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 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...

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...

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,...

“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...

Photo: Alejandro Ernesto / EFE.

Dignity is not decided by plebiscite

The 1976 Constitution, with its reforms, regulated marriage as the "voluntarily concerted union of a man and a woman." The draft of the current Constitution wanted to change that content in a radical way: "the voluntarily concerted union between two persons." Finally, the new Magna Carta (2019) regulates it differently: it is a "social and legal institution." An upcoming Family Code, to be approved in less than two years, after a plebiscite, will specify what kind of people may marry. For the first time since 1959, a referendum will be used to pass a law. Several deputies and jurists assured that the change between the Draft and the Constitution did not mean "a rollback" on same-sex marriage. Certainly, the current wording does not prevent it. It is now a possibility, although in the Draft it was a guarantee. Given the methodology of collecting opinions from the constitutional debate, it was impossible to quantify the will opposed to same-sex marriage, but it seemed to be less than a quarter of the presentations collected during the consultation. In fact, the National Survey on Gender Equality (ENIG-2016) had shown "that 77 percent of the Cuban population between 15 and 74 consider that people...

Photo: Alejandro Ramírez Anderson

Roberto Fonseca: “I respect all those who struggle to create”

Music in Cuba The Cuban musical panorama is very interesting. There are many people, especially young people, who are doing good things and taking risks. The country opened up quite a bit to information. And it has done so from the outside in, but also from Cuba to the world. We are in a time of great need, above all economic need, and some people want to get into the market, make a splash and be an overnight success. That way they’d acquire another means of income. Some of those people don’t care as much about artistic quality as about the numbers—views, likes, etc. There is a group out there that’s on top of that type of dynamic, but there is another group interested in using these Internet tools to show the value of our music and culture. If you ask me, Roberto Fonseca, I am convinced that the latter is the way to go. Photo: Alejandro Ramírez Anderson The Cuban Cliché Cuban culture is very rich and it’s respected world-wde. Nothing bothers me more when I’m outside of Cuba than people who say to me: "You’re from Cuba? How great—women, cigars, and rum!" Well, look,...

Erik Alejandro, Cimafunk. Photo: Denise Guerra

This is Cuban Music, And I’m Going to Give It to You Live, Alive!

Cima My old friends call me El Manta. They’re friends from when I started with trova, and my buddies from high school, when I did a bit of reggaeton. I used to talk a lot. I used to distract the teachers so we wouldn’t have to do what we were supposed to. That’s why they gave me that nickname. But now I’m Cimafunk.1 Or Cima. Or Erick, sometimes.  https://youtu.be/6c5PNGvf6Pc I have a favorite bolero. It’s “Debí llorar”, sung by Freddy . I really like it a lot. I don’t watch sports, although I did pretend I was an athlete. I practiced track and field, Greco-Roman wrestling, and boxing. My mother told me that I had to study first and afterwards I could do what I wanted. It’s true what the song “La sandunguita” says, “no one can take away what you’ve been given,” but watch out: you have to see what sandunga was given and by whom. I studied Medicine for a few years, and I gave it up for Music. I sing to happiness. To a state of mental happiness, in which people can enjoy my music. And listen to it doing whatever. What each person decides to do...

Will Cubans residing abroad be able to vote in the constitutional referendum?

Last August, Ernesto Soberón, director of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad (DACRE) of the Cuban Foreign Ministry answered the question: “Will Cubans residing abroad be able to vote in the referendum?” as follows: “The Cuban Electoral Law is clear in terms of those who have the right to vote, which establishes as requisite being a permanent resident in the county for a period of no less than two (2) years. That has not changed. We will create the conditions so that all the nationals who are abroad and comply with the requirements established by the Law and the Constitution can travel to Cuba and vote.” I partly agree with that opinion. The Electoral Law (1992) indeed restricts the rights of citizenship to the effective residence in the country. This Law regulates that the domicile in Cuba is the authorizing condition to exercise political rights. Thus, the active suffrage requires “being a resident in the country for a period of no less than two years before the elections….” (Art. 6, paragraph b) and the right to passive suffrage requires, on the other hand, being “permanent residents in the country for a period of no less than five years before the...

Photo: Kaloian

The local is immense. Constitutional proposal on the municipality

Municipalization is a very old ghost, which today is again touring the world. The Roman republic conceived the municipality as a replica toward the local of its institutionalization. The scale also had to replicate the republican cultural world. When the gladiators were described as loathsome – together with prostitutes and actors - Cesar’s municipal legislation prevented them from standing up in the local councils. The origin of the U.S. political system had in the local a central theme. The federalist option championed the strong central government, which promised to contain the “irresponsible” action of the masses and the power of the factions. Another current defended the local self-government as a recourse to prevent the concentration of power. After the first triumphed, the doors were opened to an elitist institutional system. For Martí, “nothing bad should be said about the municipality, because by a municipality, because by that of Móstoles , Spain returned to the strength and decorum it abandoned centuries ago, and because of the municipalities, in most of the colonies, America entered freedom.” For Martí, the municipality was the “root and the salt of freedom.” After the increase in suffrage in Europe, the...

Foto: Kaloian Santos Cabrera

Equal in what? The Magna Carta, racism and non-discrimination

The Draft of the new Constitution, being debated now in Cuba on a popular level, expands the legal formulation of the principle of equality. This is a reality of great importance. The 1976 text banned discrimination for reasons of race, skin color, sex or national origin. The 1992 reform in addition banned discrimination against religious beliefs or “any other reason damaging to human dignity.” This new draft collects the previous and adds “the non-discrimination for reasons of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic origin and handicap.” In this article I will only comment on a subject related to equality: racial discrimination. The reason is the following: the way of interpreting a discrimination and of imagining its solutions gives light on the causes and remedies for other discriminations. There are several strategies to oppose racism, but perhaps the first of them is to recognize its existence and identify its mechanisms of reproduction. In Cuba there exist contradictory signs about the subject. The 1959 Revolution waged a deep struggle against structural and institutional racism. Its principal leaders have had antiracism as a recurrent subject. During its process it banned segregation, discrimination and achieved social mobility, an increase in the standard of living...

Silvio Rodriguez: the only way for us to coexist is to respect each other

Silvio Rodríguez, the Cuban musician who composed the soundtrack of an era in Latin America, is considered one of the innovators of contemporary culture. In the political environment of the 1960s, when he was a young novice in the trova music movement, he was known for being critical. Today he is a mature man who no longer enjoys providing headlines. Over these past decades, his trova songs have shared space with a more controversial genre: political intervention. For quite some time now, Rodríguez has been aware of the place he holds and where he wants to be. He calmly walks onstage, unleashes a torrent of incredible songs, listens to people request songs that he no longer remembers, and leaves, giving the impression that the applause is overwhelming. Perhaps it is because Silvio Rodríguez is a shy man who once thought that he could live alone with his guitar. However, at this point he does not seem to have any predilection for a bucolic life; he still lets loose with the occasional outburst, and we don’t know whether or not he will be inspired to recount some of his unauthorized stories. For now, he tells us that above all, what matters...


听到的人,可能会觉得Eusebio Leal在图书馆和刺绣的桌布围绕中生活,其实,他是通过别的道路而成为古巴最伟大的学者之一和又联合国科教文组织人类文化遗产组领导的哈瓦那市中心修复工作的主要负责人。 16岁开始工作,这个时间能达到第六年是有很付出的。从那时开始,他的自我教育已经是一项非常有意义的工作作为历史学家,多个名誉博士以及一些因为他的修复工作而获得的杰出世界级的奖项。 这次会见主要是关于Leal的梦想,这项梦想,连接着,根据他的说明,他的期望和痛苦,帮助他(对他来说却没有)就像Bolívar的老师 Simón Rodríguez说的:“我想要为大家制造一个天堂,为自己建造一个地狱”。但是,还没有实现:把他的生命的奉献去那些工作,和像地平线一样的哈瓦那一起。 哈瓦那和其他的城市有什么区别?

Havanna ist ein Gemütszustand

Wer ihn reden hört, könnte meinen, Eusebio Leal sei zwischen Bibliotheken und gestickten Tischtüchern aufgewachsen. Er wurde jedoch über einen ganz anderen Weg eine der großen Persönlichkeiten Kubas und der Hauptverantwortliche für die Wiederherstellung des Historischen Zentrums von Havanna, das von der UNESCO zum Weltkulturerbe erhoben wurde.

Havana is a state of mind

Photo: Néstor Martí (OHC) Anyone that listens to him talk would think that Eusebio Leal grew up surrounded by libraries and embroidered tablecloths. However, it was another path that led him to become one of Cuba’s great intellectual figures and the main person responsible for the rehabilitation of Havana’s historic quarter, Habana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage site.


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