“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

A Literature Against the Gallows / Luis Felipe Rojas

Newspaper accounts written by different independent groups of the private sector in Cuba do not supply the images that emerge from the histories, essays and poems produced by the experience of being imprisoned under the Castro dictatorship in the 54 years that it has been in power. From José Martí to Carlos Montenegro; from Pablo de la Torriente Brau to Ernesto Díaz and Huber Matos, there exists a testimonial chain that’s hard to break.

Rafael Saumell provides continuity to Cuba’s imprisonment history and narrates the process in an essay which maps out what it means to be behind bars, inside the moats and the horrors of imprisonment in the island, seen through the eyes of extraordinary authors who wrote about their own personal experiences. From Manzano, Martí, De la Torriente, Montenegro, Díaz…to the present day.

How much of your own experience is there in “La cárcel letrada” (Betania, 2013), how much of your own frayed skin can we find in the book and what did you get out of writing it?

There are several references in the book’s introduction as to how much of me there is in La cárcel letrada.  If you read through those first few pages you will find that the main idea was to intellectualize my experience as a political prisoner within the context of national culture: who preceded me, how they expressed their experiences, what they said and what they denounced. I chose authors and writings that I felt were meaningful, considering that they were representative of different historical eras, several political regimes and varied literary styles.

I did not exclude the common prisoner because I was a witness to it in the prisons of Guanajay and in Combinado del Este. I did not live together with them, but I met a lot of inmates who were part of that sector of the prison system. In that aspect, I followed the examples offered by Carlos Montenegro and Pablo de la Torriente Brau. Continue reading

Detentions and Beatings for Dissidents in Guantanamo / Luis Felipe Rojas

Last December 24, as a reverse Christmas gift, officials of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) arrested human rights activists Yordis Garcia Fournier (Youth Movement for Democracy) and Yobel Sevila Martinez (Eastern Democratic Alliance – ADO) in the city of Guantanamo.

They told reporters from Palenque Vision that they there were brutally beaten and harassed in the presence of a high official of the so-called State Security.  I personally know Yordis as well as Yobel, I know of their humility and bravery, of the commitment they have to Cuban freedom.  In the case of Garcia Fournier, he finished a one-year and some months sentence for a supposed “insult” to authorities in 2008.  Sevila Martinez, like several members of the ADO, has an enormous string of arrests and beatings, ordered precisely by those who say “take care of the public order.”

Translated by mlk.

Note: this video is in Spanish:

27 December 2013

Cuba Without Rights on Human Rights Day / Luis Felipe Rojas

The Cuban government has cracked down hard on dissidents who dared to go out on December 10th, the day when the world celebrated Human Rights Day, according to sources from the island who have posted on the social networks.

In Baracoa, Jorge Feria Jardinez and Roneidis Leyva Salas, activists with the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) and the John Paul the 2nd Movement, were arrested while distributing leaflets about this issue, said Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, ADO Coordinator, in his Twitter account (@ Lobainacuba).

On the same social network, Lobaina reported arrests, beatings, and acts of repudiation in locations around Buenaventura, with the detention of Nelson Avila Almaguer, Ramón Aguilera, Jorge Carmenate, and Nirma Peña, all four with ADO. He added that activists were stationed in front of the town’s police station demanding the release of their brothers in the cause. In the same province, but in the village of Velazco in the municipality of Gibara, paramilitary mobs in coordination with State Security and the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) attacked the house of activist Damaris García, fired tear gas, and beat and arrested peaceful activists.

Among those arrested with Damaris were Marta Alina Rodríguez Pérez, Walfrido Pérez García and Gelasio Pupo Verdecia, all from the same opposition alliance.

In the capital arrests occurred when activists, artists, and other members of the independent civil society tried to reach the headquarters of the Estado de Sats Project, led by Antonio Rodiles. According to the twitter account of Ailer María (@ ailermaria), his wife and arts coordinator of the project, they had learned of more than a dozen arrests that occurred starting on December 9th when participants in the 1st International Conference on Human Rights tried to approach the site. The venue was harassed by an act of repudiation, a military siege, and a “revolutionary act” by the well-known orchestra “Arnaldo y su talisman,” according to reports arriving from Havana. Other groups suffered persecution, harassment, and abuse at their homes.

Bertah Soler, leader of the Ladies in White and 2005 Sakharov Prize winner, was arrested along with her husband, Angel Moya Acosta, when she had summoned her members and the entire civil society to march and gather on the corner of 23rd and L, across from the Coppelia ice cream parlor. Those who made it were violently arrested and transported to remote places; Soler was taken to the village of Tarara.

On the morning of December 10th, President Raul Castro attended the funeral of South African president Nelson Mandela. He was greeted with an unanticipated “handshake” by U.S. President Barack Obama, who said in his speech: “There are leaders who support Mandela and do not tolerate dissent,” a clear allusion to the Cuban dictator and to the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, also present at the gathering.

Translated by Tomás A.

11 December 2013

The Cuban Writers Club / Luis Felipe Rojas

Víctor Domínguez. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Men who believe themselves to be free manage to break the bars imposed on them by authoritarian regimes. The Cuban Writers Club (CEC), established in Havana in May 2007, is an initiative that arose from the desire for free literature, poetry out loud, and a way to rub up against life as if they were living in a free country. A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune of having lunch and chatting with one of these free men, Víctor Domínguez. Armando Añel delivered him through the crazy Miami traffic.

“A group of writers, some of the members of the official National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), others from the Hermanos Saiz Association (AHS), but all of us marginalized from the institutional spaces because of ideological problems, realized we needed our own independent space. We are more than fifty writers from the whole county, and twenty of us have published works, which is an accomplishment,” says Victor Manuel Dominguez, co-president of the Club.

Dominguez is one of Havana’s veteran independent journalists who survived the hardships, arrests and police harassment. “Twice they have expelled Jorge Olivera Castillo and me from literary and cultural meetings we were attending — once it was in the Cuba Pavilion — and we have to say that we are here and we are going to continue doing our literary work despite the repression and censorship,” said the author of the banned and still unpublished novel, “Operation Cauldron.”

The fruits they already taste

Jorge Olivera Castillo is one of the independent journalists who has survived hardships of every kind. He is the founder of Habana Press, a banned press agency born in the long past year 1995; he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the well-known Black Spring of 2003, and today has nearly a dozen books published by helping hands around the world.

“It was prison that made me turn to literature, and especially being at the side of Raul Rivero, unfortunately now in exile. I was in solitary confinement for a year, in a cell in Guantanamo, six hundred miles from my home in Havana, but literature helped me to survive,” Olivera Castillo said with pride.

The award of the Franz Kafka Novels from the Drawer Prize to Frank Correa Romero in 2012 for his work “The Night is Long,” and that fact that 2010 was “a great year” for Olivera Castillo, made them realize they were beginning to reap what they had sown.

Jorge Olivera Castillo has published nearly a dozen books of poetry and prose. Publishers from half the world have helped him, not because of his having been condemned to 18 years in prison in the 2003 Black Spring, the only criterion is the quality of his writing. Olivera saw his book of poems appear almost a decade after they were written: “Lit Ashes” (Polish-Spanish, Lech Walesa Institute, 2010), and from Galen Publishing (French-Spanish) “In Body and Soul,” which had been published in 2008 by the Czech Pen Club.

The world, all the worlds

In Havana, the Swiss, German and Czech embassies have opened their doors to these bards to develop their literary gatherings, blocked by the authoritarian regime. The German Romantic Period, the work of A. Von Humboldt, the dramas and poetry of Polish writers, as well as readings by their own members, are part of this unique Writers Club.

The digital magazine Puente de Letras (Literary Bridge) contains all of this flood of creation: the list of its members, the prizes they have won, fragments of works half done and on their way to publication, are part of the mission of this attractive digital site.

Authors such as Luis Cino Álvarez, Juan González Febles, María del Carmen Pino or Manuel Cuesta Morúa have presented their stories, poems or essays on the Puente de Letras magazine and website.

Looking ahead, they have made this bridge to the future. “This is a source of feedback, you write and life gives you these prizes: the books, the friendship, the sharing,” Olivera concluded.

2 December 2013

Cuba and the Association for Freedom of the Press / Luis Felipe Rojas

The Association for Freedom of the Press (APLP) is an organization to disseminate the work of independent journalists in Cuba. Recently I spoke with José Antonio Fornaris, one of its officers, and with Juan Carlos Linares Balmaseda, manager of public relations and it’s well worth taking a tour of its site.

Recently they gave out the awards for their contest: Newsprint. The winners were Augusto César San Martín, in the genre reporting; Filiberto Perez del Sol, chronicles; Ernesto Santana (member of the government-sponsored Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), in interviews; and Dimas Castellanos, in op-ed. Special mention went to Sergio Esteban Vélez in interviews.

The prize for the winners consisted of a certificate, 250 convertible pesos ($225) and a statuette carved in wood, which — according to the artist Iley of Jesus — its Greek column represent democracy, the wings represent freedom and the pencil,  freedom of expression. For the honorable mention the award consisted of the certificate and the statue.

In conversation with the public relations person, Linares Balmaseda, he said: “We are driven primarily by desire to tell the world what is happening in our environment, in a dictatorship that blocks our right to freedom of information. But most important is to say it from within the island, because they are the ones who are reporting on the changes that must occur on the road to democratization, that is what makes the APLP,” he said.

12 November 2013