Humor From My Pen
An exhibit of cartoons by political prisoner Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, New Haven Free Public Library, 133 Elm St., April 18-25, screening of Mission Against Terror on April 20 at 2 p.m.
We are constantly told the Cold War is over, but when it comes to Cuba we are apparently still wallowing in the trough at the Bay of Pigs. Take the case of the Cuban 5, a group of spies ("intelligence officers") who came to the U.S. to infiltrate right-wing Cuban-American exile groups known to be organizing (with CIA help) terrorist bombings in Havana that have, over the past several decades, killed 3,000 people. They were arrested in 1998 after gaining employment at the Key West Naval Air Station and accused of trying to steal U.S. military intelligence. The five were convicted in 2001 and sentenced to absurdly long prison terms. In his 2011 book about the Cuban 5, Brazilian journalist Fernando Morais has rightfully dubbed them "the last soldiers of the Cold War."
One of the five, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, is serving two life sentences at a federal prison in California. With plenty of time on his hands, Nordelo has developed his skills as an artist. One could say he's an editorial cartoonist or a satirist in the vein of Herblock or Tom Tomorrow, but for him the stakes are a bit higher. As in, the possibility of never seeing a blue sky that's not dominated by a gun tower or an open pasture that doesn't have electrified razor wire surrounding it.
Thirty-two of Nordelo's prison cartoons will be on view from April 18 to April 25 at the New Haven Free Public Library (the gallery on the lower level) in an exhibit called "Humor from My Pen" (the pun on "Pen," as in penitentiary, is fully intended). The installation is part of a New England tour organized by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 (www.thecuban5.org), and will also be shown in the coming months in New London and Hartford. As part of the New Haven leg of the tour, a screening of a documentary film about the case, Mission Against Terror, is planned at the library on Saturday, April 20 at 2 p.m., followed by a reception where questions about this questionable Cold War interlude will be answered.
The larger question is, of course, why are we continuing to wage war against a tiny, culturally-rich island nation? The Obama administration has, shamefully, continued to adhere to policies that hark back to those awful days of the early 1960s when Soviet missiles were installed in Cuba and American school kids were told to hide under their desks, put their heads between their knees and kiss their asses goodbye. Indeed, when the Cuban 5 case came up for review at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, Obama sent Solicitor General (not yet Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan to successfully argue against reopening it.
Recent events in Celebrity World USA segued nicely with this exhibit, as Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce recently visited Cuba for their wedding anniversary and paid calls on theater and arts groups there. For this obvious act of treason they came under fire from a couple of obsessive Cuba-hating Republicans in Florida's legislature. Though the trip was sanctioned by the Treasury Department, these political hacks demanded that the rapping couple be punished. Jay-Z put the whole thing best, responding in a rap song, "Wanna give me jail time and a fine / Fine, let me commit a real crime."
Nordelo was probably nodding plaintively in his prison cell.