UNEAC Complicit In Its Silence / Angel Santiesteban

Previously I have said that in the circus exercise called court, which I attended with the sentence already dictated by State Security, as I was made to know long before by one of their henchmen, a fact that I made known publicly — and which the judges in the First Chamber of Crimes Against State Security executed, in their special headquarters for notorious crimes on Carmen and Juan Delgado, when it was supposed that my crime was common — officials of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC) attended, sent by their president Miguel Barnet to watch the show, like poet Alex Pausides, accompanied by the legal official, who said that to his understanding what the prosecution could present against me was smoke, like the report of that handwriting expert who said that the height and slant of my handwriting made me guilty.

At the exit, the poet and Communist Party member Alex Pausides as well as the legal official, said that I would be absolved given that what was presented, and according to what was exposed in the oral ceremony, I could not be judged, especially when I presented five witnesses who demolished those accusations.

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Dear members of UNEAC (take note). Angel Santiesteban, Revolutionarily, Me

Then, when they found me guilty, my lawyer went to UNEAC and left all the documents that corroborated my innocence and that they requested for presentation to Miguel Barnet, but we never received an answer, they kept silent.

Of course, I am not naive, I never expected a reaction from UNEAC, I always knew what they would do, but above all, what they would not do, and they have fulfilled my predictions.  I understood that they would take that posture because I believe in history like a religion, and I knew that history would yield that despicable stance. Their silence is their shamelessness.  And that shamelessness is now written in our history.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement.  April 2014.

To sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience follow the link.

Translated by mlk.

Another Sweeping Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Foreign Investment Law Project. Taken from Cubadebate

The National Assembly or Cuban parliament approved with no problems — not a rare thing for this organ where although it’s not divine it “comes from above” — the new foreign investment law. You don’t need a crystal ball to know that new legislation, like the new broom of the refrain, sweeps fundamentally well for them and their orbit.

The suffocating financiers of the nineteenth-century Cuban political model shows that for the nomenklatura the urgency of their bank balances or updating — aerating — their state capitalism is more important than truly reviving the battered “socialist economy.”

Like every law “that is disrespected” in Cuba after 1959, it was approved unanimously, meaning that everyone agreed, or at least raised their hands, in a caricature of a senate composed almost entirely of members of the only party legalized in Cuba which has been in government for 55 years and although it calls itself communist, it is not.

One might then suggest to the Cuban authorities, to be consistent with their own laws, to carry out an aggiornamento also of the philosophical basis of their ideology and the name of the historical party of government.

The Cuban state has had its eyes on foreign investment for a long time. Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, said earlier this year in Brazil, which in Cuba there would continue to be only one party. Emphasizing, of course, the interest in Brazilian entrepreneurs and the message of confidence and stability he wants to convey to them from the Cuban ruling class, to encourage them to do business in Cuba.

This norm  becomes another discriminatory law “with the bait” of fiscal and tax benefits for foreigners, in contrast to the thunderous taxes payable by nationals who venture into the private sector. They did away with  all the Cuban and foreign businesses when this model came to power and now stimulate and encourage only foreign capitalists to invest in our country.

They say they aren’t giving it away, but any citizen from other climes is placed above nationals, who once again are excluded from the opportunity to invest in medium and large companies in their own country.

Just like our Spanish ancestors committed shameless abuses and marginalized native Cubans and restricted them in their economic role in their own national home.

The state still owns “the master key” of labor contracting–the employing company– to calm their followers and to urge them to continue giving their unconditional support to the established and visible promise that they will be rewarded and privileged, if only with a tiny, revolutionary, symbolic and coveted “mini-slice” of the state pie.

On the other hand, the impunity in the management of public officials, on part with the lack of respect for society implicit in secrecy, exposes the heart of corruption. One of the many examples that get under the skin of Cubans of various geographic coordinates is, what is the state of the country’s accounts. What are the periodic incomes and expenses in different parts of the economy. Why isn’t Cuban society informed about the annual amount of the income from remittances from Cubans who have emigrated, and how these resources are used?

A lot could be said and written about the new law and the old discrimination and practices contained in previous legislation, which for me is a horse of a changeable–not another–color.

But it would give a lot of relevance to the segregationist, sloppy and desperate search for money by power elite in Cuba, which requires increasingly huge sums of “evil capital” to sustain its inefficient bureaucracy and unsustainable model.

In short, the new law, like the proverbial broom, will always sweep well for them and that seems to be all that, according to their dynastic mentalities, fiftieth anniversaries and blue-blooded lifestyles, they care about.

15 April 2014

First Trimester of 2014 / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

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“Cuba looks for money to sustain the regime.” Image from: http://www.teinteresa.es/

The first three months of 2014 and part of April have stood out for the now traditional practice of the government use and abuse of congresses, symposia, fairs, assemblies, etc, from which emanate, almost always, two messages: one for abroad and another for the boring local citizens.

The 20th Congress of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), in which, as usual, the secretary general was designated by the authorities and not election, as would happen under free, plural and democratic elections by the attending delegates, diminishing the credibility and independence of the Cuban unions is an example.

On the other hand, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the new Foreign Investment Law, which establishes, once again, discrimination against Cuban citizens residing on the island, who can not invest or participate on their own processes of this nature, nor through free association or self employment. That is for state officials, state capitalist, and for foreigners. Again, a state employment office will fulfill the function of providing the labor force to the foreign investment companies, as to not leave any loophole to free employment for Cuban residents.

And it’s as if they depreciate and despise we Cubans who live in Cuba. For a long time we weren’t even allowed to stay in hotels. Now, reviving this examples, Cubans cannot enter the waiting rooms at our own airports. And doesn’t this embarrass the authorities? At the precise point of access of those who visit us they begin the practice of discriminating against locals. In the resorts of Varadero or Boyeros this practice has been institutionalized. It’s humiliating to see how with indifference, without giving it any importance, they humiliate our fellow citizens.

The most recent event ended last weekend: the VIII Congress of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union, UNEAC. In his closing speech, Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, among others, spoke of the need to regulate the dissemination of music and audiovisual materials in public spaces. He also spoke about the battle against pseudo-cultural messages associated with the exaltation of consumerism, to get ahead economically, and stressed that the choice is socialism or barbarism.

Surely he  must have been referring to a socialism not yet known nor what will be, the so-called Socialism of the 21st Century, because the other one, the socialism that wasn’t, is already completely known. He said this was the only alternative to save our culture. So if it’s about saving it, he should start by saving the productive culture of a country because right now the animals in our fields are practically in danger of extinction.

The current sugar harvest is the smaller in the history of Cuba and the lack of productivity of our land is stupefying. And looking back, at Marti, we recognize the solution when he said in a speech at Hardman Hall, NY on 10 October 1890:

“Neither childish boasting, nor empty promises, nor class hatred, nor pressures from authority, nor blind opinion, nor village politics has met our expectations, but the politics of foundation and of embrace, where terrible ignorance gives way to justice and culture, and the proud worship abides repenting the fraternity of man, from one end of the island to the other, swords and books together, together those of the mountains and the villages, hear, above the forever uprooted suspicions, the creative word, the word: ‘Brother!’”

Play it again, Sam / Reinaldo Escobar

My former colleague Jose Alejandro Rodriguez who aptly handles the Letters to the Editor section in the newspaper Juventud Rebelede (Rebel Youth), last Wednesday published the comments of a reader annoyed by the absence of beer in the snack bars and markets.

Since I noticed the absence of this refreshing liquid a couple of weeks ago, I supposed it would be difficult for anyone to venture to complain about its lack because, if he did so, the intrepid one would betray himself as a consumer of a product considered luxurious in our complex trade relationships.

I remember when our the first hard currency snack bar opened in our neighborhood and the commentators agreed that it would be counting on people who were spending their “bucks” on something that wasn’t a basic necessity. Life demonstrates that we were wrong. Despite the fact that a worker who earns 480 Cuban pesos a month has to work 8 hours to give into the whim for a cold brew, it’s clear that neither Cristal nor Bucanero can be considered privileges of the new rich.

If pitted olives were missing, or Norwegian salmon, maybe no one would notice, except for foreigners living in the country and a few others among the economically well-off, but it happens that there is an authentic popular complaint against the loss of domestic beer and Jose Alejandro has been the first to break the news in the press, although with the limitation that the complaint was directed against “the producing entities, distributors or sellers of beer in Cuba” and that “it’s past time when they should have explained the why so sudden disappearance.”

Why, in the midst of a campaign against secrecy, haven’t our media gone and knocked at the door of those who are obliged to give an explanation? Is it because from the top management of the Department of Revolutionary Orientation no one has sent down the order to address the issue? Or perhaps it’s because no official journalist dares to confess that he himself drinks a brew from time to time or has anything to do with those who do. I myself have been a victim of this unspeakable guilt complex that leads us to give the impression that we are not even aware that beer is missing.

The unborn body of this New Man, who failed among us, usually appears as a ghost to give us a fright when we are about to make a consumer misstep. Touch wood!

14 April 2014

The Foreign Investment Law: Jumping Beyond Its Own Shadow? / Yoani Sanchez

A gentleman with a beard and a shabby shirt reads the newspaper in a Reina street doorway. “These people are re-inventing the wheel…” I can hear him say. The daily he has in his hands has a tabloid insert with the new Foreign Investment Law, recently voted on in the National Assembly. Unanimously approved, the controversial legislation comes at a time when the Cuban economy is in desperate need of foreign capital.

The rush to get investment has not caused, however, greater flexibility in areas such as contracting for personnel. The recently approved law will maintain the state’s monopoly as the employing company. Only through this entity will a foreign business be able to contract for its workers. People trusted by the government will continue to rise to the top of the list it’s time to get hired.

Thus, Raul Castro’s government guarantees that the workforce of foreign investors will be people the government trusts. If we understand that economic autonomy is an indispensable requisite to achieving political autonomy, we know very well that the General President is going to assure that the best salaries are going to go to the pockets of the proven faithful. In this way he maintains the ability to buy loyalty with privileges, which has characterized the Cuban model.

However, ideological fidelity and working ability don’t always go hand-in-hand. New businesses with foreign capital will see their performance hampered–among other reasons–by not having access to the best available human capital. On this point it’s clear that the Foreign Investment Law can’t jump beyond its own shadow. It continues to be marked by the fear that individuals can make themselves independent–both with regards to wages and politics–from the state.

17 April 2014

Impressions of an Unprecedented Event / Regina Coyula

Those of us in Cuba who sat in front of the television at dawn, witnessed an unprecedented event: The dialogue between the government and the opposition in real-time, from Venezuela.(*)

Unprecedented in the sense that the majority of Cubans, born after 1959, don’t know what opposition to the government is. They have heard talk about mercenaries and traitors and but to see, sitting across from the Venezuelan government, a group of politicians with other points of view, provokes different reactions.

I followed the speeches of both sides with equal interest. The government remained on the defensive against accusations from the opposition, but within a framework of respect. Only the Vice President of the National Assembly seemed to confuse the meeting room with a platform for agitation, and Capriles, from whom I expected much more, organized his time badly to leave the impression that there was a catharsis around the presidential election loss.

I found the topics on the table very familiar. The Venezuelan government went for the Cuban model–I refuse to repeat that this is socialism–and the achievements in education and healthcare fail to hide the other realities which they enumerated in facts and figures. President Maduro too often forgot that he was elected with half the votes, which means that his support comes from half of Venezuelans. One of the great responsibilities of Chavism is the social fracture provoked, and as well stated on both sides of the table, with two opposite halves you can’t make a country. However, they have a Constitution that is not Chavista but Venezuelan and in which citizens feel they are represented and protected, at least in theory.

IO don’t have a lot of optimism about the future of these encounters. They are different postures and it was left very clear that those in power don’t intend to cede it. The violence and shortages affect everyone regardless of ideological tint. But Maduro is that the opposition will only enter Miraflores as visitors.

(*) From TeleSur, which for Cuba is a major window of information not offered by national television.

11 April 2014

Descriptive Hardship / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

An acquaintance of mine traded his one-and-a-half-room apartment for an even smaller one and a little cash, to ease his alcoholism and misery. I never entered his house and so I was unaware of his poverty. His furniture looked like shabby junk, which was probably — as in most Cuban houses — bought before the triumph of this guerrilla model that installed itself in power in 1959 and has been there ever since.

An oily film covers the surface of the dresser that was perhaps once covered in formica, the dilapidated cabinet narrates a history of old age and over use, as do his mattress and the remains of his sofa and Russian washing machine–from which he had to amputate the dryer–which are as revealing as the speeches of the Cuba’s leaders, their words blurred by neglect and demagoguery.

During the move, he took out a yellowed nylon bag with a ton of black-and-white photos to show his companions how beautiful the apartment had been when his father moved in 1958. Then the furniture seemed alive and the walls still wore an attractive and aesthetic coat of paint. Monochromatic sentiments showing the nostalgia on his face, pummeled by frustration and liquor.

His drinking buddies helped him carry out his things and let them in the sun for an hour waiting for transport. They were a dozen addicts invited to show “solidarity” and encouraged by rum, which served as fuel to maintain their enthusiasm. A truck from the thirties carried a part of the “skimpy” patrimony to the “new house,” which was clearly built before the Castro government and which sheltered, as in many other homes in Cuba, the ethyl-alcohol scandals of that part of society that drowns its disappointments and miseries with a cheap sulfuric homemade rum which is all they can afford.

The alcohol solidarity brigade turned themselves over to the care of the liquid treasure left int he bottle. The emptying of this was the shot that ripped through their own hardships accumulated over decades of governmental injustices, apathy, anti-democratic subjugation and social exhaustion. The delirium tremens, or tremendous delirium of trying to trick societies all the time with drunken ideological and economic theories, has failed worldwide.

Perhaps, in the quiet of their homes, before the bottle gives them the knockout blow, they pull from their personal yellowed plastic bags of history, photos that bear witness to that fact that once–before addiction had them tied by the neck–these were their houses and this was their country, before this evil government drove it to ruin.

17 April 2014

Cuban Gamers / Yoani Sanchez

Dota2

One, two, three and start your computers. The sounds of the microprocessor fans will be heard all night. When the sun comes up the ashtrays will be overflowing, the coffee cups empty, and there will be a winner. They are the Cuban gamers, passionate about video games and engaged in their own tournaments.

For years Leo has been number one in his neighborhood on the Dota 2 game. Developed by Valve Corporation, this pastime mixes strategy, the appeal of role-play, and personalized maps. A rush of adrenaline keeps many of the Island’s young hooked on the screen. First they train with several friends to reach a level where they can compete against higher-ranked players. This is the case with Leo, who has already reached expert status.

“Most difficult is finding a local place with the facilities for each tournament,” this gamer says. Recently at Havana’s Maxim Rock movie theater they started a new national Dota 2 tournament, but its start was delayed for weeks in the absence of a place to develop the teams. Meanwhile, the obsession doesn’t stop. The alternative networks that connect computers–both wired and wirelessly–allow the exercising of sight and mind for the big combat.

Dota_2_wallpaper_by_commander34-d6csdrtWithin a real Havana is hidden another that only the initiated can access. For these players, everyday reality is a place where they barely spend a few hours. In their cosmogony–made of kilobytes–they become heroes without concerns about the collapse of public transport or the scarcity of food on their plates. Their mission is to defend a fortress, guard the “ancestors,” and defeat the enemy forces. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, the game is the most important thing in their lives.

Where Leo lives they have already formed a team of the best. They are five young men between 17 and 25. “I met some in high school,” but the others he found through an “intranet” they have in the building. After a few hours of watching them play, it seems they barely speak among themselves, there are only victory cries when someone manages to defeat the rival heroes and collect a considerable amount of gold.

“I prefer he be involved in this because the street is really bad and there are a lot of risks,” says the mother of Ivan Gonzalez, one of the members of this strange quintet. The president of their Committee for the Defense of the Revolution also looks favorably on this activity to which the young men devote so much time. He says, “As long as they’re playing these little games, at least they aren’t putting posters out there and getting involved with the gusanerías*,” and he reinforces it nodding his head.

At the level where Leo, Ivan and the rest play there are is still no betting with real money, but if they reach the “professional leagues” there will be. “I need more RAM memory on the machine, it’s not enough now,” says Frank, another member of the gamer group. Each one has a computer, assembled from parts which are obtained in the informal market or brought in by some relative from abroad. The quality of the technology greatly determines how far they can progress in the big leagues.

Living to play

Some of the self-employed detected a niche market in this passion for videogames. Along with 3D movies, throughout 2013 sites appeared to hold Dota 2 tournaments and other computer entertainments. When the government attacked the movie rooms, these places also fell into disfavor. A very few still operate illegally, but only for select and trusted clients.

Javier has one of these underground sites near Via Blanca and rents it by the hour. “I rent the whole space with ten machines so two teams can face off, and if they want some non-alcoholic drinks I have that on offer,” he explains, while showing an old garage adapted to the new function.

Each month he develops at least one tournament in the capital. Where it will be held travels mouth to mouth among the interested. The participants can enjoy raffles where they vie for allegorical posters, T-shirts and stickers. The so-called “lan-party”–pronounced lanpary–helps them share clicks and strategies among the youngest, and even with kids. The generational continuity of gaming is guaranteed.

Others offer data packets with updates and new configurations which are renewed each week. Among the best distributors of video games in the whole capital, Yampier is a standout. His list is made up of more than 1,700 titles and includes everything from the classics to the most current. Reliability, stability and discounts for regular customers are the key ideas written on the first page of his catalog.

Yampier is lucky because he works in a department of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology where he can download anything from the Internet, with a bandwidth most Cubans can’t even dream of. “From time to time I also play, but no longer with the same passion as a few years ago,” says this young man, who is also one of the country’s leading developers of Android applications.

The meeting of the warriors

It’s Friday night at centrally located G Street. On a corner there’s a group of young people who great each other with fist bumps or just a touch of forearms. They speak little, just monosyllables, but they understand each other well. One mutters an address and selects a gang of players. Another, with pronounced dark circles, joins with the gamers remaining. There is only one girl in the whole group. “See you there,” is the last phrase heard before they disperse.

Around midnight the battle begins. Everyone is seated at a keyboard, short breaths become a chorus of clicks filling the room. Reality, sweat, the reproaches of their parents, are all left behind. They seem to shake off the apathy that accompanies them during the day and their eyes shine, some even crack a smile. They have already entered the country of their passions.

This night Leo has returned to be the captain of his team and direct their strategy. He has a ruthless style and “his troops” follow through the virtual map with respect and submission. About six hours later the victorious warrior shouts, “Ahhhhhh!” and the whole group joins in celebrating their triumph. When they hug they are sweaty, satisfied, like soldiers in an army who have won a historic, definitive battle.

It’s time to return to reality. The exhausted gamers return to their homes on foot or try to catch the bus, sleepy eyes half-closed. When they get to their respective houses they go straight to the refrigerator to put something in their stomachs, and then fall into bed. When then sun sets again they’re already ready for the next game.

*Translator’s note: In current American English this would probably translate as “the worm community” — “gusano,” or worm, being the favored epithet for anti-government types.

Yoani Sanchez, 14 April 2014

Neither Blacks Nor Whites, Cubans / Fernando Damaso

Photo by Rebeca

Neither black nor white, Cuba is mixed, some of the country’s investigators and intellectuals have asserted for some time now. The declaration seems to respond to an eminently political intention: incorporation into the current Latin American mixed ethnicity, so fashionable among our populists.

This tendency, promoted by the authorities and some associated personalities, instead of looking objectively at the African influence in the formation of the Cuban nationality and identity, overestimating it to the detriment of the Spanish, also an original race. To do this, for many years, they have officially and supported and promoted its demonstration, both in arts and religion, with the objective of presenting it as the genuine Cuban.

Bandying about issues of race has many facets and, hence, varied interpretations. Marti said they didn’t exist, and wrote about the different people who populate the distinct regions of the planer, noting their unique characteristics, both positive and negative and which, in practice, differentiate them. His romantic humanism went one way and reality another. In more recent times,  they sent us to Africa to fight against colonialism, to settle a historical debt with the people of that continent brought to Cuba as slaves, according to what they tell us.

That is, we accept that they can’t free themselves and we, in some way considering ourselves superior, come to their aid, independent of the true political hegemonic interests, which were the real reason for our presence in favor of one side in the conflict, during the so-called Cold War.

Without falling into the absurd extremes, talking about superior and inferior races, in reality there are differences of every kind between the historical inhabitants of different regions. To hide or distort it doesn’t help anyone. Some ethnic groups have developed more than others and have contributed more to humanity, and still do. No wonder we speak of a developed North and the underdeveloped South, and it has not only influenced the exploitation of some by others, as both the carnivorous and vegetarian Left and their followers like to argue. There are those who, with their talent and work, are able to produce wealth, and those who find it more difficult and only create misery.

In Cuba, the original population lived in north of South America and expanded to the Antilles. Afterwards came the Spanish, and later the blacks, Chinese, Arabs, French, Japanese and the representatives of other nations of the world, bringing their customs, characteristics, traditions, virtues, defects and cultures, which in the great mix (never in a pot) formed the Cuban nation. For many years whites were the majority, followed by mixed, blacks and Asians (in 1953, whites were 72.8%, mixed 14.5%, black 12.4% and Asians 0.3% of the population).

From the year 1959, with the mass exodus of whites and Asians, who settled mainly in the United States, and the increase in births in the black and mestizo population, plus the various racial mixtures, their percentages increased within the country, but not among Cubans living abroad, who are mostly white. To ignore the statistics constitutes both a demographic and political mistake, they are as Cuban as those based in the country, often with more rooted customs, traditions and culture. Cuba is white, mestizo, black and Asian and much more, but above all, it is Cuba. Who benefits politically from this extemporaneous definition of a mixed  Cuba? What are they trying to accomplish? to divide Cubans still further?

It is absurd that, after years indoctrinating people about the non-existence of races (say man and you will have said it all), and not taken into account published statistics, now appears this strange assertion,which no one is interested in or cares about, whites, blacks, mixed, Asians, trying to survive within a system that has been unable, for over 56 years, of solving its citizens’ problems.

It’s a secret to no one, that it is precisely and black and mixed population that is most affected by the economic and social crisis, the most discriminated against by the authorities, despite their discourse, propaganda, and the 30% quotas within political and governmental organization.

With the exception athletes and artists, blacks and mixed-race are the poorest, hold the worst jobs, are least likely to graduate from college, live int he worst conditions, often bordering on slums, and are the most likely to be in jail or prison.

I doubt that the conclusions reached by these investigators and intellectuals have some practical value or help in any way to change this terrible situation, nor to the authorities of Public Order cease to besiege them, continually stopping them and demanding their ID cars on the streets of our towns and cities.

11 April 2014

“I Only Know That I Am Afraid” / Tania Diez Castro

HAVANA, Cuba — For almost the first three years of his regime, Fidel Castro was not interested in Cuban intellectuals. He did not forgive their passivity during the years of revolutionary insurrection. They had not put bombs in the street, nor did they engage in armed conflict with the previous dictator’s police. Even those who lived abroad did not do anything for the revolutionary triumph. He never forgave them. Neither he nor other political leaders considered them revolutionaries either before or after the Revolution.

Che Guevara had left it written forever in his little Marxist manual Socialism and Man in Cuba: “The guilt of many of our intellectuals and artists resides in their original sin: they are not authentically revolutionary. We can try to graft the elm tree so that it will produce pears, but at the same time we must plant pear trees.”

But the pears that Che mentioned had nothing to do with human beings because an intellectual, writer or artist is characterized by his sensitivity, his pride, his sincerity. In general, they are solitary and proud.

But also they are, and that is their misfortune, an easy nut to crack, above all for a dictator with good spurs.

During those almost first three years of the Revolution, the most convulsive of the Castro regime — the number of those shot increased and the few jails were stuffed with more than 10,000 political prisoners — surely writers did not fail to observe how Fidel Castro was cracking the free press when after December 27, 1959, he gave the order to introduce the first “post-scripts” at the bottom of articles adverse to his government, supposedly written by the graphics workers.

It was evident that Fidel Castro, who controlled the whole country, did not want to approach them to fill leadership positions of cultural institutions founded by the regime, like the Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry, House of the Americas, the Latin News Press Agency and numerous newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations that were nationalized.

For minister of education he preferred Armando Hart. For the House of the Americas, a woman very far from being an intellectual, Haydee Santamaria.  For the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, Papito Serguera, and for the Naitonal Council of Culture, Vicentina Antuna and Edith Garcia Buchaca, two women unknown in cultural domain.

The first approach that Fidel Castro had with writers, June 16, 1961, in the National Library of Havana, could not have been worse. It was there where he exclaimed his famous remark, “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing,” and where he made clear that those who were dedicated to Art had to submit themselves to the will of the Revolution, something that is still in force.

The maximum leader left that closed-door meeting more than pleased on seeing the expressions of surprise and fear of many of those present, and above all by the words of Virgilio Pinera, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century when he said: “I just know that I am scared, very scared.” That precisely was what the new Cuban leader most needed to hear from the intellectual throng: Fear, to be able to govern at his whim.

Two months later the Fist Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, and UNEAC was founded.  The intellectuals had fallen into line.

If something was said about that palatial headquarters, property of a Cuban emigrant, it is that the Commandant was allergic to all who had their own judgment, and for that reason he would never visit it, as it happened.

It is remembered still today that in a public speech on March 13, 1966, he attacked the homosexuals of UNEAC, threatening to send them to work agriculture in the concentration camps of Camaguey province. The “Enlightened One,” as today the president of UNEAC Miguel Barnet calls the Cuban dictator, kept his word. Numerous writers and graphic artists found themselves punished with forced labor in the unforgettable Military Units to Assist Production — UMAP.

These Nazi-style units were created in 1964 and closed four years later after persistent international complaints. If anyone knew and knows still the most hidden thoughts of the intellectuals, besides their sexual intimacy, it is the Enlightened One, thanks to his army of spies, members of the political police who work in the shadows of the mansion of 17th and H, in the Havana’s Vedado where UNEAC put down roots.

In 1977, one cannot forget the most cruel and abominable blow that the Enlightened One directed against the writers of UNEAC when his army of political police extracted from the drawers of the headquarters the files of more than 100 members — among them was mine as founder — so that they were definitively and without any explanation separated from the Literature Section of that institution.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014

Translated by mlk.

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.

A Misguided Decision / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

The economic and political sanctions imposed on Russian and Ukrainian leaders and officials by the United States and the European Union in response to actions on the Crimean peninsula do not appear to have been thoroughly thought through by the West.

Without delving too deeply into history, we should remember that Crimea, including the peninsula of the same name, was once part of the Ottoman empire. It was annexed by the Russian empire in the 18th century during an expansion directed by Catherine the Great. It also included Poland and Lithuania, which— along with Russian territory — would many years later would make up present-day Ukraine.

The peninsula was occupied by the Nazis during WWII until its liberation by the Soviet army. In 1954 Nikita Khruschev, the first secretary of the Soviet Communist party, decided to transfer jurisdiction to the Republic of Ukraine. It was a time when the USSR included Ukraine as well as fourteen other Soviet republics. The Soviet Black Sea Fleet and its naval and air installations have been based on the peninsula for many years. The largest proportion of the population is ethnically Russian, followed by Ukrainians and then Tatars. In the 1990s the Russian parliament attempted to reintegrate the Crimean peninsula into Russia, but the effort went nowhere.

The latest events in Ukraine — namely the demise of Russia’s protege there as well as its almost assured admission to the European Union and subsequently to NATO — set off alarm bells in Moscow. From a defense standpoint, losing an ally like Ukraine would be terrible enough for Russia since it would leave its southwest frontier exposed to Western military positions. But to lose the Crimea as well would have been totally unacceptable since it would have posed a threat to the naval base for Russia’s Black Sea fleet, through which it gains access to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The Russian president, who portrays himself as a leader intent on restoring Greater Russia and the country’s pride, could not act otherwise, lest it lead to domestic problems. He did what he had to do, to the delight of his countrymen.

The West, spurred by the rapid developments and upset by the action, tried to exert political pressure with threats, instead of pushing for a peaceful and reasonable solution, which could have included the non-interference of Russian in the current Ukraine and the acceptance of its government at the expense of the independence of the peninsula and its later reincorporation into Russia, if its the citizens so decided. When a government puts another government between a rock and a hard place, closing off any dignified exit, it must be willing to see it through to its ultimate consequences which, in this case, would have been to go to war, which it was clear to everyone that the West wouldn’t do; not for the Crimean peninsula nor for the Ukraine.

The situation created, the tensions and actions on both sides, poisoned the world political atmosphere and awakened the ghost of the Cold War, which seemed as if it belonged to history. If the independence of the Crimea peninsula had been negotiated, perhaps it would have later been used as international pressure against Russia demanding, in addition, their acceptance of the independence of Chechnya and Ossetia, autonomous republics situated in its territory, which have spent years demanding and fighting for it.

The same thing happened in the USSR at the beginning of the ’90s, when it ceased to exist. The Republics that made up the Union decided to become independent, as is happening now to Ukraine. The Crimea already forms part of Russia and it’s a fait accompli. The important thing now is to consolidate independence and ensure Ukraine’s political, economic and social stability.

21 March 2014