The Drug Trafficking Country / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

Chapultepec Castle

Mexico City is one of the safest places for the families of the kingpins of the Mexican mafia. In spite of having a corrupt government, the politicians know the importance of protecting the capital. Even though drug trafficking is out at the doorstep.

Alejandro has awakened — silence does not exist — the sirens of patrol cars, ambulances or fire trucks are part of the vitality of the city. He can check his cellphone for today’s smog index in the area.

Walking towards an OXXO store his eyes water because of the pollution. Today most residents will not go out into the streets unless necessary. Some vehicles also are prohibited from circulating in order to reduce pollution.

The decision to go out into the street intimidates him a little because of the stories he has heard, the violence and disputes of the mafia in that country. In spite of the rumors,

Alejandro begins to adapt to the Mexican climate and society (very polite). The mafia stories begin to form a part of a myth (it exists), but he is confident. Another day begins, and Alejandro walking to the bread store observes a display of federal police, awaiting some supposed protest march.

The image of the police does not affect him but the tranquility of expecting to close the streets with railing close to four meters tall. They do not permit passage but nor do they refuse the right to protest or demand something. That is something called DEMOCRACY.

Translated by mlk.

14 April 2014

Cuba: The Clueless Official Press / Ivan Garcia

granma-620x330
There is an abysmal gap between daily reality and the information offered by a clueless official press.  Never in Granma, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) Trabajadores (Workers) or any of the 15 provincial press organs was there news of the Castro regime’s flagrant arms smuggling to North Korea in violation of the United Nations’ embargo of the Pyongyang dynasty.

The boring and disoriented national press, print, radio or television, to date, has not reported about the spaces open for dialogue by the Catholic Church. Or local news that has had resonance, like the protest by self-employed workers in Holguin or the unlikely walk by a nude woman in the city of Camaguey.

They also ignore less tense or contentious matters, like the visit to Cuba by Big League ball players Ken Griffey, Jr., and Barry Larkin or by famous people like Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay Z.

Neither does it interest them for readers or viewers to find out that Cuban artists and musicians resident abroad visit the island and give performances, as in the cases of Isaac Delgado, Descemer Bueno and Tanya, among others.

They don’t even publish an article to analyze the insane prices for car sales or internet services.

On international topics, the old trick is to show only a part of the event.  For those who only read official media and do not have access to other sources of information, those who protest in Ukraine, Venezuela or Turkey are terrorists or fascists.

In Cuba it was never published that the dictator Kim Jong Un summarily executed his uncle.  Likewise, they kept silent about the atrocities that happen in the concentration camps of North Korea.  And about the degrading treatment of women in Iran.

Newsprint is usually occupied by cultural commentary and sports in an undertone, the television schedule, optimistic news about agricultural production or the good progress of economic reforms dictated by President Raul Castro and his advisors.

Apparently, they considered it inopportune to inform Cubans about the talks between the Cuban-American sugar millionaire Alfonso Fanjul and Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez.  Nor did they think it convenient for the common people to know that Antonio Castro, the son of Fidel, plays in golf tournaments.

Or that recently entrepreneurs with bulging wallets paid 234 thousand dollars for a handmade Montecristo tobacco humidor at the 16th Havana Festival where the most well known guest was the British singer Tom Jones.

Local reporting is directed by inflexible ideologies that presume that behind the vaunted freedom of the press is hidden a “military operation by the United States’ secret services.”

And they take it seriously. As if dealing with a matter of national security. That’s why the newspapers are soldiers of reporting.  Disciplined copyists.

For the Taliban of the Communist Party, the internet and social networks are a modern way of selling capitalism from a distance. The new times have caught them without many arguments. They assert they have the truth, but the fear the citizens testing it for themselves.

Reading of certain reports should be suggested by the magnanimous State.  They think, and they believe, that naive countrymen are not prepared or sufficiently inoculated for the propagandic venom of the world’s media.

Not even Raul Castro has managed to break the stubborn censorship and habitual torpor of the official press.  For years, Castro has spoken of turning the press into something believable, entertaining and attractive. But nothing has changed.

Destined for foreign consumption, official web pages and blogs have been opened. With their own voice they try to promote the illusion of an opening. The warriors of the word are for domestic consumption.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  Taken from the Cuadernos de Cuba blog.

Translated by mlk.

26 March 2014

Studying Medicine and Desecrating Tombs in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Since 1948, when the UN decided to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many organizations and activists of the world have hoisted that dignified flag confronting the daily violations of liberty, justice and peace that many people suffer for the simple fact of their human condition.

Unfortunately, in several corners of this jungle that we call Earth, human rights entered a dark period due to the infinite apathy of many of its residents.  Barbarity is like our daily bread, and that makes it more or less normal.

In my country, for example, the topic is always a subject of controversy and debate; but today, I will not make reference to the rights of the living; I will speak of those who no longer exist, of our forebears, who are not the monkey, the Ardipithecus or the Australopithcus; but my mother and your grandfather.

Skulls, teeth, tibias, ribs, femurs, mandibles, vertebrae, pelvises; it is all found at the cemetery gate.  The desecration of graves has gone from being a horrible act of vandalism to an almost daily event.

But, “why is the toti always saddled with the blame for everything*”; uninformed metaphorics and made up know-it-alls, instead of finding out at the time of judging, they launch the accusing roar towards the many practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions who make up our folklore and form part of our cultural heritage.

In Santeria and witchcraft there are very but very isolated rites that require a human skeleton; there also exist artisans who buy bones in order to construct objects with them that they sell for the price of gold; but the absolutely responsible party for this atrocity against our dear ones is, as always, the State.

Ad nauseum the thought is drilled into us that since 1959, the development of medicine has been the principal priority of the revolutionary government, and in fact, Cuba boasts the highest physician-inhabitant ratio in the world.  Thousands of doctors are graduated each year on the island, and I tell you, each of these students, without regard to race, color, sex, language or religion (come on, like human rights), receives a bag with a skull and parts of human skeletal remains that if insufficient to study anatomy, then they get a card that they present at Cuban cemeteries in order to exhume from among the graves without owners the remains of those who in life were relatives of the unnamed, emigrated and exiled dead.

In order to have a slight idea of the desecrated graves, we would have to compare the number of bags delivered with the gross rate of Cuban mortality which, according to the reference published by the UN and sent by Havana, was 7.6 in 2012.  The same year in which — according to the extensive editorial by the website Cubadebate — the largest of the Antilles Islands trained more than 11,000 new doctors, 5,315 Cubans and 5,694 from 59 countries.  Scary.  I do not favor statistics when I write, nevertheless the exception deserves it.

Just a day like today, April 7, but in 1985, one of the most renowned Cuban visual artists, Rene Portocarrero, died.  His remains . . . I do not want to even think where they might be.

*Translator’s note: In “good Cuban” the expression is: “porqué la culpa de todo, siempre la carga el totí.”  It means several things: that someone small always ends up being accused of what others did, or that the blame always falls on the same notorious people regardless or whether or not they were actually involved, and also, that black people always get blamed for things. The totí (a.k.a. Cuban Blackbird) is a small black bird from the Cuban countryside that is notorious for eating crops and other human foods.

Translated by mlk.

10 April 2014

The Summer when God Slept: “Novels From the Drawer” Prize Winner reprinted for International Distribution

(Photo courtesy of Neo Club Press)

I have the pleasure to announce that my work, which won the 2013 International Franz Kafka Novels From the Drawer Prize 2013, “The Summer when God Slept,” will be reprinted in coming weeks by Neo Club Editions, an independent publisher located in Miami and directed by the Cuban writer Armando Añel.

Owing to the fact that the original edition, printed in the Czech Republic, according to the rules established for the award, is destined for the Cuban reader on the island, I agreed with Neo Club Editions to make this second edition, which will consist of a greater number of copies, with the idea of reaching what I consider, in addition to Cuba, natural markets for my work: Miami and Spain. The book, furthermore, will be available in ebook format and paperback through Amazon’s channels of international distribution.

Idabell Rosales – president of Neo Club Editions – together with Armando Añel, heads this project so that those of us who are censored and excluded for political reasons from cultural promotion in Cuba can publish our works in freedom and let them be known outside our country.

Thanks to this important and necessary idea, for example, a door has been opened wider to international promotion of the poetry of the writer Rafael Vilches Proenza, a friend enraged by the repression, which already on two occasions threw out works that he had in cultural institutions in Holguín and Santa Clara. The publication of the beautiful poem, “Café Amargo” (“Bitter Coffee”), besides rescuing the work of a writer censured for not bowing to official impositions, is an act of literary justice for one of the most outstanding poets of my generation.

When there’s another reunion on the island to celebrate another Congress of UNEAC in which, same as in the previous ones, no substantial change will happen that hasn’t already been predetermined, because now it’s known that the guild of creators responds only to the interests of the State and thus is converted into a useless and deceptive organization,

I will celebrate – thanks to the project and the generosity of Armando and Idabell – that my novel will be able to be read in the rest of the world, the same as the valuable Cuban literary production of Cuban writers in exile that Neo Club Editions includes in its catalogue.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement, April 2014

Have Amnesty International declare the dissident Cuban Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy
11 April 2014

Angel Santiesteban’s Work Again Recognized in France

The dictator Raul Castro continues stubbornly to make the world believe that he’s bringing to Cuba an opening that in reality doesn’t exist. He continues being the same dictator as always, violating the rights of all Cubans, submitting them to misery, censoring the press, harassing, beating and imprisoning peaceful opponents.

Angel Santiesteban, unjustly imprisoned, has completed one year after a rigged trial for some crimes that his ex-wife and mother of his son invented together with the political police. They sought to silence his critical voice against the dictatorship, but they have not succeeded. No punishment, beatings or prison itself has made a dent in him.

And by keeping him locked up, the dictator hasn’t prevented his literature from continuing to be recognized in the world, which condemns the injustice against him.

Again in France, this time in Marseille, his book of stories, “Laura in Havana”, published in 2012 by L’Atinoir, will be presented before the public.

Raul Castro continues violating his own law, taking away Angel’s passes that he is supposed to get every sixty days. It doesn’t matter to Angel, because when his companions go to visit their families, he takes even more advantage of the time and the calm to continue writing.

The Editor

A meeting

We invite you to a convivial meeting with Jacques Aubergy and Rasky Beldjoudi, Saturday, April 12, at 5:00 p.m. at the Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai (House For All of the Belle of May).

 

Jacques Aubergy is a translator, bookseller and publisher. His publishing house, L’Atinoir, publishes authors of noir fiction and Latin American writers.

He will speak to us of his trade, how he chooses his books, and will make us know intimately and with passion some marvels of Latin American literature chosen by him.

He will also present the book, “Laura in Havana,” a collection of ten short stories by Angel Santiesteban-Prats, published by Atinoir.

Angel Santiesteban Prats is one of the greatest Cuban authors, presently in prison after having openly criticized his country’s system. His imprisonment has generated strong support from Reporters Without Borders and the world-wide community of bloggers.

An enthralling book

“The Eleventh Commandment” is a book by Rasky Beldjoudi, a resident of the Belle de Mai.

The name Rasky Beldjoudi will surely mean nothing in particlar to you. You have never noticed him, although it’s very probable that you have already seen him on Caffo Square or perhaps, one day, sitting next to you on bus 32.

However, Rasky is impressive, muscular, and his Belgian accent with a Kabyle (Berber) accent leaves no one indifferent. Since his infancy, Rasky has accumulated difficulties. From scholastic failures to precarious employment, he knew years of struggle and the hell of drugs.

In spite of an uneven road and a life story that is sometimes not very glorious, he succeeded in rising above the circumstances of his life and has just published “The Eleventh Commandment”: an enthralling autobiography, written in a remarkable style, full of humanity, and unbelievably touching.

Nicolás ROMAN BORRE

Saturday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m.

Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai

6 Blvd. Boyer, 13003 Marseille

Free admission

Event organized by Brouettes & Compagnie, the association CIN-CO and the Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai.

Translated by Regina Anavy
4 April 2014

Guille, The Macho Guajiro / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban Prats dedicates this article to Guillermo Vidal, to remember the tenth anniversary of his death. He wrote it from the Lawton Prison Settlement for the column “Some Write” from the digital magazine “OtroLunes” (“Another Monday”).

By Angel Santiesteban Prats

It’s always a pleasure to remember Guillermo Vidal.

Sharing with him the adventure of writing has been one of the great rewards that life has offered me. His sympathy, modesty and talent seasoned his conversations. He was a man called to make friends, easy to like, and always persecuted by injustice, since they never could make him bow down. He maintained his literature at a high price, because he didn’t yield even one iota of his level of social criticism.

When they expelled him as a professor from the university, they didn’t even ask how he was going to live or maintain his family. Being despised and marginalized by the government of his territory in Las Tunas, by the demand of the political police, he became himself.

He was part of an intellectual existence that he accepted with stoicism, without complaint, which he endured in solitude and repaid with brilliant writing. That was his revenge.

After treating him like the plague for many years, the government offered a tribute to an official writer, and we agreed to attend if Guille would be among those invited. Once there, in the seat of the Provincial Party, in the same lair as the dictatorship, one of us said publicly that our presence had no other end but to lionize Guillermo Vidal, the most important living writer of Las Tunas, and one of the most important in the country; that it was a way of supporting him and demonstrating our friendship.

The government functionaries and those in charge of culture opened their eyes, surprised by the audacity. Those were the times when we still had not gained some rights that we have now, and where for much less than what is done today, there were immediate reprisals.

What is certain is that on that night and in the following days, we felt like better people and better intellectuals for showing our solidarity with him. Later he let us know that, from that moment, things got better for him. He stopped being banned and persecuted, because the authorities feared his contacts in the country, especially in Havana.

Now that we are on the eve of another congress of UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), I remember what happened during the decade of the ’90s. After the vote to name the officers, Professor Ana Cairo, the officer of the Roger Avila Association of Writers, and I counted the votes, and there were a surprising number of artists who voted for Guillermo Vidal.

No one else had as many votes; no one even came close. However, later, when I saw who they elected, I understood that the votes were only a game, because Abel Prieto determined the election. They didn’t give any commission to Guillermo Vidal, not even in his own province. He was cursed, on the list of the marginalized.

When he died, it caused an infinite sadness, impossible to describe. I called the Institute of the Book (ICL), since I knew that they would have transport to take writers who wanted to participate in his burial.

The Taliban Iroel Sanchez, at that time the President of this institution, assured me that the microbus already had seats assigned. Of course, he was lying to me, and I intuited that in his words. Later, those who made the trip in that transport told me that not all the seats were taken.

I regretted very much not being able to say goodbye to him in that last moment. They feared that the truth would come out: that they had condemned him in life by closing all the doors to him that he knew his literature, a stroke of talent, would win. Surely I would have said that.

You can’t talk about Cuban literature at the end of the 20th century without mentioning the genres of the short story and the novel. However, in spite of the human misery that surrounded him, and the material poverty they obliged him to suffer, his genius at being a good Cuban jokester is the first thing that comes to mind when we think about him. That’s how I want to remember him now.

The book fairs in Havana take place in February and almost always coincide with his birthday, the 10th, that all his friends celebrated in harmony. We also celebrated February 14. I have one of his books, presented to me during those days, and I remember the dedication to me that “in spite of it being the day of love (Valentine’s Day), don’t get me wrong, I was a macho, macho guajiro.”

He had a spectacular snore. It almost loosened the nails from the beams and raised the roof. When you approached his room, the first sensation was that there was a roaring lion inside. The result? No one wanted to share a room with him.

Once, late in the night in Ciego de Avila, I met another writer from Las Tunas, Carlos Esquivel, literally crying in the lobby of the hotel because he couldn’t manage to sleep with those snorts.

When I described this scene the next day to Guillermo, he laughed like a naughty child. He asked me to repeat the story so he could continue to amuse himself, and he called for the others to listen to what suffering he was capable of inflicting, unconsciously.

In one of the prizes he won, and there were several, he had the luck to receive dollars. Then we got a telephone call saying that he was a relative of Rockefeller, and that he was ready to share his fortune; thus, he was generous. Certainly, in those few months I didn’t have a cent, and he continued in his material poverty. No one except his friends and spouse could believe him.

At one book fair in Guadalajara he told me that sometimes he had the impression that the government permitted him to leave to see if he stayed and they would get rid of him, and he laughed imagining the faces of the functionaries when they saw him return.

In one of his visits to Havana, he confessed to me how surprised he was because another writer told him that he envied him, and he couldn’t conceive of being anyone to envy, and he laughed. “When I go home from the university, at high noon, the cars pass me and no one gives me a ride, and they leave me wrapped in dust to the point that I stop breathing so I don’t swallow the dust,” he said, and he began to laugh.

Then I told him that I would exchange all that poverty for his books, that I also envied him, and he got serious, and in a respectful tone asked me if I was serious.

Thus he always comes into my memory, ironic as the priest’s pardon after confessing sins, and as sweet as the tamarind that they give the leaders to taste.

This year is the tenth anniversary of his physical disappearance. And every year, in spite of some mediocre political and cultural figures who agree to forget him, the imprint of Guillermo Vidal on Cuban culture overrides frontiers and political regimes. And this is elaborated with the passage of time, which was the only thing he didn’t laugh about. To struggle against time through writing was an exercise on which he bet his life.

Published in OtroLunes.

Please follow the link and sign the petition to have Amnesty International declare the Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy

9 April 2014

Cuba: Changes Come, Although the General May Not Want Them To / Juan Juan Almeida

For more than half a century, the Cuban Revolution developed exclusively inspired by the powerful and omnipresent archetype Fidel Castro.  An image that no longer exists or is hidden is the dressing rooms of the current political-economic-social theater. That is why when someone asks me if there exist in Cuba objective and subjective conditions for forging change, I always begin by saying: It depends on what we understand and want to assume by “Change.”

It is clear that the so extended process called the Cuban Revolution did not lead to a more just or prosperous or inclusive society, but to a strange and irrational collapse that still endures. The seizure of all powers, judicial and executive, did away with the legal protection of the citizen, and imposed apathy and fear; like that singular combination that exists between a cup of coffee with milk and a piece of bread with butter.

The old Asian theory that speaks of two elements is the basis of the idea that all phenomena of the universe are the result of the movement and mutation of various categories.  The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the yin and the yang.

The presence of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the chief of the political department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and the misguided intervention of the President of the Republic of Cuba in the closing event of the recently held Eighth Congress of UNEAC was a terrible implementation of this old theory, and a disastrous strategy for showing the authority of the Government and the State, and at the same time it tried to reconquer the intelligentsia that as we all now know appears because of obstinacy, compromise, inertia or boredom, but that for some time, due to these same reasons, distanced itself from the Revolution.

The island’s government, upon the prompt and unstoppable disappearance if its leader-guide-priest and example, manages to entertain by talking of transformation while it intimidates us, leaving very clear the place of each in its chain of command.Many times we have seen dissident voices that issue from within the island repressed using mental patients with disorders like bi-polar and schizophrenia that without adequate medication exhibit extremely violent behaviors.  Outrageous.

I ask myself what the representatives of international organizations do, or what  those sensitive and passionate people who decided to defend vehemently and peevishly the Hippocratic oath say, on learning that the mentally ill are used as deadly weapons.

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic, at that time the safest boat in the world, crashed into an iceberg, and while it was sinking, the orchestra played.  In all ways, whether the general wants it or not, change is coming, although I have to admit that since 2008, the man has exerted himself in confusing us with an imaginary and mythological climate of national improvements and radical reforms; on one hand he shows several political prisoners, and on the other he hides political prisoners from us (here the order of the factors does alter the product).

According to the Marxist bible, the Communist Manifesto, a transformation of the structure of the classes demands a change in the social order and a political revolution.

La Habana decided to wind up its old and rusted clock because it had turned into quite the brake.

Translated by mlk.

14 April 2014

Angel Santiesteban’s Work Again Recognized in France

The dictator Raul Castro continues stubbornly to make the world believe that he’s bringing to Cuba an opening that in reality doesn’t exist. He continues being the same dictator as always, violating the rights of all Cubans, submitting them to misery, censoring the press, harassing, beating and imprisoning peaceful opponents.

Angel Santiesteban, unjustly imprisoned, has completed one year after a rigged trial for some crimes that his ex-wife and mother of his son invented together with the political police. They sought to silence his critical voice against the dictatorship, but they have not succeeded. No punishment, beatings or prison itself has made a dent in him.

And by keeping him locked up, the dictator hasn’t prevented his literature from continuing to be recognized in the world, which condemns the injustice against him.

Again in France, this time in Marseille, his book of stories, “Laura in Havana”, published in 2012 by L’Atinoir, will be presented before the public.

Raul Castro continues violating his own law, taking away Angel’s passes that he is supposed to get every sixty days. It doesn’t matter to Angel, because when his companions go to visit their families, he takes even more advantage of the time and the calm to continue writing.

The Editor

A meeting

We invite you to a convivial meeting with Jacques Aubergy and Rasky Beldjoudi, Saturday, April 12, at 5:00 p.m. at the Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai (House For All of the Belle of May).

Jacques Aubergy is a translator, bookseller and publisher. His publishing house, L’Atinoir, publishes authors of noir fiction and Latin American writers.

He will speak to us of his trade, how he chooses his books, and will make us know intimately and with passion some marvels of Latin American literature chosen by him.

He will also present the book, “Laura in Havana,” a collection of ten short stories by Angel Santiesteban-Prats, published by Atinoir.

Angel Santiesteban Prats is one of the greatest Cuban authors, presently in prison after having openly criticized his country’s system. His imprisonment has generated strong support from Reporters Without Borders and the world-wide community of bloggers.

An enthralling book

“The Eleventh Commandment” is a book by Rasky Beldjoudi, a resident of the Belle de Mai.

The name Rasky Beldjoudi will surely mean nothing in particlar to you. You have never noticed him, although it’s very probable that you have already seen him on Caffo Square or perhaps, one day, sitting next to you on bus 32.

However, Rasky is impressive, muscular, and his Belgian accent with a Kabyle (Berber) accent leaves no one indifferent. Since his infancy, Rasky has accumulated difficulties. From scholastic failures to precarious employment, he knew years of struggle and the hell of drugs.

In spite of an uneven road and a life story that is sometimes not very glorious, he succeeded in rising above the circumstances of his life and has just published “The Eleventh Commandment”: an enthralling autobiography, written in a remarkable style, full of humanity, and unbelievably touching.

Nicolás ROMAN BORRE

Saturday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m., Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai, 6 Blvd. Boyer, 13003 Marseille

Free admission

Event organized by Brouettes & Compagnie, the association CIN-CO and the Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai.

To sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience follow the link.

 

Translated by Regina Anavy

UNEAC Complicit In Its Silence / Angel Santiesteban

Previously I have said that in the circus exercise called court, which I attended with the sentence already dictated by State Security, as I was made to know long before by one of their henchmen, a fact that I made known publicly — and which the judges in the First Chamber of Crimes Against State Security executed, in their special headquarters for notorious crimes on Carmen and Juan Delgado, when it was supposed that my crime was common — officials of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC) attended, sent by their president Miguel Barnet to watch the show, like poet Alex Pausides, accompanied by the legal official, who said that to his understanding what the prosecution could present against me was smoke, like the report of that handwriting expert who said that the height and slant of my handwriting made me guilty.

At the exit, the poet and Communist Party member Alex Pausides as well as the legal official, said that I would be absolved given that what was presented, and according to what was exposed in the oral ceremony, I could not be judged, especially when I presented five witnesses who demolished those accusations.

caption

Dear members of UNEAC (take note). Angel Santiesteban, Revolutionarily, Me

Then, when they found me guilty, my lawyer went to UNEAC and left all the documents that corroborated my innocence and that they requested for presentation to Miguel Barnet, but we never received an answer, they kept silent.

Of course, I am not naive, I never expected a reaction from UNEAC, I always knew what they would do, but above all, what they would not do, and they have fulfilled my predictions.  I understood that they would take that posture because I believe in history like a religion, and I knew that history would yield that despicable stance. Their silence is their shamelessness.  And that shamelessness is now written in our history.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement.  April 2014.

To sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience follow the link.

Translated by mlk.

“I Only Know That I Am Afraid” / Tania Diez Castro

HAVANA, Cuba — For almost the first three years of his regime, Fidel Castro was not interested in Cuban intellectuals. He did not forgive their passivity during the years of revolutionary insurrection. They had not put bombs in the street, nor did they engage in armed conflict with the previous dictator’s police. Even those who lived abroad did not do anything for the revolutionary triumph. He never forgave them. Neither he nor other political leaders considered them revolutionaries either before or after the Revolution.

Che Guevara had left it written forever in his little Marxist manual Socialism and Man in Cuba: “The guilt of many of our intellectuals and artists resides in their original sin: they are not authentically revolutionary. We can try to graft the elm tree so that it will produce pears, but at the same time we must plant pear trees.”

But the pears that Che mentioned had nothing to do with human beings because an intellectual, writer or artist is characterized by his sensitivity, his pride, his sincerity. In general, they are solitary and proud.

But also they are, and that is their misfortune, an easy nut to crack, above all for a dictator with good spurs.

During those almost first three years of the Revolution, the most convulsive of the Castro regime — the number of those shot increased and the few jails were stuffed with more than 10,000 political prisoners — surely writers did not fail to observe how Fidel Castro was cracking the free press when after December 27, 1959, he gave the order to introduce the first “post-scripts” at the bottom of articles adverse to his government, supposedly written by the graphics workers.

It was evident that Fidel Castro, who controlled the whole country, did not want to approach them to fill leadership positions of cultural institutions founded by the regime, like the Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry, House of the Americas, the Latin News Press Agency and numerous newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations that were nationalized.

For minister of education he preferred Armando Hart. For the House of the Americas, a woman very far from being an intellectual, Haydee Santamaria.  For the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, Papito Serguera, and for the Naitonal Council of Culture, Vicentina Antuna and Edith Garcia Buchaca, two women unknown in cultural domain.

The first approach that Fidel Castro had with writers, June 16, 1961, in the National Library of Havana, could not have been worse. It was there where he exclaimed his famous remark, “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing,” and where he made clear that those who were dedicated to Art had to submit themselves to the will of the Revolution, something that is still in force.

The maximum leader left that closed-door meeting more than pleased on seeing the expressions of surprise and fear of many of those present, and above all by the words of Virgilio Pinera, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century when he said: “I just know that I am scared, very scared.” That precisely was what the new Cuban leader most needed to hear from the intellectual throng: Fear, to be able to govern at his whim.

Two months later the Fist Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, and UNEAC was founded.  The intellectuals had fallen into line.

If something was said about that palatial headquarters, property of a Cuban emigrant, it is that the Commandant was allergic to all who had their own judgment, and for that reason he would never visit it, as it happened.

It is remembered still today that in a public speech on March 13, 1966, he attacked the homosexuals of UNEAC, threatening to send them to work agriculture in the concentration camps of Camaguey province. The “Enlightened One,” as today the president of UNEAC Miguel Barnet calls the Cuban dictator, kept his word. Numerous writers and graphic artists found themselves punished with forced labor in the unforgettable Military Units to Assist Production — UMAP.

These Nazi-style units were created in 1964 and closed four years later after persistent international complaints. If anyone knew and knows still the most hidden thoughts of the intellectuals, besides their sexual intimacy, it is the Enlightened One, thanks to his army of spies, members of the political police who work in the shadows of the mansion of 17th and H, in the Havana’s Vedado where UNEAC put down roots.

In 1977, one cannot forget the most cruel and abominable blow that the Enlightened One directed against the writers of UNEAC when his army of political police extracted from the drawers of the headquarters the files of more than 100 members — among them was mine as founder — so that they were definitively and without any explanation separated from the Literature Section of that institution.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014

Translated by mlk.

Eleven Years Since the Baragua / Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba – On April 12, 2003, media throughout the world carried the news of the execution of three young Cubans for their involvement in the hijacking of the Regla-based boat “Baraguá.” They were trying to flee the country and get to the United States.

Leftist newspapers, sympathetic to the Cuban regime, tried to justify the act, writing: “the government wanted to strike at the roots of airplane and boat hijackings.” They admitted that the punishment was intended to send a message, meaning that none of the accused was entitled to a fair trial.

Some went further. Heinz Dieterich Steffan (who later became the ideologist of “Socialism of the XXI Century”), told on his website how the then-president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, was sending a message to the White House: “You have declared war and your first soldiers have fallen.” And he later added: “I want you to know how to interpret the message of the firing squad, so there is no more bloodshed.”

The executions occurred just over a week after the group of 11 young men, armed with a gun and a knife, had diverted the ferry some 30 miles offshore.

How did it all happen?

The hijackers, upon boarding the boat, fired a shot in the air and one yelled: “This is fucked! We’re going to the U.S.!” After 30 miles the fuel ran out and the boat drifted. The sea was very choppy, so in an act of tragic naivety they agreed to be towed to the port of Mariel with the promise that the authorities there would give them fuel.

They didn’t tie anyone up (as—according to family members of the accused—the prosecution claimed). If they had, how do you explain that upon arriving at Mariel some passengers, at a signal from security agents, jumped into the water? Enrique Copello Castillo, who tried to prevent one of the foreigners on board from escaping, had the gun. But he didn’t use it even when the situation got out of his control. This shows that he was not a criminal, just a young person desperate to reach the United States, in search of freedom and the chance for personal advancement.

On April 8, 2003, after a summary trial, the sentence was issued: Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro L. Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac were condemned to death. The rest of those involved in the attempted hijacking were given prison sentences: life imprisonment for Harold Alcala Aramburo, Maykel Delgado Aramburo, Ramon Henry Grillo and Yoanny Thomas Gonzalez; 30 years for Ledea Wilmer Perez; and from 2 to 5 years for the women traveling with them.

In March of that same year, the government had jailed 75 human-rights activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents. These were in the Villa Marista prison when the hijackers were taken to that infamous headquarters of the  Cuban political police. Ricardo González Alfonso, the now-exiled independent journalist and one of the 75, has left behind a disturbing account of the last hours of Enrique Copello Castillo, who shared his cell.

The day of the trial, a State Security captain took him to an office to explain that, although they were seeking the death penalty for Copello Castillo, there was a chance he would not be executed. He therefore asked for González Alfonso’s cooperation in helping save the condemned man’s life if he tried to commit suicide. In light of what happened on April 11, when the condemned were taken before the firing squad without notice to their families, it can be interpreted that the captain was in charge of “supply”: he could not allow the scapegoats to escape their own sacrifice. How could they make an example of Copello Castillo if he had not attended his own execution?

Danger Zone

On San Francisco Street in Havana, between Jesus Peregrino and Salud streets, is the building where Bárbaro L. Sevilla García lived with his mother, Rosa Maria. Some neighbors remember what happened on April 11, 2003. The street was full of cars with military license plates from 6:00 am., forming a police blockade. Some women from the Interior Ministry knocked at the door of Rosa Maria to tell her that her 22-year-old son had been shot at dawn. The woman started screaming and ran out to the street naked, yelling the whole time: “Down with Fidel!” and “Murderers!” Afterward she was forced to leave the country, say the neighbors, who did not give their names for out of concern for their safety.

A short time later police began moving into the building on the corner, on Salud Street. Even today the area is considered “dangerous.” Neighbors also warned this reporter not to take pictures of the demolished middle balcony where the mother and her son lived, because the green building on the corner of  Jesús Peregrino is the DTI (Department of Technical Investigations), a division of the Interior Ministry.

They did not use explosives, but charge will be used in court

Why so much harshness and speed in the execution of punishment if there was no alleged injury or loss of life during the kidnapping? The lawyer Edilio Hernández Herrera, of the Cuban Legal Association (AJC, independent), has prepared a legal opinion that reveals how the law was broken in Case 17 of 2003.

The defendants were tried for the crime of Acts of Terrorism. Law No. 93 “Against terrorism” was published on December 24, 2001, in the Official Gazette.

In the opinion of Hernández Herrera, the portions of the law that apply to the crime committed would be Articles 14.1 and 16.1.a, pertaining to the taking of hostages and acts against the safety of maritime navigation. But the court sentenced the boys for acts that certainly did not happen. The other offense charged, from Articles 10 and 11.c, referred to “acts committed with explosives, chemical, biological or other substances.” With this they intended to justify the sentences of the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an economist and independent journalist, one of the political prisoners of the Case of the 75, shared a cell in Villa Maristas with Dania Rojas Gongora, age 17, who was on the boat. She was the girlfriend of Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, who was shot. The girl told how another mother learned that her son had been shot the day she was to bring him toiletries. The last time Dania saw her boyfriend alive, one of the guards said sarcastically: “Plan now how many children you are going to have.”

Roque Cabello has no doubt in stating:

“The dictator Fidel Castro wanted blood. He was furious also because in the midst of this, sending the 75 political dissidents to prison was turning out to be a fiasco. That gained worldwide condemnation. It was his decision: execution and life imprisonment for these young people. So those who are now continuing to serve a life sentence are prisoners of Fidel Castro.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014, Lilianne Ruiz

Translated by Tomás A.

Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya

Image from the Internet

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”)

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on the topic of “Cuba”, for the Island’s official as well as for the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government’s and of aspiring investors, there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common Cubans, or the “walking Cubans” as we say, whose opinions are not reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people’s discontent are summarized in several main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island’s Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed, tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises, implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake, and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the former “siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors, scum, etc.”–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime’s betrayal to the “loyalty” of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of 1959, it was deemed as one of the “fairer measures” and of greater significance undertaken, to “place in the hands of the people” what the filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years later to plead for its return. It’s like going backwards, but over a more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn’t we have saved ourselves over a half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had kept companies that were already established in our country? How many benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some corner of the twisted road. “Do you think this new law will save the revolution?”

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood. “Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution was over the moment ’this one’ handed over the country to the Russians, now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans and to keep himself a nice slice.”

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: Those who lost investment and personal property when companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960’s. From one of Fidel’s speeches, “we broke their wish bone and we will continue to break their wish bone”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014