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

The Trials / Lilianne Ruiz

Gorki Aguila (in glasses) and Porno para Ricardo

Ángel Santiesteban, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, and Gorki Águila have in common that they dissent from the Cuban regime. The first was tried in a court so lacking in due process guarantees that he was declared by his attorney to be in a state of defenselessness, based on Cuban law.

The witnesses for his defense, who could have declared that they were with him at the time when, it was said, the events occurred, were dismissed. His son, a minor, gave a confusing statement that his father wasn’t in the house the day Santiesteban’s ex-wife alleged he had attacked her. (Clearly he was somewhere else, in the Masonic Lodge with his brothers who were later his defense witnesses.)

The first declaration of his ex-wife spoke of a fight, the second day it appeared she had been sexually attacked, and by the end she accused him of nothing short of attempted murder. There was no evidence of any of these three things.

The only prosecution witness appeared in a video confessing that he had been given a mobile phone and some clothes so that he would lie. To they eliminated the charges of rape and attempted murder, but not the one of attack, for which there was no evidence at all.

They called in an official forensic handwriting expert, who said that the slant of Santiesteban’s handwriting indicates a violent personality, and with this the trial ended. Continue reading

No One Wants to Talk About CELAC / Lilianne Ruiz

Police on the Malecon -- Havana -- internet

Police on the Malecon — Havana — internet

HAVANA, Cuba — The morning of the 28th, there were fewer people on the street than any other Tuesday.  Also it was notable that the flow of cars on a street as central as 23rd, in El Vedado, had diminished.

Who can find out what is in the heart of the Cuban people, subjected to political propaganda 24 hours a day?

The Malecon, almost deserted.  Two twenty-somethings talk about the Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as an opportunity for Latin American integration. They speak of the collective, not of the individual. They said that it is about “an opportunity to show the world how much we have tried to rectify some things.”

A man of 40 complains that beer is missing and he associates it with the international event.

Going down O street, another man of 30 laments that the host only tries to fix how Cuba presents itself and accepts that there is another invisible part in permanent crisis. He is not aware of the alternative Forum that the opposition was going to hold that same day.

No one agrees to say his name.

Also on O street, between 15th and 17th, there is an artisan fair, selling the same things as always: pieces of wooden sculpture, costume jewelry of nickel and bone, stamps with the Cuban flag, berets and t-shirts printed with the Korda photo of Che Guevara. But no seller wants to talk to me of his expectations with respect to CELAC. Only one customer, a native, says that he hopes the economic situation will improve.

Leaving the fair, a lady signals me to look some meters away at a man dressed in plainclothes who does not move from the corner. She explains to me that he is part of the State Security force that watches over the CELAC Summit. Every once in a while the man gets out a radio transmitter-receiver and speaks; he seems to be reporting what is happening around him. For a minute I think that I am going to meet with Manuel Cuesta Morua in the dungeons of the Fifth Police Station.

Young women, dressed in the olive-green uniform of the Ministry of the Interior and orange vests, appear on some corners, alternating with the uniformed officers of the PNR (People’s Revolutionary Police). These latter are not too remarkable because they are a daily presence in the streets, patrolling.

A system that requires individuals to deny themselves to be able to survive, in a society that punishes non-conformists, is being irrigated with the impunity that it is granted by 33 regional heads of State, the secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, and the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, silent about the indefensible situation in which the Cuban people live in matters of civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The internal opposition had conceived of Democratic Forum II in International Relations and Human Rights, as an event parallel to the CELAC summit, a Forum that yours truly should attend. The political police incarcerated the leaders and organizers, and in that way the project was dismantled.

According to information offered by the Cuban Commission of National Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDDRN), more than 200 arrests have been reported in the last days, some in the nature of house arrest and others in police jail cells, throughout the whole Island.  In all the cases it is about arbitrary detentions to restrain free movement or to impede the activists from meeting.

If they insist on selling again the idea of socialism as a panacea for eradicating poverty, Cubans from the Island have something more to show the world: not only the devastated country, police control, State violence, but also our souls which have been still more poor — practically incapable of understanding and defending themselves — after 55 years without the desired liberty.

Cubanet, January 29, 2014, Lilianne Ruiz

Translated by mlk.

Detained Half an Hour on Marta Beatriz’s Stairway / Lilianne Ruiz

Community Communicators' Network on the ground floor of the building -- Courtesy of Marta Beatriz

Community Communicators’ Network on the ground floor of the building — Courtesy of Marta Beatriz

HAVANA, CUBA — This last Wednesday, I was walking quickly through Belascoain, disgusted by the odor of urine from the doorways. Every once in a while a peddler called his wares. On arriving at Zanja, crossing the street, the area was deserted. Three men in plainclothes blocked the door of building 409, where Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello lives.

I tried to ignore them and continued. The door was locked.

“Where are you going?”

“Who’s asking?”

The man, with an eastern accent, responded while putting in front of my eyes an identity card with initials in red: DSE.

“State Security Department, my dear,” he said with that lack of professionalism that one cannot imagine.

He did not clarify what it was all about. He again asked me the first question, and I told him that I was going to see Marta Beatriz Roque.

He took my identification and led me inside the building. He called one of his minions, a black man about two meters tall and more than 50 years of age, whom he called “brigade-ist.” And he told him, “Keep her here, she cannot go up to see Martha Beatriz.”

A thermos of coffee on one of the steps of the wide staircase betrayed the complicity of some neighbors with the political police.  Two uniformed policewomen appeared on the scene.  The “brigade-ist” charged one of them with watching me. Continue reading