Luis Felipe Rojas, Miami, 15 February 2016 — Cuban photographer and dissident Claudio Fuentes was once again arrested on Sunday, 14 February, by forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Havana. The Castro regime’s gendarmes kept Fuentes from taking part in the peaceful action #TodosMarchamos [We All March], which the Ladies in White and dozens of activists put on in support of Human Rights.
Claudio Fuentes is an independent photographer who has been arrested on numerous occasions for taking part in and photographing peaceful activities of the internal dissidence in Cuba. His photographs reveal victims of beatings, women who express their courage against the threatening actions of the Cuban dictatorship, but he has also photographed in an original manner life in Havana as he has lived it.
The information regarding the arrest of Claudio Fuentes was provided by Ailer González, who in charge of artistic projects for State of SATS, which is directed by Antonio Rodiles. The activist posted various photos in which Fuentes can be seen being detained at the hands of the PNR and officials from State Security. Similarly, González reproached the journalist Fernando Ravsberg and others who blame the Cuban opposition for not bringing together more people.
“…And how do you mobilize them under a totalitarian dictatorship where there are these levels of control, harrassment and repression? Assisted further by the Obama administration, the Vatican and even Kirill, the czar of the Russian mafia?” asked the activist.
For over 10 months, diverse organizations and individual activists have documented 41 consecutive Sundays in which the military forces have violently repressed the Ladies in White during their march upon leaving St. Rita Church, on 5th Avenue in the Miramar neighborhood in the Cuban capital. The Forum for Rights and Liberties (FPDyL) has coordinated support for the women.
Claudio probably is free at this hour, and frustrated because they did not allow him to photograph that piece of Cuba not found in today’s tourist guides. If not, I send him all my solidarity — as on several occasions he did with me, when the henchmen were detaining me and minutely recording my life in a small town of eastern Cuba where the tourists, businesspeople and celebrities did not, and still do not, arrive to stroll impassively while looking the other way.
I will leave you here other marvelous photos taken by Claudio Fuentes.
Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 January 2016 — Patricia Jaramilla is a Colombian lady, whose composure helped her write What the hell do they want? — an independent production, which isn’t a manual, but a “code for women,” which is the subtitle of the text which she gave me as a present a few months ago.
We are talking about an energetic and relaxed writer, who produced a book in order that men could once and for all understand what it is they want. These are the times of the best sellers and not all works go the same way, or at the same speed, but this one promises to be a super best-seller, coming from an “indie” writer. continue reading
In this work, she deals with women who are beautiful and mocking, heroic, and half-mad. They are manipulative and intelligent women, who penetrate mens’ thoughts: queens who end up with all the territory we once laid claim to, and that we men foolishly flaunted.
In the pages of her book there are tips to face painful separations, final divorces and the scabs that emerge from the boredom between couples who cross the threshold of habit. “Understanding feminine codes can be an almost impossible task, and this is because men have not learned to decipher them,” says the author.
At the last Miami Book Fair I ran into Patricia Jaramillo, who was hiding from the sun under a tent where her writer friends were also selling newly released books. Patricia went out in the middle of the street, asking people questions, and inviting them under the awning displaying the cover of her book: some bought it and most tried to decipher the puzzle: What the hell do they want?
Following is one of the many gems in the book:
“Why doesn’t your wife want to have sex (with you)? What are the excuses women use to say no? What the hell do they want?
— I’m watching a program on television.
— I’m dirty and / or sweaty.
— I’m exhausted
— I’m trying to watch the movie.
— I had too much to drink and/or eat.
— I have to get up early tomorrow.
— I’m sick.
— I’m on my period, etc.
The truth behind all these excuses:
“She’s angry! Surely that is the most frequent reason why a woman will refuse sex. If there is an area of relationships in which women think they are in control, surely it is intimacy. Refusal shows who’s the boss in bed and punishes you for her anger. She could also be avoiding sex with you, because she isn’t enjoying it.”
The truth is, they are always an enigma, women are a dark tunnel and you have to go slowly, win her over with patience, and only in this way will we save ourselves and solve the riddle: “What the hell do they want?”
Patricia Jaramillo wants to help us to understand and, also promises a new release: “What the hell do men want?”
Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 February 2016 — This list is not intended to be a “Top Ten,” as is so common on internet publications. The list of names that follows carries the history of the men and women who believe in words and images as a tool of liberation.
The independent journalists that appear below do their work in Cuba under the microscope of the apparatus of repression that we know as State Security.
Most of them suffer arbitrary arrests, they have spent long years in prison, they are violently detained, vilified and — paradoxically — are non-persons in government media. In the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the “2003 Black Spring,” but he continues, unrepentant, to do alternative journalism. continue reading
Another of those on the list is the blogger Yoani Sanchez who, among numerous international awards, holds the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize, given annual by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Confirming her commitment to the journalism in which she believes, she founded the digital newspaper 14ymedio and 2014.
These are “ordinary” rank-and-file reporters, who get up each morning looking for news and accompany the victims of state bureaucracy — a way of doing journalism that has already gone on for three decades in the country, under the derision that arises from within the regime’s prisons.
I wanted to include here those who have specialized in the genre of opinion, thus helping to clarify what goes on within the country, but also preserving the sharp wit that has been missing for years in the journalism published on the island. The blame for this drought in opinion pieces is due to the jaws that are greased every morning in the offices of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.
Luis Felipe Rojas, 11 January 2016 — Her friends call her Elisa, it’s that simple. She is an Argentinian writer, editor, ceramics artist who got so involved in the case of the Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban that she ended up redesigning his blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, and wrote to Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, to help them to visualize the irregularities in process repeatedly divorced from reason, but that sent Santiesteban to prison at the beginning of 2013.
Between that date and his release in 2015, while she posted the letters and articles of the Cuban novelist in “The Children…”, Elisa Tabakman was cooking animals and rare and beautiful creatures over a slow fire, with pieces of glass and wire. When the oven temperature drops out of the oven come cats and fish now celebrating life. continue reading
These big-eyed beings sent the imprisoned writer a message of encouragement to speak in front of Raul Castro. I met her through my colleague Amir Valle and since then I go to her Facebook wall and to her blog Elisa Tabakman Metal y Piedra. There I see that the blows and the dungeons haven’t left my friend and brother Angel Santiesteban all alone.
Tell me about your background, how did you come to this mixture of techniques.
I’m a fire artist, all, or almost all, the techniques of my work are covered in what is known as the fire arts: ceramics, glass, iron, jewelry. All the materials involved pass through fire, because even in my mosaics fire is involved, whether it’s stained glass or figures in iron or silver. You could almost say that if you pass through the path of the fire it is inevitable you will involve yourselves in all of its arts and possible techniques.
Fire is magic, fire purifies, fire transforms. Fire is what converts things in alchemy techniques. When you trap fire, you can never abandon it. In fact, I was 8 when I started studying ceramics, later, starting at 14, I trained for long years at the National Ceramics Schools, and I had some experience in stained glass at that time, until come years ago I went to direct fire with a torch, making contemporary jewelry, and then returned to the path of glass but researching and experimenting and sculptural techniques and in fused glass.
And again I embraced the techniques because the jewelry I was making with silver and precious stones asked me… and this is my current work, parallel to the works I continue doing and displaying. The training of an artist never ends, either through taking specialized seminars or experimenting, but it is an endless process.
Why are animals the central motif? What moves you to engage in artistic creation?
I love animals especially, I don’t understand life without animals. They are the best thing that could happen to us and ironically, we are the worst thing that can happen to them. The love and communication with animals humanizes us. We learn from the to respect others, their vital space, their times and needs. But especially, we learn from animals that unconditional love exists, they loyalty exists and that there is a true relationship that lasts for life.
In animals we don’t expect evil, self-interest or selfishness. We can fail the animals because we tend to be with them like we are with our fellow human beings, but they never will do that to us. And I have a very idealized perspective of human beings, I represent the values I would like for us with animals. Even with the most terrible issues I have a positive and optimistic vision, a vision of real life that flies in the face of reality.
But art tries to express feelings, ideals, create awareness… so it is not my intention to construct my messages with them, they just emerge from me. And I feel like I recognize them. If you look carefully, the most horrendous dramas that humanity suffers, the animals suffer, because we have them living with us and they also die of hunger, bombings, floods, on rafts or in wars… in those in their natural environments are victims of human cruelty, either because we destroy their habitat or because we hunt them without mercy.
Animals are so marvelous that I also owe to them having found my want to express what I feel or am trying to express.
The use of glass and metal make you go back to the origins, especially when your motives are figurative. Do you not call the art conceptual and abstract, which has become every more “fashionable.”
Honestly, I believe that art is abstract; art is always a representation, more or less ties to the real image of what it represents. There is no art without abstraction, and at the same time there is always an intellectual or emotional elaboration. In my case, “abstract” art doesn’t work for me as an expressive language, I don’t see how to represent the drama of a concentration camp, or the drama of the refugees, or whatever it is, it is not with “figurative” elements or high symbolic value.
And it is not just ab out how one uses this language to express it; I believe that it is fundamental that works that have a strong social commitment be “accessible” to the readings of the “spectators”; if not we have more or less beautiful “objects” (taste is always relative) but we are not doing what I understand as art. The rest, of course, is always respectable, if it doesn’t allows a dialog with the viewer and it doesn’t spark feelings, and it only awakes a great aesthetic appreciation, it is “decorative art,” which I would always flee from.
It’s very difficult for me to make utilitarian objects, it horrifies me, working them technically and designing them with no expression; so I know that is not my way although from the economic point of view, clearly I should choose that option.
Your work is halfway between literary editing and Human Rights activist. What do you do to combine this?
I came to the world of editing because I was always a fanatic reader and devoted to books and the worship of the “object” of the book led me to pursue a graduate degree and editing and worked for many years in the most important publishers. There is no work more gratifying than that which allows us to enjoy what we do, and this is true in my case.
Reading is a key trigger in artistic creation, there is nothing like reading to awaken our imagination. The same thing happens to a writer who can never stop reading the work of others to enrich their own production. What in the intellectual world is called “intertextuality” also exists in the world of plastic arts; we are a product even of the genetic memory of our species.
In every artist there is a germ of those who painted the caves of Altamira, the artistic expressions of all peoples of the world, and more recently, individual artists. Throughout history we have had the same need to express, to ask, to thank; it started in the walls of the caves, and we continue it today with many techniques and materials, but the human need was, is and will be the same.
In my case, for multiple reasons and personal experiences, my expressive needs landed on the issue of human rights, of human dignity. But it was not reduced to that but to the feedback with a strong commitment to it and that’s what I spent years doing, not without problems, sacrifices, injustices and misunderstandings. but, aware of being on the right side of History, I resisted everything, not without pain, but I have resisted it.
I always thought I was in a privileged place, to be fighting for those who need help not being one who needs it. So every time I thought I would collapse, I thought about those who needed me, and the conclusion was always the same: if there are those bearing the unbearable and I owe my commitment to them, how can I not bear insults, insults and threats?
Each time I felt I couldn’t do it any more, I thought about the reality of facing prison, torture, persecution and the complete lack of freedom and legal guarantees. And I grew with each disagreeable episode, and curiously, in every moment of these I did my best work.
I feel privileged to be able to do committed art but even more to accompany it with a real commitment to the victims of what I am denouncing. My only regret is not being able to do more; these years of struggle have also make me aware of how limited we are no matter how infinite our effort. But as the Talmud says, “He who saves a life, saves humanity.”
And this is the guiding principle of my life. In the case of Angel Santiesteban, I also help humanity to continue to have an excellent writer, who is so committed to his art, he paid with his freedom, and worse still, he could pay with his life. Caring for Angel, caring for a human being and a great artist.
Luis Felipe Rojas, Miami, 8 November 2015 — This past Sunday, I went to the mythical and cloyingly Cuban Versailles Restaurant. There were a handful of Cubans there who believe that solidarity doesn’t have borders, and can’t be imposed from any corner.
On this day, November 8th, I went to join Bárbara Travieso, Jorge Ross, and others who firmly believe in supporting those who are suffering. While in La Habana, tens of Ladies in White and human rights activists were being arrested, in the heart of Cuban food in Miami, about ten Cubans stood on the sidewalk, telling everyone how much could be done for those who are still behind bars. continue reading
Travieso calls out. “The objective is to be in solidarity with the Ladies in White and the oppnents who are in Cuba demanding human rights for Cuba. It’s a way of reminding those who are watching us that in Cuba, people are being suppressed for marching peacefully for their rights.”
Bárbara Travieso, a human rights activist who has been out of Cuba for 27 years, says that her hope is that those who go out to march in Cuba know that “they are not alone, we are watching everything that happens and we support them.” It was the time at which, in the Havana church of Santa Rita, the Ladies in White were being beaten.
Jorge Ross, who has supported various causes promoting democracy in Cuba, states that the important part is that people know that there are Cubans “who want a different life”, and immediately assures that “we should support the people who are marching in Cuba and who are suffering harassment, bullying, blows, and jail from the Cuban regime”.
I asked some French people, secluded over a dozen fish fritters, and they said that while looking for information about Miami, they found out that “there are protests on the corner of Versailles Restaurant”, and that until now, they had thought that there wasn’t anyone imprisoned in Cuba because of their opinions; they thanked me for a pair of books that I gave them.
Southwest 8th Street at 11am is like a calm ocean. Cars pass every ten minutes. But despite this, we still heard on several occasions people yelling “Viva Fidel!” without stopping to ask about the activists’ motivations.
Finally, I met up with Karel Becerra, “infoactivist”, “cyberdissident”, and defender of the cause of those who want to have rights. Becerra has worked closely with the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party, lived in Argentina for 15 years, and is now in Miami.
We were 10 decent Cubans under the Miami sun, at that time when the summer is ending. Horns were blowing, and many people lowered their car windows and yelled “Freedom for the political prisoners! Long live free Cuba! Down with the dictatorship!”
Luis Felipe Rojas, 12 September 2015 — Joy came to 3,522 Cuban homes, this being the the number of prisoners serving sentences for (technically) common crimes who set to be released. Indeed, this calls for celebration, as jails certainly do no reeducate anybody, much less in the island’s repressive atmosphere.
Thus, the Cuban government has just offered another gesture to Pope Francis in advance of his visit to Cuba, which will begin on September 19. The Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its gratitude, as no doubt many Cubans have done, but with no questions asked. As the saying goes, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. And the meager crumbs scattered in recent months by the Castro’s tight-fisted military regime has left many people dazed and confused. continue reading
The twisted nature of Cuba’s leadership — stuck like a peg in the daily life of the island since 1959 — has taken the liberty of deciding which steps its countrymen must take without allowing questions to be raised. Rather than being a cause for celebration, the specific details of this phony amnesty are of a source of embarrassment and shame.
The internal gulag
There is something the intended audience for this “humanitarian gesture” — Pope Francis, Cardinal Ortega, the bishops, priests, laity and all the faithful mentioned in the message of thanks published in Thursday’s special edition of Gaceta de Cuba, issued by the Ministry of Justice — should know.
The first thing is that the sword of Damocles hangs over all the people covered by this amnesty. The legal actions brought against those who are imprisoned and the combined judgements handed down during their periods of incarceration are filled with irregularities and could only have been permitted in an authoritarian regime like the one in Havana.
The Cuban example is quite possibly the only one of its kind in the western world. The offices of the local prosecutor in every city across the country are physically adjacent to those of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR). So much for separation of powers. Arguing about such issues would be a waste of time considering the neighborhood police, investigators, deputies and department heads have lunch with officials from the prosector’s office every day, and even tend to their physiological needs in the same restrooms.
PNR department heads still operate like old-fashioned bosses. Their aides, advisers and trusted sources are still presidents of Commitees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the president of the People’s Council, which assists local bosses through the Commission for Prevention. From this select group — the face of Cuban democracy — come recommendations on the application of the criminal threat law, among others.
The involvement of State Security in the trials of people hostile to the Revolution is one of the jokes of the Cuban justice system, one that will be difficult to eradicate from the public mind.
When Cubans are arrested for assaulting — verbally, that is — the “Revolutionary process,” the offense is immediately treated as a common crime, which in most cases refers to drunkeness, possesion of stolen goods, domestic violence and illegal economic activity, crimes that are laughable in a country where the destruction of wealth is presented as an accomplishment.
Once the investigators of the Department of Operations or the Criminal Investigations Unit are presented with the case of an individual accused of a crime — one that does not presumably pose a threat to state security — the file (containing accusations by friends of the accused, jokes about Fidel Castro, extravagant tastes in fashion and the like) is transferred to the cramped offices of the public prosecutor. Case closed.
Cases involving convictions for posing a threat to society (a crime defined as “pre-criminal dangerousness”), contempt (for the authority or the person of the commander-in-chief), assault (against authority) and resistance to arrest (which in most cases is arbitrary) are reviewed by those in Cuba who must approve all amnesties. These are granted as a show of respect for foreign visitors — whether they be popes or presidents — passing through Havana.
However, among the thousands of those freed, you will not see the names of human rights activists who have been sentenced or who are awaiting trial for civil disobedience, criminal intent or non-payment of fines, although they have been known to shout, “Down with Raúl! Down with hunger!” or “Freedom for political prisoners!”
Savoring the crumbs
Though the manipulation of the law — to say nothing of its proper application — is not changing, the little men in battle fatigues in the Palace of the Revolution are ever more aware they must offer some crumbs to promote the idea that “significant changes” are taking place in Cuba.
The Castro dictatorship changes at will the rules of the game it has agreed to play with the United States, the Vatican, the Cuban Catholic church and the collection of businessmen and foreigners who see a gold mine in the Caribbean Sea.
There were already more than 140 detentions in less than 72 hours, related to the wishes of opponents in the east of the Island to attend the mass in honor of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. Out of that arbitrary action have been documented the following incidents: arbitrary arrests; beatings; tortures leaving visible marks on the gluteus and other parts of the body; cutting of hair to teach a lesson; threats of shooting detainees through the head; ripping off of clothing and the video-recording of such acts by the perpetrators themselves. The silence of the Catholic hierarchy was proverbial, and that of the puppets who who applaud the show by the generals in Havana, was shameful.
This week that remains before the arrival of the Argentine Pope to Cuba will bring other surprises. The Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party of Cuba, eternally directed by Caridad Diego, will expedite other construction permits for Catholic churches, settlements of religious orders in secluded places, perhaps–and it is a party that will not be interrupted by the noise of those who demand respect for human rights.
In the days prior to the pastoring by Francis in Havana, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba, it is expected that hundreds of peaceful opponents will be detained (as occurred in March 2012 upon the arrival of Benedict XVI), or they will be forced to remain under house arrest, until the Vatican leader leaves for Washington.
One month after this “historic” visit, Francis will comply with protocol, as required by the standards of Western civilization. He will send a message of thanks to the man who opened his arms to him in Havana–even while that man’s hands were stained with blood–but he would have asked for forgiveness, and would have received it, with a smile.
Cardinal Ortega, the bishops and the priests will frame the pastoral visit in terms no less sweet. When seated at the table, one does not speak of unpleasant matters. It could be that Cuba will have some.
AFP/ Khaled Desouki. The journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, seated in the prisoners’ cell during their trial in Cairo on 29th of August 2015
This Saturday, an Egyptian tribunal sentenced the three journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera to three years in jail,despite the international campaign for their acquittal.
The Australian Peter Greste, the Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and the Egyptian Baher Mohamed were found guilty of having “spread false information” and of having worked in Cairo without the necessary permission. continue reading
The judge Hasan Farid also indicated that “they were not journalists” as they hadn’t registered as such with the relevant authorities.
The reporters were accused of having supported by their coverage the Muslim Brotherhood formed by the Islamic President Mohamed Mursi, toppled by the army in 2013.
Fahmy and Mohamed were present at the tribunal and Greste was sentenced in his absence, after having been expelled to Australia in February by presidential decree.
The verdict is “a deliberate attack on freedom of he press” was Al Jazeera’s reaction in a communique.
“The only fair outcome of this case was acquittal” due to the “lack of evidence”, declared Amal Clooney, Fahmy’s lawyer, after the verdict.
Before the hearing, Amal Clooney indicated that there would be meetings with responsible government officials to request, if they should be sentenced, a presidential pardon or expulsion.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights(CIDH) reacted with “profound concern” to thelawsuitfiled by the President ofthe National Assembly,deputy DiosdadoCabello,against thenewspapers El Nacional andTal Cual, and the website LaPatilla.com. It urgednational authorities to“ceasethese acts ofharassmentthat deepenthe deteriorationof the rightto freedom ofexpression in the countryandthreatenthemedia andcritical journalistsinVenezuela,” particularly inan election year.
The casethat Cabello filedagainstthemedia, andthe judicial decisionsthatseveral judgeshave renderedin it—like the one prohibiting 22executives ofthe defendant companiesfrom leaving the country, or the one last weekseizingthe headquartersofEl Nacional—worry theCIDH, a body that is aware ofthesupportthat the SupremeCourt(TSJ) gave thelegislator last Maywhen it described as “lacking foundation” the accusationsthat he was linkedto drug trafficking,as had been reported in Spanish and U.S. media, in stories that wererepublishedin the countryby the defendants. continue reading
“This current situationisaggravatedby a publicstatement unfavorable to the media outlets, issued bythe Supreme Court, the highest judicial authorityinVenezuela, about the factsunderlying thecomplaint, and which would be considered by alower court. On its websitethe Courtexpressed its solidaritywith the President ofthe National Assembly ofVenezuela,and withoutdue processorahearing bythe lower courthandling the case, advanced itsopinion that the disclosureof such information ‘lacking truthfulnesscarriessanctions undernational law,'” said the Commission.
The organization,in a letteralsosigned by theRapporteur forFreedom of Expression,EdisonLanza,demandedthat the authorities ceasetheir attacks against the media, both verbal and judicial,in order to ensure thatthe legislativeelections scheduled forDecember 6aretransparent.
“The Commission andthe SpecialRapporteurconsider thatin the context ofan election year, faced with a reduction ofpluralistic news reporting, and diminishingindependent media, it is urgent to stop the verbaland judicial harassmentthat restricts the free flow ofideas andopinions.In this context, the concerted state actionsaimed atencirclingthose mediathat havean editorial line independentor critical of thegovernmentare of specialconcern to the Commissionand, in turn, represent a verysignificant threat toindependent journalismandinvestigation, tofreedom of expression,and to the freeflow of informationpublicly availableinVenezuelaahead of theelections to be heldin December2015.“
Danilo Maldonado is a Cuban political prisoner who just embarked on the terrible path of committing to a hunger strike.This was confirmed by his family members from Havana late on August 25th.
“El Sexto” (as in “The Sixth [hero]”, referring to the 5 Castro spies who were imprisoned in the United States, and in open mockery of the 6th Congress of the Communist Party) is a restless youth who for months ran Cuban Intelligence ragged in Havana, painting his graffiti art around as he pleased.
The following is a short and intense note posted by Lia Villares today on her blog. She has accompanied him during the months of travail since his apprehension for painting the names “Fidel” and “Raul” on two pigs that he was going to release in a Havana park, as performance art:
From Lia Villares
In a telephone conversation a few minutes ago with Danilo’s lawyer Mercy, she told me that—because she has only been licensed for two and a half months, and is in the midst of family problems—she has “turned over” Danilo’s case to another lawyer. continue reading
This Monday when she started work, the first thing she did when she got to the office (at 23rd and G) was to pick up Danilo’s file.
She said she had done everything possible for Danilo, including filing with the prosecutor more than 4 petitions to modify the conditions of release; all were rejected. The last time she went to apply for modification of conditions of release at the Municipal Prosecutor’s office, a prosecutor named Viviana told her that she couldn’t do anything because the file was at the Attorney General’s Office (at 1st and 18th).
She insists she wants to take on Danilo’s defense, because she sees no “crime” in the case, and although Danilo had told her during their last visit (some months back) that he did not want any defense, she still wants to defend him because she also sees no “dangerousness in the act,” which is what they are arguing in denying the modifications she has requested.
“I didn’t want to let go,” she told me in an anguished voice, “and everyone who has come to see me knows that I haven’t stopped doing everything available to me.”
Tuesday I will see her along with Danilo’s mother and take to her the Complaint document prepared byCubaLex, the independent legal counsel office. I delivered a copy of it on Tuesday, August 25 to the Municipal Prosecutor of La Lisa, to the Provincial Prosecutor of Havana, and to the Attorney General of the Republic. I have an acknowledged receipt from each of them. They are required to respond within 60 business days.
The document explains how Danilo’s case ranges from arbitrary detention to the violation of the universal right to freedom of thought and expression, how “due process” has not been accorded him, and how his right to liberty, security, and personal integrity has been violated.
The Complaint is directed to the officials charged with enforcing the law, that they “accept this document, and investigate the facts here reported, and submit the officers involved to criminal proceedings, while restoring the law violated, to avoid the international responsibility of the Cuban state for breach of its obligations to respect and guarantee the human rights of all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, without distinction, as affirmed by almost all the relevant international treaties.”
And it further requests his “immediate release as a necessary measure to protect his personal well-being. The precautionary measures requested are raised as necessary and appropriate, according to the truthful information reported and provided in this document.
“The extreme gravity and urgency of this case justifies the need to protect the physical and mental integrity of Maldonado Machado, because of the extreme seriousness of the threat to his freedom and personal safety presented by his arbitrary detention and current imprisonment by the national authorities. The urgency of the measure is clear when we set forth the extremely vulnerable position Danilo finds himself in because of his role as a dissident and defender of human rights.
“It is internationally understood that ‘a person who in any way promotes or seeks the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, nationally or internationally’ should be considered a defender of human rights, and that the work of human rights defenders is fundamental to the universal implementation of human rights, and for the full existence of democracy and the rule of law.
“Defenders of human rights are essential for strengthening and consolidating democracies, since the goal that motivates the work is for society in general and seeks to benefit it. Therefore, when a person is prevented from defending human rights, the rest of society is directly affected.”
Luis Felipe Rojas, 5 July 2105 — For a week I have been steeped in the acidic prose of William S. Burroughs. It is neither a debut novel nor something reissued in the wake of legalization of gay marriage in the United States. The work is an edition released by Anagrama, a Barcelona-based publishing house, and it comes without frills or pretensions. The faded cover shows Burroughs under a blue visor, almost dissolving into a watery background of opaque tones. Reading it took me longer than I would have thought.
Those looking for a world of good manners and polite expressions — or even the insane for that matter — might not want to tread near this literary specimen. In one-hundred thirty tightly packed pages, Burroughs bangs out a chronicle of his alter ego Lee’s travels through the most sordid and filthy corners of Mexico, Panama and Ecuador. This is definitely not everyone’s idea of literature, as Queer attests.
The homoerotic experiences of the intense Lee and his brash companion Allerton — a young man aroused not by other human bodies but by his own flesh and entrails — form a portrait that is somewhat darker than the story of two homosexuals simply trying to live a “normal” life in a Mexico that is more than a little bit macho, which makes it all the more alluring. Their goal is to find what has brought them there: Yage, a natural substance that promises total control over their thoughts. continue reading
The story takes place in a bar where the two have met up with an elderly man, Guidry. After a few beers, Guidry initiates a conversation:
“Did I tell you how I made the cop on the beat? He’s the vigilante, the watchman out there where I live. Every time he sees the light on in my room, he comes in for a shot of rum. Well, about five nights ago he caught me when I was drunk and horny, and one thing led to another and I ended up showing him how the cow ate the cabbage.”
A character narrates without an intended audience. A “pesky reporter” trying be a wise-ass casts doubt on Oriental wisdom by asking an old man in a trance — colored smoke streaming out of his nose — who has made cosmic contact: “Will there be war with Russia, Mahatma? Will Communism destroy the civilized world? Is the soul immortal? Does God exist?”
The response is priceless and Burroughs delineates it in his cool, agile prose: “The Mahatma opens his eyes and compresses his lips and spits two long, red streams of betel nut juice out through his nose holes. It runs down over his mouth and he licks it back in with a long, coated tongue and says, ‘How in the fuck should I know?’ The acolyte says, ‘You heard the man. Now cut. The Swami wants to be alone with his medications.’ Come to think of it, that is the wisdom of the East. The Westerner thinks there is some secret he can discover. The East says, ‘How the fuck should I know?'”
Upon its release, the British novelist Martin Amis said that Burroughs had “written a thoughtful and sensitive study of unrequited love.” Recently the Spanish newspaper El País published an article, “The House Where Burroughs Killed,” a story about an apartment in Mexico where the writer shot his wife. It describes a site which has become a place of pilgrimage for Burroughs’ fans and other oddballs who make up the human species.
The author of Naked Lunch was charged with murder and sent to jail in Lecumberri, a place where years later the Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis would also be imprisoned. Here a key protagonist, the Mexican attorney Bernabé Jurado (“the Jack of All Trades, clever corrupter of judges,” according to Garcia Robles) appears on the scene. After only 13 days in prison the shyster lawyer manages to get his client released by “proving” it was an accident. That was the version Burroughs offered while still behind bars to La Prensa, a tabloid newspaper that thought it was interviewing just another crackpot.
“My wife had had a few drinks. I took the gun to show it to my friends. The gun slipped and fell, hit a table and discharged. Everything was purely accidental,” said Burroughs, as reported in the excellent article by Juan Diego Quesada for the Madrid newspaper.
Sixty-four years later, residents of the Mexico City building — two little old ladies — are besieged by curious visitors, sticking their noses in, hoping to learn ever more about a troubled writer who shocked so many in the latter half of the twentieth century.
“There are those who believe he was a vile murderer crowned with a halo of romanticism but they are a minority,” concludes the El País reporter. “Bernardo Fernández is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Uncle Bill, which is based on Burroughs adventures in Mexico City. Upon leaving the office of his psychoanalyst one Monday, Fernández peered through the entry to the building but it was too dark to go for a stroll inside. He fantasized entering the apartment, having coffee with its tenants and taking some photos. But he did not dare because he knew that the response of the sisters and their five dogs would be the same as always: ‘Get out of here.’ The mystery of Burroughs remains hidden behind that door.”
*Translator’s note: English-language title of a novella by William S. Burroughs. Written in 1951 and 1852, it was not published until 1985. The complete work is currently available for free online:
Luis Felipe Rojas, 18 July 2015 — In the early evening of this Friday, 17 July, the Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban-Prats was released from prison. The news raced from the editor of his blog, the Argentinian Elisa Tabakman. Elisa sent messages to Santiesteban’s friends immediately.
“I was released on parole, which they had denied me April and June and recently they told me they would grant it in August, but they released me today,” was Angel’s statement to the blog “Crossing the Barbed Wire” from the home of regime opponent Antonio Rodiles in the Playa municipality of Havana.
Santiesteban entered prison on 18 February 2013, charged with “violation of domicile” and accused of beating his ex-wife. His case was plagued by clear legal violations and the process was repeatedly denounced by his family members, his first attorney, Amelia Rodriguez Cala, and dozens of human rights activists.
Santiesteban’s release occurred just hours before the beginning of functions at the embassies of the United States and Cuba, which until now have maintained interest sections in their respective capitals since the end of the ‘70s of the last century.
Writers, human rights activists, and people of good will, have generally received the news of Angel Santiesteban-Prats’ release with pleasure.
I want to thank my friend and excellent writer, Amir Valle, for this interview for his magazine Another Monday, and for publicizing the book that has just been published and will be presented shortly in Miami.
Amir Valle (AV): Machine for Erasing Humanities is, after Feeding the Dog-Fight, your second book since you went into exile. Although some think that poetry books are simply a collection of poems written over the passage of time, those of us who write know that between one book and another there are always secret threads, pathways that unite or split in two in order to differentiate them. What is the difference then between the two books?
Luis Felipe Rojas (LFR): I believe, without any doubt, in time. What there is between one passage and another is time, and the way in which the two poets have been changed by it: one who arrived as a frightened animal, fleeing from horror, exclusion and suffocation; and the other, who put down his head to rest for an instant and saw his children sleeping in the morning, who no longer expects a kick in the rear, and who experienced many upheavals to live in a developed country. continue reading
The poetry that was expressed in Machine…is the final distillate of almost three years of cleaning up each verse. Generally I write at one stretch but take between three or ten years to publish. I continue feeling like a circus performer before the public, and now I have to pinch myself because my mouth falls open with surprise when they stand up from their seats and ask me to do one or two pirouettes more. There’s no way to write poetry if I don’t do it the way Homer did, if I don’t believe that in every poem the villagers are waiting for me to tell them stories from the neighboring villages; or, as I told you before: like a sword swallower, leaving the spectators pale with each plunge.
AV: Whoever follows your trajectory today would believe that you write only poetry. But I, who knew you first as a story-teller and only later as a poet, ask you: Have you stopped writing stories? Will we sometime have the opportunity to remember the excellent story-teller that you were in Cuba?
LFR: My stories are in a drawer now, ready to be handled. Ten, at the most. Narrative consumes me too much; for me it’s more cerebral than poetry, and, as you know, I’m a guy who’s more unruly than centered. I have to put myself naked in this book of short stories and in the stories that I have already written, but I have to do it differently for each one. I also feel disdain for a novela that I started some years ago, and I know that when we speak it tells me something similar to what you’d say to a bad father. The book is called Black Women Write Love Letters. It’s almost ready, my dear Amir.
AV: Miami, although many continue calling it a “hotbed of Cuban identity” and a “cultural wasteland,” to cite two of the labels it’s earned, is converting itself into a cultural scene of undisputed reference for anyone who wants to establish a serious analysis about Cuban culture. Leaving aside the typical topic of politics, I would like you to say something personal about this intimate and public Miami from a cultural point of view that you, as a creative person, have found.
LFR: I have to laugh at the vulgar labels that come more from the Department of Ideology of the Communist Party of Cuba than from visitors themselves. Look, Miami is full of old-fashioned coffee houses, where they greet you, and you sit and sip slowly and you can stay there all morning. There are a dozen art galleries starting up, the most contemporary that I, myself, could ask for. I speak for the autodidact that I am, not for my academic friends, my ex-comrades from the university. I can lose myself in one of the county libraries and be there all day without it costing me a cent, and, on top of that, they even offer me coffee as a courtesy. Wynwood, the Art District, has been converted into a mecca for graffiti and spontaneous art, a place where you combine viewing with the taste of an artisanal beer, in a peace that Alaska would envy.
In the literary environment there are people who are more refined, well-dressed and educated, who disavow the others. But there are excellent poets like Ángel Cuadra and Jorge Valls, from the old guard, and you can find yourself with the best of the Spanish-speaking ones, as I did, or with one of the most interesting of the young voices, like Tinito Díaz, a guy you have to follow closely for his poetic force. There are literary events that have exhibitions that are worth attending (for Tyrians and Trojans); there’s a book fair, with surprising exclusions, and there’s a literature festival that has united this excluded remnant.
I like the tranquility of the Miami film festival, and the uproar and profusion at Art Basel. I always fall in love with the mini-theater of Miami, where works are put inside containers.
Warning: Tell those who are jealous to stay away from Miami; they might have a heart attack, ha ha ha!
AV: The proof that Miami has become a point of universal reference for Cuban Culture (with capital letters) is that the Regime, seeing a threat to its control over the essential sphere of culture, has decided to conquer it. How do you view these controversial issues of cultural exchange today, the publication on the Island of authors in exile; finally, those outside and inside who don’t stop coming together?
LFR: Your last question is interesting. I like it, and it’s that they don’t have to unite; they never have been. The controversy today is about those who enjoy the privileges of the Castro Regime and the benefits of free expression, who shut up in Cuba before the bad luck of their colleagues and feel their neighbor’s pat on the back, and drop those who are leaving. But there isn’t communion, nor has there ever been. The stabbings of UNEAC were translated into the back-stabbing between those in Barcelona and those in Paris; it’s that simple. Those on that shore, who today remain closer to me than ever, await my embrace, and I have extended it every minute of this short exile. They can attest to my activism for the ones in distress, like Jorge Olivera Castillo, sentenced to 18 years, and my brother, Ángel Santiesteban.
Furthermore, I’m a little pessimistic here, but I believe we can live separately without missing each other. I don’t at all miss the world of literary events they invited me to that were inaugurated by a Party official who hadn’t even read Granma that day. How am I going to miss officials like Alexis Triana, Alpidio Alonso or Iroel Sánchez asking me to leave out a certain verse or to stop printing a magazine or to not include one of my short stories in an anthology — supposedly in order to save the country — and later selling themselves as writers and participating in the book fairs in countries that invited writers, and they go as officials?
What comes from an enslaved culture is a symptom, not a threat. Speaking out and looking at each other directly is no longer fashionable, and you can be taken as a loud-mouth. But why should I give a damn now?
AV: When they aren’t using silence about essential questions, the discourse of hate and division is the tone of the messages that come from some of your colleagues on the Island: “Cuban Culture exists only in Cuba”; There is no genuine Cuban literature outside the Island”; “You have to be in Cuba to write about Cuba.” However, I have seen that your eyes have the look of nostalgia, of respect and affection, not only for many who think differently from you politically (or who appear to), but also for other teachers who might be marionettes, consenting to or directly executing repression. What is your relationship with these writers who you once rubbed shoulders with in Cuba, until you decided to say what you thought about the Government?
LFR: Pal, I respect the guild, if only for being one. My colleagues on the Island know how I think, and my level of tolerance has been bullet-proof. I am friends with many of them, from Oriente to Havana. They write me; I answer them; we exchange literary criticism; and with those who dare, we even discuss politics.
He who has decided to leave from that side of the barracks: Congratulations, I’m an accepting person, and I can’t throw them away as enemies; they know that I’m not one. I read enough of what is written and done in Cuba. I go to lectures and book presentations for those who also publish on the Island and receive the UNEAC officials in Miami, but I’m not one who turns a deaf ear to them.
Now, they know that I’m a mischievous critic, that I will always be blatantly against these things. What relates us is that some accept that I have the right to say what I believe to be my truth. As for the reduced way of thinking that only what is created “inside” [the Revolution] is the truth, that’s not worth keeping me up at night in order to devote even a single sentence to it.
AV: Also, the same as what is happening in Cuba, the Cuban exile in the U.S. (and essentially in Miami), without caring about the market, continues conceding to poetry the value that it always has had for Cuban writers. In your personal case there have been two publishers, NeoClub first, and then Eriginal Books, who have bet on, and I quote: “…that ruined genre that is poetry” (according to that other crazy believer in the genre, the Spaniard, Chus Visor). Poetry, exile, commercial value, along with spiritual courage….how has that milieu been for you?
LFR: There is no homeland other than poetry, to express it in the language of those of us who go with knives in our teeth defending the king of the literary genres. Why do you think that a Regime that has spilled as much blood as that of the Castros would put in prison a guy as angelic and effective — from a literary standpoint — as Jorge Valls?
Could there be any bigger crime than destroying a manuscript of María Elena Cruz Varela or Reinaldo Arenas? I don’t think so. I continue betting on poetry because it always gives more than it demands and because, paradoxically, it has remained outside the failures of the present market. Miami is a paradise for poetry, because it has converted itself into a land of exiles, and the loss of the land where you walked as a child brings suffering, but it gives you refuge in something intimate like lyricism.
AV: By experience I know that journalism can enrich the writer. . . or destroy his talent. Everything depends on establishing an interrelationship that nourishes you and not an unequal dependency that annihilates the weakest part: the writer. I would like you to assess what has changed in your perspective as a creative person after having had to launch yourself into independent journalism in Cuba, first, and now in exile, into the journalist work of that recognized information conglomerate of radio, television and digital press that carries the name of our Martí.
LFR: What it has done is enrich me. I wrote that a little time ago, when Radio Martí had its 30th birthday. Writing every day, whether I’m proposing a subject for a report, fixing a cable cord in the office or editing what they send from Cuba is, for me, a school, but it has been the fulfillment of a dream. I was a clandestine listener to Radio Martí. Today I interview people as nice as you; the artist, Tania Bruguera; or the anonymous woman, the mother of a young political prisoner in Guantánamo. In the end it has given me impetus for the prose I write, and I keep the connections between prose, fiction and non-fiction clearly defined.
Now what I see with more clarity is that some problems, by being so close to me, appeared immense or out of focus; getting distance has helped me to be more reasonable in my judgments.
AV: It seems curious to me also that after active participation in the Cuban blogosphere you’ve transferred your work to the phenomenon of Facebook. How have technologies influenced you in your personal and professional life?
LFR: Facebook is more democratic. Although I continue with my blog Crossing the Barbed Wire,, my Facebook account is more active and quicker. I can get feedback and exchange with the reader in a second. I have privacy settings, and I can ethically check everything all the time, all the information coming from different sources. There is everything there, like bad literature, film or television. You can entertain yourself.
In addition, it has allowed me to share what I write every day, at the instant it’s published, without needing permission to post it to the public that I define on this social network.
AV: Our common friend, the writer Ángel Santiesteban, once told me that you are a “sentimental peasant,” and another dear friend, also a writer, Rafael Vilches, told me about everything you had to suffer in Cuba because of the colleagues who turned their backs on you, and he wrote me some time ago that it was more difficult to understand this rejection because you are “more heart than body.” All this is with the goal of asking: poetry and friends? Poetry and family: Exilda, your children? And poetry and your most intimate Cuba? In what sense do you think they’re connected?
All are connected. Sometimes I don’t know how to tell if I suffered more from the unhappiness of those who thought they could save themselves by turning their backs on me, or from those three little persons, whom I believe I saved from the horror and now have with me. I am one of these privileged beings who understands that true friends and family are the homeland. That Cuba can be a table shared among a few, because the others don’t dare to be there.
The poetry that I write is always connected with this feeling I have toward the others: my wife, my children and my friends. That’s Cuba, and I think it’s enough for me to be happy.
AV:Machine for Erasing Humanities won’t be your last book, that’s clear to me. What new literary project are you working on now?
LFR: I have compiled the texts of Crossing the Barbed Wire to give Cubans from the Island, who aren’t able to read me on the Internet, an opportunity. I chose 40 of the texts and used the translations that friends did, volunteers, in the five years I put up this blog.
You interviewed Cuban writers and human rights activists who live in that beyond where our Island remains, and another book is coming out of that also. I told you about the book of short stories, and some nights I write a book of poems that I’m doing based on questions, but I have delayed publishing it for some years. That’s the rhythm that every text takes, every document that I do.
Machine for ErasingHumanities(Eriginal Books, 2015) will be presented June 26 in the workshop “The Word Corner,” led by the poet Joaquín Gálvez, and will take place in the Café Demetrio, 300 Alhambra Cicle, Coral Gables, Miami.
Luis Felipe Rojas, 3 June 2015 — Once again I am publishing, in liberty, a poetry book: “Machine for erasing humanity” (EriginalBooks, 2015). It confirms that poetry removes the restraints on my life.
I don’t believe that poetry is the “Cinderella” of literary genres. Poetry is the act that leaves the public breathless, the vehicle that sustains the millennial spectacle of lyrics, and it’s outside all logic of the contemporary market. I continue believing in the bard, the troubadour, whom the tribe awaits for news of the shore beyond the river.
Today I feel the joy of sharing with you my sixth book of poetry, my second in the land of liberty, after the generous hands of Armando Añel and Idabel Rosales opened the doors for me in 2013 with “Feeding the dogfight” in Neo Club Editions. On this occasion I am in the hands of the excellent illustrator, Nilo Julián Gonzán Preval, whose magic you may verify throughout the book. Nilo illustrated the first issue of the review Bifronte in 2005: Thanks again, my brother! continue reading
It’s the first time that I worked together with Marlene Moleón and Eriginal Books, and I can only be grateful for their counsel on this road that we just began today. The suggestion that Ernesto Valdes lay out the book was primordial. Thank you both.
Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal, born in San Germán, Holguín, 1971, has published the poetry books Secrets of Monk Louis (Holguín Editions, 2001), Sewer Animal (Ácana, 2005), Songs of bad living (Loynaz, 2005), Obverse of the beloved beast (April, 2006) and Feeding the dogfight (NeoClub, 2013). For his dissident actions he was censored and repudiated by the authorities of his country, where he worked as an independent journalist. He is the author of the blog, Crossing the Barbed Wire. He works for Martí News.
About the illustrator: Nílo Julián González Preval was born in Havana, 1967. Cartoonist. Poet. Painter. Manager of public events. Twelve personal exhibitions, 36 collective exhibitions, 4 individual and several collective awards, more than 200 illustrations published nationally and internationally. Photographer. Artisan. Sculptor. More than 20 personal readings of short stories and poetry. His poems have been published in reviews and newspapers in Cuba and in the world. Director of art and actor in the group OMNI. Cultural promoter in his community. Director of the project of social community intervention, Community Gallery. He is the founder of the group OMNI-Zona Franca, which has carried out more than 200 performances and public, collective and individual actions.
On Friday, June 26, I await you in the salon, The Word Corner, a type of literary cave that the poet Joaquín Galvez has put together for lovers of the arts. The gathering will be in the Café Demetrio, 300 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables, Miami, FL 33134. The presentation will be at 7:00 p.m.
Story of an Abandoned Doll, Teatro Pálpito. Photos LFRojas.
Artefactus Teatro has been so kind as to receive Ariel Bouza and his team into its southeast space in Miami. Bouza and company bring a gift from Havana for this April: a loose, free version of Story of an Abandoned Doll by Norge Espinosa, which is from the text by the Spanish playwright Alfonso Sastre.
I traveled far into the southern reaches of Miami to see this play for the second time in my life, having already seen it once in Camagüey. It seems they have taken extra care to conserve the grace with which Paquita and Lolita play with ambition, love, envy, and piety within a theatrical framework that places the performance beyond the fallacies that we so often see in current times.
Ariel Bouza (Teatro Pálpito, Havana) directs the action with equal parts drama, laughter, and reflection to carry the spectators into situations where they must decide who are the heroes and anti-heroes, but there can be no middle ground. This piece that Bouza has been taking to the stage since 1999 has the bonus of ambivalence: it can be viewed and enjoyed equally by children and adults. Sastre’s version is classical, hierarchical, and well placed in the history of modern theater–it is rejuvenated with Bouza’s staging and a good push from Teatro Pálpito. continue reading
Gleris Garcés (Lolita) takes all the applause. Though a very young actor he does not lack mastery. The handling of the attire and dolls, the conversation of the voices, and the projection he puts forth in their tones to reach the rearmost seats, earn him the sympathy of the spectators from the very moment he appears on the scene.
With the version by the Cuban critic, playwright and poet Norge Espinosa, something surprising occurs, for it comes to us from the proven hands of Sastre, who, in turn, is filtering through the shadow of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, the well-known play by Bertolt Brecht. The result is unscathed between these two excellent writers who were obligatory reference points in 20th century play-writing.
Both actors, Bouza and Garcés, radiate the splendor of these words that do not go into a vacuum; the theater always serves the people, andHistory of an Abandoned Doll saves its spectators. This morning of Saturday the 4th, there were only five of us in the auditorium, invited to play and to enjoy the work of artists who exemplify dignity in performance. I watched them as if they were performing, ultimately, to a full house–which it was–because every setting is a judgment on how well someone is doing in life who is implicated in this dream: from the lady who cleans the windows to the theater director, who heads up the roster in the playbill.
I invite you all to visit Artefactus Theater, the venue where Teatro Pálpito is celebrating the feast of words and gestures. It is at 12302 SW 133 Court, in Miami.
Graffiti from El Sexto, which simulates a rebel commander well known by Cubans.
Luis Felipe Rojas, 16 April 2015 — His name is Danilo Maldonado, but in Cuba he is known as El Sexto (The Sixth). When the five spies were still in jail in the United States, Maldonado used to say he was the “sixth hero” and started to make graffiti with his spray can on the walls of Havana. This action also took place at the time of the celebration of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.
On December 25, 2004, Maldonado was detained and since then has been in jail in the horrible prison of Valle Verde. On that day he wanted to release two pigs in Central Park in Havana: they were painted with the names of “Fidel” and “Raul”, and that was enough to send him to prison. The solidarity with this graffiti artist and freelance artist has not stopped, many voices are being raised for his freedom.