Sunday, November 23, 2014

What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana?

What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel
Posted on November 22, 2014

14ymedio, Victor Ariel González, Havana, 18 November 2014 — I have spent
several days trying to digest the mass of information coming out of the
first TEDxHavana, where I was present as just another spectator.
However, no matter how much I ruminate on it, I just can't seem to
swallow it. So before it gets too old, I must write this article,
especially before its content becomes more toxic — because the more I
consider the issue, the uglier I find it, and the worse I make it out to be.

To give the reader the opportunity to escape from this article early on,
I will break the ice now with a phrase that sums up my general
impression: the first TEDxHavana was, in essence, a fiasco. I don't call
it a disappointment, only because it is not surprising that in Cuba it
is possible to distort the proper concept behind such an event. In the
final analysis, more important and lasting things have been spoiled than
the five hours of TEDx in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre.

Paradoxically, if each presentation is considered separately, it can be
said that there were more positive aspects to the event than negative
ones. The diversity of topics discussed lent comprehensiveness to the
program, although I still did not encounter Cubans there willing to say
anything truly daring. On a personal note, I found interesting the
presentations by Yudivián Almeida, X Alfonso and Natalia Bolívar, not to
mention others that also shone, for the most part.

Nonetheless, there were various elements that detracted greatly from the
proceedings. As the hours went by and it became evident that there would
not be much more to the event, it was obvious that the plurality of
discourse was limited to those differences that have been deemed
acceptable by officialdom — nothing more. Thus, the first TEDxHavana
failed to cross the frontiers of political censure.

Now, going on to the details, some of the talks were quite poor or made
use of quite unfortunate phraseology. One example was when the
architects Claudia Castillo and Orlando Inclán, in a presentation that
they obviously had not rehearsed sufficiently, called the inhabitants of
Havana an "elitist vanguard" because they get around in boteros — taxis
— ("those incredible machines"), or that it is a "luxury" to look in the
eyes of "he who brings the packet" instead of downloading movies from
the Internet. In other words: "It's so cool to be backward!"

According to them, "all Cubans, when they hop aboard a botero, are aware
that they are becoming a statistic." The hushed derisive laughter
emanating from the public seated behind me – who had their peak moment
at the statement, "we invented 'vintage'"– did not cease until those two
inhabitants of a Havana that I don't know, but that intrigues me, left
the stage.

Eugene Jarecki added another bit of fantasy. The documentarian stated,
in English, that Cubans are, above all, proud of their educational and
healthcare systems, and very happy to live here. Of course, the more
than half a million souls who in the past 20 years have emigrated to the
US alone do not count. The same speaker said that he would not like to
see how "savage capitalism" might arrive here and turn us into "just
another Puerto Rico." As he displayed postcards of Cuba such as those
sold to tourists, Jarecki pretended to give me a tour of my own country.

Another North American suggested that there should be many, many
independent film festivals; that "every individual should get a camera
and produce a film" and show it "in his own cinema" or, simply, project
it "onto the largest screen he can find." This was Richard Peña, who
obviously does not know that just very recently a government decree
prohibited private video screens.

If anything tarnished the event, it was also its emcee, supposedly
charged with threading together the various presentations and providing
some dynamism to the endeavor. More than that, Amaury Pérez bestowed
hugs and kisses upon almost everyone who arrived to give a talk. Few
were able to escape his incontinent expressions of affection. As if that
were not enough, we also had to endure his jokes in poor taste.

With all that occurred that Saturday afternoon, I was left with many
unanswered questions because the organizers left no room in the program
for voicing doubts. This was, above all, because neither CuCú Diamantes
nor Andrés Levin wanted to pay any attention to me – first, to keep the
matter under a "low profile" and second, because they wanted to have
pictures taken. Frankly, I, too, would have ignored some nobody who
might suddenly shout the question, "What would it take to be a presenter
here next year?" – the beginner's mistake of an amateur journalist.

The gathering served to market a sweetened image of Cuba, and its misery
as a souvenir; as a forum for some political campaign or other; and,
according to Amaury Pérez, to demonstrate that "yes, there can be
dialogue between Cubans and North Americans." It turns out that some
still need such demonstrations.

TEDx Havana was, among other things, an elite event orchestrated by show
business denizens, as well as an opportunity to sell national beers as
the "modest" price of 2 CUCs (which is 10% of the median monthly
salary). Ingenious idea of the sponsors of this event! If at the next
one these people give a talk titled "How to Cheat the Thirsty" I will
applaud them until I burst.

The fact of a TEDx in Havana does not lack a certain transcendence, in
spite of it all. An architecture student told me that she had not liked
several presentations, but that it was "magical" to see the enormous
sign with its red and white letters, the organization's logo on an
actual stage and not on a screen. Upon the conclusion of that inaugural
gala of TED in Cuba, where a couple of extemporaneous versifiers
improvised a rhyme for "our five heroes, prisoners of the Empire," I ran
into a friend who calls himself a "compulsive consumer of TED Talks" who
confessed, visibly annoyed, that he "expected more from TED in Havana."

May I be honest? I expected nothing more.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana? / 14ymedio,
Victor Ariel Gonzalez | Translating Cuba -

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