Lenny

On the return of stolen Cuban artwork

There are a lot of museums in Europe, mostly France, and a lot of collectors in Europe and Asia, and several major auction houses that are nervously looking to what happens in Cuba once its brutal dictatorship finally ends.

They are nervous because worldwide courts have consistently recognized the right of original owners to the return of artwork which has been looted by governments and dictatorships, confiscated, sold and re-sold.

It has taken in some cases several decades for the artwork to return to the familial descendants of the original and rightful owners, but essentially international law is pretty clear on the subject that generally no government can confiscate private property.

There are, of course, many dictatorships worldwide where one of the foundations of those regimes is that private citizens under their yoke cannot own private property.

It occurred to me recently that when the current Cuban dictatorship took control of that unfortunate island on January 1, 1959, one of the first things that they did after they executed thousands of people, burned and banned books, jailed all political opposition, and closed down newspapers and magazines, was to confiscate most private property.

And there was a lot of artwork confiscated in Cuba; stolen from their rightful owners. A lot of that artwork in now in Europe.

We’ve been led to believe that in 1959 Cuba was just another Latin American cesspool, but the facts are that in 1959 Cuba had one of the highest standards of living of any nation in the Americas and a higher per capita income than several European nations and higher than Japan, as well as a positive immigration flow from Europe to Cuba, as well as the third highest protein consumption in the Western Hemisphere. Today the island’s food rations are actually lower than the slave rations mandated by the Spanish King in 1842.

The island also had the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, ranked ahead of France, West Germany, Belgium, Japan, Austria, Italy and Spain. The average wage of a Cuban worker was higher than for workers in West Germany, France, Denmark and Belgium and in the late 50s Cuban labor received 66.6 per cent of the nation’s GNP, again higher than several European nations (the US figure is 68%). And the 8 hour week was mandated by law in Cuba in 1933, five years before FDR’s New Deal got to doing it in the US. And in the 1950s, 44% of Cubans were covered by social legislation, a higher percent than the US at that time.

And while we’ve been led to also believe that Cuban peasants and farm workers lived in a near feudal state, the average farm wage in Cuba in 1959 ($3.00 a day) was higher than those of farm workers in France ($2.73), Belgium ($2.70), Denmark ($2.74) or Germany ($2.73). In the US it was $4.06. And in 1959 only 34% of the Cuban population was rural and the nation had the lowest inflation rate in the Americas, 1.4% - the US was at 2.73%

So this was not a nation mired in poverty, as we have been led to believe, but a nation under the yoke of a very brutal dictator in the person of Fulgencio Batista.

The very wealthy Cuban upper and business class hated Batista and became the financial backers of the Castro Revolution, raising millions of dollars for the rebels. They also owned many art masterpieces from both European and Latin American masters.

As a thank you, nearly all of this work was confiscated by the Castro dictatorship and by 1961 most of the best work had made its way to government-owned museums and collections, and most of the owners had made their way to the United States in the largest proportional mass exodus in contemporary history.

When the abomination known as the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s and Cuba’s sugar daddy stopped sending billions of dollars in subsidy to the Castro brothers, the Cuban economy collapsed, and one of the results of that collapse was the mass selling, by the Cuban government, of those confiscated masterpieces, most of which found their way to European museums and European and Asian private collections via French auction houses. Thus many masterpieces once owned by the Fanjul family, or the Bacardi family, or by sugar magnate Julio Lobo (whose interest in Napoleonic memorabilia led to him amassing one of the world’s largest collections of Bonaparte memorabilia such as weapons, furniture, paintings, letters, etc.) were sold to European museums and collectors.

But now I think that the end of the brutal Castro dictatorship is nigh, and one day soon, when the rule of law and democracy and freedom returns to Cuba, one of the first things that the descendants of those families should do is to go after whoever now possesses their families’ stolen artwork and goods, and in some cases even copyrights.

And the details of these illegal sales have left bloody footprints. For example, according to Maritza Beato’s excellent article in El Nuevo Herald titled “El Saqueo del Patrimonio Cultural Cubano” (The Looting of the Cuban Cultural Patrimony), the sale of the Julio Lobo Napoleonic collection to a French museum was orchestrated by a French official attached to the French Embassy in Havana. His name is Antoine Anvil.

And if I was one of those auction houses or museums in Europe or collectors or dealers around the world, I’d be a little nervous.

What goes around comes around.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Comments (3)

Lenny

Some thoughts on Steven Soderbergh’s “Che”

Che

A while back I got some preview tickets to the opening of the new Steven Soderbergh two-part epic about the life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentinean blue blood guerrilla leader, starring Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro in the leading role, which has already earned him Best Actor, 2008 at the Cannes Film Festival.

Because I was away on vacation, I couldn’t go, but I do plan to see this film, as I have been an avid Guevara follower nearly all my life.


“Che Guevara” by F. Lennox Campello. Charcoal c. 2003. 6 x 15 inches
My father fought alongside Guevara during the Cuban revolution, and like most of those brave young men who fought against the Batista dictatorship both in the mountains of Oriente province and the streets of Havana and Santiago de Cuba, he never expected the Cuban Revolution to put in place a worse dictatorship than Batista’s bloody regime.

In fact, most people don’t know that the official Cuban Communist Party was part of the Batista government while the Revolution was underway and even Guevara, a Communist all along, had harsh words for the Cuban Communists during the struggle. In 1958 he wrote that there were “mutual fears” between the rebels and the Party, and “fundamentally, the Party of the Workers has not perceived with sufficient clarity the role of the guerrilla.”

After the revolution, Guevara further added that he “only knew of three Communists who had participated in combat.” Besides himself and Raul Castro, one wonders who the third Communist was (Raul Castro’s future wife, Vilma Espin was also a known Communist; however, she was one of the urban guerrillas working under Frank Pais, the anti-Batista leader in the streets of Cuba. Pais was strongly anti-Communist. Of interest, a persistent rumor blames Espin as the traitor responsible for Pais’ death at the hands of the Batista police).

Guevara was a very courageous and even reckless fighter (as opposed to Castro, who spent most of the war secluded in the relative safety of the Sierra Maestra mountains). But he was also the executioner of the Cuban Revolution, a fact that he never hid but which most Guevara admirers conveniently ignore.

It was Guevara who executed deserters and captured Batista soldiers and henchmen during the struggle, and it was Guevara who signed the tens of thousands of execution orders after the Revolution, when Cuba was bathed in blood by firing squads. See some of the documented Cubans executed by Guevara (including over a dozen shot by Che himself) here.

Because of that, Guevara is known to Cubans as “El Chacal de La Cabaña.”

“El Chacal de La Cabaña” translates to the “Jackal of La Cabaña,” although it is usually translated as the “Butcher of La Cabaña.” La Cabaña is an 18th century fortress complex located on the elevated eastern side of the harbor entrance to Havana, and the location for many of the thousands of firing squad executions which took place after January 1, 1959. Shot were former members of Batista’s police, informants, traitors, and counter-revolutionaries.

The best known story about this period relates to how a Cuban mother went to see Che to beg for her son’s life. The son was 17 years old, and was on the firing squad list, to be executed within a week. If Guevara pardoned her son, the mother begged, she would ensure that he never said or did anything against the Revolution.

Che’s response was to order the immediate execution of the boy, while the mother was still in his office. His logic: now that the boy was shot, his mother would no longer have to anguish over his fate.
Dead Che, source unknown
On the other hand, Che’s courage as a guerrilla leader and his dedication to his caused are well documented and never challenged. While Fidel Castro tightened his grip on the Cuban people and replaced the Batista dictatorship with the Castro dictatorship, Guevara put his life at risk fighting in guerrilla wars in Africa and Latin America, until he was caught in the highlands of the Bolivian mountains in 1967 and executed on the spot. Just as he would have done had the situation been reversed.

It is this side of Che’s complex character that Che’s admirers and apologists always focus upon, and I am looking forward to seeing if this film addresses both the spectacularly courageous side of this iconic figure, as well as his war crimes and dark side of a man with little compassion and remorse.

I am also curious as to how the film handles Guevara’s departure from Cuba. “Che”, claims Dariel Alarcon Ramirez, who joined the rebels in 1956 and then went with Guevara to Bolivia, “left Cuba after being accused of being a Trotskist and a Maoist…. and because of the problems he had with the Cuban government, specifically Fidel and Raul Castro.”

Once I see the film, I will tell you my thoughts on it.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Comments (2)

Lenny

What’s wrong with Showtime Dexter’s Cubans?

Depending on who “fits” the cultural/ethnic/racial/political label created in the 1970s, Hispanics or Latinos can come from ancestries from around 20 or so Spanish-speaking nations in the Americas. I think that Europe’s Portugal and Spain were also once in that group but are certainly no longer there, especially in the “Latino” label.

20 or so very diverse and distinct nations.

Disclaimers: I do realize that this coming issue of mine is perhaps a very jingoist issue, and I am also keenly aware that I’ve written about it before in a smilar context but in for a different scenario. And yet the more that we become aware how culturally blind Hollywood is, the more they underscore their own cultural ignorance with minute mistakes that keep adding up to colossal mountains.

Last year I complained when Jimmy Smits, a superb actor on his own, was chosen to play the lead part in the CBS drama “Cane”, a series about a wealthy Cuban-American family.

My historical issue was that although Jimmy Smits is a great actor, he was not what your typical Cuban sugar magnate would have looked liked in the racist Cuban society of the late 1950s and the Cuban-American refugee wave of the early 1960s. His casting for the part was intolerably historically inaccurate.

CBS picked Smits, a brilliant actor, I guess based on their perception of what a Cuban looks like (Smits is not of Cuban ancestry… his father, Cornelis Smits, was a Surinamese immigrant from Dutch Guiana, and his mother, Emilina, is Puerto Rican).

This is what the person that Smits’ “Canes” character was loosely based upon really looks like

But I suspect that because, like a lot of Cubans, he looks too “Anglo” and not enough of what Hollywood (and CBS) wanted all of us to think that Latinos should all look like, they hired a terrific Emmy-winning Surinamese actor who fits the sterotypical image of what Hollywood thinks Cubans should look like, to play the lead part.

Latinos are a culturally, racially and ethnically diverse group of people, and we’re not all made of one mold, as Hollywood wants you to think.

So that was then, and here’s what has me all spun up in a new tempest in my demitasse.

Currently my absolute favorite TV show is Showtime’s “Dexter.”

If you haven’t seen this show, then go and rent seasons one and two out on DVD and then get hooked.

In the series, Michael C. Hall is absolutely brilliant as a serial killer who works as a blood expert for the Miami Metro Police while hiding the fact that he is also a serial killer. Dexter goes after bad guys, but he is still a truly disturbing psychopath pretending to be normal while killing bad guys left and right in a very orchestrated manner.

Dexter is television crime drama at its best. It is a brilliantly conceptual idea brought to life by really good actors and the gorgeous setting of Miami.

And because this show is set in Miami, several of the regular characters in the series are portrayed as Cuban characters, such as Dexter’s boss, Lt. Maria LaGuerta, played superbly by Puerto Rican actress Lauren Velez and detective Angel Batista, also played superbly by Puerto Rican actor David Zayas.

Now enter season three, which introduced a new character, that of Asst. District Attorney Miguel Prado, another Cuban character played by, yep that’s right: Jimmy Smits!

Smits is a terrific actor, and since by now he seems to be making quite a decent living playing Cubans on TV, the least that Showtime can do is hire some Cubans to write their Spanish dialogues for the series so that at least he can sound Cuban.

I know that this is pedantic, but everytime that Smits or the other “Cuban” characters speak to each other in Spanish banter, it is grating to Cuban ears to hear “non Cuban” Spanish being spoken.

Imagine that you are watching a foreign movie, let’s say that it is a French movie… and all the dialogue is in French, and in the film there are two British actors who are playing American parts, and every few minutes they speak to each other in English, and instead of American English coming out of their mouths, what comes out is cockney English.

That’s what (in my pedantic world of Virgos) I have to suffer everytime that LaGuerta, Batista and/or Miguel Prado talk in Spanish.

The straw that broke the camel’s back a few episodes ago was when Miguel Prado (Smits) jokingly called Dexter a “filipolla” (or “gilipolla”).

That’s when I realized that the writer that Showtime has hired to write the Spanish for the series, not only has no idea about what Cuban Spanish sounds like, but also zero idea of what Latin American Spanish sounds like, as opposed to Castilian Spanish.

Having lived in Spain for a few years in my 20s, I know what that word means, which is essentially a curse word used by Spaniards; let me repeat that: Spaniards, to mean asshole or jerk, etc.

I am almost 99% sure that no Cuban in Miami or Cuba or anywhere else in the Great Cuban Diaspora, has ever called anyone a gilipolla, unless perhaps they live in Spain and have picked up the term there… from Spaniards.

But in Miami? Naaaaaaaaaaaah…

A Cuban would have said “Maricon” or perhaps “Cabron.” But fili/gilipolla? Nunca!

Now imagine those two Brit actors playing Yanks in my earlier French movie example, calling each other “gits” or “wankers.”

Welcome to my pedantic hell.

And now for Showtime: My list of actor candidates who are actually of Cuban ancestry and thus a shoe-in for the part and who actually speak Spanish with a Cuban accent:

Andy Garcia (duh!!!! perfect for the part!… but probably too classy and too expensive to do TV).

Nestor Carbonell. He was great in “Canes” and also in “Lost City,” although I think that he wears eye make up?

Mel Ferrer… ah!… I think he’s dead.

Desi Arnaz… fine, fine… he’s definately dead; but how about Desi Jr.?????

Jorge Perrugorria

Cesar Romero … fine! I know that The Joker is definately dead.

Julio Mechoso

Ruben Rabasa

Victor Rivers

George Alvarez

Showtime: call me.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

Comments (14)

Minds Eye Copyright © 2009 ART-tistics Blog. Powered by WordPress.