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.
Luis Felipe Rojas — I published this post a few days after that needless death. Now I again denounce the death and express the same ideas about it. It’s my homage to my brother, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
I am still experiencing the pain caused by that avoidable death, and I feel impotent because I didn’t attend the funeral honoring him due to political impediments, but that hasn’t stopped me from saying that in any case, what I present here seem to be the seven final steps that advanced the repressive machinery used to kill Zapata.
1. Setting up that para-judicial theater that imposed a sentence of 63 years on him for contempt.
2. The continuous beatings accompanied by obscene words and insults about his race and the region where he lived (shitty negro, shitty peasant). continue reading
3. Putting him in prisons that were located far away from his mother’s home (Prison Kilo Cinco y Medio in Pinar del Rio, Prison Kilo 8 in Camaguey).
4. The beatings in November 2009 in the Holguin jail when they knocked him down smashing his leg with a steel bar, on his knee cap, and that his mother saw again when she opened the coffin in her house in Banes and also discovered that there were other marks of the beating with clubs that he surely received months before.
5. The forced removal to Camaguey and the robbery of his belongings on December 3 when they confiscated the only food he was eating in prison. This was the fact that made in declare a hunger strike.
6. Taking away water for the 18 days in the middle of the strike even when he had said that he was declaring a hunger strike but would drink small amounts of water.
7. The maneuver of taking him to a hospital for prisoners in Camaguey, west of Havana, and putting him in a room that was not set up for treating prisoners in a grave condition.
I lack the power of analysis in this case, but please don’t keep saying that the government didn’t have a hand in his death. The execution order was given from the office of General Raul Castro Ruz.
Luis Felipe Rojas, 12 February 2015 — Just days after Ángel Santiesteban Prats sent this interview to Martí Noticias, he was transferred in an untimely manner to Villa Marista, the general barracks of Cuban State Security. However, his replies were already safeguarded, as was he.
This storyteller — who won the UNEAC (Cuban Writers and Artists Union) prize for his collection, Sueño de un día de verano (Dreams of a summer day, 1995), the 1999 César Galeano prize, the Casa de las Américas award of 2006 for his Dichosos los que lloran (Blessed are they who weep) — later started a blog where he set forth his ideas on human rights in Cuba, and he did not cease even unto imprisonment.
In 2013, Ángel won the International Franz Kafka “Novels from the Drawer Prize,” which convened in the Czech Republic, for the novel, The Summer When God Slept. Today he is responding to these questions from his improvised cell continue reading
in a Border Patrol unit of the Ministry of the Interior, in Jaimanitas, Havana.
Following is a Q&A between Luis Felipe Rojas and Ángel Santiesteban
Luis Felipe: At which moment did the narrator and character Ángel Santiesteban come to be?
Ángel: I can affirm that he came into existence at the end of the 1980s. I believe that the need to write, to communicate, to transmit my feelings, were a way of dealing, precisely, with the pain I felt inside of me. I recall that my first literary sensibility arose at the age of 17, when I found myself imprisoned at the La Cabaña fort, for the “offense” of having accompanied my family to the coast, with the intent of seeing them off, as it turned out.
They were later caught on the high seas, and I was charged with harboring fugitives — but on the day of the trial, the court ruled that, according to current laws, I could not be so charged, because between parents and children, and between siblings, such action was considered reasonable. However, I was prosecuted anyway because, according to the district attorney, I should have reported my relatives for clandestinely leaving the country, which is considered an act of treason against the totalitarian regime.
Notwithstanding, I remained in jail for 14 months. Thus I consider that before I was a writer, I was already one of my characters, which I used to share my personal pain with the other characters that, as of that time, I began to construct. In each character created by me, there is my pain, or that of my family, friends and neighbors. I am a social reflection of my times, and there is where my commitment lies: with myself, with my mother, with history and with my times, with no concern for the consequences that this posture might entail for me.
I suffer with every word I write, I bleed for every passage that I execute. I live and die with my characters; but always, I believe above all, it is through art that is genuine and uncompromised.
Luis Felipe: To what point were your narrative demons fused with your social intentions?
Ángel: I swear that this was not a goal, nor was it a commitment, and even less intended as a means to shock or gain attention. I believe, in fact, that this is not the way to achieve art. My creative seed took root in nonconformity and social fear — individuals who hid their antipathy to the political process and pretended, or pretend, to be sympathizers of the dictatorship — and this reflection of my times turned me into a voice, an alternative, and it was an unconscious process, because the foundation of my artistic vision is that which lacerates me, which strikes or preoccupies me, and then I want to capture it in the best way, according to the literary tools at my disposal.
When I discover a thought in a personal passage, or hear an evocative anecdote, a force is ignited in my being, and a different hunch alerts me that I should attempt it, and almost always this is tied to a social consequence.
The author of this interview with Ángel Santiesteban, 20 January, 2010, in Havana, Cuba.
Ángel: Above all, to recognize that with any artist to whom I am compared, among those three great Cuban writers, I am honored, and I appreciate the noble hereditary line in which you have placed me, because I will always recognize the distances between them and me. I respect them for their work and life, the suffering they hoisted like a flag, for choosing the emigration option, looking for those “three trapped tigers,”* who were them, for having been voices discordant with the political system.
I have experiences similar to Reinaldo Arenas, in terms of imprisonment and the cultural marginalization that he suffered; but I identify with all three in the matter of emigration — only that in their cases they had to displace themselves from the Archipelago, and in mine, I live those same consequences, but from the interior, inside the Island. For this reason, today I write about the reality that surrounds me, the injustice that I live.
I once wrote in a post that the last place that the dictatorship should have sent me was here, where I have had to develop myself as a human being, artist and dissident. I have written a book of stories out of pain, but which in my view and that of my friends, is still very raw, and I need to distance myself from the experience to revisit it and remove a political intention which, inevitably, is reflected in this collection of stories. I also wrote a strange novel, with a prison-life theme, which I intend to revise upon my release. I started a novel, Prizes and Punishments, of a more biographical cut.
My life experience is tragic. I have lived a tragic script that affects society, caused by the dictators’ political whims. It is known that “we writers nourish ourselves from human carrion,”** and this system is quite given to soiling us with the blood of its victims.
Luis Felipe: Your characters appear to be stricken with pain as if there were nothing else on the horizon. From whence this creation, these pieces of change contained in every story?
Ángel: At times it is, in a word, an image, or the reflection of an anxiety. When I perceive that someone is suffering, I feel a need to help him. I fervently believe that if a writer does not help to change — to heal — that reality, at least he has the duty to reflect it like a mirror of his times, as a social function. And, at times, we even seek alternatives to anemic responses for those sufferers, when they see in the characters their more immediate reality.
We have the possibility, as part of creation itself, to substitute, improve, provide, replace, exchange, our given destinies, and to create for ourselves something better. The variables can be many, to the extent of the writer’s capacity for talent and his artistic needs. I feel that I am the reflection of my times and so I try to capture this in my work.
Luis Felipe: If we refer to the backstory you provide in The Summer When God Slept, your novel is the reconstruction of an era. Describing life at sea, characters that are not precisely fishermen, the actual circumstances in which they decide to launch themselves to a new life, or to death, and the outcomes that come to pass from what we today know as the “Rafters Crisis,” what we have is a historical novel. What were your tools — were they historiography, sociology, or a thorough knowledge of those narrative techniques that you have been displaying for a long time?
Ángel: When I tackle a subject that I have not experienced, which is not even found in books that can be consulted, I begin a field study — in my case, depending on my subjects, with the soldiers who participated in the African wars, with the rafters who chose to return from the Guantánamo Naval Base, or marginalized characters who survive through crime.
I always make recordings of their narratives. In a few cases I had to turn off the recording equipment at the interviewee’s request, when they incriminated themselves in their testimonies and fear forced them into self-protection, upon revealing delicate matters — for example, terrible orders from a high-level military commander in Angola that produced innocent victims, or acts that they themselves committed and for which they are now ashamed.
I have the need, when I begin to treat a subject, to know every event — the history, the culture, the color of the earth, the scents, the vegetation — details that help me to transport myself and live in my imagination, to recreate, to go back in time and see, and feel, what I narrate.
The majority of the characters in my novel, The Summer…, are based on relatives or friends. Manolo is my younger sister’s husband. It is true that he was involved in the conflict in Africa, that he was a combat engineer, that he risked his life in the Florida Straits on a raft with other relatives, and that he later crossed the minefield [around the American naval base at Guantanamo] to return to Havana with his family.
In him, in that character, are composites of many characters. I interviewed every rafter I have met, producing hundreds of hours of cassette recordings — which is what I would use in the mid-90s — and in every one I captured the pain that burst from their words, gestures and silences.
Luis Felipe: There is a period of “painful apprenticeship,” as Carlos Alberto Montaner might say. Why are your stories loaded with victims?
Ángel: I am convinced that every Cuban who is a participant in the political processes — not only since 1959, but from before — is a victim of the whims, ambitions, and bad intentions of those leaders who have arrived at positions of power in the nation. In particular I base my view on the experience, the suffering, of the generations since that of my parents, through today, and I consider them victims of the regime.
And not just those who were opposed, but I also add those who were deceived, those who like my Uncle Pepe, bet on a better country, democratic and humanist, until they discovered that they had been deceived, but then no longer had the youth or courage to confront the deceivers — and they decided to take their own life out of shame at having been party to this miscreation that has governed for more than half a century, and has done so by executing, jailing and assassinating via its structures for repression and espionage.
Those who emigrate, those who remain inside the Island with their fears (even if only one); those who at some time have needed to pretend so as not to be reprimanded or punished; those who have lied, or are lying, and who betray their real thoughts and opinions about the reality that surrounds us — all are victims of the system.
I always reiterate that the only ambition I have had in life is to understand people — to understand them even if I don’t share their reasoning, but at least to know the cause, the feeling that they had at the moment of committing an act, be it positive or negative. I don’t always achieve this with human beings, but I do so with my characters. They must be transparent to me at the moment that I tell their story, understanding their actions, thinking and functioning.
I am a victim of my times, in the company of my characters, who reflect this human suffering.
Luis Felipe: It appears that you inhabit a space between the pieces of Carlos Montenegro and the lost souls of Reinaldo Arenas. The protagonists of your novel and stories move between the perdition of the night and the disillusionment of the days in Havana. Do you not fear that you will ultimately tell of a Havana that has been told and told again?
Ángel: Montenegro’s version is my personal experience, and we already know that reality surpasses us — it being so rich in hues, in multiple, inexhaustible tones that guarantee the health of that approach in the city and to the city. There is always a trace that hasn’t been covered, a new way of telling the same story, of sharing imperishable themes. Not even the same photo taken repeatedly in rapid succession can capture the same subject because its colors change constantly.
Yes, I fear repeating those paradigms of Cuban literature, but I do not believe that it can seem an imitation of those great and special writers, because there are many ways of seeing, ways of telling this Havana, this Cuba, at times so beloved, or so hated.
Border Patrol Prison Unit, Jaimanitas, Havana.
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Translator’s Notes: * A reference to the novel, “Three Trapped Tigers,” by Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante. ** Santiesteban is quoting Cuban writer Amir Valle, who made this statement during an interview with the journal, IberoAmericana, published in 2014. The original Spanish phrase, “Los escritores nos alimentamos de la carroña humana,” is used in the title of the article.
Photo taken by Universo Increible (Incredible Universe)
Rafael Alejandro Hernández Real, who says he was an agent of State Security in Cuba — infiltrated into the Eastern Democratic Alliance — in September 2014 chained himself in the Plaza Bolivar of Bogota, Colombia, and now is on a hunger strike, demanding that he be allowed to go to the United States, according to a report from Universo Increible.
“Ten young Cuban emigrants have declared a hunger and drink strike in the immigration station at Acayucán, in the state of Veracruz, in order to avoid being deported to Cuba. Right now there are seven men and three women. The group of strikers has been increasing before the official denials and threats of being returned to the island,” reports the news source.
Hernández Real made himself known in 2008 when, together with Eliecer Ávila and other students at the University of Information Sciences in Havana, they questioned the then-president of the Peoples’ Power National Assembly. Ricardo Alarcón. On that occasion Ávila and Hernández Real called for the freedom to leave the country, to visit historic sites of the world like “Che Guevara’s tomb in Bolivia,” and they questioned the supposed unanimity of the general voting that takes place in Cuba.
The writer and blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats, from the prison where he is serving an unjust sentence, just published–thanks to the help of a friend on Facebook–a brief post expressing his thoughts about the recent releases of political prisoners. As always, Angelito is filled with Light and strength. May my embrace reach him though the faithful reproduction of his text.
I have received the expressions of pain from many friends, my publisher, and my relatives–some stupefied, others offended–over my exclusion from the list of prisoners recently released by the Cuban government.
Upon completing almost two years of unjust imprisonment, I can assure everyone that never have I asked the correctional authories or, even less, the officials from State Security who have visited me, when I will be released. I will never give them that satisfaction, just as I have never inquired whether I will be given the pass* which is granted to all “minimum severity” prisoners like me, who am sentenced to five years. continue reading
Nonetheless, although I know that I am not on the noted list, my joy is infinite at knowing that those who were on it are now free. My suffering is universal. I feel all Cubans to be an extension of me, or vice versa, above all those who have suffered and do suffer for an ideal–and in particular that of freedom for our country.
I also believe that the list that so gladdened me was missing the names of other political prisoners who deserved to have been added. There will always be some who are excluded because government’s sleight-of-hand is very swift and, when it already has one list compiled, it as another of recently-apprehended inmates.
It is unfair to think that they should have taken one name off to insert another. Rather, they should have added to the list, because those who were freed deserved it, just as do those who still remain in the totalitarian regime’s jails–some shut away and subjected to inhumane treatment for many years, for whose imminent freedom I pray.
By the same token, and referring again to the recycling of political prisoners, we must now clamor for the immediate absolution and liberation of El Sexto, Danilo Maldonado, whom they keep in the Valle Grande prison for a crime of “disrespect to the images of the leaders.” This is a further proof of how jealously they hold on to their power, and of what they are ready and able to do to safeguard it. Power and its dictators are untouchable, and to live is to see it.
I will not live long enough to infinitely thank those who clamor for my release, and those who suffer because of my imprisonment, but we must clamor for all–just as my publisher entreats on the blog, “The Children That Nobody Wanted,” and my family through social media. At the least, may I be last on the list, as I will complain no more.
January, 2014. Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana.
*Translator’s note: In an earlier post Ángel explained the Cuban penal system that allows prisoners with shorter sentences to leave prison every so many days for extended (overnight) home visits. He was granted one of these passes when he was in the Lawton Settlement, a work camp, but future passes were withheld.
All said and done, more than half of a list of 53 political prisoners that nobody knows are already free, completely secret and that nobody we ask clarifies for us. Of the fifty who were out, I have the list of 36 prisoners who were surprised to be free again, without formal charges and under different conditions for their release: immediate release, probation, and extra-penal freedom (the latter is awarded regularly after inmates suffering from illness that prevents them from staying in the difficult prison conditions on the island).
The partial list I have taken from the independent website 14Ymedio.com, directed by Yoani Sánchez:1.Alexander Otero Rodríguez 2. Alexeis Vargas Martín 3. Ángel Figueredo Castellón 4. Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga 5. Anoy Almeida Pérez 6. Aracelio Ribeaux Noa 7. Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña 8. Bianko Vargas Martín 9. Daniel Enrique Quesada Chaveco 10. David Piloto Barceló 11. Diango Vargas Martín 12. Emilio Plana Robert 13. Enrique Figuerola Miranda 14. Ernesto Riverí Gascón 15. Haydeé Gallardo Salazar 16. Iván Fernández Depestre 17. Jorge Ramírez Calderón 18. José Lino Ascencio López 19. José M. Rodríguez Navarro 20. Julio César Vegas Santiesteban 21. Lázaro Romero Hurtado 22. Luis Enrique Labrador Díaz 23. Miguel Guerra Astie 24. Rolando Reyes Rabanal 25. Ruberlandis Maine Villalón 26. Yohanne Arce Sarmientos 27. Yordenis Mendoza Cobas 28. Wilberto Parada Milán 29. Mario Alberto Hernández Leiva 30. Leonardo Paumier Ramírez 31. Miguel Ángel Tamayo Frías 32. Ernesto Tamayo Guerra 33. Vladimir Ortiz Suárez 34. Roberto Hernández Barrio 35. Rubisney Villavicencio Figueredo 36. Carlos Manuel Figueredo Álvarez 37. Alexander Fernández Rico 38. Miguel Alberto Ulloa 39. Reiner Mulet.
It goes without saying, we are happy with these releases, they are people, young people mainly, who never should have been prisoners. What is striking is that the majority will remain as hostages, if there is no further pressure in the coming days. These dozens of outlaws in that violation of human rights, will follow the course of some ten political prisoners who were released between 2010 and 2011, when the Catholic Church served as a mediator for such releases.
The prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003 who decided to stay to live and fight in Cuba cannot leave the country until the years of their sentence end or until a doddering finger from the State Council eliminates this arbitrariness. José Daniel Ferrer García, Oscar Elías Biscet and Jorge Olivera Castillo, to mention just three, have been invited to travel as a defender of human rights, physician and writer, respectively, by political parties, national congresses, democratic governments and official institutions to visit the world and publicize the horror that they and an entire people live through. The Havana regime has refused, alluding to the false legal figure of the restriction of movement for ‘release on parole.’
We should be attentive, these people who are just out of prison have over themselves the ‘sword of Damocles’ of General Raul Castro. Not all have been promoted internationally, and reading their names one discovers that they are anonymous people who one day did not shut their mouth or stayed home, detained, taken out, to where the repressive forces of the Security of the State want to have them.
I was able to speak, hours after his having been freed, with the rebellious rapper Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, known as El Crítico (The Critic). He thanked all those who have promoted the cause of Cuban political prisoners, and immediately he told me, that in addition to his cause of liberty, he was worried that, “My house is destroyed, brother. My young wife hasn’t been able to handle such a burden and the harassment by the police every day of this unjust lockup. Now I have to take on the two houses, this and the other,” he said, referring to the wattle and daub of the country where we were born.
My baby, my third child, this blog, is five years old and at times I ask myself this question. How long should I continue? I started writing against the grain of what a blog was, doing it like a daily without wi-fi, nor nearby cybercages, but with the recklessness with which one distributes a samizdat.
I remember, it was December 2009. My brother Orlando Zapata Tamayo #0ZT began a hunger strike, impelled by the Castro regime to take off the mask: the arrests and beatings of activists for supporting #0ZT happened in Holguin and several other cities, one after the other. I wanted my neighbors to know, the neighborhood snitches, the police, those who were afraid and those who supported me then and have supported me since, that it is you, the cyberactivists, the fine people who have accompanied me in sixty months of words and actions.
Now with the new refrain of “intimate enemies” I paused, passing several weeks without publishing, listening to my friends, reliving the same party with such naivety. My parents told me that in 1959 people were stunned by so many firecrackers and so much sabotage, on January 1st coming out to salute the rebels, and on the second loudly crying out “To the wall!” (demanding executions), and on the third beginning to fall silent, three days after the Cuban Revolution.
Now the road is long because in Palma Soriano, Manzanillo and Cumanayagua there are still hungry people who know nothing of diplomatic relations. In Camagüey, my friend Millet continues to have the Rapid Response Brigades after him every day to prevent him from putting up a poster against the government or buying kerosene on the black market. Last weekend they defaced Mirna Buenaventura’s house with tar, in Buenaventura, where people now call the Yankees “the fraternal and supportive American people.”
Now that the Furies have changed their spots there are friends who stayed inside the fence and are not going to shut their mouths because they never have. Yannier P. wrote from Guantanamo to tell me, “You don’t have to write for us, we know the horror. Write so that the world will know the horror to come.” I want to send a bouquet of flowers to my friend Nancy Alfaya, a Christian woman with a bulletproof resistance: her husband, the writer Jorge Olivera Castillo received 18 years in prison, but Nancy refuses to stop laughing. In Havana she leads a workshop against violence against women, is the first to read Olivera’s poems, and goes to church every day in the poor neighborhood where she lives. I want to send flowers to Nancy but I would not want them to arrive wilted.
I would like to write an article and travel to shake hands with Manuel Martinez Leon, in La Jejira in Holguin, with Emiliano Gonzalez in El Horno, in Bayamo, or Barbaro Tejeda in Mayari. The three are dissidents, open opponents of the Castro brothers’ tropical dictatorship and work the land from sunrise.
Emiliano has given me interviews seated on a mountain of peanut bags, and wrote to tell me of the tortured rules of the State cooperatives and that he dreams of fields of peanuts while they hold him prisoner in stinking dungeons.
Barbaro has talked with me on a trail where he goes to fish illegally, to be able to eat and to feed his family. For years the “Watching the Sea” Detachment — a kind of rapid response brigade with the pretext of being anti-drug troops— monitors and represses its neighbors in Puerto Padre, Levisa and Macabi, throughut Cuba. They cannot sell fish, catch fish or eat fish. They don’t know which law prohibits it, but the people there who talked to me are afraid of breaking the rules. Sometimes Barbaro Tejeda fries plantains or beans and dreams of a modern fishing rod.
With friends like this my blog will have ten more years of life. Still, I have to explain to the world why Cuban mothers live without their children and what the Law of Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness is; first I have to learn to write a legal monstrosity of such a package. Ileana, my Venezuelan friend living in New York doesn’t know what Showing Contempt for the Figure of the Commander-in-Chief is, and I have to explain with examples.
Many more years of life, of survival, remain to this blog. A house organized from within and not for elegies without knowing its neighbors, living in the turbulent and brutal south or north that now appreciates us.
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.
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 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.
When 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
Agapito, a peasant known for having fought in the central plains of the island against the militias and formal army, spoke of the bravery of those who accompanied him in that feat (there is no other name for this action). The loss of 11 relatives has not made him a resentful man, although pain emerges with each word for a country that could not be.
“No one knows the pain that is felt on learning of the death of the youngest of the brothers that you have taken to war,” says the man who earned the nickname “Handsome” in the prisons where they tried to break him for the 25 long years that he spent without tasting freedom. His liberation in 1988 must have been a relief for his jailers, according to the anecdotes that are told by those who shared galley, hallway and punishment cells with Agapito.
We live likewise through the story by Jorge Gutierrez, who landed in one of the infilitration teams days before the Cuban expedition in the Bay of Pigs. The loss of friends that had sent him off days before, the bitter flavor of the disappointment of promised help that never arrived, were related in detail by Gutierrez with a dynamic that left no room for doubts.
The other fight, the same country
Roberto Luque Escalona like Normando Hernandez related experiences of what is known as the peaceful resistance struggle, which although it has its detractors on both sides of the island, gave rise to one of the samples of respect that Cuba deserves.
Those who preceded Luque and Hernandez recognized the co-existence of both methods without sidestepping one or the other. Luque as well as Hernandez explored anecdotes that illustrated the advocacy of human rights, the confrontation of a more sophisticated military, which although assisted by Moscow, since its beginning was refining methods of repression from physical to psychological torture: to the point that at the beginning of 1980 many countries ignored what was happening on Dr. Castro’s island. So far the majority of nations ignore the lack of liberty in Cuba.
It has been a good opportunity, a landscape portrait of thousands of Cubans who do not fit in a single photo. Thanks to the labor of Shiling and his insistence on learning more of the untold history of the resistance against communism in Cuba.
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
“The shadows lift themselves/ from the same path/ where once was born/ that rare flower; / and the wind breaks through to cut/ the voice of some history.”
There is a flavor here of Machado, a thread connecting us to Paul Eluard, but it is La Avellaneda and Gabriela Mistral who season the bundle of words with which “Testigos de la noche” shows us Janisset, while the publisher Ultramar takes a mature step on its path of promoting literature. We see here a book that stands out through its modesty and economy of resources, both achievements boding well for the poetic profession as well as that other dying star, the readers of poetry, who upon entering the 21st century are seen as odd creatures.
An old poem is a new poem
Would that nothing human were foreign to us. It is like a canticle, a voice emerging from the deep thoughts of someone wiser than we. Nothing human is foreign to me, responding to that poetic subject that Janisset Rivero utilizes to traverse that broad plain that is Testigos.
The expression of love, desperation and fear of death surrounds us since the dawn of the world. Articulated anew by the momentum of Janisset Rivero’s verses, the realization of these timeless themes seems renewed: “The cry of the night/ charges the word/ and later silences…” Thus says one of her perhaps most accomplished compositions. But, is it death? Is it life? Is it the flowering of the fears of all times? We don’t know – Janisset Rivero leaves nothing assumed, and thus we witness another example of how insinuation is perhaps the surest shot.
Contemporaries as we are, we now face the dilemma that all that we poets touch has been touched by others, but the intimism revived in this work becomes addictive and pleasurable. To again read poems of love, hatred, human fears (which by virtue of being human we have all had them), is a good enjoyed by the most cultured.
No one tires of reading letters, messages, cries. No one – human as he may be – can simply walk by the weeping or the smiling rain of a woman. And we have here, readers and listeners, attentive to that voice that has emerged from JR to insert itself as a matter of course, in the skin of the poetic subject that she has utilized to narrate the ancient canticle of her work.
This, is it a new book or an old one? We, are we new or old readers of poetry? I believe that two words, two concepts have brought us together on this night of celebration: friendship and love. JR treats both with the same intensity – “Testigos” shows it.
Poetry without compromise
I do not believe in literary compromises. Somebody said that we writers are gravediggers by birth. We kill a writer to ride his glory, we bury an author because we want to throw off his powerful influence. For this reason, the mentions that JR makes here of her compatriots, of her brethren who have preceded us in death and of the glory of their heroic achievements, are a natural act of gratitude, and not an archetypal “compromise”. At least that is how I have read it and her, and this convinces me more than any instruction or qualification made on the surface, or under pressure.
Why were there not appearing here the shadows or the lights of (Pedro Luis) Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo? “Redeemed at last/ in battle./ They fear still…/ and you shine, Pedro/” … and I would add, OZT, Antonio Maceo, Virgilio Campaneria, Marti, Eusebio Penalver, Zoila Aguia, The Girl (the lovely girl, I would say) of Placetas. The verses in “Testigos…” are not accusations. They are tollings of a bell to remember, they are antidotes to apathy and greetings of a new time that is today and not tomorrow. This manner of greeting without weeping, of remembering without the frigid and obligatory applause, renew a poetry that refuses elegies. The verses of JR are a flower-word-wind, a herald, and for that, poetry is ever grateful.
JR chose the difficult path of touching her dead without placing a banner at the door to the house. This is a happy thing, because it makes her intimate as well as plura; it makes us participants in all that she touches, in all to which she invites us, on this night, and tomorrow.
Miami, June 5, 2014
Yusimí Sijo (L) and the rapper Raudel Collazo (C), Luis Felipe Rojas (R)
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.”