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In Defense of the Fulbright-Hayes

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, U.S. academia No Comments »

Unlike the Fulbright, the Fulbright-Hayes, of the US Dept of Education, supported research in Cuba, and a number of graduate students in the past conducted dissertation research there thanks to this fellowship. Also unlike the NSF, which wavered over the years and often refused to consider any proposal in Cuba, the Fulbright Hayes was unequivocal in its support for our academic work.

The new budget proposes to slash it. Please sign this petition asking your Congress and Senate representatives to reconsider.

Thank you


Radio Marti versus NPR

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, media 3 Comments »

While NPR’s federal funding is in jeopardy, support for Radio Marti and the Voice of America seems guaranteed. The bill proposing to eliminate the 64 million dollars that the government would have devoted to NPR’s operations passed in Congress and is waiting for the Senate.  While newscasters and bloggers seem divided across Party lines concerning public broadcasting, with Republicans generally advocating its elimination, nobody seems to remember the U.S. international broadcasts, which receive over 700 million dollars annually.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is the agency that oversees U.S. international broadcasts -including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio and TV Marti- has just submitted a 2012 budget for almost 800 million. It does include cuts in certain areas, but leaves the Cuba program pretty much intact. For instance, the Croatian and Chinese broadcasts of the Voice of America are entirely eliminated. Croatians no longer live under Communism, and the Chinese public is known to prefer the internet for news and information.

The budget includes a modest 28 million dollars for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which is in charge of both Radio and TV Marti.  Interestingly, about 16 million of these are for salaries and benefits for the 151 employees, which means that a job at these stations is a good prospect… if you can get it (nepotism is an issue, according to an “unclassified but sensitive” audit conducted in 2007 by the U.S. State Department.)

A lingering problem for Radio and TV Marti is the dubious number of listeners and viewers that these stations reach within Cuba. According to their own surveys, included in the budget document, less than 2% of respondents would acknowledge listening to Marti at least once a week. When I lived there in the second half of the nineties, I was only able to listen to it once, when I had the flu and someone lent me a short-wave radio to entertain me. Apparently, people massively listened to it during the 1994 Balsero crisis because the station provided information on those who reached U.S. shores, but after that the audience dwindled, most dramatically among urban youth. Its programs were old-fashioned, but most importantly, as old transistors were phased out, they were replaced with modern radio sets lacking a short-wave tuner. As for TV Marti, I was never able to tune it in, nor did I ever meet anyone who did.

If that is the case, how to justify depriving millions of Americans across the country from public programming while throwing away expensive international broadcasts? Perhaps a realignment would be in order. Beam Marti North rather than South and democratize its programming. It would be great to have public stations in Spanish for the entire country, and they could keep their name as well as their Cuba news and music for all to enjoy.

Radio and TV Marti’s web address is http://www.martinoticias.com/noticias/ and both stations can be tuned in live through their webpage.

P.S.  Incidentally, it was announced today that the BBC is cutting its short-wave broadcasts in Spanish to Cuba, along with a lot of its international programming.


A few days after we published this post, and Cubanencuentro kindly linked it, the Council on Hemospheric Affairs, picked up the issue and wrote a well-researched piece. Subsequently, there has been a domino effect and legislation is being presented in the House and the Senate.

-The Council on Hemispheric Affairs followed up n agreement as evident here.

– The blog Penultimos Dias reported on an investigation on the hefty compensation paid by Radio Marti to various individuals, including well known academics, for their collaboration.

– April 10th: Truthout.org agrees that “While House Republicans showed no difficulties in placing National Public Radio (NPR) on the chopping block in mid-March, they have overlooked conservative pet projects that are far more costly, of lower quality, and ineffective. Two such projects are the anti-Castro broadcasts Radio and TV Martí…”

– April 12th: For the conservative blog Capitol Hill Cubans linking NPR to Radio Marti “is absurd”.

New documentary film on the 1961 Literacy Campaign

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema 3 Comments »

The producers are looking for SoCal venues to screen it in April:

The film features Norma Guillard talking about her coming of age in the Literacy Campaign as a young woman of 15 who left home to work in the countryside as a literacy teacher, una maestra. Norma is a Cuban social and clinical psychologist, a university professor, a scholar and activist. She works primarily on the issues of gender, race, sexual orientation, and issues of diversity and identity in a Cuban and Caribbean context, and is one of the first Cuban women of her generation to call herself a feminist. Guillard will be in the US in March and April to publicize this documentary on the 1961 Cuban literacy campaign that organized over 100,000 youth to teach illiterate citizens to read and write. Catherine Murphy produced and filmed the documentary.

For more info. you might download the production notes, or go to www.maestrathefilm.org, to theliteracyproject.org and/or email kathleen.rubin at gmail.com

El Espacio Aglutinador: A documentary-in-progress

art, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant 2 Comments »

“The Art of Survival” is a documentary in progress on Sandra Ceballos’  Espacio Aglutinador; a space where so many censored and marginalized artists have been able to exhibit for the past seventeen years. It features what seems to be a promising interview with Glexis Novoa, and I look forward to one with Ezequiel Suárez. The documentary director is an artist himself, from New Jersey, called James Rauchman, who has a series of hyperrealist paintings on, among other topics, Cuban santeria. My only objection to this film is the music (not credited: Is that Philip Glass at 7’40? Then Orishas!).Here’s the trailer:

(thanks to Jorge Mata for the link)

Valentine’s Day in Havana. Dinner: 25 CUCs

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Consumption & material culture 1 Comment »

(Thank you to Glexis Novoa for sending it)

Preparing for San Lázaro in San Luis, the Spiritist way

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Gisela Roeder, By Grete Viddal, Religion No Comments »

Gisela Roeder sends us pictures of the Casa Templo La Caridad, in the city of San Luis, in Santiago province, during the festivities leading up to San Lázaro. Founded by Antonio Nieves, this is a temple apparently devoted, among other religious practices, to the Spiritist faith (there is another temple in San Luis exclusively devoted to Spiritism; not so this one, which seems to be more eclectic).

Below see the schedule of events, as well as the “norms” posted at the temple’s entrance, and as all  norms, they say more about what people do than about what people do not do.  Also interesting is the fact that these norms are said to derive their legitimacy from the fact that the temple falls under the oversight of Cuba’s national Constitution, ergo visitors should not carry knifes, drink or show up nude.

Espiritismo (Spiritism in English) became popular in Cuba and much of Latin America during the mid 19th century as books on communicating with the deceased through mediumship by Hippolyte Rivail, a Frenchman who published under the pen name Allan Kardec, became popular. In Cuba, Spiritism mixed with other religious practices and today there are a number of variants including “cientifico,” “de cordon,” and “cruzado.” Some branches closely follow Kardecian teachings, others incorporate practices from Afro-Cuban belief systems. Although common throughout Cuba, Espiritismo is particularly associated with rural areas and the eastern provinces.

This is another picture taken by Gisela Roeder at La Caridad. It shows the December 16th mass for San Lazaro, according to the “espiritismo cruzado” practice. If you are interested, do not miss her 8 min video of this event, on youtube.

HERE you can watch a video of San Lázaro’s crowning (“coronación”) at this San Luis temple. The video is also authored by Gisela, who has been visiting this community for many years.

For more on espiritismo en Cuba, check out the chapter on spiritism included in the book Creole Religions of the Caribbean: an Introduction from Vodou to Santeria. Diana Espirito-Santo, a graduate of University College London and a professor at University of Lisbon has conducted fieldwork in Cuba on espiritismo. One of her articles, entitled “The Enactment of Self and the Nature of Knowledge Among Mediums in Cuban Espiritismo” can be downloaded HERE. Just this year she published “Spiritist Boundary-Work and the Morality of Materiality in Afro-Cuban Religion” in the Journal of Material Culture (March 2010).

U. of Miami Faculty Decries Homage to Orlando Bosch

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Miami, U.S. academia 2 Comments »

A month ago, EthnoCuba denounced the homage to Orlando Bosch at the University of Miami. Subsequently, a letter of protest was made public at the initiative of UM alumni Isabel Alfonso and the media, very slowly and half-heartedly, picked up the story.

A few days ago, Prof. Lillian Manzor sent an update: the Latinamericanist faculty at UM responded, decrying and rejecting that homage in a letter that is reproduced below. The University administration, however, has said nothing. The Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies where the event take places apparently alleges that they merely rented the building space for the homage. I would think that the rental would not include the banners of the University and the Center, which were clearly visible in pictures and videos of the event.  Here at the University of California there have been many debates about what privatization means. If universities, private and public, are in such dire straits that they need to rent their facilities to outside groups, should not they, still, exert some judgement as to who and for what? Should a university rent its facilities to, say, the Ku Klux Klan? That begs the question: what is the price for which community principles are abandoned?

In any event, here is the response of the University of Miami Latin American Studies faculty.

[For an eloquent discussion in Spanish, with University of Miami’s Prof. Lillian Manzor, you might listen to Edmundo Garcia”s show La Noche Se Mueve of last November 16th. ]

November 10, 2010

To Our Colleagues in the Academic Community and Friends:

On October 12, 2010, Orlando Bosch, an internationally known and convicted terrorist, was paid homage at an event held on the premises of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) of the University of Miami. The U.S. Department of Justice has called this individual “a terrorist unfettered by laws of human decency, threatening and inflicting violence without regard to the identity of his victims.”

The undersigned faculty affiliated with the University of Miami’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLAS) wishes to declare that our Center and students had absolutely nothing to do with this event and firmly opposes holding such events and any other activity glorifying, condoning, or praising inhumane acts or violations of human rights, regardless of the alleged justification.

The Center’s mission is to promote the study of Latin America and the Caribbean in accord with principles of academic freedom, scholarly excellence, and respect for fundamental human rights. Ours is a Center devoted to educating students about the essential importance of tolerance and open-mindedness while pursuing high-quality research and community outreach throughout the Americas.

The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Miami, which has recently been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Title VI National Resource Center, reaffirms its commitment to path breaking scholarship in the humanities, social sciences and related areas of academic research while also initiating new and innovative projects of broad public interest in partnership with fellow scholars and universities in the U.S. and throughout the hemisphere.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.

Signatures (in alphabetical order)

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Cuba @ the 2010 AAA meetings

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Conferences & CFPs 1 Comment »

The American Anthropological Association Meetings are in New Orleans this year, Nov. 18-21. These are the Cuba-related papers included in the program:

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Timba in Drag: Alida Cervantes

art, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cultural production, Gender & sexuality 4 Comments »

It is not so common for heterosexual women to dress in drag, as men, and mock gender stereotypes.  Not in the Cuban context. That is not to say that macho men mannerisms are not the objects of jokes and comic skits, like The Pichy boys do -to just name one example among many;  (some of their videos, aired at Miami’s canal 41, are on youtube and are hilarious. But Alida Cervantes, a San Diego-based, Tijuana-native, painter and an MFA candidate at UCSD, has a discourse about it that goes beyond the mere mockery and seeks to expose male domination and subvert Cuban -and Latin- machismo.  She does not propose to transcend the biologies of gender nor their social value -hers is not a queer performance. What she seeks is to destabilize the cultural associations that are attached to the male-female opposition in Latin societies. Alida is intimately acquainted with Afro-Cuban culture, partly via her life partner Silfredo La O Vigo, who is a supporting character in her “El Puro” series, pa’ que luego no digan de los hombres cubanos. She directly confronts the expectations surrounding heterosexual and interracial erotic desires by performing the various characters that conform this gendered universe. She dresses in drag and impersonates timba stars who, in turn, have made a career out of  glorifying their hyper machismo. She also takes on the role of the sexually voracious woman demanded by the macho man.

Alida uses play back to perform some of their most popular dance numbers, which, at the same time, she makes into video pieces. Here are two examples. In the first, she is performing Manolito y su Trabuco’s Te Dejo Libre, a song about a woman who, left by the man, will remain a spinster. In the second video, she performs all the characters, male and female, in a song by NG La Banda.

The Plane Crash and Cuba’s Local Journalism

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Images, media, News and Views 4 Comments »

My FBfr Tersites D. called our attention to the Granma paper’s front page, the morning after the plane crash of the Santiago-Havana AeroCaribbean flight that killed sixty-eight people. Where is the news?  This was one more instance of the Communist Party’s opacity. It is well known that rarely a news brief on someone’s death will detail the actual cause (e.g. dying after “a long and troublesome illness” is typically an euphemism for cancer). But this seems to top it all, and Tersites’ FBfrs rightfully shook their heads. The callousness of reducing such a catastrophe into an administrative technicality, removing any hint of human emotion, caused not so much surprise as sorrow; and sorrow not only for the victims of the plane but also for those of the paper (its readers).

Contrast that with the local Escambray paper of Sancti Spirtius, the nearest city to the crash. Like the Granma, it is also the voice of the Communist Party, but at the provincial level. Escambray was the first to twitter the news; by 9pm Eastern the bare information about the crash of the Santiago-Havana airliner had made it around the Twitter-world. Very soon after, the newspaper’s webpage begun to offer news as they trickled in.  Local papers of this kind typically carry local news that do not make it to the Granma, but their tone and approach is pretty much the same. In this case, the difference is dramatic, and it is not only a matter of aesthetics, which differentiate these two publications like night and day. While the national paper does not even include the news as news, Escambray paper gives it all, offering all available details, including graphic images occupying several pages.

That the Granma buries its head in the sand is not news. It is the voice of the bureaucracy, always removed from every day life. Its place seems to have been taken up by Cubadebate, which did keep web readers (therefore few Cubans) informed. The good news is that there is local reporting. That despite the crisis of journalism, particularly in printed form, this local paper, Escambray, displays a reporting that values “being there,” conveying to readers what is happening as is happening.

UPDATE (Nov. 8): For a very well narrated and very emotional account of what area residents heard and saw, including details about the activities in which various people were engaged in that very same moment and what they did immediately after, see today’s article in Escambray, “La Noche que Lloró Mayábuna,” which includes photos.

Exile Epics: Marco Rubio to the Senate

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, exile, Miami, Video - lecture and discussion 1 Comment »

It is worth listening to the new senator elect for Florida and TeaParty sympathizer Marco Rubio‘s acceptance speech. I had to listen to it after a friend reported that his speech was dishearteningly right-wing while another friend (Cuban exile) reported to be filled with emotion.

To me, it sounds awfully out of step with the experience of many people in this country (all those who have not managed to go from bellboy to president); but I suppose he is not talking to them here. He is paying homage to his family’s journey, and that is emotional: “I have been raised in a community that lost their country…  This is the story of the Cuban exile community… I will always be the son of exiles...” His is an American Dream story, an immigrant fable that says that you can make it to the top by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps; a story that was compelling at one point but that it sounds now more incredible than winning the lottery.  He talks about “the greatest society in human history” and about America as “the strongest country in the world” and “an extraordinary society where every dream is possible;” “there is at least one place in this planet where it doesn’t matter if your father was a bartender and your mom was a maid. You can accomplish anything you want if you’re willing to work hard for it and play by the rules” (“the rules” being a signal that illegal immigration will not be tolerated). From Cuban exceptionalism to American exceptionalism.

His is also an anti-communist parable:  He has been compared with Reagan and he indeed sounds like someone coming out from the Cold. Even though Marco Rubio does not mention the words “communism” or “revolution”– for him the Cuban Revolution is “an accident of history”– his narrative is a sort of Reaganesque reverse orientalism. His politics, far to the right of Reagan. If, according to the sociological lore, the first generation of exiles were visibly and famously Republican, and the one-and-a-half generation a rebel -with a high profile in academia and a significant number of them joining various brigades and going to Cuba in defiance of their parents- the second remains, let’s say, under studied. Another one of its members is the Republican congressman just elected for Miami, David Rivera, born in 1965, former manager of radio and TV Marti.

UPDATE (Nov. 5). For a broader social and generational perspective on both Rubio’s election and Ileana Rosh-Lehtinen’s reelection to Congress (feared to become the next chairperson of the Foreign Affairs committee, with its obvious negative implications for US Cuban academic exchanges), I recommend the just-published piece on the latest issue of Foreign Policy by colleague Arturo Lopez-Levy, Not Your Father’s Cuba.

Ernesto Bazán: Portraits of the Special Period

art, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, daily life, new book, urban life 1 Comment »

Differently from other photographers that went to Cuba in the Special Period and immortalized its ruins and its blackness in beautiful coffee table books, Ernesto Bazán, an Italian, actually lived in Cuba for fourteen years. He lived there between 1992 and 2006, when he was forced to leave the country, along with his Cuban wife and child. His book, Bazan Cuba, was just published and is reviewed in El Pais, today thursday. You can see a selection of photographs, all in black and white, on his website.

Orlando Bosch and the Politics of Academia

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Conferences & CFPs, exile, Miami, Video - lecture and discussion 6 Comments »

Oct 12 event at the UM. At the far left (wearing a tie), Orlando Bosch. Next to him, Enrique Ros (also with suit and tie), who is the father of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Congresswoman. On the far right, author and radio host Enrique Encinosa. (pic taken from the event’s website)

Colleague Isabel Alfonso, a graduate of the University of Miami, sent us this video of the October 12 event, along with her outrage. How is it possible that a bona fide University would sponsor a homage to Orlando Bosch? He is an extremely controversial figure, well known for his involvement in an airplane bombing; who at one point was convicted of terrorism by a U.S. court and who, according to the U.S. Attorney General’s Ofice, “for thirty years has been resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence.”  One thing is to invite an individual, in this case a witness of a history worth telling, a man already in his eighties, to tell his story, even to give his opinion and defend his views. But to stage a homage to his terrorist actions and activities that broke laws in several countries?

Here’s a clip:

The event, on the Escambray anti-revolutionary struggle, was technically organized by an Institute for the Cuban Historical Memory Against Totalitarianism, and merely took place AT the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, as clearly stated on their event webpage. Nonetheless, both the Cuban and Cuban American Institute and the University lent their names and banners to the event as can be seen on the pictures. They were therefore sponsors. The Institute (which we link on our link-roll)  is a semi-independent entity that has never hidden its partisanship. It is directed by the very widely read historian Prof. Jaime Suchliki, and, even though it does not feature a proper board, it lists a number of UM faculty as contributors.

What is the line between political activism and academic indifference? Are there double or triple standards? Our colleague and former classmate, anthropologist Nick DeGenova, unfortunately lost his job at Columbia University for saying at a sit-in that the United States deserved “a million Mogadishus.” How is this any different? It is always dangerous to try to set limits to free speech, but one could argue that universities, as educational institutions, are in the business of educating citizens for democracy. A university needs to chose its role models -the individuals it honors- carefully and thoughtfully.

September 11: Catalonia and Cuba

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, History 3 Comments »

Today September 11 is Catalonia’s National Holiday, commemorating the fall of Barcelona in 1714. This is Catalonia’s pro-independence flag, the estelada, designed in 1904 and waved at the proclamation of the short-lived Catalan independence in 1931- today a flag still used by Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (with variations in color, it is also the flag of the independentist group Terra Lliure).

Its similarity with the Cuban flag is no coincidence.  It was designed by Catalan nationalists in Cuba after its independence in 1902, and modeled, of course, after the Cuban flag  See Creixell (1984) for a full account.

I thank Cesar Beltran for pointing at this morphological similarity.

Condones por la Libreta

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Consumption & material culture, Gender & sexuality 4 Comments »

© Gisela Roeder

This picture of a store advertising poster for (Cuban-made?) condoms is Gisela Roeder’s first contribution to EthnoCuba, and hopefully not the last. It was taken at a peso pharmacy in Caimito, a municipality in Havana Province (soon to be a municipality in the new Artemisa province), this past July, 2010.

Slogan translation: DESEA (presumably the brand name: Desire). “A Job Well Done. You Have the Instruments.”

Productos Controlados are those sold by the libreta. I wonder how many condoms per person could one buy (how many times the government considers the normal rate of sex intercourse per week). I suppose those who do not use them can still collect them and trade them for cigarettes or yogourt.

Recently, the international press carried an article about Cubans’ creative condom usage: Condoms are used for everything except for sex. Here’s a link to a Global Post article which includes interesting images.

Commercial advertisements of this sort in peso stores are extremely unusual, particularly because rather than just inform on the quality of the promoted product, it seeks to lure consumers to use it through innuendo and evocative images- a “no-no” in socialist advertising (See article in Harvard’s Revista on the topic). Although in this case the choice of imagery is strange, what’s up with those outfits??

In the the mid-1990s, the famous timba band La Charanga Habanera, also tried to promote this not-very-popular product, upon government request. The song  “Mi Amor, Usa Condon” (which they mocked in their album cover by appearing themselves with condoms over their heads) was part of their “suspension concert” of 1997, in Havana’s Malecon. After this, they were banned from the media for half a year due to their allegedly lewd movements and disrespectful words.

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