They Wanted to be Like Che… and They Are / Luis Felipe Rojas

Members of the Rapid Response Brigade monitoring the national headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana. Photo: A Moya. From MartiNoticias.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 31 August 2016 — Abusers, they beat women in the street, participate in acts of repudiation, and monitor those who think differently. They are the kids of the feared Rapid Response Brigade.

Now they are thirty-somethings. They graduated from Cuban universities, but before they were wearing red bandanas in school, raising their hands to say “We will be like Che”… and they are.

The Honorary Officials (OH) of State Security are a wildcard of repression in the service of the Castro tyranny. They started by betraying their classmates for making a politically tinted joke, or the neighbor who sold rice in the black market, and now they recycle themselves in monitoring posts in the neighborhoods where dissidents and opponents of the Havana regime live. Continue reading “They Wanted to be Like Che… and They Are / Luis Felipe Rojas”

When the military whistle sounds they turn to kicking women and men who have no more defense than their shouts of “Freedom for the political prisoners! Down with Fidel! Laura Pollan lives!”

They wear tight shirts, cheap knock-off gold-colored watches made in China, and they always wear a frown. This is how they appear in the photos of the most well-known press agencies in the world, such as AP, EFE and REUTERS, but no one can hold them to account. The majority of the western democracies are too focused on picking up the crumbs that let them get a foothold with those who grant permission in Cuba: to site a hotel chain, operate flights, whatever it might be, a little corner of the cake raffled off by the honchos of the Cuban Revolution…

They have traveled the world not precisely to make war like the assassin Che Guevara, but to say they are persecuted politicians, to get a visa to stay or work, and to return with a handful of bills to show off to their fellow countrymen.

They are the sons of communism. Their prize is to sit themselves down in the first little neighborhood joint and raise a national beer, a plate with half a pound of pork and in some cases rent a third-hand car.

They wanted to be like Che… and they are. The shamelessness of the human being has no limits.

40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas

José Lezama Lima, Cuban author. (Image from YouTube)

Luis Felipe Rojas, 9 August 2016 — He was the son of a colonel in the army, but was born to be the literary father to several generations. José Lezama Lima departed this life on 9 August 1976, and left a vast canon of work in which he wanted to embrace literary criticism, poetry, and narrative (stories and novels). The fat Lezama Lima continues to spell trouble for the Cuban government, because the much-vaunted post mortem promotion does not fit  with the ostracism in which he was obliged to live the last ten years of his life.

With his novel Paradise and his posthumous book of poems Fragments to his Idol, he left tracks in both genres. The giants Julio Cortázar and Octavio Paz prologued (and possibly prolonged) both works and in each explanatory text they set out their admiration for the writer who had created a different subsoil. Continue reading “40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Every type of literature has to be started by someone, a bricklayer who contributes to building the wall of the “great literary house.” Cuba had them in Villaverde and Martí, in Casal and La Avellaneda (Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga, 19th century Cuban-born writer). Lezama was a kind of restorer of that wall, on which we recline today to read a country. The Cuban narrative canon is made up of three fundamental novels: Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World, Cabrera Infante Three Trapped Tigers, and Lezama, with Paradise.

His poetic work is jumbled and inscrutable, based on insinuations and taking obscure liberties with good sense. Nevertheless it is in Fragmentos a su imán where Lezama seems to have taken a break from all his running about, and pushing to unsuspected limits the force of his literary searching.

The secrecy which he boasted of, including the evil they accused him of on many occasions, was left behind in Fragmentos …: “I am reducing, / I am a point which disappears and returns / I remain whole in the alcove. / / I make myself invisible / and on the other side I get back my body / swimming on a beach, / surrounded by graduates with snowy banners, /by mathematicians and ball players / describing a mamey ice cream.” (El Pabellón del Vacío).

He died alone, behind the backs of groups of intellectuals who attacked him when the Castro epic was started up as a new and highly polished epoch of an ancien regime, and decided to eliminate the bourgeois vestiges of the Republic. 1959 was the funeral of Lezema and of a literate republic. What came in the ’70’s was the opening and closing of the grave into which had fallen the intellectuals who had gone into obligatory exile or had stuck themselves in Cuba, never again to leave, as happened to Lezama; although the false recognition of the ’80’s had dazzled some and served for others to wash the vile hands of the censor.

Lezama raised himself with his own work, evaporated in the gossip of the island, which at that time was acclaimed as socialist and just, in order to make itself important and internationally recognised. His absence for years from national bookshops and the stupid limited space that Cuban universities now dedicate to him is an example of an official stoning.

To silence him is unforgivable. To lift him up as a false cultural policy is no more than throwing mud at his gravediggers.  Long life, maestro.

Translated by GH

The Peace the Castros are Looking For / Luis Felipe Rojas

Patrols keeping the Ladies in White headquarters in Havana under observation. Photo: A. Moya

Luis Felipe Rojas, 13 August 2016 — Now, in the second week of August, dozens of members of the Cuban opposition have been trapped in their houses. The Cuban political police have been instructed to close off the streets and mount patrols to prevent dissidents from going out to protest.

The photos published by the ex-political prisoner Ángel Moya Acosta let us see the Lawton area in Havana, where police patrols, olive-green forces and members of the Rapid Response Brigade harass Cuban dissidents, especially the Ladies in White, to stop them going to Sunday mass or arranging the monthly Literary Tea (monthly meetings with discussions and speeches on current social/political situation in Cuba, attended by opposition group representatives).

A police patrol keeping watch over the Havana office of the Damas de Blanco. Photo: A. Moya

The peace that the Castros are looking for: with plastic handcuffs, rubber truncheons and fetid prison cells.

Translated by GH

Armando de Armas Shows His Cards / Luis Felipe Rojas

Armando de Armas, Cuban writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 30 July 2016 — This weekend — the end of July 2016 — Armando de Armas will open the Festival Vista in Miami. In the middle of the diatribes coming out of the U.S. elections, the Cuban novelist and essayist has given another twist to the torture with his gift of this corrected and expanded edition of Los naipes en el espejo [The Cards in the Mirror], Neo Club Ediciones 2016).

You don’t write books to get applause. De Armas knows this, so he came with the rigor that accompanies him in speaking of “an epochal change.” In this handful of essays, De Armas takes a brief run through the U.S. political swamps, from Andrew Jackson to Obama. De Armas sharpens his stylus to take us into a game of cards: the myths that surround a “progressive” and generous Democratic Party, and the poisonous venom that the Republican Party spouts on the public plaza. But he also skirts the imaginary public that remains undecided or doesn’t want to call a spade a spade, in a fight where they’re going to lose their dreams of a lifetime. Continue reading “Armando de Armas Shows His Cards / Luis Felipe Rojas”

The part about 2016 holds the political cards that are close to Obama and those following in the slippery footsteps of Hillary Clinton, and it ends with the ace unveiled on the U.S. political table: Donald Trump, a surprise for some, “a process that could be seen coming” for others, as Armando explained to me recently on the program Contacto Cuba, where I interviewed him.

“It’s possible that the world, facing fragmentation, returns to empires. Let’s not forget that in the past, empires came to impose peace, order, prosperity and freedom on vast regions of the planet dominated by chaos, desolation, poverty and death (a consequence above all of the coninuous wars and riots among the multiple tribes), and that, at the point of a sword, they were a decisive civilizing factor,” writes the Cuban essayist.

Perhaps this book won’t be one that draws applause. There are people who become serious when talking about politics…or when truths like these are thrown in their faces.

Armando de Armas will present Los Naipes en el Espejo [The Cards in the Mirror] on Saturday, July 30, at 4:00 p.m. on the panel, “United States: The Big Parties in the Election Season,” and will be accompanied by the journalist, Juan Mauel Cao, and the political strategist, Ana Carbonell. The location is the Miami Hispanic Arts Center, at 111 SW 5th Ave, Miami. 33130.

Los naipes en el espejo [The Cards in the Mirror], by Armando de Armas. Neo Club Ediciones, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Poets: Exile, Prison and Oblivion / Luis Felipe Rojas

At the front, a panel composed of Ángel Cuadra, Luis De La Paz y José Abreu Felippe (left to right).

Luis Felipe Rojas, 9 July 2016 — José Abreu Felippe has become a goldsmith. He’s a guy who’s creating a city that will be lost, and he wants to change it into a jewel that we all will carry with us. Poesía exiliada y pateada (Alexandria Library, 2016) collects poems of seven Cuban writers who already have left for other worlds. They are beings with lives twisted by existence itself, and even so, they wrote in verse and kept their fingers on the trigger for generations of readers and writers to come.

They are Eddy CampaEsteban L. CárdenasRoberto ValeroReinaldo ArenasDavid LagoJorge Oliva and René Ariza. Felippe read a poem from each one in the West Dade Regional Library of Miami. There are two routes these bards took: insanity and oblivion, but in both meanings, their transfiguration of reality preserved them for us. The power that they imprinted on their verses has left them a little more beyond the popular imagery. Continue reading “Cuban Poets: Exile, Prison and Oblivion / Luis Felipe Rojas”

“What a well-made trap they have set for us / we who are the mice and the bait / the wall and the point of the sword / the funnel and its narrowest cone,” René Ariza tells us while he practices his actor’s skills, crossing toward eventual liberty or death in a sprint from the port of Mariel in 1980.

Reinaldo Arenas pierced all his narrative with lashes of poetry. Abreu affirmed it today in his presentation at the bookstore: “Rei [sic] was, above everything, a poet. A total poet. Poetry is in all his work.”

Nor is it by far the first or most complete selection of deceased poets in exile. Felippe mentioned the investigation that Felipe Lázaro has done from his headquarters of Betania in Madrid, but each brick put on this wall where we all stop to read helps… a lot.

Here many more are missing, clarifies the journalist and writer, Luis De La Paz: “….too many perhaps — among them the young suicide, Juan Francisco Pulido, and José Mario, founder of the El Puente [The Bridge] group, to mention only two — because in the background all, or almost all, poetry that has been created in exile has been birthed with pain.”

Many more are missing.

The presentation was preceded by the words of the poet and ex-Cuban political prisoner, Ángel Cuadra, President of the PEN Club of Cuban Writers in Exile, as well as by the commentary of the journalist, Luis De La Paz.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The United States Denies Visa For Poet Rafael Vilches / Luis Felipe Rojas

Rafael Vilches, Cuban writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 July 2016 — This Friday I was informed that Cuban writer, poet, novelist, and cultural advocate Poemario de Rafeal Vilches was denied a visa by the United States embassy in Havana. Vilches has become an problem for those who claim that things have changed in Cuba. He has been arrested, interrogated by State Security, and remains in an intellectual shadow now that he is no longer invited to official literary soirees on the island.

It is a pattern. It happened some months ago to Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado (although the matter was resolved in three days after a diplomat urgently asked me for his contact information), and to the musician Renay from the band Prono para Ricardo. The writer Ernesto Pérez Chang was denied a visa at least twice. Continue reading “The United States Denies Visa For Poet Rafael Vilches / Luis Felipe Rojas”

A week ago I spoke with Yoel Bravo, a resident of Villa Clara. He told me that they denied him a visa to travel to a meeting of Cuban activists in Puerto Rico. “They do not give reasons, they only ask you to return in a year,” said Yoel, who has been arrested, brutally beaten, and  threatened with death after he was accused of putting up anti-Castro posters opposing the communist regime.

It is the decision of an official, a diplomat whose look and tone can sharpen in that certain way when dealing someone who speaks up in the face of abuse and tells it like it is. They are not the first dissidents who have been prevented from traveling to the United States to seek freedom and to talk about censorship outside a country that stifles them and chokes them off like birds in pen.

Vilches was invited to participate in the Festival of Art and Literature Summit, that was organized by the restive Armando Añel and his wife Idabell Rosales in Miami. The prize winners and Neo Club authors are not the sort of people to keep quiet. They include prominent intellectuals like Jorge Olivera Castillo, who was sentenced to eighteen years in a Cuban prison because the words rattling around in his head happened to coincide with those that came out of his mouth — a habit that many, but not all, Cubans have lost.

Vista has become a beacon of independent cultural thought, a picture of what a future country might be, just as powerful hands are trying to bind it to a long fifty-seven-year-old past marked by terror and low blows.

Such are the changes in Cuba. Now in Miami unabashedly militant communists, police collaborators, members of the “rapid response brigades,” who respond to the regime’s call to scream down any sign of dissent, and people openly supportive of the Castro regime — those who have enjoyed the benevolence of those whom they are now thwarting — embrace us along with the poet Rafael Vilches.

Speech in Cuba: A Freedom under Threat / Luis Felipe Rojas

Pedicab in Havana (14ymedio)
Pedicab in Havana (14ymedio)

Luis Felipe Rojas, 20 May 2016 — Every day it becomes more dangerous. Engaging in speech and dissent in Cuba is still like a throwing a rock against the door of Castroism.

After their cell phones were returned to them, Pastor Mario F. Lleonart and his wife, Yoaxis Marcheco, found their Twitter accounts had been disrupted. The two had been taken far from their home in Villa Clara and kept for four hours in a patrol car. Continue reading “Speech in Cuba: A Freedom under Threat / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Yoandris Veranes, a citizen journalist and activist with the Cuban Patriotic Union, sent me a hastily written note from Contramestre in Santiago de Cuba telling me that the police were preventing him from going to public internet bureaus. They did not want him showing tourists a Contramaestre different from the one they were showing tourists.

Serafín Morán, a freelance journalist who does daring reporting without a playbook, has been taken several times to police headquarters in Havana. The last time he was detained was a few days after foreign media had covered a public protest by pedicab drivers in the Cuban capital.

Morán had taken up a collection from donors around the world to buy a house for an adolescent, Abraham, who had written on social media that he had never had access to sanitary facilities to take care of physiological needs. This caused a stir and Morán found himself set upon by thugs dressed in police uniforms.

Recently, on the Radio Martí program Contacto Cuba, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina stated that twenty photo and video cameras were seized from his production company, Palenque Vision, that its reporters been arrested and beaten, and that others had left the profession due to disruptions, attacks and acts of repudiation organized by Cuban State Security forces.

Something similar happened to Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez of Hablemos Press. Agency property was confiscated, arrests were made and its citizen journalists fined and/or imprisoned.

The regime, in the person of Raul Castro and his lackeys, want to shut you up.

The Revolution’s bigwigs want to sip mojitos while watching cruise ships docked in Havana Bay to the sound of maracas and do not want anyone interrupting their Guantanamera, which few remember… or care about.

Muzzling the dissenting voices of Castroism amounts to merely shoveling dirt on that idyll that was once a military revolution and is now nothing more than a disguise, a fashion show catwalk, a mockery of decent people.

Castro’s Kicks and the Applause of the Sheep / Luis Felipe Rojas

A Lady in White being carried away in Havana by women officials from the Ministry of the Interior. (Source: Cubanet)

Luis Felipe Rojas, 3 May 2016 — They’ve barely finished giving a slap before they give another. The insult-spitting machine of the Castro regime is fired up week after week.

Arbitrary arrests, repudiation rallies, and beatings calibrated from the offices of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) in every province. This arsenal of harassment counts on the bleats of the screaming sheep who don’t dare to look at how much grass they have left in the olive-green kingdom before leaving Cuba. Continue reading “Castro’s Kicks and the Applause of the Sheep / Luis Felipe Rojas”

On the morning of Monday, May 2, it went like this: the Cuban Daniel Llorente challenged the partisan crowd and called them hypocrites to their faces. The day before the young black man had screamed anti-imperialist slogans and this morning he received with cheers the first cruise ship to come from Miami in 56 years of the walled-off island. After a discussion in which a fidelista — a party faithful — made gestures referring to the color of his skin, the police came and carried him off.

Nobody flinched.

Every year Cuban jurists discuss the squares on every little worksheet in the sea of bureaucracy, every comma in the most futile paragraphs, and end up ratifying Fidel Castro as the best exponent of Cuban law. In the face of the mojitos and ham croquettes they are incapable of discussion about the most striking legal aberration among those that cramp their legal degrees: the Law of Pre-Criminal Dangerousness, a tool used to send thousands of young Cubans to prison for looking cross-eyed at a police officer.

The Castro press is a black hole into which the history of the country has fallen. Infamy knocks on its doors and it prefers to write about the butterfly migration in the Valley of Viñales. The scribblers of the government libelers have never taken to task an official of the Interior Order of a prison and they don’t want to investigate a beating delivered by the MINIT’s feared Special Troops.

When plainclothes agents shove the young Llorente into a patrol car so as not to spoil the party of the Adonia cruise ship’s arrival in Cuba this Monday, it was the voice a young woman that was heard above the national shame shouting, “Throw him overboard.” And Havana erupted in applause.

The country is sliding backwards, for almost sixty years, but the boys want reggaeton and a fistful of money to pay for wifi, and nobody is going to distract them.

A Glossary Against the Deafness of Raul Castro / Luis Felipe Rojas

Elizardo Sánchez. Photo taken during an interview by AFP in Paris on 19 March 2013 (AFP, Samir Tounis). “The repression against all of society, as well as the level of intimidation from the state, continues to be unjustifiably high but difficult to quantify, given its systemic character.” –Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, president, Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 March 2016 — With mouths agape and arms extended to the heavens, Cubans of goodwill are still awaiting the night on which Raúl Castro will liberate all political prisoners and fling into the garbage can that judicial aberration which is the current Penal Code.

Meanwhile, Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) continues documenting–with an artisan’s meticulousness and well-sharpened pencil–every blow, act of repudiation, police harrassment, and finally compiles the details on every Cuban sent to prison under obscure circumstances that appear to be politically motivated. Continue reading “A Glossary Against the Deafness of Raul Castro / Luis Felipe Rojas”

CCDHRN published–mere hours after Castro’s misstep during the March 21 press conference with Barack Obama–a current list of Cuban political prisoners, including first and last names, detention dates, charges, sentences, and a few observations. CCDHRN provided the current list to 14ymedio two weeks prior to when the organization had planned to release its regular update; the General’s slip-up motivated them to issue an advance report.

There are 89 political prisoners. The flimsiest causes could end up being up charged with aggression after having bean beaten with military force, or receiving a years-long sentence for an indictment of public disorder following an act of repudiation–if one takes into account that the state’s case is based on the fact that activists are labeled as ones who provoke “the impassioned public” with their peaceful protests.

“The most frequent crimes for which government opponents are imprisoned are contempt, pre-criminal social dangerousness, resisting arrest, disobedience, or attack. If at the moment when a citizen is detained there is any violence, trying to block the blows with his hands can be interpreted as resistance. If in the scuffle the detainee elbows a police offider, this is considered an attempted attack,” Sánchez explained.

Throughout the 2000s I visited the CCDHRN headquarters in the Miramar neighborhood on several occasions, to have a drink of water, or to access books and magazines banned by the regime. I always witnessed the calls for help coming in from the most diverse points of the country: a lady who cried for her son whose ribs were broken because he pleaded for medical attention; the son of a prisoner of the Black Spring who denounced that his father was not allowed to receive a Bible; an elderly man who described how his brother was sentenced for damage to property, when in fact the government agents banged his head against the door of the patrol car. In all cases, Elizardo documents, takes notes, his “correspondents” gather details in the field, and a final report is issued.

“Give me the list!” shouted the old man of the olive-green oligarchy that day. There is such a list: it has been produced for more than 20 years, and has served such prestigious organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and governments that have negotiated the final exile of those condemned for differing from Cuban communism.

The list of political prisoners exists–as does the deafness of Raúl Castro.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Pro-Castro Foolishness / Luis Felipe Rojas

“There will be no impunity for the enemies of the fatherland, for those who intend to endanger our independence.” — Raúl Castro, 3 August 2010.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 February 2016 — Attention, all who rabidly applaud the Obama-Francisco-Castro pact: it is worthwhile to make difficult proposals, ask inconvenient questions, and bother the military beast that has run the Island with the trembling hands of whisky hangovers.

Oh, no? Not in your plans? It must be said again and again, because after the hugs have come the kisses, and who knows what else. Among secretaries of agriculture, lady mayors, aide-de-camps, successful businesspeople, and rock superstars, there must be somebody left with a little shame who will make it known to Raúl Castro that his outstretched hand should go in another direction, he should look the people in the eye and quit posing for a photograph that will take on a sepia tone faster than his egomania can stand it. Continue reading “Pro-Castro Foolishness / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Muriel Bowser, Lady Mayor of Washington, visited Cuba last week and said that she wants an educational system similar to that in Cuba for her fellow citizens. Was she including among this the Study-Work method — that she was taken to see — which Cuban instituted to put an end to the family and turn common citizens into robots? Does Her Ladyship know that Cuban children are obligated to shout that they want to be like Ché Guevra, and that from repeating it so much they become so, barely out of adolescence?

Those children who were so excited to be like Ché Guevara left the country to kill Africans that they had never met, and returned bearing all the traumas of war, turned into fat fifty-somethings, who today run a plastics factory or a Rapid Response Brigade (those at-the-ready to shout down — or even beat down — any display of non-conformance with the regime).

Could it be that no superstar, before giving a concert or going out to enjoy mojitos and pork chunks, will ask Castro to disarm the surveillance mechanism that keeps an eye even on the intimate apparel of every Cuban woman? The wizened stool-pigeon of the neighborhood, the “honorary official,” the “specialist” of State Security who controls every provincial cultural center, even the thug who organizes a raid on dissidents — they are all part and parcel of that magic that today enthralls the political tourists when they gaze upon Raúl Castro. He is the criminal with whom they pose and will be seen in the Times, the Washington Post, or the now “spotless” and in-the-running-for-an-Oscar Boston Globe.

It will never be to late to align oneself to infamy. So, start running today to Havana, stroll around sporting your little container of bottled water, take a whiff of that 21st Century dungheap that has been sold to you as the best-educated nation of Latin America. Forget about the penitentiary system, of the fear among neighbors, of the violence that can just as easily decapitate with machetes as take a youth’s life by kicking him until his spinal cord is crushed in the police station at Zanja and Dragones streets.

Go and tell the world that Cuba has changed, that the island is a paradise.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Covering the “Eyes” of Claudio Fuentes / Luis Felipe Rojas

Cuban photographer Claudio Fuentes, arrested by the political police in Havana. Courtesy: Ailer González, State of SATS.

Luis Felipe Rojas, Miami, 15 February 2016 — Cuban photographer and dissident Claudio Fuentes was once again arrested on Sunday, 14 February, by forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Havana. The Castro regime’s gendarmes kept Fuentes from taking part in the peaceful action #TodosMarchamos [We All March], which the Ladies in White and dozens of activists put on in support of Human Rights.

Cuban photographer Claudio Fuentes, arrested by the political police in Havana. Courtesy: Ailer González, State of SATS.

Claudio Fuentes is an independent photographer who has been arrested on numerous occasions for taking part in and photographing peaceful activities of the internal dissidence in Cuba. His photographs reveal victims of beatings, women who express their courage against the threatening actions of the Cuban dictatorship, but he has also photographed in an original manner life in Havana as he has lived it.

The information regarding the arrest of Claudio Fuentes was provided by Ailer González, who in charge of artistic projects for State of SATS, which is directed by Antonio Rodiles. The activist posted various photos in which Fuentes can be seen being detained at the hands of the PNR and officials from State Security. Similarly, González reproached the journalist Fernando Ravsberg and others who blame the Cuban opposition for not bringing together more people.

“…And how do you mobilize them under a totalitarian dictatorship where there are these levels of control, harrassment and repression? Assisted further by the Obama administration, the Vatican and even Kirill, the czar of the Russian mafia?” asked the activist.

For over 10 months, diverse organizations and individual activists have documented 41 consecutive Sundays in which the military forces have violently repressed the Ladies in White during their march upon leaving St. Rita Church, on 5th Avenue in the Miramar neighborhood in the Cuban capital. The Forum for Rights and Liberties (FPDyL) has coordinated support for the women.

Claudio probably is free at this hour, and frustrated because they did not allow him to photograph that piece of Cuba not found in today’s tourist guides. If not, I send him all my solidarity — as on several occasions he did with me, when the henchmen were detaining me and minutely recording my life in a small town of eastern Cuba where the tourists, businesspeople and celebrities did not, and still do not, arrive to stroll impassively while looking the other way.

I will leave you here other marvelous photos taken by Claudio Fuentes.

“Gente” [People]. Photos by Claudio Fuentes.
“Gente” [People]. Photos by Claudio Fuentes.

Lía Villares, Cuban activist. From the series, “Gente.” Photos by Claudio Fuentes.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

What Women Want / Luis Felipe Rojas

Patricia Jaramillo, author of the book “What the hell do they want?” Photo – Luis Felipe Rojas.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 January 2016 — Patricia Jaramilla is a Colombian lady, whose composure helped her write What the hell do they want? — an independent production, which isn’t a manual, but a “code for women,” which is the subtitle of the text which she gave me as a present a few months ago.

We are talking about an energetic and relaxed writer, who produced a book in order that men could once and for all understand what it is they want. These are the times of the best sellers and not all works go the same way, or at the same speed, but this one promises to be a super best-seller, coming from an “indie” writer. Continue reading “What Women Want / Luis Felipe Rojas”

In this work, she deals with women who are beautiful and mocking, heroic, and half-mad. They are manipulative and intelligent women, who penetrate mens’ thoughts: queens who end up with all the territory we once laid claim to, and that we men foolishly flaunted.

In the pages of her book there are tips to face painful separations, final divorces and the scabs that emerge from the boredom between couples who cross the threshold of habit. “Understanding feminine codes can be an almost impossible task, and this is because men have not learned to decipher them,” says the author.

At the last Miami Book Fair I ran into Patricia Jaramillo, who was hiding from the sun under a tent where her writer friends were also selling newly released books. Patricia went out in the middle of the street, asking people questions, and inviting them under the awning displaying the cover of her book: some bought it and most tried to decipher the puzzle: What the hell do they want?

Following is one of the many gems in the book:

“Why doesn’t your wife want to have sex (with you)? What are the excuses women use to say no? What the hell do they want?

— I’m watching a program on television.

— I’m dirty and / or sweaty.

— I’m exhausted

— I’m trying to watch the movie.

— I had too much to drink and/or eat.

— I have to get up early tomorrow.

— I’m sick.

— I’m on my period, etc.

The truth behind all these excuses:

“She’s angry! Surely that is the most frequent reason why a woman will refuse sex. If there is an area of relationships in which women think they are in control, surely it is intimacy. Refusal shows who’s the boss in bed and punishes you for her anger. She could also be avoiding sex with you, because she isn’t enjoying it.”

The truth is, they are always an enigma, women are a dark tunnel and you have to go slowly, win her over with patience, and only in this way will we save ourselves and solve the riddle: “What the hell do they want?”

Patricia Jaramillo wants to help us to understand and, also promises a new release: “What the hell do men want?”

Translated by GH

Elisa Tabakman: Editing, Ceramics, Life / Luis Felipe Rojas

Luis Felipe Rojas, 11 January 2016 — Her friends call her Elisa, it’s that simple. She is an Argentinian writer, editor, ceramics artist who got so involved in the case of the Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban that she ended up redesigning his blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, and wrote to Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, to help them to visualize the irregularities in process repeatedly divorced from reason, but that sent Santiesteban to prison at the beginning of 2013.

Between that date and his release in 2015, while she posted the letters and articles of the Cuban novelist in “The Children…”, Elisa Tabakman was cooking animals and rare and beautiful creatures over a slow fire, with pieces of glass and wire. When the oven temperature drops out of the oven come cats and fish now celebrating life. Continue reading “Elisa Tabakman: Editing, Ceramics, Life / Luis Felipe Rojas”

These big-eyed beings sent the imprisoned writer a message of encouragement to speak in front of Raul Castro. I met her through my colleague Amir Valle and since then I go to her Facebook wall and to her blog Elisa Tabakman Metal y Piedra. There I see that the blows and the dungeons haven’t left my friend and brother Angel Santiesteban all alone.

Tell me about your background, how did you come to this mixture of techniques.

I’m a fire artist, all, or almost all, the techniques of my work are covered in what is known as the fire arts: ceramics, glass, iron, jewelry. All the materials involved pass through fire, because even in my mosaics fire is involved, whether it’s stained glass or figures in iron or silver. You could almost say that if you pass through the path of the fire it is inevitable you will involve yourselves in all of its arts and possible techniques.

Fire is magic, fire purifies, fire transforms. Fire is what converts things in alchemy techniques. When you trap fire, you can never abandon it. In fact, I was 8 when I started studying ceramics, later, starting at 14, I trained for long years at the National Ceramics Schools, and I had some experience in stained glass at that time, until come years ago I went to direct fire with a torch, making contemporary jewelry, and then returned to the path of glass but researching and experimenting and sculptural techniques and in fused glass.

And again I embraced the techniques because the jewelry I was making with silver and precious stones asked me… and this is my current work, parallel to the works I continue doing and displaying. The training of an artist never ends, either through taking specialized seminars or experimenting, but it is an endless process.

Why are animals the central motif? What moves you to engage in artistic creation?

I love animals especially, I don’t understand life without animals. They are the best thing that could happen to us and ironically, we are the worst thing that can happen to them. The love and communication with animals humanizes us. We learn from the to respect others, their vital space, their times and needs. But especially, we learn from animals that unconditional love exists, they loyalty exists and that there is a true relationship that lasts for life.

In animals we don’t expect evil, self-interest or selfishness. We can fail the animals because we tend to be with them like we are with our fellow human beings, but they never will do that to us. And I have a very idealized perspective of human beings, I represent the values I would like for us with animals. Even with the most terrible issues I have a positive and optimistic vision, a vision of real life that flies in the face of reality.

But art tries to express feelings, ideals, create awareness… so it is not my intention to construct my messages with them, they just emerge from me. And I feel like I recognize them. If you look carefully, the most horrendous dramas that humanity suffers, the animals suffer, because we have them living with us and they also die of hunger, bombings, floods, on rafts or in wars… in those in their natural environments are victims of human cruelty, either because we destroy their habitat or because we hunt them without mercy.

Animals are so marvelous that I also owe to them having found my want to express what I feel or am trying to express.

The use of glass and metal make you go back to the origins, especially when your motives are figurative. Do you not call the art conceptual and abstract, which has become every more “fashionable.”

Honestly, I believe that art is abstract; art is always a representation, more or less ties to the real image of what it represents. There is no art without abstraction, and at the same time there is always an intellectual or emotional elaboration. In my case, “abstract” art doesn’t work for me as an expressive language, I don’t see how to represent the drama of a concentration camp, or the drama of the refugees, or whatever it is, it is not with “figurative” elements or high symbolic value.

And it is not just ab out how one uses this language to express it; I believe that it is fundamental that works that have a strong social commitment be “accessible” to the readings of the “spectators”; if not we have more or less beautiful “objects” (taste is always relative) but we are not doing what I understand as art. The rest, of course, is always respectable, if it doesn’t allows a dialog with the viewer and it doesn’t spark feelings, and it only awakes a great aesthetic appreciation, it is “decorative art,” which I would always flee from.

It’s very difficult for me to make utilitarian objects, it horrifies me, working them technically and designing them with no expression; so I know that is not my way although from the economic point of view, clearly I should choose that option.

Your work is halfway between literary editing and Human Rights activist. What do you do to combine this?

I came to the world of editing because I was always a fanatic reader and devoted to books and the worship of the “object” of the book led me to pursue a graduate degree and editing and worked for many years in the most important publishers. There is no work more gratifying than that which allows us to enjoy what we do, and this is true in my case.

Reading is a key trigger in artistic creation, there is nothing like reading to awaken our imagination. The same thing happens to a writer who can never stop reading the work of others to enrich their own production. What in the intellectual world is called “intertextuality” also exists in the world of plastic arts; we are a product even of the genetic memory of our species.

In every artist there is a germ of those who painted the caves of Altamira, the artistic expressions of all peoples of the world, and more recently, individual artists. Throughout history we have had the same need to express, to ask, to thank; it started in the walls of the caves, and we continue it today with many techniques and materials, but the human need was, is and will be the same.

In my case, for multiple reasons and personal experiences, my expressive needs landed on the issue of human rights, of human dignity. But it was not reduced to that but to the feedback with a strong commitment to it and that’s what I spent years doing, not without problems, sacrifices, injustices and misunderstandings. but, aware of being on the right side of History, I resisted everything, not without pain, but I have resisted it.

I always thought I was in a privileged place, to be fighting for those who need help not being one who needs it. So every time I thought I would collapse, I thought about those who needed me, and the conclusion was always the same: if there are those bearing the unbearable and I owe my commitment to them, how can I not bear insults, insults and threats?

Each time I felt I couldn’t do it any more, I thought about the reality of facing prison, torture, persecution and the complete lack of freedom and legal guarantees. And I grew with each disagreeable episode, and curiously, in every moment of these I did my best work.

I feel privileged to be able to do committed art but even more to accompany it with a real commitment to the victims of what I am denouncing. My only regret is not being able to do more; these years of struggle have also make me aware of how limited we are no matter how infinite our effort. But as the Talmud says, “He who saves a life, saves humanity.”

And this is the guiding principle of my life. In the case of Angel Santiesteban, I also help humanity to continue to have an excellent writer, who is so committed to his art, he paid with his freedom, and worse still, he could pay with his life. Caring for Angel, caring for a human being and a great artist.


In #Miami, #WeAllMarch / Luis Felipe Rojas

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#TodosMarchamos [“We all march”]. Activists in Miami. Photo: LuisFelipe Rojas
Luis Felipe Rojas, Miami, 8 November 2015 — This past Sunday, I went to the mythical and cloyingly Cuban Versailles Restaurant. There were a handful of Cubans there who believe that solidarity doesn’t have borders, and can’t be imposed from any corner.

On this day, November 8th, I went to join Bárbara Travieso, Jorge Ross, and others who firmly believe in supporting those who are suffering. While in La Habana, tens of Ladies in White and human rights activists were being arrested, in the heart of Cuban food in Miami, about ten Cubans stood on the sidewalk, telling everyone how much could be done for those who are still behind bars. Continue reading “In #Miami, #WeAllMarch / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Travieso calls out. “The objective is to be in solidarity with the Ladies in White and the oppnents who are in Cuba demanding human rights for Cuba. It’s a way of reminding those who are watching us that in Cuba, people are being suppressed for marching peacefully for their rights.”

Bárbara Travieso, a human rights activist who has been out of Cuba for 27 years, says that her hope is that those who go out to march in Cuba know that “they are not alone, we are watching everything that happens and we support them.” It was the time at which, in the Havana church of Santa Rita, the Ladies in White were being beaten.

Jorge Ross, who has supported various causes promoting democracy in Cuba, states that the important part is that people know that there are Cubans “who want a different life”, and immediately assures that “we should support the people who are marching in Cuba and who are suffering harassment, bullying, blows, and jail from the Cuban regime”.

I asked some French people, secluded over a dozen fish fritters, and they said that while looking for information about Miami, they found out that “there are protests on the corner of Versailles Restaurant”, and that until now, they had thought that there wasn’t anyone imprisoned in Cuba because of their opinions; they thanked me for a pair of books that I gave them.

Southwest 8th Street at 11am is like a calm ocean. Cars pass every ten minutes. But despite this, we still heard on several occasions people yelling “Viva Fidel!” without stopping to ask about the activists’ motivations.

Finally, I met up with Karel Becerra, “infoactivist”, “cyberdissident”, and defender of the cause of those who want to have rights. Becerra has worked closely with the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party, lived in Argentina for 15 years, and is now in Miami.

We were 10 decent Cubans under the Miami sun, at that time when the summer is ending. Horns were blowing, and many people lowered their car windows and yelled “Freedom for the political prisoners! Long live free Cuba! Down with the dictatorship!”

It’s Versailles Restaurant. It’s Miami.

It’s Cuba.

The Crumbs That Pope Francis Will Eat in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

Cuban prison. Photo from
Cuban prison. Photo from

Luis Felipe Rojas, 12 September 2015 — Joy came to 3,522 Cuban homes, this being the the number of prisoners serving sentences for (technically) common crimes who set to be released. Indeed, this calls for celebration, as jails certainly do no reeducate anybody, much less in the island’s repressive atmosphere.

Thus, the Cuban government has just offered another gesture to Pope Francis in advance of his visit to Cuba, which will begin on September 19. The Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its gratitude, as no doubt many Cubans have done, but with no questions asked. As the saying goes, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. And the meager crumbs scattered in recent months by the Castro’s tight-fisted military regime has left many people dazed and confused. Continue reading “The Crumbs That Pope Francis Will Eat in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas”

The twisted nature of Cuba’s leadership — stuck like a peg in the daily life of the island since 1959 — has taken the liberty of deciding which steps its countrymen must take without allowing questions to be raised. Rather than being a cause for celebration, the specific details of this phony amnesty are of a source of embarrassment and shame.

The internal gulag

There is something the intended audience for this “humanitarian gesture” — Pope Francis, Cardinal Ortega, the bishops, priests, laity and all the faithful mentioned in the message of thanks published in Thursday’s special edition of Gaceta de Cuba, issued by the Ministry of Justice — should know.

The first thing is that the sword of Damocles hangs over all the people covered by this amnesty. The legal actions brought against those who are imprisoned and the combined judgements handed down during their periods of incarceration are filled with irregularities and could only have been permitted in an authoritarian regime like the one in Havana.

The Cuban example is quite possibly the only one of its kind in the western world. The offices of the local prosecutor in every city across the country are physically adjacent to those of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR). So much for separation of powers. Arguing about such issues would be a waste of time considering the neighborhood police, investigators, deputies and department heads have lunch with officials from the prosector’s office every day, and even tend to their physiological needs in the same restrooms.

PNR department heads still operate like old-fashioned bosses. Their aides, advisers and trusted sources are still presidents of Commitees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the president of the People’s Council, which assists local bosses through the Commission for Prevention. From this select group — the face of Cuban democracy — come recommendations on the application of the criminal threat law, among others.

The involvement of State Security in the trials of people hostile to the Revolution is one of the jokes of the Cuban justice system, one that will be difficult to eradicate from the public mind.

When Cubans are arrested for assaulting — verbally, that is — the “Revolutionary process,” the offense is immediately treated as a common crime, which in most cases refers to drunkeness, possesion of stolen goods, domestic violence and illegal economic activity, crimes that are laughable in a country where the destruction of wealth is presented as an accomplishment.

Once the investigators of the Department of Operations or the Criminal Investigations Unit are presented with the case of an individual accused of a crime — one that does not presumably pose a threat to state security — the file (containing accusations by friends of the accused, jokes about Fidel Castro, extravagant tastes in fashion and the like) is transferred to the cramped offices of the public prosecutor. Case closed.

Cases involving convictions for posing a threat to society (a crime defined as “pre-criminal dangerousness”), contempt (for the authority or the person of the commander-in-chief), assault (against authority) and resistance to arrest (which in most cases is arbitrary) are reviewed by those in Cuba who must approve all amnesties. These are granted as a show of respect for foreign visitors — whether they be popes or presidents — passing through Havana.

However, among the thousands of those freed, you will not see the names of human rights activists who have been sentenced or who are awaiting trial for civil disobedience, criminal intent or non-payment of fines, although they have been known to shout, “Down with Raúl! Down with hunger!” or “Freedom for political prisoners!”

Savoring the crumbs

Though the manipulation of the law — to say nothing of its proper application — is not changing, the little men in battle fatigues in the Palace of the Revolution are ever more aware they must offer some crumbs to promote the idea that “significant changes” are taking place in Cuba.

The Castro dictatorship changes at will the rules of the game it has agreed to play with the United States, the Vatican, the Cuban Catholic church and the collection of businessmen and foreigners who see a gold mine in the Caribbean Sea.

There were already more than 140 detentions in less than 72 hours, related to the wishes of opponents in the east of the Island to attend the mass in honor of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. Out of that arbitrary action have been documented the following incidents: arbitrary arrests; beatings; tortures leaving visible marks on the gluteus and other parts of the body; cutting of hair to teach a lesson; threats of shooting detainees through the head; ripping off of clothing and the video-recording of such acts by the perpetrators themselves. The silence of the Catholic hierarchy was proverbial, and that of the puppets who who applaud the show by the generals in Havana, was shameful.

This week that remains before the arrival of the Argentine Pope to Cuba will bring other surprises. The Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party of Cuba, eternally directed by Caridad Diego, will expedite other construction permits for Catholic churches, settlements of religious orders in secluded places, perhaps–and it is a party that will not be interrupted by the noise of those who demand respect for human rights.

In the days prior to the pastoring by Francis in Havana, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba, it is expected that hundreds of peaceful opponents will be detained (as occurred in March 2012 upon the arrival of Benedict XVI), or they will be forced to remain under house arrest, until the Vatican leader leaves for Washington.

One month after this “historic” visit, Francis will comply with protocol, as required by the standards of Western civilization. He will send a message of thanks to the man who opened his arms to him in Havana–even while that man’s hands were stained with blood–but he would have asked for forgiveness, and would have received it, with a smile.

Cardinal Ortega, the bishops and the priests will frame the pastoral visit in terms no less sweet. When seated at the table, one does not speak of unpleasant matters. It could be that Cuba will have some.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison