All Exiles Are Possible / Luis Felipe Rojas

1405566194_3When I say exile, I only think of the word life. That was what happened to me at the meeting “Fight for Liberation against Castro-communism,” which the writer Julio M. Shiling generously coordinated and which was held at the West Dade Regional Library of Coral Way, Miami, last July 10.

Attending the discussion were no more and no less than the well-known former political prisoners Angel de Fana, Agapito “El Guapo” Rivera, Jorge Gutierrez “El Sherif” and others who presented an overview of the insurrectional struggle from 1959 to the present.

De Fana’s words and his hopes for a future Cuba moved me. Twenty years in jail did not seem to have put a dent in the energy of this man who confronted the torture and prison horror of the Castro regime. “We must fight, not for the Cuba that we lost but for the one that awaits us ahead,” I heard him say. Continue reading

The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultramar 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality. Continue reading

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez Beaten / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, beaten June 11, 2014

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez was beaten on Wednesday, 11 June by a regime partisan. Guerra Perez uploaded a photo to his Facebook account where he appears with contusions on his face.

Guerra Perez is director of the Information Center and Prensa Hablemos (Let’s Talk Press), and in days past had warned about the threats that he was receiving daily. Perez made public the detentions Monday morning of journalist Mario Echevarria Driggs and journalism student Yeander Farres who receives training at Let’s Talk Press.

The independent reporter and director of Palenque Vision, Ramon Olivares Abello, was beaten on 31 May by a “State Security collaborator named Fidelito,” his wife told Martinoticias.com from the city of Guantanamo.

The director of Let’s Talk Press, Guerra Perez, added a brief message that the known dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello also had been beaten on leaving her house on Wednesday.

The telephones cut off by Cuba’s only phone company (the state-run ETECSA), short but continuing detentions, beatings and death threats seem to be the messages that the regime sent to non-conformist Cubans at the same time that the Vice-President of the government, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, insists that the official press should be “more transparent.”

Translated by mlk.

11 June 2014

The Massacre in Canimar River: 34th Anniversary / By Enrisco in the Blog of Luis Felipe Rojas

By Enrisco

Today, July 6th, is the 34th anniversary of what is regarded as (only by a few certainly) as “The Massacre in Canimar River” because 14 years before the sinking of the “March 13th” tugboat there was an almost identical event in which the Cuban regime was left further unscathed than in the crime of 1994. In the same days as the exodus from Mariel three youths attempted to seize a tourism boat in the area near the Matanzas bay carrying 60-100 people.

While they attempted to escape they were persecuted and machine-gunned by the authorities and later drowned. The exact number of victims is still unknown although they were approximately 50 people of whom some where women and children. (“The precise number of victims remains a secret, but it is at least 56, including children of the ages 3, 9, 11, and 17 years old” according to the Cuba Archive). Only 10 people survived and 11 bodies were retrieved.

Its “historical” importance is to serve as a reminder that the sinking of the tug boat “March 13th” tugboat was not an isolated incident, but one of the most salient characteristics of the political system whose aim was to repress through all venues — including assassination — people who attempted to escape the island.

The other point is to better explain the sinking of the tugboat as a sort of general rehearsal: whomever made the decision to sink the tugboat (and given the transcendence of the decision the most logical answer is, Fidel Castro) had to remember the scarce international repercussions from the massacre that occurred 14 years earlier and reflect that, effectively, it would serve as an intimidating gesture in the domestic sphere without the price to pay in public relations being too costly.

If there remain doubts on the level of involvement of the country’s higher authorities in the crime, it should be known that Julian Rizo Alvarez, who was secretary of the Communist Party of Matanzas gave the order to machine-gun, was promoted 5 months later to Secretary of the Communist Party at a national level in the 2nd Congress of the PCC.

The original post appears in “el blog de Enrisco,” on Sunday, July 6, 2014.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

7 July 2014

Miami: Diverse and Pluralistic

somersault1403737414_img_00702Just by strolling through, you can see the diverse medley that everyone has described Miami to be. A girl pirouettes in a public square; exiled Cubans peacefully protest in a major street within the city; a Muslim woman takes a rest away from the incessant heat on a Saturday morning; and the Marlins Park opens to avid baseball fans. This is Miami.muslim1403737415_img_07752

writers happy hour1403737415_img_0232Miami: “Happy hours” on Thursday. Writers. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

hunger strike1403737416_1Democratic Movement – Hunger Strike. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas.

marlins parkmg_0270Marlins Park.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

8 June 2014

Children Screaming / Armando Anel, Luis Felipe Rojas

About 30 members of the Cuban opposition,belonging to the illegal Partido Popular Republicano, throwing flowers into the sea in memory of the victims of the tugboat “13 de Marzo”. Archive photo (martinoticias.com)

By Armando Añel

What happened can be briefly summarised: on July 13th 1994 – 17 years ago today – at the crack of dawn, 72 people tried to escape from the island in a tug. When they were some 12 km from the coast of Havana, three other tugs charged the vessel, spraying high pressure water jets over its occupants. In succession they targetted the 13 de Marzo – which was now flooded – until it gave up the ghost, broke up and sank, with a total of 41 fatal victims, 23 of them children, including a 6 month old baby.

Up to now, the Castro government has not shown the slightest willingness to clarify what, from the start, it termed “an accident”. In the Granma daily newspaper, ten days after it sank, an article appeared – signed by Guillermo Cabrera Alvarez – where it said that, among other things, “a group of company workers took direct action to defend its interests. They informed the Coastguard of the crime and took it upon themselves to prevent them getting away.” Earlier, the same newspaper had argued that “in order to obstruct the theft (referring to taking the 13 de Marzo towboat), three MITRANS boats tried to intercept it, and while they were manoeuvring in order to achieve that, the unfortunate accident occurred, in which the vessel sank.” Continue reading

Prats Sariol: “To Write About the Cuban Reality is a Duty” / Luis Felipe Rojas

1402916595_img_0574

I hadn’t seen José Prats Sariol since 1997, when he offered a lecture on Phenomenology in the conference room of the School of Arts at the University of Havana. Seventeen years later he came to Miami to talk about the great poet Gaston Baquero, at the invitation of the Pen Club of Cuban Writers in Exile, and Saturday afternoon, June 14, he spoke to us of Gaston… and Cuba. The author of the novel Mariel (1997), the studies contained in Criticizing the critic (1983), The Artizada Matter, and others, presented the talk Gastón Baquero, poetic singularity.

“The fact that Gastón (an anti-communist, labeled with the epithets of ’Batista supporter’ and ’Franco supporter’) wrote a seminal text like “With César Vallejo in Paris — when it rains” is a ’singular’ event, if we see that Vallejo was a community who was the direct opposite — ideologically — of the Cuban who had to go into exile, after the pressures put on him by the ’Cuban Revolution,’” said Prats Soriol.

“Both lived in the same street, in the same block, on the same sidewalk in Madrid that harbored them, and only a sensitivity so high, this singular detail, would make one find the other. The singularity is that in this small deviation in which you say: this is different, it makes it singular. It is one of the problems of poetry today, and it greatly resembles that,” Continue reading

The Trumpet Player’s Sad Ballad / Luis Felipe Rojas

Rogelio Betancourt shows his passport in Castilla Plaza in Madrid, June 2014. / M. G.-R.

According to El Pais, “Rogelio Betancourt Suárez no longer lives on the streets of Morocco. After 11 months of facing the daily uncertainty of knowing whether he will find something to eat or a place to sleep, the Cuban trumpet player has managed to overcome the Stations of the Cross that had become his life. Betancourt has managed, finally, to cross the Spanish frontier and has left behind the legal limbo in which he found himself.”

20 June 2014

Cuba: A Land Without Messages From the Afterlife / Luis Felipe Rojas

The title came from Ramón Tirso, one of the most hardened and prolific lecturers that I know on the whole Island. Tirso has spent time in three Cuban universities, studying the most disparate careers among them. From physics to art education, with a stop in pedagogy of the English language (today he speaks four languages), my friend from Camagüey complains about the lack of connection between our country and the rest of the world.

Precisely now that international borders are being erased thanks to the information highway, the country is locked up tight as a drum. Every day Cuban writers (those eternal ambassadors) communicate less and less with the living centers of international literature. The entrenchment of the so-called engaged intellectuals, owing to their affiliations with the ideological apparatus of Havana, has rendered them truly unknown among their peers beyond the seas.

Let’s take for example Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Cuba’s “most successful representative today.” Translated into 18 languages, Padura’s novels are displayed on the shelves of the libraries of prestigious universities, the author is received by important academies of letters but he is unable to be an interlocutor to bring a message to his followers there in the island.

The novels of the author of The Man Who Loved Dogs are sold in our country at a rate of a few hundred copies in the increasingly unattractive Havana Book Fair… and “if I’ve seen you, I don’t remember”, according to the refrain (in other words, I don’t want to remember). The numerous literary prizes (including the National Literature Prize), decorations or even privileged appearances in the only three national newspapers, do not give him a million readers. The only million copies distributed in Cuba are those on the “ration card.”

With an emissary like this, we are perfect strangers.

Warming the arm

Each people needs to stretch its tongue, run it along through the world’s trails so that they know how their village speaks, and in their village they may know what paths their thinkers retrace.  How can they live decades without the interviews, the fears and descriptions of the creative processes of a Borges, Phillip Roth or the best of journalism that marinates Europe or the Middle East?

The fictions of Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas were known from their own saddles in England and the United States, respectively.  If their works are known today within Cuba, it is not due to editorial policy but to the animosity of its rulers.

The painstaking work of some good Cubans and their friends made issues of Havana for a Dead Infant and The Color of Summer pass among the complicit in order to travel what should have been a common path.  But those fictions of which I speak found, more than a thirsty reader, a tired citizen.

A battlefield, a devastated grassland

Making of Havana a fermenting center of the intellectual and combative left in past decades generated one of the most abominable literature that you might find, readers corrupted by the slogans of the barricades and the appellation of being perfect, idiots and Latin Americans, names which are going to take us a century to live down.

A simple practical exercise suffices in order to know how we are doing in terms of literary consumption.  I invite anyone to try to get a permit to access the archives of the Jose Marti National Library, without passing through the tribulations of a hellish bureaucracy or a string of negatives that lead him to desist.

And what, today, is the arsenal of the provincial libraries? When do they ever update their stacks with books that don’t come from the political publishers, Olive Green, the Social Sciences, or those already common bricks that praise comandante Chavez?

From a nearly monthly update as we had in the ’80s, we’ve gone to a laughable annual Havana book fair to see an interesting book from another country. At this rate, in addition to leaving us with no memory of the world, without messages, we are left without readers.

Translated by: Scott Miatech and mlk

27 May 2014

“Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity” Annoy Families of Cubans Working in Venezuela / Luis Felip Rojas

As the world shouts itself hoarse over what’s happening in Venezuela, the Cuban Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity assures us that this is nothing more than a ruse of the “fascist right” and they’ve launched a tirade in very bad taste from the site “Segunda cita” (Second Quote), belonging to singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez (the worst taste yet).

Making it all worse is that this Network (hopefully not of the Wasps*) totally ignores mothers, daughters, sisters, loved ones, gossipy neighbors and relatives of another ilk who are in suspense for their loved ones in Venezuela. The brave and harmless Cuban workers (for example doctors or the sports instructors of the “Blas Roca” contingent) are trapped in the midst of violence and despair because they’ve been momentarily caught in their flip-flops between Caracaibo and Corralillo, or in the flow of laptop parts between the state of Lara and the town of Majibacoa, in Las Tunas. Their families in Cuban are screaming blue murder and now these intellectuals have come to “fuck it all up,” as a young Guantanameran has written to her boyfriend working as a nurse in Caracas.

“Finally, we call on international solidarity to squelch any attempt to impose violence in a country which is advancing firmly toward a society of justice, equality and peace,” concludes this letter from the “professionals of simulation**”, among whom are poets fighting for their literary event, historians praying to God not to take away their European fellowships, and musicians who aspire to give a concert in the hills of Caracas to put a sound track to the fists of the National Guard and the truncheons wielded by the brave boys of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

Translator’s notes:
*A reference to the Wasp Network of Cuban spies stationed in the United States.
** A sarcastic reference to those who “simulate”… or pretend to believe… so as not to lose their perks.

22 February 2014

Cooperation with the Cuban Artist / Luis Felipe Rojas

Jose Kozer, (taken at the site of “Una Belleza Nueva”)

“Two Cuban filmmakers seeking financial support to complete a documentary on the Cuban poet, José Kozer” stated an article published by the site Café Fuerte (Strong Coffee).

The documentary titled Me, Japanese “Seeks to reflect the personality and work of Kozer, one of the most prolific American authors and simultaneously to explore his identity and his status as an exile,” stated the editor of the site in Miami.

“Kozer, 73 and of Hebrew origin, went into exile in 1960. For three decades he worked as a Professor of Hispanic literature at Queen College of New York and is now retired, living in Hallandale, Florida. He has published more than 50 books of poetry and has written more than nine thousand poems. Last year, he received the Ibero-American Poetry Pablo Neruda Award, awarded by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CNCA) of Chile.” We, the lovers of poetry and words which put together the world, will collaborate in the project (so say I).

Two youngsters, Magdiel Aspillaga and Malena Barrios already have several hours of interviews with Kozer and several of his associates. They intend to raise $ 5,000 to address the process of post-production, including editing, sound, final mix, music and color correction. It’s hoped that the documentary will be 45 minutes to one hour in both English and Spanish.

“Aspillaga, 34, has live in the United States since 2008 and has made two films of fiction, Vedado and Neuralgia. Barrios, 30, has worked as a screenwriter and Assistant Director. Writer Joaquín Badajoz is also one of the producers of the tape,” concludes Cafe Fuerte while detailing the fundraising projects.

Translated by: Carolina Rojas

28 January 2014

Poetry That Does Not Reject Words / Luis Felipe Rojas

I’m fed up with poetry that doesn’t speak, that doesn’t shake you up, that doesn’t give you that punch in the face that we expect from every book. In the end this is the literature of a kind of sado-masochism to which we’ve been accustomed. However, Joaquín Gálvez showed up on December 6 at the regular group at Cafe Demetrio in Coral Gables, with a handful of poems which are a benediction.

I’m talking about the verses woven on Gálvez’s personal blog in his Hábitad (Neo Club Press, 2013) right now. This book is written as though fleeing from the finish line and the applause and it seems to me to be one of the primary resources. “Thief and police: they imprison you, punish you, kill you… / and in the end/ you show them that playing is the only triumph.” The passages flowing with the poetic impulses in Gálvez’s work, cleanse and light the way for those we left behind: perhaps readers. Continue reading