CubaBrief: Celebrating Ángel Cuadra, Bacardi, and Gloria Estefan’s continuing impact on Cuban culture and defiance of totalitarian efforts to rewrite Cuban culture

“Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth,” observed George Orwell in his essay, “The Prevention of Literature” in the journal Polemic, published in January 1946. Writers that refuse to go along with alteration of the past all too often pay a terrible price.

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Ángel Cuadra, who passed away in exile on February 13, 2021, was a Cuban lawyer, writer, poet, and actor who in 1967 was sentenced to 15 years in prison and in February 1977 Amnesty International highlighted his case and recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. He was paroled for four months in 1976, but returned to prison to serve out his sentence after a book of his poems were published in the United States, reported Amnesty International in 1981. Ángel Cuadra completed his 15 year prison sentence in 1982 and was exiled from Cuba. He was a tireless fighter for freedom and free culture who resisted the dictatorships of both Fulgencio Batista (1952-1959) and Fidel Castro (1959 – present). His example remains for future generations because of his unwavering commitment to truth and his attachment to justice. In 2016 Voices of Cuba interviewed the Cuban writer and human rights defender.

In 2018 the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs interviewed him and produced a biography and video in a project called Memory of Nations that described his continued activism while in prison and following his release into the diaspora. “In prison he dedicated himself to the clandestine publication of literary texts of political prisoners. He was named an honorary member of the PEN Club of Sweden, and his case became famous abroad. Thanks to this, in 1981 he was elected prisoner of conscience for the month of March. When he was released, he traveled to Sweden and Germany, the countries that had most pleaded for his freedom. In 1985 he emigrated to the United States, where he was reunited with his family. He graduated in Hispanic Literature at the University of Florida and worked there as a professor of Modern Languages. He received several poetry prizes and his poems were translated into several languages.”

On February 12, 2021 the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) “described as a mockery against freedom of the press and expression a series of measures of economic opening that the Cuban regime dictated and that leaves out the exercise of independent journalism.” New generations in Cuba today, such as the San Isidro Movement, continue the work of Ángel Cuadra defending the existence of objective truth, and recovering the past the dictatorship in Havana continues to try to erase.

Following this example of recovering the past and defending history that the Castro dictatorship continues to distort and disappear is why we focus on the elements of Cuban history and culture that Havana would like to erase. Bacardi is synonymous with Republican Cuba. Two generations of the Bacardi family fought for Cuban independence with one family member fighting alongside General Antonio Maceo. During the Republic the family not only had enlightened business practices but also engaged in civic activities that promoted a democratic culture. Each time dictatorship arose in Cuba under Machado, Batista and Castro the Bacardis joined the democratic resistance.

“Bacardi in Puerto Rico secured a WHC Conservation Certification in recognition of its commitment to environmental stewardship and for driving awareness of the role of pollinator gardens in building a healthy ecosystem.” Bacardi expanded its pollinator garden, increasing numbers of butterflies, bees and, of course, bats,(the symbol of Bacardi since its founding in Santiago de Cuba on February 4, 1862). For this effort, In 2018, Bacardi received the first WHC certification ever presented to an organization in Puerto Rico. As of 2021, Bacardi remains the only organization to receive a WHC certification in Puerto Rico. Bacardi, which is the largest premium rum distillery in the world, is located outside San Juan in the municipality of Cataño.

Artists collaborating with Bacardi to present the music of Gloria Estefan to a new generation

Artists collaborating with Bacardi to present the music of Gloria Estefan to a new generation

The Castro regime has sought to erase or slander the history of the Bacardi family from Cuban culture, and internationally. Havana has also targeted other Cuban cultural figures for the same mistreatment.

According to the 2004 book, Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe there is increasing concern that post-revolution generations in Cuba are growing up without knowing or hearing censored musicians such as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, and the long list below, and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations. This process has been described as a Cuban cultural genocide that is depriving generations of Cubans their heritage. Cuban artists who have had their music banned by the Castro regime include, Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Rolando Lecuona, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Israel Cachao López, Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría, Mario Bauza, Arsenio Rodríguez, Willy Chirino, and Gloria Estefan.

Billboard on January 28, 2021, the anniversary of Jose Marti’s birth, reported how Bacardi collaborated with a new generation of artists, Philadelphia-based rapper Meek Mill, and Leslie Grace to reimagine “Conga” that was a hit by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine in the 1980s. The new version, released under Sony Music Latin, is part of Bacardi’s “Conga Feat. You” campaign that launched in November 2020. Gloria Estefan and Bacardi are two Cuban cultural forces that continue to impact internationally that the Castro regime seeks to censor inside of Cuba.

The legacy of Ángel Cuadra, Bacardi, and Gloria Estefan continue to impact Cuban culture both on and off the island. This is a living legacy that continues to defy totalitarian efforts to rewrite Cuba’s history and culture.

The Antillean, February 15, 2021

Ángel Cuadra, dissident Cuban poet, dies in exile

Ángel Cuadra

Ángel Cuadra

MIAMI — Poet and former Cuban political prisoner Ángel Cuadra died at dawn this Saturday in Miami, Fla. of an undisclosed cause, the Center for a Free Cuba reported. He was 89.

Cuadra – described as “one of Cuba’s great poets and freedom fighters of contemporary times” in the statement announcing his death – wrote for a magazine critical of Castro’s Revolution and, in 1967, was arrested for conspiring to overthrow his regime. He was a poet, actor and promoter of Cuban culture.

“He fought against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and then against that of Fidel Castro,” the statement said.

In exile, first in Europe and later the United States, he was president of the Club of Former Political Prisoners and founded the PEN Club of Cuban Writers in Exile, an affiliate of the PEN International literary society.

“He was a tireless fighter for freedom and free culture. His example remains for future generations because of his unwavering commitment to truth and his attachment to justice,” said John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

His death closely follows that of another exiled writer, the journalist Carmelo Diaz Fernández, one of 75 artists and activists arrested during the so-called “Black Spring” crackdown on dissidents in 2003.

https://antillean.news/2021/02/14/angel-cuadra-dissident-cuban-poet-dies-in-exile/

Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, February 12, 2021

The IAPA describes the new censorship of the Cuban regime as a mockery of independent journalism

Miami (February 12, 2021).- The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) described as a mockery against freedom of the press and expression a series of measures of economic opening that the Cuban regime dictated and that leaves out the exercise of independent journalism.

In an attempt to open the economy to the private sector, the Cuban government established a series of activities allowed for citizens. However, the Ministry of Labor published on February 10 a list of 124 prohibited activities for the private sector, among others, journalism, news agency activities, audiovisual production and wireless telecommunications, as well as architecture, engineering, dentistry, medicine, accounting and entertainment activities.

“We regret that the regime continues to enforce Article 53 of the Constitution which stipulates that the socialist state and its officials, not the citizens, are the owners and custodians of freedoms,” said the president of the IAPA, Jorge Canahuati.

“This is a new mockery against independent journalism, which has already been restricted by laws and gag decrees that even allow journalists to be arbitrarily imprisoned,” added Canahuati, president of the Opsa Group of Honduras.

The president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Carlos Jornet, director of the Argentine newspaper La Voz del Interior, said, “this new state classification nullifies the entrepreneurial capacity of citizens and deepens the censorship that the regime has been exercising over freedom of the press in its 62 years of dictatorship.”

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.

https://en.sipiapa.org/notas/1214373-the-iapa-describes-the-new-censorship-of-the-cuban-regime-as-mockery-of-independent-journalism

Businesswire, February 12, 2021

Bacardi in Puerto Rico Doubles Pollinator Gardens for Bats, Bees and Butterflies Earning Second Wildlife Habitat Council Certification

Bacardi Corporation remains only recipient of certification in Puerto Rico

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February 11, 2021 07:30 AM Eastern Standard Time

CATAÑO, Puerto Rico–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Bacardi in Puerto Rico loves sharing its outdoor space, and, thanks to a newly expanded pollinator garden, the home of the world’s most awarded rum is welcoming increased numbers of butterflies, bees and, of course, bats. For this effort, Bacardi in Puerto Rico secured a WHC Conservation Certification in recognition of its commitment to environmental stewardship and for driving awareness of the role of pollinator gardens in building a healthy ecosystem. In 2018, Bacardi received the first WHC certification ever presented to an organization in Puerto Rico. As of today, Bacardi remains the only organization to receive a WHC certification on the island. This award marks the second consecutive recognition by the WHC to Bacardi Corporation, which is the largest premium rum distillery in the world and is located outside San Juan in the municipality of Cataño.

In 2019, the Puerto Rico team launched an ongoing restoration of the natural grounds near the front of the campus, which is now home to four of the eight bat houses on the property. The efforts resulted in the addition of six pollinator gardens covering 38,535 square feet or double the original size. The pollinator garden serves as a year-round food source to monarch butterflies, honeybees, native bees, and seven species of bats, including the Antillean fruit bat, minor red bat, red fruit bat, and Mexican free-tailed bat. The all-employee volunteer team is committed to this landscape-level conservation by diversifying the flowering plants while also encouraging the growth of native species to the island, creating an abundance of access to the nectar, pollen, cover, and larval host plants needed by pollinators to feed and reproduce.

“As a family-owned company, Bacardi, we take great pride in our efforts to build a sustainable future that will continue for generations to come. At Bacardi Corporation in Puerto Rico, we are making a positive impact in our work environment and getting our teams involved in learning more about their role in protecting the environment – at home and at work,” said Edwin Zayas, Bacardi Corporation VP of Operations. “As leaders in the spirits industry, we feel a tremendous responsibility to protect natural resources and reduce our environmental footprint with the hope to inspire others to do the same.”

While visits are currently limited to the campus, those on site are encouraged to explore the pollinator garden as an effort to raise awareness about the importance of pollinator habitats. Housed in between the operations site and Casa BACARDÍ – one of the most visited tourist sites on the island – the garden is visible to employees and tourists alike. Before lockdowns, Bacardi hosted its annual community event and focused part of the programming on educating guests about the role of pollinators in island’s ecosystem.

The efforts are part of the company’s global commitment to environmental sustainability. The Bacardi Bottling Corporation site in Jacksonville, FL, also maintains a wildlife habitat for which it received its fourth WHC certification in 2020.

“The Bacardi WHC-certified programs in Puerto Rico and Jacksonville demonstrate the company’s commitment to supporting sustainable ecosystems and the communities that surround them,” said Margaret O’Gorman, President, WHC. “It’s noteworthy that during this time of crisis, Bacardi continues to create positive impacts for biodiversity and employee engagement.”

To learn more about Bacardi and its Good Spirited corporate responsibility programs, including environmental sustainability, visit: https://www.bacardilimited.com/corporate-responsibility/.

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210211005352/en/Bacardi-in-Puerto-Rico-Doubles-Pollinator-Gardens-for-Bats-Bees-and-Butterflies-Earning-Second-Wildlife-Habitat-Council-Certification

Billboard, January 28, 2021

Latin

Leslie Grace & Meek Mill Revamp Gloria Estefan’s ’80s Party Hit ‘Conga’: Here’s A Comparison

Courtesy of Bacardi: Meek Mill and Leslie Grace "Conga"

Courtesy of Bacardi: Meek Mill and Leslie Grace “Conga”

The new version is part of the Bacardi brand “Conga Feat. You” campaign that launched in 2020.

Leslie Grace has been working in silence, preparing for her film debut in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights movie and the launch of the new version of “Conga,” premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Jan. 28).

Produced by Canadian producer Boi-1da and in collaboration with Philadelphia-based rapper Meek Mill, the reimagined “Conga” gives Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine’s ‘80s party banger a rhythmic-pop-urban twist. The new version, released under Sony Music Latin, is part of Bacardi’s “Conga Feat. You” campaign that launched in November.

“Bacardi presented this amazing plan, where they wanted me to recreate ‘Conga,’” Leslie Grace tells Billboard. “I couldn’t believe it was possible but they assured me that both Gloria and Emilio [Estefan] were on board. They wanted to entrust me with this project and I couldn’t pass on the opportunity.”

Calling the process “innovative,” Grace explained that the project originally began at the end of 2019 but was put on pause because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“I went into the studio pre-Covid with Boi-1da. We immediately hit it off. I had written the first verse and the pre onto a loop he had sent me,” she notes. “Everything else was basically done remotely. Meek Mill jumped on the track later on after listening to the structure we built.”

The Estefans were also part of the process “every step of the way.”

Grace adds: “Everyone was really focused on maintaining the essence of this iconic track. Having their support and suggestions was beautiful. They approved every single thing on the project. This was really a labor of love and really intentional every step of the way with the original creators involved.”

“Conga” was the first Billboard Hot 100 hit for Gloria and Miami Sound Machine, peaking at No. 10 in February 1986. The song also hit No. 1 on Dance Singles Sales for one week in November 1985, and No. 7 on Dance Club Songs. The new version, at the helm of Grace, Mill, and Boi-1da, marks the first and only official remake of the original Latin dance classic in over 30 years.

“I’m a nineties baby, my generation grew up with ‘Conga’ and I grew up listening and dancing to the song in my living room,” Grace recounts. “Gloria is an inspiration to me. She’s one of the first artists I saw singing in both languages. I feel so honored and blessed to do this with Boi-1da and Meek Mill.”

Below, Billboard compares both tracks.

Title: “Conga”
Artist: Gloria Estefan, Miami Sound Machine
Release year: 1985

Song: Written by the band’s drummer and lead songwriter Enrique Garcia, “Conga” was a party-starter in its totality. With its dance-pop melodies fused with heavy Latin rhythms, everyone that heard the song in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond, knows it’s time to grab your friends and create a conga line. Penned by the band’s drummer and lead songwriter Enrique Garcia, “Conga” in an English-language song that forms part of Miami Sound Machine’s sophomore English-language album, and ninth overall, Primitive Love.

Video: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine literally get the party started in the music video that kicks off at a classical music concert in Miami nightclub Copacabana. “I can’t believe how boring this is. Why did we come here?” asks an unamused Gloria. Jumping on stage to perform for the ambassador, the young musicians then light up the party with the “Conga.” Flashing heavy makeup, hairdos, and ’80s fashion, the group brings the fiesta to the upscale event, where they are joined by a group of carnival dancers and an entire audience on their feet.

Title: “Conga”
Artist: Leslie Grace, Meek Mill
Release year: 2021

Song: For the most part, the 2021 version of “Conga” keeps its Latin dance-pop essence but 50-seconds into the track, Leslie brings in a catchy reggaeton beat. Full with attitude and a fresh modern twist, Meek drops his slick rap verses while the chorus preserves its tropical rumba flares.

Video: Filmed in Portugal and following all of the safety guidelines, the vibrant crowdsourced music video features, in addition to Meek and Leslie, a wave of celebs and influencers. Sports Illustrated 2020 swimsuit issue cover girl Jasmine Sanders, viral street-dance performer Lil Buck, singer, dancer, and TV judge Alesha Dixon, and Emilio Estefan himself, form part of the lively block party. The music video debuts Thursday (Jan. 28), in advance of the 2021 Super Bowl during which the official 30-second ad spot will air during pre- and post-game programming.