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WORD VIEW: Cuba in the region

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW: Cuba in the region

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One of the most notable publications of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century, will surely be the upcoming issue, Cuba In The Caribbean.
This issue is largely the brainchild of noted writer and intellectual, George Lamming, who is also the patron and consultant editor of the publication.
Lamming describes Cuba as “the Spanish-speaking island which has provided the Caribbean with its richest intellectual tradition”. Indeed, the noted novelist and critic sees this issue of BIM as “cross[ing] a new frontier towards fulfilling the requirements of our regional enterprise”.
The frontispiece of the issue is an image of Jose Marti (1853-1895), a legendary poet, intellectual and one of the major forerunners of the Cuban Revolution. It is said that at the tender age of nine while on a trip with his father, Jose Marti saw an enslaved man hanging from a tree. The vision never left the young boy as was vividly illustrated years later in one of his poems: A child saw him: he trembled /With passion for those who groan/ And at the foot of that dead man swore/ To wash away the crime with his life (translation).
Roberto Retamar in his essay, Marti, Caribbean Man, provides the reader with detailed insight into Marti’s struggles against the Cuban oligarchy, his philosophical writings and his engagement with groups which fought for an end to the oppression and injustice in his homeland. One of the earliest martyrs in this cause, Marti exemplifies the marriage of the political and the aesthetic.
From Felix Varela y Morales, to Jose Marti to Fidel Castro, the history surrounding the 1959 Cuban Revolution unfolds. Moreover, the reader is hard-pressed to deny the success of the Cuban socialist movement, judging by the country’s level of education, literary and visual arts, science, music and other aspects of cultural life as represented in this BIM issue.
Of special note among the essays is Keith Ellis’ Tenderness And Science: The Pillars Of Revolutionary Cuba. In this essay, Ellis, professor emeritus of the University of Toronto, reveals the great leaps made in Cuban science and medicine. It is truly remarkable how much a people may accomplish when thrown back on their own resources. In this regard, Ellis emphasises the seminal work of Felix Varela, priest, philosopher and the founding father of Cuban emancipation who is credited with “teaching Cubans to think”.
Varela insisted that the study of science become an intrinsic part of Cuban development: Let scientific education go, like sap in the trees, from the root to the top of public education – The sun is no more necessary than the establishment of a scientific education.
Today, as Ellis points out, Cuba is known to have some of the most highly-skilled doctors in the world.
In addition, Cuba has been able to produce various medical cures: the synthetic Meningococcal B vaccine against meningitis B; the Heberpot-P medication for diabetic foot, thus avoiding amputations and the monoclonal antibody-based vaccine against head and neck cancers. A new radiopharmaceutical arthritis drug has also been developed.
Cuba’s generosity in sharing its medical expertise with the world is described by Ellis in his essay as its “humanist and humanitarian gestures on behalf of scientific education”.
In addition to the above, Cuba In The Caribbean features some of the country’s best-known poets, among them Nicolas Guillen, Pablo Armando Fernandez, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Nancy Morejon, Fina Garcia Marruz and Jose Lezama Lima. These poems are rendered in both Spanish and English. The work of Miguel Barnet, famous for his Testimony novel, is also highlighted.  
Cuba has, as well, grown famous for its art as nurtured by The Institute of Cinema Art and Industry and Casa de las Americas. The Museum of Fine Arts has also established galleries throughout the country. Adelaida de Juan discusses the work of well known Cuban painters such as Amelia Palaez, Rene Portocarrero, Luis Martinez Pedro and Sandu Darie while Yolanda Wood highlights the work of one of the country’s most famous painters, Wilfredo Lam.
It can hardly be denied that most of the anglophone Caribbean sees Cuba through the limiting eyes of the United States and Britain. BIM: Arts For The 21st Century, however, affords us another picture of a people who in spite of embargoes and other constraints, are committed to their political and cultural sovereignty.
It is this undaunted spirit that has, undoubtedly, placed Cuba among the most admirable of our Caribbean neighbours for their intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements.