Eleven Years Since the Baragua / Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba – On April 12, 2003, media throughout the world carried the news of the execution of three young Cubans for their involvement in the hijacking of the Regla-based boat “Baraguá.” They were trying to flee the country and get to the United States.

Leftist newspapers, sympathetic to the Cuban regime, tried to justify the act, writing: “the government wanted to strike at the roots of airplane and boat hijackings.” They admitted that the punishment was intended to send a message, meaning that none of the accused was entitled to a fair trial.

Some went further. Heinz Dieterich Steffan (who later became the ideologist of “Socialism of the XXI Century”), told on his website how the then-president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, was sending a message to the White House: “You have declared war and your first soldiers have fallen.” And he later added: “I want you to know how to interpret the message of the firing squad, so there is no more bloodshed.”

The executions occurred just over a week after the group of 11 young men, armed with a gun and a knife, had diverted the ferry some 30 miles offshore.

How did it all happen?

The hijackers, upon boarding the boat, fired a shot in the air and one yelled: “This is fucked! We’re going to the U.S.!” After 30 miles the fuel ran out and the boat drifted. The sea was very choppy, so in an act of tragic naivety they agreed to be towed to the port of Mariel with the promise that the authorities there would give them fuel.

They didn’t tie anyone up (as—according to family members of the accused—the prosecution claimed). If they had, how do you explain that upon arriving at Mariel some passengers, at a signal from security agents, jumped into the water? Enrique Copello Castillo, who tried to prevent one of the foreigners on board from escaping, had the gun. But he didn’t use it even when the situation got out of his control. This shows that he was not a criminal, just a young person desperate to reach the United States, in search of freedom and the chance for personal advancement.

On April 8, 2003, after a summary trial, the sentence was issued: Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro L. Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac were condemned to death. The rest of those involved in the attempted hijacking were given prison sentences: life imprisonment for Harold Alcala Aramburo, Maykel Delgado Aramburo, Ramon Henry Grillo and Yoanny Thomas Gonzalez; 30 years for Ledea Wilmer Perez; and from 2 to 5 years for the women traveling with them.

In March of that same year, the government had jailed 75 human-rights activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents. These were in the Villa Marista prison when the hijackers were taken to that infamous headquarters of the  Cuban political police. Ricardo González Alfonso, the now-exiled independent journalist and one of the 75, has left behind a disturbing account of the last hours of Enrique Copello Castillo, who shared his cell.

The day of the trial, a State Security captain took him to an office to explain that, although they were seeking the death penalty for Copello Castillo, there was a chance he would not be executed. He therefore asked for González Alfonso’s cooperation in helping save the condemned man’s life if he tried to commit suicide. In light of what happened on April 11, when the condemned were taken before the firing squad without notice to their families, it can be interpreted that the captain was in charge of “supply”: he could not allow the scapegoats to escape their own sacrifice. How could they make an example of Copello Castillo if he had not attended his own execution?

Danger Zone

On San Francisco Street in Havana, between Jesus Peregrino and Salud streets, is the building where Bárbaro L. Sevilla García lived with his mother, Rosa Maria. Some neighbors remember what happened on April 11, 2003. The street was full of cars with military license plates from 6:00 am., forming a police blockade. Some women from the Interior Ministry knocked at the door of Rosa Maria to tell her that her 22-year-old son had been shot at dawn. The woman started screaming and ran out to the street naked, yelling the whole time: “Down with Fidel!” and “Murderers!” Afterward she was forced to leave the country, say the neighbors, who did not give their names for out of concern for their safety.

A short time later police began moving into the building on the corner, on Salud Street. Even today the area is considered “dangerous.” Neighbors also warned this reporter not to take pictures of the demolished middle balcony where the mother and her son lived, because the green building on the corner of  Jesús Peregrino is the DTI (Department of Technical Investigations), a division of the Interior Ministry.

They did not use explosives, but charge will be used in court

Why so much harshness and speed in the execution of punishment if there was no alleged injury or loss of life during the kidnapping? The lawyer Edilio Hernández Herrera, of the Cuban Legal Association (AJC, independent), has prepared a legal opinion that reveals how the law was broken in Case 17 of 2003.

The defendants were tried for the crime of Acts of Terrorism. Law No. 93 “Against terrorism” was published on December 24, 2001, in the Official Gazette.

In the opinion of Hernández Herrera, the portions of the law that apply to the crime committed would be Articles 14.1 and 16.1.a, pertaining to the taking of hostages and acts against the safety of maritime navigation. But the court sentenced the boys for acts that certainly did not happen. The other offense charged, from Articles 10 and 11.c, referred to “acts committed with explosives, chemical, biological or other substances.” With this they intended to justify the sentences of the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an economist and independent journalist, one of the political prisoners of the Case of the 75, shared a cell in Villa Maristas with Dania Rojas Gongora, age 17, who was on the boat. She was the girlfriend of Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, who was shot. The girl told how another mother learned that her son had been shot the day she was to bring him toiletries. The last time Dania saw her boyfriend alive, one of the guards said sarcastically: “Plan now how many children you are going to have.”

Roque Cabello has no doubt in stating:

“The dictator Fidel Castro wanted blood. He was furious also because in the midst of this, sending the 75 political dissidents to prison was turning out to be a fiasco. That gained worldwide condemnation. It was his decision: execution and life imprisonment for these young people. So those who are now continuing to serve a life sentence are prisoners of Fidel Castro.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014, Lilianne Ruiz

Translated by Tomás A.

Homage to an Absentee / Juan Juan Almeida

The truth is that Cuba continues to be more surrealist than André Breton himself. You would think that only in the theater could an absent honoree be honored; but no, a recent tribute organized by the Archdiocese of Havana for the eminent professor Carmelo Mesa Lago on the occasion of his 80th birthday had to take place without the presence of the honoree, after the Cuban authorities denied him entry to the island.

Anyway, (to paraphrase the saying from Don Giuseppe Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard) in Cuba they changed everything so that nothing changes.

Translated by Tomás A.

20 March 2014

Retired but Not Gone Away / Mario Lleonart

On Friday, November 22, we made another stop on our U.S. itinerary that we will never forget. At the invitation of the Fellowship of Hispanic Churches, we participated in a tribute paid to retired pastors. Honor to whom honor is due, or as the Scripture says in Hebrews 13:7: ̈ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you; Consider the result of their conduct, and imitate their faith.”

This special occasion took place in Gethsemane Baptist Church in Miami at 5298 NW 7th St. The meeting was full of fond feelings. The pastor of the local church Felipe Rodriguez, moderator of the radio program “Building Lives,” which airs daily from 7 – 8 p.m, on 1450 AM, who was in an evangelistic campaign in our church in Taguayabon in 1993 while serving as pastor in Regla, blessed everyone with a few inspired words from Galatians 1:6 – 2:5 from which he set out seven truths he learned from the honorable elders: the one called by God preaches the true gospel (1:6-7); is radical (1.8-10); has a divine message ( 1:11-12); is set apart by God’s grace (1:15); is prepared by God (1:17-18); preaches with his testimony (1:24); and identifies the false brethren and does not submit to them even for a moment (2:4-5).

My wife Yoaxis  and I had the blessing of greeting such worthy elders. To share the table with Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, who prefers to be known as “Tony” the son of “Cheo”, showed us that even if they are retired they have by no means gone away. Some of them we knew from Cuba, as in the case of those who were our pastors in my early childhood: Isabel and Esteban Estrada, as well as Dora and Leoncio Veguilla, who for years occupied the highest offices of our Association in Cuba.

I was moved to find there the widow of former Taguayabon pastor Obed Guzman, the moderator for many years of the “Baptist Hour” program in Miami that we listened to from Cuba. It was also very moving for us to to be embraced by the widow of the great Jorge Comezañas. One of the most beautiful moments was the wedding sendoff of Rafael Melian (Felo) and Miriam Sánchez Parodi, who will move to Jacksonville in January.

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

The author with one of those retired but not gone away, Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos, along with the leaders Pablo Miret and Luis Estevez

As a continuation of Friday, on Sunday morning I attended the first service of Northside Baptist Church Pastor Adalberto Cuellar, also retired, who baptized my parents and many other relatives in Cuba because he was pastor at our church in Taguayabon in the hardest times, just as they got up the nerve to put a stamp on our door between November 1963 and December 1964. In our area, the work of this man of God, who remained unwavering in difficult times, still survives.

Leaders like Pablo Miret, Andrés Olivares, Luis Estevez, and Nathaniel Vicens struggled and performed a work of genuine servants “washing the feet” of so many heroes and reaching the goal. I embrace them for the gracious invitation and thank them for the master’s class that was given to me that day, fantastic for my ministry in the midst of an aging country, in the most-aged province, and with the fate of lacking an entire generation of senior pastors who, like most of those present that day, had to leave Cuba in a choice that I do not judge, as a result of one of the greatest persecutions that we believers have suffered in the entire continent.

Translated by Tomás A.

25 November 2013

18th Century Mansion – Forgotten but Not Gone / Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

The Casa de las Cadenas, in Guanabacoa, could collapse on several families. It has withstood hurricanes, but now needs help.

HAVANA, Cuba. – The walls have stood for nearly 270 years. But the degree of deterioration in the old house is worrying. Wood and tile ceilings on the second floor have been collapsing, not only because of the climate, but also from neglect. Roots from shrubbery and prickly pears crisscross those interior walls that are exposed to the outside. The exterior walls are cracked. Several families still live on the ground floor of the building.

The Casa de las Cadenas also gives its name to one of the oldest streets in Guanabacoa. Some time ago the local historian, Pedro Guerra, said that it is one of the most important historical buildings in the western part of the island. Built in the early eighteenth century, it was the first two-story house in town.

It is located in the heart of the designated Historic Center of Guanabacoa. It has been recognized by the government’s National Monuments Commission. According to oral tradition, documented by Elpidio de la Guardia, in his History of Guanabacoa:

Religious images were sheltered there by the Parish Mayor following a severe storm that destroyed the town in 1730. Masses were officiated there during that time. In return, the owner of the house was accredited by King Philip V of Spain to grant asylum to fugitives from justice. Only two other buildings throughout the Spanish Empire had this prerogative.

As happened with other structures in the oldest part of the capital during the last century, the Casa de las Cadenas was converted to a rooming house. In 2009, Nilda Maria Peralta, the last tenant on the second floor of the building, who was later evacuated, lamented about the apathy of the authorities regarding the plight of the place:

“There are nights I don’t sleep, worried because there could be another collapse and I’m alone up here. What is sadder is that nobody cares.”

Five years later, the deterioration continues:

“Most of us who live here have neither the expertise nor the financial resources to repair a historic building like this; that’s up to the government,” one of the tenants told this reporter.

A local man, with a mixture of irony and bitterness said:

“Hopefully resources will appear and they will ’grab’ them to restore it soon, because when this house says ’I’m going down,’ there will be deaths . . . What’s holding it up is the same miracle that kept it from being destroyed by that hurricane that came through during the Spanish times.”

Another man, who had been silent, said:

“But what can you expect from a government that doesn’t even maintain its city hall?”

He was referring to the nearby old mayor’s palace, which now belongs to the People’s Power. The property is showing obvious signs of deterioration.

The photos that accompany this text corroborate the sad state of the Casa de las Cadenas, that historic symbol of the once beautiful Guanabacoa, which is about to completely collapse under the weight of time and neglect.

Cubanet, March 5, 2014.

Translated by Tomás A.

William Soler Pediatric Hospital Worries the Government / Ernesto Garcia Diaz

William Soler Hospital – Photo by Ernesto García

HAVANA, Cuba – On Saturday morning, the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Esteban Lazo, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party, visited  the William Soler Pediatric Teaching Hospital, located in the Havana municipality of Boyeros. The hospital’s guarded entry is closed for repairs. Emergency cases and patients requiring daily care are treated in the specialty clinics, adjacent to the hospital.

President Lazo came to the Children’s Hospital accompanied by Mercedes López Acea, the Party’s First Secretary in Havana, as well as a delegation of leaders from the health sector.

The center visited by Lazo is experiencing one of the worst infrastructure crises of the last twenty years, which is compromising care to children hospitalized there and impeding the provision of services to other provinces of the country.

The motorcade in which Esteban Lazo arrived – Photo by Ernesto García

The hospital’s situation is critical. Most of its inpatient and operating rooms are worn out from lack of maintenance, which, as shown by this visit, has begun to worry the government, because of unfavorable public opinion.

Esteban Lazo, who holds one of the top positions in the Cuban chain of command, left after spending an hour in the health facility, without providing any statements to those waiting outside.

Cubanet, March 17, 2014, Ernesto García Diaz

Translated by Tomás A.

The Press That Disinforms / Ivan Garcia

For Castroist ideologues, the activists in Kiev and the Venezuelan students are fascists, Kim Jong-un doesn’t traffic in weapons with Havana, and Beyoncé never visited the Island.

There is an abysmal gap between everyday reality and the information provided by a clueless official press.

News of the Castro regime’s blatant arms smuggling with North Korea, in violation of the UN embargo against the Pyongyang dynasty, was never reported in Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Workers, or any of the 15 provincial press organs.

To date, the boring and disoriented national media—print, radio and television—have not reported on the space opened for dialogue with the Catholic Church. Or about local news that has had national repercussions, such as the protest in Havana by self-employed workers, or the unusual walk of a nude woman in the city of Camagüey.

They also overlook less controversial topics, such as the visit to Cuba of major leaguers Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, or celebrities such as Beyoncé and her rapper husband Jay Z.

Nor are they interested in letting their readers or viewers know that Cuban artists and musicians living abroad are visiting the island and performing, such as Isaac Delgado, Descemer Bueno, and Tanya, among others.

Thye are not willing to publish a single article analyzing the insane prices of auto sales or internet services.

On international matters, the old trick is to tell only part of the story. For those who only read the official media and do not have access to other sources, the protesters in Ukraine, Venezuela, and Turkey are terrorists and fascists.

The official Cuban media have never reported that the dictator Kim Jong-un summarily executed his uncle. They have also remained silent about the atrocities taking place in the concentration camps in North Korea. And about the degrading treatment of women in Iran.

Newspaper space is usually filled by low-key commentaries on culture and sports, television program notes, upbeat news about national agricultural production, or the smooth progress of the economic reforms dictated by Raul Castro and his advisers.

Apparently it is considered inappropriate to inform Cubans of the talks between the Cuban-American sugar millionaire Alfonso Fanjul and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. Nor is it believed desirable for ordinary people to know that Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro, is playing in golf tournaments.

Or that businessmen with bulging wallets recently paid $234,000 for a handcrafted humidor filled with Montecristo cigars at the XVI Festival del Habano, where the most famous guest was British singer Tom Jones.

Local information is governed by inflexible ideologues who presume that behind the vaunted freedom of the press hides a “military operation of the U.S. secret services.”

And they take this seriously. As if it were a matter of national security. So the official journalists are soldiers of information. Disciplined scribes.

For the Talibans of the Communist Party, the internet and social networks are modern means of promoting capitalism from a distance. The new times have caught them without many arguments. They claim to have the truth, but they are afraid to let their citizens see for themselves.

The readings of certain information should be presented by the magnanimous State. They think, and believe, that their naive compatriots are not prepared for, nor sufficiently inoculated against, the propagandistic poison of the world’s media.

Not even Raul Castro has managed to break the stubborn censorship and habitual sluggishness of the official press. For years, Castro talked about turning the press into something credible, entertaining, and appealing. But nothing has changed.

For external consumption—by outsiders interested in Cuba and, above all, two million exiles scattered around the world—they have opened official websites and blogs, trying with their own voice to promote the illusion of an opening.

For internal consumption, the soldiers of the word remain.

Iván García

Translated by Tomás A.

From Diario de Cuba, 17 March 2014

The .cu / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

Web domain for newcomers or daredevils.

For many, the designation .cu is a way to identify the country on the internet. But for the most accomplished netizens it remains a place very little in demand.

The .cu indicates mistrust, ease of hacking, promotion of the reading of personal sites by third parties—little privacy. Anyway, there are no encrypted sites [https] to protect visitors.

Why does .cu even exist? For those who want to share with the DSE (Department of State Security). For that reason it has ceased to be a domain visited by Cuban dissidents. Except for rookies with only a few hours in front of a computer.

To summarize, I would use .cu, but only when accompanied by a good HTTPPSSSSSSSSSSSS

Translated by Tomás A.

14 March 2014

Snipped / Regina Coyula

Like anyplace else, a successful business has many ingredients. Here many have failed because they engaged in activities they knew nothing about. But others prosper, become very visible, and then fall under the evil gaze of those who would give up an eye if they could see a neighbor get screwed over.

A quiet street of Nuevo Vedado had frequently become jammed with people, all wanting to buy at La Fontanella, a bakery that began modestly but then put up an eye-catching lighted sign. What began as a business in part of a house became exclusively a factory and sales outlet, with rotating shifts, open to the public from nine in the morning until nine at night.

Such prosperity drew attention and/or aggravation, and Monday dawned this week to find the business closed. The commentaries are various: stolen flour; workers walking off; problems with the ownership of the old family home, now converted into a bakery. The truth is that La Fontanella had become a troublesome twig on that bonsai which Minister Murillo, and the updating of the economic model, had designed to be kept well pruned.

Translated by Tomás A.

7 March 2014

Fidel, the Lawyer Who Never Won a Case / Rene Gomez Manzano / HemosOido

Fidel Castro, “a lawyer without any cases”

The awarding of the National Law Prize to Fidel Castro—who abolished the judicial branch, established “revolutionary courts,” did away with procedural guarantees, and outlawed unfettered advocacy—is a mockery of justice.

I acknowledge that when I read that item my first thought was: “But hadn’t he already been given that?” We know that in these totalitarian regimes dominated by Marxism-Leninism, the bosses, by virtue of being that, are destined for all the distinctions, recognitions, and awards that have been or might be given. That the alumnus Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz had not been previously considered when this Prize was first granted probably cost some bureaucrat in the judicial sector a good scolding.

Now that it is an accomplished fact we should ask: What objective reasons exist for granting it? Was it based on the person’s performance before or after coming to power? The dilemma warrants that we briefly address these issues in order to give a response.

The professional practice of the older Castro after graduating as a lawyer was practically nil. In this he is no different from other figures who have gotten into history carrying a law degree. Internationally: Robespierre, Karl Marx, Lenin. In Cuba: Agramonte, Céspedes, Martí. These are just a few examples.

Fidel and his logorrhea

Of course I’m not making value judgments, simply naming people who, for better or worse, have earned a place in history. “Lawyer” is the title that is generally used to describe those figures. Although the appellation is not false, it is not really accurate nor illuminating. To more accurately describe what is common in these characters, we have to use a slightly longer phrase: “Lawyers without cases.” Continue reading

Former Commander Huber Matos Dies

Huber Matos

Former commander of the Cuban revolution Huber Matos Benítez, one of the most important figures of the opposition to the regime of the Castros, died early Thursday morning in a Miami hospital, reported his organization Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID). He was 95.

Matos (born in Yara, Granma province, on November 26, 1918) had  been admitted two days earlier to Kendall Regional Hospital “where he was diagnosed with a massive heart attack” according to the CID report.

“On the 26th he asked to be disconnected from breathing equipment because he wanted to say farewell to his wife María Luisa Araluce, his children and grandchildren,” it added.

The organization said that during his hospitalization Matos received call from Cuba from the principal leaders of his party, “who affirmed that the organization would not rest until the island was free.” Continue reading

Havana Hustling / Ivan Garcia

oficios-de-buscavidas-620x330This time the phone call came in the middle of the night and the message was grim.

Edania, a retired teacher who has set up a small business of making phone calls and taking messages for the neighborhood, hurried to give the bad news to a family that lives two doors down from her house, in the rundown neighborhood of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padrón, in the northern part of Havana.

“The thing is taking off like wildfire,” says Edania. “The retired people can’t afford it, so I decided to take advantage of the fact that I’m one of the few people with a phone in the neighborhood. I started charging one Cuban peso to pass on messages and two pesos for local calls in Havana. If the call is outside the city, I charge 3  pesos per minute. Many people are providing this service, which is one of the officially recognized self-employment businesses, but I have no intention signing up at the tax office. I only get 150 or 200 Cuban pesos per month [$6-8 USD], which barely supplements my meager pension. I don’t charge for funeral news.” Continue reading

Cuban Baseball: Declining Slowly but Surely / Dimas Castellano

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

By Dimas Castellano

As if what happened during the first three days of competition on Margarita Island was an exception and not a manifestation of the stagnation experienced in all spheres of Cuban society, a sports commentator on the television show Morning Journal said that “the team from Villa Clara did not meet expectations.”

In baseball, which is the topic before us, what happened could not be a surprise. The avowed superiority of “free” versus “slave” ball was not confirmed in practice. The challenge launched against professionalism in 1960 did not stand the test of time. But the acceptance of this fact by the Cuban authorities—though without public acknowledgement and coming too late—is still good news, because this decision requires them to banish the ideological slogan and return to the path that they never should have left.

In 1948, at the meeting of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation held in Miami, representatives of the professional leagues of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela formed the Caribbean Series. From the inaugural event in February 1949, when the Almendares team went undefeated to take victory in Havana until the close of participation in 1960 with the victory of Cienfuegos in Panama, Cuban teams won seven out of twelve championships: irrefutable proof of the quality of “slave” ball during those years. Continue reading