Posted by: ivetteromero | June 24, 2015

A sea of Chinese tourists is about to flood Cuba

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Lily Kuo (Quartz) writes about promoting tourism from China to Cuba, and the many points that would make the island an interesting place to visit for Chinese tourists. Access full article in the link below.

The lure of beaches, luxury resorts, and golf courses may bring Chinese visitors to its longtime socialist ally, Cuba. In September, a Chinese airline will begin offering direct flights between China and Cuba, a precursor to what officials hope will be a “sea of Chinese tourists” descending on the Caribbean island nation.

Cuba has already been working hard to attract some of the 100 million Chinese tourists who take overseas trips each year. Grupo Gaviota, the commercial arm of the Cuban military, started a campaign to ready 55 hotels and expand the country’s largest marina, the Gaviota Varadero Marina, to attract the Chinese. Cuban tourism authorities say they plan to have at least 85,000 hotel rooms available for tourists by 2020.

Grupo Gaviota’s jazzy promotional video, subtitled in Chinese, shows mainlanders lounging in five-star hotels, sailing on yachts, and enjoying Chinese food. [. . .]

And of course, there’s the shared Communist history. “For the Chinese, Cuba is a country of heroes, like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara,” said Elena Wang (link in Spanish), director of China Sea International Travel Service, a travel agency that operates tours to Cuba. “For the Chinese, going to Cuba isn’t just traditional tourism, they are going to learn about the history of Cuba and her revolution.”

For full article, see http://qz.com/435662/a-sea-of-chinese-tourists-is-about-to-descend-on-cuba/

Posted by: ivetteromero | June 24, 2015

Parched Caribbean Faces Widespread Drought, Water Shortages

This June 15, 2015 photo shows mud cracks at the drought affected Carraizo reservoir in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. Thanks to El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean that affects global weather, the worst drought in five years is creeping across the Caribbean, prompting officials around the region to brace for a bone dry summer. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

Associated Press’s Danica Coto reports on the terrible water shortages and widespread drought affecting the Caribbean. I know that water is now being rationed in eastern Puerto Rico, where the torrent of rain yesterday, albeit brief, was welcomed with open arms . . . and cisterns.

The worst drought in five years is creeping across the Caribbean, prompting officials around the region to brace for a bone dry summer.

From Puerto Rico to Cuba to the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, crops are withering, reservoirs are drying up and cattle are dying while forecasters worry that the situation could only grow worse in the coming months.

Thanks to El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather, forecasters expect the hurricane season that began in June to be quieter than normal, with a shorter period of rains. That means less water to help refill Puerto Rico’s thirsty Carraizo and La Plata reservoirs as well as the La Plata river in the central island community of Naranjito. A tropical disturbance that hit the U.S. territory on Monday did not fill up those reservoirs as officials had anticipated.

Puerto Rico is among the Caribbean islands worst hit by the water shortage, with more than 1.5 million people affected by the drought so far, according to the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Center. Tens of thousands of people receive water only every third day under strict rationing recently imposed by the island government. Puerto Rico last week also activated National Guard troops to help distribute water and approved a resolution to impose fines on people and businesses for improper water use.

The Caribbean’s last severe drought was in 2010. The current one could grow worse if the hurricane season ending in November produces scant rainfall and the region enters the dry season with parched reservoirs, said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology.

[. . .] In the Caribbean, the farm sector has lost more than $1 million in crops as well as tens of thousands of dollars in livestock, said Norman Gibson, scientific officer at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

On St. Lucia, which has been especially hard hit, farmers say crops including coconuts, cashews and oranges are withering. “The outlook is very, very bad,” said Anthony Herman, who oversees a local farm cooperative. “The trees are dying, the plants are dying … It’s stripping the very life of rivers.”

Officials in Cuba say 75 percent of the island is enduring a drought that has killed cattle and destroyed thousands of hectares (acres) of crops including plantains, citrus, rice and beans. Recent heavy rains in some areas have alleviated the problem some, but all 200 government-run reservoirs are far below capacity.

In the nearby Dominican Republic, water shortages have been reported in hundreds of communities, said Martin Melendez, a civil engineer and hydrology expert who has worked as a government consultant. “We were 30 days away from the entire water system collapsing,” he said. [. . .]

For full article, see http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/parched-caribbean-faces-widespread-drought-water-shortages-31984337

Photo above by Ricardo Arduengo from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/24/caribbean-drought_n_7651322.html

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The Caribbean Studies Association unequivocally condemns the denaturalization and deportation of Dominicans of Haitian Descent from the Dominican Republic. We regard this as a distinct violation of their human rights, a dis-regard for human dignity and an absolute travesty against the history and meaning of Caribbean community. We ask all international institutions to intervene to pre-empt this tragedy in the making.

As the executive council of the CSA, which is the primary association for scholars and practitioners working on the Caribbean Region, we represent over 1100 members. As a body, we stand firmly against the human rights violations against persons of Haitian Descent in the DR. We denounce the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal Ruling 168-13 and the change of citizenship policy in September 2013, which stripped the citizenship rights of Dominicans born to Haitian immigrants as far back as 1929, as well as Law 169-14 that passed in May 2014, which established requirements and rules for naturalization of people born in the DR to undocumented migrants.

The ruling and passage of the law were and continue to be strongly condemned by a number of Caribbean governments, the United Nations, civil society organizations, and social justice activists (regionally and internationally). The plan gave Dominicans only 18 months to acquire the necessary paperwork (end of February) to become documented, and even with the 90 days extension (15 June 2015), many persons have been unable to secure the documentation to meet the new requirements of the DR government. Therefore, a serious and egregious crisis continues as hundreds of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic without “regularization” documents will be rendered without status and subject to deportation (with no “right” to stay in the country of their birth). Many of these persons are of Haitian descent. Additionally, the question of deportation raises major international law conventions, particularly in light of the fact that many of those potentially affected, were born in the DR, are culturally Dominican, and have very little (if any) direct connections to Haiti. As a consequence, they have been rendered stateless by this ruling and law.

This is undoubtedly a violation of rights to citizenship, and in particular for those who are most vulnerable (Dominicans of Haitian ancestry generally and those working along the border especially). As the extension has now officially passed, the DR government will be legally able to deport persons without documentation even if they were born in the DR. As a number of international and regional reports suggest, the DR is preparing for mass deportations.

The CSA stands in support of the inviolable human right to citizenship. There must be an urgent and effective regional response to the issue of migration rights, and a collaborative endeavor to forge reasonable solutions to concerns over labor, borders, and migration. The CSA calls on Caribbean governments, activists, scholars, civil society organizations, members and their affiliates to continue the work of redressing these violations and working towards social justice.

CSA Executive Council
June 2015

See the following articles written by Caribbean writers and scholar-activists:

Myriam Chancy, “Are You Haitian? Apartheid in the Americas,” Asterix Journal:
http://asterixjournal.com/apartheid-americas-haitian-myriam-j-chancy-ph-d/

Edwidge Danticat, “Fear of Deportation in the Dominican Republic,” New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/fear-of-deportation-in-the-dominican-republic

Edwidge Danticat, interviewed on Democracy Now:
http://www.democracynow.org/2015/6/17/the_dominican_republics_ethnic_purging_edwidge

Angelique V. Nixon and Alissa Trotz – “Where is the Outrage? – Tenuous Relations of Human Rights and Migration,” Groundation Grenada and Stabroek News:
http://groundationgrenada.com/2015/06/12/where-is-the-outrage/
http://www.stabroeknews.com/2015/features/in-the-diaspora/06/15/where-is-the-outrage-tenuous-relations-of-human-rights-and-migration/

Gina Ulysse, “Meditation on Haiti and Charleston as a Certain Kind of Black,” Africa is a Country:

http://africasacountry.com/meditation-on-haiti-and-charleston-as-a-certain-kind-of-black/

Conversation with Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz, “The Dominican Republic and Haiti: A Shared View from the Diaspora,” Americas Quarterly:
http://americasquarterly.org/content/dominican-republic-and-haiti-shared-view-diaspora

Angelique V. Nixon, “Limbo Citizens or Stateless People? – Human Rights Migration and for the Future of Dominicans of Haitian Ancestry,” Groundation Grenada:
http://groundationgrenada.com/2013/11/05/limbo-citizens-or-stateless-people-human-rights-migration-and-the-future-for-dominicans-of-haitian-ancestry/

Consider signing these petitions (to Caribbean governments):

https://www.change.org/p/government-of-caricom-protect-the-rights-of-dominican-citizens-of-haitian-descent-in-the-dominican-republic

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Caribbean_Governments_STOP_DOMINICAN_REPUBLIC_APARTHEID_AGAINST_DOMINICANS_OF_HAITIAN_HERITAGE/

Posted by: ivetteromero | June 23, 2015

Junot Díaz Speaks out after Insults to his Dominican-ness

Dominican MIT professor Junot Diaz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" attends a ceremony in Santo Domingo, on May 1, 2008. AFP PHOTO/Ricardo HERNANDEZ (Photo credit should read RICARDO HERNANDEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Dominicans who support a court ruling that could strip thousands of their Haitian-descended compatriots of citizenship are railing against author Junot Diaz.

The Dominican-American author criticized the Dominican high court’s decision on the citizenship issue as “racist” in a piece co-authored for the Los Angeles Times, and in comments to the local press. His outspoken attitude has drawn criticism from a group of eight intellectuals on the island, as well as a government official — all of whom have responded by attacking the author personally.

The group questioned Diaz’s Dominican-ness in an open letter published by digital publication 7 Días. The letter, signed by writers including Eduardo Gautreau de Windt, Pura Emeterio Rondón and Efraim Castillo, accuses the Pulitzer Prize winner of “not knowing the content and reach of the ruling, destined to organize the situation of immigrants and their descendants.” The letter goes on to insult the Diaz, calling his interest in the country of his birth “feigned,” “unnecessary” and “offensive.” [. . .]

A government official took the personal attacks to a higher level. In an email to Junot Diaz that was published Tuesday on the blog Latino Rebels, Executive Director for the Dominican Presidency’s International Commission on Science and Technology José Santana called Diaz a “fake and overrated pseudo-intellectual” who “should learn better to speak Spanish before coming to this country to talk nonsense.” Santana threatened to sue Diaz defamation for telling the local press that the Dominican Republic’s politicians are “corrupt” and “thieves.”

[. . .] Reached by phone, Santana defended the Dominican court’s decision and rejected foreign criticism of it. “I’ve never seen the U.S. Supreme Court revoke a ruling because of international pressure,” Santana said. “It’s important for us to normalize immigration in this country,” Santana told The Huffington Post. “What they’re looking to do is promote immigration by land to avoid immigration by sea — because you know where the immigration by sea is headed.”

Without naming Santana or referencing last week’s open letter, Diaz answered his critics Wednesday in a Facebook posting.

“All these attacks are bullshit attempts to distract from the real crime — the sentencia itself which has been condemned widely. All of us who are believers need to keep fighting against the sentencia and what it represents and we need to keep organizing and we need to show those clowns in power in the DR that there is another Dominican tradition –based on social justice and human dignity and a true respect for the awesome contributions that our immigrants make everywhere.”

Haitian immigrants and their Dominican-born children, the vast majority of whom are black, have struggled under legal limbo for years in the Dominican Republic. In August of 2004, the Dominican Republic did away with birthright citizenship, a norm that was included in the country’s new Constitution of 2010.

The Sept. 23 ruling requires the law to be applied retroactively and mandates an audit of all birth certificates issued since 1929 to search out those who would no longer qualify for citizenship. Human rights groups estimate the ruling could strip more than 200,000 people of citizenship, a figure the Dominican government disputes.

A government review of some 60,000 birth record ledgers last month found that24,000 people born in the Dominican Republic to foreign parents could lose their citizenship, according to the Associated Press. But critics pointed out that that estimate doesn’t take into account people who were never properly registered or were barred from doing so. [. . .]

[Many thanks to Jo Spalburg for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full article, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/04/junot-diaz-haitians_n_4384858.html

Enith Brigitha_Hall of Fame

A post by Peter Jordens: Antilliaans Dagblad reports that Enith Brigitha has been inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

“Some gold medals did not come my way for reasons we all know now, such as the drug use of my rivals. However, the gold has now reached me in the form of this induction into the Hall of Fame,” says Enith Brigitha, the well-known Dutch swimmer born in Curaçao. The festivities of her induction took place during an international swimming competition in the George Haines International Aquatic Center, south of San Francisco, California. “I am very proud of my success,” she said after a video of her accomplishments was shown. “But I would also like to credit my success to my ancestors, especially my mother and grandmothers. They are my heroes in many respects. My grandmother with Dutch roots led her family through the difficult years of the Depression and World War II. She taught me to have optimism, dedication and tact.” But her other, Curaçaoan grandmother was also important to her: “My grandmother with Afro-Curaçaoan roots felt slavery still nearby. She experienced poverty, deprivation and brutality. She gave me physical and emotional strength, self-confidence and courage.”

For the complete, original article (in Dutch), go to http://antilliaansdagblad.com/index.php/nieuws-menu/11347-hall-of-fame-voelt-als-goud or http://www.kkcuracao.info/?p=121059. Also see (in English): http://curacaochronicle.com/main/curacaoan-gets-a-place-in-the-international-swimming-hall-of-fame.

About Enith Brigitha: Born in Curaçao in 1955, Enith Brigitha moved to the Netherlands along with her mother and four brothers when she was fifteen. In the 1970s she enjoyed nearly a full decade in swimming as a bona fide star. She set 97 Dutch national records, won 21 Dutch national titles, and was twice named Dutch Sportswoman of the Year. She also won 11 individual medals in the Olympics and World and European Championships in an era mostly dominated by swimmers from the German Democratic Republic. She was usually beaten by East German swimmers, many of whom later admitted to doping use. She was the first person of color to perform at such a high level in international swimming and has the distinction of being the first person of African descent to win Olympic swimming medals (two bronze medals at the 1976 Montreal Olympics).

Sources: http://www.swimvortex.com/ishof-hall-of-fame-pantheon-places-for-enith-brigitha-jodie-henry-diana-mocanu and http://klasse-oplossingen.nl/2015/06/nieuws/enith-brigitha-in-hall-of-fame.

For more about Enith Brigitha (in English), see: Enith Brigitha – First black woman to win Olympic Gold in a world without the GDR?, by John Lohn, December 18, 2014, http://www.swimvortex.com/enith-brigitha-first-black-woman-to-win-olympic-gold-in-a-world-without-the-gdr; The place in history denied to Dutch ace Enith Brigitha, by John Lohn, January 4, 2014, http://www.swimvortex.com/the-place-in-history-denied-to-dutch-ace-enith-brigitha; Acknowledging Enith Brigitha, by Mike Gustafson, February 15, 2012, http://www.usaswimming.org/ViewNewsArticle.aspx?TabId=0&itemid=4181&mid=8712.

Posted by: ivetteromero | June 23, 2015

Suriname health sector gets Turkish government assistance

ambulanceThe Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has donated medical equipment and healthcare supplies— including cots, incubators, and bedside monitors—to Suriname. The Suriname ministry of health was also provided with an ambulance, according to a press statement from Ankara, Turkey.

Suriname, received from Turkey 40 hospital cots, three incubators, four bedside monitors and the ambulance. Present at the handover ceremony were the foreign minister of Suriname, Winston Lackin; health minister, Michel Blokland; Suriname’s ambassador to Turkey, Liakat Alibux; chairman of TIKA, Canan Kaplan; Paramaribo Academic Hospital executive director, Antoine Brahim; and hospital managing director Bernhard Abia. Lackin, Brahim and Alibux spoke in appreciation of Turkey’s gesture to support Suriname’s health industry. Brahim also received an award from TIKA for his hard work to improve Suriname’s health industry.

At the last Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-Turkey consultation and cooperation mechanism meeting of foreign ministers in July 2014, both sides agreed to strengthen existing fields of cooperation and to explore new areas. CARICOM expressed its appreciation for Turkey’s contributions to the CARICOM Development Fund, its active involvement in the development cooperation in the Caribbean and projects carried out by TIKA, which has sent technical delegations to the region in the fields of education, health, disaster management and capacity building.

The former Turkish foreign minister, and now prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, has promised to open a TIKA coordination office in the Caribbean.

For original article, see http://www.caribbeannewsnow.com/topstory-Suriname-health-sector-gets-Turkish-government-assistance-26649.html

Posted by: ivetteromero | June 23, 2015

Cuban 5 Travel to Cape Town

cinco-sudafricaDuring their second day of stay in South Africa, the five Cubans who were imprisoned in the USA for fighting terrorism traveled to Cape Town yesterday, to be welcomed at the headquarter of the Parliament. The Cuban Five, as they are known around the world, met today with the International Relations Commission of the Legislative, and the caucus of the African National Congress (ANC).

The Parliament issued its formal resolution in solidarity with this case, and requested in August 2014 the release of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, the three who remained in U.S. jails. The tour of Hernandez, Labañino, Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez begins in Western Cape for five of the country’s nine provinces, complying with an invitation by the ANC.

The Cuba Five -as they are worldwide known- arrived in South Africa yesterday, and after their arrival, they received the embrace of a people that made a lot for their release, they said in messages of gratitude. At the cemetery where they paid tribute to Oliver Tambo, Gerardo said that one day “we will also celebrate the end of the blockade,” which the United States has imposed against Cuba for more than five decades. It was a boundless affection, Rene told Prensa Latina referring to the initial impressions after the arrival.

Along with the ANC, this visit was organized by the members of the government alliance (Communist Party and Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). The Association of Friendship with Cuba in South Africa and the Association of Democratic Lawyers, among others, also played an important role.

The stay of the Cuban Five, to be run until July 3, is the first to carry out together out of Latin America (before, they only have traveled to Venezuela), and is part of the celebrations for the 60 years of the approval of the Freedom Charter.

Awarded with the title of Heroes of the Republic of Cuba, the Cuban Five prevented their country from terrorist actions planned in southern Florida by Cuban exile extremist groups.

On September 12, 1998, they were detained in Miami, suffered solitary confinement and legal process full of irregularities in which they were condemned in 2001 to long and disproportionate sentences.

With their release on December 17, 2014 of Hernandez, Labañino, Guerrero, the three that were in U.S. prisons, the charter of a history that scholarships and figures from different fields have cataloged as a great injustice was closed. At the end of the 10-day stay in South Africa, the Cuban Five will continue trip to Namibia and Angola, last stop of the tour of Africa.

For original article, see http://www.plenglish.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3915031&Itemid=1

Posted by: ivetteromero | June 23, 2015

Sujei Lugo Reviews “Drum Dream Girl” by Margarita Engle

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Margarita Engle does it again. Here is another slice of Caribbean history brought to life and to the imaginations of children (and adults, of course). Sujei Lugo (Latin@s in Kid Lit) reviews Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael López.

Description: Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule — until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongós and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream. Inspired by a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.

MY [Sujei Lugo’s] TWO CENTS: Inspired by the childhood of Chinese Afro Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, Margarita Engle and Rafael López enchantingly encapsulate through poetic text and dreamy illustrations a girl’s dreams and her desires to play music. By focusing on our girl’s “dreaming” period and the stage when she finally achieves her dream as a child, the author and illustrator furnish a landscape where children should be free to dream, and one they can relate to and which allows them to see themselves as dreamers.

Through the first line of Engle’s poem, “On an island of music, in a city of drumbeats, the drum dream girl dreamed,” we meet our Caribbean dream girl, who dreams about congas, bongós, and moon-bright timbales on an island where everyone believes only boys should play drums. This excluding notion and the exposure to such blatant sexism at such a young age do not prevent our girl from dreaming. She plays her own imaginary music, walks around tapping her feet and plays contagious drum rhythms on tables and chairs. When her big sisters invite her to join their new all-girl dance band, the drum dream girl is excited, but her father reminds her that “only boys should play drums.” She keeps drumming and dreaming, until her father realizes that her talent deserves to be heard. With a compelling illustration of her father “pulling” her drumming and dreaming daughter from the sky to the ground, she perseveres and lands back on her island of music, making her dream a reality.

The text is really descriptive, filled with poetic repetition and acknowledgements of the natural landscape of the island. Rafael López’s trademark of colorful and vibrant illustrations enhances the musical and dreamy experience of our character, providing images where you feel you are listening to the music and the beats. Through two-page layout canvases rich with smiling moons, suns, and birds, huge instruments, and our drum dream girl with closed eyes, he captures the spirit, the breeze, and the rhythm of our little drummer. López also successfully portrays the essence of Cuban city life and its racial and ethnic demographics.

Drum Dream Girl is the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a mixed race Cuban girl, who defied gender roles in the 1930’s music scene. The girl and her story show the importance of family, teacher, and music-education support to expose and develop our children’s musical talents. [. . .]

For full review, see http://latinosinkidlit.com/2015/06/22/libros-latins-drum-dream-girl-how-one-girls-courage-changed-music/

Posted by: lisaparavisini | June 23, 2015

Haitian-Dominican Fight Over Deportation Hits US

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The fight against the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic has moved to the United States, where 600,000 Haitian immigrants and more than one million Dominicans live, Voice of America reports.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose constituents include over 135,000 Haitians and 500,000 Dominicans, described the threat of deportation of Haitians by the Dominican government as illegal, immoral and racist.

“It is clearly an illegal act. It is an immoral act. It is a racist act by the Dominican government,” the mayor said. “And it’s happening because these people are black. And it cannot be accepted.”

His comments were supported by some but rejected by a number of other Dominicans who oppose the presence of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, especially after hundreds of thousands poured into the country after the  2010 earthquake on the island.

Both Haitians and Dominicans inhabit the island of Hispaniola, divided into two separate countries and often alienated by the issue of illegal immigration.

A 2013 Dominican citizenship law aims to cut off more than 200,000 Haitians who were born in the country to undocumented Haitians.

The decision leaves them without legal documentation and stateless since they have neither Haitian nor Dominican citizenship. They are now subject to deportation.

Although at first it was feared that the deportations would begin on Thursday, after the law went into effect, the Dominican government has now clarified that repatriations would be a slow and gradual process with “no sudden surprises.”

On Monday in Washington, the Association of Haitian Professionals (AHP) called for a meeting followed by a march to the Embassy of the Dominican Republic  to demand an end to the deportations and expulsions.

The AHP claims there is increasing anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic resulting from violence against anyone with “Haitian facial features” – citing the example of the lynching of Henry “Tulile” Jean Claude in February.

“Tulile”, a shoe-shiner, was found hanging in a Santiago public square on February 10, 2015, his hands and feet bound. The lynching, which was widely condemned, was blamed on a group of Dominican nationalists who had called for the deportation of Haitians living in their country and burned a Haitian flag on February 9.

For the original report go to http://www.voanews.com/content/haitian-dominican-deportation-fight-moves-to-us/2833835.html

Posted by: lisaparavisini | June 23, 2015

Willy Chirino: “I feel tremendous nostalgia for Cuba”

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This interview with Maylin Legañoa appeared in Havana Times.

We went into an office with an eclectic décor that still owed much to the colonial style. On the wall, the acknowledgements received over nearly 50 years mixed perfectly with family photos and a guitar that seemed a witness to every word, gesture and expression.

Serene and with a very soft tone of voice, composer, arranger, singer-songwriter and winner of the 2014 Latin Grammy Music Excellence Award, Willy Chirino, the music legend, was today another Cuban émigré telling us of his life, his experiences, his successes and his nostalgia.

Wilfredo Jose Chirino, born in Pinar del Rio. If we consider how popular your music is in the Spanish-speaking market, we could say you’re a world-renowned Cuban. Singer, composer and producer…tell us about your first steps in the music industry.

I arrived from Cuba with a tremendous interest in music. Back in my hometown, I played percussion with musicians from the neighborhood, but I had never sat in front of a set of drums or anything like it. That didn’t stop me from telling my friends I was a drummer. I did have my own set in my bedroom. I used a book to hold up the dishes and the sticks were made out of coat-hangers. I would watch TV and movies and try to imitate how they played the drums with those things I had.

One day – I must have been 15 years old – we were at a party at the St. Peter and Paul Catholic school that’s on 12th and 14th Street South West. I’d already told my buddies I played the drums. The party was going and they were playing music, so my friends said to me: “Hey, we asked the drummer if you could play, and he said yes.” I wanted to stick my head in the ground, I didn’t know what to do. I’d never sat in front of a set of drums in my life. I’d done everything with the imaginary set I had at home. We started to play something, a melody called “Way Pau”, and I was imitating the movements I made back in my room, and they bought it (laughs). Then, two of them who played the guitar and one who played the bass went over to the school parish priest and we convinced him to buy me a set of drums, in exchange for us playing at school parties. That’s how it all started.

Do you remember the first time you sang a children’s or adult song? What piece made you say “I want to be a singer, I want to be an artist”?

I don’t remember. You know why? Because I had a career as a musician that lasted for many years before I became a singer. In fact, I used to play 6 nights a week at different nightclubs around the city from the time I was 16. I started playing the drums, then I started playing bass, then guitar. I couldn’t stop working because what I earned was absolutely essential to supporting my family, my father and my brothers. So I learned to play several instruments so as not to be left out of a job, and, often, I would say to the director of the band, Pablo Cano (who played the guitar): “Hey, let me play a bolero.” I would start singing and he’d say to me: “Don’t sing, you play very well…you’re a great musician.”

I played the drums very well, actually. I was a good musician, always was, but I’m not anymore. Back when I played the drums, I was. I no longer play. Like everything else in life, you have to practice to keep good at what you do.

You arrived in the United States when you were 14, in 1961. That’s when your career picked up. What made you decide to start your own band?

That’s very simple. You ask yourself: how do things work here? Who are the people making money and becoming music stars? Drummers or singers? So I started writing songs and said to myself: I’m going to sing no matter what.

What song did you break into the US stage with?

Viva la buena vida (“Living the Good Life”). At the time, there was only one broadcaster in Miami that aired Latin music throughout, from dusk till dawn. They picked up the song and made it the show’s theme. That was the first time I heard myself on the radio and said “wow!” All artists can distinctly remember the first time they heard themselves on the radio. That was a huge achievement.

Did this start in the music world in Miami involve the creation of your own style?

Definitely. It’s a music movement, it’s the sound of Miami. I was a very important part of that, I don’t deny it, but I wasn’t the founder. It’s a music movement like mambo, rock and roll and cha cha cha were in their time. In fact, the first album with that music style ever to be released internationally was mine. It’s the album with Vive la Buena vida and Soy (“I Am”). It was a big hit here in town. All of the songs were played on the radio, except a rock piece.

According to some articles, you are considered one of the pioneers of that music style in Miami, a fusion of Cuban music, rock, jazz and Brazilian rhythms. Does this have anything to do with your experiences next to Tito Puentes and Julio Gutierrez?

Naturally, but that was before, when I was a musician. I went off to New York with Julio Gutierrez when I was 17. People like La Lupe, Tito Puentes, Ray Barreto and Miguelito Valdes played where I played. All of these legends from the time would jam with us. I learned a lot from them. It was the time when you’re a teenager and absorb everything.

You’ve recorded more than 30 albums. Your more popular pieces include Soy, which we’ve talked about already, and Nuestro dia viene llegando (“Our Day is Coming”), which has been played many times, even on the island. Would you be willing to sing these songs in your hometown in Pinar del Rio?

Naturally. I’ve been asking to do this for years, but they won’t let me. My conditions now are that there be no conditions. I’m a free Cuban. Cubans in Cuba are not free. What’s the matter? I go to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina and Europe and neither the government, nor the promoter nor anyone tells me what to sing.

Who would you take to Cuba to sing to Cubans?

Many people: Amaury Gutierrez, my wife Lisette, Albita, Arturo Sandoval, I could give you a huge list….Carlos Oliva. There are many artists I would like to share the stage with, including Cuban artists who live in Cuba, such as Gorki Avila, Los Aldeanos and other musicians. It would be a great pleasure.

Do you feel any nostalgia for Cuba?

Naturally, I’m from Pinar del Rio, the land of tobacco. I tell people that, if I could bottle the scent of Pinar del Rio’s moist earth, I would. It’s something I do not forget. I come from a tobacco-growing area. Whenever it rained, the plants would give off a very special, rich and sweet smell. I feel tremendous nostalgia for that. It’s a part of what I am. I feel tremendous nostalgia for Cuba, especially for the countryside, where the lives of peasants are entirely different from the lives of people who live in the big city.

You once said you believed in the exchange of ideas, invoking a phrase by Jose Marti. I quote: “When freedom is at stake, let the fires rage. Even art should be used to feed the flames.” What comes to mind when you read or hear this phrase again?

I think that it’s an incredible message for Cuban artists today. Martí is telling you very clearly: “Hey, when freedom is at stake, use your art to bring about changes that call for freedom.” Your art is a weapon, a rifle you can use to bring about change. Even art should be used to feed the flames, it’s crystal clear. That’s my life’s motto.

Do you read Marti?

I don’t read anyone. I am unable to read. I start reading and my mind wanders somewhere else three seconds later. I haven’t read one book in my life, I admit it. I wish I could. People who read a lot have an extraordinary culture. However, I think there’s no better teacher than the street. The experiences I’ve had, working six nights a week, something that doesn’t happen with artists today, I’ve learned things and I tell my kids about them all the time. You don’t learn those things at a university.

Do you consider yourself a man of peace?

Of course! I’m a man of peace, a serene man. I believe I’ve achieved harmony, and not only with my family. I believe a person succeeds in life when they manage to strike a balance and do what they really love. I don’t make recordings so they’ll be successful commercially; I make music so that 50 or 100 years from now, people can feel inspired by the music I’ve created. That is the task of the artist, in essence: to achieve immortality through their work. It’s far more important than money and fame. This is what makes applause the greatest gift. We bring on human emotions, the artist makes you laugh, makes you think and makes you cry. If you manage to evoke those emotions in a person, you’re an artist. I think I’ve achieved that.

For the original report go to http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=112135

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