Just back from Cuba where he attended the launch of the Spanish translation of his book, “A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives and ‘Low Mechanicks'” at the Havana International Book Fair, Cliff Conner posted a brief note about his visit at the CubaNews listserve. (The other People’s History guy, Howard Zinn, called Conner’s book “a delightfully refreshing new look at the history of science” and judging from the standing room only reception Conner received in Cuba, I’m guessing it’s likely well worth the read.) At any rate, Conner’s note apparently stirred up a hornet’s nest of outrage from a couple of ex-Cubans, who it seems responded with the usual tired diatribe about “dissidents,” defectors, etcetera.
Conner’s response is gracious, far more gracious than I would have been, but then this blog is called Machetera for a reason. I asked for permission to re-post his letter here because I think it is well worth having as a reference, especially for those who’d like to make a case about the Cuban revolution failing to address poverty in Cuba.
People like for instance, Darsi Ferrer, the State Department’s new “Cuban dissident” poster child, who aside from his interest in secondhand cement, is also an aspiring filmmaker. Really, I’d rather not call even more attention to this guy but his film, co-produced with help from CANF and some German and Czech “NGO’s” (the Czechs, always the Czechs) would make you laugh if it were not so deadly serious. Darsi, dressed in a white doctor’s coat, with a stethoscope draped around his neck – in case you forgot he was a doctor – complains to the camera in all seriousness about the “miseria” everywhere in Cuba, caused by inadequate housing and lack of common medicines. He does this monologue without ever breathing a word about the blockade, while his wife paws through grocery bags full of clothing straight off the boat from Miami (was that a magenta thong or brassiere near the end?), doling out pieces one by one to their very ordinary and quite healthy looking Cuban neighbors. The film begins and returns to shots of people collecting water from pipes coming out of a wall, as though this is something terribly shocking, and you have to think that it is tragic really that Ferrer couldn’t go do a medical mission in Haiti so he could learn how people get their water there. The whole production is scored with haunting music from the Holocaust genre in case you still didn’t get the point, and I’m sure it plays very well in drawing rooms on Capitol Hill but it’s junk. Pure, expensive, U.S. bought and paid for junk.
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A few weeks ago CubaNews published a report I wrote of a visit in February to the Havana International Book Fair, in which I offered some observations about what I had seen in Cuba. I received (via some friends I had sent the report to) a set of thoughtful comments on it from a couple of Cuban ex-pats. I thought their commentary was worth a reply, so I wrote one; it is appended below. (The names of the people I addressed it to and the names of the Cuban ex-pats have been changed because I do not have their permission to use them.)
Hi Rhonda and George,
Greetings from Mexico City.
Thanks for sending me Jaime and Alejandro’s comments on my “report” from Cuba. Yes, I did find them very interesting and worthwhile, although I am quite sure that they and I would have to “agree to disagree” about a number of things regarding their former homeland. I will try to respond to what they wrote point-by-point, and will ask you to kindly pass this on to them.
Marush and I entirely agree with them about the tackiness of the Tropicana show, but I described it the way I did because I didn’t want to seem like a cultural snob. Besides, on a certain level, if you suspend your critical judgment, it can still be quite enjoyable. I also agree that the renovation process going on in Habana Vieja is better described as “restoration” than “reconstruction.”
I certainly don’t think of all Cubans living in the United States as ultra-right-wing fanatics. I do think that an ultra-right element dominated the first generation of post-revolutionary refugees, and still has a lot of political clout, but it seems that the younger generation (which apparently includes Jaime and Alejandro) is not nearly as politically homogeneous as their elders.
Although I wrote my report in a somewhat neutral voice, I am in fact a strong partisan of the Cuban economic system in contrast to the system that afflicts our country and most of the rest of the world. I adopted the neutral tone because in the context of the current (abysmally uninformed) American political discourse, even that will seem shockingly pro-Cuba to most of the people I sent it to. I wasn’t trying to be deceptive; I simply didn’t intend it to be an ideological manifesto. Continue reading