Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart

At either edge of this photo, Mario Félix Lleonart and Yoaxis Marcheco; in the center, María Werlau, between Vicente Botín and his wife.

Mario Lleonart, 24 September 2016 — During this past July 28-30, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2016 meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, held in Miami, as part of the panel discussion,”Transitional Justice and the Longed-For Cuban National Reconciliation.” My paper was on “The Longed-For National Reconciliation: Challenges, Realities and Hopes.” However, it is not my paper to which I will refer here.

During this timeframe, on Friday, July 29, a special luncheon took place that provided a pause in the midst of the 18 interesting panels and their debates. For this occasion, the Spanish journalist Vicente Botín, who also served as the special guest commentator on the panel in which I took part, gave a talk that was thought-provoking for all present. Continue reading “Vicente Botín, the Spanish Journalist Who Can’t Get Cuba Out of His Mind / Mario Lleonart”

Botín is a journalist and writer who specializes in international politics, particularly in Latin America. He has produced numerous documentaries in many countries as the managing editor of a well-known television program, including one in Cuba for which he interviewed Fidel Castro. He served as a correspondent for Televisión Española from 2005-2008, and later published two books about Cuba: “Castro’s Funeral,” followed by, “Raúl Castro: The Flea That Rode the Tiger.” Today he is a columnist for El País, El Mundo, and other Spanish newspapers, and resides in Madrid.

His words made so much sense to me regarding the Cuban reality that, upon the conclusion of his remarks, I congratulated him and sought his permission to post them on my blog–receiving from him a most cordial assent–but which unfortunately I have been unable to do until now because of technical problems on my blog which I have only recently been able to resolve.

But, because Botín’s voice still resounds so vibrantly in my mind, with words that have not lost one iota of their relevance–quite the opposite–I share them now with great pleasure so as to place in cyberspace these thoughts which are so sympathetic to the catastrophe of the Cuban people, by someone who also has been directly immersed in our reality, and who cannot get us off of his mind, nor out of his heart.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban State Media Monopoly Denounces Internet Freedom Conference / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera

The Cuban state seeks to maintain its information monopoly at any cost.
The Cuban state seeks to maintain its information monopoly at any cost.

Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 30 August 2015 — During a recent broadcast of Televisión Cubana’s national news program, the government denounced the first ever Cuba Internet Freedom Conference, scheduled for 12-13 September in the city of Miami, which members of Cuban civil society will attend to participate in the debate.

The argument utilized for the occasion is that, with the interest in establishing the World Wide Web on the Island, the US is endeavoring to topple the revolutionary government.

Of the millions of people interested in Cubans being able to fully enjoy the Internet in our country, the most interested are we ourselves, who for more than 50 years have been in the dark with regard to world developments. Continue reading “Cuban State Media Monopoly Denounces Internet Freedom Conference / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera”

During his visit to the Island, among the points that Barack Obama emphasized pertained to US assistance in communications, and facilitating the use of the Internet—which is currently still immensely restricted by the authorities.

The Cuban government’s installation of fee-based WiFi service in many areas of the country does not yet meet the needs of the citizenry.

The hourly charges for the service are 2 CUCs, equivalent to more than two dollars. In a country where the average citizen’s salary is less than one dollar per day, this is a high price for a service that is inexpensive for many people around the world, and in some cases is even free.

One must also consider that access depends on a server, one which allows the transmission of convenient information as well inconvenient information, as well as the connection’s low speed.

It was said that, some day, home service would be implemented, but this promise has yet to be met—all developments take place at an exceedingly slow pace. The State seeks to maintain its monopoly on information at all costs, violating even the people’s right to be informed.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Stasi’s Sad Footprint / Hablemos Press, Armando Soler Hernández

Author Timothy Garton Ash
Author Timothy Garton Ash

Hablemos Press, Armando Soler Hernández, 1 August, 2016 — Timothy Garton Ash is a well-known journalist, editorial writer and British researcher. His books on history are notable, above all for their distinctive focus on recent contemporary history.

During the 1970s, Ash became interested in researching the period of anti-Hitler resistance in Nazi Germany. While seeking firsthand information, he resided for a considerable time in what were the two halves of that European nation divided at the time. Continue reading “The Stasi’s Sad Footprint / Hablemos Press, Armando Soler Hernández”

Years later, following the fall of the so-called “Socialist Camp” and as details began to be known in the West about the police control and espionage waged on the populations hidden behind the “Iron Curtain,” the British historian had the idea of again visiting the territory of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) and verifying those facts with his own experience.

In 1992 the infamous archives of the Ministry for State Security in East Germany, the Stasi, were made publicly available. The revelations contained within the enormous cache of documents ignited old and new controversies within a population already in the throes of massive social and political upheaval.

Knowing full well the gigantic number of citizens of the GDR who were spied-on and on whom files were kept, Ash had an idea: what if, being a suspicious individual from “Western Capitalism,” he had also been watched? Was there a file on him?

The historian went to the center where the files were gathered (in a quantity equivalent to 178 km), having been salvaged from the massive intentional destruction carried out by the political police following the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. When the civilian preservation agency in charge of the archives, which is headed by a Protestant pastor, receives an information request, it first confirms whether a Stasi file on the applicant exists. If so, a photocopy is made for the applicant, redacting information on any other person that may appear there but who has no bearing on the applicant’s case.

When the British researcher requested the file that had been created about him, he received the chilling confirmation that he, too, had been spied-on. The code name used by the totalitarian espionage services for him was “Roman.”

What was noteworthy was that the copy of the file contained a high number of reports. All were filled with intelligence about him covering all spheres of his activity while living in the GDR, painstakingly detailed by “extra-official employees,” which is how the Stasi would refer to their informants.

Ash was amazed at the number of documents about him, especially because, as a visitor, he had resided for a relatively short time in the GDR. But the most surprising thing he found was that the majority of the reports concerned persons whom he had known and spent time with, i.e. who became friends, and participated in his researches or socialized with him.

Faced with this incontrovertible evidence, and making a 180-degree turn from his original purpose, he decided to embark on an unusual investigation for his new book: he would interview every one of the informants and functionaries who spied on him. The book he published about this experience is entitled, “The File.”

In conducting interviews, Ash was not seeking to reveal the identity of these persons nor reproach them for what they did. He simply was interested in discovering what motivated them to serve, for the most part, as informants for the despotic regime that also oppressed them, and to know the course their lives took after the years elapsed from the end of the GDR.

The reactions of each member of this long list of ex-“collaborators” upon newly encountering the subject of their spying varied greatly, too much to relate here in this brief space. Suffice it to know that the motives of most of them, arising from the oppressive atmosphere of a totalitarian regime as well as the pressure on them to “collaborate,” were ridiculous and pitiful: to obtain permission to travel to the West; a better job; a special scholarship for a disabled child, and so forth.

The most interesting part was when the British historian interviewed ex-officials of the Stasi who guided and monitored the surveillance they maintained on him the whole time without raising his suspicions. Their justifications for having secretly trailed him for being a suspected spy were absurd and exceeded all such operations they were masterminding, resulting in an enormous cumulative waste of personnel, time and money.

This book will be of great interest to readers concerned with the enjoyment of liberty—those who do not consider it normal to live one’s whole lifetime being watched over by a state and its repressive apparatus, when what is common, natural and right is the other way around.

Facts about the Stasi:

The headquarters occupied 41 buildings. The organization utilized 1,181 houses for its agents, 305 vacation homes; 98 sports facilities; 18,000 apartments for meetings with spies. There were 97,000 agents working for this repressive institution: 2,171 read mail; 1,486 tapped telephones; 8,426 listened-in on telephone conversations and radio transmissions. The Stasi had more than 100,000 active, extra-official “collaborators,” and one million other persons provided information on a sporadic basis. There were secret files on 6 million persons, and being that there is no chip worse than the block, there was a section devoted exclusively to watching the members of the Stasi itself.

Comparative data:

During the period between the two world wars (1933-1939), the Gestapo employed only 7,000 agents. However, the population of Nazi Germany (60 million) was more than three times that of the GDR (17 million).


The File: A Personal History (Timothy Garton Ash, Random House, 1997).

The Firm: The Inside History of the Stasi (Gary Bruce, Oxford University Press, 2010).

The History of the Stasi: East Germany’s Secret Police 1945-1990 (Gens Gieseke, Berghahn Books, 2014).

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

ICHR Accepts Denunciation of #CUBA for Violation of Ángel Santiesteban’s Human Rights / Ángel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 30 March 2016 — The denunciation of the violation of Ángel Santiesteban’s human rights has been accepted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The organization has given the Castro dictatorship a three-month deadline to respond.

– The Editor

[A translation of the letter from the IACHR, addressed to Ángel Santiesteban’s editor, Elisa Tabakman, follows below.] Continue reading “ICHR Accepts Denunciation of #CUBA for Violation of Ángel Santiesteban’s Human Rights / Ángel Santiesteban”

14 March 2016

RE:  Ángel Lázaro Santiesteban Prats

Dear Madam:

I have the pleasure of contacting you on behalf of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the above-cited petition in reference to the situation of Ángel Lázaro Santiesteban Prats in Cuba, which was received by this Executive Secretariat on 13 June 2013.

I hereby inform you that by way of a note dated today, the parts of your petition pertinent to the Government of Cuba have been remitted and a due date of three months has been from the date of transmission of the present communication for a presentation of observations, in accordance with Article 30 of the Rules of the IACHR.

The present information request does not constitute a prejudgment regarding the decision that the IACHR will eventually make on the admissibility of this petition.

Likewise, you are informed that based on Article 40(1) of the Rules of the IACHR, at any phase of the investigation of a petition or case, by its own initiative o upon the request of the parties, the IACHR will make itself available to the petitioners and to the State, with the goal of reaching an amicable solution founded on the respect for human rights established in the American Convention, the American Declaration, and other applicable instruments.

I take this opportunity to give you my most cordial greetings,

Elizabeth Abi-Mershed
Adjunct Executive Secretary

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The 26th, Again / Fernando Dámaso

The Moncada Barracks attacked on 26 July 1953

Fernando Damaso, 25 July 2016 — Tomorrow, a new anniversary of the 26th of July–that failed insurrectional action of 1953–will be commemorated. This date, one of the principal ones of the Castro regime’s calendar, served as the title and standard for the political movement that emerged from the event. The province of Sancti Spíritus has been selected as the headquarters for the celebration–not for being the best choice, but rather for being the least bad one.

There will be “popular” gatherings, official festivities, cultural merrymaking, and even speeches with pretensions of historical authenticity. The script is repeated every year, varying only with regard to the secondary actors, being that the principals have remained in their roles for 58 years, despite the boredom they provoke among the spectators.

Throughout the course of a few days the inhabitants of Sancti Spíritus will enjoy abundant beer, one or another foodstuff, and much dance music, in addition to the traditional carnaval. Afterwards, all will return to the usual boring dailyness, with its meager wages, shortages, street violence, abuses, bureaucracy, and many other misfortunes–and the commemoration, as it does every year, will remain forgotten until the next one, if indeed it takes place, in a new chosen province.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban Officials in the Panama Papers / Hablemos Press


Hablemos Press, Cuban Journalists and others* (see below), 13 May 2016 — Officials of the Cuban Communist Party hired a Swiss attorney to establish offshore companies for their global business activities, the Panama Papers reveal. The unprecedented leak of 11.5-million documents from the legal firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama exposed the offshore actions and suspicious financial transactions of chiefs of state, government officials and celebrities worldwide.

Cuban law does not include any specific legislation regarding State functionaries and offshore enterprises, however such activities would be questionable in the strictly communist country. Continue reading “Cuban Officials in the Panama Papers / Hablemos Press”

The documents reveal that Albert-Louis Dupont Willemin, a lawyer from an aristocratic Swiss family, was a high-level legal advisor and intermediary in more than 20 offshore concerns with commercial ties to Cuba. Dupont Willemin, who also represents Guatemala as honorary consul in Geneva, created two offshore companies, located in the British Virgin Islands, via the registered agent Mossack Fonseca—Curtdale Investments Limited, and Ardpoint Company, Inc. Dupont Willemin’s office stated that he had no interest in commenting on this matter.

Hernán Aguilar Parra, member of the [Cuban] National Assembly of People’s Power, appears in the Panama Papers as director of both companies. Parra ceased being a member of the Assembly in November 2015, a year after the general elections of 2014.

According to the leaked information, the tax havens are associated with Grupo Empresarial Tabacuba, a state-run company that controls all production and sale of Cuban tobacco. Parra also served as director of Tabacuba until 2015. It is believed that Parra has left the tobacco business.

“The deputies (of the Cuban assembly) have restrictions,” said a spokesperson from the Cubalex Center for Legal Information. “The function of the deputies is ad honores (they do not seek compensation) and cannot be utilized for personal gain. It is one of the duties established by existing law.” The spokesperson continued, “The law does not impose on the managers or directors of companies any restriction with respect to establishing relations with private firms. However, it would not be very well regarded for a State official, taking advantage of the function of his position, to establish commercial relations with private companies.”

The former director of production for Tabacuba, Inocente Osvaldo Encarnación, was also tied to the offshore Ardpoint Company Inc. During a telephone interview, Osvaldo Encarnación confirmed that he held shares in a company, but declined to name it. Likewise, he also refused to comment on his ties to Ardpoint.

The records of Mossack Fonseca were obtained by the German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with colleagues of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

Offshore Interests

Although the leaked data do not indicate any specific violation of the law, they do offer an intriguing perspective on the web of relationships.

Corporación Panamericana, headquartered in Havana, is the responsible party for providing the services of Mossack Fonseca to Cuban companies. According to the documents, the Cuban attorney Katiuska Penado Moreno has been the firm’s legal representative. During a brief telephone interview, Penado Moreno claimed to have no ties “currently” to Mossack Fonseca nor to Corporación Panamericana.

Penado Moreno’s name appeared in the Panama Papers in relation to four offshore companies: Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd., Mercaria Trading, Caribbean Sugar Trader, y Sanford Financial Management. Penado Moreno appears as “beneficial owner”—a legal term for when property rights belong to one person despite the legal title belonging to another. Dupont Willemin appears as director of the four firms.

Through Mossack Fonseca, Dupont Willemin founded Racuza S.A., a firm that sells computers, peripherals and software to the Cuban market.

The general director of foreign investments for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Commerce, Déborah Rivas Saavedra, is named in the Panama Papers as director of Racuza. Similarly, she appears as director of Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd and Caribbean Sugar Trader. After two days of trying to contact Rivas Saavedra, her office directed requests for information to Roberto Berrier Castro, director of the Center for Foreign Commerce and Investment. Berrier said that he had no information on the matter.

Among Racuza’s assistant directors are José L Fernández de Cossío, former Cuban ambassador to Japan, as well as Porfirio Medero Paiva and Hermes Vaillant, two Cuban attorneys who work for Panamericana. Paiva, Cossío and Vaillant also are listed as directors of Miramar Investment Corporation Ltd and Caribbean Sugar Trader. It was not possible to locate any of them for comments.

The Panama Papers expose the legal agreements between the Cuban government and Mossack Fonseca.

International Juridical Consultants (CJI) is a Cuban law firm that lends assistance and legal consultation to privately-owned businesses and companies. It is also a legal partner of Mossack Fonseca. The firm became the principal agent between the Cuban government and Mossack Fonseca in charge of providing legal services.

Upon being contacted, CJI directed information requests to attorney René de Jesús Burguet Rodríguez, whose name also appears in an email exchange between CJI and Mossack Fonseca. No reply had been received as of press time.

The leaked data include other links between officials and offshore enterprises.

The Union of Hydraulic Research and Projects is a consulting service of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), the government agency in charge of hydraulic networks and sewerage systems on the Island. The Union appears as a shareholder in Técnica Hidráulica, an offshore company headquartered in the British Virgin Islands and created through Corporación Panamericana. The company, property of a commercial enterprise of INRH called Técnica Hidráulica S.A., operated until 2015, when, according to the Panama Papers, it was liquidated.

CJI was in charge, according to a contract, of representing the legal affairs of the offshore companies of Técnica Hidráulica S.A., which are run by Mossack Fonseca.

The Panama Papers identified Wilfredo Leyva Armesto, also known as William Leyva, as the director of Técnica Hidráulica. Leyva could not be contacted for comments.

A spokesperson for Cuba’s National Assembly said that they could not respond to questions related to the Panama Papers.

*This work is a collaboration of the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Independent Cuban Journalists, Cubanet and Diario de Cuba.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: A Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism? / Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima

What does "a prosperous and sustainable socialism" mean for citizens who must wait for more than two hours for a bus? Photo/ HP
What does “a prosperous and sustainable socialism” mean for citizens who must wait for more than two hours for a bus? Photo/ HP

Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima, Havana, 16 April 2016 — It has been much-emphasized by Cuban officialdom that we are in the process of constructing an indigenous or distinctly Cuban socialism, prosperous and sustainable. But the phrase could turn out to be a hollow one, being that its realization continues to be delayed as time goes on without any concrete progress being attained to lend it credibility. This concept deserves some analysis.

Time and again there have been attempts to codify, at the worldwide level, a theory of socialism and communism. Hybrid models of the two have been tried, which have concluded in total disaster. With regard to our country, it is not precisely socialist ideas that govern us. From the start this process was distinguished by a strong Stalinist influence on how we faced the future, and whose political totalitarianism contaminated Continue reading “Cuba: A Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism? / Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima”

any attempt to legitimize and develop an alternative that would signify social and economic advancement. The fact is that without a systemic change, nothing is possible.

This coming 16 April marks 55 years since the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution was proclaimed, and of a profound crisis that has been its shadow ever since. This time span was more than sufficient to achieve a state of wellbeing in keeping with the needs and aspirations of the most humble among us. But were it not for some attempts that brought about paltry results, the venture could be categorized as unfruitful, and this period in the life of the Cuban nation declared a loss.

A pound of pork costs the equivalent of four days' salary of any Cuban worker. Photo/ HP
A pound of pork costs the equivalent of four days’ salary of any Cuban worker. Photo/ HP

When the conditions of economic and social decline reached critical mass, then the complaints of the people were echoed in the highest echelons of our society. Our “government think tanks” let loose their imagination and created the magical “Guidelines” which, according to them, will move our distressed economy forward and lay a strong foundation for the future of our descendants.

Once the Guidelines were officially set over economic and social policy, the slogan for the new historical moment was rolled out: to achieve the construction in Cuba of a “Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism.”

But this new socialism which we have not had the pleasure to meet has already given off its poisonous essence and shown two completely different faces. On the one hand, it pretends to give a vision of a do-gooder Cuban society replete with opportunities for everyone. On the other, it reveals this society’s worst defects and starkest truths. Therefore it begs the question, who is entitled to enjoy the prosperity, and who must provide the support for this prosperity?

Our national hero, José Martí, poetically compared the homeland and its citizens to a statue. And, as if to curb any ambition to power that might seek to arise above the public interest, he expressed that “the homeland is an altar and not a pedestal.”

What is happening is very simple. The current options for development and wellbeing are for a few citizens within an inner circle, which constitutes the “establishment.” This is the highest link or pinnacle of Cuban society, to which access is exceedingly restricted.

Those within the circle are the authentically privileged, who maintain this rank while they exhibit an abjectly opportunistic and demagogic conduct. These are the ones who are called to prosperously enjoy a full life—that is, they pretend to be the altar of the figurative statue—and to hoard the promised Cuban prosperity, personalizing it for themselves.

Outside of these are the poor and irredeemable majorities for whom the riches left over by the insatiable elites will never be enough. These popular majorities constitute the pedestal that sustains the fictitious society which comprises the statue, the many who must sacrifice themselves so that the aspirations of a few may flourish.

We should not be fooled by this new socialist alternative. What is left to each one of us is to ask ourselves where our place will be in this heralded socialism: will it be in the segment of the prosperous altar, or in the enormous supporting pedestal?

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Inability to Differentiate?…or to Recognize Injustice? / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera

Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, the research scientist’s workplace. Photo/HP
Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, the research scientist’s workplace. Photo/HP

Hablemos Press, Dr. Eduardo Herrera, Havana, 16 April 2016 – Juventud Rebelde newspaper, in its “Letters” section—in which they usually publish cases of social injustice or irregularities—ran an article this past 16 March titled, “Inability to Differentiate,” which recounts how a research scientist with the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute was slapped with a fine for trying to sell an Argentine national soccer team jersey.

The scientist’s name is Marité Bello Corredor, resident of No. 1714, Seventh Street, between Second and Acosta Avenue, Casino Deportivo district, Havana. At the time of the incident, she was on unpaid leave, caring for her sick mother. Continue reading “Inability to Differentiate?…or to Recognize Injustice? / Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera”

Bello decided to sell the garment because she needed the money, but despite explaining to the inspectors that she is a worker, they imposed a fine on her of 1,500 Cuban pesos (about US$60), according to the article by journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez.

The columnist sees this event as an injustice, and I do not doubt that it is, because the matter pertains to a scientist, someone who makes significant contributions to society. Regardless, in my opinion there is an error in focus, because as it turns out, everyone, equally, should abide by the laws of the land, being that all citizens enjoy equal rights and are subject to equal duties, according to the Constitution.

What is shameful (for the Cuban state) is to see someone who makes a great social contribution having to sell an article of clothing at a bargain price just to survive.

In Cuba, many people who provide important benefits to society do not make a salary that can guarantee them a dignified life. Therefore they are liable to commit crimes without knowing.

A scientific researcher can make approximately US$60 a month—insufficient to feed himself properly, let alone feed a family, even a small one.

Personally, I would have titled José Alejandro Rodríguez’ article, “Incapacity to Recognize,” being that in our country, people’s work is not recognized, because workers are not compensated as they should be. Thus, citizens are discouraged from making greater contributions to society.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A Glossary Against the Deafness of Raul Castro / Luis Felipe Rojas

Elizardo Sánchez. Photo taken during an interview by AFP in Paris on 19 March 2013 (AFP, Samir Tounis). “The repression against all of society, as well as the level of intimidation from the state, continues to be unjustifiably high but difficult to quantify, given its systemic character.” –Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, president, Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 March 2016 — With mouths agape and arms extended to the heavens, Cubans of goodwill are still awaiting the night on which Raúl Castro will liberate all political prisoners and fling into the garbage can that judicial aberration which is the current Penal Code.

Meanwhile, Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) continues documenting–with an artisan’s meticulousness and well-sharpened pencil–every blow, act of repudiation, police harrassment, and finally compiles the details on every Cuban sent to prison under obscure circumstances that appear to be politically motivated. Continue reading “A Glossary Against the Deafness of Raul Castro / Luis Felipe Rojas”

CCDHRN published–mere hours after Castro’s misstep during the March 21 press conference with Barack Obama–a current list of Cuban political prisoners, including first and last names, detention dates, charges, sentences, and a few observations. CCDHRN provided the current list to 14ymedio two weeks prior to when the organization had planned to release its regular update; the General’s slip-up motivated them to issue an advance report.

There are 89 political prisoners. The flimsiest causes could end up being up charged with aggression after having bean beaten with military force, or receiving a years-long sentence for an indictment of public disorder following an act of repudiation–if one takes into account that the state’s case is based on the fact that activists are labeled as ones who provoke “the impassioned public” with their peaceful protests.

“The most frequent crimes for which government opponents are imprisoned are contempt, pre-criminal social dangerousness, resisting arrest, disobedience, or attack. If at the moment when a citizen is detained there is any violence, trying to block the blows with his hands can be interpreted as resistance. If in the scuffle the detainee elbows a police offider, this is considered an attempted attack,” Sánchez explained.

Throughout the 2000s I visited the CCDHRN headquarters in the Miramar neighborhood on several occasions, to have a drink of water, or to access books and magazines banned by the regime. I always witnessed the calls for help coming in from the most diverse points of the country: a lady who cried for her son whose ribs were broken because he pleaded for medical attention; the son of a prisoner of the Black Spring who denounced that his father was not allowed to receive a Bible; an elderly man who described how his brother was sentenced for damage to property, when in fact the government agents banged his head against the door of the patrol car. In all cases, Elizardo documents, takes notes, his “correspondents” gather details in the field, and a final report is issued.

“Give me the list!” shouted the old man of the olive-green oligarchy that day. There is such a list: it has been produced for more than 20 years, and has served such prestigious organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and governments that have negotiated the final exile of those condemned for differing from Cuban communism.

The list of political prisoners exists–as does the deafness of Raúl Castro.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Backyard of My House is NOT Special* / Regina Coyula

First Screen:
There have been threats of drastic measures to be taken against any who do not comply with maintenance guidelines, and owners of vacant houses who have not had them fumigated. What you will see here is an open space of state property located just 30 yards from my house. All that’s needed is a light rain.

Last Screen:
Regina Coyula
Theme Music: The Mosquito’s Bite
J. Rudess; J. Petrucci
14 March 2016

*Translator’s Note: This is a take-off from a line in a Spanish-language children’s nonsense song, “The backyard of my house is special: it gets wet when there’s rain, just like the others.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 March 2016

A "Privileged" Artist / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 15 January 2016 — Personally, I have nothing against the plastic artist known as “Kcho,” be it against his values or his work–a task I leave for specialists–aside from the fact that his recurring little boats and oars leave me cold.

The reason for these lines is that “Kcho” seems to have become the “preferred artist of the kingdom”: his paintings, installations and other works are regularly presented as gifts from the authorities to foreign and national personalities, as if there were no other national plastic artists whose works would merit this special treatment. Continue reading “A "Privileged" Artist / Fernando Dámaso”

The fair thing would be for these “official gifts” to be chosen from among proposals presented for this purpose by different creators, or as a result of competitions convoked for it–in the latter case, provided there were enough time and the decision were not made at the last minute.

In any event, it is worrisome that, in the face of this discrimination against the rest of the plastic artists, neither those affected, nor the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), to which they belong, nor their syndicate, nor the Ministry of Culture, make any pronouncements on the matter.

Given what has been going on for some time, it would seem that the only important work being done in Cuba in the plastic arts, and which meets all the requirements to qualify as an official gift from the authorities, is that of “Kcho,” when in fact the reality is totally different.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: From the Black Spring to a Rolling Stones Concert / Iván García

Cuba–Rolling Stones Poster

Iván García, 16 March 2106 — Around 12 midnight on Tuesday, 18 March 2003, I was en route to my apartment in the La Víbora neighborhood when, from the balcony, some incomprehensible signs coming from my mother set off the alarms.

Those were hard years. My mother and I were contributing articles to  the independent press agency, Cuba Press, prohibited by the government, which was led by the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero. We were detained, intimidated or warned by cowboys from State Security with too much insistence.

Fidel Castro, meticulously, had prepared his “crime” scene. Since February 1996, when MiG aircraft shot down four civilian aircraft of the Brothers to the Rescue, and with the turn of the screw to the embargo on the part of Bill Clinton’s administration, the olive-green strongman unleashed his furies upon the peaceful opposition. Continue reading “Cuba: From the Black Spring to a Rolling Stones Concert / Iván García”

In 1999, the obedient and one-note national parliament had approved Law 88, a legal platform that allowed the government to impose prison terms of up to 30 years on dissidents, human rights activists, and independent journalists.

The acts of repudiation conducted on our domiciles were frequent. We lived in a climate of fear. But we continued reporting stories about the other Cuba, the one that was never reflected in the official press.

That night, my mother tells me that she had gone to turn in some articles to Raúl Rivero at his home in Centro Habana and, no sooner had she arrived but Raúl tells her that State Security had been searching the homes of Ricardo González Alfonso and Jorge Olivera, and that as soon as these searches were over, they would be taken into custody. “He said that I should return immediately and tell you,” she recounted, “because at any moment, they would come looking for the two of us.”

Two days later, on Thursday 20 March, Blanca–Raúl’s wife–tells us that at around 5 pm, he had been arrested. “The operation was tremendous,” she said. “Television cameras, several patrol cars and dozens of police officers, as if he were a terrorist. But when the neighbors found out, they went out into the street and several of them screamed.”

Throughout the following hours and days, we learned of other arrests of colleagues in the capital and the provinces. Their weapons: typewriters. Their crime: to dream of democracy in Cuba.

I was going around with a toothbrush and a spoon in my backpack. The atmosphere was oppressive. Hijackings of commercial airlines and ships were taking place. In a summary trial, Fidel Castro ordered the execution of three young black men who had hijacked an old passenger ferry. It was a state-sponsored execution.

The regime’s reasoning, taking advantage of the start of the war in Iraq, was that the raid would be unnoticed. It was not so. Presidents, intellectuals and international media focused on the wave of repression. In its prosecutions, the government was requesting the death penalty for seven opposition members.

Years later, Raúl Castro, handpicked as president by Fidel–pressured by the fatal hunger strike of the dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and by the marches of the Ladies in White demanding the release of their husbands, fathers and sons–initiated negotiations to free the government opponents, as part of a troika with the Catholic Church and the Spanish chancellor Miguel Ángel Moratinos.

The military autocracy undertook lukewarm economic reforms that were indispensable to its continuance in power. The furniture was moved around, but the same décor was maintained.

It was not a gamble on market economics or democracy. No. It was a play for survival. They legalized absurd, feudal-style rules that had kept Cubans from accessing mobile telephones, hotel lodging, buying cars or selling their homes. But structurally, the essence of the regime was–and still is–maintained.

Thirteen years later, in Spring of 2016, you can say whatever you want. But you cannot create a political party, an independent association, or a print newspaper.

In the economic sector, the opening is limited. There is no coherent legal framework for private entrepreneurs who, lacking a wholesale market where they can buy their raw materials and ingredients, must resort to trickery, corruption and cooking the books.

The State continues to classify self-employed workers as presumed delinquents. The regime’s economic guidelines–its holy bible–warns that the government will not consent to the concentration of capital in private hands. The new investments law does not permit investing in the self-employed.

What have been the changes undertaken by the Cuban autocracy? The prime transformations have been in foreign policy. Key aspects of Cuban diplomacy have undergone a 180-degree turn during Raúl Castro’s term in office.

The Havana regime has gone from training guerrilla groups or terrorists in their territory, to negotiating a place in world financial mechanisms, to signing new treaties with the United States and the European Union, to mediating between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, to being an important actor in achieving a peace accord in Colombia.

Cuba has opened itself to the world, as Pope John Paul II asked, but not to Cubans. At the internal level, the aged gerontocracy’s resistance continues, with its anachronistic concepts of social control, absence of political liberties, and suppression of free expression. In the economic area, the reforms are limited and insufficient.

When Raúl Castro regards his reflection in the mirror, he does not see himself as Wojcieh Jaruzelski, the Polish leader who opened the fortress to democracy. He would like to be remembered as the man who perpetuated his brother Fidel’s “Revolutionary work.”

It is necessary to prognosticate what Cuba’s future might be. To open a Pandora’s box in closed societies is always a dangerous game. And a presumed redeemer can turn into a probable gravedigger.

Perceptions are deceiving. A great red carpet for President Obama, a mega-concert by the Rolling Stones, a recent accord with the EU, and the imminent signing of a commitment between the FARC and the Colombian government to put an end to the continent’s last armed conflict.

But on the Island, repression of frontline dissidents and arbitrary arrests continue–as do low wages, high cost of living and a questionable future. This is why many Cubans are opting to emigrate.

 Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement Letter to President Obama

Laura Labrada Pollán, Laura Pollán's daughter
Laura Labrada Pollán, Laura Pollán’s daughter

10 March 2016

His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama
President of the United States of America

I extend to you the most cordial welcome to our country and wish you a happy stay in this land, which you can now feel as your own.

Cuba and the United States of America share a long history of friendship which has not been erased throughout more than 57 years of dictatorship in my country. It is time now that our citizens to meet at the middle of the bridge, and what they feel cannot be separated by any government or group. Continue reading “Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement Letter to President Obama”

We, as members of the Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement, an NGO dedicated to the liberation of political prisoners and aid to our people in general, thank you for the courage you have shown in changing an approach that has not been effective for more than five decades in transforming the current state of affairs in my country. The dictatorship gains strength from confrontation, and not from negotiation and compromise.

Our nation needs a change. Civil society has been growing, stimulated by so many decades of hardships and attempts to destroy it. You can do much for our people. Empowering our population is among the first steps to achieve several of our objectives: freedom of expression, of the press, a multi-party system, and a dignified future for our children.

We know that it is still too soon to appreciate the results of these policy changes, but we are confident that subsequent US administrations will know how to build upon this first rock that you bravely dedicated to the liberty of our people. Cuba is grateful for it, and needs it.

We believe in your sincerity when you say that your efforts are to empower our civil society and not to support a government that has visited great afflictions on its populace. The politics of compromise is vital to achieve peaceful and lasting changes, as you said on 17 December 2014. Perhaps you have been able, as none of your predecessors, to convince the Cuban government that it is time for a change.

My mother, Laura Pollán, who died under circumstances that lead to suspicions she was assassinated, was always very clear about the role her government, as well as others of the free world, would play in the changes that necessarily needed to come. For her labor in defense of the rights of Cubans and the promotion of democracy, she was honored, during your administration, by the National Endowment for Democracy.

We hope that during this very short visit you will plan on the possibility of hearing from the lips of our people and our civil society the reality that we live in Cuba. We would like for you to meet with us as part of that opposition with which you said you would consult during your visit. From our women you will hear firsthand all that is happening in our nation, and the sentiments of the Cuban woman who, like Michelle, love freedom.

When you depart from our country on 22 March, I assure you that you will carry Cuba in your heart, and you will hold in your hand one of your greatest achievements.

You will know how to represent the free world, and you will be the voice for those of us who cannot speak.

Laura María Labrada Pollán
Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement

Source: Along the Malecon (Tracey Eaton)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Pro-Castro Foolishness / Luis Felipe Rojas

“There will be no impunity for the enemies of the fatherland, for those who intend to endanger our independence.” — Raúl Castro, 3 August 2010.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 February 2016 — Attention, all who rabidly applaud the Obama-Francisco-Castro pact: it is worthwhile to make difficult proposals, ask inconvenient questions, and bother the military beast that has run the Island with the trembling hands of whisky hangovers.

Oh, no? Not in your plans? It must be said again and again, because after the hugs have come the kisses, and who knows what else. Among secretaries of agriculture, lady mayors, aide-de-camps, successful businesspeople, and rock superstars, there must be somebody left with a little shame who will make it known to Raúl Castro that his outstretched hand should go in another direction, he should look the people in the eye and quit posing for a photograph that will take on a sepia tone faster than his egomania can stand it. Continue reading “Pro-Castro Foolishness / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Muriel Bowser, Lady Mayor of Washington, visited Cuba last week and said that she wants an educational system similar to that in Cuba for her fellow citizens. Was she including among this the Study-Work method — that she was taken to see — which Cuban instituted to put an end to the family and turn common citizens into robots? Does Her Ladyship know that Cuban children are obligated to shout that they want to be like Ché Guevra, and that from repeating it so much they become so, barely out of adolescence?

Those children who were so excited to be like Ché Guevara left the country to kill Africans that they had never met, and returned bearing all the traumas of war, turned into fat fifty-somethings, who today run a plastics factory or a Rapid Response Brigade (those at-the-ready to shout down — or even beat down — any display of non-conformance with the regime).

Could it be that no superstar, before giving a concert or going out to enjoy mojitos and pork chunks, will ask Castro to disarm the surveillance mechanism that keeps an eye even on the intimate apparel of every Cuban woman? The wizened stool-pigeon of the neighborhood, the “honorary official,” the “specialist” of State Security who controls every provincial cultural center, even the thug who organizes a raid on dissidents — they are all part and parcel of that magic that today enthralls the political tourists when they gaze upon Raúl Castro. He is the criminal with whom they pose and will be seen in the Times, the Washington Post, or the now “spotless” and in-the-running-for-an-Oscar Boston Globe.

It will never be to late to align oneself to infamy. So, start running today to Havana, stroll around sporting your little container of bottled water, take a whiff of that 21st Century dungheap that has been sold to you as the best-educated nation of Latin America. Forget about the penitentiary system, of the fear among neighbors, of the violence that can just as easily decapitate with machetes as take a youth’s life by kicking him until his spinal cord is crushed in the police station at Zanja and Dragones streets.

Go and tell the world that Cuba has changed, that the island is a paradise.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Covering the “Eyes” of Claudio Fuentes / Luis Felipe Rojas

Cuban photographer Claudio Fuentes, arrested by the political police in Havana. Courtesy: Ailer González, State of SATS.

Luis Felipe Rojas, Miami, 15 February 2016 — Cuban photographer and dissident Claudio Fuentes was once again arrested on Sunday, 14 February, by forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Havana. The Castro regime’s gendarmes kept Fuentes from taking part in the peaceful action #TodosMarchamos [We All March], which the Ladies in White and dozens of activists put on in support of Human Rights.

Cuban photographer Claudio Fuentes, arrested by the political police in Havana. Courtesy: Ailer González, State of SATS.

Claudio Fuentes is an independent photographer who has been arrested on numerous occasions for taking part in and photographing peaceful activities of the internal dissidence in Cuba. His photographs reveal victims of beatings, women who express their courage against the threatening actions of the Cuban dictatorship, but he has also photographed in an original manner life in Havana as he has lived it.

The information regarding the arrest of Claudio Fuentes was provided by Ailer González, who in charge of artistic projects for State of SATS, which is directed by Antonio Rodiles. The activist posted various photos in which Fuentes can be seen being detained at the hands of the PNR and officials from State Security. Similarly, González reproached the journalist Fernando Ravsberg and others who blame the Cuban opposition for not bringing together more people.

“…And how do you mobilize them under a totalitarian dictatorship where there are these levels of control, harrassment and repression? Assisted further by the Obama administration, the Vatican and even Kirill, the czar of the Russian mafia?” asked the activist.

For over 10 months, diverse organizations and individual activists have documented 41 consecutive Sundays in which the military forces have violently repressed the Ladies in White during their march upon leaving St. Rita Church, on 5th Avenue in the Miramar neighborhood in the Cuban capital. The Forum for Rights and Liberties (FPDyL) has coordinated support for the women.

Claudio probably is free at this hour, and frustrated because they did not allow him to photograph that piece of Cuba not found in today’s tourist guides. If not, I send him all my solidarity — as on several occasions he did with me, when the henchmen were detaining me and minutely recording my life in a small town of eastern Cuba where the tourists, businesspeople and celebrities did not, and still do not, arrive to stroll impassively while looking the other way.

I will leave you here other marvelous photos taken by Claudio Fuentes.

“Gente” [People]. Photos by Claudio Fuentes.
“Gente” [People]. Photos by Claudio Fuentes.

Lía Villares, Cuban activist. From the series, “Gente.” Photos by Claudio Fuentes.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison