The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultramar 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality. Continue reading

Descriptive Penury / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

An acquaintance of mine swapped his apartment of a room and a half for a smaller one and “some chump change on top of that” to relieve his alcoholism and misery.  I never entered his home and that’s why I was unaware of his poverty. His furniture had the appearance of shabby knick-knacks, which probably — as in the majority of Cuban homes — were bought before the triumph of this guerrilla model which installed itself in power in 1959 and has been there ever since.

A matte oil painting, covers the surface of a dresser that perhaps once was covered in formica, the quite ramshackle wardrobe tells a story of age and overuse, the hollows of his three-quarter mattress, the remains of his sofa and of his Russian half-washing machine — they had to amputate the dryer — that accuse like the speeches of the rulers of Cuba, are words blurred by abandonment and demagoguery.

During the move, he got from a yellowish nylon bag a bunch of black and white photographs to show to his companions how beautiful the apartment was when his father first moved into it in 1958. Then the furniture seemed alive and the walls still wore an attractive and aesthetic coat of paint. Monochromatic feelings showed the nostalgia on his face buffeted by frustration and liquor. Continue reading

Wendy War

 

Grown in Exercises of Death, Wendy Guerra (Taken from her blog HABÁNAME) (Reposted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in his blog)

I have death as white and truth far away… – Don’t give me your fresh roses; I am terrible for roses. Give me the ocean…Dulce María Loynaz

Death, solicitous and vigilant followed me until my fall. It was my companion – solicitous and loving - Rafaela Chacón Nardi

Dreadful voice in funeral I mourn, that flies from the seas of my homeland to the beaches of Iberia; sadly confused the wind delays it; the sweet song in my throat freezes and shadows of pain cover my mind. Ah, that suffering voice, that America denotes with its pity and on these beaches the ocean casts, “He died,” is uttered, “the ardent patriot…” “He died”, repeated “the Cuban troubador.” And a sad echo moans in the distance, “the sublime singer from Niagara died!” - Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda

I carry the subject of death very badly. I bow before death with too much grief. Just by peering at a roof I can fall overwhelmed by fear.

This week I wake with the memory of those who have passed on. My parents, my friends, my poets, my personal saints.

The soul, the body, the emptiness, the abandonment or slipstream that our most beloved dead leave, fight within me with severe injuries.

This week the world’s newspapers talk about death, confinement, the hunger strikes in my country. My head and my body are trapped in a bird cage that is the act of dying.

For many cultures it is a cycle that is closed to open other cycles that are clear and bright. This is the way I should see it, as death to me appears to be the end of everything. But death weighs me down and casts me toward a powerful darkness.

It always appeared normal to me that someone would decide to die rather that live indefinitely with an incurable illness. Always, even when the dilemma of euthanasia touched me closely. I looked at the still living body of my mother, looked at her face and closed myself off from any possibility other than finding a miracle or unearthing a hope. I convinced myself that in the care of the body that still flutters before us, hope lives.

The cage of life opens.

I mishandle death but one must confront it. Six Marches back, I had surrendered before my mother on the day of her death. Continue reading

Completely dismantled, the farce against Angel Santiesteban continues in an unknown location

Angel continues being held in an unknown location, transferred illegally and without being able to communicate to his family, a few days after his son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban Rodriguez, told the truth about what happened when he was only a child. He now is a 16-year-old adolescent.

Forced and manipulated by his mother — Kenia Diley Rodriguez — and Castro’s State Security, he has told now that the objective was to harm his father and declare against him. He said that he never saw anything of what his mother said Angel had done to her, and that everything is a plot in order to punish Angel for his dissidence, and that his mother, for motives of “love,” collaborated with the Regime to lie.

It’s important to clarify that the ex-partner was the one who abandoned Angel and the two-and-a half-year-old boy, a little before she started to make up false accusations against him.

She abandoned him after deceiving him with a lover who had made promises to her that later he didn’t keep, and she, disenchanted with that lover, decided to try to win him back, something she couldn’t do, because he had already formed a stable partnership with a very well-known and beautiful Cuban actress. Kenia, disgusted and jealous, formed a new partnership with an agent of the political police, and from that moment the false accusations rained down. Continue reading

Extremely Urgent: Angel Santiesteban Remains Missing

Angel’s whereabouts remain unknown; the authorities have not mentioned his transfer, and when his son, a minor, Eduardo Santiesteban calls the prison to obtain information they tell him that Angel “escaped.”

We demand the immediate appearance of Angel in perfect condition, the restoration of ALL of his rights, a review of his trial with all of the guarantees denied until now, and we hold Raul Castro Ruz fully responsible for Angel and his son Eduardo’s safety. We remind you that there are NO possible “accidents” and that everyone’s eyes are upon you and Angel. There is NO place for more impunity.

We will not stop denouncing what you have done and continue to do against this acclaimed writer, and we demand justice and his release.

The Editor

Angel Santiesteban is a peaceful activist who has not committed any crimes for which the Cuban political police are now condemning him.

A video in Spanish with a telephone interview of Angel’s son and others is available here.

Translated by: Marlena Papavaritis

24 July 2014

S.O.S. Imminent Transfer: Am I more dangerous than the murderers? / Angel Santiesteban

In the most total secrecy, State Security is preparing my transfer to a military unit of border guards.

In the last few days, a rumor started that now has become plausible, inasmuch as the prison authorities are waiting for my transfer in order to bring me to a Minister or a Vice-Minister of Construction who keeps convicts for “diversion of resources,” and in no way can they clash with me, fearing that I will get information from them and later divulge it in my blog.

After a prisoner escaped and managed to reach Miami, State Security ordered that the surveillance on me be strengthened, so they set up a 24-hour command post and kept every movement that I make inside the settlement under supervision.

A few minutes ago, they just ordered a welding of some bars to secure the place where they’re taking me, and the bars have to be placed in the frontier-guard unit before morning.

Evidently, they will keep me more guarded and isolated there. Another chapter begins in this journey of injustice, for my dangerous crime of thinking differently.

I reaffirm that I am stronger than the first day of imprisonment. It’s an honor that they commit these extremes against me — for exercising the craft of thinking and expressing my opposition to the dictatorial regime that has suppressed our country for more than a half-century — while they accept murderers, drug traffickers and rapists, whom they barely harass or watch, like they do in my case.

Long live Cuba, and let it be free.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement, July 2014.

Follow the link to sign the petition to have Amnesty International declare Angel Santestieban-Prats a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy

21 July 2014

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet / Regina Coyula

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet…

…or thought I was, which is worse. In keeping with this, I would have become a “fine poet of felt verses,” as literary criticism says when it has nothing better to say. Common sense and love of writing have left me here, where I feel so comfortable. I found a very yellowed piece of lined paper bearing this text typed by an Underwood, following an interminable train ride from Santa Clara to Havana taken along with a group of youths who were returning from a rock festival. Speaking of Frank Abel, does anyone know what has become of him?

HEAVY METAL

To Frank Abel Dopico 

The rock-and-rollers love the nocturnality of trains

then

the rockers run away from home

they beg for money at the station

and they go to another province

to imagine what it’s like to travel.

In the parks

the rockers are blue

they make love and urinate in the solitude of sidewalks

all pleasure they find in the cross-eyed hands of Jimmy Page.

They have a calling to be cops, the rockers

they raise the decibels

exorcism by percussion

it’s the train and it’s Led Zeppelin

there is a monastic silence in the rockers

they tear their hair and they huddle to weep in the corner of the car.

They don’t think of the following day

they clasp their hands and kiss the crucifix.

The sweet rockers

rehearse with amphetamines and other complications

to imagine how it is

to travel.

(June 19, 1990)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 July 2014

Gerardo Machado: Was He Really an Ass with Claws? / David Canela Pina / HemosOido

MIAMI, Florida. — In the North Cemetery of Woodlawn Park, in Miami, lie the remains of the former Cuban president Gerardo Machado y Morales (1871-1939), who was the politician who constructed the most works during the Republic, and also was the first who opposed the international influence of communism.

To Machado, the new writing of history is simplified by a caricature: the ass without paws, and as all that is not convenient to them, they leave his image, alone and deformed, surrounded by a sea of silence, in which the only thing heard is the murmurings of the communists.

Was he a dictator? Yes. One that induced a reform in the Constitution in 1901, to govern for ten years? Yes, but he was highly adored, in an epoch quite convulsive. Did he close the University of La Habana (Havana), in 1930? Yes, but he had constructed  its staircase, and the then new buildings of the Colina — including the School of Engineers and Architects,which today is in ruins.

Did he suspend constitutional guarantees? Yes, but terrorism had seized control of the streets, and there did not exist negotiations with opposing groups. Did he engage in political assassinations and torture? Yes, but not so much as since 1959. Continue reading

Frida Kahlo / Rebeca Monzo

The daughter of a Mexican mother and German father, Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico on July 7, 1910.

She attended the Escuela Normal de Maestros and graduated from the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. She dreamed of becoming a doctor until a terrible accident destroyed her body, forcing her to lay in bed for many months and receive painful treatments, causing her to stop studying medicine.

In the midst of her dramatic convalescence, her iron will and attachment to life led her to become extensively self-taught in the arts and the mysteries of painting. She became an artist and took advantage of her knowledge to teach classes at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in spite of her physical limitations.

Her first exhibitions demonstrated her talent, which she continued to develop and which culminated in a magnificent work, turning her into one of the most famous painters of her type worldwide.

She impressed upon her work all the pain, feeling, and sensitivity that characterized her life. The memory of Frida is inextricably linked to the great muralist Diego Rivera, who was her husband, lover, confidant, and greatest critic and admirer. In spite of a tempestuous marital relationship, art united them until the end of her life, on July 13, 1954.

This month, Mexico pays homage to those who hold a seat of honor in the plastic arts of the 20th century. I am also joining in this commemoration since Frida was a source of inspiration and presence in my patchwork art.

Frida Kahlo narrated her life through painted images. The painting of this great artist is like no one else’s. As Diego Rivera, her husband, pointed out one day, she “is the only example of the history of art, of someone who tore open her breast and heart to tell the biological truth of what she feels in them.”

Most of her work is unknown; it is held in private collections and by friends. The value of it grows each day.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

21 July 2014

There Is None So Blind As He Who Refuses to See / Rebeca Monzo

For several days now I have not published a post, despite my desires to do so and the nagging thought that it wasn’t getting done.

It is true that the World Cup robbed part of my attention, but that was not what impeded my writing. Rather, it was all the tasks that were piling up in relation to an upcoming exhibition of my works. Preparing for this event takes a lot of effort and dedication, as does the negotiating required to obtain adequate materials.

Even so, with all due respect, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, and the statements she delivered in the University of Havana’s Grand Hall, during the unsuitably named magisterial conference. Dr. Chan expressed that, thanks to the Cuban government, our people do not eat junk food. She also praised the work of our public health.

I really do not comprehend how these people, who occupy such relevant posts in the United Nations (UN), take at face value the reports provided by totalitarian regimes, without taking the trouble to check the facts through other means and compare other data.

Most of us know that these people are hosted in our country by high-level officials, and that they are taken over and over to the same places, which obviously are set up for such purposes, e.g.: a certain floor of Almejeiras Hospital, the Biotechnology department, and the La Castellana special school for differentiated teaching, among others. In addition, the visitors are customarily taken down 5th Avenue in Miramar, and they never stop at locations that aren’t set up for these political purposes.

How is it possible that the supreme body that oversees all of these organizations — the UN — has yet to take the trouble to look into these matters more deeply?

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 July 2014

The Ochoa Case: A Point of Inflection / 14ymedio

IGNACIO VARONA, 14ymedio, Havana, Cuba | 13 July 2014 – The Cuban government’s support for the Soviet tank invasion of Czechoslovakia, the failure of the 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest, the case of Heberto Padilla, the repudiation rallies of 1980, and Cuba’s Black Spring are chief among the breaking points for many who at one time backed the Cuban Revolution. A political process that at its beginnings more than a half century ago enjoyed strong approval inside and outside the island has become increasingly characterized by deception. This persistent flux from believing to not believing has made critics out of former sympathizers, and antagonists out of those who once gave ovations.

Inside Cuba, one instance of major fracture in the support for the revolution was the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa. This event took place on July 13, 1989, exactly 25 years ago. Along with him were executed three high-level officials of the Ministry of Armed Forces (MINFAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). A military court found them guilty of — and condemned them to death for — the crimes of drug trafficking and high treason.

Never will it be known the true extent of the disillusionment caused by this event in many communist militants as well as the rest of the population. The disappointment amongst the people that emanated from the so-called “Case Number 1″ of 1989 fed the decision of many individuals to take the step toward dissension. Numerous dissidents cite this judicial process and its extreme sentences as the moment when they broke with the party line.

The 1990s could not be understood without the precedent of a televised trial that riveted millions of Cubans to the small screen, as if to the most impelling soap opera. After long days of hearing allegations and accusations, a bond was established between the TV audience and the figure of Ochoa that nobody could have foreseen. This “connection” consisted of a combination of respect and pity, to which was added the silent hope that the sentences requested by the prosecutors would not actually be applied in their full severity.

“I sat in front of the television set believing in the system, and when I arose I no longer believed in anything”, said María López, who at that time belonged to the Young Communists League (UJC). A few months after “El Indio” (“The Indian”) — as Ochoa was popularly called by some — Maria turned in her UJC membership card. “I could not tolerate such cruelty, besides which it always seemed to me that what came out in that trial was not the full truth,” she concluded. Like her, an unpublicized number of other militants distanced themselves from the organization, severing their ties or assuming a less aggressive stance.

The “Balseros” (Rafters) Crisis that would occur five years later was comprised of individuals who, besides suffering the miseries of the Special Period, had lived through the trial. Part of the disillusionment that would manifest in fragile vessels crossing the Florida Straits emanated from that event. Although hunger and the lack of prospects where the primary goads toward the exodus, for many of those who launched themselves to the sea, the death of of Arnaldo Ochoa had contributed to severing their emotional ties to the system.

“It was the moment in which totalitarianism removed its mask”, noted Ezequiel Méndez, who is now based in Los Angeles, USA. On that July 13, Ezequiel had guard duty in the unit where he was serving his compulsory military service. He remembers seeing the “long faces of the officers, which gave us to understand that something was going on”. Within the army, the execution of these four military men was especially disturbing, but fear and silence were the major expressions of this emotion. “In the mess hall, when the TV set was turned on for the broadcast of the trial, nobody said a word…everyone was very, very quiet”, recalls Ezequiel about those days.

A quarter century after the effect of those executions, the disappointment has not diminished. Rather, other disappointments have been added to it. The government was never able to recapture lost sympathy, and the days are over when military feats produced heroes.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

There You Go Again / Fernando Damaso

Often the resolutions of the United Nations’ Committees are worthy of laughter.  So it happens with the recent resolution by the Decolonization Committee, ratifying the right of Puerto Rico to self-determination. The initiative was presented by Cuba, with the sponsorship of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia and the intervention of Syria. Birds of a feather flock together.

Maybe this Committee is unaware that the Puerto Rican people have voted repeatedly about this, always defeating the independence option with a minimal (4%) vote?  Is it unknown that in the last referendum, the majority voted for annexation to the United States as the 51st State, unlike previous votes where there was a tie of 48% who preferred the current status and those who opted for annexation, for a grand total of 96%, against 4% who wanted to be independent?

Of course the Committee and its members know all this, but they entertain themselves in continuing to waste time. It is said that it is the 33rd time that a similar document was approved. How many times is it necessary to trip on the same rock? They also confirmed the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico, which, due to obvious geography, no one denies. But also Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Granada, Aruba, Grand Cayman, Guadalupe, Virgin Islands, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, etc., are Caribbean, united by the language, history and traditions of Great Britain, France, Holland, and the United States, and no one questions them.

Perhaps it is intended to include Puerto Rico, against the desires of the majority of its citizens, in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States?  Who thinks the Puerto Ricans are going to trade for a pig in a poke?

If the Committee has no work to do, because they no longer have anyone to decolonize, it is better that it disband, and its members can dedicate themselves to something more useful.  Thus they would at least help reduce the high costs of the United Nations.

Translated by mlk.

30 June 2014