Angelito Santiesteban Does Not Believe Himself the Center of the World / Luis Felipe Rojas

Graphic: Sonia Garro Alfonso, recently freed Lady in White. Collage over a piece by Rolando Pulido.

The writer and blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats, from the prison where he is serving an unjust sentence, just published–thanks to the help of a friend on Facebook–a brief post expressing his thoughts about the recent releases of political prisoners. As always, Angelito is filled with Light and strength. May my embrace reach him though the faithful reproduction of his text.

Ángel’s post:

I have received the expressions of pain from many friends, my publisher, and my relatives–some stupefied, others offended–over my exclusion from the list of prisoners recently released by the Cuban government.

Upon completing almost two years of unjust imprisonment, I can assure everyone that never have I asked the correctional authories or, even less, the officials from State Security who have visited me, when I will be released. I will never give them that satisfaction, just as I have never inquired whether I will be given the pass* which is granted to all “minimum severity” prisoners like me, who am sentenced to five years. Continue reading

The Sword of Raul Castro / Luis Felipe Rojas

Lady in White Aideé Gallardo, recently released from prison. Photo taken from the page about Cuban matters, Martinoticias.com

All said and done, more than half of a list of 53 political prisoners that nobody knows are already free, completely secret and that nobody we ask clarifies for us. Of the fifty who were out, I have the list of 36 prisoners who were surprised to be free again, without formal charges and under different conditions for their release: immediate release, probation, and extra-penal freedom (the latter is awarded regularly after inmates suffering from illness that prevents them from staying in the difficult prison conditions on the island).

Continue reading

Five Years of “Crossing the Barbed Wire”: How Long Should I Continue? / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo of the author: @alambradas

Photo of the author: @alambradas

My baby, my third child, this blog, is five years old and at times I ask myself this question. How long should I continue? I started writing against the grain of what a blog was, doing it like a daily without wi-fi, nor nearby cybercages, but with the recklessness with which one distributes a samizdat.

I remember, it was December 2009. My brother Orlando Zapata Tamayo #0ZT began a hunger strike, impelled by the Castro regime to take off the mask: the arrests and beatings of activists for supporting #0ZT happened in Holguin and several other cities, one after the other. I wanted my neighbors to know, the neighborhood snitches, the police, those who were afraid and those who supported me then and have supported me since, that it is you, the cyberactivists, the fine people who have accompanied me in sixty months of words and actions.

Now with the new refrain of “intimate enemies” I paused, passing several weeks without publishing, listening to my friends, reliving the same party with such naivety. My parents told me that in 1959 people were stunned by so many firecrackers and so much sabotage, on January 1st coming out to salute the rebels, and on the second loudly crying out “To the wall!” (demanding executions), and on the third beginning to fall silent, three days after the Cuban Revolution.

Now the road is long because in Palma Soriano, Manzanillo and Cumanayagua there are still hungry people who know nothing of diplomatic relations. In Camagüey, my friend Millet continues to have the Rapid Response Brigades after him every day to prevent him from putting up a poster against the government or buying kerosene on the black market. Last weekend they defaced Mirna Buenaventura’s house with tar, in Buenaventura, where people now call the Yankees “the fraternal and supportive American people.”

Now that the Furies have changed their spots there are friends who stayed inside the fence and are not going to shut their mouths because they never have. Yannier P. wrote from Guantanamo to tell me, “You don’t have to write for us, we know the horror. Write so that the world will know the horror to come.” I want to send a bouquet of flowers to my friend Nancy Alfaya, a Christian woman with a bulletproof resistance: her husband, the writer Jorge Olivera Castillo received 18 years in prison, but Nancy refuses to stop laughing. In Havana she leads a workshop against violence against women, is the first to read Olivera’s poems, and goes to church every day in the poor neighborhood where she lives. I want to send flowers to Nancy but I would not want them to arrive wilted.

I would like to write an article and travel to shake hands with Manuel Martinez Leon, in La Jejira in Holguin, with Emiliano Gonzalez in El Horno, in Bayamo, or Barbaro Tejeda in Mayari. The three are dissidents, open opponents of the Castro brothers’ tropical dictatorship and work the land from sunrise.

Emiliano has given me interviews seated on a mountain of peanut bags, and wrote to tell me of the tortured rules of the State cooperatives and that he dreams of fields of peanuts while they hold him prisoner in stinking dungeons.

Barbaro has talked with me on a trail where he goes to fish illegally, to be able to eat and to feed his family. For years the “Watching the Sea” Detachment — a kind of rapid response brigade with the pretext of being anti-drug troops— monitors and represses its neighbors in Puerto Padre, Levisa and Macabi, throughut Cuba. They cannot sell fish, catch fish or eat fish. They don’t know which law prohibits it, but the people there who talked to me are afraid of breaking the rules. Sometimes Barbaro Tejeda fries plantains or beans and dreams of a modern fishing rod.

With friends like this my blog will have ten more years of life. Still, I have to explain to the world why Cuban mothers live without their children and what the Law of Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness is; first I have to learn to write a legal monstrosity of such a package. Ileana, my Venezuelan friend living in New York doesn’t know what Showing Contempt for the Figure of the Commander-in-Chief is, and I have to explain with examples.

Many more years of life, of survival, remain to this blog. A house organized from within and not for elegies without knowing its neighbors, living in the turbulent and brutal south or north that now appreciates us.

27 December 2014

Miami in a graffito / Luis Felipe Rojas

We went to Miami’s Wynwood District today, a zone of street art, of abundant graffiti. Miami is also redeemed by these beauties and daubings, by this joy that is the festival of color mediated by no other rule than the imagination.

We walked today from one point to another in the district accopanied by the benevolence of a sun that heralds good times. I avoided taking pictures of the compositions and the depths already discussed in books — to gaze upon these lovely things and then press the shutter is to try one’s luck at Russian roulette.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cultural Trick: “I’ll trade you a center fielder for an exiled essayist” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

About the awarding of the Critic’s Prize (in Cuba) to the Cuban essayist Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.  The scholar won it with a book published by Capiro Editions, from Santa Clara.

We have gone back 200 years, the epoch of the barter:

“I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist,” said Mandamas.

“Let me think about it,” responded Queentrentodos…  Why don’t you take a salsa doctor? That way you’ll kill two birds with one stone: You send him to combat ebola and complete the artistic Assembly of the Cuban medical Brigade in Africa.

Translated by mlk.

24 September 2014

(Site manager’s note: This post was translated quite a while ago but somehow got stuck here as a ‘draft’ — sorry for the delay!)

Michael H. Miranda: to (not) live in a foreign country / Luis Felipe Rojas

Michael H. Miranda. Photo: Martha María Montejo.

Michael Hernandez Miranda (Holguín, Cueto, 1974) has come from the Far West (College Station, Texas, where he prepared his doctoral thesis) to show us his first collection of poems written halfway between Cuba and the United States. In A Foreign Country (Silueta, 2014) is the forthcoming event for August 7 at the Spanish Cultural Center in “Sun City” (Miami, Florida).

Miranda is an editor of books written on the shores of the province, for years he worked for the publishing house of the Cuban town where he lived, and after some skirmishing to make an alternative promotion (Bifronte Magazine, 2005-2006), came to the United States , where he has collected a bunch of poems he brings wrapped in a country that does not seem very “foreign” to him.

More than a decade after the publication of his first poetry book, Old Lies of Another Class (2000), Silueta (Silhouette) Publisher presents In A Strange Country. It is a wide selection of texts where Michael opens a range of possibilities between the strength of the images raised in his daily readings, the fruits of his best talks and a pedigree of being an outcast, a man who never looks back. This book looks like a farewell book, but it is a book of new “beginnings”, such that one is drawn by a human being when he understands the other dimensions the world offers him.

“there is nothing in the world called man or woman / we have sought to the point of desperation for something beyond / ourselves. we still have silence. we still have loneliness as / a copper sword that multiplies.”

The best way to sink one’s mind into this “foreign country” is to read without thinking about the blogs of the generations to which so much damage has been done in recent years in Cuba. The island was scrapped between critics and strangers who tried to frame a photo that wasn’t. To read “Nothing I say or will say has the taste of water” doesn’t need a group mapping. Michael (Hache) Miranda has understood the distance of five years outside of the fictional wall of his other country. We are in the presence of a poet who puts the word above any perks. And Michael comes from a country where such a simple action costs dearly.

An editorial effort

This collection is among the last dozen books published by Silueta and the commendable work of Cubans who parked their literary work away from the false reflectors, beyond the commitment of applause. The publisher Silueta is marking the footprints of Cuban literature, and it does it going forward, opening a path … or its wings, so that others avoid the censorship of the country they have left. It is something that is appreciated in advance.

Miami has been branded “a literary desert” and place “of cubaneo,” references launched pejoratively. However, since 1959 outstanding Cuban intellectuals who fled the repression and censorship on the island have settled. Economists, essayist sand philologists have occupied important positions in educational institutions of the place such as Florida International University (FIU ) or Miami Dade College (MDC). In recent decades small publishers have been responsible for promoting and marketing the work of Cuban writers, scattered around the world. Along with Silueta there are Neo Club Editions and the Alexandria Library, among others.

In a quick reading it is understood that we are invited to a poetry without linguistic moorings: “naked I’ll be when you come to ask me again / where I come from. // and I will say: I have a word here / a word / one / hard to kill / a word / island / hard to kill / a word / shot in the head.// the island is a cardinal point in this fiesta.// to whom to I owe my two shores.”

Michael Hernandez is also the author of the poetry collections Las invenciones del dolor (2001) (The inventions of pain) and en óleos de james ensor (2003) (in paintings by james ensor). “His poems, narrations and articles appear in several anthologies, selections and publications in Spain, Mexico, Canada, the United States and Cuba, among other countries. He has lived in the United States since 2008,” says the catalog of the publisher who is publishing him today.

The poet lives in College Station, Texas, where he is writing a thesis on Cuban literature in exile. The presentation will be at 7:00 pm and will be led by prominent essayist and professor Joaquín Badajoz.

4 August 2014

All Exiles Are Possible / Luis Felipe Rojas

1405566194_3When I say exile, I only think of the word life. That was what happened to me at the meeting “Fight for Liberation against Castro-communism,” which the writer Julio M. Shiling generously coordinated and which was held at the West Dade Regional Library of Coral Way, Miami, last July 10.

Attending the discussion were no more and no less than the well-known former political prisoners Angel de Fana, Agapito “El Guapo” Rivera, Jorge Gutierrez “El Sherif” and others who presented an overview of the insurrectional struggle from 1959 to the present.

De Fana’s words and his hopes for a future Cuba moved me. Twenty years in jail did not seem to have put a dent in the energy of this man who confronted the torture and prison horror of the Castro regime. “We must fight, not for the Cuba that we lost but for the one that awaits us ahead,” I heard him say. Continue reading

The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultramar 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality. Continue reading

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez Beaten / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, beaten June 11, 2014

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez was beaten on Wednesday, 11 June by a regime partisan. Guerra Perez uploaded a photo to his Facebook account where he appears with contusions on his face.

Guerra Perez is director of the Information Center and Prensa Hablemos (Let’s Talk Press), and in days past had warned about the threats that he was receiving daily. Perez made public the detentions Monday morning of journalist Mario Echevarria Driggs and journalism student Yeander Farres who receives training at Let’s Talk Press.

The independent reporter and director of Palenque Vision, Ramon Olivares Abello, was beaten on 31 May by a “State Security collaborator named Fidelito,” his wife told Martinoticias.com from the city of Guantanamo.

The director of Let’s Talk Press, Guerra Perez, added a brief message that the known dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello also had been beaten on leaving her house on Wednesday.

The telephones cut off by Cuba’s only phone company (the state-run ETECSA), short but continuing detentions, beatings and death threats seem to be the messages that the regime sent to non-conformist Cubans at the same time that the Vice-President of the government, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, insists that the official press should be “more transparent.”

Translated by mlk.

11 June 2014

The Massacre in Canimar River: 34th Anniversary / By Enrisco in the Blog of Luis Felipe Rojas

By Enrisco

Today, July 6th, is the 34th anniversary of what is regarded as (only by a few certainly) as “The Massacre in Canimar River” because 14 years before the sinking of the “March 13th” tugboat there was an almost identical event in which the Cuban regime was left further unscathed than in the crime of 1994. In the same days as the exodus from Mariel three youths attempted to seize a tourism boat in the area near the Matanzas bay carrying 60-100 people.

While they attempted to escape they were persecuted and machine-gunned by the authorities and later drowned. The exact number of victims is still unknown although they were approximately 50 people of whom some where women and children. (“The precise number of victims remains a secret, but it is at least 56, including children of the ages 3, 9, 11, and 17 years old” according to the Cuba Archive). Only 10 people survived and 11 bodies were retrieved.

Its “historical” importance is to serve as a reminder that the sinking of the tug boat “March 13th” tugboat was not an isolated incident, but one of the most salient characteristics of the political system whose aim was to repress through all venues — including assassination — people who attempted to escape the island.

The other point is to better explain the sinking of the tugboat as a sort of general rehearsal: whomever made the decision to sink the tugboat (and given the transcendence of the decision the most logical answer is, Fidel Castro) had to remember the scarce international repercussions from the massacre that occurred 14 years earlier and reflect that, effectively, it would serve as an intimidating gesture in the domestic sphere without the price to pay in public relations being too costly.

If there remain doubts on the level of involvement of the country’s higher authorities in the crime, it should be known that Julian Rizo Alvarez, who was secretary of the Communist Party of Matanzas gave the order to machine-gun, was promoted 5 months later to Secretary of the Communist Party at a national level in the 2nd Congress of the PCC.

The original post appears in “el blog de Enrisco,” on Sunday, July 6, 2014.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

7 July 2014

Miami: Diverse and Pluralistic

somersault1403737414_img_00702Just by strolling through, you can see the diverse medley that everyone has described Miami to be. A girl pirouettes in a public square; exiled Cubans peacefully protest in a major street within the city; a Muslim woman takes a rest away from the incessant heat on a Saturday morning; and the Marlins Park opens to avid baseball fans. This is Miami.muslim1403737415_img_07752

writers happy hour1403737415_img_0232Miami: “Happy hours” on Thursday. Writers. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

hunger strike1403737416_1Democratic Movement – Hunger Strike. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas.

marlins parkmg_0270Marlins Park.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

8 June 2014

Children Screaming / Armando Anel, Luis Felipe Rojas

About 30 members of the Cuban opposition,belonging to the illegal Partido Popular Republicano, throwing flowers into the sea in memory of the victims of the tugboat “13 de Marzo”. Archive photo (martinoticias.com)

By Armando Añel

What happened can be briefly summarised: on July 13th 1994 – 17 years ago today – at the crack of dawn, 72 people tried to escape from the island in a tug. When they were some 12 km from the coast of Havana, three other tugs charged the vessel, spraying high pressure water jets over its occupants. In succession they targetted the 13 de Marzo – which was now flooded – until it gave up the ghost, broke up and sank, with a total of 41 fatal victims, 23 of them children, including a 6 month old baby.

Up to now, the Castro government has not shown the slightest willingness to clarify what, from the start, it termed “an accident”. In the Granma daily newspaper, ten days after it sank, an article appeared – signed by Guillermo Cabrera Alvarez – where it said that, among other things, “a group of company workers took direct action to defend its interests. They informed the Coastguard of the crime and took it upon themselves to prevent them getting away.” Earlier, the same newspaper had argued that “in order to obstruct the theft (referring to taking the 13 de Marzo towboat), three MITRANS boats tried to intercept it, and while they were manoeuvring in order to achieve that, the unfortunate accident occurred, in which the vessel sank.” Continue reading