Julio César Guanche

Julio César Guanche

Profesor e investigador. Ha escrito varios libros y un número largo de ensayos y artículos. Hubiera querido ser trompetista, pero la vida es como es. Siente la misma pasión por el cine, la historia, la música y la cultura popular. Descree, en profundidad, de quien no sepa cocinar. Investiga temas de política, historia y derecho, pues cada cual se divierte como puede.

Cuban Voices: “Socialism’s great innovation can only be in combining social justice with a democracy full of respect for the different”

Cuban Voices talked on this occasion with Ivan de la Nuez, essayist and art curator, who was born in Havana (1964) and currently lives in Barcelona. His work, translated into several languages, includes Los intelectuales de izquierdas y la Revolución cubana (2006), El comunista manifiesto (2013), Teoría de la retaguardia (2018) and Cubantropía (2020).

Cuban Revolution (with flag). Harper´s Weekleay. April 10, 1869.

Hand-sewn by all Cubans

In February 1870, in the Isabel II Park, now Havana’s Parque Central, American Isaac Greenwald was assassinated, so it must have been a lynching. Two of his three friends who were walking alongside him were seriously injured. Canarian Eugenio Zamora was insulted with Greenwald wearing a blue tie. Zamora belonged to the sixth company of the Volunteer Battalion.1 The incident was part of other cases of political violence that led to the death of about ten people in those days, lynched in the middle of a public highway, very far from the insurgent camp. Not all the dead had ties to the Cuban independence movement. One of those murdered, Luis Luna y Parra, was first attacked with a machete by a corporal of the Volunteers. He was able to barely escape. Shortly after, S. Pedro Covadonga, an Asturian inflamed by the cries of “kill him! kill him! kill that Mambí, insurgent, traitor to the homeland!” stabbed him so many times that he wounded his own hand. Finally, he was finished off by Casimiro, another Volunteer. Once dead, his body received a stab in the chest, four shots and many bayonets. The sequence of his death involved some thirty Volunteers. The...

Photo: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini

Last night’s Cuba*

Yesterday, November 27, was a normal day and a long night. Every day is more or less the same for me. Or work, or work. It started at 7 am with an event through zoom, VPN willing, with the German Max Planck Institute, with that bad habit that people have of not speaking Spanish all the time. Then a kilometric online meeting. Later, more work. Then the line at a store which I had promised my mother. Meanwhile, I didn’t stop looking at the phone to see what was happening at 2, between 11 and 13. I calmly let the need to go there grow inside me. I walk and talk fast, but I prefer to think slowly. The night would be something else. I took some bread and two bottles of water to give out and went to the Ministry of Culture. When I arrived, I didn’t feel anything different from what I feel when I go to a concert. You know four out of every five people, whether in person or virtually (Havana has always seemed to me a city as beautiful as it is small). I talked to a lot of friends about the same old things....

Photo: Julio César Guanche

Race and Heredity in Contemporary Cuban Society

In 2017, the university student Yanay Aguirre Calerín was involved in an argument with a taxi driver in Havana. After receiving racist comments, she was forced to get out of the vehicle. In Cuba, according to the 2012 Census data based on self-identified skin color, Whites represent 64.3% of the total population, Blacks represent 9.3%, and mulattoes 26.6%. Consistent with this data, the young woman who was discriminated against for being Black belongs to a minority. However, what her story reveals is not a minor issue. Racism is expressed like a catalogue of prejudices, but more so it is a pattern of power that accumulates differences to systemically organize, distribute, and justify advantages and disadvantages. It unfolds through individual and institutional actions, while also defining the access to opportunities within the social structure. The media debate around Cuba offers plenty of remarks about racism. On the one hand, it assures that only “reminiscences” of the scourge survive. On the other hand, it acknowledges that Cuban power structures practice State-sponsored racism. In contrast, an analytical look finds both improvements and problems in this field. Walker Evans, in Cuba (1933) The Revolutionary Experience In January 1959, the newspaper Revolución published the text, “Not Blacks…citizens!” in which Black...

Illustration by Iván Alejandro Batista

A refuge for the best of the Cuban nation

I started university around 1953.1 I had no ties with anyone, with any organization, I had no antecedents. I was very young and studied in a school run by priests. I sympathized with Orthodoxy,2 but came from the world of my school in Guanabacoa. My family sympathized with Batista. My friends at school weren’t interested in politics. I was dying to make contact. At a demonstration I met Fructuoso . He was my first acquaintance among the revolutionaries. The University and the group war During the period after the revolution against Machado, the University suffered greatly, as it became a target for all political groups in the country. That downgraded it to really important levels. A great deal of the people who were involved in student political life looked for a kind of lever, a springboard to have a representative position, after taking advantage of the prestige given by the university tradition. I think that the 1930-33 revolution, with Roa’s forgiveness, “se fue a bolina” (went downhill), but without it we would not have existed. The social conquests of the 1933 Revolution have not been justly valued. We know it was frustrated, but its seed remained. Within the walls of...

Caricature of Manuel R. Moreno Fraginals (Fragment), in Venezuela, 1950s. Unknown author. Courtesy of Beatriz Moreno Masó.

A Cuban-Caribbean vision of the world

Manuel R. Moreno Fraginals is a fascinating historian, and it would be very difficult to be so without also having a substantial life. Moreno always believed in collaboration to carry out his work. When I asked myself what type of text could be contributed as a novelty to what has been appearing this year, in which the centenary of the intellectual’s birth is celebrated, I conceived a collaboration that, written by various hands, would account for my fascination for his work and the interest in his life. What follows is the result of that purpose. First, an interview with his daughter, Beatriz Moreno Masó, which explains the interest that his personal life arouses. (It should not be repeated here that the personal is political.) Then, a comment by renowned historian Joan Casanovas, professor of American history at the Rovira i Virgili University, in Tarragona, Catalonia (Spain), which delves into the reasons for the fascination that his work exercises. In the midst of work, we had several conversations among ourselves, with other colleagues, and with Moreno’s family. Serve as an invitation to read the historian, an always lush shadow to understand Cuba, also in the 21st century. (Julio César Guanche) A...

Illustration: Iván Alejandro Batista

The bible of a people’s freedom

Help us keep OnCuba alive here A debate is doing the rounds of Cuban networks and media regarding Decree Law 370 (DL370), “On the computerization of society in Cuba,” which, approved in 2018, came into force in July 2019. The norm regulates essential content such as promotion of computerization, government and electronic commerce, as well as the use of computer science for educational purposes. Different positions discuss its relationship with freedom of expression. Certainly, the DL370 regulates expression through public data transmission networks. In this text, I first dwell on the general aspect of freedom of expression and then comment specifically on the regulations. *** Freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right to communication Articles 53, 54 and 55 of the Cuban Constitution (2019) regulate the right to information; freedom of thought, conscience and expression; and freedom of the press. They are related rights, but they don’t mean the same thing. They are based on the freedom that every individual, and groups, must have to express themselves and receive information, but they are concepts that have evolved as the dynamics of communication and the political notions that account for it have become more complex. Freedom of the...

Original illustration: Iván Alejandro Batista

Racism is not a vestige

Help us keep OnCuba alive here In 1909, in Camagüey, a U.S. citizen refused to attend to a “colored” Cuban. The event, which generated public discussion, took place in a barber shop open to the public. The report on the case affirmed that “whatever concerns exist in the United States, regarding the differentiation of races in the social order, those concerns, which undoubtedly have also existed among us as painful reminiscences of slavery, have been disappearing….”1 The report cited as causes of this disappearance the “gradual but effective” result of the Cuban wars of independence and the development of the culture of the so-called “colored race.” Such a “race,” both by “mandate of law” and by its “personal effort,” would have achieved “access to the highest positions in the Republic, based on equal rights in relation to other citizens.” Another act committed by an American, former police officer Derek Chauvin, has now sparked great discussions in the world, also among Cubans, about the legitimacy of the forms of protest, as of the murder of George Floyd in the United States. Ironically, some of the expressions from that distant report also appear in the discussions of the present. On the social...

The Republic of Martí. Illustration: Iván Alejandro Batista.

Finally, who are we all? José Martí and the democratic republic in Cuba

In February 1905 the statue of José Martí, which to this day presides over Havana’s Parque Central, was placed. A survey decided which figure should appear on that pedestal, which had previously been that of Isabel II. For that celebration, the newspaper La Discusión published a series of vignettes. In one of them, the character of “El Pueblo”―later it will be “Liborio”―appears on the pedestal calling for a kind of “physical distancing,” so demanded during these days of COVID-19.1 Other vignettes allude to a problem that has even become more viral: the uses and abuses of Martí. In one of them, the Apostle appears saying: “The cordial republic...with all and for all.” In another, a trail of waste refers to so much discourse given on his behalf. The phrase “With all, and for the good of all” has been discussed since it was said by Martí in a crucial speech given in Tampa,2 until today. So much discussion is not rare: it is the most radical phrase in the history of Cuba. Since then, that speech―which has taken that phrase as its usual title―generated debates with veterans of the Great War. In 1910, the interested use of “with all, and...

Illustration: Iván Alejandro Batista.

The constitutional homeland. Céspedes, Guáimaro and democracy in Cuba

In “Elpidio Valdés se casa” (Elpidio Valdés gets married; Juan Padrón, Tulio Raggi and Mario Rivas, 1991) the mambí Colonel and Captain María Silvia need Prefect González to get married. The act is certified after a chain of adversities has been overcome and a series of legal requirements have been met, just before enemy fire on Tocororo Macho. The depth of the historical research carried out by Juan Padrón (1947-2020) to conceive the series of Elpidio Valdés, an already mythical story of Cuban culture, is extraordinary. This episode recognizes a key to the culture of Cuban independence: the central role granted in it to law and order. https://youtu.be/HimTr5pFhC8 Militarism vs civic-mindedness? Just six months after the start of the 1868 war, amid serious internal conflicts and with the East already facing the brutal Crescent of Valmaseda, the insurgent camp endowed itself in Guáimaro with its first Constitution (April 10, 1869). This text covers a conflict that has been codified as “militarism vs civic-mindedness.” Carlos Manuel de Céspedes’ option in favor of centralized organizational forms for the management of war would represent militarism. The civic would be Ignacio Agramonte’s commitment to the limitation of individual power and in favor of parliamentary...

Photo: Kaloian.

Homeland. Passion and democracy of national symbols in Cuba

In 2016 the magazine Revolución y Cultura (RyC)  ―then directed by Luisa Campuzano and by an Advisory Council composed of Graziella Pogolotti, Ambrosio Fornet and Antón Arrufat― dedicated a dossier to the 130th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Cuba. “Historieta de un esclavo en Cuba,” by Israel Castellanos León, appeared among its pages. It is a montage of plastic works, accompanied by texts dedicated to slavery and its resistance. There you can see “La sangre negra de la historia” (2014, mixed media, 150 x 60 cm), by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (LMOA). Manuel Mendive, Alberto Lescay and Édouard Laplante are other artists participating in the material. That LMOA work is a Cuban flag. In its triangle, with a white background, names such as José Antonio Aponte, Quintín Banderas, Gustavo Urrutia, Mariana Grajales, Blas Roca, Carlota, Antonio Maceo and a long list of black and mestizo heroes of different ideological affiliations are written in red ink. The background of the work is a humble wall, typical of a common Cuban home, from which the flag hangs. The accompanying text belongs to Biography of a Runaway Slave, by Miguel Barnet. Only five years after the RyC dossier was published, voices...

“Resurrection.” Photo: Julio César Guanche.

Fraternity, that ghost. The Cuban Republic in José Martí

The Ode to Joy, by Friedrich von Schiller, was first published in 1786. It reads: “Joy, thou beauteous godly lightning, Daughter of Elysium, Fire drunken we are ent'ring Heavenly, thy holy home!  Thy enchantments bind together, What did custom stern divide, Every man becomes a brother, Where thy gentle wings abide.”  Three years after its edition, the French Revolution broke out. Schiller's theme became a symbol of universal fraternity. Maximilian Robespierre made such a convincing defense of equality through fraternity that, in 1790, it was made part of the revolutionary motto. Already in the second half of the 20th century, when the European Union was founded, a fragment of the Schiller/Beethoven piece was adapted as the entity's anthem. It represented the promise of a new, democratic and inclusive Europe, which offered to leave behind the philosophies that led to the two world wars. Beethoven made Schiller’s poem “speak” in the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony. The German genius was an admirer of the French Revolution. He dedicated his Eroica Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, believing he was one of his champions, but when he was crowned emperor he viciously crossed out his name. From Cuba, another admirer of the French...

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