Cuban State Security Blockades a Play in El Círculo Gallery (Updated)

The creators of the play Enemies of the People denounce that State Security called the piece “subversive” without knowing anything about it. (@liavillares)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 November 2017 – Cuban State Security managed to limit attendance to just two people to last night’s premiere play The Enemies of the People. The police cordon set up around the El Círculo gallery in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, where the play was going to be performed, worked as a method of pressure to intimidate would-be audience members.

Activist Lía Villares, owner of the house that that provides the premises for the theater, related via twitter what happened when members of the political police were stationed in the vicinity of the Villares’s house and pressured the numerous guests to not enter. “Everything that happened yesterday in the presence of witnesses and neighbors demonstrates the agonizing situation of cultural rights and freedom of expression in Cuba,” denounced Villares. continue reading

Despite the pressures, the activist said that actress “Lynn Cruz could not have given a better performance.”

The work, interpreted by Cruz and directed by filmmaker Miguel Coyula, offers “a timely vision of Cuban society subjected to a dictatorship,” explain its organizers.

Cruz reincarnates Charlotte Corday, a famous character of the French Revolution and who murdered Jean-Paul Marat. On this occasion, however, instead of Marat, Fidel Castro is the target of her action.

In her Twitter account Lia Villares said that the staging “almost starred the henchmen of Section 21,” the Department of State Security that deals with surveillance against opponents. “They did not allow anyone to enter” the El Círculo Gallery, lamented the activist.

The piece also has an incognito character, played by the musician Gorki Águila who delivers an emotional reading of the list of names of the 41 victims of the 13 Tugboat 13 de Marzo, sunk in July 1994 by four official boats that used water cannons to attack the boat on which the victims were trying to flee the country.

The seats were empty and photographed to denounce the absence of the audience who felt pressured and left without seeing the work. (14ymedio)

Those killed in the tugboat incident were between the ages of 6 months and 50 years. After a week in which the official media silenced what happened, Fidel Castro described the performance of the crews of the boats that attacked the tugboat as a “truly patriotic effort.”

The independent El Círculo gallery is a frequent target of police operations. Last April, a large deployment of troops prevented the public from attending the screening of the documentary Nadie (Nobody) directed by Coyula, which presents the life of the poet Rafael Alcides, censored in the official publications.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Lia Villares Finally Makes it to the United States

Lia Villares is considered a “persecuted political” who is “under paramilitary harassment”. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 May 2017 – The independent activist Lia Villares finally traveled to the United States on Wednesday, as confirmed to 14ymedio by the dissident musician Gorki Aguila.

On Tuesday, Villares was not able to board her flight to the US, after being detained by the police on her way to the airport. The activist called the action a “kidnapping” and “forced disappearance” in a post that she published on her Facebook page hours after her arrest. continue reading

Villares explained that she took a taxi from the door of her home with the intention of traveling to the airport, in order to attend the concert of her friend David D Omni ZF at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. A few blocks from her home, a State Security agent who identified himself as “Jordan” stopped the car and forced her into a National Revolutionary Police (PNR) car, according to her note.

Villares says she was taken to the Tarara detention center (east of Havana), a very long way from her home in Vedado, and the agent insisted that she hand over her cell phone. “They left me for three hours inside the police car, waiting for the time to pass so I would miss my flight,” she denounces.

The activist said that she remained “silent” in response the questions of the agent who, before leaving her at home, pointed out that from that moment on he would become her shadow

The activist said that she remained “silent” in response the questions of the agent who, before leaving her at home, pointed out that from that moment on he would become her shadow.

According to her testimony, this is the same officer who had been monitoring her home on Saturday April 15, coinciding with the screening of the documentary Nadie, by Cuban filmmaker Miguel Coyula, which was supposed to have been screened at the El Círculo Gallery, a venue coordinated by Villares.

After being released, Villares asked about her legal situation and demanded to know why she had been prevented from taking the trip she had scheduled, but the agent only replied, “Why not.”

“This impunity enjoyed by agents and officers who lend themselves as accomplices [to the regime] can not pass unchallenged,” says Villares, who is considered a “persecuted political” and is “under paramilitary harassment.”

Police Block Activist Lia Villares From Traveling to the United States / Cubanet

cubanet square logoCubanet, 2 May 2017 — Independent activist Lía Villares missed a flight that would have taken her to the New Orleans Jazz Festival after being “abducted” by police on Monday morning.

Speaking to CubaNet, Villares describes that two patrol cars under the command of State Security Agent “Jordan” were waiting for her near her home this morning when she was left to go to José Martí Airport. Villares had taken a taxi to go to the air terminal, but the vehicle was intercepted and the activist arrested.

The young woman describes how she was taken by the agents to Tarará, at the other end of the Cuban capital. The delay caused her to miss her flight, apparently the primary objective of the operation against her. Villares has a passport to travel, and permission to enter the United States.

Hours later, Villares was released without charges. She said he would try to buy a ticket and travel again because the authorities did not give a legitimate reason for her arrest.

Gorki Aguila Detained and Interrogated Returning To Cuba From US / 14ymedio

Musician Gorki Aguila (Photo EFE)
Musician Gorki Aguila (Photo EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 March 2016 — Gorki Águila, a musician with the band Porno Para Ricardo, has denounced that he was detained and questioned Thursday at Jose Marti airport in Havana, on his arrival from the United States.

Speaking to 14ymedio, Aguila said that the State Security agents who interrogated him initially presented themselves as immigration officers, and were even wearing those uniforms, but when he told them they were from the political police they put him in a room where he was threatened, telling him, “If you up the ante, we’re going to raise it higher still.” continue reading

Aguila said that, after the interrogation, on collecting his suitcases, he found that his luggage had been searched. “They read it item by item, inspecting every piece and they really concentrated on anything with writing, like T-shirts with the group’s logo. They took photos of everything, placing a sign with a number next to every item.”

“They detained me and threatened me in every way they know how. They did an exhaustive search, very exhaustive at Customs,” said the musician, in a phone interview with Radio Marti News.

Aguila, a regime opponent as well as an artist, was held for 4 or 5 hours and T-shirts were messages such as “Todos Marchamos” (We All March) and “Boitel and Zapata Tamayo, assassinated by Castro” were confiscated.

“State Security asked me if I had plans to go and see the Rolling Stones,” Gorki added. The rocker accused the authorities of having threatened his daughter and with not being allowed to travel any more.

When the musician was asked why he thought this situation happened, he replied, “They are very concerned with President Obama’s visit to Cuba. They want to try to show a peaceful country, they want to put on a show, a circus with happy and contented people.”

The activist Lia Villares, who arrived on a later flight, also was detained for nearly three hours at airport customs, her luggage and carefully checked and several CDs of the group Porno Para Ricardo were confiscated, along with T-shirts with slogans such as “Down with you know who.”

Martí News reports that several opponents claim Villares is continuing to be held.

Mick Jagger Meets with Gorki From Porno Para Ricardo in Havana (NOT) / Fake News

2015-10-07_05.52.54Arsenio Rodríguez Quintana, Barcelona — On Sunday, October 4, after visiting the Cuban Art Factory in Havana, the Rolling Stones singer was walking with the rocker and Cuban government critic Gorki Aguila Carrasco along 5th Avenue, where the Ladies in White meet every Sunday and march in support of human rights in Cuba. Cuban State Security blocks Gorki from going to meet them, but last Sunday, the day of Orula, an orisha venerated in Cuba, the miracle happened. Gorki was wearing an El Sexto T-shirt that interested Jagger, who asked about El Sexto’s state of health after his hunger strike, and offered to buy some of his artworks to support him.

They also spoke about the possibility of Gorki opening for the Rolling Stones should the conversations with the Ministry of Culture for the Stones to play in the Karl Marx Theater bear fruit.

Now that so many American rock, pop and jazz musicians are coming to Havana, it is worth remembering that this city where I was born had home grown impresarios (from 1910 to 1959) that brought the best American or European musicians of their times to Cuba: Enrico Caruso, Nat King Cole or Lola Flores, for example.

The person who cut this ebb and flow between Havana and the world was Fidel Castro. For more than 50 years – except in 1978, another USA-Cuba political rapprochement, and in 1999. The Castro regime not only censored jazz and rock so that it would not come into Cuba, but also censored and imprisoned those who played it.

Jagger, regrettably was in Havana but he didn’t meet with Gorki, the news is false, but my dear friends Ailer and Lia Villares will perhaps smile at my autumn dreams from Barcelona.

Friends of ‘El Sexto’ Ask the Pope to Intercede for His Release / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The social media campaign under the hashtags #FreeElSexto #LibertadParaDanilo continues to gather steam. (
The social media campaign under the hashtags #FreeElSexto #LibertadParaDanilo continues to gather steam. (

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mexico, 13 September 2015 — Fifty friends of Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (the Sixth), signed a letter to Pope Francis on Sunday, asking him to intercede for the release of the artist. The letter, published in the digital site Causes, states: “We come to you with the hope that you can intercede to repair the injustice against this young artist.”

The signatories to this letter describe El Sexto as an artist who decided “to express his dissatisfaction with the Government through graffiti and handing out flyers.” They explain that for this reason “he has lived under constant police vigilance and harassment.” A pressure expressed through innumerable arrests, “arbitrary searches of his home and confiscation of his paint cans.”

The initiative, promoted by his friend and colleague Lia Villares, explains that “for more than eight months he has been held in custody without a trial or formal accusations [and thus] we, Danilo’s friends, are demanding his unconditional release and that our most essential freedoms be respected.” The text also makes “a call for genuine and transparent tolerance.” continue reading

El Sexto was arrested last December 25, while preparing for a performance that would have dropped two pigs in a Havana square with the names Fidel and Raul painted on their sides. Currently he is being held in the Valle Grande prison, accused of disrespect, a crime which could result in a sentence of from one to three years in prison, although to date he has not been taken to trial.

The letter also conveys the fear of many activists that there will be a possible wave of repression during the days of Pope Francis’s visit to the Island. “Know that many of us will be incarcerated for the sole reason of your visit to Cuba,” it warns. “Our telephone services will be illegally cut off to prevent our attending the Mass at Civic Plaza*.”

A strong police operation was carried out against peaceful dissidents and opponents during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba. Between March 26 and 28 in 2012, when he was in the country, the authorities carried out dozens of arrests of activists, house arrests and massive cuts in the mobile phone lines belonging to representatives of independent civil society.

The signatories of the letter concluded that “the right to freedom of expression and artistic creation deserves respect and value,” such that “our government must protect critical artists, not persecute them.”

In recent weeks, several independent groups have sent letters to Pope Francis in advance of his arrival in Cuba. Among them are the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the United Anti-totalitarian Front (FANTU) and the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. Almost all messages agree in the request for the release of political prisoners and to intercede with the Government of Cuba for greater freedom and dialogue.

*Translator’s note: “Civic Plaza” is the pre-Revolution name of what is now called the “Plaza of the Revolution.”

More Than 50 Activists Arrested Sunday In The March Of The Ladies In White / 14ymedio

The writer Angel Santiesteban with the Ladies in White at the Gandhi Park at the exit of the church of Santa Rita (Photo Luis Lazaro Guanche)
The writer Angel Santiesteban with the Ladies in White at the Gandhi Park at the exit of the church of Santa Rita (Photo Luis Lazaro Guanche)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 August 2015 – This afternoon, after Sunday’s march of the Ladies in White on Fifth Avenue in Miramar, Havana, 40 members of this organization and about 15 activists were arrested.

The arrests came after a massive act of repudiation against the Ladies in White, as reported to 14ymedio by several witnesses present at the scene. Among those detained are the blogger Lia Villares, the government opponent Raul Borges and independent journalist Juan González Febles.

The Ladies in White have denounced the increased repression around the walk organized every Sunday at the conclusion of Mass in the church of Santa Rita, in Miramar. This time most of the arrests occurred on the 28th Street at the corner of 3rd, when the activists had left the immediate vicinity of the parish.

Meanwhile in Colón, Matanzas province, nine Ladies in White carried out their march for the freedom of political prisoners under a strong police operation. So far there have been no arrests reported in the province.

‘El Sexto’ dedicates his award to his jailers to show them that he is not alone / 14ymedio

Lia Villares collects the award for Danilo Maldonado, "El Sexto” Wednesday in Oslo. (MileydiMC)
Lia Villares collects the award for Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto” Wednesday in Oslo. (MileydiMC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 May 2105 – The Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, could not collect the 2015 International Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissidence, in the ceremony organized by the Oslo Freedom Forum. The prize, awarded by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) of New York, was received by the activist Lia Villares, since the graffiti artist has been in prison since last December, charged with contempt, for trying to stage a performance with two pigs decorated with the names “Fidel” and “Raul.”

After presenting a brief music video, with the refrain repeating “Three years [in prison] for two pigs, no,” and closing with the images of a rally to demand freedom for the artist and the phrase, “Contempt should never be avoided,” Villares read a letter written by El Sexto from Villa Marista penitentiary. continue reading

“I want to dedicate this prize also to those who have me in prison, to remind them that I am not alone,” the artist said. The graffiti artist also thanked the Ladies in White, his daughter, the writer Angel Santiesteban (who is also in prison) and the artist Tania Bruguera (arrested this Sunday in front of her house and released shortly afterward).

The other award winners, members of the Sudanese non-violent resistance movement and the Indonesian comic Girifna Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, personally received a representation of the Goddess of Democracy, the iconic statue erected by Chinese students during protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

The Oslo Freedom Forum, which opened Monday in the Norwegian capital and will close on Wednesday, gathers the proponents of freedom and human rights from several countries. This year’s gathering is the Freedom Forum’s seventh, and focuses “on those places where it is impossible to stage protests, which are silenced or attacked, as in Cuba and Russia,” according to its founder, Thor Halvorssen.

Free El Sexto / Lia Villares

To beat me you need weapons, police prisons. For me to beat you I only need spray paint and this  little piece of paper.
Left side: El Sexto, disappeared. Right side: For you to beat me you need weapons, you need police, you need prisons. For me to beat you I only need spray paint and this little piece of paper.

Lia Villares’ tweet: #IAlsoDemand #FreeElSextoNow 1 artist deserves the attention of the free generations of the future free.


State Security Summons Estado de Sats Members to “Warn” Them About “For Another Cuba” Graffiti

Campaign for Another Cuba. Graffiti Collective, #WeWantItNow, June 8 at 10 am, Wherever you are!!! For the ratification of the UN covenants/ (Estado de Sats)

Several members of Estado de Sats were summoned by State Security to a Havana police station this Saturday, to “warn” them about the Grafiti Colectivo Por otra Cuba, organized by the independent project for this Sunday, to support the campaign demanding that the Government ratify the United Nations covenants that it signed in 2008.

“They wanted (…) to threaten us, as always, and to say that they would not allow any type of action,” the visual artist Lía Villares told Diario de Cuba.

“I told them it was an international action, a global movement in support of the campaign, and that they couldn’t prevent what was happening in different parts of the world,” she added. continue reading

Two years since the start of the campaign, Estado de Sats has proposed “simultaneous and collective graffiti,” within and outside Cuba, of the For Another Cuba logo, created by the graphic artist and caricaturist Gustavo Rodríguez (Garrincha).

Also “to document the actions and post photos and videos on social networks, to make this ’collective graffiti’ a media success in support of the message For Another Cuba.”

In addition to Villares, also summoned were the photographer Claudio Fuentes, the writer and independent journalist Camilo Ernesto Olivera, and the activist Dixán Romero, who did not appear because of irregularities in the summonses.

“I went out wearing a shirt with the campaign logo and they were so upset, evidently so disturbed, that they talked to the logo, not to me,” related Villares, who was “warned” by two officials.

“I asked them why they don’t combat corruption, delinquency, why a person like myself sitting there at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon (…) why they were doing this work while the country was falling apart. But that didn’t interest them, they wanted to deliver their threatening and intimidating message,” she added.

The Campaign for Another Cuba demands that Havana ratify the United Nations covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Diario de Cuba, 8 June 2014

CubaRaw2013 – The Project / Lia Villares, Silvia Corbelle, Claudio Fuentes, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 1.25.32 PMCUBARAW: A Photography Project for the Support and Dissemination of Alternative Cultural Activities in Today’s Cuba

Created by Claudio Fuentes Madan and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in 2009, now continued by Claudio, Silvia Corbelle and Lia Villares, 2013.

The alternative photographic agency CUBARAW is an attempt to launch a database of images (as well as custom images), starting from the work of each photographer involved, but as a collective endeavor to revolutionize both Cuban independent journalism as well as activism in favor of human rights in our nation.

CUBARAW refers to the format “.raw” of maximum digital quality, but also the idea of Cuba “in the raw” without distortion or censorship.

2da temp R 10 -019  copia 1 webIt is a platform for all members of the emerging Cuban civil society interested in developing their photographic abilities, whether professional or otherwise, and whether active or otherwise as communicators tied to agencies, libraries, discussion groups, opposition parties, etc.
continue reading

2da temp R 14 -018 copia 1 webIn Cuba there have been several independent news agencies, with both academic and self-taught reporters and photojournalists. Among the population today there is a fairly high penetration of amateur format digital cameras, which, along with the use of mobile phones (and to a lesser extent iPhones) that allows the collection of a good flow of information about our context.

ROLLo81025 copia 1 webThese photos circulate from computer to computer through discs or flash drives, and often are published on the internet. However, beyond their experiential value, most of these snapshot waste most of their discursive potential–aesthetic and political–with the result that, without notable exceptions, the visualization coming from the dissidence, opposition and Cuban independent press is poor.

ROLLo 8031 copia 1 webThis lack of visualization is hard to grasp from within the island, where internet connectivity is almost zero beyond the capital, especially in the case of civil society actors who never have the privileged connectivity of the State. This is so normal that it’s not considered a difficulty that should be solved immediately and permanently for the future.

An independent photo agency, which also functions as a shared database at the national level (free of charge to national citizens but compensated for interested correspondents) would be a proposal capable of meeting this deficiency in Cuban visual discourse.

2da temp R 44-09 copia 1 webCUBARAW will offer the creation, classification and development of a database of images taken of the day to day reality of contemporary Cuba, photos–(and to the extent possible, videos–valuable for their expressive power in any field of interest: repression, activism, the economy and jobs, education, health and hygiene, manners and folklore, sports, religion, migration, art, concerts, theater, communications and transportation, etc.

CUBARAW will disseminate freely and massively (via DVDs and flash memory), at the national level, the updated image database of the CUBARAW agency, especially among independent social communicators independent official Cuban institutions, preferably if they are in active contact with the emerging civil society, and through promotional postcards with attractive and non-politicized designs.

ROLLo 8036 copia 1 webCUBARAW will make available–physically and virtually–to interested parties, an emerging model photographic course with textual and audiovisual materials, of a theoretical and practical nature, for developing technical and artistic photographic expression among independent Cuban journalists, which in turn could become image partners for CUBARAW, as well distribute this methodological information.

The workshops will be taught by Claudio Fuentes Madan with the objective of providing bloggers and independent journalists a better understanding of photography as a language and a greater autonomy in their work.

Photos in body of text by Lia Villares

#FreeGorki – The Gorki Aguila Case / Lia Villares


The trial schedules for this Tuesday against Gorki Águila, leader of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo, was postponed because of the health problems of his defense attorney, according to the musician himself on his Facebook page. Gorki spoke about the background of his case with Diario de Cuba.

 Gorki, what are they accusing you of?

The formal citation they gave me said the crimes of pre-criminal social dangerousness and illegal drug possession, with many points suspended.

Were you carrying drugs?

When they stopped me on the street and searched me and found two Tradea pills — methylphenidate — for which I have the appropriate prescription, signed and sealed, which are strong proof that they were bought legally. The police investigation has no evidence beyond those two pills.

Why are they accusing you?

The classic recourse of the government is to tie the “uncomfortable” individual to some prefabricated crime. In my case they didn’t ahve much more and I thought it unlikely that they’d convict me, if it was a free trial, for the (completely legal) possession of two tables of a medication that I need, according to a doctor’s prescription.

What’s your impression of this new trial and now the suspension of it?

It has the same characteristics of the 2008 trial, the same intentions, because a despotic government like ours never renounces the idea of silencing protestors like me by constant threats of prison, whether we are artists, activists, journalists or simply citizens. continue reading

On the morning of the day before yesterday I learned that the trial had been postponed because of my attorney’s health. It was to have been held on Tuesday, the 11th, but was delayed approximately a week. I thought this surprise, without any definitive date, could be dangerous because State Security could use it as a strategy and take advantage of less media coverage so I’d have a silent trial with weaker visibility.

Meanwhile, the government could create a parallel campaign to discredit me on the social networks, which seems like a recurring error on their part, because the exaggeration of creating false situations against each and everyone who dares to denounce them or express an opinion contrary to its purposes becomes suspect.

Castro never could admit that his opponents could be dignified enemies and have a body of more elevated moral principles; his attitude has always been not to recognize opponents and so to underestimate them, but taking care that they are never respected, rather defamed and in extreme cases imprisoned and even assassinated.

What are your expectations for the trial? Why summary?

I understand that these trials are held in very few countries and almost always in times of war, as an immediate lesson. The summary trials in Cuba are produced serially, with little documentation, that is, they can hold several trials on the same day, at the same time, with the ruling made in advance, where the political police has everything to gain. In this sense the regime takes great advantage of them against the peaceful opponents.


In these trials, mostly rigged by State Security — it’s expected that the ruling will go against the accused. So I think it’s extremely important to maintain solidarity among everyone because, as demonstrated in the previous trial in 2008, the more public opinion was moved and the more visibility the case got at the international level, it was possible with everyone to change a decision already decided by the anti-revolutionary injustice, on the  retrograde sense of the Cuban government.

Your case is not isolate…

The government finds in these moments in the practice meant to “neutralize” the various opponents, one of their bad so-called “revolutionary offenses.” This is the case with my friend Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who finds himself under police investigation with absurd charges like “the spread of false news that threatens international peace.”

It’s incredible that someone who threatened the total destruction of the planet earth, could say that a simple opinion or the exercise of free expression could threaten international peace. It’s something as cynical as his persona, someone who dedicated his whole life to launching the false image of “revolutionary and ecologist.”

There was also the case of the independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez, who spent long months in prison simply for exposing the spread of the cholera epidemic in the country, work that should have been the job of the national press, which has never mentioned, with sincerity, news that is alarming to the population.

Tell me how it was in 2008…

I was in the dungeon without knowing anything that was going on outside. At a specific time a cop came with the file and told me what I was charged with would be changed. Then the treatment inside the jail mutated tremendously. When they reduced the charges, some official even said that all those who were there were criminals while I was just there for being “anti-Castro.”

That is, they changed the crime of social dangerousness to the crime of disobedience and from then is where I can corroborate the rapid collapse of the armed farce.  When they substituted the charge of one crime for another following no procedures at all, completely lacking in rigor: what’s missing is the Rule of Law. This leaves the usual arbitrariness of the Cuban judicial system completely exposed, where terms like “legal certainty” or “res judicata” are alien to is citizens, frequently defenseless before such procedures.

Then I knew I had a strong international solidarity campaign and within the country all my friends and activists supported me making sure everyone knew about my situation and the false charges I was accused of.

I’m convinced that the only way to transform these previous designs of the tyranny is to realize that uniting in the demand against injustice we can multiply the message that we all need right now, that of freedom for civil Cuban society, in short, freedom for Cuba.

I would like to thank all the people sensitive to my situation who have signed the petition and who are continuing to pay attention to what could happen with respect to this inadmissible case.

Thank you so much! Hopefully this is the year that yes, it falls!

Diario de Cuba, 12 February 2014, Lia Villares

“The psychological torture was intense, permanent. They wanted to erase his mind.” / Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba, December, was raining heavily in Havana. It was the first day of December and Miriam Leiva had come to Cuba carrying the ashes of her husband and the memories of their almost 40 years together. Oscar Espinosa Chepe had died after a long illness that they shared together like so many things in their lives: work, civic activism and love.

Surrounded by the books and periodicals that he treasured, he was now in the metal urn in the small apartment from which he’d left last March to seek medical treatment in Spain. For those who knew this couple it’s hard to imagine one without the other.

Cubanet– Did he want his ashes returned?

Miriam Leivan– When we arrived at the La Fuenfria Hospital, he was very ill.  He told me, “When the time comes, I want you to cremate me and take me to Cienfuegos.” The doctor came by several times the same day and on one of the visits he told her, forcefully and with tremendous clarity, “Doctor, I want to return to Cuba.” She and I looked at each other, because given the condition he was in this was impossible. And he said again, “It’s hard to say… When it happens, I want to return to Cuba. Because I have always wanted to be in Cuba.” And then she told him, “Don’t worry, your wife already has everything arranged.”

We went there in March and he died at the end of September. September 23. continue reading

Cubanet– Why didn’t you go earlier to improve his health?

Miriam Leiva – They wouldn’t allow him to go abroad and return. That is, we had to leave Cuba permanently. When he got out of prison in November 2004 he could have gone abraod and lived there permanently and gotten medical treatment, and he told me no, not without being able to return to Cuba, he wasn’t going anywhere.

Cubanet– What other limitations were imposed on his life on parole.

Miriam Leiva – When he was released in 2004, he comes to the house. Then they tell him he can’t return to his activities, he can’t write, he can’t speak. I alerted the foreign press that Oscar was here and they all came, everyone who wanted to, tons of correspondents accredited in Havana, and he immediately began writing and speaking.

In a year and a half they called him before the Playa Municipal Court and told him he could not continue the activities he was engaged in, that he was being monitored by the neighborhood “factors” (the Party, the Young Communist League, and the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) who would report on his behavior.

On the basis of that they gave him a document with some 11 prohibition, among that that he couldn’t leave Havana without permission, he couldn’t engage in exchanges, could not work. All this was in the document, something like 10 or 11 prohibitions. And he continued to do exactly the same things because there is a reality which he expressed in his opinions in a constructive manner and for the betterment of our country, and as he and I have always told them: prove that we are lying. Prove that we are saying something that is incorrect. They can’t prove it; we carry on.

Cubanet– And this year his health worsened?

Miriam Leiva – Last year in June he started to have a leg problem, with a lot of pain and then the problem in his liver started to get worse and he felt badly and lost weight. He was admitted to intensive care in Fajardo Hospital, which where he was always seen, and there they say that the biliary system was clogged, which seemed to have been going on for some time, and it was deteriorating.

The immediate solution was to put a prosthesis in the bile duct endoscopically, or minimally invasive. But this prosthesis lasted 2 or 3 months and had to be changed because it became contaminated by an infection in the bile processes, so they had to change it. He was admitted in December because it was going very badly and they told him they didn’t have an opening for him and he would have to wait until the beginning of January, it wasn’t the beginning it was the middle. But fine, they had an opening and the doctor he saw that time told me the problem wasn’t just an obstructed vile duct, but due to the deterioration of the bile system many of the branches of the ducts were badly damaged and that there was nothing they could do here. Perhaps abroad they would have other treatments but in Cuba there weren’t any more resources, no other possibilities.

Cubanet– And that time did they guarantee he could return?

Miriam Leiva – That was when we started to try to convince him to get treatment abroad because now, yes, if he remained in Cuba he would be dead sooner or later. And it was hard to convince him. Then he said, if they let me return I will go, and that mobilized me. I got in contact with different governments to see what the immediate possibilities were because somewhere else perhaps there was something they could do.

And the government of Spain — where they a lot of expertise in liver disease — said yes, they could offer medical care, but all the other costs would be up to us. And I didn’t ask how much the fare would be, but I said, yes, we will start the paperwork to get permission to leave and return. Here, we asked if he accepted a passport, could he return. Finally it was clear that he could return.

Cubanet– Tell us about Madrid…

Miriam Leiva – I was very afraid he wouldn’t make it to Madrid alive; but luckily he arrived. Very weak, but he got there. I got a travel helper and in the airport he went everywhere in a wheelchair. He didn’t have the strength to walk. We got there on Tuesday and on Wednesday in the morning we were at Hospital Puerta de Hierro. He went to the emergency room. They did everything, all the checks he needed to be admitted and when there was a room available, they took him there.

After some tests they changed the prosthesis. There they discovered that in addition to a diseased liver and the bile problems he had hepatitis B that hadn’t been diagnosed, and a bacterium called Clostridium. He was put in isolation because of the hepatitis. He was there for days while the hepatitis was treated and he was improved. They started a special treatment for the clostridium and he was better. But he was still feeling very very weak. He was hoping for a liver transplant, but given his age, over 70, they couldn’t do it. Besides he was very run down.

Cubanet– In Madrid there were the two professors…

Miriam Leiva – He gave a lecture at the Hispano-Cuban Foundation, which was his last recorded lecture. He had a very high fever that day. Afterwards, when Professor Carmelo-Mesa-Laga was there, he invited us to the hotel where he was staying. By email we told him it would be a huge effort for Oscar. Then Carmelo and his wife came to see us, we had already moved to a smaller and cheaper hostel. It wasn’t bad, I can’t fault the price.

Carmelo invited us to go to his lecture at the Casa de America and another meeting at the Elcano Institute, a very prestigious Spanish institution in the area of Foreign Policy. It was nice because when Carmelo finished speaking in Casa de America, and other people were already asking questions, Oscar didn’t know that he was going to speak at Carmelo’s conference and asked a question. And before answering Carmelo said, “Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who is here.” It was very nice, he said some very nice words about Oscar and they applauded a great deak and that was a nice thing.

Miriam tells the story

Cubanet– Did his health worse in prison, in the Black Spring of 2003?

Miriam Leiva– After the search that begin in hour home at 4:30 in the afternoon and lasted until 3:00 in the morning they took Oscar to Villa Marista. A few days went by before they let me visit, maybe a week, I thought I would get a visit a week. It was a 15-minute visit with the officials in the little room and you couldn’t talk about anything other than family problems. He had already lost a lot of weight. He was sallow, a typical color when the liver is in crisis. Why? Because ot the intense interrogations in Villa Marista.

The Cuban government doesn’t torture in a way that is visible physically, but their psychological torture is suffocating and very intense. And this was what they did to Oscar. Then they simply put him in a cell with three common prisoners, and he could barely walk because it was very small, they had nothing there, no toothpaste, when he wanted something he had to bang on the metal for the jailer to come and open the bars and say “What do you want?”

The interrogators were there whenever it occurred to them, whenever they wanted, and especially when they thought he might be sleeping. So he wasn’t able tog et any rest. Oscar told me about the conversation, basically in his case, for example” how did he think, and why as he involved in this, why, it wasn’t worth it, that ultimately what was he talking about when he talked about reforms, he would give an example, “If even Vietnam and China are making changes and reforms, why can’t Cuba do it?”

The interrogator finally answered on the day of the trial, “Boy, because we’re not Chinese nor Vietnamese.” He continued to say the same things that he said here at home. The intensity of this system of interrogation and the bad food, the conditions, everything, what crowding there… he deteriorated a lot.

Because of our demands they took him to the Military Hospital. There they didn’t do any tests or anything, they told me that because he had been sent to prison he was going to prison. They sent him to the prison in Guantanamo. A journey very difficult for everyone, very hard, because they put them handcuffed in a bus, and they couldn’t talk to each other and they were left in all the prisons along the way until Guantanamo which was the last.

Cubanet– From Guantanamo he was taken….

Miriam Leiva – In Guantanamo he became very ill. I went there. Then they finally put him in the hospital of that city. It began to rain and the hospital only served emergencies, and they sent him to El Cobre Hospital, in Santiago de Cuba, that served the Boniato prison. There They wanted to do all the medical tests they thought necessary there and he said no. They told him if would have the tests they were going to take him to Boniatico, the isolation cells in Boniato. There were others of the 75 Black Spring prisoners in isolation cells there. Then I learned that he’d been sent to Boniatico.

Cubanet – What happened in Boniatico ?

Miriam Leiva – They dragged him off again to Santiago, with a doctor, from our family, and the prison director told me there weren’t any doctors, that I couldn’t talk to the doctors. I said, “Look, the only thing I have to do in my life is take care of Oscar Espinosa Chepe, and to I can stay here in the prison where I won’t bother you, but I will be there.”

Then an official from the Ministry of the Interior appeared and called him aside. This man never spoke the whole time, he simply sat there and when something in the conversation interested him he called an official from outside and told him what he had to do. Three doctors appeared, the head doctor and two others. We explained the whole situation, the doctor explained about Oscar. They went to see Oscar who was obviously very sick and they took him back to the prison part of the El Cobre hospital. They didn’t give him newspapers or anything, they put him in total isolation. They didn’t tell him we were there, that we came three times a day; his mother in the morning, his sister at noon and I at night. They completely isolated him.

Cubanet -From Boniatico to Habana…

Miriam Leiva — One day I learned that the afternoon before Oscar had been taken very ill about 3:00 in the afternoon and at the 11:00 PM they put him a plane for Havana and he was in the C.J. Finlay Military Hospital. This was in August 2003. I asked for a medical report. They said, “Yes, we will give it to you,” and they were going to do that when I met with a doctor in September, what they gave me was a piece of paper that didn’t say anything substantial. It was a tiny little medical history with less than I knew, much less. They didn’t tell my how Oscar was at that time, nor why he was there. You know they don’t give you medical information because they don’t want to. In March of the following year they gave me some information after a great deal of insistence on my part and also under pressure from the international community.

The psychological torture of Oscar Espinosa Chepe was intense, permanent, very malicious, everything. When the inmates were in the hospital they had one visit a week. Oscar had one visit a month and we never knew when it would be. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know, but he was the prisoner and he didn’t know. You know when Oscar found out? When they opened the cell. In this place the cells are rooms, it’s an old house with some little rooms. And he was with common prisoners, he knew Coco Fariñas was there for a time but he didn’t hear him, never saw him.

The prisoners had a right to television, but they never let Oscar see television. When he came from Santiago they took away everything, absolutely everything. They left him in Villa Marist and I I had to go to Villa Marista to find him. They even took his bible. The letters, photos, everything, everything, they took away everything.

On the first visit I showed up with a Bible and said, “Can’t Oscar have this here,” and so he had the Bible. He couldn’t have anything having to do with his life, with economics, with Cuba, with anything. They wanted to erase that man’s mind. They wouldn’t even give him the Granma newspaper. The only time they showed him television, they opened the curtain they had put across the bars of the cell and showed him the television from there — it was when the former foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque said on TV that Oscar was lying about his illness.

Cubanet – Miriam, you were experiencing the punishment imposed by the regime on Oscar; but you continued writing…

Miriam Leiva – Yes, of course, I was writing more than ever. I didn’t stop. Then I was coordinating with the wives of the 75 Black Spring prisoners and we started a strong movement for their release.

Cubanet– Were you afraid at any point?

Miriam Leiva – Look, I’m going to tell you one thing: fear is felt for a moment sometimes, in certain situations. What happens is that you overcome the fear and it doesn’t overcome you. When it gets too much it gets on your nerves and you have to go or overcome it at home. And, well, all human beings are afraid… I think I’ve been very afraid at certain times, but it’s seconds and it passes and I continue on. You understand? The problem is overcoming the fear.

Do you know where I got my greatest strength? I can’t turn away from an injustice, they want to impose on me, they want to blackmail me, they want me to say things that aren’t true. And in addition, they are injuring a person who has done nothing wrong.

Cubanet – And now, what are the personal plans of Miriam Leiva?

Miriam Leiva – I will continue writing and expressing my opinion. My fundamental commitment was to bring Oscar’s ashes. It too two months to resolve the death certificate and to undergo my own medical check up, but I didn’t want to prolong it because I wanted to bring the ashes as soon as possible.

Lilianne Ruíz  

26 December 2013, Cubanet