The People of Havana Return to Their Routines / Ivan Garcia

mercado-negro-negra-vende-mani2-600x330Now Eduardo is back. In the wake of the Second CELAC Summit, an omnibus with police and paramedics made a sweep of the beggars who were camping out in Vedado or Old Havana.

“I was in a shelter known as La Colonia, in Boyeros municipality (20 kilometers west of the center of the capital). The treatment was harsh. It looked like a jail. But at least they guaranteed lunch and food,” said the vagabond, who usually bets on an image of San Lázaro to ask for money at the entrance of a complex of exclusive shops in the Habana Libre hotel.

After being warned by the police, a group of alcoholics and beggars who usually sell used clothing and old books on the corner of Carmen and 10th of October in the slum of La Vibora, stayed away for a week.

“They told us we made the city look ugly. A police official said we should get lost until the end of the Summit. The important visits, like that of the Pope or meetings of presidents, together with the cold, are a pain in the neck for us, because we have to go to places outside the city. We live like gypsies. Almost all of us sleep in cartons in some doorway. In the neighborhood of la Calzada and 10th of October, we find a few pesos by doing metal plating, cutting stone, and some neighbors give us food,” remarked Ariel, a hopeless alcoholic. Continue reading “The People of Havana Return to Their Routines / Ivan Garcia”

Barely did the CELAC Summit end, when the beggars and dumpster divers returned to their work.

These events are also usually trouble for those who live on the margins on the law. Like Ramiro, a part-time transvestite, who prostitutes himself on the central avenues after work.

“During those days you walk around wound up. The police get very nervous. A client told me that they were mobilizing, since they expected groups of human rights marchers or public demonstrations. Once it was over, I returned to the struggle,” says Ramiro.

Hookers in the suburbs in the style of Gisela, pretty and with an easy laugh, also make sacrifices. “I’ve been arrested twice for prostitution. I have to be careful. When they celebrate meetings like this, I “nail myself in” (stay at home). Later I go back to the routine.

Numerous dissidents, among them the intellectual Manuel Cuesta Morúa and the attorney Veizant Boloy, should now be returning to their homes, after several days of detention in police dungeons, to prevent them from holding a parallel forum.

Other members of the opposition, independent journalists, alternative bloggers and human rights activists were prevented by State Security from leaving their homes, and their cell phones were cut off.

The Second CELAC Summit, celebrated in Havana from January 25 to 29, didn’t bring too many benefits to the people of Havana. Among the lucky ones were the residents on San Lázaro Street, from the University staircase up to the Fragua Martiana Museum, in the Cayo Hueso district.

Owing to the presence of a torch parade in honor of the 161st anniversary of the birth of José Martí, a coat of paint was given to the facades of some buildings and homes, and several streets got new asphalt.

Owners of private restaurants and family businesses in zones neighboring PABEXPO, were closed on the days of the event. “I have a cake business, for weddings and parties, that I had to close, because of the exaggerated police presence and prohibitions for the circulation of autos. The clients disappeared,” indicated Alexander, the owner of a sweetshop in Miramar.

The “fat” expected by owners of private restaurants, craft vendors, and private taxi drivers remained far below expectations.

“The truth is that almost no one who took part in the Summit came by here, unless it was one or another first lady, say,” said a seller of paintings on the Plaza de la Catedral.

Paladars of caliber like La Guarida, located in the heart of the marginal neighborhood of San Leopoldo, kept hoping for reservations by the heavyweights. In November 1999, when the Kings of Spain attended the IberoAmerican Summit celebrated in Havana, the Queen Doña Sofía dined in the famous paladar (as private restaurants are called).

Josefina had more luck, with her hair salon in Old Havana. She gave a haircut to the indifferent Secretary General of the United Nations, the South Korean Ban Ki-moon. Though how much he paid for the cut isn’t known.

Iván García

Photo: Old Havana. While the woman trumpets her cone of “peanuts, toasted and hot,” very close to her are a policeman and a man having an exchange of words. Taken from Cubanet.

Translated by Regina Anavy

1 February 2014

Support Requested for “El Critico”: Imprisoned Rapper

From “Pieces of the Island“:

Yudisbel Roseyo Mojena, wife of dissident rapper and political prisoner Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga “El Critico”, has been passing through some very difficult moments during these three months in which her husband has been behind bars.  She has had to raise their newborn child (only 4 months old) on her own, while she has had to go through countless difficulties to try and visit Remon Arzuaga in Las Mangas Prison of Bayamo.

The musician was violently arrested by the political police on the 26th of March because he handed out pro-freedom pamphlets, painted anti-regime messages outside his home and carried out a public discourse in favor of human rights.  Friends have also assured that Remon’s protest music within the hip-hop duo Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso (The Unwanted Children) is another of the reasons why he has been taken to prison, considering that his music has attracted much attention from locals, especially the youth.

Inside of Las Mangas Prison, El Critico has been confronting numerous complications.

Right now, Angel Yunier is not receiving medical attention although he suffers from an ulcer and chronic gastritis“, explains Yudisbel to this blog, “his jailers are also refusing to grant him minutes of phone access which he is supposed to receive“.

In addition, the young mother denounces that when she travels to the prison to visit her husband, “State Security always forms a problem.  Each time I visit him it’s a different scenario.  Sometimes they say they can’t bring him out at that moment, other times they tell me I have to leave first, etc“.

Please read the rest of the story here.

25 June 2013

Being a Dissident and a Practitioner of Santeria, a Difficult Path / Luis Felipe Rojas

The first Cuban vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez visited the headquarters of the Cultural Yoruba Association of Cuba this past Monday, days after the Department of State published a document in regards to religious freedom, which alleges that there have been some advances as far as Cuba’s approach in these matters.

While the second-in-line of the Cuban government was saying goodbye to the babalaos –– the Santeria priests — of the official association, throughout the streets of Cuba other Santeria leaders are looked down upon for not joining the organization run by the Office of Religious Affairs, for abiding by other rules, for carrying weapons to carry out animal sacrifices and even for being dissidents, a charge which turns out to be quite heavy to bear.

The babalao Gesse Castelnau Ruiz considers that the meeting of Diaz-Canel with the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba is manipulative in its essence, as this religious group accepts only Communist party members or citizens who are committed to the government. Continue reading “Being a Dissident and a Practitioner of Santeria, a Difficult Path / Luis Felipe Rojas”

In the Havana municipality of October 10 there is another Yoruba Association of Cuba, named “Lazaro Cuesta,” which also issues a “Letter of the Year,” parallel to that located in Old Havana. In this regard, the priest of Ifa, Castelnau states that just recently they went to that organization to apply for a license to carry the weapons intended for animal sacrifices and were denied for being active regime opponents.

A drum circle for the health of the deceased former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a rite of sacrifice and worship of the five Cuban intelligence spies imprisoned in the U.S., or for the recovery of former President Fidel Castro, have been three of the last three demonstrations of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba to the government adhering to the government’s designs.

Carrying weapons without official authorization, issuing the Letter of the Year parallel to that of the official association, showing their openly rebellious activism or attempting to provide religious services to foreign visitors, are all part of the causes of harassment experienced in the capital or provinces such as Villa Clara and Holguin.

“I have taken very well to being a babalao and dissident, me and my family, where there are four more babalaos. They did not let us participate in activities organized by that association, nor did we want to. They have confiscated my batá drums for Zanja Street police station because they say they have things inside and have to search them. There is no freedom of religion and expression,” the Yoruba priest concluded.

A religion divided

Iyalocha (priestess of Ifa) and Lady in White, Jessica is a young woman who believes in the powers of Orula and that all men and women are born free and have equal rights. Because of this she wears a fardo that has cost her arrests, police repression and the refusal to allow her to be in the Yoruba Association, based on the Prado in Havana.

Jessica thinks that the practice of the cult of the Orishas in Cuba is divided, and says that “This happened since they opened the Prado Street headquarters, which is governed entirely by the Cuban government.”

Several babalaos and practitioners agree that the Cuban Santeria guru, Lazaro Cuesta, would feel betrayed because he created the first Yoruba Association of Cuba in the municipality of October 10, and it was from there that the “only true Letter of the Year” is issued Jessica said, somewhat affected.

“Many Santeria followers don’t go to Meadow Street headquarters, for the simple reason that there can’t be two letters. I dare say that 90% of the Cuban people who believe in Ifa are governed by the letter issued in the municipality October 10 which was the first that came out.”

Cuba currently has Letters of the Year and for those Santeria followers who originally went to the house of October 10, this duality is a sacrilege.

Declarations of the Iyalocha and Lady in White Jessica C.

Jessica recalls that the official association came to offer a Tambor (a religious ceremony) for the health of President Hugo Chavez and on this occasion the Cuban Santeria followers had to use drums at the Prado headquarters site because most Cuban babalaos will not lend themselves to such a propaganda show. In the images the musician Papo Angarica  could be seen cheering the Venezuelan leader, as on other occasions he had done for the cause of the five spies or any other partisan mandate.

“Christians say we are evil and Chavez was a Christian, then how did they set the Santeria to pray for a Christian? All the world realized it was a media circus,” says the iyalochaa Jessica Castelnau.

24 May 2013

Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) joins “The Path of the People” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Rolando Rodríquez Lobaina (Coordinator of ADO) with Rosa María Payá, of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL)

In a cordial encounter sustained in the capital of the nation, dissident leader Rosa Maria Paya signed an agreement with the General Coordinator of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO), Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, to work together in the promotion of the project, “The Path of the People.”

The idea of working in unity ratifies the intention of various civil organizations in the island to work in favor of democracy and for changes for the people.

“It’s the perfect moment to take important steps that will help the Cuban people to chose new instruments to demand the rights they deserve,” affirmed Lobaina.

The Eastern activist also added in his discourse: “The Path of the People should be taken to everyone, and all other organizations in and out of Cuba that stand up against totalitarianism should support this initiative, an initiative open to everyone.”

Finally, ADO’s coordinator concluded by saying: “The first step which we Cubans should take is to dismantle the law system which restrains the freedoms of all citizens.  Taking this as a starting point, we can then sit to debate about the destiny of the nation, with respect and tolerance”.

 Report by Isael Poveda Silva, Director of independent news agency ADOPRESS.

13 May 2013

“We cannot wait for the Castros to die” / Ladies in White, Berta Soler

20130502_MUNDIALES_BERTHASOLER_TCR_3.JPGFrom Pieces of the Island: After Berta Soler’s emotional trip to Miami- the heart of the Cuban exile- she has continued to take the Cuban reality to other places with many exiles, such as New Jersey and now, Puerto Rico.  The following is my translation of a piece by Mario Alegre Barrios, published in one of Puerto Rico’s most famous newspapers, “El Nuevo Dia”.  It is a must-read interview with Soler:

Berta Soler, president of the Ladies in White, says that a social explosion in Cuba is imminent

By Mario Alegre Barrios / malegre@elnuevodia.com

When we said goodbye to each other two years ago, in Havana, neither of us thought that we would see each other again.  At least I didn’t.

I was wrong.

The face of Berta Soler- cofounder and president of Cuba’s Ladies in White- now has another Light: her stare shines and draws a white smile which contrasts that solemn expression we met at the home of Laura Pollan, the headquarters of this group which, for the last decade, has been one of the fundamental fronts of resistance against the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro.

Visiting Puerto Rico since last Wednesday, today Berta continues the trip she started nearly two months ago and which led her- along with two other Ladies in White- to Brussels to receive the Andrei Sakharov Award which was given to the women by the European Parliament in 2005, acknowledging their struggle for human rights.

In the same way she gave that chat in the summer of 2011, Berta speaks in torrents, as if time was running out to speak about the reality of her country which has been under the longest dictatorship in the world (for more than half a century).

Read the rest of the interview here, at Pieces of the Island.

7 May 2013

Child Hunger Striker Close to Death

The following article from yesterday is from “Pedazos de la Isla” (Pieces of the Island) — a news-blog in Spanish and English that keeps a special eye on El Oriente in Cuba (Eastern Cuba). Today the news continues to worsen with 17-year-old Enrique Lozada, striking to protest the unjust detention of his father, close to respiratory failure.

Hunger strikers in Cuba: Minor, Lady in White and elderly man rushed to hospital

Enrique Lozada, 17 years old

After more than 2 weeks on hunger strike, three activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) have been urgently rushed to the JuanBrunoZayasHospital in Santiago   de Cuba due to serious health complications.

The strikers are Lady in White Ana Celia Rodriguez (suffering from diabetes), the elderly activist Dionisio Blanco Rodriguez, and 17-year-old Enrique Lozada. The latter is the son of Luis Enrique Lozada Igarza who was arbitrarily arrested on April 9th. His arrest was what led to the massive strike by UNPACU activists. Now, the health of all the strikers is getting worse.

Anyer Antonio Blanco Rodriguez, a youth activist from UNPACU, published various messages on Twitter (@anyerantoniobla) detailing the situation.

“The general health of the hunger strikers is critical”, read one message written by Blanco Rodriguez.

In an audio published by “Radio Republica” Anyer points out that the three hunger strikers have been taken to the same hospital where Wilman Villar Mendoza was, while Luis Enrique Lozada has been confined to the same exact cell in the Aguadores Prison of Santiago where Villar was tortured and taken to his death. Wilman Villar was a political prisoner who died after a lengthy hunger strike in early 2012.

Recently, other strikers have also been taken to hospitals, as was the case of Lady in White Adriana Nunez Pascual and the activists from Holguin, Franklin Peregrino del Toro and Pedro Leiva Gongora.

There is much worry about the health of the strikers, especially the young Enrique Lozada. In a recent video published by UNPACU he said that he is willing to take his protest, for the liberation of his father, “to the final consequences”.

“We need the solidarity of all Cuban, inside and outside of the island”, expressed Blanco Rodriguez.

“I am not afraid to die for my father’s freedom”: Youngest hunger striker speaks / UNPACU – Patriotic Union of Cuba

In a video recorded by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Enrique Lozada speaks during his third week on hunger strike, a protest started to demand the release of his father, activist Luis Enrique Lozada Igarza, violently arrested by the political police last April 9th in Maffo, Contramaestre.  Luis Enrique is also on hunger strike and is being confined in inhumane conditions in the Aguadores Prison of Santiago de Cuba.

More than 60 other dissidents have declared themselves on strike with the same motive, including dissident leader Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia.  At age 17, Enrique is the youngest striker of the group.  In this video, one can see that he is clearly weakened and already affected, health-wise, by the protest.

His spirit, however, remains intact.

Please read the rest of this post on “Pieces of the Island” where you can follow the daily struggles of democracy and human rights activists across the island.

“We demand the release of Luis Enrique Lozada”. Artwork by Rolando Pulido
“We demand the release of Luis Enrique Lozada”. Artwork by Rolando Pulido

30 April 2013

Rosa Maria Lives / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Rosa Maria Paya. Photo by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Rosa Maria Paya. Photo by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Tomorrow, at dawn, Rosa Maria Paya returns to Cuba, just as she promised at the Havana airport two months ago. Her word, contrary to what is common in Cuba, is honest.

Rosa Maria will return without bodyguards and without a media scandal, vulnerable and smiling, caressing her tireless cross, back to her already classic humble home on Penon street, near Manila Park, where her father Oswaldo Paya Sardinas (1952-2012) will never return, nor her good friend Harold Cepero Escalante (1980-2012). Both were leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement, both died on a tragic Sunday of last July, passed onto the hands of strangers and in a place in Cuba that is still uncertain, given that the official version has become unsustainable after all the evidence and testimonies exposed to the world by Rosa Maria Paya, without even having to raise her voice. Before the grotesque screaming of all forms of State Totalitarianism, the voice of a Cuban, an orphan of friendship and love.

Rosa Maria Paya will return to the land where the mortal remains of the martyred leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement rot. She will return alive and with a wish to resuscitate the sacred desires of living in truth in a socialist society, so panic-stricken and full of hypocrisy. Rosa returns and will sprout in Cuba without any accomplice disease of our octogenarian regime. She will return without any pretensions of violating travel laws or declaring herself on hunger strike. She returns inflamed with life and freedom. She returns, with an L (for ‘Liberty’), just like she left on a Friday this past February.

Cuban State Security did not care, at all, about her 24 years of age, grown into them with resistance in the face of horror. The Paya-Acevedo family is a family that still receives anonymous threats of “before the Revolution ends, we are going to kill you”. And, in effect, there is lots of that in the rheumatic rhetoric of the Revolution: anonymity, fear of having a face beyond Fidel and Raul (our Nuremburg trial will be in a minimal format).

Tomorrow morning Rosa Maria Paya will step out of media’s hands, out of the hands of f Human Rights organizations and parliaments, NGOs and democratic governments that have joined in solidarity. Because in Cuba, only bodies count, and the new face of the Christian Liberation Movement, without vocations of sacrifice, will return to a perverted nation which possibly may not let her travel again. It’s possible that we may never see her paused gesticulation, without the improbable arrogance of our caudillos. We may never again hear the vehement tenderness of her valor. In this sense, we should bid a soulful farewell to Rosa Maria Paya.

The main thing here lies, of course, not in her virtuoso image, but in the legacy of a work that is still powerful and possible in the citizen initiatives of the Varela Project, the Heredia Project, and the Path of the People, and many other concrete propositions which reduce the impunity of the Cuban government, as it forces it to comply with its own legality to transform itself according to popular will. An effort of dozens of thousands of citizens which continues to be ignored by our inoperative National Parliament, governmental organ which apparently prefers to opt for its own suicide instead of facing a future transition.

It is precisely this intimidating silence, that insulting impunity on the margin of morality, it is the malicious muteness of lies and death, that’s the welcome with which the authorities of Havana will now spy on Rosa Maria Paya. The Cuban State continues to be deaf, up to the point of insolence. Their operational logic is in no means institutional. Instead, it is like a secret sect.

Consequently, any abuse of power is expected against her and her family, both in and out of the island, now or in the survival of a decade in which they tortured her own father in her childhood eyes. Nothing is insignificant in that criminal boiler where the most ‘problematic’ activists of the Cuban opposition have been, are, and will be converted from bodies to corpse.

World, take a better look.

Rosa María Payá is alive today.

Translated by Raul Garcia, Jr.

15 April 2013

Violence increases against dissidents in Cuba (Part 1) / Pieces of the Island #Cuba

From TranslatingCuba.com site manager: Add this blog — Pieces of the Island — to your reading list. As always “Pieces of the Island” brings up-to-the minute news directly from Cuba — and in particular from places other than Havana — from a broad range of activists who don’t all run their own blogs. Without this reporting those who prefer to read the news from Cuba in English would never know what is happening to them.

Violent arrest of Jorge Vazquez Chaviano in the month of January, 2013.

Between the days of January 19th and 22nd, state sponsored violence against the Cuban opposition aggressively increased in different parts of the country. Some of the aggressions started on Saturday 19th, the year anniversary of the death of Wilman Villar Mendoza, a dissident who spent more than 50 days on hunger strike demanding his release from an unjust prison sentence, and continued through the morning hours of Tuesday the 22nd, when Rapid Response Brigades used unknown toxic substances to try and interrupt an encounter among dissidents in the central region of the country:

After brutality in Mafo, Contramaestre, vigilance and repudiation continues

As numerous activists and blogs reported on Saturday, January 19th, the home of Luis Enrique Lozada in Mafo, Contramaestre was raided by mobs made up by Rapid Response Brigades, State Security and political police agents of the regime. The home was destroyed and all those present were beat with cables, sticks, knives, and a sort of whip, as well as other sharp weapons. Images of the results- broken heads, wounded bodies, etc. – went around the world (see here) and, on the following day, the harassment continued. Continue reading “Violence increases against dissidents in Cuba (Part 1) / Pieces of the Island #Cuba”

José Daniel Ferrer García, general coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) denounced that during the dawn hours of Sunday, “another attack took place, this time against the home of Ovidio Martin Castellanos, a coordinator of UNPACU in the province of Santiago de   Cuba“. (Video)

Meanwhile, the home of political prisoner Jorge Cervantes, also located in Contramaestre, was attacked in a similar fashion, reducing it to ruble, leaving the wife of Cervantes, Lady in White Kenia Leguen, and her two underage children without a roof.

In an act of solidarity, Luis Enrique Lozada offered his home to the Lady in White and her two children.

So many stones were thrown at Kenia’s home that the roof was considerably damaged“, explained Ferrer Garcia, “This is not the first time this happens to this family- the young Kenia told me, with much pain in her voice, that she was condemned to live without a roof“.

In other news, on Saturday afternoon, dissident Jesus Diaz Morales was arrested in Velasco, Holguin, for having convoked a peaceful march in honor of Wilman Villar. On Monday, the 21st, mobs once again surrounded the home of Luis Enrique Lozada, watching and intimidating all those who were inside. In this case, the mobs left a few hours later, according to a tweet published by Anyer Anotnio Blanco (@anyerantoniobla).

These aggressive actions will continue, and they will correspond with the level of non-violent activism carried out by UNPACU, in favor of freedom and democracy in Cuba, as we keep growing in number of activism and actions“, declared Ferrer, “Without a doubt, our activism in a phenomenon that is very worrying for the tyranny but very hopeful for the people“.

Mobs try to impede encounter of the Ladies in White

Agents arrest Ladies in White trying to make it to meeting on January 21st, 2013.

On Monday, January 21st, when the world celebrated Martin Luther King day, the Ladies in White held an encounter at their headquarters on Neptune Street in Havana to pay tribute to the civil rights leader and, at the same time, to Wilman Villar Mendoza, as well as to demand the freedom of all political prisoners. The presence of State Security was not absent.

According to Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, one of the Ladies in White who managed to make it to the encounter, “during the 116th meeting of the group, various women who tried to make it were arrested, while the headquarter was surrounded by paramilitary mobs, the political police, and State Security. They also blocked off traffic on Neptune   Street, a main street in Havana. No car could pass by…all of this to keep women from arriving“. However, the dissident points out that 42 members managed to surpass cordons of vigilance and make it to the house.

But the mobs increased their violent actions, shouting slogans such as “Use a machete, theirs only a few of them“, and other offensive phrases. (Video here)

10 women were reported detained upon trying to arrive.

Despite the offensive slogans, the Ladies in White responded by maintaining their civility, shouting “Freedom“, “Long live human rights“, “Long live Laura Pollan“, and “Freedom for all political prisoners“.

Once again, it has been demonstrated that the regime highly fears unity within the opposition, as well as the Ladies in White, out on the streets of Cuba“, expressed Fonseca Quevedo, “This implants terror in them, to think that peaceful women march through the streets of Havana to demand freedom. I want everyone to know that we, the Ladies in White, will keep walking for freedom in Cuba“.

On the previous day, Sunday January 20th, ‘Hablemos Press’ reported that 116 Ladies in White managed to march and arrive to Mass throughout the country, but a total of 36 were arbitrarily arrested, deported, and threatened.

Toxic gases and substances against dissidents in Sagua la Grande

Mobs surround the home of Jorge Vazquez in Sagua la Grande. January 21st, 2013

In Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara, paramilitary mobs and police agents lasted the entire day of January 21st carrying out an act of repudiation and keeping vigilance over a group of activists from the Central Opposition Coalition and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front who were meeting in the home of former political prisoner Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, to pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr, Wilman Villar Mendoza and to discuss important subjects of the opposition.

Jorge Luis García Pérez ‘Antúnez’, leader of the Front and one of the dissidents present, explained that during the acts of repudiation, the agents “shouted offensive phrases” at the group of more than 20 dissidents in the house. He added that there were “underage children and an elderly woman inside as well“.

In the afternoon, two activists of the Cuban Reflection MovementNosbel Jomolca and Juan Carlos Fernandez– were arrested as they tried entering the house.

Regardless, Antunez feels that the encounter was “a success“, considering that none of the neighbors of Vazquez Chaviano participated in the repudiation.

The mobs of the dictatorship have not been able to receive support of the neighbors. Far from helping them, they maintained their solidarity with us“, said Antunez, “The soldiers became very aggressive, inciting us to come out of the house to beat us with stick, but we congratulate and appreciate the support of the people of Sagua la Grande. Right in front of the repressive mobs, they refused to participate“.

Clearly bothered, during the dawn hours of Tuesday, January 22nd, political police officials launched toxic gases and liquids at the home full of dissidents. The attack caused cough, skin eruptions, tachycardia, and breathing problems on its victims, including the underage ones.

Antunez sent out an alert to the world of what could happen to all those who suffered the attacks, seeing as they have already begun to show some symptoms.

Despite all of this, the dissident leader said that they will continue resisting and that “regardless of all the tactics of the tyranny, the Cuban Resistance, beyond any organization, is united…united in action“.

The repression against Cuban dissidents, organized by the dictatorship and carried out by agents of State Security, the political police, the Ministry of the Interior and members of the Rapid Response Brigade, has not stopped, but it has clearly increased during the first weeks of 2013. This past weekend it escalated to a level of immeasurable violence, where the lives of all those who have decided to fight for freedom are in danger.

San German, the Story of a Baseball Accident / Luis Felipe Rojas #Cuba

I witnessed this during the past Provincial Baseball Series in Holguin province. The teams San German and Calixto Garcia (Buenaventura) were playing against each other. I was trying to get a shot of some of the players when I came across this situation and snapped these shots instead, a blow with the ball, one of the most common in baseball, a straight pitch right to the head.

**All photos by Luis Felipe Rojas

The Grub of Poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas #Cuba

Photo: Malcom 2013

A long time ago, when we were happy and believed that we could fix the world by debating about baseball, poetry and politics (much time has passed since then), we found the Sancti Spiritus-Santiago de Cuba based poet, Reinaldo Garcia Blanco, who reminded us of the time when Christmas was rationed, with his poem “Very long eulogy” which conjured images of those ‘Bulgarian onions and some Rene Barbier Rosada wine’. Years later, they gave me this same wine as a welcome present to this poetic site known as Miami. The wine, the books, and friendship are a tribute to Reinaldo, Marta Maria Montejo, Rafael Vilches, Carlos Esquivel and many others who believe in the strength of words when some believe in the strength of physical blows and stonings at night. 2013 could be the year of uniting poetry and life, of finally getting fed up with so much silence and so much screaming. I leave you with a fragment of the poem which moved us that one time:

“From Left to Right”

‘With the stare of an angel, there is a woman with a mustache. It’s Frida Khalo, and her hand lies over the shoulder of Trotsky (who brings an apple towards his face), and then there is a Doric column (now it’s in sepia but during the photo it was red). Then there is a man with a firefly on his hand and a tobacco on his mouth (he makes circles of light so we can see in this darkness) and it seems as if he’s giving his back to a girl called Greta Garbo (she is playing with a kite and the hand which comes out of nowhere to snatch the toy from her belongs to Salvador Dali). Towards the back, there is a sign which reads “Proletariats of the world, Unite”. Towards the far right one man adds with a paintbrush: “Last warning”. My memory fails me, but I would bet it was Pablo Picasso. Others follow him, and it seems that they are Russian, Chechnyans, or Quakers…God knows. On the table, there are Bulgarian onions and some “Rene Barbiera Rosado” wines. The girl and the old man are Maria Kodama and Jorge Luis Borges. The one getting down from the cross is Jesus. The one with the Second World War nurse outfit is Isadora Duncan and the one with the faint stair holding a Beatles CD in his hand is Mao Zedong.’

Luis Felipe Rojas

Translated by Raul G.

1 January 2013

The Seat of Rosa Parks / Luis Felipe Rojas #Cuba

Photo: Raul Garcia

The city of Miami surprised me. Many of its buses pay tribute to someone who is a symbol of defending civil rights in this country. On my daily comings and goings through its neighborhoods, I found that detail. Right behind the bus driver’s seat, there is a small plaque with the details. Miami does it, and so have other cities in the United States, as one day will be done in Cuba with some similar actions.

The fact that Rosa Parks decided, on that afternoon of 1955, not to give up her seat to a white person, ignited the spark among her fellow citizens, leading to known events like the public transport strike in Montgomery. It was a gesture, a pro-active action, an act of non-cooperation, doing. Just like a few women decided to take to the streets of Cuba in 2003, dressed in white and with a flower in hand, or how a group of men have said: “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship”. It is these citizen gestures which turn on the motor of grand human actions.

Berta Soler. Photo by: Luis Felipe Rojas

After so much blood has been shed on the island, years of unjust imprisonment, arbitrary detentions, beatings and harassment against political activists and their families, will the definitive spark be ignited? Everything seems to indicate that it will, although sometimes we may lose hope or think that the dictatorship which has governed us for 54 years is eternal. When Laura Pollan screamed in front of the guards: “We are not afraid of you”, when Marta Diaz Rondon and Caridad Caballero shouted at the top of their lungs: “My house is not a prison”, or when Iris Perez Aguilera protested in a small town of Cuba’s interior in front of a radio station because it was only reporting part of the truth, they too were also paying tribute to Rosa Parks. They are also like her. And although they did not have the immediate protection and coverage which the humble lady from Alabama had, there is still the hope that one day they will be acknowledged for their gestures of reasonable rebellion. Against brute force, reason stands firm, Rosa said it: “Freedom is not free”.

Luis Felipe Rojas

Translated by Raul G.

3 January 2013

 

Those Black People / Luis Felipe Rojas

Logo reads:
Logo reads: “In Cuba, being black is a problem. But being a black dissidents is a tragedy. Freedom for all Now!”

Who threw the chalk? The black guy! You have the nose of a negro. But, honey, you’re not that black. Why don’t you smooth down those “curls” so you won’t look so black? Hey, mulatto, you really made those kids of yours ahead of time. Big-lipped negro. We black people are only good as musicians or boxers. Do you remember that Santisteban was the only white boxer of the national team for a long time?

Hey, lower your voice, this sounds like a house full of niggers. Man, today I’ve worked more than a slave (black, of course). Come here, what’s your name? The police approach me and says: “Look, nigger, if it weren’t for the Revolution you’d still be cutting sugar cane in San German”.

And in that neighborhood there are a lot of black people. Oh, they’re black, but they are good people. These, and thousands of other comments also cast a shadow over being Cuban. We are patriots, we fight in “a quarter of land”, but we stay quiet before such grotesque and racist expressions such as these, and more… sometimes we repeat them as if nothing happened inside. We should think about this sometime.

And, about that…who threw the chalk? That black guy.

Translated by Raul G.

2 December 2012

David Escalona, the Strength of Urban Hip-Hop / Luis Felipe Rojas

The songs written and performed by the young musician, David Escalona, carry the very essence of a different Cuba. Omni-Zona Franca, the alternative Havana-based art group, launched the political and social quarrels into the world, and they carry a certain magic.

On the night of Saturday, November 24th, I went to go see him once again. He was radiant, as he has been in the best of his concerts. The urban themes, such as survival, the banishment of living- as they have said themselves- in Alamar, a ghost city, or the repression to which they have been subjected for quite some time, are the best of incentives.

The ingredients of their poetry of resistance immediately flourish in themes which include social exclusion, political intolerance, and the most refined methods of apartheid in contemporary Cuba.

From the moment the concert opened David explained the main motive of that night: to have a good time amongst young Cubans of other latitudes who had met up in that cosmopolitan city known as Miami.

However, after the accustomed courtesy, this versatile artist asked for his concert-goers to pay close attention when he said, loud and clear, that he was dedicating that concert to his friend and compatriot Antonio Rodiles, who is still detained in a police station of Havana for daring to demand justice from the olive-green authorities. With the song “Dare and You Will See“, he started the party.

He’s an exceptional musician who walks on a slippery bridge of governmental confrontation and turns art into a useful tool, used to raise some fists, the will of the non-conformists.

In an interview through Skype, he explained that he makes “free-hop” because he considers himself to be a free man, because when we are convinced of our cause “no one can take anything from us, no one can give us anything. Freedom is in us and no one can take that way”.

The concert was enriched by the vocal talent of Soandry, the creator of Hermanos de Causa (‘Brothers in Cause’), that duo which shook the days of Havana as well as the improvised rap and hip-hop festivals of the 90′s in the island.

The Cuban soul of right now vibrated this past Saturday in Downtown Miami. An extraordinary David stood in the small concert hall, and said on various occasions, “do not fall asleep, there is always an enemy”. This time, he dedicated all his urban strength and talent to a friend, to that same Rodiles who so many people want to see free from the iron bars and barbaric treatments. That is David- contradictory, luminous, and energetic like a flash of light in the darkness.

Translated by Raul G.

25 November 2012