My Island Hurts

Cuba produces passions, but also pain. I am taking the liberty of reprinting here the comments of some readers, showing how much this island in the Caribbean Sea is hurting.

Laritza Diversent

Gabriel

“I’ve met many Cubans living in Spain, and their greatest trauma was not just the loss of their home. I’m talking about a lady in her sixties who gave me music lessons when I was about 16 years old. That is, back in the decade of the 60’s. For her, the greatest trauma was that they would not let her take her family photo album out of Cuba. Nor would they let her contact her relatives who remained in Cuba, either by phone or mail.

They erased the reminders of her entire life. Those photo albums lacked any monetary value. They prohibited her from taking them only to hurt her. That nostalgia for lost photo albums has been recounted to me by several different Cubans. Memories can be more valuable than objects.”

Dora Amador

“Few people in Cuba think about the pain of being uprooted. The unspeakable trauma that leaving the country entails. That is my case. I left at age 13, I am now 61. All my life, I had no greater desire than to return to my country, which, God willing, I will, to a Free Cuba, wonderfully democratic. I know it’s not easy to achieve democratic institutions, not only in the republic, but in ourselves, respecting the diversity of ideas and the validity of elections, etc.

Being exiled is one of the most horrible sufferings that a human being can experience. You can now observe this in the case of Adrián Leiva, who died trying to enter his country, because the government would not allow it.  That is my case, too.  They will not let me enter, they will not give me permission to return to my country. Soon all this will change forever.”

Anae

“Every officer who attends those who leave Cuba has a kind of license that allows them to mistreat you, with or without words, through every proceeding. In my case it was in the final days, in one of the offices where they multiply the documents needed to finish, so as not to allow you to say goodbye to your family and friends in peace, always thinking that something is missing and “without that” you cannot go.

The lack of one simple document is fatal . . . and terrifying.  It’s enough to lose sleep over, to say a quick goodbye and turn your face as you fight back your tears. Then, while waiting for the flight, you want to leave and say you’re sorry, to calmly say that you expect to return one day, but it’s not possible. Many people have not been able to return to reconcile themselves at this moment, and perhaps that is why they carry a heavy load. Many more than those who have been able to do so … ”

Eneas

“Yes, the wounds don’t heal, there are many. I left behind mother, child, childhood friends, etc. In short, every day of your life you live with nostalgia and suffering, because many of these wounds will follow you forever. I just wish that Cuba could return to normal, where the rights of every citizen are respected, and you can live in peace and harmony. Do you see? I don’t know … ”

Modesta García

“I too left Cuba 30 years ago and haven’t returned, because I also have open wounds, and I can’t forget. There were 10 years of waiting, when the exits were closed from 1970 to 1980, without hope. I started working with the government, and since I wanted to leave the country, I was considered a CIA agent. They invented sabotage plots, they watched me, etc. I can’t count all the intrigues, sufferings, and torments. All this cooled my desire to return to Cuba.

Although they tell me that it’s different now, I know that’s not true. Recent events show that nothing has changed, that it’s business as usual. I’m not a masochist, and as soon as I set foot in the airport, the humiliations by the employees would begin. I came to this country seeking freedom; I have it, and I enjoy it, and I don’t want to be without it for even a second.

This is not to say that I feel nothing for Cuba. On the contrary, for everything that happens, I’m sorry and I’m concerned and I very much want their freedom.  But until there is freedom, I will not return. I’m not critical of those going to see their parents, siblings, children, etc., because that is human.

I am critical of those who visit the Island looking for cheap sex from unhappy girls who do it out of necessity, and of the “millionaires” who cover themselves with gold-plated jewelry, so people will believe they are wealthy and ought to be treated as celebrities. Unfortunately, these are the sad realities of travel to Cuba. I hope this nightmare ends, once and for all.”

Translated by: Tomás A.

Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta: He Continues to Stand Up to Terror

A few months ago I dedicated a post to Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta.  I made reference to his diseases and briefly mentioned all the injustices that have been committed against the independent journalist from Guantanamo who was jailed together with 74 other Cubans during the Black Spring of 2003.

On June 29 I visited Caridad Caballero Batista in Holguin to see how she was doing after the violent moments she experienced along with Mariblanca Avila, Reina Luisa, and her family in Banes on Saturday June 26.  A call from Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta from a hospital in Guantanamo surprised us both.  He told us that the officials who took him to the doctor allowed him to make one telephone call and that is why he chose to call Holguin to testify to what he was living through in that place where he was taken a few weeks ago as a result of the changes of prisons for some political prisoners after the negotiations between Raul Castro and Jaime Ortega.

We were barely able to record the conversation with an old and beat-up voice recorder.  Cari told him that his conversation would be recorded so that he could say everything he desired.

We transcribed the call because the sound lacked quality due to all the interruptions of the telephone lines:

I was transferred to a polyclinic here in the municipality of Salvador so that I could be attended by a orthopedic specialist to see if they could finally all agree on what it is that I have in my cervical zone.  There are no records of X-Rays, no clinical exams, no information even on all my previous jailings in this same prison in Guantanamo [he is referring to clinical documents that every previously interned patient is supposed to have].  Nothing shows up, so tomorrow I am going to be taken again to the polyclinic, the same way a terrorist is escorted somewhere [here he is referring to the security measures they take with political prisoners from the cause of the 75 who are moved around with handcuffs and chains and lots of security officials around them].  I think that Bin Laden would be treated with much better conditions than myself.  I was completely surrounded by State Security as if I was some sort of assassin.”

“Really, my health situation is worrisome.  It’s been 15 days that I have had diarrhea, and I repeat, my sugar level has dropped, I have constant hypoglycemia, the water here generally is really not potable, even that the people drink.  The situation gets worse because I am under special rules.  I continue denouncing the strict and inhumane regime that is imposed in Cuban jails.”

This is the other Guantanamo that nobody talks about.  The Guantanamo of the other side, the one here in my province, the place where I was born.  It is not the North-American enclave.  This Guantanamo is the one the Cuban government does not mention.

The 26th was the official day designated by the UN as International Day of Awareness Against Torture, and the Cuban government only very briefly mentioned it.

I continue saying that Juan Carlos, here or anywhere else, will continue to stand up against terror.  They must know that Juan Carlos has suffered a lot because, disgracefully, it has not just been the blows dealt him by military officials during these 7 years of prison, but also the brutal pain of a father who lost his only daughter, who lost a friend, and a brother, practically right next to him, Orlando Zapata Tamyo.  (Orlando Zapata, before being transferred on December 2, 2009 to the jail in Camaguey was in the provincial prison of Holguin together with Juan Carlos Herrera, and even though they kept them in separate cells, they discretely managed to communicate between themselves thanks to other prisoners who would pass on their messages.)

“They are using methods of psychological torture and physical torture as well, because being here in my province does not mean anything when my family can only visit me once every 3 months and once every 4 months for the conjugal pavilion.

But then I ask myself, and I ask the government:  “Will they manage to get Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta on his knees?” Nobody will be able to.  And for being like that, he may very well be the next victim.

“I have already lived here for 5 sad years, totally isolated like a savage beast. What I am doing is calling out to the CPJ, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, to Reporters Without Borders, to Amnesty International, to anyone and everyone who can help.  I’m not asking for my freedom because I never should have come to this prison in the first place, I should have never have been a prisoner, not even for a minute, because I have committed no crime.  I have not attacked any military barracks, I have not attacked a single soldier, I haven’t done anything, I have just written down the truth, I have spoken the truth since 1988, more than half of my life doing this.  I will be here defending this grand thing that is democracy and freedom, even if I continue imprisoned.”

Translated by Raul G.


To comment on this article please visit:

Luis Felipe’s Blog: Crossing the Barbed Wire.

Mario Alberto Pérez Aguilera

Placetas, July 2, 2010

Though held at Nieves Morejón prison since 1999, he began his activism within the ranks of the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoners and suffered severe repercussions for his steadfastness in prisons, taking part in numerous hunger strikes to the point of risking his life. The repressive and harassing practices against Mario Alberto have raged from late July 2004, when his body protected me from police brutality in the dark Cienfuegos prison of Ariza. It was during a family visit to which he came, along with my sister Bertha, my wife Yris, and two small children: Mariangel, age 2, Bertha’s granddaughter,  and Yris’s son Yediel, age 9. The family meeting was interrupted by a fierce punch in my face followed by a brutal beating from which only Mariangel, asleep on a table, escaped.</p>

Lying on the ground bleeding from my face and neck, two handcuffs pulled my arms in opposite directions with the clear purpose of butchering me. A wooden bench had hit my face and only the timely and courageous intervention of Mario Alberto, who threw himself on me, protected me from receiving a hard blow against my back. They had to justify the abuse, especially the kick they gave little Yediel, so they arrested Mario, accusing him of attacking authority and he was only able to leave the cells of the Cienfuegos police station, to which they had taken him, due to the firm decision of Bertha and Yris to stay outside until he was released. But the police didn’t release him without threats: “We’re going to let you go now, but don’t forget, you’ll pay dearly for this.”

Less than a year later, and in the presence of his young son Cristian, a Macarot revolver in the hands of a soldier discharged its fury of lead against his body. Mario, after being jailed in another murky criminal proceeding, had been acquitted on proving his innocence and, and above all because of a 50 day hunger strike, but the repression persisted; they returned to punish him for the same event, and after exhausting every avenue of appeal he chose evasion, ending up captured, shot and beaten nearly to death. In those moments, barely having recovered from serious kidney, liver and cardiovascular problems, he was hovering between life and death in Agüica prison. He did not ask to be released, no. Mario asked for a basic right assumed in any civilized country. He demanded that the authorities give him prompt and specialized medical attention and that they put an end to the inhumane maximum security and punishment that he’d suffered for more than four years, in clear violation of the country’s own penitentiary regulations.

He is dying, his sister Yris knows, everyone feels it, even though the Agüica jailers hide his condition. Will the same thing that happened to Zapata happen to him? Only God knows, and the criminals, far from responding to his just demands, confine him nearly dead in the dark cells of Agüica prison. The death of Mario is very possible if one takes into account the systematic brutality applied against him and the difficulty with which he has recovered from a previous hunger strike. Meanwhile the regime and the Cardinal continue calling for calm and are sowing expectations on all sides, with little or no basis in reality, given the complete lack of goodwill on the part of the government.

My Island Hurts

Cuba produces passions, but also pain. I am taking the liberty of reprinting here the comments of some readers, showing how much this island in the Caribbean Sea is hurting.

Laritza Diversent

Gabriel

“I’ve met many Cubans living in Spain, and their greatest trauma was not just the loss of their home. I’m talking about a lady in her sixties who gave me music lessons when I was about 16 years old. That is, back in the decade of the 60’s. For her, the greatest trauma was that they would not let her take her family photo album out of Cuba. Nor would they let her contact her relatives who remained in Cuba, either by phone or mail.

They erased the reminders of her entire life. Those photo albums lacked any monetary value. They prohibited her from taking them only to hurt her. That nostalgia for lost photo albums has been recounted to me by several different Cubans. Memories can be more valuable than objects.”

Dora Amador

“Few people in Cuba think about the pain of being uprooted. The unspeakable trauma that leaving the country entails. That is my case. I left at age 13, I am now 61. All my life, I had no greater desire than to return to my country, which, God willing, I will, to a Free Cuba, wonderfully democratic. I know it’s not easy to achieve democratic institutions, not only in the republic, but in ourselves, respecting the diversity of ideas and the validity of elections, etc.

Being exiled is one of the most horrible sufferings that a human being can experience. You can now observe this in the case of Adrián Leiva, who died trying to enter his country, because the government would not allow it.  That is my case, too.  They will not let me enter, they will not give me permission to return to my country. Soon all this will change forever.”

Anae

“Every officer who attends those who leave Cuba has a kind of license that allows them to mistreat you, with or without words, through every proceeding. In my case it was in the final days, in one of the offices where they multiply the documents needed to finish, so as not to allow you to say goodbye to your family and friends in peace, always thinking that something is missing and “without that” you cannot go.

The lack of one simple document is fatal . . . and terrifying.  It’s enough to lose sleep over, to say a quick goodbye and turn your face as you fight back your tears. Then, while waiting for the flight, you want to leave and say you’re sorry, to calmly say that you expect to return one day, but it’s not possible. Many people have not been able to return to reconcile themselves at this moment, and perhaps that is why they carry a heavy load. Many more than those who have been able to do so … ”

Eneas

“Yes, the wounds don’t heal, there are many. I left behind mother, child, childhood friends, etc. In short, every day of your life you live with nostalgia and suffering, because many of these wounds will follow you forever. I just wish that Cuba could return to normal, where the rights of every citizen are respected, and you can live in peace and harmony. Do you see? I don’t know … ”

Modesta García

“I too left Cuba 30 years ago and haven’t returned, because I also have open wounds, and I can’t forget. There were 10 years of waiting, when the exits were closed from 1970 to 1980, without hope. I started working with the government, and since I wanted to leave the country, I was considered a CIA agent. They invented sabotage plots, they watched me, etc. I can’t count all the intrigues, sufferings, and torments. All this cooled my desire to return to Cuba.

Although they tell me that it’s different now, I know that’s not true. Recent events show that nothing has changed, that it’s business as usual. I’m not a masochist, and as soon as I set foot in the airport, the humiliations by the employees would begin. I came to this country seeking freedom; I have it, and I enjoy it, and I don’t want to be without it for even a second.

This is not to say that I feel nothing for Cuba. On the contrary, for everything that happens, I’m sorry and I’m concerned and I very much want their freedom.  But until there is freedom, I will not return. I’m not critical of those going to see their parents, siblings, children, etc., because that is human.

I am critical of those who visit the Island looking for cheap sex from unhappy girls who do it out of necessity, and of the “millionaires” who cover themselves with gold-plated jewelry, so people will believe they are wealthy and ought to be treated as celebrities. Unfortunately, these are the sad realities of travel to Cuba. I hope this nightmare ends, once and for all.”

Translated by: Tomás A.

Yris Made It to Colón

My wife Yris left early this morning, as always with a cell phone ready with a message of arrest or detention*. Our brother Blas Fortun accompanied her as far as the station and stayed there with her until he saw her leave in a rental truck headed to Santa Clara. As always, on the few occasions when we don’t travel together, I waited with cell phone in hand for the damned message. This time, fortunately, it didn’t come, and when I called her phone she was already at the home of our dear sister Idania Yánez.

She told me how painful it was to pass by the Provincial Hospital without be able to inquire about Coco Fariñas for fear of being arrested there and not be able to continue the journey.Much less would they let her know about her brother on hunger strike. She did not ask permission to exercise this legitimate right, she was going, or more accurately she could go, as far as Colón thanks to her determination not to abide by orders that limit her rights and movement. She could go because call to alert the public that was put out hours earlier left the repressors no other option. And that decision not to accept impositions, to be consistent with what we believe and what we are fighting for is a very important and significant form of non-cooperation with the repression, a way to say I, also, am resisting.

Thanks to all those who helped her. They are, as my fellow Cubans would say, the steps towards freedom that our people are taking.

*Translator’s note: Many Cubans such as Yris enter text messages into their cell phones “ready to send” so that with the touch of a single key they can alert someone if they are arrested or detained, before their cell phone is confiscated.

The Foreignization of Cubans

Sandy Olivera is a young Cuban who, two years ago, emigrated as a political refugee to the United States. His girlfriend remained on this side of the sea. A week ago, he returned to Cuba to marry her.

The formalization of the marriage took place in the Specialized Notary at 23rd and J, in Vedado, Plaza de la Revolución District, in Havana. To marry, as mandated by law, he had to pay 525 CUC and 100 national currency in stamps. To make matters worse the notary, without blinking, asked for a gift of 5 CUC.

The Cuban government treated Sandy as if he were a foreigner. Has residing in the United States become one of the legally established reasons for losing Cuban citizenship?

The Constitution of the Republic states that when a person acquires foreign citizenship, Cuban citizenship will be lost. It further declares that the law establishes the procedure for the formalization of the loss of citizenship and the authorities who will decide.

This means that the fact of acquiring other citizenship does not by itself imply the loss of Cuban citizenship. For this to happen, the government authorities have to decide. In fact, Cubans with U.S. citizenship must enter the island with a Cuban passport. That is, as citizens of the socialist state.

In practice there is dual citizenship. What happens is that the government recognizes only the Cuban citizenship, ignoring that newly acquired. That is not Sandy’s case. He has not taken any steps to become a U.S. citizen, and therefore has not lost his status as a Cuban citizen.

As evidenced by the fact that he paid 220 CUC for permission to enter the country, as decided by the Cuban authorities. He entered Cuba as a Cuban citizen, yet within the island, he had to pay for services received in freely convertible currency as if he were a foreigner.

This is the “rule of law” so defended by the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. A State that, in Article 41 of its Magna Carta recognizes that “all citizens enjoy equal rights and are subject to equal duties,” but that discriminates against those living in other parts of the world.

Cubans living abroad are not foreigners. It is understood that the “socialist state subsidizes the services that the population receives” and that those living abroad have greater purchasing power than those living on the island. But the factual situations do not justify the government violating constitutional rights.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

Cuba and Its System of Exclusion (II)

Cubans are outcasts in their own land. Both those who reside in the country, as well as those living abroad. The latter are doubly discriminated against. They cannot invest in the economy because they are citizens of the State, yet when they return to the country they are treated as foreigners.

Law No. 77, “On foreign investment,” provides that a foreign investor is “a natural person or legal entity with a foreign domicile and foreign capital, who becomes a shareholder of a joint venture, or participates in a company with totally foreign capital, or is named as a party in the contracts of an international economic association.”

Under the rules of this legislation, Cubans residing permanently abroad shoddily have no obstacle to investing in the economy of their homeland. They have a foreign domicile and foreign capital. So what stops them?

Article 32 of the Cuban constitution establishes that Cubans cannot be deprived of the citizenship, except for legally established causes. Nor can they be deprived of the right to change this. Dual citizenship is not permitted. Consequently, when another citizenship is acquired, Cuban citizenship is lost. The law establishes the process to follow to formalize the loss of citizenship and the authorities authorized to decide it.

The causes of losing and recovering citizenship before the 1992 constitutional reform were specific and were contained in the text of the “Supreme Charter of the State.” Now they have lost legal significance and should be regulated by law.

Taking into account the increase in Cuban emigration, one might think that the goal of reform was to eliminate citizenship. On the contrary, the measures taken by the government tend to retain it.

Conveniently for the authorities, they have not formulated the law that regulates the particulars of the analysis. The practice is to require all Cubans to enter the country with the passport that qualifies them as a national. It is not that they allow dual citizenship for them, with respect to nationals, only Cuban citizenship is available. By virtue of this, they cannot invest in the national economy.

However, within the territory they lose their rights as nationals.  They are required to pay for all services in hard currency, as if they were foreigners. Far from being a privilege, this provision violates the constitutional and fundamental rights of Cubans.

Laritza Diversent

Cuba and Its System of Exclusion (I)

It is fair to acknowledge that foreign investment in Cuba brings benefits to the economy. But by itself it is not the solution for confronting the overwhelming problems.

Law No. 77 was adopted in 1995 to provide security and guarantees to foreign investors, and from this to achieve economic recovery. So stated the Cuban Parliament, in the introduction of this statutory provision.

In it the National Assembly also said that through foreign investment Cuba could get (among other objectives) increased production efficiency, improved quality of products and services offered, and reduced costs.

Fifteen years after this law was passed, it’s worth asking: Did it enhance the welfare of the Cuban people? Which services was Parliament referring to — those received by foreigners or those offered to the general population?  And regarding the latter, some comments.

Inadequate wages discourage citizens, mainly young people, from working with the State. How does the government solve the problem of labor abstinence, which forced it to increase the retirement age? By imposing four-year prison sentences for social dangerousness.

This leads to another problem, that of illegalities. The low purchasing power of thousands of families causes them to live outside the state regulations, in order to cope with the ongoing crisis.

What is the solution to this other conflict? The deployment of police operatives to catch those who are engaged in individual economic activity red-handed. Isn’t it easier to legalize the status of people who opt to live independently of state handouts?

Why doesn’t the Cuban government encourage profitable activities by citizens? Just as with  foreign investment, the individual economic initiative of Cubans results in increased productivity, the creation of new jobs, etc..

In principle, one of the reasons underlying the exclusion of Cubans from national economic affairs was the social egalitarianism that socialism attempted but never attained.

To try to guarantee one right, others were violated. A supposed social equality justified the government acting contrary to constitutional dictates, and led to an institutionalized form of segregation, based on national origin.

Cuba needs a law of investment, not exclusion. In its 15-year existence, Law 77 has only brought economic apartheid. It is not fair that only the individual capital of foreigners has value in the Cuban economy.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

The Revolution Gives and The Revolution Takes Away

For six months Sandra has lived in Havana with her father. She’s 24 and is an “emerging” elementary school teacher. She used to work in her hometown, Holguin; but she left teaching because the salary wasn’t enough. Now she sells pastries in the doorways of Monte Street.

Sandra was saving to buy a little house. But the police caught her when she was selling sweets. They levied a fine for “speculation.” Then they put her on a train back to her province, for living in the capital without the right to do so. She was a victim of the application of Decree-Law 217 of April 22, 1997, which establishes “Internal Migration Regulations for Havana.”

The provision restricts the freedom of movement of Cubans from other areas of the country. It prevents them from residing, whether domiciled or living together, permanently and without authorization in the capital. The provision also applies to citizens from other areas of the capital who live in a dwelling located in Old Havana, Central Havana, Cerro, and Tenth of October, without the corresponding license.

Sandra has to ask permission from the President of the Municipal Administrative Council to live in the capital. She must prove to the Housing Department that she has the express consent of her father, as owner of the house. She also needs a document from the Municipal Architecture and Urbanism Department that certifies that the dwelling meets the minimum conditions for habitation, and that there are ten square meters of space for each occupant.

Once all the paperwork is completed, the young woman’s problem is not yet solved. The decision, yes or no, of the Municipal President depends on the opinion in the file that elaborates on the issue, from the Municipal Housing Office.

It is immaterial that the Constitution of the Republic in Article 43, allows Sandra, as a Cuban citizen, to live in any zone or sector. A right, according to the article, conquered by the Revolution, and if they have the right to give it they have the right to restrict it.

The “Historic Leaders,” concentrates all the power in the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, with the ability to grant or to restrict the rights of citizens. The validity of decree 217 proves that the Cuban government and its leaders have no desire to make positive changes. Meanwhile, cases like Sandra’s, common in Cuba, continue happening and the guilty parties go unpunished.

Laritza Diversent

We, Dissidents

Ladies in White in one of their marches down Fifth Avenue.
Photo: Luis Orlando

I don’t want to saddle anyone with adjectives they don’t want. In general, I, for one, have always been rather hesitant to accept labels, especially when the socio-official “taxonomy” is so prodigious in itself in ambiguous definitions that it turns a political opponent into a traitor, an individual freely expressing their own ideas into a Treasury Department employee of the United States, or alternative bloggers practicing what has been called citizen journalism into “cyber-terrorists.” Everyone, without exception, is put in a large sack with the terrible label of “dissidents”, which automatically makes us “despicable mercenaries at the service of the empire”. Ordinary Cuban citizens that we come across in our daily strolls, or the very neighbors that greet us when we meet on the stairs in our building have come to incorporate into their psyche that we carry on our shoulders and faces the epithet of “dissidents”, that we are a sort of contagious plague, such as the lady with the scarlet letter, the Jews with their yellow star under Nazi Germany or the lepers forced to wear jingle bells in medieval times.

This comment I’m making is a necessary preamble. Believe it or not, a candid and sincere old couple living in my neighborhood was offended when someone warned them to be careful because I’m a dissident. They protested: “Don’t say that about her, she is a good person and hers is a very well-mannered and decent family”. These nice old people and I often run into each other at the grocer’s, the butcher’s or the farmers’ market, and they know my political opinions (which I have never hidden and they are in agreement with, by the way), but won’t allow that anyone to “insult” me with the loathsome nickname of dissident. I simply cannot be “that”.

Another example no less amusing is that of another elderly gentleman, one of my sources of information about what happens in the neighborhood, who even enlightens me with comments that hit the nail on the head. I once told that I am a citizen-journalist and that what I write can only be read on the Internet. “Ah, you’re a journalist!” I said “kind of”. “And you dare to write about the heavy things we discuss?” I answered yes and added that -as he must know- I am a dissident. “No way! You’re not with the government and criticize all the bad things, which are many, but dissidents are those who want the Americans to invade us”. I gave up: he’s over 70, and, with his low level of schooling, he would probably better understand how to manage a blog than the true concept of what a dissident is. The term has been demonized to that extreme.

Because of this, when I use the word I am always ready for a reply, even when applied to a civil disobedient like me. Some people get uptight, perhaps because they know the power of words. That is why, here and now, I ask permission of to all who disagree with the government, of political prisoners, of those who spread the truth about the Cuban dictatorship, of those struggling to promote peaceful change towards democracy in Cuba, of independent journalists, of bloggers, and all civic organizations not affiliated with the government to refer to this large set as dissidents. I assume that everyone in this diverse group has in common a clear awareness of the need for change in our country, will do and say what we think is necessary to promote those changes through peaceful means, the spirit of democracy and freedom, and the hope for a better future for all Cubans, among other principles. The risk this entails unites us in a country where a half-century long dictatorship holds absolute power and has begun to understand that its power will not last forever.

We are used to viewing the government as a clever and powerful enemy, so perhaps we may not have realized how much we have been growing in recent years. There are more Cubans raising our own voices every day inside the Island. More and more groups are facing the dictatorship. It is cracking the shell of fear, and the authorities are expected to increasingly tighten the nut and repress with ever-more rage. Though the signals of the future end of the regime are in sight already, it would be premature and hasty to mention deadlines; we have a long way to go to reach a consensus, a common destiny, but I have the impression that, for some time, dissidents have begun to abandon belligerency and, showing respect for mutual differences, we have begun to show solidarity with each other. That is a first step and a healthy sign.

I want, therefore, to publicly thank today all dissidents for the reasonable end to the hostilities. This time, the alleged “unity” is not based solely on signing a proposal every once in a while. Orlando Zapata’s death, the sacrifice of Guillermo Fariñas, and the constancy of the Ladies in White have had the power of assembly that political harangues or programs of either leader had not achieved before. Interestingly, this time, almost no one is claiming the limelight, and almost all are pushing in the same direction and with similar strength… I vote for such humility to be maintained. All indications are that the true seeds of the strength of the dissidence lay in plurality, solidarity and respect for civic differences.

To comment on this post, please visit:
Miriam’s Blog: Sin Evasion / Without Evasion

Welcome Diversity!

Following what is being called the “Letter of the 74,” where we asked the United States Congress to consider the possibility of further relaxing its economic restrictions and recognizing its citizens’ right to travel to Cuba, a rich debate has been launched in which arguments new and old are surfacing.

Who is right? Life will tell. In my humble opinion, the most helpful part of this is that finally Cubans, who to varying degrees and with different nuances expressed their dissatisfaction with the political situation in the country, have publicly let go of the burden of their prejudices and have been encouraged to distance themselves from a false unanimity.

Even the Communists are now doing it, although timidly, in the pages of Granma, where they diverge from each other on the sensitive issue of the privatization of services (without going to the extreme of calling each other traitors to the cause, or insulting each other). And if they can do it, there is nothing detrimental in political opponents of different stripes offering to expose their differences, whether of principal or simply of methods, in a civilized way,

These should not be discussions undertaken to determine a winner, but to find pathways. As we are finding our way in these disputes, we will need to be patient with some passionate people who prefer to discredit the bearers of an idea rather than refute their arguments.

Someday we will have more difficult discussions, for example: there is the issue of the death penalty and the dilemma between justice and forgiveness, and what about the presumed returns and the debate between those who want to maintain and those who want to dissolve one conquest or another. Let us learn now, later there will not be time.

Unjust or Legitimate?

Flags in front of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana. Photo: Luis Orlando

An article published by the official Cuban press (Granma, Tuesday June 15, 2010, front page) reports a collateral appeal, or habeas corpus, filed on behalf of Gerardo Hernandez, one of the five Cubans imprisoned in the United after being tried on charges of espionage, as “the final legal recourse for his case,” under the judicial system of that country.

It seems no coincidence that they have recently taken up the issue of five State Security combatants imprisoned in the U.S., in an apparent effort to minimize, in the eyes of public opinion, the question, in turn, of the political prisoners in Cuba and the controversial talks between the government and the Catholic authorities, which have captured the public’s interest in recent weeks. Collaterally, they insist on establishing some form of subordination between the potential release of the Cuban prisoners from the Black Spring and the return to the island of the above-mentioned spies, so that, once again the media minutely obsesses with notes about the five “heroes” of the regime’s reckoning. 
 
It is not idle, however, to take advantage of this juncture to point out the abysmal difference between the case of the five confessed spies, captured during Operation Wasp, and that of the peaceful journalists imprisoned by the Cuban dictatorship in March 2003, not to mention the marked contrast between the two cases relative to the considerable resources spent on the Cuban government’s campaign to release the Five. To wit: the very expensive lawyers; travel and per diem for family members who have come from around the world; the national and international crusade that has mobilized money and agents in the four corners of the globe; as well as the immense propaganda campaign; all of which is explicitly covered almost entirely with State funds without any consultation with taxpayers.

Nor do they skimp on the resources invested by the government in relation to the 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring, although in a completely opposite sense: mobilization of the repressive forces to trample the Ladies in White; privileges and incentives for their most loyal henchmen; the propaganda apparatus set in motion to slander and demonize the political prisoners and their families as well as the whole civic movement that supports them. All this without counting the political cost and the demoralization caused by this repression, the death in prison of Orlando Zapata, and the current hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas.

Apart from this brief summary, there is still an additional critically valid question: if the Cuban government has always declared the imprisonment of their spies by their northern neighbor to be unjust (and even “illegal”); if they insist they were sentenced after a process that was “rigged” and markedly political against five “anti-terrorist fighters,” as they try to convince international public opinion and as they have broadcast in the national catechism; if, in short, the American judicial system is so “corrupt” and “subordinated to the Miami Cuban-American mafia”… How is it possible that the government of the Island is allowed to legitimize its own system by appealing to the recourse that system offers? It is not immoral to demonize and criticize the U.S. Justice system and at the same time lower oneself to appeal to it? Could it be that the five imprisoned spies are politically more useful to the Cuban government than to the anti-Castro groups in Florida?

Clearly, the Cuban authorities display an unlimited impudence by not discriminating between the unjust and the legitimate. So twisted are they, that we will see them once again ranting against the U.S. system to which they now appeal, should they get a new denial of the last legal recourse they have just presented before the Federal Court in Miami.

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Open letter to the BBC of London / Miriam Celaya

Note to readers of this blog:

The text that follows is extensive. It is a reply to statements made in recent days by the BBC’s correspondent in Havana, Mr. Fernando Ravsberg, as part of statements he made in an interview with his fellow countryman, journalist Emiliano Cotelo, during Ravsberg’s recent stay in Madrid. The complexity of the topics covered there and my total disagreement with Ravsberg’s views prevent me from expressing myself in a shorter post. I warn you, then, that those who enjoy brevity in writing do not get mired in reading this post and forgive the inability of this blogger to remain silent before such iniquities.

Miriam Celaya González

Open Letter to the BBC in London

I’m just one among millions of earthlings who use the Internet. That said, in my capacity as an alternative Cuban blogger, my access to the net is rather limited and sporadic. However, I feel a sincere respect for information professionals worldwide, and consider the BBC a serious and competitive agency. It is just because of this that I cannot understand how it is possible that under such prestige and tradition there is a chance for the defense of such deceitful and unscrupulous “journalists” who, violating every principle of ethics in the profession, are engaged in misinforming the world, distorting the reality of a nation and, incidentally, providing a (free?) service to the longest dictatorship known in the Western world.

Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, a BBC Havana reporter, was interviewed recently in Madrid by Emiliano Cotelo concerning the controversial dialogue initiated between the Cuban government and the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Cuba. Ravsberg’s answers, at times ambiguous and always highly partisan, reflect the contempt he feels for this country and for Cubans, as well as the profound ignorance of Cuban history and the aspirations of its people. Ravsberg is not the essence of a journalist, but a propagandist of the Cuban regime and, as such, an uncompromising critic of the dissent and civic outbreak that has started to gain strength in society, sectors very harshly persecuted and harassed in the Island that are struggling to maintain the economic, political, and social rights of all Cubans despite the harassment and repression of which they are victims, while “informers” such as the correspondent in question either look the other way or prefer to reinforce the official discourse by fabricating an imagined reality.

What is that “Cuba” that Ravsberg reports about, and what benefits does he get from it? Only he could answer this. We have already read on other occasions his very personalized Cuban scenario analysis and his peculiar versions in interviews he has done, so it is not so surprising this time that the brilliant correspondent of the BBC paint us a Cuba that Cubans themselves do not know and, to top it all, that he should exceed his ominous functions. It often happens that some clever foreigners like him need just a little bit of time in the Island and a couple of questions that they claim to ask around to master Cuban issues. It’s as if the tropics overheat their brain and they lose the ability to discern. Now Ravsberg not only misrepresents the Cuban reality, but also comes out as an expert in sociology and social psychology of Cuba, mainly in terms of politics and religion. An analysis of such nonsense would be extremely long, so I think it’s best to make only some remarks in order to correct a little the compass of this disoriented reporter, who, as the old popular saying goes, can’t see the forest for the trees.

The BBC correspondent in Cuba states that the government does not give value to dissidence “because it receives money from abroad.” I don’t know if this government has provided Ravsberg with the evidence of such emoluments received by “the dissidence”, since the Cuban people have never been shown any concrete evidence of this, unless we take into account the unilateral declarations of the official beefeaters (and unofficial ones, such as Ravsberg). On the other hand, who can be classified as “dissident” to the clever correspondent? In general, in that wide tuning fork in Cuba are included the opposition parties as well as the independent journalists, the alternative bloggers and whoever does not abide by government guidelines. If this is the case, I feel authorized to deny such a claim: at least one large group of bloggers who are close to me and I, among other “dissidents” do not receive any money from abroad. The Cuban government, on the other hand, not only has gotten all kinds of resources for decades (which it still receives and squanders) but –in addition- applies an abusive tax on relatives’ remittances and on any other kind of income Cubans may receive from abroad. With this in mind, it follows that the government also benefits from the alleged foreign funds destined to the internal dissidence, as I’m sure Mr. BBC Correspondent knows.

The Cuban government does not consider dissidence, not exactly for “receiving money from abroad,” but because dictatorships do not accept any alternative demonstration, whether colored by politics or not. The Cuban government does not recognize the opposition parties nor independent journalists, the various alternative civil society associations or bloggers, and we are not even an organization. The weakness of totalitarian regimes lies, nevertheless, in that absolute monopoly over society, over information, and over individual fear, so that all alternative event or trend that may involve a breach in the system becomes “dissidence” and must be demonized. Thus, according to the official discourse (and curiously, in that of “journalists” such as this Uruguayan gentleman) all dissidents “are mercenaries in the service of a foreign power that attacks, blockades and is hostile to us”.

Ravsberg tries to underestimate the international pressure on the dictatorship of the Island following the death of Orlando Zapata by arguing, “except the United States government, no other government condemned the Cuban government for the death of Zapata.” The criticism from Mexican and European parliaments, as well as those of civil society groups, artists and intellectuals from many countries, do not seem relevant to one who, paradoxically, employs Uruguay as an example of democratic tradition. Not even the discrete statements of the Secretary General of the United Nations, who publicly grieved over the death of Orlando Zapata, are mentioned by Ravsberg. His own discourse betrays his distinct sense of democracy: if governments aren’t the ones to directly produce criticism, international pressure does not exist.

Another issue relates to considerations about Cuban politics. Ravsberg tries to convince public opinion that in Cuba there has been a change in president that supposes some difference or change in the Cuban process. In an absurd simile, he makes a comparison between the Cuban dictatorial succession process (a real fingering of the candidate) and Uruguayan democratic elections that placed –via the polls- Mujica in power, after Tabaré Vázquez. Big deal, Ravsberg tells us, both (Tabaré and Mujica) are representatives of the Frente Amplio, this implies that the change in representatives in the Cuban dictatorship is “somewhat similar to what just happened in Uruguay”, since there is a different person in power in each case. One must be very stupid or disrespectful of the intelligence of others to hold such a belief.

Ravsberg’s views walk the same tightrope during the referenced interview, when he asserts “there has been a series of changes in Cubans’ access to hotels, which resulted in tourist hotels occupation rate of 10% for Cubans last summer, which also indicates that certain sectors have good incomes”. And also the unusual mockery on the Cuban people by saying “there have been a lot of changes in the country that people seem not to follow: economic changes, recognition of rights of citizens, for example, internet access, which was banned to Cubans for years, has just been legally ratified by decree as a right, and Internet cafes were immediately established so that any citizen can check out anything, from the Miami Herald to the BBC World and even El Espectador. These are key steps, steps that are not taken into account, but that mean, for example, that the Cuban government accepts, for the first time, to end the information monopoly and to grant access to the world”.

What Ravsberg failed to state is that certain websites cannot be viewed from the cybercafes because the government has “cut offs” that prevent access and, curiously, some of the banned pages are those of the alternative bloggers, which shows that officials show greater fear of the dissemination of news and views of those who are inside the Island than of the entire foreign press, including the one accredited in Cuba. The BBC’s correspondent didn’t clarify that such “rights”, generously granted by the government, will not become generalized, because no salary in Cuba provides enough income to cover the price of lodging in hotels or to afford the luxury to surf the Internet for information, unless there is an alternative income source (not legal), family or friends abroad to cover such expenses, or if the person is a Cuban with a foreign residence permit or with a job contract outside of Cuba. Only thus can Cubans allow themselves such excesses, against the grain of the painfully slow network connections or the questionable hotel service offered. However, each independent Cuban national staying in hotels is so suspect that his stay is carefully controlled by the Ministry of the Interior, with strict monitoring of his spending and the number of times he takes pleasure in these accommodations.

Perhaps a good demonstration of the government’s willingness to end the information monopoly would be to unblock the websites that host the alternative blogosphere (www.vocescubanas.com and www.desdecuba.com, for example), or to allow the right to all those who the official press has offended and discredited through the mass media, to reply, so that ordinary Cubans may get to know all the arguments presented for debate and form their own opinions. Ravsberg cannot ignore that the Cuban press has never published a single one of the documents condemning the government occurring at the national or international level, although it has allowed itself to deride them, so that the people has had only a partial and distorted version of them.

As for the internal repression and harassment that has kept up during seven long years against the Ladies in White, wives of political prisoners of the Black Spring, which the BBC’s correspondent attributes to the indignation of the people against betrayal, is Ravsberg ignoring that the raging hordes that have attacked these defenseless Cubans during their peaceful demonstrations every Sunday are agents of the Cuban government, specifically trained to smack and suppress any demonstration by the alternative civil society, whether they are opponents or not? Mr. Ravsberg is, at best, rude and vulgar when he so candidly states, referring to the talks between the Cuban authorities and the Catholic Church that “there is an antecedent, a few weeks ago when Raúl Castro’s government called on the Catholic Church to inform it that it had authorized the Ladies in White to march freely through the streets again.” In fact, the Ladies never asked nor needed government permission to march for the release of their relatives who are imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression to disclose truths that Mr. Ravsberg pretends to ignore; the streets are a place they have earned with their reputation and courage, just like they have earned the respect and admiration of all decent Cubans. They conquered the streets on their own.

As for the Catholic Church, which Mr. Journalist regards as if it were a sect of pariahs and fugitives and which he considers “a weak institution”, he clarified that the religious institution is the strongest in Cuba, only that Catholicism a la Cuban is not similar to that practiced in Uruguay, or, say, Spain. In Cuba, the syncretic cults of African origin have not surpassed Catholicism, but they have given rise to a particular religious amalgam in which it is difficult to see where the contributions of one or the other belief begin or end; they have imprecise boundaries because, for example, in everyday practice, the followers of the cults of African descent baptize their children in Catholic churches following the traditional Christian ritual, they place offerings in those very churches and show respect to both God and Oloffi. On the other hand, some call themselves Catholic and make offerings to the orishas, or consult the babalawo. The Social Science scholars in Cuba have never ventured to say that “the majority of Cubans profess an Afro-Cuban faith known as Santería”, as the audacious Ravsberg dares to assure us. Judging by how he sets out the issue, he seems to have spent much time in Cuba doing a survey of high statistical value to ensure this (the National Institute of Anthropology has lost so much for not having him on its staff!), as well as to maintain that the Cuban Catholic Church “is not a strong institution in the sense of having many followers, many supporters. It is a minority religion” and, in spite of that, it has high social influence ” (what, then, is this influence based on?).

I don’t want to finish without proposing to correspondent Ravsberg that it might be advisable to spend a little less time sightseeing in Havana and immerse himself in Cuban History texts in order to avoid issuing disparate comments; willful ignorance is not an ornament, so displaying it so shamelessly is not nice. When this man says that “Cuba is a country that was practically never independent, when the Spanish colony ended troops from another country entered, the US installed the first president, and later on there was practically no democratic history…” he is missing a rich history as a republic in which strong democratic values were consolidated, plus civil institutions that enabled the birth of a constitution in 1940, the most advanced of its time. Ravsberg ignores that the seeds of Cuban democratic vocation were born in unison with the dawning of a nation, when we were still a colony (as were all the nations of Latin America, including Uruguay), which was refined in the XIX century in the ideas of José Martí, the most democratic of all Cubans. Half a century of dictatorship and latent fear are preventing our people to show it; that is why sometimes Cubans don’t dare to express themselves, that is why when they express themselves freely they are incarcerated, that is why any false correspondent may divulge whatever he pleases about Cuba, as long as what he says is in tune with the government line, or risk losing his accreditation. The day Cuba becomes free, maybe even Ravsberg will be surprised of the democratic vocation of Cubans, but, on that day, he will have to strive to be a real journalist.

Finally, I’m sorry for having overextended my comments on what many might consider excessive attention that the BBC correspondent does not deserve, but it is not about him: We Cubans have already suffered enough damage for over 50 years, and, in addition, have had to remain mute to the offenses and contempt of a parasite of the press. I am not speaking on behalf of Cubans in general, no one has authorized me, nor do I merit it so much, but I speak in my own name because, like the bloggers and independent journalists whom I call my fellow travelers, every day I run the risk of repression for spreading the truths of my country, while Ravsberg’s arrogant insolence waddles with impunity in the midst of my people. I speak, too, because as Mr. Ravsberg knows, the vast majority of Cubans ignores the number of blunders being reported about them by this “journalist”, whom, I’m sure, has been welcomed with the hospitality and the affection of which he is not worthy. I don’t have the authority or qualities to issue guidelines to the BBC, but I am of the view that an agency that was born as far back as 1923 and has provided invaluable services to humanity as a reliable source of information, even during the bloody circumstances of the last century’s world conflagration, should be careful when selecting its correspondents: in the case of Havana, the BBC is paying in cash for the perpetuation of lies. It is disgraceful.

Sorry for your time, I hope that, after all, Fernando Ravsberg is only a small and regrettable error.

11 June 2012