Letters from the Issue of April 11, 2002
Korda's Last Will and Testament
Desperate acts of a revolutionary with second thoughts? Kirk Nielsen's excellent article on Alberto Korda's photographs and the disputes over rights to his work ("Blowup," April 4) was brimming with delicious ironies that mimic the Cuban revolutionary experience. Imagine my sense of naughty delight at seeing this conjurer, near the end of his life, struggling to preserve "his" property rights to negatives and photographs, images he produced while on Castro's payroll and which would belong to the employer in every capitalist country. Maybe he's emulating his boss Mr. Castro, who earlier sought to register his cigar brands and his rum -- though Bacardi was, alas, already taken.
Now, after Castro has done his deed and the end seems near, Korda believes in private property, at least for himself. This photographer turned a blind lens to Castro's theft of the revolution and quick descent into tyranny. His lens cap stayed on while the middle class was robbed and exiled. Throughout decades of nefarious acts, Korda was there, eyes shut. But his biased camera continued clicking and giving a respectable patina to el comandante and his henchmen. On every "shoot," his grasp of the injustices being committed proved to be as deep as his contact sheets. At least that was the case until el comandante afforded Korda his own turn in jail.
So many about-faces in this life. A desperate man, reduced to lying so he could take credit for an isolated corner of a single picture that market forces, not he, turned into an icon. Suing in a free-market nation's court upon a capitalist concept (misuse of his copyright) over, of all things, an image of a Marxist guerrilla. Then, like one of Sartre's existentialist contradictions, finding himself unable to keep the cash judgment lest it undermine his revolutionary credentials.
And then we hear of Korda's coup de grâce: bequeathing the rights to "all his works" more than once, while worried about what could happen to his trove of photos post-Castro. I suspect these bequests could be an infringement that imitates Mel Brooks's subscription scheme from his movie and play The Producers.
Trust me, as el comandante always says, any one of us capitalist types could have told Korda he needn't worry about a future niche for his photographs. Yes, his family in Cuba was evicted. And his children have yet to resolve who gets the old beat-up Lada -- at least, if his communist friends haven't already repossessed it as an asset of the state. But his pictures are and must remain an asset of the state, in perpetuity.
After Castro and his rubble revolution are gone, many of these images, though lacking in depth of field as well as artistic merit, will still carry an intangible value. Take a long, hard look at the Quixote of the Lamppost, for example. This moment in time is a testament to our (Cuban) blind love of strongmen, our uncontrolled adulation for a perfect superman promising to make the trains run on time and repave roads never built. Look at them! In the heat, shoulder to shoulder like a herd of wild beasts. We still see such sights right on Flagler Street.
Most of those blurred, white faces in the background of Korda's picture, as well as the comical soul at the top of the pole, are probably here in Miami. If they remember that day, that moment, their only reaction is relief at being one of the unrecognizable smudges. Beyond that, tolerance still eludes them, as does a sense of responsibility for being one of the worshippers, along with Korda, in that revolutionary square.
Ironically our amnesia and Korda's indifference may yet make his pictures a valuable commodity. No doubt his images are evidence for Cuba's future generations of a flaw in our national character, a road map of our detours and the reasons why democracy repeatedly eludes us.
Editor's note: Owing to a reporting error in "Blowup," Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante was misidentified. New Times regrets the error.
Radio and TV Martí -- snotty brats in need of parental supervision: Kathy Glasgow's article about Radio and TV Martí ("Incessant Static," March 28) clearly speaks for itself in illustrating how barnacled with special-interest groups the American body politic has become. Once again we're treated to a view of how the formidable and powerfully organized Cuban-exile community has been able to thwart change and bypass, at will, government-mandated practices and procedures.
Even before Salvador Lew's current watch at the taxpayer-funded Martí stations, there had been charges made of undue influence exerted by the Cuban-exile community. As Ms. Glasgow noted, leaving Washington, D.C., for Miami seems to have enabled Radio Martí to rid itself, once and for all, of any meddlesome insistence on balance and objectivity in its "unbiased" reporting of what is beamed to Cuba as an official voice of America. Preempting review-board and oversight requirements and regulations -- in a word, operating as a virtual private organization and not a publicly funded activity of the U.S. government -- Radio Martí now sees fit to use part of its public funding for a weekly broadcast to Cuba of Sunday Catholic mass. So much for the time-honored American tradition of separation of state and religion.
Have American politicians, both in state and out-of-state, become such "groupies" of political action committees that they can ignore with impunity their social and ethical responsibilities? Indeed as José Martí observed in 1873: "If tyranny's freedom is dreadful, freedom's tyranny is repulsive, terrifying, and frightening."
An ignorant, manipulated reporter is a dangerous thing: After having read Kathy Glasgow's scathing article about Radio and TV Martí, I wish she could spend a few years in Castro's Cuba -- not as a tourist -- where she might learn the meaning of the freedom of speech she so carelessly dismisses. The Martí stations bring a great deal of hope to the people of Cuba, and Ms. Glasgow is perilously playing with their only venue of fair and balanced news by her ignorance and misinformation concerning the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
What the public heard from Ms. Glasgow is nothing more than the secondhand account of sour grapes on the part of some employees. She has obviously and sadly been used by a few disgruntled and incompetent employees who lost their positions of authority (finally!) after having enjoyed privileges and power unearned by their skills or experience. Salvador Lew has begun to put an end to these abuses of power. We at Martí welcome such changes and look forward to the day when serious journalists will take a serious look at what we do and the reasons we do it. (I am a contract worker for Radio Martí and proud of it.)
May I add that I found totally un-American and distasteful her discriminatory remarks concerning the age of some of our supervisors. We are extremely lucky to have the opportunity to learn from the valuable experience of some of these gentlemen journalists who lived through the recent history of Cuba, and we treasure these people. I challenge Ms. Glasgow to come to Radio Martí and speak with the other employees who give a hoot about what's going on here!
Radio Martí, an Estefan Enterprises production: If Radio and TV Martí are so necessary and successful, then go talk to Emilio Estefan and other rich Cuban exiles and ask them to finance the stations. That way they would answer to no one but themselves. Controversy over.
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