Condemn Us, It Does Not Matter: Art Will Absorb Us* / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Cremata

The play 'The King Dies,' directed by Juan Carlos Cremata. (Havana Times)
The play ‘The King Dies,’ directed by Juan Carlos Cremata. (Havana Times)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Cremata, Havana, 10 July 2015 — First of all, I apologize this time for speaking in the first person. I have always thought, like Garcia Marquez, that what I have tried to say is found in my work. And instead, it enriches me, much more, to hear the diverse interpretations that emerge about what, at times, we have done with pure artistic or professional intuition, supported, of course, in a wealth of collective proposals that emerge with the creation of the same. I defend, above all, a plurality of readings in what I pursue or dream about, because, in some way, it encourages and obsesses me as artist, thinker and human being.

I am also very fond of Pablo Picasso’s idea: “rather than search, find” on the path to art. Thus, it excites me, but much more, the act of aesthetic genesis itself, far beyond the finished work. Also, I always try, even at the abuse of the plural of modesty, contrasting it to a prolonged and ever more frequent and excessive “I” that is now habitual. Abundant, in the discourses that for so long have flooded every branch of thinking in our country, above all in criticism. And especially in politics.

But I am compelled to answer some “hasty” notes (also induced, commanded and/or dictated, which explains in some way their “precipitation”) regarding the [Havana] premier, on 4 July, of Eugene Ionesco’s play The King is Dying**, by our collective, El Ingenio.

Dear Andy Arencibia Concepción (with a copy to everyone who feels themselves alluded to):

I applaud your seriousness in researching my work and I admire the respect that you profess to me, despite the fact that, evidently, you fight, like the rest of your operators, in favor of maintaining intact your working life, or what is called, “looking after your job.” I understand. continue reading

If I remember correctly, you were also at the meeting where I was called in front of the “top brass” of the National Council for the Performing Arts to communicate to me the suspension of the season. And now I have no doubt that many of the views expressed in the letter respond in a personal way to the signals, although with harsher epithets such as “treason” and “political pamphlet,” from Gisela Gonzalez herself, who serves as President of Theater Arts in Cuba.

I do not know which came first. If it was hers or yours.

Raul could say it in his speech, but the theater, no. We were not authorized to expose it. Raul is applauded of course. Who dares to contradict him?

But either way, its deep and accelerated study comes to explain a little more the absurd and unintelligible initial note, suddenly appearing in CUBARTE, about the changes in programming at the Tito Junco Hall of the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center, which did nothing more than hide a blatant censorship.

However you are smarter and saner. Your analysis is respectable, although conditioned.

And I am, believe me, very grateful to the attempt to elucidate a little all the indecipherable nebula that we try to stage. Your praise is also gratifying, your eulogies and superlatives, which I humbly hope to deserve.

However, it is likewise a little unfair and inexact, although entirely within your rights as a critic – not as a researcher – to offer an opinion in such a closed and categorical way about an artistic phenomenon, taking into account, only, your work as a screener.

In Art, as in every other subjective display, or even in medicine that is backed by science, that which could be good for you (all of you) not necessarily because it is for others.

Or for us, the others.

If any of you had attended the play on Sunday, you would have found another moment that, although essentially the same, wasn’t that staged on Saturday. I often tell my friends that it is better to attend the last evenings, when the actors and technicians have already tested, and even more savored, an experience that is enriched and transformed with each delivery.

Especially when the work staged by our collective depends heavily on the interaction with the audience to which your commentary refers. And where, in addition to the “mockery” to which you (or all of you) alluded to, there is a declared intention to rescue a very Cuban form of theater, quasi-lost or misplaced-censored-by-force-for-more-than-50-years, but that characterized the entire Cuban vernacular theater with the regular practice of political satire as a commentary on what happens in our country.

Shameless, excessive, irreverent (which is not the same is disrespectful), iconoclastic, rebellious, and sometimes even vulgar or profane, which you do not know, floods our countryside and cities. And it seems to be the language generated by the “New Man” that is forged in this imprecise society imposed on us.

Our intent with this staging was to talk about the resistance to change. Scathing obstinacy that today is made manifest again with the erratic decision of the Council itself

The theater is a live event, as is well known.

It is catharsis, shock, tremor and disturbance, above all in its relationship to the spectator. Be he for or against. Worse is to go to a play and return as if one had never gone. Is this what you want? Gallant and constant praise? A nice musical, naïve and inoffensive. The critique of what is authorized? The reinterpretation of our history, without questioning the present and much less the future? Independence restricted? The freedom of the ration book?

Because the ration coupon frees me? How much will this month’s emancipation cost me?

They are selling free will! Run! Run! They’re almost out of it!

We could point out a few years ago the same Council for Performing Arts, protected by a supposed “respect for the change in programming,” suppressed the huge success that we were having with our staging of the Rogelio Orizondo’s Le hijastra (The Stepdaughter) – without our even having seen much of them – and dealing with the disproportionate, frustrating and malicious comments that they immediately silenced when, a few months later, Raul Castro himself noted the same approach of “social indisciplines” with which all of Cuba is flooded.

Raul could say it in his speech, but the theater, no.

We were not authorized to expose it.

Raul is applauded of course. Who dares to contradict him?

We were condemned to exile in the same room to which we return, after four years, to again experiment, today with the decision to end our proposal, once again with the same punishment, the exact penalty, with the identical penance.

And, even worse.

We gave 14 performances of The Stepdaughter.

For The King Dies, we could only offer two.

It is the third try. And the third time is lucky.

Previously an onerous scandal was also unleashed with the presentation of El Frigidaire (Le Frigo) by Copi.

But this time they were definitive.

The affront to power is now unbridgeable.

And the barrier definitively raised, saying: Not one more, this far and no further They shall not pass!

They have gone too far.

Down with the embarrassment! Up with the stain!

At the same time, I want to add to the examples of theater collectives, which you (all of you) point to as worthy and paradigmatic (and to which you should undoubtedly also have added the commendable excellence of the Argos Theater, Theater de las Estaciones, Theater de la Luna or Theater Tuyo, among other very few examples), those which could contrast the work of more than a dozen collectives, where indeed no artistic metaphor or poetry flourishes. Where the proposal goes toward that radiant poverty of which not so long ago one of our media leaders boasted.

What about the profusion of revolting and senseless events whose only ambition is the sale of our art abroad?

Or the hundreds of political lampoons that we have had to shoot every day for so many years live and on television?

Or the thousands of public events where money is wasted by the boatload and bad taste is encouraged, the ineffectiveness, the falsehood and the injustice?

Recently an admired and recognized Cuban writer, also harassed from time to time, noted how little educated we Cubans have been in these times of the management, the habit, the cult of tolerance.

Most importantly – and I know you will agree with me, although feeling it in secrecy and not able to express its depth – the National Arts Council has every right to make known its differences, disagreements and decisions against a specific staging in its jurisdiction.

The abuse of an absolute power that holds, sustains and exposes the cruel exercise of an infamous censorship

But that does not exclude the qualifier of an immoral, medieval and incomprehensible measure, the abuse of an absolute power that holds, sustains and exposes the cruel exercise of an infamous censorship.

I shut you up to make myself heard.

Me. Me. And me.

And to not hear anything else.

Nor anyone else.

Typical behavior in the entire reign, dictatorial regime, or simply despotism.

Nepotism exemplified. Manifest and brazen arbitrariness.

Where is the possibility that others express opinions?

Why, and who, arrogates to himself the right to decide what others must think, propose or feel?

What right does anyone have to dictate the thinking of everyone?

These are other times, esteemed colleague.

A pandemic of freedom is flooding our senses.

If anyone disagrees with what we do, there will never be anything worse than condemnation and the penalty of silence, the penance of ostracism, the expiation of ignorance and the elimination, at a single blow, our freedom of artistic expression, our right to be wrong, our will and perennial vocation to argue, and even dissent, which doesn’t mean, although it could be so, to be against.

Our intent with this staging was to talk about the resistance to change. Scathing obstinacy that today is made manifest again with the erratic decision of the Council itself.

And it is not absolute and unconditional truth that we tried to make reference to a monarch, a chief, or any leader. Indeed, we are consciously trying to avoid it, although we knew full well that the sickly reading of these days would go, obligatorily, in that direction.

In the name of “national-socialism” we are restricted, repressed, sanctioned, gagged, trampled and hidden. This is embracing fascism. Pure. Absolute.

The actor who played King Eggplant the First studied the gestures of the great French comedian Loius de Funes, rather than delving into the nearer characters of our everyday lives.

You (all of you) could say and allege what you want. In addition, you can do it, because you have all the media under your control to disseminate it. They read the play and assumed the risk. They neglected the delivery.

But what is neither wise nor judicious, and it runs counter to the century in which we live, is the useless spell to silence others.

To decree and dictate the persistent and stubborn silence.

There is no right.

It is only imposed by force.

And where there is force reason pales.

It is helplessness facing the terror.

The bitter impotence of the offense.

The dream orphaned

The truth mocked.

Insisting on the error to drown in it.

In the name of “national-socialism” we are restricted, repressed, sanctioned, gagged, trampled and hidden. This is embracing fascism. Pure. Absolute and integral. The same as burning books and stigmatizing races, sexes, colors and even thoughts and ways of being. And it is also apartheid.

Like Fassbinder says, “Fear devours their souls.”

Nor is your observation about my most recent film work accurate, using precisely the example of Crematorium 1: in short… the evil, which is a project whipped by others, slyly veiled, or at least not officially released, and it has been appreciated only though this legalized and incoherent piracy that senselessly feeds our State.

That is, not even in the cinema are my “politically incorrect” steps well regarded by the nomenklatura, by the opportunistic, dull and mediocre bureaucracy that supports authority these days.

I am very clear-sighted and have learned since I was born that to be a revolutionary is NOT to be obedient nor to abide by the letter of everything that comes from “above.” That is being a sheep. That is: it is to be sheeplike.

From higher up come the things of God and you people disregard them.

He forgives you.

Our reason for being is to create. And we continue to do it. Although you would try to cut our wings. You can never crush thought.

Your duty (the duty of all of you) has been founded in mutilating, suspending, silencing, stopping, paralyzing, stalling, limiting, hindering, delaying, denying, and even unto death.

Our nation is its culture and our nationality as well.

Long live art!

The rest is cheap, hollow politicking.

And enough of hypocrisies, that you (all of you) do not feel.

Translator’s notes:

*The title is play on words of Fidel Castro’s defense in his trial for the Moncada Attack where he wrote: “Condemn me, history will absolve me.”

** The play has been staged in the United States under the name “Exit the King”


A List of Cuban Political Prisoners / 14ymedio, Martha Beatriz Roque

UNPACU activists being arrested. Screen shot from Youtube
UNPACU activists being arrested. Screen shot from Youtube

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Martha Beatriz Roque, Havana, 11 July 2015 — What classifies as a political prisoner is a cause for disagreement among the Cuban opposition. There are varying opinions about who has been jailed for political reasons or not, despite the criteria established by the United Nations and other organizations that concern themselves with these matters.

There are several lists of political prisoners compiled by various organizations circulating in and outside of Cuba. Said lists do not come from any specific dissident groups, but rather from individuals who publicize them. I unsuccessfully tried for all parties to agree on one list. Unfortunately, some individuals who have control over the names of political prisoners refuse to even listen to what others who made their own lists have to say.

Then we also have several groups of lawyers who do not actively contribute to lists of political prisoners, and who do not endorse the ones we have now either. continue reading

When the Cuban government wants a dissident off the streets, it accuses him or her of any crime. Moreover, when an officer of the law beats an opposition figure, the victim ends up accused of assault. Nevertheless, there have been cases in which opposition members were considered political prisoners when their incarcerations have had nothing to do with their political activities.

Twice in recent months, Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino has stated that there are no political prisoners in Cuba. However, he later asked for lists of names of those who might now be incarcerated for political reasons to be forwarded to him. Due to the lack of consensus among the opposition, by now Cardinal Ortega must have several lists, including some containing names of individuals who have committed crimes not even remotely linked to the internal opposition movement, nor whose objective has been the nonviolent democratization of the country.

Several people have spent too many years in jail, and should be freed. Others have been given excessive sentences forbidding them from earning any privileges during their incarceration. These individuals should be classified separately from political prisoners, although we should still advocate for them. We should also continue speaking up for those on the list of prisoners with shorter sentences, namely those unjustly jailed for supposedly having a “special proclivity to commit crimes,” or “dangerousness.”

The Cuban government has never wanted to accept the existence of political prisoners in the country. It wants dissidents to be perceived as common criminals, mercenaries, terrorists, or anything else that would discredit both them and their oppositional activities. Its objective is to multiply political prisoners by zero.

In order to demonstrate how vitally important it is to come to an agreement on the lists of political prisoners and draw up only one that would have the approval of all the opposition, several inquiries have been conducted. We have contacted leaders of organizations, relatives, dissidents, and even some of the individuals whose names appear on the lists. Regardless of all the hard work, we have not always gotten the necessary responses nor reached any real conclusions due to a lack of understanding. Therefore, a commission should be created to analyze each case individually by evaluating the testimonies of witnesses and relatives.

The objective of the information below is not meant to disparage the work of any organization, and much less to belittle any prisoner. Only when we finally understand the importance of collective analysis, can we then reach an appropriate conclusion. I am sure that after each case is closely examined, we will all realize how important it is for us to work together.

It cannot be ruled out that there are no other prisoners jailed for political crimes just because they do not appear on any lists we examined. Cuba’s authorities do not allow access to prison statistics.

I wish to thank the support of the members of the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents (Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios), without whom it would have been impossible to gather the following data. I would also like to thank in particular Arnaldo Ramos Laururique, member of the Group of 75 and prisoner of conscience.

List of Political Prisoners Gathered from Several Different Organizations:

Coalition of the Opposition of Central Cuba (Damarys Moya Portieles, president)

  • Léster Castillo Rodríguez, sentenced on August 24, 2015 to one year for “dangerousness.”
  • Deibis Sardiñas Moya, sentenced on June 26, 2014 to three years for “dangerousness.”

United Anti-Totalitarian Front (Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas, president)

  • Joel Bencomo Rodríguez (not Díaz, as he appears on another list), sentenced on October 1, 2014 to two years for the crime of “disrespect.” The police have tried transferring him to a forced labor camp, but Mr. Bencomo refuses to budge.
  • Justo Miguel Fariñas Quey, sentenced on May 8, 2014 to six months in jail plus six months house arrest for his role in thwarting José Alberto Botel Cárdenas’ attempt on Guillermo Fariñas’ life. His sentence was made public before the last list was completed on June 19th. Still, his sentence was not noted.
  • Librado Linares, president of the Cuban Reflection Movement, and member of the Group of 75.
  • Yoelsi Llorente Bermúdez, Óscar Luis Santana López, and Miguel Ernesto Armenteros Hernández have been incarcerated since May 16th, waiting trial for “attempting against the State and resisting authority.” After these four individuals were expelled by the police from a discothèque in the town of Santa Isabel de las Lajas, about a hundred people gathered in the town’s main park for a spontaneous protest. All were arrested. Of the hundred, forty were given summonses ranging from thirty to fifty Cuban pesos.
  • There are five prisoners in the Cienfuegos Province’s Ariza Prison.
  • Vladimir Morera Bacallao was transferred to Havana’s National Hospital after ending his hunger strike. He was arrested during the April 2015 municipal elections for putting a sign in front of his home that read “I vote for freedom!” Mr. Morera’s trial is still pending.

The Opposition Movement for a New Republic [MONR]

  • José Díaz Silva, the organization’s president, expressed to Jorge Bello Domínguez from the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents that the person who appears on the list as a political prisoner from his organization, Job Lemus Fonseca, no longer belongs to his group. Mr. Lemus had been ousted from the MONR, and the crime he is accused of is non-political.

Patriotic Union of Cuba [UNPACU] (José Daniel Ferrer, president)

There are fourteen discrepancies in the lists of prisoners associated with UNPACU:

  • Edilberto Arzuaga Alcalá, was sentenced to one year on February 15, 2015. He had been fined five thousand Cuban pesos for drawing graffiti in the town of Santa Cruz del Sur, Camagüey Province. Arzuaga refused to pay the fine. After protesting in front of Santa Cruz del Sur’s Poder Popular*, [People’s Power] Mr. Arzuaga was arrested.
  • Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña, was sentenced to six years for “attempting against the State.” UNPACU did not exist at that time, so it would be ianccurate to classify him as a prisoner of this organization. At the time of Arzuaga’s imprisonment on March 17, 2011, UNPACU’s president José Daniel Ferrer was also incarcerated. Therefore, Mr. Ferrer does not have any personal knowledge of the charges brought against Mr. Arzuaga, although he does have testimonies from the group “Factors for Change,” and other sources. Mr. Arzuaga is currently held at the San Blas forced labor camp in Granma Province. San Blas is what the government calls a “plan confianza,” or “confidence-building strategy.”**
  • María del Carmen Calá Aguilera was arrested on April 24, 2015 in Holguín Province. Ms. Calá was accused of “attempting against the State” after insulting the doctor responsible for the death of her son, a non-political prisoner who died in jail from negligence.
  • Darián Ernesto Dufó Preval, Ricardo Pelier Frómeta and Yoelkis Rosabal Flores, were detained on May 15, 2014, in the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, accused of “conspiracy to commit murder” after staging a sit-in demanding the release of Johane Arce. Some lists incorrectly state “they are still pending trial,” but these four men have already been tried and convicted for “incessant disorderly conduct.” Mr. Dufó was sentenced to two years of incarceration, Mr. Pelier to three, and Mr. Rasabal to four.
  • Yuselín Ferrera Espinosa was arrested on September 24, 2014, and sentenced to one year of incarceration for “causing injury to another person.” As Mr. Ferrera was enjoying a recording of the hip-hop duo Los Aldeanos, a member of the Communist Party ripped the cables off his sound system. There were no injuries, nor any medical documentation stating the contrary.
  • Mario Ronaide Figueroa Diéguez incorrectly appears on a list as having been arrested on December 2, 2012. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, the exact day of Mr. Figueroa’s detention –along with ten other activists– was November 27, 2012. The political police told them that if they left UNPACU they would be released. Mr. Figueroa accepted the offer, yet was rearrested at the beginning of December of 2014. The rest of the group appeared on the list of 53 prisoners that was shown to the government of the United States.
  • Aracelio Ribeaux Noa was arrested in the town of Playa de Aguadores, Santiago de Cuba Province, accused of “physically assaulting prison guards.” According to the list, Mr. Ribeaux has been jailed since November 27, 2012. However, he had been freed on January 8, 2015 along with the rest of the group of 53 announced by the Cuban government. Mr. Ribeaux was an UNPACU member when guards of the Vigilance and Protection Corps caught him drawing graffiti. He refused to leave with them, but a few days later, a retired major from the Ministry of the Interior bayoneted Mr. Ribeaux, injuring his hand. He was taken to the hospital, where a few days later the political police sent him a message ordering Mr. Ribeaux not to press charges against the retired major, but he responded that he had already done so. He was then arrested in May. The authorities told Mr. Ribeaux that if he abandoned UNPACU and dropped the charges against the former Interior Ministry official, he would be freed. There are no official documents charging Mr. Ribeaux with any crime.
  • Emilio Serrano Rodríguez, incarcerated since February 7, 2015, is accused of “illegal commercial transactions” (he is not an “independent salesman” as the list says), and is still awaiting trial. An UNPACU member, Mr. Serrano had come to the defense of two Havana women who were licensed street merchants as the police were harassing them. These women, Sonia de la Caridad Mejías and Melkis Faure Echavarría, were at that time members of UNPACU.
  • Carlos Manuel Veranes Heredia, from the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, was sentenced to one year incarceration on May 17, 2015. He is still being held at the provincial jail. Mr. Veranes was first informed he had no charges pending, yet one year later was arrested, given a summary trial with no defense lawyer, and convicted for the crime of “disrespect.”
  • Amado Verdecia Díaz, has been imprisoned since October 20, 2014. The police began harassing him in August 2013 by informing him that his driver’s license had expired. When Mr. Verdecia proved them wrong, the police told him that his problem was his poor driving skills. He was then arrested during a protest in the city of Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba Province, but was later released thanks to the pressure of UNPACU activists. Ten months later, Mr. Verdecia was arrested, tried, and sentenced to five years for “attempting against the State.” According to UNPACU’s José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Verdecia’s crime was volunteering his car for the organization’s needs.
  • Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, a peasant and member of UNPACU, went to a store on July 21, 2014 to buy the bread ration allotted to him. When he arrived he was informed that all the bread was gone, and he responded that he was going to file an official complaint. His local delegate to the “Poder Popular” accused Mr. Cisneros of being a counter-revolutionary and told him that bread was meant only for revolutionaries. When he arrived to file his complaint at the offices of citizens’ services in the town of Cruce de los Baños, Santiago de Cuba Province, Mr. Cisneros was arrested and accused of the “attempted murder” of his local “Poder Popular” delegate, and for “possessing a firearm.” His trial took place on June 15,, 2015, and his sentencing is still pending. Mr. Cisneros does not appear on any list because those who have compiled them do not believe his crime is political in nature.
  • Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros has been incarcerated in Camagüey Province’s Cerámica Roja Prison since January 8, 2015, the same day as the group of 53 was released. Mr. Arostegui is accused of “attempting against the State” and “menacing.” Although he has a history of being treated for psychiatric disorders, Mr. Arostegui owns a horse and a cart he used to distribute UNPACU leaflets. The authorities organized an act of repudiation in front of his home, pelting it with excrement. As is the case with Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, Mr. Arostegui does not appear on any list.
  • Eglis Heredia Rodríguez was returned to prison to complete a sentence of eight years and six months, with the right to occasional supervised visits home. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Eredia’s sentence is not related to his role in the opposition, as is stated on a list. Mr. Eredia is not a political prisoner, but he did join UNPACU upon being released from jail. He was serving a sentence for burglary with forced entry.

Democratic Alliance of Eastern Cuba (Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, president)

  • Yeris Curbelo Aguilera was incarcerated for three years for “disrespect and disobedience.” He has been serving his sentence in Guantánamo Province’s Combinado Prison since February 19, 2015.

The Juan Wilfredo Soto García Human Rights Movement

  • René Rouco Machín, the organization’s president, appears on one list as serving a sentence for “disrespect” since August 4, 2014, and on another as serving four years for “attempting against the State.” Independent journalist Daniel González Oliva reports that Mr. Rouco is serving both sentences. On December 17, 2014, two officials from State Security paid him a visit at the Escalona Forced Labor Camp. Mr. Rouco refused to speak with them, still he was forced to meet with the officials, where they proceeded to beat him and break his arm. Mr. Rouco was subsequently accused of “attempting against the State,” and sentenced to four more years.

The José Martí Current

  • Rolando Joaquín Guerra Pérez is an opposition member and leader of The José Martí Current. According to one of the lists, while attempting to leave Cuba on a flimsy vessel, he was intercepted by the United States Coast Guard on November 6, 2012, and then repatriated. Mr. Guerra was awaiting trial for larceny, but escaped from the Canasí forced labor camp where he was being held. A few months ago, and without even informing his relatives, Mr. Guerra was tried, found guilty of several offenses, and sentenced to six years. He is currently housed in in the prison of the town of Melena del Sur, Mayabeque Province.

Other Cases

  • Juana Castillo Acosta, her husband Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo were found guilty of “attempting against the State,” although some lists accuse them of “attempting to murder police.” Mrs. Castillo was originally given five years. She was mistakenly listed as serving her sentence under house arrest. Mrs. Castillo’s sentence was actually commuted to a forced labor facility she can commute to from home. Her husband, Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta was sentenced to nine years, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo to seven. Currently, the son is being allowed occasional supervised visits home.
  • Ricardo Hernández Ruiz belongs –according to one list– to an organization that no longer exists, Camagüey Unity. Virgilio Mantilla, who was the organization’s president, says he has no connection with the prisoner, who also does not belong to any opposition group. José Luis S. Varona, a dissident nicknamed “Pescao” (Fish), stated that Mr. Hernández is being held in a forced labor camp in Camagüey Province. According to Daysa Durán Galano of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement of Camagüey, Mr. Hernández tried to leave the country illegally through Guantánamo Province in order to reach the U.S. Naval Base. Five people who are now free accompanied him.
  • Yosvani Melchor Rodríguez is a young man who returned to Cuba illegally after having lived in the United States for one year. He was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration for human trafficking. Mr. Rodríguez’s codefendent, Jorge Luis Sánchez Carcassés from Santiago de Cuba, is now free. Mr. Melchor’s mother, Rosa María Rodriguez reported that her son is mentally retarded and is not a member of the Christian Liberation Movement. He is currently incarcerated in the Toledo 1 Prison, has been allowed to return home twice on supervised visits, and is waiting to be paroled.
  • Mauricio Noa Maceo has been incarcerated since August 6, 2010 for “‘ideological diversionism (divisionism),’ illegal economic activity, and accepting stolen property,” according to the information on one of the lists. Mr. Noa was tried on December 9, 2014 and was sentenced to three years imprisonment after having served more than four years. He is supposedly waiting for his appeals trial, but the deadline has passed. A prisoner only has a few days after a trial to appeal, and the bench has 45 days to respond.
  • Santiago Roberto Montes de Oca Rodríguez appears on several lists. Mr. Montes de Oca is simply classified as an “activist” without specifying to what organization he belongs.
  • Ángel Santiesteban Prats, a writer, does not appear on all the lists, although he is certain he submitted all his documentation, and that on February 26, 2013 –two days before reporting to prison– Amnesty International contacted him to confirm that he was indeed a prisoner of conscience. Currently there are those who doubt that Mr. Santiesteban is a political prisoner. He was sentenced to five years of incarceration for trespassing and causing bodily harm.

There are other persons who should appear on the lists since their legal status have yet to be clarified. For instance, take the case of Egberto Ángel Escobedo Morales. He was imprisoned on July 11, 1995 to a term of twenty years for “espionage, enemy propaganda, and stealing secret military counterintelligence documents.” Mr. Morales was released on December 29, 2010, after a 75-day hunger strike. First he was informed he had been pardoned, but then was told that due his improper behavior, he was just being paroled. He has yet to receive an official document signed off by a judge.

Translator’s Notes:
*Literally, “The People’s Power.” The local Communist Party government offices.
** A “reeducation” forced labor camp.

Translated by José Badué

Don’t “Be Dazzled” Says Number Two in Communist Party to Cuba’s Young People / 14ymedio

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 12 July 2015 – The number two man in the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, the only legal party), Jose R. Machado Ventura, called on young  Cubans not to be “dazzled” by consumerism and “nice things” in the new era posed by the process of restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States.

“The first challenge is not to be dazzled by consumerism and beautiful things, they attract the attention of young people,” said Machado Ventura, in an interview published in the Sunday edition of Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the official newspaper of the Union of Young Communists, the youth subsidiary of the PCC, to mark the tenth congress of that organization to be held next week. continue reading

Cuba and the United States confirmed earlier this month their decision to restore diplomatic relations, broken in 1961, and also announced the reopening of embassies in their respective capitals.

The opening of the embassies will occur on 20 July 2015, according to a statement from the Cuban Foreign Ministry reported on its website.

Machado Ventura insisted that the new generations of Cubans should be “more prepared and know how to move behind the scenes,” and know what is going on so as “not to be conquered by the consumer society.”

He also asked that they not forget their “roots, history, the background of confrontation we have had with American imperialism,” and defend the “prosperous and sustainable socialism that we are developing.”

“This will bring steadfastness and not let us be confused, because the ideas of imperialism remain the same. We need to acquire more knowledge and a strong preparation; knowing that the US authorities are planning the same thing, they have just changed the methods in order to try, through other means, to destroy Cuba’s political system,” he said.

The veteran Communist leader said that young people have to understand that with this new policy the United States “is trying to lead Cuba to capitalism and we can’t return to that.”

With regard to the use of new technologies and access to the Internet, Machado Ventura acknowledged that they pose “a great opportunity,” because in his opinion they are “new and vital,” not only for communication between people, but also for development.

“Everyone knows why there isn’t more internet in Cuba, because it is very expensive. There are some who want to give it to us for free, but not so that the Cuban people can communicate with each other, but in order to penetrate us and undertake ideological work toward a new conquest,” he sustained.

In this sense, he affirmed, they “are trying to ideologically soften” the young people because often these technological platforms can also be “mechanisms of subversion powered by big money and their communications media.”

But he supported the use of technology to “have more influence” on young people, “taking advantage of it to defend what we have built in these years of the Revolution,” and so that “they aren’t detached from today’s world.”

The Visit Of Pope Francis Confronts The Opposition With A New Test / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

 Pope Francis in Quito last week. (Christian Torres / Presidency of Ecuador)
Pope Francis in Quito last week. (Christian Torres / Presidency of Ecuador)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 13 July 2015 – Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba is approaching and the scenario represents a new opportunity for civil society and the political opposition to live up to the expectations of thousands of Cubans inside and outside the country, who have been waiting for a long time for a coherent and worthy action be a real force for change.

On previous occasions, when it has been able to exert political influence and have a positive impact on public opinion – and mainly in front of Cubans on the island – someone has always managed to polarize the forces and present us as divided and quarreling, incapable of working together to achieve a minimum degree of strategic consensus. continue reading

Some organizations have already advanced efforts to have their representatives received by the pontiff. More than a few of us have never understood what the criteria are, established from outside, for choosing those who deserve the vote of legitimacy awarded by a handshake with figures universally seen as prominent.

I suppose that the impossibility of doing internal surveys or seeing some reflection of people’s opinions of our society’s political and social actors, forces many advosors to lean toward the most picturesque, whether positive or negative, because in any case that is who stands out.

We have never understood what the criteri are for choosing who deserve the vote of legitimacy awarded by a handshake with figures universally seen as prominent

This, coupled with some external gestures by those who have mastered well the techniques more for devils than for old men and who have the contacts, results in the same impassable and sacred media ghetto.

From my point of view, the Civil Society Open Forum is an ideal forum to coordinate the plural and inclusive message that Pope Francis should receive, given the high confluence of civil society and actors and organizations among its ranks.

The ideal would be to choose a representative capable of carrying out the mission with the seriousness, elegance, education and professionalism to send a unified message from all the Cubans who make up a part of this seed of democracy, of this free and independent island that beats within the country.

Hopefully we can begin to undertake good democratic exercises for this and other similar situations. The time is now to practice at home what we propose for the country.

Ladies in White March Ends With 120 Arrests / 14ymedio

Act of repudiation against the Ladies in White in the vicinity of Linea Street tunnel last February (14ymedio)
Act of repudiation against the Ladies in White in the vicinity of Linea Street tunnel last February (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 13 July 2015 – A group of 120 activists and Ladies in White was arrested on Sunday during the traditional weekly march. Among those arrested were the opposition leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (known as Antunez), who in the days before had called for support for the Ladies in White, the artist Tania Bruguera, and the photographer Claudio Fuentes, who has now been released.

Most of the arrests were concentrated in Havana, near the Church of Santa Rita. In the town of Aguada de Pasajeros, in the province of Cienfuegos, arrests and acts of repudiation were also reported.

During the morning, at least 20 activists and Ladies in White were prevented from reaching the Mass in the parish in the Miramar neighborhood. Others, such as Berta Soler, managed to reach the site and subsequently fell victim to an act of repudiation with posters and shouting.

The independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported on “mobs stationed on two blocks” of the Aguada de Pasajeros parrish, where on June 21 eight Ladies in White were expelled from Mass by the priest.

From the town of Cienfueguero, the activist Tania Echeverria reported “severe beatings of the Ladies in White Olga Ravelo Vega and Diurbis de La Rosa Hernandez.”

Tania Bruguera Now Has Her Passport / 14ymedio


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 11 July 2015 — The Cuban government finally returned her passport to the artist Tania Bruguera, who can now travel outside the island, she reported this Saturday in a statement on her Facebook site #YoTambiénExijo. The document had been seized last December when she was arrested before staging a performance of political art in Havana.

According to the statement, State Security and a police instructor returned her only passport, a Cuban one, to Bruguera at a meeting on Friday. However, the artist declared that she would not leave Cuba, “Until I have an official document in my hands that legally assures me I can reenter the country without problems,” which the Cuban authorities have promised to have to her within the next two weeks. continue reading

“My argument was never that I would leave Cuba: my argument is that there is work so that freedom of speech and expression exist in Cuba, so that violence against thinking different politically different is penalized,” Bruguera said in the statement.” In Cuba people should feel happy to speak their minds without fear of losing their jobs or their university careers, without fear of being isolated or going to prison. ”

The artist also expressed her wish that “one day the police will be in a proud demonstration of those who think differently from them. My argument proposes an amnesty and eliminating the figure of the political prisoner because no one would be punished for thinking for themselves.”

“My argument was always Cuba’s need for a civic literacy campaign where everyone knows and learns to defend their rights as citizens,” concludes Bruguera.

Since the Cuban government prevented her from staging her performance six months ago, Bruguera has had several run-ins with State Security. On June 8 the artist was detained along with 47 Ladies in White at the exit of Santa Rita Church in the Havana’s Playa municipality. A few weeks earlier, during the activities of the Havana Biennial, Bruguera decided to pay tribute to Hannah Arendt with more than 100 consecutive hours of reading, analysis and discussion of the book The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was hijacked by successive acts of police pressure, a noisy street repair project outside the home of the artist and the subsequent arrest of her and several companions.

Stirring Up the Book Publishing Hornet’s Nest / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)
The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 7 July 2015 — The printed edition of the weekly Vangaurdia* dared mess with hornets. In her article “Let him who does not know you buy you?” the young journalist Laura Rodríguez Fuentes identified several inconvenient truths that will surely make waves in the tiny world of Cuban letters.

According to the journalist “many people ask if publishing houses are really thinking about the public for whom their publications are intended.” Her response, while only inferred, is of course no. Ms. Rodríguez continues: “An assessment of what is published is urgently needed, while opinion polls on topics, genres, and authors should be disclosed nationwide.”

After acknowledging that “except for children’s titles, the quality of many books is poor,” Ms. Rodríguez goes on to scrutinize Cuban publishing marketing strategies. With plenty of evidence to support her claims, she states that these policies are too focused on yearly book fairs. continue reading

Ms. Rodríguez continued by shoving a stick into a hornet’s nest and shaking it violently with the following paragraph: “Effective book publishing policies cannot be focused on writers who want to have their books published just because. They should focus on the consumer, the reader.”

State-sanctioned authors control Santa Clara’s publishers for their own ends. Despite the efforts of qualified editors such as Isaily Pérez and especially Idiel García of Ediciones Sed de Belleza (Thirst for Beauty Publishers), it is the clique of authorized writers that decides who can and cannot get published, while guaranteeing they will be published first. In order to ensure their place in the “publishing strategy,” these authors will write anything and on any subject.

The fact is that this clique is more concerned with making money than having its work disseminated. Such was the case in recent events in the town of Remedios. Several writers, who were not paid immediately for their work on a special publication commemorating the town’s 500th anniversary, behaved very uncivilly. According to off-the-record sources, even the police got involved as fists flew in middle of a brawl worthy of the worst Havana slum.

It seems none of the authors involved cared much about the significance that comes with being part of such a publication. Their only concern was cold hard cash and the fleeting moment.

Ms. Rodríguez concludes with the following observation: “There should be a direct link between opinion polls and the titles offered at book fairs. Book publishing should not be centered on favoritisms, but rather on consumers’ preferences and wishes.”

We could not agree with her more.

* Translator’s Note: The official newspaper of Villa Clara Province’s Communist Party’s Central Committee.

Translated by José Badué

Holguin Hospitals Throw Away Biological Wastes in the Cemetery / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate

Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin. (14ymedio)
Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate, Holguin, 11 July 2015 – Broken tombstones, open graves, dilapidated tombs, and, here and there, scavengers that devour shallowly buried remains. This is no scene from a horror movie but images from a video that exposes the serious situation in the Mayabe Cemetery in Holguin.

Released by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in 2014, the film was produced by journalists Nairovis Zaldivar, Yainiel Diamela Escofet and Rosaida Check, and has been distributed through the illegal “weekly packet” that circulates widely in the province without any official media picking up the story.

Almost a year later, the problem has not been solved; it was caused because the Vladimir Ilich Lenin University General Hospital, the Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Teaching Clinic and the Provincial Military Hospital bury their wastes in the place, since their crematoriums are not functioning. Criticism of the mismanagement of biological wastes has been heard at various levels but local authorities have not taken action in the matter.

In the investigative work the errors committed by the medical institutions depositing the remains from surgeries, abortions, amputations and tests, without proper precautions, are laid bare. For months, those who have visited the grave of a relative in the cemetery have been overwhelmed by carrion birds and other animals that helped themselves to the hospital wastes barely covered by a little dirt. continue reading

Gate to the Mayabe, Holguin, graveyard, one of the biggest on the island. (14ymedio)
Gate to the Mayabe, Holguin, graveyard, one of the biggest on the island. (14ymedio)

Located six kilometers from the city, the Holguin cemetery has some 500,000 square meters and is one of the biggest in the country. Although there are no homes nearby, at midday the bad odor is unbearable, especially in the area at the back of the site where the three medical centers dump their wastes.

On the Cuban Medicine Blog, Doctor Eloy A. Gonzalez calls attention to the fact that “the management of hospital wastes, above all biological materials, is a problem of the highest priority for health systems and the organizations and institutions charged with management and disposal of the same.”

The doctor points out that “you cannot walk around in cemeteries throwing away biological wastes, barely buried where soon stray dogs and carrion birds notice the anatomical parts that come from a hospital. Are there no incinerators in hospitals in Cuba?” he asks. His text circulates through the email of various health professional with accounts on the Infomed service.

Specialists consulted by this daily agree that a first step to solving the problem would be to diminish as much as possible the biological wastes that the hospitals generate. Once reduced, their collection, transport and disposal must be rigorously controlled. Failure to fulfill the measures associated with the treatment of these wastes can present a serious health risk.

With the scandal uncovered by the UNPACU video, now the wastes are buried more deeply, although still without regard to the measures required for their handling. The regular edition of the February 15, 1999, Official Gazette governs the responsibility of “the heads of the entities that are in charge of installations and release areas whose operations generate dangerous biological wastes.”

Here and there are seen exposed remains in the neglected niches of Mayabe. (14ymedio)
Here and there are seen exposed remains in the neglected niches of Mayabe. (14ymedio)

Under Cuban law, wastes that may contain “biological agents, organisms and fragments of agents or organisms with genetic information, that represent a real or potential danger for human health and the environment in general” must be removed in a way that “guarantees the protection of the environment and in particular the population and workers.”

On questioning about the topic at the Vladimir Ilich Lenin University General Hospital, the employees shy away from responding about the conditions in which the wastes from the health center end up at the Holguin graveyard. Only one employee from the laboratory area, who preferred anonymity, submits: “We have problems with resources, for example with the correct bags and containers for placing the samples that we process.”

When they will repair the crematorium is a question that finds no answer in the management of the health center and much less in its administration. Nevertheless, the epidemiological risk from the wastes is not the only cause for worry for those Holguin residents who visit the cemetery. The use of an area laden with funereal connotations as a biological dumping ground bothers many, too.

Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Hospital Clinic, one of those denounced for burying biological wastes in the Holguin cemetery. (14ymedio)
Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Hospital Clinic, one of those denounced for burying biological wastes in the Holguin cemetery. (14ymedio)

Lucia, 72 years of age, often visits the family mausoleum which is located a few meters from the place where the hospitals bury their wastes. “It is a lack of respect that they do this because this is a sacred place for the dead to rest in peace,” this lady complains, and although she has not seen the journalistic report, she asserts: “I realized that something was going on when I arrived and this was full of miserable buzzards.”

The main complaint, however, lies in the fact that such a sensitive matter that involves ethical and epidemiological issues has still not been dealt with by the province’s official media. “It seems that they are waiting for something grave to happen, for someone to get sick or to protest because of this disrespect, before they put it in the press,” says Lucia.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

A New Case of Fraud Jolts Cuban Universities / 14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart

Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)
Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart, Villa Clara, 9 July 2015 — A new case of academic fraud jolted university campuses this Thursday. A group of first year students in Medical Sciences in the province of Villa Clara had prior access to the answers for the Morphophysiology III exam, given on Thursday, 2 July. According to several witnesses, the sale and circulation of the test was extensive and affected sites in other cities such as that in Sagua la Grande.

The immediate solution will be to retest all first year students on Monday, 13 July. So far it is not known if sanctions will be applied to those who committed the fraud, nor if the source of the link is known. The only details come from those who must retake the test, a measure some students consulted lamented as “paying for the sins of others.”

Scandals of this kind in Cuban academia have become common at all levels of education. Last June, this newspaper reported on the leak of several final exams in the No. 1 Medical School in Santiago de Cuba. On that occasion, 23 students were directly involved in leaking and distributing the content of the second year Anatomy and Statistics exams, fourth year English and the well known State Test. On that occasion the school’s director asked for a two-year suspension from higher education for the students involved in the incident.

Carnival Cruise Lines, A Paradigm of Our Times / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A cruise ship from the American company Carnival Cruise Lines (Carnival)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 July 2015 – There are several ways to react when faced with another person’s affluence. One of them is the one taught to us by the Castro regime from the time we were little, and that is based on anger and stigmatizing the prosperous. A Robin Hood-like intransigence, the point of which is to snatch from the other person the “excess” or whatever he “has too much of.” This animosity toward anyone who makes progress, accumulates property, or enjoys certain material comforts, has ended up becoming an inseparable component of our idiosyncrasy, although the times seem to be changing.

“I am never going to go on a cruise, but the more they come… the more we gain,” a retired man said yesterday, chewing tobacco and wearing a shirt so worn out his skin showed through. The official news just announced that the US company Carnival Cruise Lines received authorization from Washington to travel to Cuba, and the gentleman was expressing his own opinion about the luxuries enjoyed by others. This symbol of a capitalism of pleasures, fun and wastefulness is about to dock in Havana and it is noteworthy that officialdom will receive it not with shouts or slogans, but rather will welcome it. continue reading

Cubans don’t appear scandalized when we talk about these floating behemoths that will arrive with sumptuousness and money, a lot of money. Rather, people calculate the benefit involved when the giant of the seas touches land and a flood of tourists descend with bulging wallets and overflowing sunscreen. Restaurant owners near the Port of Havana are rubbing their hands and tchotchke sellers are hoping to improve their sales.

“Carnival Cruise Lines is the last fig leaf that has been removed and it lays bare their shameless fascination with money, their own and others’.”

Others, like the gentleman with the worn out shirt and the chewing tobacco, will probably not benefit at all from Carnival Line’s arrival. However, unlike in the past when he had spit with anger at these “exploitative bourgeois who come to leave us their trash,” now he seems disposed to cope with such an exhibition of ostentation and glamor. Asked about his tolerance for others’ luxuries, the old man explained that, “There are people here who live like that, so grandly, but they’re up there,” as he pointed a finger skyward to indicate the nomenklatura. “Here the difference is that we will see them coming by sea and they won’t be hiding what they have,” he said.

To preserve the succulent assets associated with power, the government itself is changing its discourse regarding the wealth of others, and trying to attract those, “rich people, bourgeois, empowered,” whom they renounced and fought for decades. However, in order to reap the benefits of luxury tourism, they are sending a contradictory message to their citizens who grew up under calls for egalitarianism and austerity. Carnival Cruise Lines is the last fig leaf that has been removed and it lays bare their shameless fascination with money, their own and others’.

Wi-Fi crashes at La Rampa / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Wi-Fi antenna in Havana. (14ymedio)
Wi-Fi antenna in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 July 2015 — Contrary to what one might expect in a country where communications are almost a luxury and not a right, the announced opening of a public network access at Havana’s La Rampa, which would expand Internet access in the capital starting July 1st, did not generate significant crowds.

In the morning hours, the iconic El Vedado stretch, from 23rd Street, between L and El Malecón, showed its usual liveliness. Just a few, mostly young, would-be Internet users roamed the corner of 23rd and L, manipulating their mobile phones in vain: there was no Wi-Fi signal.

The almost total absence of foreign media at the location seemed a bad omen. One of the most important complaints of the Cuban population has been specifically about the Internet. That is why every occasion relating to the expansion of communications and the creation of cyberspace is an event that brings out the media. continue reading

Under the scorching midday heat it was already evident that “something” had failed and –lacking any information- speculation became more frequent. “They must be configuring the system so it will not crash when service starts” argued a twenty-something young man that had spent hours searching for the expected signal on his phone. Others around him kept trying, while disappointment grew as the hours passed. Everyone had purchased their Nauta cards for this occasion, and they had activated their accounts to allow international navigation.

Already under the scorching midday heat it was evident that “something” had failed and –lacking any information- speculation became more frequent

By the afternoon, the number of potential Internet users grew a bit. The most persistent were about a dozen teenagers, who wanted to sign onto Facebook and Twitter to chat with friends who live abroad. A 17 year old girl claimed that although she had bought a card at the nearby Habana Libre Hotel, she could not connect without the hotel’s password. “It’s telling me that I need to have the hotel’s access code, but they did not mention that to me, or give me the code when I bought the card”.

Several vendors at the well-known craft fair, Feria de La Rampa “had known” unofficially that the network would only start operations “from July 2nd… or after the 10th”. As is the norm in Cuba, nobody knew exactly what difficulties had prevented the network’s activation. Tania, a custom jewelry seller, said she sporadically checked her phone to see if she could finally get a signal, until a friend who works at the Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión came by and told her that there would be no Wi-Fi signal because of a “technical problem”, a worn-out phrase which is strictly true in the Cuban circumstance. In fact, Nauta mail had problems since mid-morning, connecting intermittently and not allowing images or attachments to be viewed.

By afternoon’s end it was already clear the expected Wi-Fi signal would not be available on La Rampa, at least not on the promised date, and even the more optimistic users felt frustrated and put away their phones. “These people are always lying to us, that’s why nobody ever believes anything they say”, stated Joan, a college student who has been my companion today thorough this failed attempt at web-navigation. He is upset and is not hiding it. “You see this? They can’t even set up a Wi-Fi network which they charge us a lot for, besides. But no, just try to connect for free at the US Interests Office in Havana and they expel you from the University, they hold a meeting and label you as a traitor.” Then he leaves, grumbling, down La Rampa.

“Americans are going to set up a nice web room, all for free. And they won’t be able to tell us that it would be a bad thing, because we are now friends aren’t we?”

There are also the irredeemable optimists, who have an extra dose of fantasy. Roberto is another young man, but did not complete school. He drives the Coppelia-Vívora route of an almendrón [a vintage car fixed-route taxi] for a living. He says, “As soon as they reopen the embassy (on July 20th) Americans will set up a nice web room all for free, just wait and see. And they won’t be able to tell us that it would be a bad thing, because we are now friends, aren’t we? I want to view all about the Major Leagues on the internet.” What’s amazing is that there is no malice or suspicion in his demeanor, as if what he expects were a done deal.

The worst part of it? The indifference of some who simply shrugged: another day without Internet, who cares? Time is a dimension that only acquires real value beyond the wall of Havana’s Malecón which the Telecommunications Company, monopoly of the Cuban government, set as limit for the Wi-Fi, but that, in truth, continues to be the border between Havana and the real world.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Camagüey’s San Juan Festival, Somewhere Between Fun and Indecency / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)
The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantín,Camagüey, 28 June 2015 — Saint John the Baptist, or San Juan in Spanish, was a man who used river water to baptize those who wanted to purify themselves, yet he ended up decapitated for criticizing Galilee’s corrupt rulers. Ironically, now almost two thousand years later, San Juan’s feast day is celebrated in Camagüey with a public festival organized by the city’s authorities (some of whom are also corrupt), and with plenty of diluted “baptized” alcohol.

One of the San Juan Festival’s aims and outcomes is to defuse the bottled-up but growing discontent and dissent of the preceding year, and it accomplishes its goal with the joyful “decapitation” generated by alcohol, music, and parades. continue reading

The opening of my 2004 article about the San Juan Festival – a June tradition that always brings joy to the people of Camagüey – was a bit less critical. Nevertheless, it was censored and consequently not published in Adelante, the official newspaper. I was accused of promoting religion for mentioning San Juan in the opening sentence. Now is my chance to get even, although I must admit that there were not many differences between the festival of 2004 and 2015.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment

Just like back in 2004 – and as is the case in nearly all Cuban towns sponsoring public festivals – this year’s San Juan Festival started with the closure of specific streets and squares, where dozens of food and trinket stands, stages for musical performances, trailers carrying beer kegs, and carnival games were placed.

Floats, conga lines and dance troupes filed by in the early evening and after dusk. This year they were very colorful and rhythmical, although some of the musicians and dancers seemed off beat and to have a blank look on their faces. As always, the music and sale of food and beer went on until dawn. This was especially the case at the location where the great Cándido Fabré’s orchestra was performing.

Most students and State employees are grateful for the festival because the afternoons of the week of June 24th become de facto time off. Most people just leave their workplaces.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment, and who also provide what is consumed, transportation, and even the pubic restrooms. Yet our festival has its own peculiarities. We have San Pablo Street, historically and instinctively preferred by homosexuals, reserved for the street carnival.

Then there is Capdevila Street, which is synonymous with overwhelming vulgarity. We have a famous conga line, “The Commandos,” and the events start with a traditional inaugural in which the president of the local government delivers an official proclamation.

On the eve of San Juan’s Day, neighbors get together and make a large stew, which gets weaker every year, as do the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are responsible for preparing the meal. This year, the CDR’s were so kind as to distribute rotting cattle bones to homes on several blocks.

At sunset, thousands of people pour out onto the streets, but most return home after taking a stroll or before the break of dawn. These are then followed by young people, groups of inebriated friends, and lovers. Walking on the streets where the festival takes place with a wallet or cellphone at that time of night is extremely dangerous.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam. Rivers of pungent urine flow from the streets adjacent to the musical bands, from the beer kegs, and even from the walls of private homes. Later on it takes days to disinfect whole neighborhoods. Merry men and women of all ages hide in the dark to relieve their bladders, turning the simple acts of opening one’s front door or looking out the window into unpleasant surprises.

In the pre-dawn hours and in the areas reserved for dancing, it is not uncommon to see women in the crowd with their babies asleep in their strollers, accompanying their husbands who cling to their easily recognizable beer cans. No matter the time of day, the areas set aside for shopping and public consumption of beer are packed with minors, who with or without adult supervision witness and sometimes participate in all the rituals of adult nightlife: the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, public sex, lewdness, urination and defecation, and nighttime delinquency.

For some time now, Camagüey has been ravaged by violence, and the San Juan Festival only exacerbates the problem. Once festivities kick off on June 24th, the city’s residents start echoing the usual warnings: “Be careful out there!”; “Don’t go out at night!”; “Don’t ride your bike!”; “Make sure you lock the door!”; “Make sure to leave your money at home!”

According to older people, this year’s San Juan Festival was not as nice as those of yesteryear. Thousands of citizens of Camagüey stayed home, out of fear, indifference, or lack of money. Those who tried enjoying the festival did so despite the awful conditions caused by scarcity, stench, and danger. Still, the San Juan Festival is the only opportunity the people of Camagüey have in the whole year to forget about their gray lives, their limited hopes, and their bitter struggle for survival.

Translated by José Badué

At Least 563 Arbitrary Arrests in June, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 July 2015 – Through the month of June, at least 563 arbitrary arrests of regime opponents in Cuba were recorded according to the report published this Tuesday by the Cuban Commission on National Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN). In spite of a slight decrease in the number compared to previous months, the total continues to be one of the highest in the hemisphere.

The organization also counted 26 physical attacks and 16 cases of harassment; however, it recorded no acts of repudiation nor vandalism against homes of dissidents.

The report mentions the case of Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, an independent journalist arbitrarily detained last June 3, interrogated by State Security and transported dozens of miles from Havana. After forcing him to kneel looking at the ground, the agents put the barrel of a pistol against his neck, which the CCDHRN classifies as an unofficial mock execution.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Athens of the Caribbean / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 6 July 2015 — The “No” side won in the Greek referendum on Sunday. This controversial decision has given Raul Castro a chance to position himself on the multipolar world stage through a letter that the official press has published ad nauseam. The general president sent a message of solidarity and convergence to Alexis Tsipras, in which Athens and Havana display their points of contact.

The possible exit of Greece from the euro zone could occasion its approach to the Russian and Chinese gravitational camp, which also constitutes the strategic Cuban rearguard in the face of any negotiation with the United States and the European Union. Half a hundred words have been enough for the first secretary of the Communist Party to warn any negotiator that the “courageous policy” of the current Greek government would be an example to follow. continue reading

Elevating the tone of nationalism, putting the political discourse of sovereignty above the wellbeing of the population, and slamming the door to the creditors make up a part of the script that the Castros have been acting out for decades and that now has a good disciple in the leader from Greece’s Syriza Party. A way of governing that prioritizes fanfare in discourse above effectiveness in actions and calls for national sovereignty even though the individual is left out in the cold.

Tsipras (b. Athens 1974) has put his country on the brink of breaking away from the European Community and on the possible path of returning to the drachma, but Havana wins this game. It hasn’t even managed to reunify the two circulating currencies as it has projected it would do in more than one official economic plan. Both countries have broken economies, inflated growth numbers, dysfunctional financial systems, and, in the halls of power, leaders with more arrogance than pragmatism.

However, while the Greek government managed a nearly 62% acceptance of the referendum against the powerful troika (Central European Bank, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund), the Plaza of the Revolution has no need to submit its decision to a referendum. In the case of having to do it in the short or medium term, it would engage in its known mechanisms of coercion to ensure an overwhelming ninety-plus percent popular approval.

In the eighties, the Soviet subsidy made the most optimistic among us dream that Cuba could become a kind of Athens of the Caribbean. Today Raul Castro applauds Greece to send a message to the current geopolitical poles of the planet. A direct wink, with something of the flirt included, threatening the suitors in the struggle to approach the island with “falling into the arms of another.”

The enormous difference is that the European Union, the United States and NATO are more concerned over Greece’s approach to its contenders, than that far off Moscow or distant Peking could be interested in what happens in Havana. Where Greece wants an out because it cannot pay, is where Cuba would like to enter, which it demonstrates with this funny way of knocking at the door.

The results of Raul Castro’s accolade to “comrade Alexis Tsipras” may be one of those shots that backfires. At a time when the country is demonstrating its desire to attract investors and receive credits, it doesn’t help to give pats on the back to someone who hasn’t met its financial commitments. This is not the time to try to look like Athens.


Cienfuegos Activists Begin Hunger Strike Because Ladies In White Are Not Allowed To Attend Mass / 14ymedio

March of the Ladies in White on Sunday June 21 in Havana. (14ymedio)
March of the Ladies in White on Sunday June 21 in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Cienfuegos, 26 June 2015 – The activists Emilio García Moreira and Alexander Veliz García have begun a hunger strike in the town of Aguada de Pasajeros, in Cienfuegos, to demand that the Ladies in White be given unrestricted access to the local parish. Juan Alberto de la Nuez, the provincial coordinator of the opposition organization the United Anti-totalitarian Front (FANTU), told this newspaper that the action started yesterday at six in the afternoon and was motivated by the refusal of the Padre Tarciso to allow eight of these women to participate in Mass last Sunday at the Jesus of Nazareth Catholic Church.

Along with the two men on hunger strike, the Lady in White Mayelín García Moreira began a 24-hour fast ending this afternoon. According to de la Nuez it is expected that “in the coming hours other members of FANTU will join the strike,” and many of the several Ladies in White of the town will rotate in fasting. The protest is being held in House No. 2 of Block 33 in the La Communidad settlement. continue reading

The initiative has been accompanied by an open letter addressed to the priest Tarciso and with a copy to Bishop Domingo Oropesa in the Cienfuegos diocese. In the missive it specified that the hunger strike would continue until the priest asked forgiveness from those he offended and was transferred to another parish. However, to date it has not been possible to deliver the letter to its recipient, because in the church they told the activists that “he has been on vacation in Nicaragua.”

Padre Tarciso refused to allow eight Ladies in White to participate in Mass last Sunday at the Jesus of Nazareth Catholic Church

In the three pages occupied by the text, what occurred is classified as an outrage and it is recalled that, “None of us Cubans who are persecuted by the rulers due to our ideas will ever reproach the Church you represent because the families of the five spies who were released in December of 2014 came to your temples to pray for their release for the prisons, because it is understood that the Church belongs to everyone.”

For his part, a resident of Aguada de Pasajero, who asked for anonymity, told 14ymedio that the priest’s gesture had been motivated because, “The community that attends this church asked that the presence of the group not be permitted.” According to this version, Padre Tarciso refused entry to the Ladies in White because to allow them “would bring the consequence that other believers would refrain from attending to avoid problems.”

“We are suffering greatly from State Securty harassment experienced by the people and we don’t want any more problems,” explains the same source. However, the Lady in White Miladis Espino Diaz points out that the activists only want to peacefully attend Mass because “we believe in God,” and she considers herself discriminated against because “some of those who go to the Church look down on us and take off when we walk by.”

This Sunday, the eight Ladies in White previously excluded, accompanied by other supportive people, will return to try to exercise their right to attend Mass.