The film emphasises the empty existence and contraditions inherent to a wealthy Cuban to symbolise the changes produced following the revolution.
In 1967, after the release of his satirical account of Cuban bureaucracy The Death of a Bureaucrat, filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea showed his audacity by choosing to focus his next film on a leftover bourgeois in post-revolutionary Cuban society. Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias de Subdesarrollo) is set in the aftermath of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion: Sergio, a wannabe Parisian idler, rather than join his family in their exile to Miami, attempts to maintain his aimless bourgeois existence in a new society in which his privileged stupor is increasingly out of place.
Sergio doesn’t particularly loathe the revolution but is not entirely comfortable with it either. He negates ideological thought, he never takes sides. The audience is mystified by this apolitical bourgeois whose only interest is a fetishised European ideal of culture and art. He takes his young lover, Elena, to a modern art exhibition but is disappointed by her lack of interest. Instead of focusing on the paintings, Elena is more interested in taking care of his loose tie. He then takes her to Ernest Hemmingway’s house, ten miles east of Havana, in another attempt to show her what culture and ‘real’ art are. When she does not conform to his scholarly ideals, he abandons her, remaining silent before leaving as she calls out his name.
Interestingly, it is in Hemmingway’s house that Sergio reaches a somewhat critical reflection on a cultural figure he idealises: he claims that Hemmingway never seemed to care for Cuba, that he only used the land for sport and late-life whims. What he doesn’t understand is that, as with Hemmingway, Cuba is of no interest to him either. Sergio’s only goal in life is to stroll around pretending to be Cuba’s answer to the Italian star Marcello Mastroianni. He swims in his own proud but confused thoughts, translated to us in a voiceover narration, in which he expresses harsh criticisms of the Cuban people he regards as ‘underdeveloped’. Above all, Memories of Underdevelopment is a character study of someone at the crossroads between two worlds – and at a complete ideological loss.
The film is well-known for its cinematic innovations, at times hinting at the French New Wave, at other times pointing at neorealism. With Godardian style editing – characterised by splicing different pieces of film together – Alea and editor Nelson Rodríguez showcase a playful and original language. Mixing documentary archive footage with fictional narrative, the film becomes a sort of collage, punctuated by surreal jump-cuts into Sergio’s fantasy world, as well as inventive point-of-view shots. In a later scene, a restless Sergio paces around his apartment. These shots of Sergio are intercut with fragments of archival footage depicting the mobilisation of military tanks. As he paces back and forth, intimidating shots of soldiers and their tanks interrupt, before Sergio throws himself on his bed. For the viewer, this editing technique has a disorientating effect
This new book documents many of Cuba’s impressive achievements, such as in the fields of biotechnology and food production, despite the brutal blockade it has been forced to endure.
Narrative histories and opinion pieces about post-revolutionary Cuba are plentiful and readily available. What could another book on the subject possibly add to what we already know? One of the author’s Cuban interviewees provides the answer: ‘Little is written and even less published about the real country’. The real Cuba, with its trials, tribulations, successes and occasional failures is the subject of Helen Yaffe’s We are Cuba.
For thirty years following the revolution in 1959, the USSR was Cuba’s most important ally and trading partner. An unequal partnership, it left the island’s economy dependent on the Soviet Bloc for imports of fuel, food and capital goods, paid for by exports of sugar, nickel and citrus.
While crucial to the survival of the revolution, Cuba’s economic relationship with the USSR hampered its ability to build a creative, modern economy. That weakness was brutally exposed at the beginning of the 1990s when the USSR folded, leaving Cuba without its major trading partner. The following decade – known locally as the ‘Special Period’ – was one of acute shortages, social deprivation and a degree of public disaffection, manifested most notably in the many well-publicised attempts by hundreds if not thousands of citizens to escape by boat to the United States.
Yaffe’s book gives a fascinating account of how the revolutionary government and the Cuban people reacted to the crisis. The challenge facing them was formidable because the entire economy, as well as Cuba’s international trading and political relationships, had to be reshaped. How this was achieved – with all the concomitant stresses, complexities, mistakes and reappraisals – lies at the heart of this book. For those in need of facts and figures, Yaffe provides them in abundance, but also offers plenty of human and local colour, personal anecdotes and quotations from interviewees; insights into how Cuba’s socialist version of democratic accountability works in practice.
Some of Cuba’s achievements during and since the Special Period are astounding. For example, between 1994 and 2005, domestic production of vegetables increased from four thousand tonnes to over four million tonnes. By 2006, the World Wildlife Fund recognised Cuba as the only nation in the world achieving sustainable development – with most of its agricultural crops grown organically and in harmony with the environment.
Perhaps the country’s most remarkable achievements have been in the fields of biotechnology and international emergency relief. Cuban advances in medical science have not only been a technological success, but have become a major export earner as well as an important arm of the country’s international diplomacy. Cuban assistance to countries suffering natural disasters, epidemics and shortages of health workers and clinics has been no less impressive. That assistance has included the training, free of charge, of tens of thousands of doctors from the developing world.
If there is a dispiriting element in Cuba’s post-revolutionary story, it lies in the vindictiveness of
Our second Alborada Online event discusses how Brazilian far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s reckless handling of the coronavirus crisis could mean him losing his grip on power.
Full event video coming soon.
The film tells the harrowing story of the imprisonment of three militants, including future president José Mujica, during Uruguay’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.
A Twelve-Year Night, based on the book Prison Memoirs (Memorias del Calabozo, 1987) by ex-Tupamaros guerrillas Mauricio Rosencof and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, is a poignant excursion into the harrowing experiences of imprisonment and resistance under the Uruguayan dictatorship which lasted from 1973 to 1985 (the twelve years referenced in the film’s title). Following the self-coup committed by President Juan María Bordaberry on 27 June 1973, the military regime supressed the Tupamaros and any other form of political dissent or organised Left. The Tupamaros National Liberation Movement of Uruguay of the 1960s and 1970s arose in response to rising poverty – especially in rural areas – mass unemployment, inequality and government corruption. The self-coup d’état by Bordaberry, and an immediate state declaration of internal war against the Tupamaros, led to the murder, torture, disappearance and jailing of many social activists and trade union leaders.
The film follows three Tupamaros in this context, Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro (Alfonso Tort), Mauricio Rosencof (Chino Darín) and José ‘Pepe’ Mujica (Antonio de la Torre), as they are taken hostage by the military forces and thrown into separate barren cells. Although Mujica may seem like a central point of interest, as he made the journey from guerrilla-fighter to the country’s president, the film provides an emotional and reflexive exploration of solitary confinement from three different perspectives.
The primary depiction is that of Mauricio Rosencof, a journalist and poet who has been separated from his family and deprived of pen and paper. Superbly acted by Chino Darín, he embodies both the physical and psychological struggle of their imprisonment: the beatings, humiliation and the absence of light. The despair of not being able to talk or write, to only imagine, while his father doesn’t physically recognise him, paints a dark portrait of the psychological torture being applied in these situations. Nevertheless, through Carlos Catalán’s stylised cinematography, their collective confinement is conjured through poetic imagery as they resist succumbing to darkness while retaining a glimmer of hope. The visuality of this struggle suggests, as well, that this suffering and resistance extends beyond the confines of their solitary confinement and represents a microcosm of a wider national struggle for freedom.
Director Álvaro Brechner also makes good use of the subjective flashback, a recalling of the past that’s rooted in the characters’ present psychological state, as their repressed feelings of hope and yearning for home are expressed through dreamlike sequences. The most impressive sequence shows how Mujica’s auditory hallucinations begin to meld into his own memory, as the flashback recalls his armed confrontation with police in 1970, an experience that left him with six gunshot wounds.
Some critics have underlined the subjective and loose treatment of torture as potentially problematic. From the beginning, the film sets out to focus on the psychological ramifications of their imprisonment and torture, yet at times the aesthetic montage of these moments does soften the
Alborada’s recent coverage shows how Latin American countries have tackled the coronavirus in very different ways – some effectively, others not so effectively.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Anglo media has always insisted that there are two Latin Americas. It is difficult to take issue with this simplification. Travel to pretty much anywhere in Latin America, including some of the places that have seen massive advances in recent years, and this is immediately obvious. There are the rich and there are the poor. This gives rise to predictably polarised political formations. There is a Left and there is a Right. Those of us in western Europe, sick of political centrists posing as honest brokers between the haves and the have-nots, look to Latin America with some solace. They are at least spared this guff. We readers of the English-language media are not even spared it when reading about Latin America!
The Wall Street Journal‘s justification of the ‘two Latin Americas‘ thesis is somewhat dated (it was written in 2014; the continent has seen numerous changes since then) but it is worth returning to because it perfectly distils the assumptions informing so much of Western reporting on the region. In brief, Latin America, we are told, is in the grip of a culture war. A culture war between an outward-looking side that supports freedom, globalisation and the invisible hand of the market; and, on the other, an insular side that opposes freedom and globalisation, and is hell-bent on clamping down on both with a very visible iron fist.
Keep this distinction in mind as we review the different ways that Latin American countries have responded to the COVID-19 crisis, as reported here in Alborada. At the same time, try to guess which side the WSJ and other corporate media outlets would have you believe is which.
In our first article, Federico Fuentes of Green Left, compares the responses of the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments. In Bolivia, the governing regime was slow to react to the virus but fast to react to the political opportunities it created. Internally this has meant instituting mass arrests of the population not adhering to the lockdown and cracking down on its main political rival, the Movement Towards Socialism (the party of deposed president Evo Morales), for distributing food and medical supplies to the needy. In the meantime, it rejected Cuba’s offer of assistance – this after having expelled hundreds of Cuban doctors following the coup d’etat the democratic revolution (as Anglo media likes to protray it) that brought the current regime to power in November 2019. The Venezuelan government, meanwhile, wasted little time contacting China to obtain details of how it had dealt with the pandemic. Imports of COVID-19 testing units and personal protective equipment (PPE) followed not long after. In stark contrast to Bolivia’s punitive (iron fist) approach, the Venezuelan government has sought innovative ways of mobilising civil society (the invisible hand?) to fight the virus through community action initiatives.
The Grayzone‘s Denis Rogatyuk and
El periodista John McEvoy habla sobre la unidad secreta del gobierno británico dirigida a la “reconstrucción” de Venezuela.
El periodista John McEvoy habla sobre su reciente artículo de The Canary donde escribe sobre documentos que obtuvo en virtud de la Ley de Libertad de Información que han expuesto una unidad secreta del gobierno británico dirigida a la “reconstrucción” de Venezuela. Los archivos también revelan discusiones privadas entre figuras de la oposición venezolana y funcionarios del Reino Unido, que detallan las propuestas para la promoción de los negocios británicos después de un golpe planificado. (con subtítulos en español*)
Este miércoles el portal de noticias del Reino Unido, The Canary, publicó una investigación que revela la existencia de una unidad, hasta el momento desconocida, del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores del Reino Unido, cuya función es la de planificar la ‘reconstrucción’ de Venezuela. El articulo también revelan discusiones privadas entre figuras de la oposición venezolana y funcionarios británicos detallando propuestas para la promoción de intereses comerciales británicos ante la eventualidad de un golpe de estado.
En los últimos 16 meses, el gobierno británico ha apoyado reiteradamente los intentos del líder de la oposición venezolana Juan Guaidó para derrocar al gobierno electo del presidente Nicolás Maduro. A fines de enero de 2019, el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores del Reino Unido instó al Banco de Inglaterra a otorgarle a Guaidó acceso a £ 1.2 mil millones de dólares de las reservas de oro venezolanas.El Departamento para el Desarrollo Internacional (DFID) también ha prometido unos £ 40 millones de “asistencia humanitaria” a Venezuela, pero se ha negado a revelar hacia dónde se dirige esta asistencia. En enero de 2020, Guaidó viajó a Londres para reunirse con funcionarios del gobierno del Reino Unido y apuntalar el apoyo internacional para sus esfuerzos para derrocar al gobierno venezolano.
Apoye nuestro trabajo aquí y reciba reserva prioritaria para todos los eventos de Alborada Online:
Traducción y subtítulos hecho por Roberto Navarrete
*Para ver los subtítulos en español:
- Hacer click en el vídeo
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Journalist John McEvoy speaks about a secretive British government unit aimed at the ‘reconstruction’ of Venezuela.
The files also reveal private discussions between Venezuelan opposition figures and UK officials, detailing proposals for the promotion of British business after a planned coup. Read the article here.
What we found in an article that’s published in The Canary is the existence of a specialist unit within the UK Foreign Office dedicated to reconstructing Venezuela post-coup. So this office has never been acknowledged and the existence of which has never been acknowledged by the Foreign Office, by the UK government. It’s called the Venezuela reconstruction unit and it’s headed by John Saville the former UK ambassador to Venezuela between 2014 and 2017. Now in an official response, the UK government says that this unit, that is never acknowledged, is supposedly to help deal with the political and economic crisis in Venezuela.
However, in private communications that we’ve obtained between the Juan Guaidó UK representative, Vanessa Neumann, and UK officials, we’ve found that there’s some discussion about planning for the sustenance of British business interests in a reconstructed Venezuela. So we get the kind of idea of what Britain’s interest in reconstructing Venezuela is there.
As well as that we’ve found; Vanessa Neumann is the CEO of a company called Asymmetrica. Now, in corporate listings from 2015 in Florida there are two other names that appear as co-directors and that’s Alec Bierbauer and Michael Marks, and now these two men are intimately connected to the CIA and to the US military, to US intelligence services. Both of them were involved in the creation of the Washington’s drone warfare program post 9/11, and so I mean it’s quite interesting to see what why those representatives in the UK has such close connections to the US Secret Services and of course this kind of British involvement in Venezuela is on top of freezing £1.4 billion worth of gold back in January 2019 and the Department for International Development is sending humanitarian assistance supposedly, but we know it works it often works with USAID and it’s not revealing to whom this assistance is going.
So you know this fits into a long line of kind of British support for overthrowing the Venezuelan government.
While the impact of coronavirus in Bolivia has been exacerbated by the regime’s inadequate response, Venezuela has shown the importance of swift and decisive action.
Government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have put into sharp relief their true nature. This is perhaps no more evident than when we compare Bolivia and Venezuela.
Despite having been installed as ‘interim’ president after a coup last November, Jeanine Añez is presented in the media as leading Bolivia’s ‘transition back to democracy’. On the other hand, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is regularly described as a ‘tyrant’ or ‘dictator’ presiding over an ‘authoritarian regime’.
Yet, when we compare how these governments have responded to COVID-19, it is clear these labels bear little resemblance to reality.
In Bolivia, the government was quite slow to react to the pandemic and, when it finally acted, did so in an incoherent manner.
Eight days after the first cases were detected on 10 March, the government closed the country’s borders and initiated a nightly curfew from 5pm-6am. But the curfew only served to raise the number of people on the streets at certain times of the day, thereby worsening the probability of contagion.
The government then shifted to a complete lockdown on 22 March, imposed under threat of large fines (up to $450) and jail time (up to ten years) for those who did not comply. Police and military were granted special powers to ensure compliance.
By 11 April, almost 10,000 people had been arrested for violating lockdown restrictions. In comparison, Bolivia had only carried out 4800 COVID-19 tests by 23 April.
In terms of alleviating the economic impacts of the lockdown, the government did not issue its first social security payments until mid-April. The government has also said it will subsidise basic utilities and provide companies with loans to cover wage bills.
In the midst of the pandemic, health minister Anibal Cruz resigned on 8 April, but not before rejecting Cuba’s offer to help the country fight the virus. Hundreds of Cuban doctors were expelled from Bolivia shortly after Añez assumed power.
Cruz later revealed that modelling indicated Bolivia was facing the prospect of 3,840 deaths from COVID-19 within four months. He was replaced by Marcel Navajas, who said expanding testing was not a priority, despite World Health Organization recommendations stating it is vital to any strategy to contain the virus.
Bolivia has also been extremely slow to allow hundreds of its citizens stranded in Chile to return home. After initially announcing on 30 March that 150 Bolivians would be allowed in, the government backtracked and said the border would remain closed.
Almost a week later, the first 480 Bolivians were finally allowed to cross, with a further 430 given permission on 21 April. Hundreds more continue to wait their turn.
The government, however, has not wasted time in using the crisis to crack down on its main political rival, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), accusing it of seeking to break the lockdown to distribute food and other supplies to those who need it.
It also postponed the 3 May general elections. The most recent
Our first Alborada Online event, with author and journalist Grace Livingstone to launch the paperback edition of her book: Britain and the Dictatorships of Argentina and Chile, 1973-82
Video from our Zoom event, a Q&A with author and journalist Grace Livingstone to launch the paperback edition of her new book: Britain and the Dictatorships of Argentina and Chile, 1973-82: Foreign Policy, Corporations and Social Movements. Chaired by Alborada co-editor Pablo Navarrete.
::: Video Transcript to Follow Shortly
Grace Livingstone’s new book reveals the links between the British government, the Argentine dictatorship (1976-82) and the Pinochet regime. Using newly declassified documents, it reveals that Britain provided arms, military training and political support to these dictatorships responsible for the disappearance of thousands of people. It shows the British Foreign Office sought to undermine human rights campaigners, journalists and even Labour ministers who wanted to take action against the Pinochet dictatorship. It asks who makes British foreign policy. Can human rights groups influence governments? What are the links between policy makers and private companies? Can an un-elected civil service prevent governments from pursuing an ‘ethical’ foreign policy? Grace Livingstone is a journalist and academic. She has reported for the BBC World Service, The Guardian, the Independent and the Observer. She is an affiliated lecturer at the Centre of Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge. https://grace-livingstone.com/
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English-language Subtitles by Roberto Navarrete.
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Sentencing former President Rafael Correa and Jorge Glas to eight years in jail and barring them from public office for an additional 25 years is a desperate move by a repressive administration trapped in a socio-economic crisis of its own making.
The Carondelet presidential palace in Quito stands in front of Plaza de la Independencia, the statue depicting the first ‘cry of independence’ and dedicated to the heroes of South America’s liberation. Each Monday, the square would become the stage for one of the key palace ceremonies – the changing of the guard. Massive crowds gathered there to observe not only the parade by the blue-clad guards, the raising of the nation’s flag and the sound of the national anthem, but also to catch a glimpse of the nation’s president, always clad in a black suit and a Guayabera-style indigenous shirt.
The palace now lies virtually empty and the salon of the national treasures – the gifts received by Rafael Correa during his various official visits abroad – has been hollowed out, with the shelves laid bare. The water fountain in its central courtyard now stands still, the echoes of palace guards, visitors and public servants no longer resounding through its wide marble corridors. It is a worthy metaphor for a country saddled with an inept leadership in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
The response of the administration of Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno, which was already severely weakened by the mass protests of October 2019, has been a combination of limited initiative and finger-pointing for its shortcomings. Naturally, the target of its blame was its predecessors in Rafael Correa’s administration.
Otto Sonnenholzner, Lenin Moreno’s appointed vice-president and a protégé of the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce, has effectively taken over the reins of the administration and followed a procedure in line with the other neoliberal governments in the region: severe repression, deprivation of workers and the most vulnerable communities, failure to mobilise the public resources and incompetence in seeking and acquiring international assistance.
Ecuador’s coronavirus death wave goes viral
Up to the end of April, the number of infected and deceased caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had spiraled out of control, nearly collapsing the country’s public healthcare sector, already struggling with the cuts and austerity due to the Moreno government’s IMF deal.
The official figures tracking the number of infected finally began demonstrating the more accurate picture of the catastrophe, with the total number of infected and dead reaching 7,161 and 297 on 10 April – an increase of 30 per cent within 24 hours. By the end of the month, the official figure for the infected stood at 24,934 infected and around 900 dead.
These numbers have been widely disputed by the citizenry, the international media and the medical staff on the ground, who have reportedly been terrorised and silenced about what they have witnessed. The viral images and videos of bodies wrapped in black bags lying in makeshift morgues or being loaded into trucks made headlines across the world, while a report conducted by
While the US and its allies cite ‘democracy promotion’ as their motive for destabilising elected governments, their hypocrisy is exposed in the antidemocratic practices propping up the political Right across Latin America.
When Juan Guaidó pronounced himself President of Venezuela on 23 January 2019, he was swiftly backed by the world’s ‘democracy-loving’ governments. They were headed by the US, with Donald Trump announcing that his administration would ‘continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy’. Despite the fact Guaidó had never received a single presidential vote, nor that less than 20 per cent of Venezuelans had even heard of him, this was the man to figurehead US ambitions in Venezuela and more broadly in Latin America.
Other nations ‘wedded to freedom’ declared their recognition of Guaidó. ‘The people of Venezuela have suffered enough. It is time for a new start, with free and fair elections in accordance with international democratic standards,’ said UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. The US and UK were joined by Canada, the EU and the newly-formed Lima Group of Latin American conservative governments whose only objective is fomenting ‘democracy promotion’ – otherwise known as regime change – in Venezuela. Large numbers of Venezuelans leaving the country were, we were told, fleeing tyranny. The murderous sanctions imposed by the Obama administration, then deepened by Trump, were largely omitted in the international coverage.
Founded in 2017, the Lima Group’s stated goal is to ‘address the critical situation in Venezuela and explore ways to contribute to the restoration of democracy in that country through a peaceful and negotiated solution’. Its creation provided international legitimacy to Washington’s long-running campaign to unseat the Bolivarian governments. The latest push hinged on the 2018 presidential election, won in a landslide by Nicolás Maduro after opposition parties boycotted the vote even though no evidence of untoward practice was produced then, nor since. In 2012, the Jimmy Carter Center said ‘the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world’. Shortly after the Venezuelan standoff began, British journalist Jeremy Fox, an official observer of the 2018 election alongside former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and his Spanish counterpart José Zapatero, told me ‘[t]here is no way this election could have been fraudulent’.
The Lima Group’s feigned moral concern falls apart as soon as one examines the internal democratic shortcomings of various members. The hypocrisy within US foreign policy is that democratic and human rights violations are often more prevalent among allies than foes. Yet international media has consistently attacked Venezuela while skating over the democratic rollback behind recent rightwing advances in Latin America.
The case of Brazil is emblematic. For the regional Left, the election of Jair Bolsonaro in late 2018 represented its lowest ebb in decades. Latin America’s largest and most ethnically diverse country elected a far-right authoritarian better known for racist, misogynistic and homophobic invective than any political achievements. The victory was achieved under Brazil’s most blatant disregard