Cuban economic and social philosophies if the government follows through on the full scale of its announcement."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A CNN insider's guide to Havana, Cuba - Shasta Darlington

Here's a nice primer on all things Havana for the visiting Yuma from CNN international correspondent Shasta Darlington.

I agree with most of her assessments and would only add that Cubans are great conversationalists, so the best thing you can do while visiting is to talk, talk, talk with the people.

(Just don't make those conversations part of an unauthorized research project or you're libel to get the boot.)

A CNN insider's guide to Havana, Cuba
By Shasta Darlington, CNN - June 8, 2011

Cuba's capital, Havana, has something to offer everyone, whether you want to spend the day sunbathing by the sea, or dancing to salsa late into the night, says CNN's Shasta Darlington.

Story Highlights
*The best place to people-watch is the Malecon, Havana's sea wall.
*Drinking a Cuban mojito cocktail is a must for visitors.
*Since restrictions on businesses were relaxed in 2010, many local restaurants have sprung up, spurring a revival in the Havana food scene.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Paladares & Trabajo por Cuenta Propia a la vista: 4 items

Here is a round up of four very interesting items concerning self-employment and economic reform in Cuba:

Paladares from Patrick H. Murphy on Vimeo.

First, there is this 9 min. documentary uploaded to Vimeo a few days ago by Pat Murphy called simply, "Paladares," highlighting a few new food service businesses.

In reality, only one is a Paladar and the other two seem to be cafeterias.

The third part of the video focusing on Paladar los Tres Mosqueteros is especially interesting as the owner keeps repeating the very Cuban word "normal" to describe his operation, when in Cuba under the revolution private enterprise is anything but "normal."

Second is this really sharp article published at Cuba Encuentro by dissident Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe reviewing in great detail the reforms in the area self-employment.

Chepe's surprisingly positive analysis can be summarized as such:
"Not insignificant but still far from sufficient."

Here's a passage from the article to give you a taste:

"Indudablemente la flexibilización de los mecanismos del trabajo por cuenta propia es una vía adecuada para salir de la crisis, aunque todavía los pasos dados distan mucho de los cambios necesarios.
"En especial resulta importante la decisión de entregar a particulares los locales hoy administrados ineficientemente por el Estado. Asimismo es positiva la elevación del número de sillas en los paladares.
"Ambas medidas podrían fomentar pequeñas y medianas empresas (PYMES), prósperas y eficientes, creadoras de puestos de trabajo, con aportes considerables para el Presupuesto Nacional y una saludable competencia que podría mejorar la calidad de los servicios y productos para la población y la economía en su conjunto".

Third is an article with a broader focus from El Pais by the distinguished Cuban-American economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago.

Mesa-Lago largely makes the same "significant-but-not-yet-sufficient" argument as Chepe:

"En conclusión, las reformas y los acuerdos pueden lograr modestas mejoras, pero, a menos que se resuelvan las contradicciones existentes en la dirección y se profundicen los cambios, no conseguirán resolver los problemas económicos y sociales fundamentales.
"En ese caso, podría ocurrir una lucha en la dirección para expandir las reformas. Por el contrario, si prevalece la inercia ocurriría una erosión económica-social mayor y el consiguiente descontento de la población."

Finally, there is this short but sharp article by Veizant Boloy from the blog Asociación Jurídica Cubana critiquing the new self-employment laws as they baldly contradict much existing legislation.

Boloy's point is that old laws should be revoked so that Cuba's new entrepreneurs don't find themselves in legal limbo and vulnerable to prosecution.

Friday, June 3, 2011

El Yuma habla (y bloguea) en español! (update)

After a year-and-a-half of blogging about Cuba in English (mostly), readers may have noticed that I have recently added a few new features to my blog including a version of it in Spanish!

Sí - ¡Una version de El Yuma en español! 

The address of each blog is almost identical with http://elyuma.blogspot.com/ being the URL of this original English version, while http://elyumaes.blogspot.com/ is the address of the new Spanish version.  That's simply "elyuma" with "es" (for español) tagged to the end of it.

I have also made it quite easy for readers to jump back and forth between the English version and the Spanish one by adding these nifty flags to the top of the right-hand bar. 

Just click on them here below or over to the top right to see the blog in the two languages.


Of course, I do not have the time or resources to translate all of my previous posts, but (with a little help from my friends) I have begun making my most popular, important, and original past posts available in Spanish. I will also try to make most new posts available in Spanish. (Anyone out there wanting to perform some good ole trabajo voluntario is, of course, welcome to help out.)

Apart from the parallel site in Spanish, I have also added a search feature to the blog, a monthly pageviews count and graphic, an e-mail subscription service, and a window showing my latest tweets (I'm nearing 100).  All of these new items are located just below the flag on the top right-hand bar of both versions of the blog.

Finally, as part of my on-going effort to get more acquainted with the burgeoning Cuban blogosphere, I have greatly expanded my blogroll.

I now have a list of 162 Cuba-related blogs, broken up into various categories.

First are my "Lucky 13" (I couldn't settle on just 10!), which are the blogs I consult most regularly.

Then, I provide a list of 42 blogs about Cuba available in English.

Next, I highlight a diversity of 39 blogs all of which are written "Desde Cuba."

This is followed by 22 blogs about Cuba written "Desde Afuera" and another 23 "blocks" by Cuban writers, artists, and musicians located all around the world.

Finally, there are 12 news-related blogs, some of which provide extensive lists of Cuban blogs; 9 vivid photo blogs; and the two most popular and polemical blogs of Cuban graphic satire: Guama and Varela.

I plan to keep developing the site and especially expanding and refining the blogroll so please give me a shout out if you do not see your own or your favorite blog(s) on my list. 

All this is rounded out by my blog archive, a listing of my 10 most popular posts, my profile, and a list of my followers. 

The man who awakens us and won't allow us to return to sleep in peace

Yoani Sanchez on Leonardo Padura's latest novel: "El hombre que amaba los perros."

"This novel is shocking for its sincerity, for the corrosive acid that it pours over the evasive utopia that they have tried to impose on us...
"Of all the books published on this island, I dare say that none has been as devastating for the pillars of the system as this one...
"There are books –I'm warning you– that open our eyes so much that we will not be able to return to sleep in peace once again."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bloggers Cuba: Back in Business?

Today while surfing around the net, I came across the following undated announcement at http://www.bloggerscuba.com/

When I have tried to access that URL over the past year I always found it in maintenance mode.  But now it seems that they're almost ready to go live once again.

Could it be that the folks who originally organized it almost three years ago, will soon have a collective on-line precense once again? When I met with a group of young people from the original group in Havana in April they told me as much.  If it is true, welcome back!

Here I will do a quick translation of the above announcement:

Bloggers Cuba
Bloggers on Their Own Account

We are almost back
After a period of cyber-introspection, Bloggers Cuba is on the verge of coming out once again into the virtual universe. Soon we will finish with the last remaining details... and you will be able to read us like before. Aren't you nostalgic for those good, and occasionally stormy, times?

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Subscribe to our RSS feed.

Everything is moving along as we planned, but we can't yet announce a specific date.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gracias Haroldo!

Cuban political sociologist Haroldo Dilla who lives in the Dominican Republic and writes his own digital column at 7 dias (and also occassionally publishes at Havana Times), has just chimed in on the ongoing debate/discussion/dialogue over the Cuban blogosphere and what it means to be "official," "independent," and/or "mercenary." 

Apart from saying some very nice things about me (and some very sharp things about Ubieta) at the start of his article, he goes on to offer his own very perceptive analysis of the following pregnant question with reference to blogger Elaine Diaz:

What If Official Cuban Bloggers Defended Socialism?

Bienvenido Pablo!

I do not live in Miami but I was born and raised in Florida.  I am also an honored and proud Yumayanquigringoamericanoaplatanado.

So in that capacity I welcome Pablo Milanés to the US of A and to the other capital of Cuba, La Ciudad de Miami.

Café Fuerte is reporting that Milanés will include Miami among the cities in his upcoming August-September musical tour.

The tour is his first to include a concert date in Miami.  It is also his first time performing in the US in almost 20 years. He will also perform in New York, Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Bienvenido Pablo!