Author: Jorge C. Carrasco

Cuba’s Doomed War on Independent Art

There were seven police officers, all dressed as civilians. They arrived at the improvised Havana music studio on the morning of Monday, September 28th, kicked down the door and found their target—Maykel Castillo Pérez, a well-known Cuban rapper and human rights activist who was in the process of recording a new song. They beat Castillo (better known as El Osorbo), dragged him out of the house, and took him to the Castillo de la Estación de Policía—a colonial-era fortress that serves as the National Revolutionary Police headquarters. There, Osorbo was incarcerated in a tiny cell without being informed of the charges against him or given access to legal counsel. When news of Osorbo’s abduction spread, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Osorbo’s wife, and a handful of other supporters went to the police station to demand the rapper’s release. “We told the officers that we wouldn’t leave until Maykel was freed, even if we had to sleep in jail, too,” Alcántara told me. But officers eventually apprehended these supporters, too, and dispersed them to other …

Remembering Reinaldo Arenas and His Enduring Lessons on Repression, Torment, and Exile

In a scene from Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s iconic Cuban film Memorias del Subdesarrollo (1968), a man looks down from his balcony at Havana’s streets. Only a few years had passed since Fidel Castro had overthrown Fulgencio Batista’s regime, and the prisoners taken during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion had just been put on trial. Like many middle-class Cubans at the time, the parents of Sergio, the film’s protagonist, had fled the country. But Sergio decides to stay. He prefers to anchor himself to his present and watch the revolution play out from his apartment. He uses his telescope to watch people, ships in the bay, places where the Republican-era statues once stood. He contemplates the city’s landscape with a sort of contempt. Sergio wants to become a great novelist, but failing at the task. He lives off the accumulated rent his family earned before the revolution, and so is regarded by the state’s bureaucrats as a parasite. Yet the contempt is unrequited: Sergio is indifferent to the political climate in Cuba. He prefers to …

How Venezuelan Democracy Lost the Battle Against Castro—An Interview with Orlando Avendaño

Días de Sumisión (Days of Submission), written by Venezuelan journalist Orlando Avendaño and published last year by Editorial Ígneo, offers a fascinating history of Cuban interference in Venezuela’s democratic system, and analyses how Fidel Castro opened the way for Hugo Chávez’s disastrous presidency. I sat down with Avendaño to talk about his book and the current situation in Venezuela. How did you come up with the idea of writing Days of Submission? The project was born in a conversation with a prominent university professor from Caracas, in which we both took on the task of trying to determine who was responsible for Hugo Chávez’s ascent to power. In addition to the political actors best known to chavismo, we knew that there were many other individuals and factors that had somehow contributed to making a man like Chávez president of Venezuela. And then we discovered that behind all of them was Fidel Castro. You divide your book into three parts: “The Uprising,” “The Infiltration,” and “The Consolidation.” Tell me a bit about the structure. The three …

60 Years On: Reflections on the Revolution in Cuba

Sixty years ago, as thousands of Cubans celebrated the fall of Fulgencio Batista’s regime, an atmosphere of hype and hatred was also overtaking Havana. Not many people foresaw what was to come, but on January 1, 1959, the Republic of Cuba was murdered. Few tears were shed for her at the time—some were too busy desperately packing their bags, while others were preoccupied with burning cars and smashing storefront windows. The institutions not destroyed by the previous dictatorship were savagely dismembered in the following months and years by the Castro regime. Cuba’s National Congress would never again return to session in the National Capitol building (or anywhere else, for that matter). Christmas, bars and cabaret clubs, independent trade unions, religious schools, private clubs, large and small businesses, any and all vestiges of what was Cuba before communism—all of these were destroyed, expropriated, or otherwise expunged from the lives and minds of the Cuban people. The Cuban Revolution never disguised its contempt for the greatest symbol of the Republican era: Havana itself. The Havana Hilton hotel …