Photophobia / Regina Coyula

According to the still very useful UTEHA dictionary, photophobia is a medical term which means discomfort or pain to the eyes due to light. But the photophobia of my story has nothing to do with medical apprehension, but rather with social apprehension.

More and more I am hearing about people who want to take photos in public places and are told that it’s prohibited. It’s not a matter of taking photos of military units or the movement of troops, no. On a public street, in a pharmacy, in the agro-market, in a maternity hospital, in a night club, a stern employ arrives who threatens the photographer, who, generally, abides by the absurd order.

This paranoia can’t be spontaneous, it has to obey “training passed down”, where behind every camera lens could be hiding, horror!, an independent journalist, which is to say, a CIA agent.

The citizens, of course, say that in order to have legal force, the said prohibition has to be clear and very visible, and be endorsed by a resolution and not by the caprice of an administrator, director or the police.

If there is nothing to hide, why the fear?

 Translated by Regina Anavy

2 April 2014

S.O.S. The Soldiers Are Suffocating Us / Angel Santiesteban

A daring prisoner has revealed to me the intention of high-ranking soldiers to become my enemies. To accomplish this they took away a pass, the most sacred thing for them; then they reduced even more the precarious nutrition. The ration of chicken, which is provided two times a month, has been reduced to one sole occurrence, and what before could be divided by two persons now is shared among three. The acid picadillo has been substituted for the main dish.

The chiefs of the Direction of Prisons, seeing that their pressure has not been effective, have advanced by four hours the schedule for returning from the pass. Before it was at six in the evening; now they stipulated that it be at two. Another gesture of manipulation has been that of the four hours granted for time on the telephone so prisoners can communicate with their families, they have left only one.

The day of access to the pass, they assign work that could be done the following day, with the sole purpose of annoying the prisoners, to increase the ill will against me, since, according to Lieutenant Colonel Eduardo, the head of the penal prosecution, I don’t comply with the schedule and discipline established because the inmates allow me to do it. He asked that they confront me, that they demand I be “re-educated,” so that, once they succeed, they will have privileges returned to them.

Today, payday, their salaries, gained according to contract, have been reduced; that is to say, they can calculate the amount they earned in the month and thus the salary they are owed. However, without explanation, they have been fleeced in the worst style of highway robbery.

I can’t predict how long the prisoners will support this subjugation of their “rights,” in a country where rights don’t exist, especially if people are detained in penitentiaries, where they are persecuted and receive the most inhuman treatment, where the blackmail of the officials is constant, since they control the prisoners’ lives and destinies. Tomorrow, for example, with a single movement of their lips, they can order that those prisoners wake up in Santa Clara, Camaguey or Santiago de Cuba, and thus be removed from their families.

I continue writing my literature in this sabbatical year that the dictatorship has granted me, and I remain standing in the struggle for human rights for all Cubans.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement. March 2014.

Editor’s Note: The dictatorship continues to systematically violate the rights of Angel Santiesteban, in breach of their own laws. By law he should get a pass for 72 hours every 70 days, in agreement with the prison regimen to which he is submitted. From the second of August 2013 until now, they have “granted” him one single pass at the end of September. That week the rest of the prisoners “enjoyed” a pass of six days, and he was returned to remain alone with the jailers. These punishments that they impose on him don’t scare him. They should realize by now that the more they try to harm him, the more they strengthen him, and they are even collaborating with Cuban literature, which has – for a year – one of the great talents working without pause.

To sign the petition to have Angel Santiesteban declared a prisoner of conscience, please follow the link.

Translated by Regina Anavy

19 March 2014

Signatories Forever, Unredeemed Brownnosers / Angel Santiesteban

The signatures of those artists from the unforgettable book open at UNEAC headquarters match the political calls of the dictatorship to support the execution of minors who tried to emigrate to the United States by hijacking the boat across the bay to the ultramarine village of Regla. Although the passengers declared that they didn’t hurt anyone, they were deceived. They promised them that if they surrendered, nothing would happen. But the next day they were executed after a summary trial.

After that event and the logical international condemnation that it aroused, they looked for accomplices, people who would “give rope,” and just as in the film, “The Man Maisinicu,” they involved more people, besmirching their hands with manure and blood, a recurring combination of a totalitarian regime.

Now these intellectuals are called to sign for a government that assassinates its students. Neither does the fact of protesting violently, if it’s true, justify annihilation. The sad thing is that most of these signatories recognize that it’s an error of the Venezuelan government, in the figure of Nicolas Maduro, ordering repression. Those lives have a cost, of course, and those who continue signing from fear or for personal benefit will be recognized by history as being brownnosers, sycophants of the omnipotent power of the Castro brothers.

Génesis Carmona, estudiante y modelo del estado Carabobo, fue asesinada por un disparo  en la cabeza durante una manifestación opositora

Genesis Carmona, a student and model from Carabobo state, was killed by a shot in the head during an opposition demonstration.

For everyone a little piece of history touches us, and consequently we gain merit or demerit.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement, March 2014

Please follow the link and sign the petition to have Angel Santiesteban declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

 Translated by Regina Anavy

RWB: The Castro Regime Has Developed an Original Model of Control / Angel Santiesteban

Reporters without Borders: Cuba prohibits a free Internet

All content considered “antirevolutionary” is automatically blocked. All information that is published in the media is filtered, according to the criteria of the Party.

Cuba continues preventing the majority of its population from having access to a free (i.e. uncensored) Internet, even though the submarine fiber-optic cable, ALBA-1, coming from Venezuela and the unblocking of some web sites constitute a ray of hope. The Castro regime has developed an original model of control, based on the existence of a local Intranet. Access to the Internet is excessively expensive. The prices are prohibitive. Add to that the omnipresence of the government institutions.

The country’s organ of censorship, the Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR), filters all the information that is published in the official communication media, according to the Party’s criteria. They automatically block all content considered “antirevolutionary.” This censorship, that applies not only to the web, it is based on the Penal Code in force that criminalizes “disrespect,” “defamation,” “slander,” “insults,” and “offenses against the authorities, the institutions of the Republic, and the heroes and martyrs of the nation,” among other things.

 The Ministry of Computing and Communications

It was created in the year 2000 with the goal of ensuring respect for the Revolutionary ideology defended by the DOR on the Internet. There is very little information available on the technology that the Cuban authorities employ in terms of censorship. The University of Computer Sciences (UCI), as well as the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) — the national provider of access to the Internet — work with the departments of surveillance and censorship that back up the actions of the Ministry. The blockade of Internet content is carried out by ETECSA.

The year 2011 was marked by certain concessions of the government, like the unblocking of some web sites. This is the case with the sites Desde Cuba and Voces Cubana (From Cuba and Cuban Voices), where numerous opposition blogs are posted, among them Generación Y (Generation Y), whose author is Yoani Sánchez. Continue reading

When Freedom Becomes Agony / Angel Santiesteban

“Thank you Fidel, for all you give us…”

Prisoners curse their freedom

Convicts say that when they get a pass for almost 72 hours every 10 days, their worries increase. They experience a major agony in the sense of feeling useless before the economic situation of their families. The little money they earn as slaves of the Regime that keeps them captive barely lets them satisfy the shortages that exist at home. They find their families without food, the children without shoes to go to school, and the electrical appliances broken, among other calamities.

In the first hours at home, already they have exhausted their savings, seeing themselves obligated to loan or offend, with the goal that at the end of their days on pass, their families remain with the minimum of needs guaranteed.

Once back in their beds in prison, they recognize that it’s preferable to be a prisoner, since they suffer less when they don’t have to confront the everyday reality and the constant pain of not knowing how to find a solution, how to stay on top of the poverty, without the familiar temptation of breaking the law.

“At least while we’re in prison we’re not suffering. We don’t see how poor our kids are,” they assert. “And we avoid crime, because we also know that it’s the only possible way to solve things,” says a convict, with whom the rest agree, and he affirms that “it’s preferable to be a prisoner, eat the acid, dirty rice with picadillo, to be beaten and put in a cell each time you feel like venting, than to see your loved ones looking at you like sparrows with open beaks, waiting for us to do a magic act and get some food to fall into them,” he says, and he keeps silent for a bit.

“Outside things have gotten worse. We feel fear when we leave because surely we’ll commit some misdeed,” someone affirms from the door, “and the hard part is to start another more severe sentence,” adds another. “We will never have the chance to be those ’citizens’ they want us to be, because society and the laws forget that we don’t have the least possible chance of surviving without stealing, and if we don’t, we would die of hunger.”

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement, March 2014.

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

Translated by Regina Anavy

12 March 2014

Havana: A Guide for Tourists / Ivan Garcia

Useful advice for tourists who visit the last bastion of the Cold War in the Caribbean

Useful advice for tourists who visit the last Communist barricade of the Cold War in the Caribbean

If you speak Spanish, it’s advisable to get to know Havana by taking private taxis. In a rented car, air-conditioned and with a map of the capital, it’s more pleasurable, but also more expensive, and you wouldn’t be able to chat with the habaneros.

If you know the city only through the guided visits to museums or cigar factories, organized by tourist agencies, you will have good photos when you return to your country, but you will only have seen a postcard of Havana.

You can decide to drink mojitos, stroll on the Malecon, flirt with prostitutes in a cafe where you need hard currency to listen to a duo singing Compay Segundo’s Chan Chan at your table. Or you can discover the other face of Havana, ignored by the official press. Then, first hand, you will know the priorities of ordinary Cubans.

The capital of Cuba has in its favor the fact that it still is not as dangerous as Caracas, Medellin or Michoacan. You can walk through rough and poor neighborhoods without fear of being assaulted (I advise you to go during the day).

Better than reserving a hotel is renting a room in some private home. For your trips around the city, the ideal thing is to move around in the old U.S. cars known as almendrones.

And talk to the passengers. There is no platform more authentic and liberal in Cuba than the private taxis. As in any capital of the world, the Havana taxi drivers possess a culture of speech and an acceptable level of information.

You will find out that many of the Cuban taxi drivers are doctors, engineers, retired military men or professionals who, after their work day, sit at the steering wheel, trying to earn some extra pesos that will permit them to complement their poor salaries.

The Havana taxi drivers seem to be dissidents when they speak, but they’re not. They, like numerous people you find in the lines or in the streets, openly criticize the government.

The list of complaints about the state of things on the island is extensive. Traveling in a 1954 Ford, with a South Korean motor and a Japanese gear box, you will know first-hand that people aren’t applauding Raul Castro’s reforms with much enthusiasm now.

Be prepared to listen to a dissertation on the daily hardships. One suggestion: before your trip around the city, in your backpack carry deodorants, tubes of toothpaste or soap to offer to the people you talk to. Right now, these articles are scarce in Cuba (see the Note at the end).

Havana taxis are a microphone open to different political opinions. And in their interior there is more democracy than in the monotone national parliament. In the almendrones there are usually people who think differently. Each reveals his opinion. Loudly and gesticulating with his hands, typical of Cubans.

Upon arriving at his destination, the passenger who supports the Regime says goodbye amicably to the one who wants profound changes in his country. Two details: the old Havana taxis don’t have air conditioning and the drivers listen to reggaeton or salsa music at exaggerated volume.

If you get into a jeep, which can fit up to 10 people, the trip is uncomfortable. But there is no better way to make people-to-people contact than to travel in private taxis. And they are very cheap. For 50 cents or a dollar on longer journeys, you can get to know the other face of Havana. It’s not recommended to take the urban omnibus: owing to the bad service and overcrowding, what should be an exploration of the city and a motive to make contact with its people can become a torture.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from Panoramix.

Note. In Cuba something is always lacking. Sometimes the scarcity is most visible in the capital, but usually where you find a lack of most products, food or hygiene, is in the interior of the country. After writing this piece, independent journalists were reporting that “eggs were missing.” I don’t know if eggs have reappeared, but now salt is missing.

On March 5, Ernesto García Díaz wrote in Cubanet that salt was hard to find in the grocery stores, markets and hard currency markets (TRD), where a kilo nylon bag of Cuban salt with the stamp “Caribeña” cost 45 cents (10.80 Cuban pesos). In the Ultra TRD [the government-run "Hard Currency Collection Store"], an employee told the journalist that “it’s been some time since we’ve had Caribeña salt. We are selling a fine Andalusian salt of the brand “Aucha” at the price of 1.65 CUC ($US 1.58) a kilo.”

In Cuba there are five saltworks that supposedly should guarantee the distribution of salt for the ration book, at the rate of one kilo for a nuclear family of up to 3 people, every three months. But because they haven’t managed to extract more than 400 million tons annually, the government has had to import salt, as occurred in 2008, when they bought 30 million tons of salt at a cost of 9 million dollars (Tania Quintero).

Translated by Regina Anavy

8 March 2014

A Cheeky Robbery / Juan Juan Almeida

Hundreds of paintings were stolen from the National Fine Arts Museum in Havana. According to the police, this would make it the most important embezzlement of Cuban pictorial heritage in the last decades.

The works were in the warehouse of the former building of the Department of Technical Investigations, which now belongs to the entity after being remodeled. Police custodians were in charge of the security of the premises, and the robbery was detected when some of these paintings began to appear in Miami, offered to art dealers.

It’s said that there’s an investigation by specialists in works of heritage and police specialists looking into the “How,” “When” and “What”; but if they were stolen from a MININT building, under police custody, and taken out of the country, the “Who” is solved: some acolyte of Alibaba with the support of the 40 thieves of the Central Committee; and the “when” and “how” stops being important.

Translated by Regina Anavy

28 February 2014

The Ministry of Revenge Imparts Punishment in the Castros’ Cuba / Angel Santiesteban

Raul Castro, are you satisfied now?

By The Editor (of Angel’s blog while he is in prison)

One year can be a sigh in time or an interminable nightmare; it depends on how you pass the year. To be deprived of freedom is always a bitter drink, but when in addition you’re innocent, when you’re condemned and incarcerated by a judicial system answering to the guidelines of political power of a dictatorship like that of the dynasty that you incarnate today, it’s much worse.

To this you have to add the characteristics of the prisons and concentration camps elaborated on by your Regime, which in no way resemble, neither in form nor in treatment, what you tried to make the national and international journalists who visited last year believe. They cowardly and immorally endorsed the farce to which they were subjected, ridiculing the tragic reality of the thousands of Cubans who, the length and width of the island, are brutally treated, tortured, humiliated and living in conditions that are absolutely inhumane.

As if the dirty complicity of the press wouldn’t have been enough the year before, this year, you, Castro II, tried – and with great success – to gain support for your dictatorship from the member presidents of CELAC, the secretary of the OAS, the director general of the United Nations and the European Union – which only a few days ago, announced that it would resume negotiations with your dictatorship, without caring in the slightest about the destiny of the 11 million inhabitants of the island. Economic interests are more powerful than the fundamentals at the dawn of the 21st century, but the OAS and the UN seem not to notice that they are consenting silently to letting other nations enrich themselves at the cost of Cuban blood and tears. Pathetic but true.

Meanwhile, in the concentration camps and penitentiaries of the Prison Island, more than a hundred political prisoners wait in vain for justice and freedom, and much of the opposition who are being besieged today will, before long, be political prisoners also. Continue reading

Second Open Letter to Raul Castro from Angel Santiesteban

First page of the handwritten letter

First page of the handwritten letter

Mr. Ruler:

On February 28 I completed one year of unjust imprisonment, after a trial where I demonstrated my innocence with multiple proofs and witnesses. In exchange, the Prosecutor couldn’t present one single consistent proof against me, except the malicious – in addition to being ridiculous – one of an expert calligrapher who, after having ordered me to copy an economic article from the newspaper Granma, the Official Organ of the Communist Party, gave an opinion that the height and slant of my handwriting showed I was guilty.

All this happened four years after the supposed event, where they saddled me with a crime that I didn’t commit. To make things worse, this whole circus that went down against me was corroborated by the henchman Camilo, an official of State Security, long before the Court passed sentence.

Being detained – after a demonstration of support by other compatriots in opposition – this official announced to me before witnesses that I “would be sentenced to five years of privation of liberty,” a declaration that he published on the Internet, one month before the official pronouncement of the Court, an organ that should be impartial, should act independently, but that in addition to clearly following the rulings of State Security, perpetrated another flagrant violation during the judicial trial, upon adding to my penalty one more year than the maximum established by the Penal Code.

My case, like many others, shows that after the coming to power of your family, the Castros, there isn’t even a minimum of independence among the legislative, executive and judicial powers, which exists in all nations that are truly democratic.

These powers are managed by you at your whim and convenience. And history shows that when these powers are manipulated by the same entity, whatever the ideology, we are dealing with a dictatorship, where the only thing left to us is the possibility of interrupting and having influence with our opinions in the fourth power: communication, the news, achieved thanks to the development of the Internet, and to thereby circumvent your iron control on the media. And for that I have been punished. Continue reading