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kottke.org posts about Cuba

The storytellers who read aloud to Cuban cigar rollers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2018

In a practice that started in 1865 and still continues today, lectores (storytellers) in Cuban cigar factories read to the workers while they roll cigars. They read the news, novels, horoscopes, recipes…it’s like a live daily radio show or podcast for the workers.

I’m not just a reader; I’m rather a cultural promoter of sorts. I usually try to bring topics that can influence their day-to-day, and help them face certain issues.

(Gee, that sounds like what I do here!) The practice started as a way to educate and entertain workers and eventually helped fuel the Cuban independence movement…a little knowledge goes a long way. Nowadays, the practice is less revolutionary. From a piece in The Economist about lectores:

The workers themselves choose the lectores. “This is the only job in Cuba that is democratically decided,” says an employee. The audience is demanding. Torcedores signal approval by tapping chavetas, oyster-shaped knives, on their worktables; slamming them on the floor shows displeasure. They vote on reading material: Ms Valdés-Lombillo recently finished “A Time to Die” by Wilbur Smith, a South African novelist, and “Semana Santa en San Francisco”, by Agustin García Marrero, a Cuban. When the readings get steamy, torcedores provide an accompaniment of suggestive sound effects. They laugh when a horoscope suggests that someone might inherit a fortune.

This piece in Mental Floss also contains some interesting tidbits:

One lectora, Maria Caridad Gonzalez Martinez, wrote 21 novels over her career. None were published; she simply read them all aloud to her audience.

Update: Anna in the Tropics is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Nilo Cruz in which the main action features a lector.

And a 1909 photograph by Lewis Hine, a lector reading to cigar workers in Tampa, FL.

Lector Lewis Hine

(thx, aaron & jason)

Cuba’s homemade Internet, delivered by sneakernet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2016

The always-on Internet we take for granted in the US is more difficult to come by in Cuba. Some residents subscribe to a service called El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Package”) where someone comes to your house with a 1Tb external drive and loads the past week’s Internet highlights onto your computer.

El Paquete is a weekly service where someone (typically found through word of mouth) comes to your home with a disk (usually a 1TB external USB drive) containing a weekly download of the most recent films, soap operas, documentaries, sport, music, mobile apps, magazines, and even web sites. For 2 CUC a week Cubans have access to a huge repository of media while turning a blind eye to copyright.

Cubans told me of children waiting anxiously for “El Paquete Day” when they’d get the next set of cartoons, music and shows.

A brief history of America and Cuba

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2016

As the US and Cuba move toward becoming BFFs again (or at least members of the same #squad), it’s a good time to review the history between the two countries, which includes slavery, the Spanish-American War, and the Cold War-era series of fiascos.

Clouds Over Cuba

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2012

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In commemoration of the event, the JFK Presidential Library & Museum presents Clouds Over Cuba, a tense and engaging presentation on the Crisis and, even more strikingly, a dramatization on what might have happened had things gone differently. This is really well done and worth taking 10-15 minutes to watch/listen. (via @alexismadrigal)

In search of Cuban cigars

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2009

A pair of intrepid Americans go in search of authentic Cuban cigars in Cuba. It took them awhile to find them.

Revolutionary Cuba embraces an icon of the world’s captains of capital. The United States outlaws that icon because it’s commie-made, raising its price on the free market and increasing its value to the very state the embargo is meant to undermine. So the nations seesaw their supposedly opposing ideologies on the famed habanero. Perhaps, we thought, we could find a Cuban who’d tell us what Cubans made of these paradoxes, preferably over a smoke.

Castro’s son fooled into hot online romance with fictional woman

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2009

A 46-year-old Miami man duped Fidel Castro’s son Antonio into an online flirtation with “Claudia Valencia”, a Colombian hottie in her 20s.

“Claudia” and Castro exchanged e-mails, Internet chats, and at one point even used streaming live Web video to communicate. During “Claudia” and Castro’s Web romance, the dictator’s son never shared details about his father, Fidel, or any Cuban intelligence secrets, but Dominguez said he was able to get glimpses of the life of luxuries and freedoms the Cuban leaders enjoy while the people of the island nation struggle.

(via @juliandibbell)

If Strangemaps wasn’t such a reliable source,

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2007

If Strangemaps wasn’t such a reliable source, I’d think this was a hoax. A small part of East Germany lives on in the Caribbean. Cuba gave the tiny island to the GDR in 1972 while on a state visit to East Berlin and it wasn’t mentioned in the German unification treaties. Commenters on the thread have found satellite images of the island in question, including this one.

Fidel Castro has ceded power to his

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2006

Fidel Castro has ceded power to his brother while he recovers from surgery.

Gallery of counterfeit cigars, most of them Cuban.

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2006

Gallery of counterfeit cigars, most of them Cuban.

Photos of Fidel Castro by Roberto Salas, his personal documentarian

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2005

Photos of Fidel Castro by Roberto Salas, his personal documentarian.