The Trembling of the Shepherds / Claudia Cadelo (redux)

Photo; Claudio Leal
Photo; Leandro Feal

I have discovered that the trembling of the shepherds is greater than that of the sheep.


Claudia Cadelo, Havana, 25 February 2011 — There are two Cubas, one in which nothing ever happens, and another in revolt, boiling over, which never stops sending me signals of change. My life moves from one to the other and I can never be sure which of the two is real. In any case, the dome over our heads is shaking. And to know it, you don’t need any proof other than the fear that permeates Cuban Television, the Nation Television News, the streets full of State Security agents, the strange blackout in the Chaplin movie theater — site of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition — on February 23, the first anniversary of the hunger strike death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the numerous arrests of short duration, the absolute paranoia of those trying to hang on to the ownership of the island where I was born.

They look with bewildered eyes on the Middle East, the teetering — once again — of the world’s dictators, and here the fright of those on high reaches even us. I watch the TV in horror as they don’t condemn the assassination of civilians, accuse the protesters of being “young people manipulated by the west,” justify the murders committed by the army, and end by supporting the world’s dictatorships in their killings to maintain control.

You don’t have to be overly suspicious to catch the rhythm of fear: they have called together young people from the Communist Youth League and read them the riot act, and at night the vans of State Security troll the streets of Vedado and ask to see the ID of every suspicious boy, which turns out to be every boy, because for the elderly who wield control in Cuba anyone under thirty is considered dangerous.

I always thought fear was our sword of Damocles and that the government looked upon us like trembling and defenseless lambs. I have discovered that the trembling of the shepherds is greater than that of the sheep. That in the Central Committee the paranoia and fear have become State policy. Although they try to appear comfortable in the chairs of totalitarianism, they know the wood is rotten and is going to disappear. The Dinosaurs are going to disappear.

From Paranoia to a Scream (Freeing Gorki “Last Time”) / Claudia Cadelo


By Claudia Cadelo De Nevi

On Friday night, after the release of Gorki and when we had already been to his house, he asked Lía if she had been to the beach. Well, it is simply impossible to narrate the last four days in two hours. He didn’t know yet that we had been at the court from eight in the morning, that we had been burned by the sun the whole day and that later two storms had rained on us… and that we were all there – the diplomats, the press and us (I say “us” because some of us didn’t know each other from before, so it was simply us, those who had been there).

I write this note because I want to share my experience in this act of solidarity that artists and non-artists (like me) have had with him and with ourselves, clarifying that I refer to physical artists, painters and writers, because I didn’t see a single musician, not even the most “underground” of the underground.

My friends call me a paranoiac; I am the one who lives in fear, who never opens the windows, who never speaks of politics, I am afraid of the dark, I don’t go out after ten at night, not even to the corner. But nothing had made me as afraid as I was for the last four days starting on Monday (and it still hasn’t left me). continue reading

However, getting to know people like Yoani, seeing her at my side with the banner in her hand, after having talked to her two or three times on the telephone, driven by faith, to see us all today helping Gorki, Ciro, Renay and Herbert, my friends holding the ground with me and rising to overcome our fears and doubts, with friends overseas moving heaven and earth and, finally, managing to convert a sentence of four years into four days… to me it still seems like a miracle.

I feel pity for those who haven’t called me, who have been hiding from me in case I might ask them for help, for those who said “yes” but didn’t come, I regret they haven’t experienced the happiness of the end, the sensation of having achieved the unachievable.

I believe today marks a turning point from “No we can’t” to “Yes we can.” We have shown that things can change, that we can stand up to injustices and the abuse of power and that fear is NOT infallible.

By Claudia Cadelo in Yoani Sanchez’s blog, Generation Y
31 August 2008


Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 5: Rendering of Accounts (and refrigerator gaskets) / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes
Photo: Claudio Fuentes

As Yoani called it in one of her posts. Yesterday was the Rendering of Accounts meeting in my CDR, but in an impulsive act I didn’t go. The truth is that I’m already repentant, I’m sure I could have written a humorous post.

The last time I participated in one of these meetings, a man who really took it to heart gave a most aggressive speech against the Ten Cent vendors at 23rd and 12th, who are no longer called that, but nobody knows what they’re called because nothing is worth 10 centavos, because they outdo themselves stealing pesos from the customers. They decided, those involved in the discussion, that they’d call down the police on the Ten Cent sellers, but they achieved nothing, either with the police or with the denunciations.

The next topic was the point about the refrigerator gaskets: the majority of my CDR, including me, didn’t receive our refrigerator gaskets for some “strange reason,” they just brought them.

Later they talked about bread, something relating to milk and yogurt for the children, the diversion of construction materials, among other problems without solutions. One woman said it was going on 20 years that we’d been discussing the same issues in these meetings… we must be persistent or completely mad.

Then they talked about increasing the surveillance and political ideological work, no one knows to what end, if all the real problems can’t be solved with that.

They want early release of the 5PE (five prisoners of the empire); said that the party was immoral, excuse me, immortal; badmouthed the United States, sang the anthem and everyone left, reluctantly, to go home and watch the soap opera.

Claudia Cadelo, 29 December 2008

Note: In conjunction with Miriam Leiva’s post about bank loans to buy saucepans, Translating Cuba has decided to re-post an old series of posts Claudia Cadelo about refrigerators, to give our readers a fuller understanding of how things work in Cuba. This is Part 5.

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 4: They finally arrived / Claudia Cadelo

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 11.02.14 AMMonday, November 24, 2008, 11:00 am:
I came running from work to meet the social workers who take the old refrigerators. Atmosphere of madness, all the old refrigerators rolling down the stairs, they say a neighbor was on the edge of tears. I too was a little sad, it hurts to see them rolled away after nearly a half century of working without fail. My Mom’s fridge, for example, they gave it to my grandmother like a wedding present, she was born in 1919 and got married when she was 16. It’s impossible to be indifferent to its death. I understand OLPL and other friends who aren’t changing theirs, but truly for me, although I’m sad, I prefer the change. In addition, it’s expensive to get rid of them, because I’ve been told there are people out there who think it is only exchanged, but no, it’s exchanged and charged: value 260 CUC. Luckily you can pay in installments. After 50 years they realize if they don’t sell them on the installment plan they’re not going to sell them, because with what are we going to pay.

There were two guys, I don’t know where they went, who loaded the refrigerators and took them down for you for 20 pesos.

6:30 pm:
The truck with the new ones arrives, as Claudio calls them, the “Comandantes Haier.” The odyssey of bringing them up and more, and thankfully with Yoani’s camera I was able to capture all of it, most of all Claudio and Ciro, posing before starting up.

For the social workers, who didn’t get lunch, I made them coffee. They told me they hadn’t even given them a snack the whole day.

Translator’s note
The “Haier Group” is a Chinese appliance manufacturer with a contract to supply energy efficient refrigerators to Cuba.

Claudia Cadelo, 26 November 2008

Note: In conjunction with Miriam Leiva’s post about bank loans to buy saucepans, Translating Cuba has decided to re-post an old series of posts Claudia Cadelo about refrigerators, to give our readers a fuller understanding of how things work in Cuba. This is Part 4.

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 3: The coming of the refrigerator (II) / Claudia Cadelo

juan suarez
Photo: The piece by Juan Suarez for the exhibition “Monstrous energy eaters.”

Sunday November 23, 11:00 am:

I leave for work (yes, I also work on Sunday) and the Surveillance guy asks me where I’m going because they’re already picking up the refrigerators on the sidewalk out in front. Ciro’s at a student’s house giving a lesson, so he’s not home either.

We’ve spent this week waiting for the refrigerator, I haven’t missed any more work but many people have. Since that disastrous Friday of last week there have been people without a refrigerator until the following Friday; there weren’t any trucks so they couldn’t bring the new refrigerators. By chance we saved ourselves, because the list of those of us who were exchanging fridges was wrong and the president of the CDR wouldn’t let us get rid of them until it was fixed, and those who were fixing it stopped working, and so we were left with our old refrigerators.

I’m running to leave things at work under control and then head back home, which I make in the record time of one hour, including the ten peso cost of a car between there and here to get here faster.

When I get home a neighbor is shouting at me: Go back! Go back! They’re not going to pick them up from us today! He gave me a small attack of hysterics which fortunately passed quickly when I saw the face of the president of the CDR who has spent the last week taking meprobamate and who was on the verge of strangling somebody. She’s more exasperated than I am. In her work they give encouragement in foreign currency and if she fails she won’t get it.

They say it’s coming tomorrow.

(to be continued)

Claudia Cadelo, 26 November 2008

Note: In conjunction with Miriam Leiva’s post about bank loans to buy saucepans, Translating Cuba has decided to re-post an old series of posts Claudia Cadelo about refrigerators, to give our readers a fuller understanding of how things work in Cuba. This is Part 3.

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 2: The arrival of the refrigerator / Claudia Cadelo

refrigerador22Chronicle of an absurd day (incomplete but will be continued)

Thursday, 9 pm

The president of my CDR, whom I’ve already said is the best, shouts at me that the fridges will come tomorrow. What time? Who knows.

I go down to try to find out what she knows, I have work in the morning and then I have another job in the evening until ten at night that I don’t like to miss.

The owner of the house must be present, if they’re not there another person can buy it but then that person will be the debtor.

According to the Cuban government I’m the housewife, so I can’t go to work because the debtor is my mother and she can’t come either because she’s waiting for her refrigerator too, at least the owner of the house must be there. Besides, what mysterious reason would keep a housewife from not being there to receive her refrigerator, particularly when the one she has hasn’t kept things cold in the summer for years?

My neighbors advise me to go to work in the morning, because the refrigerators always arrive late, I decide to sacrifice my night job, call the boss, etc. etc. etc.

Claudio’s digital camera is broken, a call to Orlando to see if he will lend me his, it’s complicated; Lía’s incommunicado; Yoani will lend me hers but Ciro isn’t here to go get it.

I go to bed.

Friday, 7:15 in the morning

I’m leaving for work; the phone rings, it’s the president of my CDR, saying that I’d better not go to work, they called her and they’re coming at nine.

Call the other boss, Ciro worried. Two colleagues tell me they spent THREE DAYS waiting for their refrigerators. I hang up the phone, not happy with this information. continue reading


Nothing at all, all the neighbors walk around like zombies waiting, no one went to work. Expectation.

Claudio arrives, says that he can do it with his analog camera, but developing and scanning will delay it. He doesn’t even have the damn camera with him, try to convince him to go get it, to wake up Lía to ask if she can bring it over, to call Yoani. Wait.


Lia’s mother refuses to wake her, nobody wants to go to Yoani’s, the laziness already begins.

I’m leafing through the phone book looking for a charitable soul who lives nearby and wants to lend me a camera.


Relaxed atmosphere, Claudio doesn’t stop making jokes. Says now we must prepare ourselves psychologically for them to take the Russian refrigerator at 6:00 pm in the evening and to bring the other at midnight, with luck.


Lía is still sleeping


I go to the movies.
At the exit I see some trucks, I run home, in fact they are bringing fridges, but not mine.
It seems they’ll bring it tomorrow.

Saturday, 8:45

Now they say they’ll come between 9:00 and 9:30.


Those who handle the trucks are some farmers, it seems they’ve gone home and won’t return today. Maybe they’ll come on Monday.


Suspended the practice of PPR for obvious reasons, suspended also Gorki’s birthday party.
I have no mail.
I can’t post.
Lía is still sleeping (it’s incredible).
I stop here to be continued when the day finally comes that they bring the refrigerator…

Claudia Cadelo, 19 November 2008

Note: In conjunction with Miriam Leiva’s post about bank loans to buy saucepans, Translating Cuba has decided to re-post an old series of posts Claudia Cadelo about refrigerators, to give our readers a fuller understanding of how things work in Cuba. This is Part 2.

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 1: Cold Water and Eternal Debt / Claudia Cadelo

refrigeradoresPhoto: Truck with old refrigerators in my neighborhood.

Amelia is about 50 and lives alone, her husband died in the war in Angola and since then she’s received a miserable pension through the Veteran’s Association. As she doesn’t work for the State, tough she is still of working age, several times they’ve tried to take from her the pittance of 200 Cuban pesos she receives as “financial aid.”

Since she exchanged her refrigerator for a more energy efficient one, her life has been complicated: she has cold water but owes the state 2,000 pesos in thirty monthly payments, plus late fees, which she hasn’t been able to pay. For some months an “inspector” has visited her house weekly, to tell her of the really bad things that are going to happen in her case. It all started with a fine, which exceeded the unpayable debt itself. As that didn’t work, it moved on to the blackmail of threatening to remove the refrigerator, and finally the threat of a trial.

Amelia knows she can’t raise this sum, and her inspector, gaining confidence as she looked him in the eye, confessed to her that he has not been able to meet his own commitment to pay for his refrigerator, either.

In a bizarre “Year of the Energy Revolution,” an epithet that was written below the date on every official document and on school blackboards during all of 2006, Fidel Castro decided to update our home appliances. The energy itself never came, but our lightbulbs, fans and refrigerators were exchanged for new ones, along with promises that we would pay for them on the installment plan.

Some years later, a rather high percentage of Cubans owe thousands of pesos to the State, Cuban Communist Party meetings demand of their militants that they “ensure compliance with the commitments in their nuclei and their neighborhoods,” and, incidentally, “set an example by settling their own debts.” But after 50 years — Party member or not — the common denominator of the average Cuban is insolvency. This bankruptcy of the family economy is the result of government mismanagement, which now demands that we pay what we have never earned.

Claudia Cadelo, 30 June 2010

Note: In conjunction with Miriam Leiva’s post about bank loans to buy saucepans, Translating Cuba has decided to re-post an old series of posts Claudia Cadelo about refrigerators, to give our readers a fuller understanding of how things work in Cuba. This is Part 1.


Tracey Eaton’s Interview with Claudia Cadelo

Tracey Eaton, a Florida-based journalist, has been traveling to Cuba for a long time, and more recently has been undertaking a series of interviews with Cubans ranging all across the ideological spectrum. He has now begun the work of subtitling these videos in English.

Here are links to Tracey’s blogs/sites: Along the Malecon; Cuba Money Project; Videos on Cuba Money Project; Video Transcripts; Along the Malecon News Updates.

My Conclusions / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

It’s been almost a month since they brought us their soap opera and except for one chapter — the one about the cyberwar — in all the rest they exposed a covert agent. I couldn’t finish watching Monday’s, it was too much. Infinitely boring. Even so, it’s worth analyzing this State Security media crusade against civil society. I confess that the motives for these actions by the Cuban secret bodies are mostly incomprehensible to me, and it won’t be the first time I’ve been left speechless by the objectives and, most of all, by the benefits the government expects from its soap opera.

First, I find it surprising that they have decided to lump together so many players: opponents, human rights activists, and bloggers, with writers, painters, and sellers of satellite antennas and illegal Internet accounts. Before the first telenovela the main actors were dissidents, but after the fourth saga it’s no longer so clear. By mixing us all up under a single idea — the counterrevolution — State Security has exploded the number of protesters. Unfortunately they never nailed down the meaning of the term. I imagine a satellite dish decoder sitting in front of his TV, his mouth hanging open, as he learns that he is “officially” a dissident.

I can’t understand the benefits of airing “Cuba’s Reasons.” Perhaps defamation as a weapon to discredit the most well-known figures within civil society; or perhaps the need to create a climate of opinion — or rather paranoia — with respect to the abilities of the “secret agents” to insert themselves into our lives. But I continue to think that both arguments fade into insignificance if we compare them to the disadvantages: the recognition that what they call “counterrevolution” goes far beyond ideology and has become a reality in daily Cuban life. If having the Internet or watching Miami television is just as risky as belonging to an opposition party, we citizens aren’t left with too many options.

9 April 2011

Me and the Soap Opera / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

When a state decides to aim all its weapons at a citizen there is little he can do about it. Without access to the mass media, in a country with low Internet connectivity, with arbitrary laws against freedom of expression and with the impunity to defame, distort, lie and lay waste on national television to those who think differently, the possible victims’ options are limited.

On Monday it fell to Dagoberto Valdés, director of Coexistence magazine and also one of the brilliant minds of our battered civil society. Who’s next? No one knows. Only when we see our faces discredited in trashy images on the program “Cuba’s Reasons,” will we learn whether or not we are actors in this drama.

I live on a confused island. There is nothing better than misinformation to sow confusion. So last week I was a bit upset: between the commentators on my blog who accuse me of being State Security, and State Security who accuses me of being a “rabid counterrevolutionary” — the exact words said in an interrogation of a friend — and the uncertainty of seeing myself on television, I was about to lose my cool. A luxury, of course, that I can’t afford because I have to take this, as the refrain says, “like a good sport.”

The era of the Serpas and Fontes is over for me. I don’t care who is and who isn’t State Security. I don’t care one whit what they put on TV. It makes no never mind to me if I’m sitting on the grass of G Street, or panic-stricken in a repudiation rally. I’ve hung up my gloves, I’ve said enough, this is as far as I go. I continue free in my blog, writing to be happy, to be grounded, and to dream of a new Cuba because, in any event, they’re already in retreat.

From the denial of the denial to the denial of the obvious / Claudia Cadelo

I was lucky: I finished the ninth grade with one teacher for each subject. A few years later began the debacle of the “emerging teachers” — who were not allowed to specialize. The same teacher would teach the arts and sciences to the whole high school. The old guard of teaching withdrew in fear (the devil knows more because he’s old than because he’s the devil) and most of the teachers changed the level of instruction, asked to move down, or retired from a long and always underpaid career.

Shutting off the voice of experience, the Ministry of Education gave free rein to its imagination of the absurd, and classes without specialization gave way to classes by television. To make matters worse, the salary and poor classroom conditions remained the same. We finished the academic era and entered the ideological era: more politics, less knowledge.

So things continued until the pitcher went to the well one too many times*. The emerging teachers quickly tired of a profession that was more work than earnings, and the government decided to punish them with seven long years of obligatory social service in the classroom. Negligence, corruption and mediocrity established themselves where, previously, wisdom and education had lived. Parents who had the economic wherewithal found private teachers, and the rest resigned themselves to changing their children’s school all the time.

Then it occurred to someone to try the strange idea of a “new” approach: specialized education. Now they’ve gone back to the days when the mathematics teacher only worried about numbers and not syntax or historic dates. Four or five schools in Havana are serving as guinea pigs for the “unprecedented experiment” and the parents — among whom are several friends of mine — move heaven and earth to ensure that their children are among those chosen to “test the new formula.”

* Popular saying: The pitcher that goes to the well too many times is sure to break.

December 4, 2010

The Missteps of the Princess / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan, from the series "With ham, lettuce and peas"

This is not the first time I felt like telling Mariela Castro* that she should have remained silent. It’s a strange reaction in me, because normally I encourage others to express whatever they want to say. With her, however, it is hard for me, and there is something called decency which — for those who, like her, are public and political figures — is essential.

The first time was when she called Yoani Sanchez an “insignificant ‘cocky hen’.” That a politician would insult a journalist over an uncomfortable question is shameful enough, but that the heiress daughter should allow herself to call a Cuban citizen “insignificant” was, without a doubt, the height of cynicism on the part of our nomenklatura. However, it’s worth mentioning that the question posed by the author of Generation Y was not as uncomfortable as it could have been, and that Mariela’s overreaction is evidence of her allergy to freedom of the press. In my opinion, a truly difficult question would have been, for example, to ask why CENESEX (The National Center for Sex Education) doesn’t present the government with a claim on behalf of the homosexuals who suffered repression and abuse in the sixties, seventies and eighties, and who deserve compensation and an official apology. That question, I believe, would have given our princess a heart attack.

Now, CENESEX has this statement on its home page. It reminds me of a popular joke: The Special Period didn’t benefit me nor harm me, but quite the opposite. It turns out that Cuba has the exclusivity of being the only country in the Americas that “adds its vote to the group of countries that include homosexuality as a crime under the law, including the application of capital punishment for that reason, in five of them.” It’s worth mentioning that CENESEX is the only institution recognized by the government that supposedly represents the rights of homosexuals. What impudence, gentlemen, to read such a phrase on the page of the National Center for Sex Education,” and signed by its director!

*Translator’s note: Mariela Castro is the daughter of Raul, and director of CENESEX.

November 30, 2010

Ministerial Scoliosis / Claudia Cadelo

If, instead of having a personal blog, I had decided to post fictional stories, my last visit to the Provincial Prosecutor would be one in which the protagonist ends up in the hospital, a victim of horrible back pains. The doctor would permanently prohibit her from stepping foot in any ministry ever again, because her backbone would break under the weight of the bureaucracy. The protagonist would argue her thousands of needs, but the doctor would be blunt: Not one ministry more, not even by phone may you lighten the load.

But I am not writing fiction, so I will relate — omitting the cervical pain — my latest adventures regarding my complaint about the apartheid during the “Ninth Exhibition of Young Filmmakers.” I have not been to see any doctor to advise me to tell them all to go to hell, but rather the excellent lawyers of the Cuban Law Association who, on the contrary, encouraged and supported me in everything, so I will tell you here of some of my beautiful mornings at the Provincial Prosecutor at 25th and F in Vedado.

Under the law, the prosecutor has a period of sixty days to give me an answer, and this period having long expired, they are in breach of the law. My complaint is already eight months old, so when I arrived Friday morning with my attorney, Dr. Vallin, to ask for an explanation, a rush up the stairs to a receptionist whose face looked like she’d seen the devil, gave me to understand that my case was not even remotely nearing completion.

Logo of Cuban Law Association

However, I do have the honor of truth, and I recognize that appearing with Doctor Vallin before a law collective, a prosecutor, or in court, is the equivalent of walking through Hollywood holding hands with Brad Pitt. Given this, our country’s Minister of Justice has hired two lawyers to defend herself from mine.

So it was that an hour after we sat ourselves down to wait, the prosecutor who had issued this document under the stairs almost at the back — I know it sounds complicated but human limits have not yet been defined — and from the back also announced by telephone to someone, my paper in her hand, that this was certainly her signature but she had not the remotest memory of having signed it. She then said goodbye to the receptionist and left.

On her side, the poor receptionist — in order not to have that hot potato in her hand, that is to say, me — sent me to go inquire at the public waiting room. When she saw that Dr. Vallin rose with me, she sighed in resignation. She said — in a nicer way — that the prosecutor on the case was on vacation, that there was a new girl in the file room who had no idea where the documents were, and that probably those who had undertaken the act of repudiation in front of the Chaplin cinema were military; I’m not sure why she was telling me this last part. Given the irrefutable fact of the expired time, she asked for our patience and would we come back on Tuesday at 8:30 in the morning.

On Tuesday morning she acknowledged us right away, despite the fact that my case has not been answered the whole world is aware of it. This time the wait was about an hour and a half, more or less. When the secretary sent me to the first floor she said, literally,

“Go up alone.”

“I prefer to go with him.”

Everyone knows that without an attorney you won’t even make it to first base. In addition, given the choice of going up without Dr.Vallin, and not going up at all, I prefer the latter. There we were seen by another prosecutor: my prosecutor is still on vacation and, IF there is an answer in my case, the fact is they don’t know because she’s on vacation. Such is life, although the law is not very clear about it.

Before I leave, the secretary draws up a claim report. They called me on the phone to let me know what is happening with my case (the person who called today was not the person charged with my case) and a piece of paper extended the deadline to respond for sixty more days.

November 26, 2010

Journalism as a Living Faith: Telephone Interview with Pedro Argüelles Morán #liberanlosya / Claudia Cadelo

In 2003, 75 Cubans were arrested in four days. Their crime? Being pro-democracy political activists, fighters for human rights, or simply journalists independent of the hegemonic line of the only Cuban political party, the Communists. Pedro Argüelles Morán was one of them.

Seven years later — in the same arbitrary way as the imprisonments — we learned through a communication from the Cuban Catholic Church that the government had agreed to free them within — an unfair paradox — four months.

This November 7, the long period the Cuban government allowed itself to restore freedom to these innocents expired, and we are faced with a sad certainty: of the 75, the only ones who have been released are those who agreed to accept a painful condition: exile. Of those who dream of returning to their homes, only one is in his house. The eleven remaining in prison are witnesses to the dripping of a lie, the unfulfilled promise of a government that does not keep its word.

1 – Pedro, you are sixty-two years old, you have spent seven years in prison and been sentenced to twenty. The Cuban government agreed to release you but did not keep its word. You are recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and you are one of the independent journalists who wants to live in Cuba and you demand to leave your cell for your home. Tell me what you did in 2003 before being arrested.

I would like to correct an error: I have been a prisoner for seven years, eight months and two days. I practiced as a freelance journalist in the province of Ciego de Avila. We had a tiny new agency, “The Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative” (CAPI). And we were several brothers: Pablo Pacheco Ávila, my friend and companion; Oscar Ayala Muñoz, from Morón, a tremendous person, economist, professor of economics at the University of Ciego de Avila, and some other brothers.

We tried to write about reality, we denounced the Human Rights violations, and wrote about those issues the official press would not touch with a ten foot pole. In short, we did independent reporting.

2 – What were the publications?

We put packets of information on the Internet, particularly on Nueva Press Cubana and Radio Marti and other media, especially on-line. We had no particular purpose nor exclusivity in the news we issued: the information was open to all the media who wanted to use it.

3 – It seems essential to know the details of your arrest. When was it, what time, what happened? Were there irregularities?

I was kidnapped and help hostage by Castro’s Political Police on March 18, 2003. Days earlier I had half-locked myself in the house to read some books that had arrived (banned by the dictatorship, of course, and classified as “enemy propaganda”). They were the memoirs of Huber Matos, When the Night Comes; Narcotrafficking: Revolutionary Task, by Norberto Fuentes, and at the moment I was kidnapped I was reading, The Secret Wars of Fidel Castro, by Juan Francisco Benemeli. I had only read 80 or 90 pages when I was taken. That day my wife went to Havana to spend a few days with her son. About a quarter to four in the afternoon I was going downstairs — I live on the third floor — to go to the supermarket when an invasion of thirteen or fourteen agents from the Political Police were coming up. They intercepted me on the stairs, I didn’t make it to the second floor. I was told I could not go anywhere, I was under arrest, and they searched the house.

One officer had a video camera and another a still camera and they were taking photos the whole time.

The search began after four, because they put on this act of looking for two witnesses. Something that struck me was that none of my neighbors wanted to participate and they were slow to get started. Finally they found two people and when one of them showed his ID card to assent to the act, I could see that his address was in Havana, he wasn’t even from here in Ciego de Avila; the other one was from SEPSA — Specialized Service for the Protection of Society Anonymous — that is from an agency of the Ministry of the Interior that watches over the hard-currency stores and those things. He, of course, could not refuse and he did live in my building but on the other staircase.

I was very worried. They told me I was arrested and my wife had gone to the capital. I was alone in the apartment with my two dogs (two dachshunds) and I was worried about leaving them alone. I had to get someone to take care of them.

A little past five someone knocked on the door and when I opened it it was my wife. She explained that they came to look for her at the bus station and told her that her house was being searched.

Everything ended around eleven at night because they found my archive. Not that it was hidden, it was just in a room that I used as an office that didn’t have any light because the bulb was out. They found two or three bags filled with writings, denunciations, and the one in charge of the search said, “If we had to read them one by one we would be here until tomorrow, we will count them all.” There were about nine documents.

At that time they took me to the cells at State Security.

4 – Before concluding on the search.  Was the order signed by the relevant institutions? Did they meet the legal requirements for it to be valid?

They never showed me the search warrant. I asked, “Do you have a search warrant, an arrest warrant?” They said, “We have a search warrant,” and went into the house. They showed me neither the search warrant nor the arrest warrant.

There was a State Security official who supposedly made a record and wrote down what the others found. They found no bombs, nor revolvers, nor pistols, nor grenades, nothing. They found a typewriter, a video camera, pencils, pens, office supplies for carrying out independent journalism. In addition to books, magazines, literature, poetry. Nothing more. They presented this at my trial to say that I was a mercenary.

5 – Your family, how did they take the collapse of their lives?

Imagine it, my wife left for Havana and was intercepted: Your husband is arrested, they are searching your house. For many years I had been involved in pro-Human Rights activities and the independent journalism. Somehow I was used to it, I had already been in prison in ’95 and ’96. It wasn’t the first search nor the first arrest.

She knew there was a sword of Damocles hanging over  my head, possible imprisonment, but it always comes as a surprise. We did not know that they had started a crackdown that would last four days. For example, that same day, the 18th, Pablo came to the house in the middle of the search. A State Security agent told him, “Pablo Pacheco, get out of here, Argüelles is under arrest.”

The following day, in the afternoon, I was in the cells, and I heard someone calling and calling me. It was Pablito, they had just arrested him and brought him to the cells. He knew, because he had talked to Raul Rivero, that the arrests were nationwide.

6 – Under what specific charges were you convicted and what was the procedure of the court? What evidence did they exhibit at the trial? Did your lawyer defend you?

When they were still in my house, I asked the captain, “Why are you arresting me?” And he told me, “For violation of Law 88.” The trial was on Friday, April 4, at the Court of Ciego de Avila Province.  It lasted from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon. There was a large police deployment, the car in which I was brought there was guarded by police patrols. They closed the streets around the court. An official from the prosecutor’s office asked us days earlier for a list of relatives who would attend the trial and if they weren’t relatives they could not attend.

When we arrived the room was full of people from the Communist Party, from the Army (FAR), the Interior Ministry (MININT), labor groups … their people, pro-Castro. From my family only my wife and my sister attended, and from Pablo’s, his wife, his son, and I can’t remember if one brother came.

I did not have a lawyer and they assigned me one from the office. A girl who had just graduated, I was her first case. We only saw each other once before the trial, for half an hour, in the same room where State Security had interrogated me. Ultimately she, who was my defender, defended nothing because she couldn’t.

Pablito did appoint a lawyer. It was very amusing to me because when she referred to us she would say, “the counterrevolutionaries,” and I was thinking, “if this is our lawyer calling us counterrevolutionaries…” A curious detail: the same lawyer Pablo hired, a few years later she won the visa lottery and went with her husband to the United Stated. But my attorney played a much better role and never called me a counterrevolutionary. When I went to testify the president of the court torpedoed me, she wouldn’t let me say a single word and my lawyer even protested. During the lunch break she told me, “I’m going to keep on protesting. I’m going to complain because you have not been allowed to speak in your defense.”

The trial was completely rigged, they knew what was going to happen.  There were no witnesses on our behalf. The prosecutor brought people from Pablo’s CDR because in my block there weren’t any. At the request of my prosecutor — that is, in the provisional findings of the prosecutor — two prisoners from the Canaleta Provincial Prison here were supposed to testify at the trial, as a complaint, that I had talked to Radio Marti about their medical care. They weren’t there and then they presented a doctor from the Medical Services of the Ministry of the Interior, a dermatologist. She said that the consultation was Thursday or Friday at the prison and the medical care was very good.

The prosecutor asked for 26 years and they sentenced me to twenty years. The provincial court clerk gave me the sentence the morning after the trial.

7 – The Cuban jails are unpresentable. The rapporteur for torture and ill-treatment was unable to visit Cuba last year because the Cuban government would not allow it. Tell me about your life in prison, the journalist behind bars, how you managed to hold onto your morals and principles in such terrible conditions.

I always speak for myself and also my brothers, but in this case for myself: I am very convinced of what I’m doing and since I began this fight in 1992 I knew everything that I was exposing myself to. I knew the risks I would run and the sacrifices that I would have to make. They could expel me from my workplace. They would monitor me and I would be declared an official non-person for denouncing human rights violations. Because Cuba is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In here we live in appalling conditions, incredible overcrowding, poor nutrition and medical care. The snitching — speaking in popular terms — is enormous, the police informers are in the thousands. I am constantly observed, there are many eyes on me because every time there is a violation of human rights I investigate and denounce it, at the risk of what might happen.

To work and write in prison is not easy. Life here is hard: this is not a day care center or a school in the countryside, nor an urban school. It’s a prison with a series of psychedelic elements, psychiatric cases, mentally retarded, dangerous people who have murdered, raped, who have committed all sorts of crimes. People who will never leave prison. It’s a social dump and you’re forced to live with it. There are, of course, normal people, good people who never should have come to prison or who were punished excessively for some nonsense.

All the time the police tell you what to do, who you can talk to, who you can meet. But we have to carry on even though the environment is hostile.

The sanitary conditions are appalling. I am in a cubicle with room for two people and there are six people here, there are two triple bunks. The bathrooms are holes in the ground and we get water twice a day. The water isn’t drinkable and it’s for everything: drinking, bathing, cleaning.

Health care is terrible. For example, there is a boy here who from the tenth day had X-rays ordered and he still hasn’t had them: either there’s no guard to take him or there is a guard but the technician didn’t come. There are cases where the doctor will come and prescribe a medicine and then you’ll wait eight or ten days and the medicine doesn’t come. There’s nothing. Sometimes you make it to the infirmary and there’s not even any pain medication.

Generally, if you go to the infirmary it’s for your amusement — they themselves say that — because you see the doctor and he ignores you. There have been many deaths here in the prison for lack of medical attention. I’ve reported a few.

The prison staff always justifies the deaths in some way. In short, the system is one thing: everything belongs to the State and responds to the government. The doctors are young people who have just graduated and this is their first work experience as part of their social service obligation. Before they start work they meet with the director of the prison and he tells them the prisoners pretend to feel ill so they can go to the infirmary to traffic in drugs or to look at the nurses. Then the doctor sees you as a faker and treats you like one. On the other hand the doctors, the women, start to have sex with the prison director and then they feel protected no matter how bad their professional work is.

8 – Do you think you will finally be released? What is the first thing you will do when you are a free man again?

I would speak of my release, though I feel free even though I’m a prisoner. I think that yes, some time, some day of some month of some year, I will be released. The first thing would be to call my brother Guillermo El Coco Fariñas and tell him I’m at home with my wife. And my first outing would be to go to Santa Clara and give him a hug.

Then I will continue my struggle peacefully, civilly, for the respect for rights, freedom, and the dignity of the human person.

But even if I am not released, from here in the Canaleta prison, or from any other prison where they confine me, I will continue defending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

November 23, 2010