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The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power, during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its activity levels return to normal.

A quick look at the history of railways in Cuba permits a clearer evaluation of his proposals

Among the freedoms conceded by the cities to the Creole-Cuban landowners at the end of the 18th century was the right to import machinery, whose introduction onto the island was a decisive move for the sugar industry.

In 1794, during Francisco de Arango y Parreño and Ignacio Pedro Montalvo’s first technical study journey, what most attracted their attention was the steam engine. Arango y  Parreño saw in that the solution to the bottleneck in the Cuban sugar factories. In order to experiment he ordered a Watt, as these machines were called, named after their inventor. [1] Although the steam engine was not invented for specific purposes, the one acquired for Cuba was the first in the world which was applied to sugar production. [2] From 1820 on its use increased, continued in 1840 with the vacuum evaporator, as substitute for the open Jamaican trains, (a reference to the type of pails used in the processing machinery, and nothing to do with railway trains) and from 1850 on with the centrifuge to mechanise the purification operation. All of this made Cuba into the world’s largest sugar producer.

With the application of the steam engine to the wheels of the wagons, came the locomotive in 1804. In 1825, the first public railway in the world was opened in England and, in 1830 the first line for the haulage of passengers and goods. Arango y Parreño, being aware of the latest advances in the technology, understood the importance of its introduction on the island. On November 19, 1837, only twelve years after England, the fourth railway in the world was opened in Cuba. That day Havana was linked up with Bejucal. The following year the Havana – Güines line was completed, and twenty years after that all the sugar-producing areas in Cuba were joined by rail.

The railway dealt with the high cost of transportation, which was one of the brakes on the sugar industry. Up to 1830 the shipment of sugar from Güines to Havana represented 25% of the value of the product and, when the railway started up between those two points (1838), the transportation costs fell by 70%. But, apart from the economic considerations, the railway accelerated the unification of the island which had begun at the end of the 17th century, creating a similar physical and social picture throughout the island, leading to the emergence of Cuba as a social and economic entity.

Between 1899 and 1908, the Cuba Central Railway and the Cuba Eastern Railway were created. One of their objectives was to integrate the railways which had been constructed since colonial times. That process was speeded up by Military Orders 34 and 62 enacted by General Leonardo Wood, during the government of occupation, which developed the sugar industry as much as it did the railways. In 1909, when Major General José Miguel Gómez took on the presidency of Cuba the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba were already connected by the Central Railway.

Taking into account the fact that Cuba is a long thin island, it was understood since colonial times that the railway was the ideal mode of transport and consequently an efficient infrastructure was created which united the country from north to south and east to west.

Owing to the deterioration suffered after 1959, the Revolutionary government proposed the building of a central double-track line, 1,149 km long, for high-speed trains. On January 29, 1975, Fidel Castro opened the first 24.2 km section, but the plan collapsed, as such things nearly always did. Thirty-one years later, the same Fidel said: “We were intending to construct a new line employing all the technical resources required. Many curves were straightened out, but the work could not be finished, not just because we did not have the experience, but also for international problems which were arising. ..” In the same speech, delivered in 2006, he added: “Today we have just taken delivery of 12 locomotives, and not just any old locomotives; they are simply the best we have ever received in our country; the most modern, the most efficient, and the most economical.” [3]

From the year 2006 up to the present the official Cuban press provides information on what happened regarding the railway. The deterioration due to lack of attention in a 15 metre strip on both sides of the track, including some stretches which remained buried under rubble, required, in the year 2010, 30 million pesos to clean up and restore. [4]

With an integrated focus on the matter, Cuba arranged the purchase of 550 wagons, tankers and rolling stock, while at the same time investing in 112 Chinese-made locomotives. [5]

They did not put enough effort into solving the difficulties presented by the railway lines; in spite of spending nearly 600 million dollars in the last five years on the acquisition of equipment, machinery, tools, material and new productive lines capable of reversing the grave deterioration in the railways.

On January 20, 2011 capital repairs were started on the 40 km of the Central Line, planned for that year. According to the engineer Bárbaro Martínez, principal specialist in the National Company of Lines and Construction Works of the railway, “The damage ws such that we had to carry out a very major reconstruction task, equivalent, you could say, to building a new line.” [7]

The deficiencies in the tracks continue to be the principal cause of accidents. Interviewed by the newspaper Granma, the engine drivers of railcar 2125, Jorge Inerarity Estrik and Joan Camayo del Pino, recognised that, apart from the deterioration of the track, many accidents occur due to crew negligence, basically due to getting drunk, and other violations, and not complying with instructions. And frequently the cattle owners intentionally let their herds wander and wait with bags and knives until they are run over [because it is illegal to kill a cow in Cuba]. [8]

In 2011, manual maintenance of more than 7,000 km of track was realised, more than that delivered in 2010. Nevertheless, in spite of the achievements in the rail system, there are still factors obstructing all the effort put in to deal with all the accumulated deterioration over decades as well as the difficult economic situation in Cuba.

The Capital Industrial Works Company (Railway Sleepers)  of Villa Clara last year was unable to meet its production plan, in spite of having built a new line with Italian technology, and a surface treatment plant. There was no lack of concrete or ballast, but there were difficulties with plastic for the excavation mechanism, the cleaning, the die-making, the service provided by the national mechanical industry, and other problems.  and other problems. “For these reasons they failed to complete 45 thousand units, which prevented the renovation of 24 km of track.” (one km of track needs 1,800 railways sleepers. Right now, they are working with the left-overs from the last half-year of 2011, having not received any supplies.

From the foregoing analysis we can draw at least three conclusions:

1 – that the importance of the railway was understood by the ranchers over two hundred years ago, and from then up to 1959 the railway worked efficiently, so much so that you could set your clock by the punctual timekeeping of the trains;

2 – the goods left untransported in the half year examined is not news, it is the result of problems related to a common factor: the non-viability of the present Cuban model; and,

3 – the surprising fact is that in spite of the effect of the railway on the other sectors of the economy, the latter increased by 4.7%.

Footnotes

1: James Watt (1736-1819) Scottish engineers who invented the double-action steam engine
2: “The sugar factory, Cuban economic and social sugar complex” (Fraginals, Manuel Moreno)
3: Juventud Rebelde (Cuban daily paper). Alina Perera Robbio “We have procured the best locomotives in the world”, Sunday January 15th, 2006
4: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Clean up the mess next to the railway track”.
5: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “The railway is waiting for its time”, Thursday, August 19, 2010
6: Granma, Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Investments which move trains” Friday May 28, 2010.
7: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Opening the way for the Central Line” Granma, Friday, 11 February, 2011.
8: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Accidents keep happening on the railway”. Granma, Thursday February 17, 2011.
9: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña. “Railway renovation moving on.”, Granma, Thursday, May 17, 2012
10: Lourdes Rey Veitía. “Without linking things up, the railway won’t advance” Monday, March 5, 2012.

Translated by GH

How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between 13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five corps that the Libertador’s Army was divided into, and formed into a Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn’t structured in three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles, sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively.

Appearing in the people’s history as a counterpoint to absolutism, constitutionalism is fundamental to governability. The constitutions reflect the requirements for social development. In that sense, the Magna Carta of Jimaguayú was an expression of the need of the new political and legal order of the Republic in Arms. It constitutes an important link in Cuban constitutional history.

On its 120th anniversary, the weekly Trabajadores of Monday September 7th and the daily Granma of 16th of the same month each included reports,  under the headlines: “Neither Marti nor radical”, and “120 years after Jimaguay respectively, which I am going to comment on.

1 – In Granma the historian Rolando Rodríguez is cited, who stated that Jimaguayú is a document of overwhelming importance in the history of Cuba, an indication of the legal and republican idea and the determination to provide a constitutional direction to the Cuban insurrection.

If that constitutional text is recognised as a necessity of the new political and legal order demanded by the island and an important link in our constitutional history, how can the official historiography consider it as a “document of significant importance in Cuba’s history”, without a critical reference to the present Cuban constitutional situation, which has little or nothing to do with — starting off with the divisions of power — the legacy of Jimaguayú?

2 – The article in Granma says that “Martí longed to drop the authority that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had awarded him at a representative meeting of the Mambisa combatants …” [Ed. note: term used to refer to any pro-independence fighter in the Wars of Independence]

In José Martí’s War Diary — referring to his encounter with Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómezon May 5th 1895 in La Mejorana — he wrote “… Maceo and Gómez talk in low voices, near me [1]: hardly speak to me. There in the hallway; that Maceo has another idea about government; a council of  generals with authority through their representatives, – and a Secretary General: the land, and all its functions, which create and support the army, like Army Secretary. We are going to a room to talk. I cannot sort out the conversation for Maceo: but V. stays with me, or he goes with Gómez? And he speaks to me, interrupting me, as if I were the continuation of the shyster lawyer government, and its representative … I insist on being ousted by the representatives who are meeting to form a government. He does not  want every operational head sending his man, his creation: he will send four from the Oriente: “within 15 days they will be with you. – and will be people who will not let  Doctor Martí mess with me there …” [2]

One may deduce from this text that in La Mejorana Martí considered his removal. These were his words: “I insist in being deposed before the representatives who are meeting to select a government.” That is not a longing, but a demand to not be removed other than by an assembly of representatives.

If the Revolutionary Party of Cuba started off on the basis of an analysis of the Ten Years’ War as an organising and controlling entity, and one which promotes awareness and is an intermediary link to get to a republic and that great mission had hardly got under way, it is difficult to accept that their hope was to shed their authority.

Also, if Martí’s attachment to institutionalisation and democracy led him in 1884 to move away from the Gómez Maceo plan, when he took the opportunity to write to the General in Chief: “But there is something which is higher than all the personal sympathy which you can inspire in me, and this apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute one iota by way of a blind attachment to an idea from which all life is draining, to bring to my land a personal despotism, which would be more shameful and disastrous than the political despotism I am now supporting.” How can it be affirmed that Martí “was longing to be shot of the authority afforded him by the Revolutionary Party of Cuba”?

3. Granma says: “It is also established that every two years there would be an assembly charged with proposing necessary changes in accordance with changed circumstances, which would elevate it to a higher position than that approved in Guáimaro.”

If the 1959 revolution is seen as heir and continuation of the constitutional legacy, it would seem to be contradictory that, on taking power, instead of re-establishing the 1940 Constitution as it had promised to, it replaced it with statutes known as the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, without convening any constituent assembly.

Cuba remained without a Constitution until 1976 when there was approved the first revolutionary constitution modelled on the that of the Soviet Union, which prohibited any modification before 1992. Then, in 2002, the system installed in 1959 was declared irrevocable. With that decision, the Cuban constitution ceased to reflect ongoing changes which occur in any society, and became a braking mechanism on society.

The question is: How can our constitutional history be praised from the standpoint of a reality which negates it?

4. In the Trabajadores weekly paper, Antonio Álvarez Pitaluga states in En la de Jimaguayú that there was no balance of power and nor did they defend Martí’s thesis. It is said that Enrique Loynaz del Castillo and Fermín Valdés Domínguez defended  José Martí’s hypotheses, but I think that it is now difficult to sustain that position, because if you look through the documentation, above all the minutes of the Council of Government, you see that in all the Assembly’s discussion there was not a single mention of Martí, nor of his documents, nor any analysis of his thoughts. That is to say, they avoided it; you don’t necessarily  have to say they did it intentionally, but rather unknowingly, because many of the people there knew him, his work, his revolutionary activity, but not his thinking or his documents.

The questions are: 1 – Was Fermín Valdés Domínguez unaware of José Martí’s thinking? And 2 – if Fermín Valdés Domínguez, followed by the majority of the delegates, defended the division and limitation of powers, which was one of José Martí’s republican ideas, was the important thing that his name should appear in the documents, or that the majority should defend and impose his ideas, as actually happened?

The 120th anniversary and the two articles published demonstrate that you cannot deal with any historical event, much less one of such importance as the constitutional text of Jimaguayú, without relating it to the present in order to show that  we have either gone forwards or backwards. If we do not have regard to the limitations of the present constitution which cry out loud for fundamental reform, how does history help us?

[1] In the original, “I hear” is crossed out

[2] Martí, José. Texts chosen from three volumes. Volume III, p. 544

Translated by GH

Wages in Mariel: One Good Thing and a Lot of Bad Things / Dimas Castellanos

From cubacontemporanea.com

From cubacontemporanea.com

In accordance  with the new Foreign Investment Law*, workers will be engaged by an State-run employing organisation. When you factor in the fact that the only union permitted is the one representing the interests of the State, we are looking at a capitalist-style relationship in which the workers have no-one to defend them. Although we already knew about this, the information provided by the Director General of the regulating office of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is surprising just the same. Let’s see:

First of all, the ZEDM workers will receive 80% of the pay rate agreed between the employment agency and the investors. Next, payment will be in Cuban pesos (CUP), so that, in order to pay for nearly all their daily necessities they will have to convert them into convertible pesos (CUC). Thirdly, they won’t exchange what the workers are paid into CUC at the official conversion rate of 24 CUPs to 1 CUP, but at a special rate giving the workers only 10 CUPs for every 1 CUC.

The first of these is relatively good, because up to now Cuban workers contracted to entrepreneurs or countries never received 4/5 of the amount paid amount for their work. The second one is bad.

Let’s suppose that a foreign entrepreneur pays $1,000 a month for the services of an electrician; the employment agency converts the dollars into 1,000 CUC, of which the electrician gets 800. With this money, which he has earned, he could lead a decent life without having to “fight” or “invent” anything to survive.

The third part is the worst, because with the special rate of 1 CUC for 10 Cuban pesos, the 800 dollars is no longer 800 CUC, it gets converted into 333 CUC. And in the end the state grabs two-thirds of the $1,000 paid. In this way the worker is hurt by the foreigner but more than anything by the State.

On the other hand, the worker will retain the rights contained in Art 27 of the  Foreign Investment Law, which indicates that the investor has to comply with the employment and social security legislation applying in the Republic of Cuba.

But the fact is that the employment legislation, contained in the Employment Rules Law, passed 29 December 2013, in spite of the fact that it constitutes a step backwards from the Law of Labour Information Commissions of 1924 (enacted in order to channel the employer-employee conflicts related to loading sugar), nevertheless, having disappeared, it is impossible to know exactly what it says.

The disparity between the level of pay and the cost of living in Cuba is primarily due to the decades of totalitarian socialism, especially from 1989 on, when price inflation began to outstrip salary increases, leading up to the present crisis, one of whose manifestations–with the most negative impact–is inadequate pay.

That problem is so worrying for Cuban workers that it was referred to in an interview with Carmen Rosa–who is right now leading the preparation for the 20th Congress of the CTC (Workers Central Union of Cuba)–published in the newspaper Granma dated 27th April: in all the analyses carried out this year the recurrent theme of the assembly members’ proposals relates to salaries. That shows that the organisers’ objectives go in a different direction to the worries of the unemployed.

The 1940 Constitution affirms the following in Art. 61: The Law will set up a process for periodic review of salaries or minimum wages, by way of joint committees for each employment sector; in accordance with the living standards and particular circumstances appurtaining in each region and each industrial, agricultural or commercial activity.

Today, not only do the workers not participate in this process, but they also do not know how the calculation works out. By definition, the minimum wage is the basic amount you need to subsist. Using this definition, most of the salaries in Cuba, being insufficient to cover basic necessities, are in fact lower than what the minimum wage should be.

Because of that anomaly, people have to look for other employment outside of the wage relationship–almost always on the edge of what is legal–and Cubans are forced to keep shifting from one place to another, from one activity to another and one profession to another, without regard to vocation or training.

The official press has stressed that thousands of jobs are going to be created with much higher salaries than the current average of 20 CUC a month. Nevertheless, the way in which they are paid, which in any other part of the world would lead to union protests, in the case of Cuban workers, having no space or institutions to defend them, they can only express their discontent in private, at the same time as they go to the employment agencies to try to improve their position, because that mechanism, in spite of the abuse and mockery, permits them to receive a higher wage than the national average.

It has to be added that one of the main worries of foreign investors is whether they can count on efficient workers, and therefore it suits them to pay them a salary capable of motivating them and awakening their interest in the results of their activities.

Having said that, the current analysis shows us that the way in which workers will be paid now can act as an obstacle to the objective of attracting foreign investment. Therefore, they need to change the proportion from one good thing and many bad things to the opposite of one bad thing and many good things, because asking for everything to be good would be like asking for the moon.

*Translator’s notes: This refers to foreign investment into Cuba, not the reverse.

Translated by GH

Originally published in Diario de Cuba.

22 April 2014

One Night: A Critical View of Cuban Social Reality / Dimas Castellano

Una Noche” (One Night) is the film which best reflects why it is that young people leave Cuba.” That’s how a female friend of mine, who is a lover of the seventh art, laconically replied to my question, after visiting the film exhibition in the 34th Festival of New Latin-American Cinema, which took place in Havana from 4th to 14th December 2012.

Because of the social theme it deals with, because of the magnificent photography of Trevor Forrest and Shlimo Godder, Roland Vajs’ and Alla Zaleski’s sound quality, and also director Lucy Mulloy’s script, the British-Cuban-North American co-production Una Noche constitutes an important cinematographic work, which, with its truthful narrative, gets close to documentary cinema; and, due to the authenticity of the people and social events it focuses on, it gets close to naturalism. Shot in Havana, with local actors, dealing with a national theme, the film can be considered to be part of the filmography of the island.

una-nocheShot between the years 2007 and 2011, the 89 minute film received international resonance with the news that the three principal protagonists, Javier Núñez, Anailín de la Rúa and Daniel Arrechada, deserted the artistic delegation going to the XI Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in the month of April 2012.

The first two did it as soon as they touched down on North American soil in Miami, the third, after receiving the prize in Tribeca. The event, something quite ordinary for Cubans, attracted international attention to the film and served to confirm the film’s story.

Una Noche gained three of the prizes awarded in the Tribeca Film Festival. Javier Núñez Florián, jointly with Dariel Arrechada–neither with acting experience before Lucy Mulloy selected them in a casting session–were awarded the category of Best Actor; it also obtained the Best Direction and Best Photography awards, which made it the most recommended film in the New York festival.

Then, in the 43rd Film Festival of India, Mulloy’s debut film received the jury’s special prize, the Silver Peacock, worth $27,500. In the first Brasilia International Film Festival it picked up Best Script. It next entries–in the Deauville Film Festival, in France; in the Vancouver International Film Festival in Canada; in the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival; and in the Rio Festival–are likely to attract further awards.

In Cuba, the film opened in the month of September in a sexual health fair, organised by the National Centre of Sex Education, in the cinema La Rampa, and more recently in the 34rd International Festival of New Latin American Cine in Havana, included in the “Made in Cuba” section, in which were included audiovisual productions made in the island without the right to compete for the Coral awards.

On each of these occasions it was shown just once, and because of that only a few Cubans have had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the multiprize-winning film which deals with a very significant aspect of their lives.

The feature film focuses on the social phenomenon of illegal emigration, especially concerning young people going to the United States, which constitutes one of the worst tragedies in Cuba because of the large number of people who have died in the process, because of the split families, and because of the brain drain of Cuban professionals (a theme I will return to later).

The principal cause of the Cuban migration phenomenon lies in the absence of civil rights such as being able to freely enter and leave the country, which has developed into a flight to realise human aspirations, which, although they are basic ones, are impossible to satisfy within our frontiers.

We are talking about a general permanent flow which Una Noche presents on a personal level in terms of the story of three young people who escape in a fragile craft, made of car tyres.

In spite of the fact that the director spent several years in Havana, gathering information for the feature, it remains suprising that, without being Cuban, she manages to get so deeply inside the behaviour of a part of the society and show in sound and vision the conduct of a section of present-day Cuba, its shortages and frustrations.

Lila, one of the film’s protagonists, tells how people leave Cuba via different routes, but she never imagined that Elio, her twin brother, could abandon her. The story begins when Elio starts to work in the kitchen of the Hotel Nacional, and there makes the acquaintance of Raúl.

From that moment on, Lila’s worry that her brother might leave her begins to give her horrible nightmares which prevent her sleeping. Right away the film starts to look into the social settings and digs about for the possible reasons for flight.

In another scene Lila comments that in Havana you can get what you want. The shops are empty, but if you know the right person, everything is for sale; a statement about the reality of daily life in the capital, which is demonstrated by way of Raúl and Elio’s vicissitudes as they seek the things they need to cross the dangerous Straits of Florida: tyres, compass, wood, a motor, food and glucose.

In each process we see highlighted the mistreatment by state organisations, the environment and language of the slums, the under-the-counter business, the loveless sexual relations, the domestic violence, the moral deterioration in the bosom of the family, the destruction and lack of hygiene in Havana, the robberies, and police repression and abuse. An asphyxiating climate which is illustrated and accentuated by rap and reggaeton music.

In the same way, the camera, which can penetrate further than the human eye,  and the microphone, which can register sounds undetectable by the human ear, make incursions into the homes of the protagonists.

In the twins’ house, the macho attitudes, the disagreements between the parents and the material misery they live in; in Raúl’s apartment, the dirt, the physical and moral destruction, where his mother, who is getting on in years, and is suffering from AIDS, has to work as a prostitute, and the absence of a father, who left Cuba and does not keep in contact with them.

Along with the above, mixed in are scenes of groups of young people and adolescents behaving irresponsibly, bathing in the contaminated waters of the Havana Malecon, or risking their lives cycling about in the middle of the traffic; the old man singing dementedly in the street, whose daughter married an Italian and never came back to see him; the woman selling religious artifacts who completes the picture with false predictions in return for money.

The climax, which concludes and summarises what has happened in the events narrated, expresses the key to the story. In the boat, the dramatic conflicts, the superficiality, and the lack of foresight, show themselves.

Elio loves Raúl and Raúl loves his sister; discussions about prostitution and Elio’s and Raúl’s superficial approach to their future in Miami; Lila’s fall into the water; the shark attack, and the sinking of their boat which leads to Elio’s death, while the shipwrecked Lila and Raúl desperately cling on to a piece of polystyrene, until they are rescued by a sea scooter on a Florida beach. The film ends with Raúl’s detention in Havana, where we see dream and reality mixed up and confused.

The treatment of social phenomenon on the screen is nothing new. Information about the discovery of one of the pioneers of the seventh art, French theatre director and actor, producer of Viaje a la Luna (Journey to the Moon), George Méliès (1861-1938), shows us cinema as a way of interpreting and forming reality; and the North American film director David Wark Griffith (1875- 1948) director of Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, this last considered to be the artistic culmination of the silent screen, who looked at history as a source of cinematographic experiences.

In that sense, Una Noche, with its penetrating analysis of Cuban immigration, may be said to occupy a place in the history of social criticism in our country centred on that way of observing social reality at the margin of official apologetics.

That current, which was present in Cuba since the silent film era, started to show itself after the Revolution with the documentary PM–a short film about the ways in which a group of people in Havana had fun, which was produced in 1961 by Orlando Jiménez Leal and Sabá Cabrera Infante–which showed us a modern look at the Revolutionary reality, and became, because of that, the most problematic film in Cuba’s audiovisual history, at a time when the priority for the Cuban Institute of Cinema Arts and Industry was propaganda about class struggle and the fight against the threats of imperialism.

PM was censored and it was forbidden to show it, which produced controversy among the artists and intellectuals which led to the discourse of the Leader of the Revolution on 30 June 1961, known as Palabras a los intelectuales  (Words to the intellectuals), in which he introduced the restrictive idea: Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing. From that moment on, culture, which precedes and transcends politics, became a prisoner of the Revolution right up to today.

In 1971, in the fictional feature film Una pelea cubana contra los demonios (A Cuban struggle against demons), its director, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, proposed: in any time or place it is unrealistic to develop human existence in any authentic manner, if you impose limits on the process, if you define limits of acceptability of group social behaviour, if, with the starting point of a moral interpretation of society (whether it’s called bourgeois or socialist, religion or liberal) you prevent people freely discussing their own visions of the world …

The intellectual, he said, is the specialist who is most able to express clearly the semantic incoherences which have arisen within the Revolution. In the ’90’s of the last century, among the 60 cinematic works of fiction produced, there emerged important works of social criticism.

In the 21st century, among the many film directors who have made incursions into social phenomena, I would like to focus on the prize-winning creator Fernando Pérez, who has clearly shown the potential of cinematographic criticism for encouraging reflection among Cubans.

In La Vida es Silbar (Life is to Whistle) (1998), Fernando dealt with the search for happiness by way of inner liberation, the truth and social communication, and in Suite Habana (Havana Suite) (2003), he decided to convert our contradictory reality–as seen in Una Noche–into an inexhaustible source of inspiration for love and inner liberty: love of a neighbour and of a city, which, in spite of its neglected and destroyed condition, he shows us to be beautiful and full of possibilities.

In that respect, Una Noche and Suite Habana are radically different. The first one concentrates on showing the harshness of the physical and moral destruction, the second turns away from that destruction in order to show the hidden beauty and the possibilities of getting beyond it. Between the two of them they offer a comprehensive close-up on the general reality of Havana and Cuba.

On the same lines, the film producer Alfredo Guevara, President of the New Latin American Cine Festival, in its 33rd event in 2011, said, “The Cuban Revolution, which, in 1959 could …” This Revolution now requires the privatisation of Cuban Society, freed from the state bureaucracy, which corrupts everything.

The 2011 festival showed us a group of films whose common theme was social criticism: Casa Vieja de Lester Hamlet (Lester Hamlet’s Old House), a film which talks about who we are and how to understand Cubans’ lives from the standpoint of emotional commitment. Esteban Insausti’s Larga Distancia (Long Distance), in which he shows the frustrations caused by emigration in our society.

Boleto al paraíso (Ticket to Paradise) by Eduardo Chijona, inspired by real events, deals with the degradation of youth, going as far as deliberately catching the AIDS virus in order to be able to have a better life in a sanatorium. Afinidades (Relationships) by Jorge Perugorría and Vladimir Cruz, in which corruption leads to emptiness, taking refuge in your instincts, using sex as a way of discharging electricity, manipulating people near to you as a means to reaffirming your damaged personality. Martí el ojo del canario, (Martí , the eye of the canary), by Fernando Pérez, a masterwork of cinema as historical investigation.

Just as Lucy Malloy outlines some of the causes of emigration, her film offers the opportunity to show, as a kind of accompaniment, some thoughts about the migration problem in Cuba, which could be useful for those people who, having seen the film, feel inclined to get to understand a bit more about contemporary Cuba.

The economic inefficiency, the loss of civil and political rights, the inadequacy of salaries in relation to the cost of living, among other things, have had very negative effects: corruption, a phenomenon which was present in the political administrative sphere in the republic before the revolution, spread into all levels of society; while immigration, which had characterised the country since earliest times, changed after 1959 into a diaspora, that’s to say, with people moving out all over the world, as shown in the statistical data.

On 9 January 1959, the government enacted Law No.2, to restrict the right of freedom to leave the country on the part of those who wanted to go. This provision was amended by Law No. 18, which stipulated that any Cuban in possession of a valid passport issued by the Ministry of State, who wanted to travel to another country, had to obtain an “authorisation to that effect , which would be provided by the Chief of National Police”.

In 1961, the Ministry of the Interior instituted the notorious “exit permit” and laid down the length of time Cubans could remain abroad. In 1976, Law No. 1312 was enacted, by way of which permission to leave was confirmed.

In spite of these measures, the number of Cubans in the United States, who, in 1959, amounted to some 124,000, increased substantially after that date. Firstly by way of people linked to the overthrown regime or who lost their property, along with the thousands of children who left by way of Operation Peter Pan (1960-62), and then the first massive outflow via the port of Camarioca and the air bridge from Varadero, with 260,000 Cubans leaving between 1965 and 1973.

In April 1980, after a bus violently crashed through the fence of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, and its passengers requested refuge, thousands of Cubans invaded the embassy with the same intention. The result was another 125,000 Cubans left the island.

Between May and August 1994, groups of Cubans invaded the Belgian and German embassies and also the Chilean consulate, at the same time as various boats were seized.

On August 5th of the same year, Fidel Castro accused the United States of encouraging illegal immigration, and said: either they should take measures or we will not prevent people who want to go and seek their family members.

As a result, during the summer of 1994 approximately 33,000 Cubans escaped from the island, of whom about 31,000 were provisionally detained at the Guantánamo Naval Base.

During those three huge wave–Camarioca, Mariel and Guantánamo–there also occurred innumerable tragedies. Cautious estimates suggest that at least 25% of the boat people didn’t survive their journey in their variety of very different floating objects.

Nevertheless, as the main cause of the emigration was the economic deterioration and the absence of liberty, none of these laws was able to hold up these individual departures, in groups or en masse.

The Cuban diaspora constitutes a continuing process over a period of time by all the different ways of which Cuban imagination and desperation could conceive, which is reflected in the 2010 United States Census, which showed a total of 1,800,000 Cubans, which, added in to all the others who spread out all over the world, takes us past 2 million; that’s to say, that 18% of all Cubans are abroad.

Family members separated for years, or all their lives; married couples who have grown old with the pain of not being able to return to their children; kids grown up in other countries who will never more be able to see their parents. Suffering which has caused anthropological damage in many Cuban homes, where the family ceases to be the school of love, education and security and becomes instead a place for ideological disagreements, grudges and mental upsets, exactly what Lucy Mulloy was stressing in Una Noche.

The diaspora, resulting from the absence of liberties and economic inefficiency, has had, in turn, other negative effects. The rate of demographic increase was altered during the years 2001-2010 by a negative migration balance of 342,199 people, to a rate of on average 34,000 per year; a process which is converting Cuba into the only country in America with a declining population.

In the same way, it has led to a brain drain of professionals, as Cuba, which had managed to achieve a very high proportion of higher education graduates, has changed into one of the countries which is losing its professionals and technicians due to emigration.

In the last 30 years tens of thousands of doctors, engineers, qualified in various specialties such as mid-range technical people, and skilled workers, have emigrated, which amounts to a present day and potential future threat to the country.

The fact is that the illegal departures before and after the Ley de Ajuste (U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act), and before and after the migration accords which have been agreed, clearly shows it is directly related to the Cuban internal crisis.

The production of Una Noche, a film which shows the role of cinema in the way we see, interpret, and form reality; comes at exactly the moment when the Cuban government decided to modify the current migration legislation, although the change does not give Cubans back all the rights which were violated by the legislation described.

The need to obtain permission to leave the country disappears, but certain categories of Cubans, either because of the positions of responsibility they occupy, or because of studies undertaken, continue to be subject to the same limitations as previously, which will be the cause of further young people abandoning their studies and fleeing in order not to be caught by the new law.

In this sense, Una Noche is the precursor to new migratory changes up to the point where Cubans will recover the right and freedom to leave their country just like any other citizens in the world.

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Published in German in edition 60 of TRIGON magazine, entitled “Fliegen oder bleiben?; hintergründe zum film Una noche. (To fly or to stay? background to the film One Night)

Translated by GH

25 February 2014