Miami in a graffito / Luis Felipe Rojas

We went to Miami’s Wynwood District today, a zone of street art, of abundant graffiti. Miami is also redeemed by these beauties and daubings, by this joy that is the festival of color mediated by no other rule than the imagination.

We walked today from one point to another in the district accopanied by the benevolence of a sun that heralds good times. I avoided taking pictures of the compositions and the depths already discussed in books — to gaze upon these lovely things and then press the shutter is to try one’s luck at Russian roulette.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cultural Trick: “I’ll trade you a center fielder for an exiled essayist” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

About the awarding of the Critic’s Prize (in Cuba) to the Cuban essayist Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.  The scholar won it with a book published by Capiro Editions, from Santa Clara.

We have gone back 200 years, the epoch of the barter:

“I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist,” said Mandamas.

“Let me think about it,” responded Queentrentodos…  Why don’t you take a salsa doctor? That way you’ll kill two birds with one stone: You send him to combat ebola and complete the artistic Assembly of the Cuban medical Brigade in Africa.

Translated by mlk.

24 September 2014

(Site manager’s note: This post was translated quite a while ago but somehow got stuck here as a ‘draft’ — sorry for the delay!)

Michael H. Miranda: to (not) live in a foreign country / Luis Felipe Rojas

Michael H. Miranda. Photo: Martha María Montejo.

Michael Hernandez Miranda (Holguín, Cueto, 1974) has come from the Far West (College Station, Texas, where he prepared his doctoral thesis) to show us his first collection of poems written halfway between Cuba and the United States. In A Foreign Country (Silueta, 2014) is the forthcoming event for August 7 at the Spanish Cultural Center in “Sun City” (Miami, Florida).

Miranda is an editor of books written on the shores of the province, for years he worked for the publishing house of the Cuban town where he lived, and after some skirmishing to make an alternative promotion (Bifronte Magazine, 2005-2006), came to the United States , where he has collected a bunch of poems he brings wrapped in a country that does not seem very “foreign” to him.

More than a decade after the publication of his first poetry book, Old Lies of Another Class (2000), Silueta (Silhouette) Publisher presents In A Strange Country. It is a wide selection of texts where Michael opens a range of possibilities between the strength of the images raised in his daily readings, the fruits of his best talks and a pedigree of being an outcast, a man who never looks back. This book looks like a farewell book, but it is a book of new “beginnings”, such that one is drawn by a human being when he understands the other dimensions the world offers him.

“there is nothing in the world called man or woman / we have sought to the point of desperation for something beyond / ourselves. we still have silence. we still have loneliness as / a copper sword that multiplies.”

The best way to sink one’s mind into this “foreign country” is to read without thinking about the blogs of the generations to which so much damage has been done in recent years in Cuba. The island was scrapped between critics and strangers who tried to frame a photo that wasn’t. To read “Nothing I say or will say has the taste of water” doesn’t need a group mapping. Michael (Hache) Miranda has understood the distance of five years outside of the fictional wall of his other country. We are in the presence of a poet who puts the word above any perks. And Michael comes from a country where such a simple action costs dearly.

An editorial effort

This collection is among the last dozen books published by Silueta and the commendable work of Cubans who parked their literary work away from the false reflectors, beyond the commitment of applause. The publisher Silueta is marking the footprints of Cuban literature, and it does it going forward, opening a path … or its wings, so that others avoid the censorship of the country they have left. It is something that is appreciated in advance.

Miami has been branded “a literary desert” and place “of cubaneo,” references launched pejoratively. However, since 1959 outstanding Cuban intellectuals who fled the repression and censorship on the island have settled. Economists, essayist sand philologists have occupied important positions in educational institutions of the place such as Florida International University (FIU ) or Miami Dade College (MDC). In recent decades small publishers have been responsible for promoting and marketing the work of Cuban writers, scattered around the world. Along with Silueta there are Neo Club Editions and the Alexandria Library, among others.

In a quick reading it is understood that we are invited to a poetry without linguistic moorings: “naked I’ll be when you come to ask me again / where I come from. // and I will say: I have a word here / a word / one / hard to kill / a word / island / hard to kill / a word / shot in the head.// the island is a cardinal point in this fiesta.// to whom to I owe my two shores.”

Michael Hernandez is also the author of the poetry collections Las invenciones del dolor (2001) (The inventions of pain) and en óleos de james ensor (2003) (in paintings by james ensor). “His poems, narrations and articles appear in several anthologies, selections and publications in Spain, Mexico, Canada, the United States and Cuba, among other countries. He has lived in the United States since 2008,” says the catalog of the publisher who is publishing him today.

The poet lives in College Station, Texas, where he is writing a thesis on Cuban literature in exile. The presentation will be at 7:00 pm and will be led by prominent essayist and professor Joaquín Badajoz.

4 August 2014

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

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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