“My mom has a girlfriend” / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Denia and Mayra don't kiss in front of their daughter because of concerns she would be rejected at school.

Denia and Mayra don’t kiss in front of their daughter because of concerns she would be rejected at school.

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUÍZ, Havana |October 3, 2014 – Denia and Mayra met twelve years ago on a walk along the Malecon. In the zone of tolerance that begins at Maceo Park and ends at the 23rd Street fountain, where historically a part of the LGBTI community gathers in the Havana nights. After a 7-year relationship they thought seriously of raising a child, but they ran into an obstacle: according Ministry of Public Health protocols, the possibility of conception through non-traditional means is designed for heterosexual couples and treated as a pathology of infertility.

The two women began to seek voluntary donors among their friends. They knew other women in the same situation had managed to conceive by introducing semen into the vagina with a syringe. “In contact with mucus it can live up to 72 hours; in a syringe stored at room temperature it can last 48 hours,” they say.

Among their close friends they didn’t find a candidate that met all their conditions, above all that he was willing to renounce paternity and cede it entirely to the female couple. So after many discrete inquiries, they used the services of an OB/GYN at a maternity hospital in the capital who, in addition to artificially inseminating Mayra, was able to offer them a donor with the desired characteristics, including some resemblance to Denia. The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities. Should it be divulged, the doctor would lose his profession.

 The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities

Denia sidesteps the question of whether they had to pay for this “under the table” service. According to other women in similar situations, the rates in the informal market for sperm vary between 100 and 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

“This has been the greatest joy of my life. The little girl calls me godmother,” Denia says. The two women consider themselves mothers of Paola, a beautiful five-year-old who attends preschool.

During the pregnancy and childbirth, Denia presented herself as a friend of Mayra’s. In their experience, if they had declared themselves the lesbian couple that they are, they would not have been treated the same. “In many places we found they don’t treat us like they treat a heterosexual couple. Sometimes they reject us. So we did what we did to keep up appearances.”

Denia tells how she gets up first in the morning to bring the baby to her mother’s breast. “Even though I’m not the biological mother, I feel like I’m also Paola’s mother. At times we argue lovingly about who’s going to do the cooking because the child likes my cooking more.”

They don’t kiss in front of the girl, not because they don’t want to promote their values of respect for sexual diversity and freedom of choice in front of her, but because they are worried that she might experience rejection at school. “We live in a society that has not adapted to a kiss as a gesture of love between a couple, and to the fact that couples can be made up of the same gender.”

Because of this, they believe that Cuba should legalize marriage between persons of the same sex, so that their rights are recognized in the Ministry of Health protocols, including the right of a lesbian woman to conceive with the help of science. “The same rights would make us more equal,” they say.

So far, however, there is no donor sperm bank in the Cuban health system, even for heterosexual couples. Nor are there statistics about the number of same sex couples with children. In a telephone call, the Legal Department of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) admitted it has taken no surveys and has nor information about it.

As often happens, the official world keeps its distance from what is happening in real life. It refuses to legislate and ignores the stories of different passions, with fruits and without patriarchs.

Constitutional Consensus Makes Noise / Lilianne Ruiz

Constitutional Consensus advances from below, from those who know the least. Deep within the Island citizens, or rather those who aspire to be, join the project with misspellings, in the midst of smoke and sweat, fixing old bikes that deserve to be abandoned, and plowing the earth with one eye on the cow that needs to be watched.

What is happening is unusual at one point. None of the activists who run the initiative tells these people, forgotten and persecuted by a troop of fine collectors, what they should say. Like the plow, the pliers or the pastry flour, they just offer another instrument for them to express what they want in the laws to defend and how they want them to be written.

An activist, Marthadela, never tires of walking and pushing these tools to get answers, any answers, the come to the common people in the spirit of the new laws. And to her surprise, the result is immense and multiplying.

If you started sweating with one farmer in his bar on the ground, four farmers have already approached you do see if they can protect their cows from the voracious greed of the State.

Another activist, Carmelo, makes it so that at a Constitutional Initiative Discussion an apparently exhausted and lost citizen speaks up to say that the only thing he knows is that no one, not those above and not those below, should be above the law, which has occurred in Cuba since the first day of 1959. An idea worth its weight in gold because it took several centuries to give birth to it.

All this gives us confidence. If these ordinary men and women assume that the law and its defense is worth the trouble it means we come together again in a civilized way one of these days. But what is likely happening is common sense is the best soil for the sense of rights.

Constitutional Consensus moves forward with these people.

7 October 2014

Angel Santiesteban Transferred to La Lima Prison / 14ymedio

Angel-Santiesteban_CYMIMA20140516_0001_1314YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 – The writer Angel Santiesteban might have been transferred to La Lima prison, located in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa. The information was provided to 14ymedio by Lilianne Ruíz, a freelance journalist who visited the police station at Acosta and Diez de October streets where the narrator and blogger was detained.

For several weeks, Santiesteban’s family and friends have been demanding an explanation for the aggravation of the charges against him. The police informed the family that the writer was being prosecuted for an escape attempt. However, his family believes that this “new imputation is groundless and is being lodged only to increase his time in captivity.”

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement calling on the Cuban authorities to “clearly explain” Santiesteban’s situation.

Prior to his transfer to the Acosta Station, Santiesteban was held in a construction unit where he could receive visitors and make telephone calls. The blogger was sentenced in 2013 to five years in prison for an alleged “violation of domicile and aggression.” Independent lawyers have repeatedly denounced the irregularities committed in his case and have raised the complaint with national and international entities.

They Direct the Machinery of Harassment Against a Cancer Researcher / Lilianne Ruiz

Young Oscar Casanella is threatened in the public roadway by “factors” of the revolution. State Security wants him fired from his work.

HAVANA, Cuba. — Someone must have heard the telephone conversations of Oscar Casanella.  Those days he was organizing a party with his friends to welcome back Ciro, the guitarist for the punk rock band “Porno for Ricardo,” who had returned from abroad.

Unexpectedly, on Thursday December 5, 2013, at 9:15 pm, just across from his house (at 634 La Roas between Boyeros and Ermita, Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana), four unknown people, two men and two women about 60 years old, blocked his path to tell him:  “Oscar, you cannot do anything these days and if you do, you are going to suffer serious consequences. People unknown to you can harm you, and even we can hurt you a lot.”

This was the preamble to a Kafkaesque story:

Some neighbors told him later that among those who had threatened him was one named Gari Silegas, and that the four were members of the communist party, which met in something known as the “Zonal Nucleus,” a group of militants retired from various “Committees in Defense of the Revolution” (CDR). Continue reading

The Stop: A Citizen Performance / Lilianne Ruiz

Angel Santiesteban and Manuel Cuesta Morua

My blog appears abandoned. But that is not the case. What happens is I want to do many thing and so I am behind in updating it. I follow what’s going on around me, I want to understand our history, our social paralysis. I am not brave. I realize it’s easy to stay home, have a hot drink, read a book, ask others questions. The hard part is going outside, engaging in any form of protest about the arbitrariness in which we live.

So I thought of stopping, in that the same day and the same hour we stop like the world stops and connect with our troubles. Because we are very troubled, everyone has their own personal story for feeling this way.

But Cuba is a country where to protest, you have to be a hero. And I don’t like heroes. Which otherwise only appear in barbaric times. We imagine an individual of such size made in the image and likeness of good, as in the Bible, confronting constitutional walls like those that make socialism, the central control the State and the a single party political system irreversible. Wo we must change the constitution, because there is no lack of heroes, nor are there laws to protect people from the power of the state, Hobbes’ Leviathon.

I someone goes out to protest the police come, such brutes and so brutal, and not only are they arbitrarily detained, but right there the strength is lost because those who have experienced it fall into a kind of revolutionary mockery that doesn’t know the value of time.

A person disappears in this time of gigantic size where nothing nothing nothing happens. And a police officer poorer than you are and with less awareness of his rights is who is sent to shut you up as if to say: abandon all hope, here we mock everything, civil, political, economic rights, everything. Here nothing nothing nothing happens.

So I propose to stop. Stop, as an individual, in the street, for example next Wednesday at two in the afternoon, or any other day, just three minutes, to meditate on everything that hurts us, our impotence as individuals and as a society. No harangue, no poster, looking inward, toward the endless abyss that seems to be our individual and national destiny.

They do not want us to take to the streets because they send the police brutes smelling of mother-of-pearl soap (from the bodega) and bad breath, in their eyes the swamp of binging and the revolutionary rabble which swallows out civic, civilizing and profoundly counterrevoltuonary attemps. Let us stop, then.

Police citation for Manuel Cuesta Morua to appear for “an interview”

6 June 2014

At the Train Station We’re All Fighters / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

 Central Station, Havana. (14ymedio)

Central Station, Havana. (14ymedio)

In Havana, travelers bound for the provinces don’t just say goodbye from the platform, they wage a daily battle for survival

Lilanne Ruiz, Havana / June 4, 2014 – It’s seven p.m. in Havana. The train to Guantanamo has just arrived at Central Station. “Let’s go, have your tickets ready!” the conductor shouts, while inching open the gate to the platform.

The travelers push forward, some carrying all their luggage, others squeezing through and waiting for a family member to pass their boxes and suitcases to them through the bars. “Take care, I’ll call when you get there,” says a voice. Only the passengers can get to the cars. No one complains. They’ve never lived the classic scene of saying goodbye from the platform to someone departing on a train.

The Central Railway Station in Havana is an imposing building, built in 1912. The deteriorated ceilings are propped up by wood in the platform-access areas. Despite the neglect, the building endures and impresses.

In the lounge several rows of seats are arranged without a view of anything. It seems like an immense classroom, but without a teacher or blackboard. You can’t see the platform, only the wall. It is a lifeless scene, that gives no sense of movement nor help to make the wait enjoyable. Continue reading

Even Toilet Paper Is A Luxury / Lilianne Ruiz

That the State sells cheap products at high prices is a dreadful cynicism.

HAVANA, Cuba. — First there appeared the “SPAR” products.  Then, on a shelf of the Ultra store in Central Havana, we saw the unmistakable seal with the little red bird from “Auchan.”  Imported products from Europe, which is equivalent to saying, in political terms, from the European Union.

But the prices:

“Very expensive.  Are you looking?  Almost no one buys them,” says the grocer at a small neighborhood market that now displays, also, “SPAR” jellies, cans of bonito and tuna at astronomical prices (in comparison with the buying power in Cuba) and that people do not seem to see; committed as they often are to getting a little package of chicken thighs or some greasy alternative and so to complete the Cuban menu of more fortunate days, too distantly spaced on the calendar: rice, beans, meat, vegetables and the main course, that now cannot be fish or beef.

Everything that the State sells is so expensive that for ordinary Cubans any basic product becomes a luxury. Continue reading

At Repression’s Ground Zero / Lilianne Ruiz

The first time I set foot in that scary place called Villa Marista, similar to Lubyanka Prison in the now fortunately disappeared Soviet Union, it was by my own will. I accompanied Manuel Cuesta Morúa to see Investigator Yurisan Almenares, in charge of Case No. 5, 2014, against Cuesta Morúa, after he was arbitrarily arrested on 26 January of this year to keep him from participating as an organizer of the 2nd Alternative Forum to the CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) Forum, held in Havana.

His detention ended 4 days later with the notification of a precautionary measure that was never delivered, but that obliged him to go to a Police Station every Tuesday and sign the document, for the supposed crime of Diffusion of False News Against International Peace.

But the precautionary measure was only shown to the eyes of the person it concerned once: on 30 January when he was released. In practice, Cuesta Morua was signing an unofficial paper. Imprecision characterized the situation from the beginning. The reasons for the arrest and the case they sought to bring against him had no direct relationship, which shows that the old school mafia of the Castro regime still rules in Cuba: studying the penal code in order to destroy their adversaries, manipulating the law until the punishment proves your guilt.

In Villa Marista I wanted to see the face of someone working there inflicting pain on other human beings. Punishing them, not for violating universal law, which could not exceed the measure of punishment, but for not expressing loyalty to the Castro regime.

For some reason I connected with the mother of Pedro Luis Boitel, who I saw in a documentary titled “No One Listens.” She said that her son, having been persecuted in the Batista era, always found a door to knock on, an opportunity to save himself from death. But in the times of Fidel Castro is wasn’t like that, and Boitel died after a hunger strike, imprisoned in the cruelest and most degrading conditions, in La Cabaña Prison.

Those were the times when the International Left granted the Cuban government impunity so that it could improvise a vast record of human rights violations. And Cuban society, terrorized, also looked the other way: escaping to the United States, while “going crazy” to step foot on the land of liberty. It’s not very different today.

Villa Marista is a closed facility. It can’t be visited by an inspector from the Human Rights Council, nor from representatives of civil society organizations–dissident and persecuted–to ensure that they are not practicing any kind of torture against the prisoners and are respecting all their rights. The government has signed some protocols and declares itself against torture, but we don’t believe in the government and those who have passed through Villa Marista’s cells bear witness that they do torture them there to the point of madness in order to destroy the internal dissidence.

And if someone accuses me of not having evidence, I tell them that’s the point, that it is precisely for this that the Cuban government opens its jails to the press, not controlled by them, and to the international inspectors and Independent Civil Society, because what the Castros present is fabricated by the regime itself.

Not only the dissidents are tortured. Nor do we know if it’s only with “soft torture” which is still torture. Also there are workers who make a mistake and are accused of sabotage, without being able to demand their inalienable rights or defend themselves against such accusations.

It made me want to open doors, to be very strong and kick them all down. To find a legal resource for the Cuban people to investigate–and the right to presumption of innocence–all those who work there. Even the cooks, responsible for having served cabbage with pieces of cockroach to a friend’s relative, a simple worker, who was kept there for long unforgettable days, who was interrogated like in the inquisition to extract a false confession from him. They didn’t even let him sleep.

But I have gone only into the reception area: polished floors, plastic flowers, kitsch expression to hide the sordidness of the jailers instructed by the Interior Ministry; the misery reaching into the bones of the prisoners down those shiny floors. Villa Marista is one thing outside and another inside, as the common refrain says.

Investigator Yurisan Almenares didn’t show his face. Perhaps he wasn’t ready for the persecuted to find him. He had no answers because those guys can’t improvise. They have to consult their superiors, not the law or their own conscience.

A smiling captain took us into a little room and explained, almost embarrassed, that the Investigator wasn’t there and she would make a note of what Manuel was demanding. So I watched as she carefully traced the words he was pronouncing.

We wanted to get notification of the dismissal of the case. There was no precautionary measure; ergo there should be no case pending. This not to say that the presumed case was unsustainable without the precautionary measure. Living in Cuba it’s impossible to escape the reality of power, however absurd and Kafkaesque it may be, like kicking the locked cell doors of Villa Marista.

Remember, the crime has a name as bizarre as Diffusion of False News Against International Peace. And the supposed false news deals with the issue of racism in Cuba, where the government teaches discrimination for political reasons in the schools, and talks about the issue of racial rights, not inborn rights, but as a concession emanating from the State dictatorship; and administered so that it can later be used for revolutionary propaganda.

But racism is still here, rooted in society like a database error that manifests itself in daily phenomena that shock the whole world. Growing, along with other forms of discrimination and masked under the cynical grin of power.

Manuel Cuesta Morua knows this because he has dedicated his life to record this phenomenon in Cuba, historically and in the present. Thus, he has written about it on countless occasions and takes responsibility for every one of his words.

We went there without getting answers. My mind filled with the memory of these people I don’t know who are imprisoned there, half forgotten by the whole world, their own attorneys in a panic.

One thing we can promise Villa Marista’s gendarmes and its top leaders, wherever they hide themselves: some day we will open all those doors, and after judging, with guarantees of due process, those who oppress us, the place will become a part of the popular proverbs turning Cuba into a nation jealous of the freedom of its citizens.

Lilianne Ruiz and Manuel Cuesta Morua

22 April 2014

The Dictatorship’s Annoying Writer / Lilianne Ruiz

Writer Angel Santiesteban in prison -- photo Luz Escobar courtesy of Lilianne Ruiz

Writer Angel Santiesteban in prison — photo Luz Escobar courtesy of Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba.  This past February 28, Reporters without Borders issued a statement attaching the second Open Letter from Angel Santiesteban to General-President of Cuba, Raul Castro, on exactly the day that the writer finished a year in jail.  Santiesteban published the first letter, addressed to the same leader, on his blog a few days before being taken to jail for a crime of which he declares he is innocent.

The place where he is currently held is a military settlement in Lawton, Havana, with the appearance of a housing construction company.  It houses 19 prisoners. His companions have committed crimes of theft, drug trafficking and murder. They are required to stay in a regimen of forced labor. We went there to visit him, a group of friends and this reporter, who could obtain his statements.

Previously he was in La Lima, a prison establishment located in Guanabacoa, and afterwards in the prison known as the “1580,” situated in San Miguel del Padron.

The writer’s people skills guarantee respectful relationships with the inmates. While they are going to work at the ironworks or carpenter’s shop, he stays writing all day. But this he has gotten by force of protest.

Compared with the other jails where he has been, the place is less severe:

“The only explanation that I give you for the fact that they have brought me here is that I publish complaints.  Within the jails there are beatings constantly on the part of the authorities.  In the ’1580’ I made 70 complaints in four and half months,” explains the writer who receives us in the penal enclosure.

This is the second time he has been a prisoner. The first was when he was 17 years of age. He spent nine months awaiting trial in the La Cabana jail.  He had gone to the coast to say goodbye to a part of his family that was leaving Cuba clandestinely. They were caught, and all were taken to jail. From the memories of those nine months, which for him were interminable, came the book that won him the Casa de las Americas Prize in 2006: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn. Continue reading

Opponents’ Attorney Can’t Practice / Lilianne Ruiz

Abogada-Amelia-Rodríguez-Cala_foto-Jorge-Ignacio-Pérez-300x200

Attorney Amelia Rodríguez Cala in Miami, July 2013, photo by Jorge Ignacio Pérez

HAVANA, Cuba – The attorney Amelia Rodríguez Cala, hired by Gorki Águila to conduct his defense — in a trial against him still unscheduled since it was postponed on 11 February — has been suddenly sanctioned to six months without the ability to practice her profession in court. For this reason, the singer of the punk band Porno para Ricardo will have to find another attorney to represent him.

Although Cubanet could not obtain statements from Rodríguez Cala, this information was provided first by Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello and confirmed by Gorki Águila and Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, who told this paper she had hired Rodríguez Cala on 27 January to represent her before the courts of the Department of State Security, responsible for looking that organization’s headquarters on 3 January, a judicial action without precedent since 1959, according to Soler.

She also said that her attorney had taken her investigation to the Picota police station where they had taken the various items stolen from the headquarters that day at 5:30 in the morning, but there they told her everything was in the hands of Villa Marista, main interrogation headquarters of the Cuban political police. Continue reading

“No One Treats Me Like a Prostitute” / Lilianne Ruiz

From the series “Outside the hotel,” Photo by Luz Escobar

HAVANA, Cuba – Yazmín doesn’t do the street. Nor does she acknowledge exercising the oldest profession in the world. She navigates the Internet for 10 CUC an hour, in some Havana hotel with this service. She visits websites to find a partner: cibercupido.com, mejoramor.com, and,among others, the Cuban website revolico.com, in the Jobs section.

The first step was to fill out her profile in those sites and describe it for the gentlemen who seek, on those sites, their desires. Nothing profound. She has added photos, which I am not showing here for reasons of safety; in one she is portrayed semi-crouched, from the back, leaning forward and turning her face to the camera the expression of a naive girl. She says she’s had good luck with this.  In the year she received several “friends,” from different countries of residence or origin. They stay together some fifteen days, to get to know each other and be intimate. All of them send her remittances. She has learned to say “I love you” in several languages.

A friend gave her the idea. Before this she wandered El Vedado, Old Havana, and the Playas del Este, indanger of ending up in jail for “besieging tourism” (a crime created to punish behavior like hers).

This new modality feels more agreeable. There’s no mention of money, but everyone knows their role.

Before, for 50 CUC a night, she rented herself out to have safe sex in some variant of the island Kama Sutra. She admits that she was tired and didn’t see the profits. Now, she has a kind of monthly salary and, especially, no one treats her like a hooker. Except when she plays at surprising her companions in the role of streetwalker. Then she feels like an artist. Continue reading

Barbarism in Cuba Wears a Uniform and Police Badge / Lilianne Ruiz

Iris and Antunez

The men who sawed through the metal bars at Jorge Luis Garcia Perez’s (Antunez) house at 5:30 in the morning last Tuesday were police, After cutting the fence, they broke the latch and drove everyone sleeping in the house out with blows, taking them prisoner. They were following orders from the Ministry of the Interior. This information is already old because a few hours later they were arrested again. But I just connected and the post I wrote at home after taling with Iris on Wednesday night.

On Monday, 10 February, Antunez started a hunger and thirst strike, in protest for the police ransacking he was a victim of last Wednesday. He is demanding the return of everything they took from his house. His wife explained that it wasn’t a question of the material possessions, but of a moral response that tries to limit these arbitrary actions.

There were two other men with them this morning, from the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Resistance Front, who joined the hunger strike. At this time everyone continues the same stance, despite being isolated. The activists’ cell phones were not returned by the police, to increase the sensation of isolation and limit the visibility of the strike.

We have to look with horror on the fact that wearing the uniform or carrying an ID card from the Department of State Security, provides momentary impunity. The seeds of violence are planted in this social war fueled by ideology; this is nothing new. But the end depends on people of good will — if there are any left — both inside and outside of Cuba.

Who dares to propose, from Cuba, that Latin America and the Caribbean is a Zone of Peace.

14 February 2014