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

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

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

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