They Order Punches in Response to Solidarity with @reinaozt

It happened on Wednesday night, they told me yesterday, June 22nd, and I give this alert because I do not know what other incident might happen today, which marks five months since the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

It started when Caridad Caballero Batista and Mariblanca Avila were in a car headed for Banes to meet with other friends and the family of Reina Luise, mother of the martyr of our generation, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Cari tells the story: Two days before the 23rd we went to help Reina make arrangements at Zapata’s grave and to attend on the 23rd and pay tribute at the end of five months, but we couldn’t reach the family’s house. They stopped the car when it came to Banes. Several policemen ordered us out. I asked why, but there was no answer, just another order, “Get out!” We continued to refuse and told them to explain before all the passengers why they were ordering us to get out. No answer. They attacked Mariblanca and several others and me. They grabbed us, pulled on us, and forced us out of the car. They dragged us along the dusty road and put us into the police car a few yards away. Then they took us down the road to Holguín, but further away to a dark, isolated place and detained us for hours. We were left locked in the car, and when I tried to get my phone to notify family, they saw me. They returned to the car. A new flurry of punches. I have bruises on my breasts and arms because they beat those parts of the body covered by clothing and that generally do not show in public. Then they left and did not stop until we reached the headquarters of Holguin. There I lost sight of Mariblanca. I don’t know if they returned her to her home town, Velazco, or if they kept her in jail. After midnight they returned me to my house. In the morning two policemen were standing guard at my door. They say that even after the 27th I cannot leave. And I know that if I do they will drag me back again to the filthy cell at the G2 operational headquarters.

From Banes, Reina Luisa told me a few hours ago: “Today we went to paint the grave of my son and prepare everything in the cemetery for the 23rd, to bring flowers, pray for his soul, and say there ZAPATA LIVES! ZAPATA LIVES! ZAPATA LIVES!

I do not know if they will stop me from praying at the grave of my martyred son. Here in Banes they have arrested those attempting to come to my house. Everyone be alert because what @reinaozt needs most is solidarity.”

From Holguin I offer this, my solidarity. It is the only option left to those of us who live in the interior of the island, where no microphones or foreign journalists show up to witness the ordeal that Reina Luisa lives through every Sunday and every 23rd.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Shadowy Scenario

The release of 52 political prisoners, who had been sentenced in 2003 to between 6 and 28 years, caused joy on the one hand, and skepticism on the other. The Archbishop of Havana issued a communique, and Miguel Angel Moratinos, Foreign Minister of Spain, gave statements to the press. What is missing is the official government announcement on the matter. Clearly the scenario remains shadowy.

According to Moratinos, there is no reason to continue Europe’s “common position” after the releases. He said he felt satisfaction from “the possibility of definitively settling the question of the prisoners,” when in fact this resolves only a circumstantial situation. The issue of human rights on the island is not summed up by the release of political prisoners. Not at all.

This demonstrates some naivety by the Foreign Minister of Spain. Or perhaps he is only concerned with resolving the most immediate problem, which benefits only the government of the island. So far the existing leadership has made no public commitment and has given no assurance of compliance.

It is no secret that the Spanish minister requested an extension until September for his European Union counterparts to decide whether to reaffirm or repeal the Common Position, which since 1996 has conditioned its relationship with Cuba to progress in human rights.

Does the future of Cubans not matter? What will happen afterward if the “Common Position” is modified because of this gesture by the Cuban government? This should not be blurred by the release process. I recognize it is a positive step, but it in no way represents an improvement in matters of human rights. Not while laws that criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression and opinion are in force.

Moreover, it is suspicious that a state, constitutionally declared to be secular, issues it orders through the Catholic Church. Even more that a representative of a foreign state becomes spokesman for the government on the island, whose foreign policy is uncompromising on the principle of state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.


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A Little Bit of Everything

Patch-work of Valle de Viñales.

Thanks be to God who gave me the gift and my family who helped me to cultivate it, aside from being a teacher, I learned many practical things for life.

The year 1959 arrived, and with it, great changes. I lost my job as a substitute teacher but soon afterwards I started working at the Department of Foreign Trade, where I stayed for fifteen years.  Later on I worked at a branch of Foreign Relations and, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I realized it was time to go home and do what I loved and had been doing for free my whole life: arts and crafts.  I was already a member of the Association of Artisans and Artists (ACAA) and that is how my professional life started.

My first works were on cold ceramics, later on embossing copper, but this aggressive material destroyed my hands and it was affecting my health, so I had to stop, even though I liked it so much.  So I started working on patch-work, that is what I have been working on since 1998.  This work has allowed me to have some expositions inside and outside of the country.

The pieces, which I have shown on my posts lately, and which a dear friend has explicitly asked for, are totally handmade.  I have specialized in faces and believe me, it entertains me, keeps my mind fresh, my spirit calm and overall it brings food to my table, because even though I have family outside the country, they don’t send me any help,  first, because they can’t afford to and second, because I never ask.  I feel much happier supporting myself with the work I do with my own hands, and not being a burden on anybody.  I rather wish I was able to send them something that would make them happy.  Also, with this and other techniques I manufacture cushions, bags, angels, table runners and small cases for eyeglasses, cell phones, etc, which I call fast food because they’re cheap and as soon as I sell them I run to the nearest store to buy food.  As you can see, a little bit of everything.

Translated by: Angelica Betancourt

Complaint Against the Justice Minister Advances

On July 7, The People’s Provincial Tribunal of Havana responded to the group of independent lawyers who filed suit against the Justice Minister, Maria Esther Reus González.

In the response (which was delayed because of a backlog in the chamber) the judge, Alfaro Guillén, Esq., and the lay judges, Núñez Valdés and Figueredo Ramos, required the members of the Cuban Law Association (AJC), to modify the terms of the judicial petition, within 10 days.

The court found it “improper” for Wilfredo Vallin, Esq., president of the organization, to act in the name and on behalf of a legal entity that is not currently constituted. The notice requires the lawyer bringing the action to proceed in his own name.

The Cuban legal system will not recognize an association that does not appear on the rolls of the Register of Associations. The law provides penalties of incarceration for up to three months against a person enrolled in a non-registered association. The punishment is tripled for the promoters or directors of an illegal association.

For its part, the Law of Associations (Law 54 of December 27, 1985) and its regulations, does not impose any legal formality for creating an association. It is sufficient that interested people form a group to achieve a goal. Then they can ask to be recognized by the state as a legal entity.

The highest court of justice in the capital also ordered that the facts of the complaint be reformulated. It does not accept the term “denial of authorization for Constitution of Association”, considering it inconsistent. It asserts that the Justice Ministry (MINJUS) did not respond to a request for certification.

On April 7, 2009, the AJC asked the Register of Associations of MINJUS to certify that no non-governmental association (NGO) existed in the country with the same name and purpose as the association of attorneys. The document is essential to continue the legal process for setting up the guild.

The state institution did not issue the certification. In March 2010 the group renewed its request and received no response. The lawyers appealed to the Minister, Reus González, raising a complaint for breach of the required legal formalities, which also was ignored.

On June 24, the lawyers filed a complaint with the Second Chamber of the Civil and Provincial Administrative Court in the capital, against the Minister of Justice, for denial of the authorization (by administrative silence) for the legal constitution of the guild.

The legal petition was filed in the Court on June 29, under case number 338 of 2010. It seeks to challenge the decision of the Department of Associations of MINJUS. It is the first time that a dissident organization has brought suit against a government representative.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.


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What the “Wind” Took Away

Here in my small planet, it hasn’t exactly been the wind which has taken everything–or almost everything–away. It seems to be the work of a crazed tornado. And what remains is in such a poor state that it is nearly unsalvageable.

In 1897 Cuban cinema took its first baby steps. Along with its appearance, the first posters were born, then handmade on small printing presses, and photography was also developing. Then movie theaters quickly started appearing, receiving us on their doorsteps with flashy posters or photographs, which gave us an idea what was going to be projected inside. It was a clear invitation to enter. Cinemania was happily taking hold of most of us.

In 1959, we already had more than one hundred thirty movie houses, many of them very modern and comfortable, like the Warner Theater (later called Radiocentro, now renamed Yara), the America (also a live theater), Acapulco, Riviera, Los Angeles, Payret, Miramar, La Rampa, etc. etc. etc. All this, to the delight of about a million people who lived in the capital at that time. We also had three modern drive-ins. Moviegoers had to run to see the more than four weekly releases that were shown.

Half a century later, with almost two million people, only a dozen theaters are operating, most of them in an advanced state of disrepair. Neglect turned many of them into ruins, others have become shelters for various families. Each year, except for the month of the Film Festival, there are fewer options – the films shown are old and many of them have already been seen on television. The wind can still take away what little remains, if nothing is done to stop it.

Translated by: Joe Malda and Tomás A.

While Waiting for Raúl Castro's Speech . . .


San Rafael Boulevard was swarming with pedestrians on Wednesday, July 7. Braving insufferable heat and humidity, an old newspaper vendor, his face unshaven, his clothes patched, loudly announced the news of the moment.

“Learn about the release of the political prisoners,” the old man shouted, while a line of fifteen or sixteen people bought the official newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde.

“That day I set a personal sales record.  I sold 340 newspapers; usually I don’t sell more than 80,” recalled the sidewalk news hawker. Two weeks later, news of the release of the dissidents is still being discussed.

Although the official media reported only a brief note, the ordinary people in those places of regular dialogue between Cubans – neighborhood corners, parks, workplaces, and taxicabs – continue to make comments, guesses and predictions about what might happen after the release of the political prisoners.

The best informed are those who pay 10 convertible pesos for an illegal cable antenna. And as is the norm in Cuba, they then activate “Radio Bemba,” a peculiar way of transmitting news by word of mouth, which usually functions best in closed societies.

In an antiquated jeep with eight seats, converted into a private taxi, a young man who identifies himself as Alberto, confesses to being connected to the cable channels. “Yes, I am informed,” he says, and starts telling about the freed dissidents. The passengers listen attentively. Alberto relates how the 11 political opponents who had arrived in Madrid spent their first few hours of freedom.

“They were going to be spread throughout different cities in Spain, some in Valencia, others in Málaga. One of them, named Normando, is not satisfied with the treatment received from the Spanish authorities, and believes that they are being treated like African immigrants. These Spaniards are for shit. When they emigrated to Cuba at the beginning of the last century, here we treated them like royalty,” said Alberto, unleashing a wave of opinions.

A middle-aged woman thinks that the dissidents went wrong. “I am a state official and I have traveled the world. The life of emigrants is difficult in any country. They’ll have to work hard if they are to thrive, because Spain also is in deep economic crisis. If they were such patriots they should have stayed in their country.”

Some respond in raised voices. Passions run high. On the island, these freed dissidents were completely unknown. The average Cuban, who has only coffee for breakfast and a hot meal once a day, often admires the Damas de Blanco and the value of the dissidents. “They say out loud what we don’t have the courage to say,” says one student.

But so much bad propaganda by the regime has had an impact in a certain sector of the population, which sees dissenters as part of the street-wise who have turned their differences with the regime into a cottage industry.

In a quick survey of 29 people – family members, friends, and neighbors, of both sexes, aged between 19 and 67, and different political affiliations – 26 welcome the release of the political prisoners from incarceration.

“It’s a positive sign, it could be the beginning of a new stage, where finally disagreements are decriminalized,” argues Robert, an engineer.

The news of the releases have had an unexpected competition, with the repeated appearance of Fidel Castro in public life. Since July 31, 2006, when he made his exit and was about to die, Castro I had been forgotten.

Few people read his routine “Reflections” in the press, where he addressed international political issues, and avoided the difficult economic, political, and social situation in the country.

Cubans have followed his appearances carefully. “He keeps on talking nonsense and prophesying misfortune, but he looks good physically,” says Armando, a cook.

His supporters are where he left them. “With the appearance of the Comandante things will get back to normal. The people follow him more than Raúl. Internationally, Fidel is a meaningful spokesman. With him we’ll put the crisis behind us and take a leap forward,” exults Luis, a retired military veteran.

On the street some doubt his mental capacities. “Yes, he looks in good health, but we don’t give a damn about the war in Iran. I think the old man has lost his marbles,” said César, who is unemployed.

In the middle of African heat, summer vacations, and the typical lack of material, either one of these news stories – the release of the political prisoners or the reappearance of the Comandante – would have aroused interest by itself.

Now, most expect that on July 26 in Santa Clara, in commemoration of the assault on a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953, General Raul Castro will launch a series of measures anticipated by the public, including repeal of permits to travel abroad, the possibility of buying cars and houses, and expanded self-employment.

Things do not look good in the lives of Cubans. To clean up the inefficient local economy, hundreds of thousands of workers have begun to be fired. Raul Castro could be the messenger of good tidings. Or bad.

Iván García

Translated by: Tomás A.

Small Dreams


I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that the most persistent recount I have made at my age is of precisely those things I still have left to do.

A friend, psychologist by profession, attributes it to the obsessive features my personality brings but, I tend to disagree a little on the analytic categories so I blame it on the effect of a metaphor I was able to put together myself: At birth, someone (or something) hands us a bag which, in place of coins, carries a finite number of years and when these are over, so is our existence. Before we are thrown into life, that someone or something tells us: “Invest them as best you can. With this same body and this same name, you won’t have a second round.”

Well, there are times when you decide to make check marks next to the achieved. In my case, the panic starts when, during a review, I can’t make check marks next to important points because they’re still pending. Or even worse, because their time expired and it became impossible to make them happen.

Or is it that I’m still in time to spend some money on a Martian gun with red and blue lights and six different ways to shoot? Because, in my catalogue of lost dreams, that’s when I should begin paying debts to myself.

There wasn’t a ritual of requests during which, when I was seven years old, I didn’t think about a toy gun just like the one my playmate kept as his most precious possession. It could be a ritual as simple as a shooting star that plowed across the sky, a detached eyelash, or a chicken bone in the shape of a “Y”. That beauty, brought to my friend from the Democratic Republic of Germany by his father, forced me to desecrate the atheism of the home where I was born to implore the baby Jesus to remember my excellent grades and to pass by a certain store from the Socialist Germany. Maybe, when he finally decided to do it, the Wall had fallen and the country was a different one. He never seemed to have made it to the store.

I also ask myself: does it still make sense, if my economy would ever allow me to (with time my dreams increased in monetary value), to manage to acquire a Nintendo in my Cuba of the XXI Century? I am not referring to one of those modern artifacts, very worthy of Ray Bradbury or George Lucas, the ones that vanish today’s kids from reality. No. I mean a cream-colored, rectangular Nintendo, with only one command and one cassette: Super Mario Bros.

Every day, I would go to the house of the only privileged kid in the neighborhood in the hopes that a sudden urge to go pee, or the obligation to have lunch would take the owner off the seat from a Nintendo that, when the Período Especial (Special Period) hit, became more than a game. Not even the pater middle school professor, nor the mater sales clerk of the grocery store could compete with that Nintendo that became a savior, given to a kid by his Cuban-American uncle: at five pesos an hour, Super Mario fed a whole family for a long period of time.

I swear to my mother that thanks to a grapevine that shadowed the roof of my house, I was able to regularly substitute the lack of those five pesos, and manage for the first time, that mustachioed character, universal today, who jumped over turtles and rescued princesses. The country was dying from hunger; my parents, like so many more, suffered the most ugly and insane misery but, at eleven naive years of age, happiness was contained in a Nintendo that, even with my insistent prayers, never reached my home.

If baby Jesus wasn’t able to satisfy some of my requests, he substituted values and in return he sent me adolescence. Luckily, for an adolescent that distilled hormones, a fixed up basketball and any girl with accentuated hips who was willing to insinuate the art of making love, was enough. And that, in my Cuba of the year 2000, was very easy to find. The provider even had a name. His name was High School.

But since happiness is never whole, in high school, aside from bulky girls from Manzanillo, I met, up to this day, what has been my most persistent hobby, and with this one I renewed my dreams with a chronic intensity. It was called Literature. Even though since childhood I had felt the love for books, my adolescence threw me head first into a literary passion which makes me wonder what has offered me more: vocabulary or unredeemed dreams.

Because when I remember that Julio Cortazar died without my having been able to meet him (he died just the year in which I was born), that is when I calm myself faced with the impossible. But when I notice that the American Salinger and the Portuguese Saramago just stopped breathing; when I think about the irreparable mountain of books that in this, my fenced country, I don’t have access to; and when I realize that my paradigm writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, is already in his threatening seventy-fourth year of age without me even having one of his autographed books, the least I can do is become desperate and feel that many of the years carried in my bag are languishing without being able to invest them as I wish.

I must be honest: That I speak in abandonment about these things doesn’t mean it corresponds to what they really mean to me. I think we never speak with a more inconsequential tone as we do about the things that really affect us. For my part, I haven’t been able to give in to the idea of having so many broken dreams pending. They weigh on my shoulders like souls without peace. And more than anything: I haven’t resigned myself to the idea of thinking it impossible what, as for many in half of the globe, are routine or things extremely easy to reach.

In four days I will be turning twenty-six. I still haven’t put a check mark next to small dreams like attending a Metallica concert, getting to know New York’s skyscrapers, crossing at least two (hopefully more than two) words with the Peruvian Vargas Llosa, or enjoying a soccer match with Leo Messi while eating popcorn at Camp Nou. I still haven’t traveled the world, the sole necessity that has sparked in my mind thanks to my books. Small, superficial dreams. I, like troubadour Carlos Varela, know well that those are not big things. But they are some of my dreams. Those dreams that also help me live.

I want to promise the readers of this text that, when I am able to really be the master of my dreams some day, I will not hesitate to start paying off accounts to myself as I righteously pay for the things that (hard to admit) for twenty-six years my Caribbean island has kept me from reaching. Maybe I will start by buying a Martian pistol with six different ways to shoot. Even if its sole purpose is to make a son or a nephew laugh who, astonished will reply to my dare with his super polyphonic laser shotgun, or God know what else.

Translated by: Angelica Betancourt


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My Personal Hero

The disenchantment with a political process that was mine, might make me look like a cynic. I’ve developed an unconscious suspicion of politicians, and if they are charismatic, it’s even worse. But there is a man who reconciles me with politicians and partially gives me back my trust in this necessary evil. That man is Nelson Mandela.

His fight against apartheid is well known, his years in jail, his freedom and then his election as the first black President of South Africa. If that controversial prize, which is the Nobel, has been so unfair several times, with Mandela it is justified and it does justice to a fighter who moved from violence to understanding and respect.

All that alone would ennoble Mandela. But my personal Mandela is great because he forgave the offenses, and because after becoming President, venerated by his people and the entire world, he didn’t pretend to be the owner of the keys to govern and he retired from politics leaving behind him a healthy democratic precedent for his young country.

Congratulations Mandela, my hero, my friend.

Translated by Al

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Legalisation of Repression

In the second half of April 2003, 75 dissidents were arrested and sentenced after summary trials. These cases were processed under Law No. 88, “For the Protection of the National Independence and of the Economy of Cuba.” The dissidents received sentences varying between 6 and 28 years of imprisonment. Internationally, these events were called “The Black Spring of Cuba.”

According to article 2 of this law (also known as “The Gag Law”), it has a special character and takes precedence over other criminal laws adopted prior to it. This gives rise to a suspicion: How do the authorities decide whether to apply this law or the Penal Code (PC) when both pieces of legislation deal with the same types of crimes, have equal rank and serve the same objectives?

The decision of which norm to apply is left to the discretion of the public prosecutors and the judges and depends on the political will to imprison a person who could not be found guilty if judged under the PC. Meaning that his or her conduct does not fall under any of the definitions of crimes established in the PC.

From both a technical and legal point of view, the elements of the crimes described in “The Gag Law” are formulated vaguely and are designed to sanction any behaviour that, according to the authorities, supports or facilitates the disturbance of the internal peace, seeks to destabilise the country or to destroy the “Socialist State” and the national independence.

In contrast to it, the PC describes types of behaviour that violate or pose a threat to the public life. From this point of view it is the damage to the society, whether potential or actually inflicted, that determines what type of conduct ought to be sanctioned criminally. This means that all citizens are involved in assessing the severity of a given circumstance, precisely because they are the ones affected by it. The judicial system should thus protect the citizens instead of repressing them.

It is inadmissible to make use of the criminal law in order to subjugate citizens and to impose a certain ideology. In other words, the rejection of a given philosophy (communist, liberal, etc.) is not an adequate argument justifying a sentence. There has to be damage to the society.

The punishment of the 75 opponents of the regime, sentenced in accordance to Law 88, showed how its existence serves to legally justify repression under the cover of an alleged public interest. It’s selective application intensified its effectiveness as a warning to others. Indirectly, the regime influenced the rest of the dissidents within the country. It demonstrated its power as well as the lengths it is willing to go to in order to preserve it.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: undef@rocketmail.com

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The Gag Law

The Penal Code (CP) characterizes and punishes behavior that goes against the security of the state, the economy, public policy, etc. But in a different area of the law there is another criminal provision, which carries the same weight and promotes the same goals: Law No. 88, “Protection of National Independence and the Economy,” popularly known as “the Gag Law.”

But these laws differ in the way their rules are drafted. Law 88 is more confusing and imprecise, which makes it hard to interpret. For example, the Penal Code prohibits conduct that goes against the legal order: public disturbance, incitement to crime, etc. In each of these sections the legislature made clear the factual situation that describes the crime:

“Anyone who . . . yells out an alarm, or utters warnings of a common danger . . .” (Public Disorders, Section 200.1 CP); “A person who provokes squabbling and bickering . . .” (Public Disorders, Section 201.1 CP); “A person who . . . publicly incites another to commit a particular offense . . .” (Incitement to Commit a Crime, Section 202.1 CP).

The character of places where the criminal activity occurs is also explicit: . . . “in public places, shows, or large gatherings . . .” (Public Disorders, Article 200.1 CP); “. . . in establishments open to the public, public transport vehicles, social circles, shows, family or public celebrations, or other events or places where many people gather . . .” (Public Disorders, Section 201.1 CP).

Article 8 of Law No. 88 (Part 1) sanctions “everyone . . . who intentionally disturbs the public order . . .” and “everyone . . . who promotes, organizes, or encourages disturbances to the public order referred to in the previous section” (Part 2).

Article 8 says nothing about the nature of the places where the conduct alleged to be socially dangerous occurs. Nor does it describe the possible acts that must occur to be considered disturbing the public peace. The offense is not defined.

The authorities may consider any action to be a disturbance of public order. This creates a climate of insecurity for citizens subject to the rule.

From this analysis we can derive a lesson and discover one of the strategies of the Cuban political class: drafting laws based on undefined and highly abstract fact patterns makes the interpretation and application of the Gag Law severe and leads to arbitrariness, supposedly in the public interest.

Translated by: Tomás A.

The Gag Law

The Penal Code (CP) characterizes and punishes behavior that goes against the security of the state, the economy, public policy, etc. But in a different area of the law there is another criminal provision, which carries the same weight and promotes the same goals: Law No. 88, “Protection of National Independence and the Economy,” popularly known as “the Gag Law.”

But these laws differ in the way their rules are drafted. Law 88 is more confusing and imprecise, which makes it hard to interpret. For example, the Penal Code prohibits conduct that goes against the legal order: public disturbance, incitement to crime, etc. In each of these sections the legislature made clear the factual situation that describes the crime:

“Anyone who . . . yells out an alarm, or utters warnings of a common danger . . .” (Public Disorders, Section 200.1 CP); “A person who provokes squabbling and bickering . . .” (Public Disorders, Section 201.1 CP); “A person who . . . publicly incites another to commit a particular offense . . .” (Incitement to Commit a Crime, Section 202.1 CP).

The character of places where the criminal activity occurs is also explicit: . . . “in public places, shows, or large gatherings . . .” (Public Disorders, Article 200.1 CP); “. . . in establishments open to the public, public transport vehicles, social circles, shows, family or public celebrations, or other events or places where many people gather . . .” (Public Disorders, Section 201.1 CP).

Article 8 of Law No. 88 (Part 1) sanctions “everyone . . . who intentionally disturbs the public order . . .” and “everyone . . . who promotes, organizes, or encourages disturbances to the public order referred to in the previous section” (Part 2).

Article 8 says nothing about the nature of the places where the conduct alleged to be socially dangerous occurs. Nor does it describe the possible acts that must occur to be considered disturbing the public peace. The offense is not defined.

The authorities may consider any action to be a disturbance of public order. This creates a climate of insecurity for citizens subject to the rule.

From this analysis we can derive a lesson and discover one of the strategies of the Cuban political class: drafting laws based on undefined and highly abstract fact patterns makes the interpretation and application of the Gag Law severe and leads to arbitrariness, supposedly in the public interest.

Translated by: Tomás A.


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Everything Changes!

3-tablero-ifaMovement is a universal property: nature changes and society  changes. The difference is that changes in nature respond to  objective laws which operate with or without human involvement, while  history is made by men, allowing them to hasten or delay change, but not to stop it. The  need for social change manifests itself as a permanent dissatisfaction with  what has been achieved, which makes society a perfectible entity.

In Cuba,  the convergence of various factors – internal, external, historical, sociological  and cultural – at a specific time and geopolitical space, led to the prevailing immobility of the recent decades. But these same factors, together with new ones, have placed the limits of immobility on the agenda. A  reality that the authorities of the country, long entrenched in the  idea that Cuba has already changed, have acknowledged in their discourse – the  need to change whatever needs to be changed, or update the model, or both.

Attempts  to homogenize the pluralistic society, changing the citizenry en masse, ignoring  the vital role of rights and freedoms to determine what, when, and  how to do things, first led to stagnation, then to decline, and finally resulted in a  resounding failure with significant material and spiritual  damage.

Although  the infeasibility of the model has brought the economy to the point of collapse, the  system continues to cling to an ideology with no future, to the point that, to  paraphrase Lenin’s definition of a revolutionary situation, the coincidence in Cuba of: the exhaustion of the model; the stagnation of the nation;  public discontent; external pressures; and consensus for change, forms an objective picture showing that those underneath do not want, and those above are not able, to continue as before. In this context, while clinging to immobility and the politics of  confrontation, a series of events happened very early in 2010: the government denied entry to Cuba to a Member  of the European Parliament, the Socialist Luís Yáñez; the  political prisoner Orlando Zapata  Tamayo died following a  prolonged hunger strike; a similar strike was started by the dissident Guillermo  Fariñas; and there were various manifestations of repression against the  Ladies in White, which formed a new scenario at the very time when the  government announced the “update of the model.”

Behavioral  change was manifested in accepting and allowing previously unacceptable acts, such as: allowing Rosa Diez, leader of the Spanish Progressive and Democratic Union, what had earlier been forbidden to Luis Yáñez – to enter Cuba with a  tourist visa and meet with several dissidents; the Cuban foreign minister  meeting with the Troika of the European Union, where they raised the proposal of Cuba’s  willingness to continue dialogue despite the alleged “media campaign  against Cuba”; and the meeting of the Cuban head of state with authorities of the Catholic Church, where they addressed the issue of the  Ladies in White, Fariñas’s strike, and the release of prisoners.

But while this change in behavior does not mean that the political  will exists to democratize Cuba, there is an important practical result: the failure  of inaction, as the issue of the prisoners could be a prelude to other  urgent claims of society. I refer to rights  relating to freely leaving and returning to the country, free Internet  access, or freedom of expression, to name just three of the many needs of Cubans.

If the  government’s tactic consists only in releasing prisoners to change the external  appearance and to gain access to plans of cooperation and funding sources, it is on  the way to a new and resounding failure. To avoid  this it is important that, in the absence of an independent civil  society with the legal recognition to act within Cuba, the international community,  while encouraging the release of prisoners, should place on its agenda with Cuba  the need to ratify human rights pacts signed more than two years ago and put  the domestic legislation in line with those documents. It would be a  grave mistake to implement aid to the government without it demonstrating its readiness to go beyond the liberation of political prisoners, which  did not help either the government or Cuban society.

The desire to change must be demonstrated  with the implementation of human rights, based on the dignity of the person, and the acceptance  that, along with the government’s attempt to update the model, citizens  enjoy the right to propose alternative models, which implies renouncing the strategic interest of remaining in power forever. Citizen participation parallel to that of the State is a requirement of modernity. Cuba has changed  throughout its history and yet we are in a deep structural crisis, one  of the causes of which has been the weakness or absence of civil  society, that place of interaction and coexistence of diverse interests,  where their autonomy and independence from the state constitutes an  irreplaceable instrument for citizen participation.

The demonstration  of the ability to retain power cannot be extrapolated to progress in  the economy, which also indicates that it is insufficient to stop history. Everything  changes, and Cuba is changing.

Translated by: Tomás A.

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Dimas’s Blog

The Novel of So Many Lives

He received me on Monday in a quiet apartment in Mantilla from where he has written almost all his work. On a polished table he put cold water and strong coffee for both of us. He lit a cigarette whose smoke, luckily, chose as its victim the bust of Cervantes resting on a nearby sideboard. And began to answer my questions.

Maybe, I would never have decided to interview Leonardo Padura had I not read La Novela de mi Vida (The Novel of my Life). Up until that moment, the two pieces I already knew were enough to admire his clean prose and skillful police frameworks, but not much more.

So, I discovered this novel and found myself obligated to track down (just like investigator Mario Conde) where its author lived. For a character like Salinger there are some writers who, after reading their work, you just wish you could call them. Since I don’t have his telephone number, I decided to travel 498 miles from my native Bayamo to the Cuban capital, knock on his door and say: I need to interview you.

It so happens that The Novel of my Life should already be on the must-read list of every reader who thinks himself Cuban. Or one who lives or studies the historical truth inside this, our country, made up of water and sand. Because coming to find out the written novel of this immense and suffered man who was the poet Jose Maria Heredia is the best way to understand a country that, two centuries later, has not yet ceased to repeat similar tragedies in the lives of millions of other children.

With great precision, Leonardo Padura, a well experienced writer, wove two different stories that is one at the end. First: the one of the great poet of the Niagara, a man without real nationality that against all logic profoundly identified himself as Cuban (when he died, at 35 years of age, Jose Maria Heredia had lived in five different countries and only 6 of those years in Cuba), and he might have been the one to inaugurate the so-called Cuban tradition of suffering exile and dying defeated by nostalgia. Second: the one of a fictitious character known as Fernando Terry, who in the ’90’s returns from the exile (to visit for a few weeks) in search of a past from which he was never able to detach.

If you think the story of this contemporary Cuban — forced to migrate in the Mariel Boatlift due to the intolerance, the fear and the lies — as melancholic, you will be frightened by the first person tale that Heredia, revived by Padura, tells us about the time in his life when, mad by pain and frustration, as he himself called it, the novel of his life.

A life made up of love of poetry and the freedom of his oppressed country, of defense towards a Cubanness in the making that could not yet be defined, but it could be felt. A life thrown to the fiercest of exiles by the despot who governed at the time: Miguel Tacón, the tyrant of the day, who just like so many of them, gave himself the right to decide who lived inside the island, who died, and who should leave it. Cursed be the stubbornness of the dictators who manage their nations as if they were their own homes.

The same poet whose ode to Niagara today rests in a tombstone right in front of the waterfall, also inaugurated a habit that we have not been able to erase from this beautiful homeland in all these years: to suffer from the accusations and the betrayal of a false friend that would use the misfortunes of Heredia to climb towards success in a Cuba sick from corruption. The story takes his name: Domingo del Monte. But about this, we couldn’t care less.

The alarming thing to recognize is that, behind the ability of Leonardo Padura, the reader is warned of too much freshness, too much proximity to his own reality with this novel that, according to what the narrator tells us, is one of so many of our lives.

My interview lasted a little over an hour. The agile, well-argued responses from this Havana native writer, filled up a text of many pages which I proudly plan to include in a book that I am just now concluding.

Today, two weeks past that encounter with Leonardo Padura, after looking around in disbelief and remembering the ordeal of the exiled Heredia, I have not yet figured out how to detach myself from the question that the The Novel of Many Lives left me with as a harsh gift: Could it be that our beautiful island will forever condemn its children to escape from her in search of protection and a piece of happiness?

Translated by: Angelica B.

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Ernesto’s Blog: The Little Brother

Freedom of Expression in Cuban Legislation

Freedom of expression is internationally recognized in the Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19). These prerogatives include being safe from oppression due to expressing an opinion, conducting research and receiving and spreading information, regardless of borders, by any means.

Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution <em>gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the aims of the socialist society. </em>Under this provision, <em>material conditions for their exercise are given by the fact that the press, radio, television, movie theaters and other means of mass information belong to the state or society and could not, in any case, become private property, which assures their use exclusively for the use of the working people and for the benefit of society. </em>Lastly, it assures that <em>the law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.</em>

However, the constitutional protections of freedom of expression, despite the fact of being a judicial guarantee, is not sufficient to affirm that in Cuba it is exercised and enjoyed.

First:  the article being analyzed is technically and judicially deficient.  The legislator confused the right with the material guarantee necessary for its application.  A useless condition, given the nature and characteristics of this kind of freedom.  The same one devotes spaces that the state does not have to create, because they are innate to humans, in virtue of what only has to be respected and protected.

Second:  The fact that the means of social communication are in the control of the State does not constitute a guarantee of the application of this right.  In Cuba, the human prerogatives, acknowledged by the Constitution of the Republic, cannot be exercised against the existence and means of “The Socialist State.”  It means that its legal application is severely limited when rights cannot be curtailed. They solely admit these minimal limitations, only when regarding the function of public order.

Third: According to the Constitution of the Republic, freedom of speech and press should be developed through a law, which is the only way of applying and defending this right.  The National Assembly, the main organ of the State with legislative authority, consciously ignores the mandates expressed by this Magna Carta.  It still does not adopt a law that regulates this most important right in ordinary legislation.

Fourth: The National Assembly passed Law 88, “Of Protection of National and Economic Independence”, a normative penal device that impedes citizens from expressing and spreading their opinions in regards to political, social, and economic practices of the government.

This law, also known as “The Gag Law”, sanctions every person who seeks and provides information, accumulate, reproduces, and spreads materials that criticize the political system, and any person who collaborates with such ideas, via radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, magazines, or other means of foreign communication.

Translated by Raul G.

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Laritza’s Blog: Laritza’s Laws and Cuban Legal Advisor

Freedom of Expression in Cuban Legislation

Freedom of expression is internationally recognized in the Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19).  These prerogatives include being safe from oppression due to expressing an opinion, conducting research and receiving and spreading information, regardless of borders, by any means.

Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the aims of the socialist society. Under this provision, material conditions for their exercise are given by the fact that the press, radio, television, movie theaters and other means of mass information belong to the state or society and could not, in any case, become private property, which assures their use exclusively for the use of the working people and for the benefit of society. Lastly, it assures that the law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.

However, the constitutional protections of freedom of expression, despite the fact of being a judicial guarantee, is not sufficient to affirm that in Cuba it is exercised and enjoyed.

First:  the article being analyzed is technically and judicially deficient.  The legislator confused the right with the material guarantee necessary for its application.  A useless condition, given the nature and characteristics of this kind of freedom.  The same one devotes spaces that the state does not have to create, because they are innate to humans, in virtue of what only has to be respected and protected.

Second:  The fact that the means of social communication are in the control of the State does not constitute a guarantee of the application of this right.  In Cuba, the human prerogatives, acknowledged by the Constitution of the Republic, cannot be exercised against the existence and means of “The Socialist State.”  It means that its legal application is severely limited when rights cannot be curtailed. They solely admit these minimal limitations, only when regarding the function of public order.

Third: According to the Constitution of the Republic, freedom of speech and press should be developed through a law, which is the only way of applying and defending this right.  The National Assembly, the main organ of the State with legislative authority, consciously ignores the mandates expressed by this Magna Carta.  It still does not adopt a law that regulates this most important right in ordinary legislation.

Fourth: The National Assembly passed Law 88, “Of Protection of National and Economic Independence”, a normative penal device that impedes citizens from expressing and spreading their opinions in regards to political, social, and economic practices of the government.

This law, also known as “The Gag Law”, sanctions every person who seeks and provides information, accumulate, reproduces, and spreads materials that criticize the political system, and any person who collaborates with such ideas, via radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, magazines, or other means of foreign communication.

Translated by Raul G.