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

By Enrisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

7 July 2014

Miami: Diverse and Pluralistic

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

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

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

marlins parkmg_0270Marlins Park.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

8 June 2014

Children Screaming / Armando Anel, Luis Felipe Rojas

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

By Armando Añel

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

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

Since then, the tone of the sporadic explanations given by the government has remained the same:  we were dealing with an irresponsible act of  piracy promoted by the “counter revolution” , in the face of which people took the law into their own hands.  Obviously, goes the official line, the “people” taking the law into their own hands is nothing punishable.  As long as things turn out in their favour, any crime is justifiable.

It’s clear that the official version gives rise to various questions. If we were looking at a spontaneous, uncoordinated action, why were various tugs waiting at the entrance to the bay for the 13 de Marzo tugboat, at the crack of dawn? And why tugs exactly, a type of boat which lends itself perfectly to intercepting fugitives ? Why did these lookouts let the vessel continue on its flight? Why did the interception take place some seven miles off the coast, exactly where it could not be spotted  from the land by unwelcome witnesses, but while still in Cuban waters?  And how was it possible that, having been informed about the escape from the start, the coastguard  speedboats  delayed for an hour and twenty minutes before turning up at the scene, after the massacre had taken place?

But all these questions become irrelevant when you frame the fundamental question: why don’t they try the case to clarify once and for all if what happened was an accident or a crime? Because, if it was the first, the urgent, reasonable and normal course is to put the people involved in front of a judge, a defence lawyer and a prosecutor, in order to see justice done. That’s what happens when any traffic accident occurs, especially if there are fatalities:  they don’t take the driver’s innocence as a given; they investigate first. And, in Cuba, since 1959, the accused have to prove their innocence.

Meanwhile, the massacre of passengers of the 13 de Marzo tugboat – more than that of Canimar, Cojimar, Guantánamo base, etc. – has become lodged in the  collective memory  of those who are exiled and even of many of  those who are stuck on the island. The image is horrific: a young woman protects her baby from the Castro regime’s high-pressure jets of water, while she shrieks, almost in a whisper “they are going to kill the children …they are going to kill the children … “. She surrendered, but to no purpose. She surrendered , and her executioners mocked her. She surrendered, but in an island’s memory, it is exodus and memory, escape and perennial return, the Tug does not surrender.

The screaming of the children continues to shake our ears.

Translated by GH

25 June 2014

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

1402916595_img_0574

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

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

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

he said.

1402916596_img_0584The meeting featured the voices of the poets Orlando Rosardi and Angel Cuadra reading a poem by Baquero. At the end of each piece Sariol talked about the author of “Discourse of the Rose in Villalba,” about how Gastón came to Origins Magazine and how he later influenced the poets who followed him. But for Cuba, the current professor at the University of Arizona, offered an aside.

Cuba is a duty

Cuba is the passion of this Doctor of Philology who has crossed the waters, the classrooms from Havana, Mexico to disembark with his lessons and poetic approximations “in the Arizona desert.” However, he admits that he would like to bring the map of everything produced on the island.

“Sadly, many things escape me, books, authors. I could talk with a certain authority about the generation of Origins, the generation of the 30s, but when I want to advance a little bit more, for example your generation, I start to slip. And why? Because of ignorance, because I don’t have access to the books. I met Magaly Alabau here in the United States, what ignorance, a critic of Cuban poetry who hadn’t read Magaly Alabau. I never had access to her, I didn’t kow her, although later I read her books, she became my friend.

“Prats, why haven’t you written about Magaly Alabau?”

“Out of ignorance,” I answered myself.

“As long as the dictatorship exists, it’s a duty for me. Of course I respect opinions, that other people aren’t interested, but for me it’s a duty as a Cuban to write and offer my point of view about the situation in Cuba, and I include all Cubans,” he concluded.

16 June 2014

The Trumpet Player’s Sad Ballad / Luis Felipe Rojas

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

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

20 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

With an emissary like this, we are perfect strangers.

Warming the arm

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

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

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

A battlefield, a devastated grassland

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Scott Miatech and mlk

27 May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

22 February 2014

Cooperation with the Cuban Artist / Luis Felipe Rojas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Carolina Rojas

28 January 2014

Poetry That Does Not Reject Words / Luis Felipe Rojas

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

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

I imagine that Hábitad undertakes the difficult course of the empty shelves, the book facing the child with his nose pressed to the glass, but it is fortunate that the time is now. Poetry is a very strong antidote for sentimental and lost souls, those who imagine that cannot live without poetry.

Joaquín Gálvez has thrown himself into the vacuum with this new book, has screamed obscenities in the midst of the concert and that is laudable. To write: “I had enemies because of the light with which I could do good,” is an act of magic in poetry itself. This tightrope of words plays with everything to weave the meaning of his life, of our lives, and is bringing light to everyone, facing the gate where we go to throw stones like on condemned to death. For this he has written his Hábitad.

4 December 2013

A Literature Against the Gallows / Luis Felipe Rojas

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

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

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

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

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

At the same time, I researched, read and analyzed their writings and learned many concepts related to certain literary theories and philosophical principles. I adapted them to the study of each work and author while maintaining a dialogue with my ancestors in slavery and imprisonment.  In this fashion, I tried to carry out a catharsis using the academic essay as a tool and linked the continuity of our political tragedy from the colonial era, the time of the Cuban Republic and the period after 1959.

In addition to being locked up, driven into exile and death, the Castro dictatorship has produced a sub-genre which has been denominated ‘prison literature’. Do you think it will transcend as a style and why?

Prison literature (poetry, story, novel, theater, film, documentary if we refer to Conducta Impropia and Nadie escuchaba, for example), exists although it does not reach the majority of its natural audience (the Cubans who reside in the island) for reasons we all know.  Those of us who write about these matters know we are writing for the future, that is, any fate that our work will meet will be tied to the intensity and the quality of the political changes that may come.

Meanwhile, in the areas of publishing and academia, lectures and conference circles we are part of the “immense minority” as Juan Ramón Jimenez would say.  For that reason, the work we do will continue to amass and gather dust in the bookshelves until its time comes.  I see it as a sort of unearthing, an illumination of shadows, a hullabaloo and the airing of clean and dirty laundry coming out of the closet, every voice free and liberated.

The declassification and the opening of police files, the judicial archives and prison files will be necessary and inevitable.  Moreover, for those events to take place, we first have to uncork the bottle, there has to be a real opening …otherwise the pot and pan will be half covered, only lukewarm. A half truth is a total lie.

What inspires you to keep writing?

What inspires me are: the literary vocation I discovered in my youth; the personal, mental and physiological need that forces me to read a private journal, or sit at a computer in order to thread the ideas that emanate from me; the opinions that I want to share with others; the emotional zeal that I have for literature in general and from which I continue and will continue to learn. I write because I have no other choice but to obey my nature and do what it dictates to me.

Besides, it does not compel me to commit crimes, unless someone ironically says about my work: “he committed a triple crime by writing an essay, a story and a novel.”  Since May 9, 1988 when I left (and I did not abandon) my country, I have all the freedom in the world to write, without fear of censure or fear from a reader who could report and denounce my “counter-revolutionary” writings to the police.

I do not depend on any business or institutional subsidy. I am financially independent and therefore I have earned my intellectual freedom to write what I want and as I see fit.  I am solely responsible for the failures or recognitions of my profession.

What is your connection with Cuba, with Cubans, with the current Cuban literature?

I still have very good contact with Cubans and Cuban literature writers in the four corners of the planet.  I read Tyrians and Trojans alike; I don’t discriminate against authors because they have political beliefs different from mine.  If I took to read only those who agree with my point of view, I would probably only read what I myself wrote and that, of course, is narcissism, egocentricity; it is anti-democratic and unjust, naturally.

I read other Cuban authors because it is my vocation, my duty and because real charity begins at home.  Furthermore, as far as arts and literature, we are at a much higher level and quality of life, we are so much more advanced than the country governed by the “revolutionary government.”

Any advance on what you are cooking up for the future?

As far as any advances, here is what I am planning: a play, a collection of exchange letters and memoires of the entertainment world when I worked as scriptwriter for radio and T.V. programs.  Unless my health fails, I will be very busy with those projects, in addition to the education of my children and grandchildren, the unending nurturing of my relationship with my wife, with my family, with my friends.  Of minor importance is the fact that the economic base for those plans is rooted in my job as Spanish Professor in a Texan university: “I have earned my keep/let there be poetry.”

25 November 2013

Detentions and Beatings for Dissidents in Guantanamo / Luis Felipe Rojas

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

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

Translated by mlk.

Note: this video is in Spanish:

27 December 2013

Cuba Without Rights on Human Rights Day / Luis Felipe Rojas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Tomás A.

11 December 2013

The Cuban Writers Club / Luis Felipe Rojas

Víctor Domínguez. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

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

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

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

The fruits they already taste

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

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

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

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

The world, all the worlds

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

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

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

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

2 December 2013