Monthly Archives: September 2011

Another Cuba for Our Man in Havana

During the filiming of "I Am The Other Cuba": Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli with the cameraman Luca Acerno. Photo: Leopoldo Caggiano.

After touching up his work in his Italian homeland, our man in Havana landed in Miami. He was preceded by a great omen: censorship. The best antecedent to arouse interest. A filmmaker whose latest work has been rejected by each and every European festival where he tried to show it.

He entered it in small events: it wasn’t admitted. He entered it in a large events: The Venice Film Festival looked the other way. “I am the other Cuba” didn’t find a single crack to be shown to the European public.

Another lesson for the quixotic Director Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli and his two producers, Leopoldo Caggiano and Luca Acerno, after making a four thousand mile circuit of the Cuban geography: the Island shown in his 84-minute work, is not what too many eyes on the Old Continent wanted to see.

Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli: a flamboyant character in another Cuba he never dreamed of. Photo: Leopoldo Caggiano.

Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli: a flamboyant character in another Cuba he never dreamed of. Photo: Leopoldo Caggiano.

Cuba, according to the outdated and influential leftists, should taste like coconut icing, sound like gambling, be viewed with swaying hips, and inspire happiness. The disenchanted panorama that “I Am The Other Cuba” throws in their faces was a bucket of cold water for the show.

Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli, with his extravagant image as a surrealistic character, his incisive and loving look at a dream country, with a team of kamikaze filmmakers who, perhaps, had no idea of the risks they would face, managed with their documentary something definitely dramatic: reminding us that this Cuba of broken dreams, betrayed utopias, is by necessity painful.

What did this Italian entrepreneur of the angular shoulders and easy smile want to film? Revolutionary Cuba, unique in its social project which, since he was young, had seduced him with manic intensity. What did he end up filming over those 59 days? A grotesque grimace. An inexact, badly executed drawing; an incorrigible sketch of what should be a revolutionary country, and what is, in reality, a paralyzed country. Contextualizing a terrible phrase of another utopian, the Venezuelan Don Simon Rodriguez, Pierantonio wanted to film a paradise in that land, and ended up finding hell itself.

Micciarelli let his beard grow and went into the Sierra Maestra. He played baseball with happy kids, took photos of families in the complex mountain scenery. He ate with them. He talked with veterans. He listened to their voices swelled with pride from that era, and found them living their lives of abundant misery. Returning to reality, from the oasis of idyllic ignorance in which rural Cuba lives, those Italians led by the bearded Micciarelli discovered another truth.

Not only what two Sanchezes (Elizardo and Yoani) said for his extensive interviews for the documentary. Not only what Father Jose Conrado from Santiago related, suffocated by the temperature, the poverty and the violence; or what the dissidents released from prison trying to live again among the pain. “I Am The Other Cuba” shows the extended face of social despair, where young people do not understand why they are condemned, like their parents or grandparents, to eternal scarcities, and where they do understand the only way out: emigration. At any cost.

Father Jose Conrado in “I Am The Other Cuba.” Photo: Leopoldo Caggiano

“I Am the Other Cuba” reveals the testimonies of the unknown, people without names but with voices that say: “Only a miracle could save this.” Testimonies that say, with barely concealed pain: “What I miss is true freedom.” Women who ask why Fidel Castro hates his people so much, or who wonder if some day they will march with gladioli in their hands without fear of being kicked or stoned.

Pierantonio was privileged, as well: he was able to capture singular scenes. For example, a shameless interview with one of the most repulsive beings of the fauna recently brought to light by the national intelligentsia: Carlos Serpa Maceira, State Security’s “agent Emilio,” when he was still cloaked in the skin of an opponent. To record a man, with his jacket off, who at the same time denounces Article 88 of the Cuban Penal Code — the Gag Law — while violating human rights, who shortly afterwards shouted “Vivas!” for Fidel and Raul, is a stroke of extraordinary luck for the documentary. The Universal History of Infamy will be forever grateful to Micciarelli for his recording. Serpa Maciera? Maybe not so much.

Also a hit (strictly speaking) of some luck, was the suspicious crash the whole crew suffered while talking in a moving car with Laura Pollan — the leader of the Ladies of White. The testimony of the terror, of all that can happen, that it’s best to stay away or to come to Cuba only for cheap hot sex, was caught by chance by a filmmaker who has no doubt in affirming: his documentary was a work of love and miracles.

So he found out after meetings with State Security, where they showed him their photos of him in every province in the county, perhaps with the subtle insinuation of, “Give us the footage or you won’t leave this airport.” Fortunately the hours of filming were already safe in far away Italy, thanks to friends with plenty of inner adrenaline. Pierantonio was only left wondering how photogenic he looked in the snapshots of those paid to watch him.

Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli assures that this precious work is not his gift to the Cuba he loves: according to him, “I Am The Other Cuba” is his offering to what that Homeland where he was not born but that he feels as his own has done to him.

I have no doubt: “I Am The Other Cuba,” filmed with love, will find an opening to be exhibited in the United States, a nation without disguised censorship; and we Cubans owe an affectionate respect to this dreamer Micciarelli, our Italian in Havana, who will not be able to visit it again for a long time to come.

(Originally published in Martí Noticias)


September 26 2011


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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Death Penalty and Respect for Life

De izquierda a derecha: Eric Ronald Ellington, Wayne Williams y Dylan McFarlane.

From left to right: Eric Ronald Ellington, Wayne Williams and Dylan McFarlane

The oldest of the three, Dylan McFarlane, is 18 and is the only one who didn’t fire that night. Eric Ronald Ellington, the first to be arrested and the author of the most amazing confession the police interrogators of Miami-Dade had ever heard in all their years in their posts, is 16, the same age as his partner in crime Wayne Williams.

After stealing a van, Ellington and his two companions in fun amused themselves in a strange manner that July 25 at a Miami Gardens gas station: eleven bullets in the chest of Julian Solar, four bullets for his friend and former girlfriend, Kennia Duran.

The security videos captured the a scene as daunting as it was disconcerting: at the point of Eric Ronald Ellington’s gun, Julian opened the door of his Mustang, took several steps away from the car with his hands in the air, but even this didn’t avoid the eleven impacts Ellington directed to his chest. He died instantly.

Julián Soler (23 años) y Kennia Durán (24). Asesinados porque Julián no mostró suficiente miedo cuando el criminal le apuntó con el arma.

Julian Soler (23) and Kennia Duran (24). Killed because Julian didn't show sufficient fear when the offender pointed the gun.

Then came Kennia Duran’s turn: Wayne Williams’ bullets allowed them to take her to Jackson Memorial Hospital, but no further. On the last night of their lives they had lived only 23 years (him) and 24 (her).
Julian Soler (23) and Kennia Duran (24). Killed because Julian didn’t show sufficient fear when the offender pointed the gun.
Asked about the indecipherable cause of the horrendous murder, the main leader of this double play, Eric Ronald Ellingon, responded with a coldness that chilled the bones of his interrogators: “I pointed (at Soler) with the gun and looked at his eyes and he didn’t look scared enough.” Just that.

I have thought about this case, thought about the miserable existences of the mothers destroyed by fear and helplessness, after listening to why their two children rest under the earth today. Some days ago I saw Jenine Dias, Julian’s mother, and heard her say that her life is a constant effort to get through to day, to bear the terrible weight of a day without her young and loving son.

And I think, inevitably, of one of the most thorny, discussed and argued issues of our civilization: the death penalty. Obviously: because I wholeheartedly wish it upon these three miserable beings.

Opposition to capital punishment has become, suspiciously, one of the colored flags flown by modern worshipers. Today, opposing the death penalty speaks of an advanced mentality, civic, humanistic, like those who defend gays or freedom of expression. Although unlike in these latter cases, it is nothing more than a crass snobbery.

In the same way that Ortega y Gasset believed in the elevation of the average level of the masses at certain times, today it is worth asking whether there is a direct link between the scientific and technological progress of our era, and the progress of trends such as the hypocrisy and social stupidity.

Except for Belarus, all European countries have abolished the death penalty. It is the same in Oceania, and most of Latin America. Democracies such as Japan, India and the United States hold onto the maximum penalty, while dictatorships like China (where they use it routinely), North Korea, Iran and Cuba, also apply it.

This is the only point where irreconcilable and disparate societies and systems converge.

Anders Behring Breivik, luego de masacrar a 68 personas, podría pasar 21 años en una lujosa prisión Noruega.

Behring Anders Breivik, after massacring 68 people, could spend 21 years in a luxurious Norway prison.

Now, as we know, scales are the universal symbol of justice. I wonder at what level if rational deformation have we come to assume as balanced, as just, a set of events such as: on one side we put the life of a human being, unmercifully destroyed by the will of a murderer, and on the other side we put fifteen, twenty years of his life that the criminal must “donate” in exchange for such an act.

For the enemies of the death penalty, for the defenders of, at most, life imprisonment, is this a fair and deserved exchange: the life of one person, for fifteen or twenty years of that of another.

Such high-minded reasoning, provisions so in tune with our civilization and morality, are what allowed the butcher Anders Bhering Breivik, who mortally shot 68 Norwegians and injured 96 others on July 22, to spend 21 years confined in a comfortable Nordic prison or, in the worst case (if his accusers manage to condemn him for Crimes Against Humanity), to theoretically lose 30 years of his existence.

In Norway, of course, the rules establish extensive privileges for prisoners of good conduct: the penalties can even be reduced by a third. From which we can conclude that Anders Bhering Breivik, citizen without even criminal fines on his record before July 22, has in his hands the possible objective of reducing by half the worse possible sentence.

This is also Justice for the advanced citizens of our time: 68 dead in exchange for, say, fifteen years of comfortable confinement. A rate of four and a half young Norwegians for each year incarcerated.

The last straw: the most violent country in the world today (second only to Afghanistan, at war), a modern record holder in terms of human atrocities, does not include the death penalty in its penal code. Mexico does not even have life imprisonment in a strict manner: just a sum of years for each conviction, which can reach 100 in theory but in practice never exceeds 25.

Keeping the murderer of John Lennon alive has cost 678,900 dollars.

Yes, the country of the sickening massacres of severed heads, of the charred casinos with hundreds of people inside, is one that displays the civic flag of “No to the Death Penalty.”
Above and beyond religious arguments, which do not concern me this time (faith is not rational matter), there is an argument always put forth to declare the Death Penalty an inhumane and brutal practice: no one is born guilty. No one is born a criminal. There are different actors and social factors that cause this fatal deviation. Ergo: we must “isolate” those individuals from society, not irreparably expel them from it.

What I couldn’t find in any reference on the subject, is under what premise it is acceptable that those who are not guilty of these criminal deviations, of raping young girls, of cannibalism like Jeffry Dahmer of the Japanese Issei Sagawa (who lives peacefully today, as a celebrity, in Tokyo) must pay for the sins of alcoholic parents they don’t know, or bullies at schools they did not attend.

We should lock up these social bacteria for life, right? Very well: the 31 years that Mark David Chapman has spent in the federal prison in Attica, New York, for shooting one of the greatest geniuses of music history, have cost U.S. taxpayers about $678,900. (The approximate daily cost of an inmate in federal prison is $ 60, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Department of Justice). It turns my stomach thinking about it.

There is another argument to remove the death penalty from the just, and what’s more, necessary, practices: the danger of making a mistake. Too many condemned and executed have been declared innocent several years after their burials.

However, following this reasoning, it would be worthwhile to decree absolute impunity, to abolish any type of penalty for criminality, to avoid the grievous errors like those applied to the “Guildford Four” and the “Maguire Seven” who spent more than 15 years in a British prison for an IRA bombing they didn’t commit.

It’s the illogical principal of not making the pills that an incompetent doctor mis-prescribed and we wouldn’t have the death of Michael Jackson.

If Iran condemns to stoning for laughable crimes such as adultery, if North Korea took the life of an entrepreneur in 2007 in front of 150,000 people for making calls abroad; if Cuba shot three young black men for attempting to escape from the island in the small Regla ferry; and if the state of Texas in the United States accounted for several deaths that should never have been, the death penalty should also to execute the perpetrators of these “mistakes.”

When in the late 90s a couple of voodooists from Manzanillo, in the same province where I was born, tortured, dissected, and sewed shut the mouth and eyes of a child as part of a “sacred” ritual, did they deserve to be simply “isolated: from society? When a frightening character named Ted Bundy appeared in American history, proved to have slaughtered 14 women and by his own admission having raped and dismembered 28 more, what should justice do in this country? Care for his life in a distant prison?

Those who believe that life imprisonment is the real punishment for these twisted beings are wrong: human adaptive capacity is infinite. After ten or fifteen years of incarceration with no end in sight, man adapts and survives peacefully. Life is the supreme good. And life is a right to be earned, respecting that of others.

A State that applies capital punishment fairly and rigorously, not only closes ranks around its good citizens,not just those who exhibit disrespect for the grace of life as a worthy trophy; but it avoids that the just, the lacerated, those who have seen their loved ones die, take justice into their own hands.

I am sorry for the sixteen and eighteen years of age of those who killed Julian Soler and Kennia Duran in a gas station in Miami Gardens. I’m sorry because, at the end of the day their being minors may mean they will not receive lethal injections criminals could use in their forearms.

I haven’t the slightest doubt: the day on which the worst humans on this planet get what they truly deserve for their actions, we will have fewer murders, fewer terrorists, fewer dictators, fewer rapists, and perhaps the verdicts of Justice will no longer be called failures and will begin to be called successes.

September 19 2011

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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


One Step Forward, One Step Back

The diplomacy of the absurd. A kind of indecipherable political cha cha cha, with steps lacking any harmony with each other, forming no coherent dance. The thinking of the top leadership in Cuba is an unfathomable mystery to me, every day more difficult to understand. I have come to think: Not even the powers-that-be are interested in reality. What interest them, as a delicious Creolism says, is to fuck.

What’s in the scales? On one side we have the release of 126 political prisoners, some deported to Spain, others living today in their houses. How nice. And then, on the other side, we have the recent savage kickings of dissidents, the beating of women, the tear gas used on protesters who, from a doorway of Palma Soriana, demanded freedom.

Do the scales tip to either side, are they anything but horizontal? Decidedly not. Any effect desired from the release of the opponents, in the political chess game, is annulled under the weight of the repression of today. This, in diplomatic matters, is laughable insanity.

Let us tip the scales once again: On one side we’ll put the calls of Raul Castro who, either he is a major player, or he delivers his speeches under the influence of his beloved alcohol, or he really wants Cubans to begin to speak without fear, or to show their disagreements in public meetings and forums. I’ve heard it more times in the last five years than from his brother in 50. A show of openness? Could be. But why? Why do they need it, want it? Apparent democracy for whom?

Any rational is left with no vitality when later, from the hand of this call for supposed sincerity, we put on the other side of the scales a cultural icon like Pable Milanes who, expressing his discontent, his urgent desires for social reforms, and a digital posse, blog soldiers, Silvios and Edmundos, knives between their teeth, launch their attack against him.

Elementary conclusion for Cuban brains? If an untouchable like Pablo gets such a response on the part of the establishment, totally discrediting him (or is there anyone who doubts that when Silvio Rodriguez, Edmundo Garcia, or digital soldiers like Enrique Ubieta or Iroel Sanchez speak, they are simple transmitters of the official posture?); if this is what happens to an emblem like Pablo, what can common and hungry mortals expect?

Last but not least: Let us set on the scales the recent words of Raul Castro announcing changes in national immigration policy, stripping from the majority of exiles the unjust designation of enemies. We will add, also, the visible advances in tolerance for sexual and religious diversity, a point even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized, on presenting her annual report on religious freedom in the world. (Clinton said that, although Cuban was still one of the countries most criticized in previous reports, with respect to religious freedom its practices had improved.)

But then, rampant and dissonant, we rebalance the scales at a stalemate, with the rejection of former Gov. Bill Richardson who did not return home with the contractor Alan Gross on his plane, nor was Richardson even able to visit Gross. In the past, Richardson has been an active advocate of normalizing certain points of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and he confesses that the release of extremely ill Gross, who has lost over 100 pounds, would have served to open large areas of negotiation. (More to the favor of the Cuban government: to free a man so affected as Alan Gross would not have been seen as a symptom of political weakness, but as a distinguished act of humanity.)

What is the diplomatic move of the same establishment that cordially invited Richardson to the Island? Treating him to an ass-kicking. Absolutely refusing him an interview with Alan Gross. Managing that the former Democratic governor would say that too many people in the cabinet don’t want to normalize any bilateral situation, and insinuating, frustratedly, that in these negotiations Cuba had lost a friend.

And above all, the icing on the cake: the mummified leaders decided to send their fundamental backing to the politics of those such as Mario Díaz-Balart, David Rivera and company, in their effort to provide cement for the 35,000 schools Obama wants to reconstruct, to create more walls of estrangement between the two shores.

Placing pieces on the board: Where is this deranged ship that is my country headed? I declare myself incapable of discerning it. I don’t understand.

If the intention is to maintain a tight grip, if the intention is to die victims of biology (today Vilma Espin, tomorrow Juan Almeida, previously Julio Casas Regueiro) without changing anything in the landscape, why so much interest in reform? In decentralizing the economy? In allowing the sale of cars and houses, announcing supposed immigration changes, emptying the jails of political prisoners, inviting Jimmy Carter and Bill Richardson?

If the intention is to mount a backchannel lobbying, feigning rigidity in public while speaking candidly to the enemy in the shadows, why so many beatings, so many arrests, so much incendiary verbiage against Pablo Milanes, and now, so much unnecessary and prejudicial theater like that shown against the Democrat Richardson?

I don’t believe one step forward one step back that is staged every day in Cuban politics has much to do with the indecision of the fearful or the doubtful. What’s more, I don’t believe there is another politics in the world that exhibits more scandalously the incorrigible senility of its sponsors and executors.

September 14 2011

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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Willy’s Beatles’ Beat

What could be better, for an admirer of his work, to listen to Willy Chirino live and in person for two wonderful hours? Yes, at least for me: to listen to him honor the Beatles during those two hours that never should have ended.

I think that I could not have dreamed of a better first encounter with this sui generis icon of Cuban music, paying tribute to a genius with which he, perhaps without noticing it, has more in common than strictly musical influences.

Willy Chirino belongs to a strange breed of Cuban artists: those they never managed to expel from their land; those who conquered — by a knockout! — any limitation, dictated censorship, attempt to extirpate their songs, on an Island where to freely listen to music continues to be as utopian as the most primary freedom.

Some musicians applauded by the Hispanic community in exile faced the hard luck of becoming, in time, strangers, distant exponents for their brethren who remained in Cuba; Willy Chirino can be considered the unrivaled winner: I dare say that not even the great Celia Cruz was able to stay so rooted, of such constant interest to Cubans of different eras.

The king of underground parties, volumes controlled to avoid the eardrums of the CDR, suspicious listeners (for those who say, “and what if the police come knocking at the door?”), continued and continues to be Willy Chirino.

In particular, to know him singing the Beatles did not surprise me at all. For decades, Chirino confessed, in a certain threatening tone, his devotion to the boys from Liverpool. As he tells his followers, “Listen to me, I’m not telling you this for my own pleasure.” Ergo, to expect a tribute album to his (our) British idols was the chronicle of an announced work.

However, even for a musician of proven talent, even for the author of memorable albums such as Oxígeno y Asere, I admit that My Beatles Heart elevated my perception of the dreamer of melodies that is Willy Chirino by another rung. Every time I find it harder classify his music, to limit it to a stylistic context. Before, to call it salsero or popular music seemed reasonably accurate. Today, I think he knows, he’s made it hard for us.

As a sober attempt to avoid clichés, suddenly winking at his uncontrollable Beatlemania, Chirino didn’t choose an expected setlist for his album. He didn’t choose Yesterday, or Hey Jude, or Let it Be. He didn’t give in to a possible Imagine. Chirino leaves out too many songs for it to be coincidence. Even when he takes hold of All You Need is Love, Yellow Submarine and Come Together, his album strives from another principle: the honor of a whole work, not collection of works. In My Beatles Heart no part is more celebrated than the whole.

Was Willy aware, just when he signed the first of the endless documents; when he informed the Sony plenipotentiary that he wanted to cover his favorite boys, of the crown jewel, of the subtle and bittersweet irony implied in the Beatles in his voice?

The boys from Liverpool join Chirino in the immeasurable honor of being banned for decades in Cuba, the only country where until yesterday they zealously kept watch so that no one would listen to the dazzling British youngsters, and today they keep watch so that no one will steal the glasses off the statue of John Lennon in the park in Vedado.

Willy continues to be strictly forbidden. Lennon, Paul, Ringo and George, no. But more as an institutional farce with the key roles acted by the guardians of Cuban music order, a breath of subversive complicity continues emanating from musicians who have stuck out their tongues with malice aforethought at the greatest absurdity implemented by all known dictatorships: wanting to stop the unstoppable expansion of valid art.

So while listening to Willy last Saturday at the paradisiacal “Adrienne Arsht Center” in Miami, watching him talk with his eyes shining with pride and pleasure in his homage to the Beatles, the album confirmed something I had heard three days before: Willy Chirino not only sang them to his idols. With the tender versions he gave their themes, the musician of Consolacion del Sur thanked the causes of so much immortal music for their mere existence.

Three works of My Beatles HeartAcross the Universe, I’ve Just Seen a Face, and the mix I’ll Follow the Sun / Here Comes the Sun — revealed to me something of a subtle secret subtle: Willy Chirino was falling in love with those songs. In his voice they seemed like women courted. Willy doesn’t sing them, Willy sings to them. And I think I realized it from the impeccable production of his disc, before I saw him in concert: the miracle of a man with his own work, the undoubted owner of a vital space of Cuban music, prostrate with blind rage and humbled by their inspiration.

Just for that, just to see Willy as fascinated as the public itself, was worth not missing his show. But for me, in one of his songs I found the reason, in my childhood school in Cuba, to begin to distrust the slogans that they wanted to inject into my brain; for me, when I raised my artistic perception marking Oxygen with asterisks; and above all, for me who has long learned to breathe the freedom that only music allows, knowing the Beatles beat of Willy Chirino involved an experience that left footprints.

Meanwhile, I end this line as, in the background Across the Universe also comes to an end, and I find myself, along with the Cuban musician, along with the four Brits, saying that nothing will change my world. And how good that they are in it.

September 12, 2011

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Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea