Alfredo Prieto

Alfredo Prieto

Investigador, editor y periodista. Ha trabajado como Jefe de Redacción de Cuadernos de Nuestra América, Caminos, Temas y Cultura y Desarrollo, y ejercido la investigación y la docencia en varias universidades. Autor de La prensa de los Estados Unidos y la agenda interamericana y El otro en el espejo.

U.S. President John Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) arrives in Havana on January 15, 1928. Photo: Archive.

President Cal in Havana

Cubans have always been hospitable and lovers of shows and soap operas. And as courteous as they are emotional, to the point that today they are the only passengers who applaud the pilot when the plane they are traveling on from Miami lands on the Rancho Boyeros runway.

Joe Biden speaks at a rally organized by Mi Familia Vota, a national group of Latino voters, in Las Vegas on January 11, 2020. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/The New York Times.

Joe Biden and the Latino vote

I It’s almost commonplace to affirm that Hispanics/Latinos will become the largest minority voting group in the United States during this year’s election. Indeed, this is a record 32 million people eligible to go to the polls, representing 13.3% of all voters. This figure includes a large number of voters in swing states like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. In the latter, Hispanics/Latinos make up nearly a quarter of voters. Well-known actress and presenter Eva Longoria repeated it to those attending a Democratic rally in Kissimmee, Florida, when Biden was campaigning on the important I-94 corridor, which connects Tampa with Orlando and Daytona Beach. “This year, for the first time in history, Hispanics will be the largest minority group of potential voters in the United States, Latino voters will decide the 2020 elections, that is a fact. Not only do I want Trump to be removed from office, I want the Latino community to be the decisive group to remove him.” Biden, for his part, said: “More than any other time, the Hispanic community, Latino community holds in the palm of their hand the destiny of this country. You can decide the direction of this country.”  It is, by definition,...

Photo: Miami News 24.

Tree and branch, finger and fingerprint

In Miami the religious schism between Cubans and traditionalists is a fact. The Cubans practice the Regla de Ocha or Santeria, a typically Cuban product resulting from the agonizing struggle between domination and resistance, and from transculturation. The traditionalists follow the African original—and more properly, the Yoruba culture and religious practices—taken as a launching pad. Getting ahead of myself, Cuba vs. Nigeria. This sort of journey to the seed of the latter is, among other things, a consequence of globalization and the diaspora. But it has also had an impact on the island, until recently considered the marrow of Santeria and “an authentic exporter of this culture in the world.” Cuba is not a crystal bell, nor is it exhausted in those images of old cars and indigenous and decontaminated musical sounds that seem inscribed in stone in the common Western imagination. However, in religion, as in politics, what’s real is what isn’t seen. The obturator of the problem consists, basically, in the following: the former want to maintain the “purity” of the Regla de Ocha, as taught by their elders on the island; hence their reluctance to accept modes, rituals and practices they consider alien to its “essence.” The...

“Declaration of Independence” (1817), painting by John Trumbull (1756-1843). Photo: Archive.

4th of July

Help us keep OnCuba alive here The Declaration of Independence is a document produced by the second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It proclaimed that the Thirteen Colonies, at war with Great Britain, recognized themselves as thirteen new sovereign and independent states, free of ties of subordination to the Metropolis. In short, it established the existence of a new nation ever since called the United States of America. Written by Thomas Jefferson, the text gave that independence philosophical-political substance, listing the claims against King George III and establishing the validity of certain individual and legal rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thomas Jefferson in 1786. Painting by Mather Brown (1761 -1833). Photo: Archive. That independence had profound impacts on Latin America, including Cuba. In fact, it was one of the referents, along with the French Revolution, of the patriots who launched the war against Spain in 1868. And also of José Martí, the soul of the Great War, in the midst of critical thinking about the United States whose...

Photo: Flickr.

On Africa Day. “We are all a bit loquat”

It would be commonplace to affirm that the racial question has historically been one of Cuban culture’s tough problems. The subject, of increasing importance as of the 19th century, has gone through different stages vis à vis the very complex process of construction of national identity. One of its correlates, racism, systematized prejudices forged from the perspective of a hegemonic white culture, which early on anathematized black individuals and practiced the exclusion of African slaves and their descendants from the national project, as evinced in the thought José Antonio Saco, one of the most controversial figures in our sugar aristocracy. The Cuban case, however, has a kind of historical irony: the wars of independence would be the foundation of the nation, which inevitably meant the incorporation and participation of blacks, a distinctive feature of Cuban anti-colonial emancipation with respect, for example, to that of the Thirteen Colonies. In the process of constructing national identity, the 1895 War, organized from exile by José Martí, was particularly relevant, and it was led by popular sectors. Mambí liberation fighters, 1895. Photo: Archive. Despite the very high presence of black and mestizo fighters in the Liberation Army, and of Martí’s anti-racist thought to cement...

Photo: Flickr.

Mother’s Day in Cuba

In 1872 Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) decided to celebrate Peace Day in Boston, in what is considered the first antecedent of Mother’s Day. A poet and social activist, she wrote the “Appeal to Womanhood,” a true call for peace and disarmament. And a reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). After the War, Ward Howe became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. In 1868 she helped form the New England Women’s Suffrage Association, of which she was elected its first president, a position she held until 1877. Earlier, in 1871, she had become the first president of the American branch of the Women’s International Peace Association. Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910). In the “Appeal,” Julia Ward Howe writes the following: But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before. Arise, then, Christian women of this day. Arise, all women who have hearts.… Our sons shall...

Havana in times of coronavirus. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

The Sublime Orchestra and El Tosco: two ways to deal with the pandemic

In February 1957, in the province of Yunnan, in Mao’s China, the so-called Asian Flu broke out and from there spread to Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, India and Australia. Three months later, it would get to Africa, from where it would jump to Europe and the United States in the summer of 1957. One of the first expressions of globalization: the transmitting agents flew in DC-7 planes or arrived at the ports with their sailors and captains. The so-called flu worked in the opposite way as the coronavirus of today: from the bottom up from the point of view of the ages. A historian writes: “The pandemic especially affected children, schoolchildren, adolescents and young adults, coinciding with the grouping effect of the school stage after that first summer. Hence one of the most pronounced peaks was recorded in October 1957. And that between January and February 1958 there was a second pandemic wave that mainly affected adults.” According to virologists, it was a virus A (H2N2), common in wild ducks, that had mutated when crossing with another strain that came to affect humans (zoonotic transmission). It is estimated that it caused 1.1 million deaths in the world, of them...

Still from the documentary “55 hermanos,” directed by Jesús Díaz.

That Dialogue of 1978

Since the end of the Ford administration (1974-1977), and especially during the beginning of Carter's (1977-1981), there was a certain thaw between the governments of Cuba and the United States. One of the prevailing perceptions, from the United States, especially in the political discourse and the liberal press, stressed that after the events in Bolivia, with the death of Ernesto Che Guevara and the liquidation of his guerrilla group, Cuba was no longer in a condition to export the revolution. That moment ended with the events of the Angolan war, which paralyzed a rapprochement that led to the creation, in 1977, of the respective Interest Sections in Washington and Havana. On the other hand, the idea begins to emerge among the emigrants that this was not going to be as short as it was presumed from the beginning, because after two decades the so-called institutionalization process was taking place in Cuba following the imprint of the Soviet Union, after the failure of the Great Harvest and the entrance to CAME. That atmosphere had an impact on many Cubans in the United States and there were two events that somehow marked a change. First, for reasons of its own, a group...

Cuba: absence of condoms

...tremendous time in the sack and a stack of positions, We almost used a box of condoms. El Chacal   Historically, Cuban men have been quite reluctant to use condoms for allegations such as lack of lubrication, discomfort and interference in sexual pleasure. But also for a sexist component that made and still makes the task of contraception fall on women, and which implies a visceral rejection of the word “vasectomy” due to an alleged effect on their virility. The picture is completed if it is considered that in several generations of sexually active men before 1985, the most that could be expected from an unprotected “hitch” were STDs treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. But the emergence of HIV-AIDS in Cuba began to change the picture, and since then its use has gone up, although not without contradictions, paradoxes, resistance and zigzags. For example, in 2006 a survey applied in a polyclinic in the Centro Habana municipality to teenagers from 10 to 19 years and to young people from 20 to 24, found that 61% had an active sex life; that the onset of sexual intercourse had occurred at 44% in the ages between 15 and 19; and in...

Photo: Albear House.

The city and its grilles

In a famous essay, Alejo Carpentier defined Havana as “the city of columns.” Indeed, walking through places like the Calzada de Jesús del Monte, so marked by the poet Eliseo Diego, or the current municipalities of El Cerro, Diez de Octubre and Plaza, it is not unusual to find buildings and constructions featuring Ionic or Doric columns, a poor copy of an outdated neoclassicism that, however, gave that Havana a special touch of distinction among the Latin American capitals of the time. Walking through certain areas of El Vedado, the scent of daisies and jasmines fills the gardens and parks; there are the magnificent columns―some intact, others in semi ruins―that now coexist with an omniscient urban protagonist: the grilles and fences, put up on purpose as insulating structures of an outside world that is perceived as profane, vulgar, promiscuous and, above all, intrusive and insecure. But they are by no means an absolutely new feature. Carpentier writes: “The traditional Cuban house―and this is even more visible in the provinces―is a house enclosed in its own gloom, like the Andalusian, Arab house, from which many descend. The spiked gate only shows the face of the person who used the knocker. Rarely...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Cuba-U.S. relations: A five-year chronology of the “thaw”

This December 17 marks five years since the announcement of the “thaw” of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States by the then presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama. The five-year period, which began with the historic announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the visit of President Obama to the island, ends with a 180-degree turn in U.S. policy towards Cuba, new presidents in both countries and relations at a critical point. This has been, broadly speaking, the chronology of a path that promised a new stage in relations between the two countries and that distorted the intentions of normalization after the arrival of the Trump administration. 2014 December 17: Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announce the reestablishment of bilateral relations. The prisoners accused of espionage are released, in Cuba the American Alan Gross and in the United States the Cubans Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino. Measures are announced, among others, to facilitate travel and remittances to Cuba. 2015 January 17: The measures announced by President Barack Obama on December 17, 2014, which remove some restrictions on trade and certain categories of travel to Cuba for Americans, come into force. January 21-22:...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Market, that word

After having undergone a drastic disconnection from the USSR and CAME mechanisms, with dramatic repercussions on the quality of life of citizens, a group of strategies aimed at weathering its internal and external impact were adopted in Cuba. The economists of the 1990s used to refer to tourism with a metaphor of frightening futuristic flavor, but real, when they said that it was the new locomotive that pulled the train, as sugar did before. That was in force until the emergence of new alternatives, mainly the sending abroad of medical personnel and technical advisors for a limited time. From there they sent remittances―and send―to their relatives and returned with goods and merchandise not easily purchased on the island after having contributed to the State a substantial part of their monthly emoluments, the amount of which varies depending on the country in question. Foreign investment, on the other hand, never became a hard and definitive economic fact due to a set of various limitations and restrictions, but especially slowness, bureaucratization and the old mentality. However, it implied the emergence of a business sector involved in joint ventures and tourism, frequently affected by a clash between historical values ​​and those of the...

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Cuba: The black holes of what is moral

Times of crisis bear a component of irrationality that is not always emphasized in sociological studies, and even less in the economic ones, because they are not the object of their study. In Cuba, their main expression is the psychological impacts on a society marked since 1993 by the circulation of two currencies and by the existence of population sectors that don’t have a systematic access to one of those currencies. As is known, it is called CUC, and it has been given even more value than a USD, but the neighborhood people continue to overwhelmingly call it: "dollars" or "fulas." Also, of course, they unleash cravings for consumption of goods and services that cannot be accessed with national currency, in which however the vast majority of citizens perceive their salaries, all of which takes place because of the growing place of money in social relations. A shock wave is taking over everything, and not even religion escapes. For example, many Santeria Ifá priests seem to be concerned today about the use and abuse of spurious practices that reach the point of classifying deities as "cold" and "hot"―that is, cheap and expensive―related to the amount of money to be paid...

Photo: Enrique de la Osa.

A car, just a car

China is at the forefront of many things, one of them buying cars. And the Chinese do it not only with their characteristic patience, but also with a peculiarity, one of the boomerangs of the westernization process, but that at the same time refers to the qualitative differences between the local and the foreign: they prefer foreign brands and not their own, especially the Toyotas, GMs and Fords, firms that have seen their sales grow to impressive levels. For obvious reasons, today China is the main vehicle market in the world. In 2018 the tariffs on the import of cars and their spare parts were reduced, which allowed greater access to those goods. They were cut from 25 to 15 percent on most vehicles, part of the efforts to continue opening the markets. They also reduced the import levies on parts to 6 percent (from around 10 percent). "The benefits are tremendous for our business," said a spokesman for the Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. BMW said it would review its prices: the decision was "a strong sign that China will continue to open." Audi executives received as imagined the "greater liberalization and opening of the Chinese market." In Cuba, the...

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