Jesus in Memorium / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

CHUCHO AND THE END OF THE WORKING CLASS

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

He was not fired from his job by Fidel or Raul. He was fired from life, the life he worked for himself.

Chucho died today.

For months he urinated too much. He had anemia. Little appetite. He got skinny.

The doctors felt a compact ball in his prostate. They biopsied it but the sample didn’t work in the laboratory. They prodded further. He bled. Student beasts saving anesthesia God knows why. Chucho said not one more wild test.

He continued bleeding in the stool. He vomited. There were bruises on his body. Upset. His tongue knotted up in less than half an hour. The view at the end of the world. He died in Calixto Garcia hospital without having time for anything (nor would he have done anything in the Bolivarian Youth clique.) Laid out tonight, Thursday-Friday, in the funeral home of Infanta, The National.

My mother there all night. I left. I can’t resist the low light and institutional mediocrity that stifles us even after we are corpses.

Chucho was a fighter. He was seventy. No children. No women. Perhaps only my mother.

They met at the Lili Doll Factory, just as my mother fell in love with my father, the limpid Personnel Department clerk who spent almost 20 years with her.

I was born in 1971. My mother was a homemaker. Chucho waited, like one of those Garcia-Marquezian characters which he never read of.

He spent a century and a millennium.

In the old age of everyone, Chucho began frequenting our house in Lawton. He arrived before dawn. He helped where he could. A little old hustler with more energy and loyalty than 99% of youth, including, of course, myself.

My father was then like my mother’s father. Chucho and he played chess in a doorway of the nineties. My father still had the strength to defeat him. He applied the historical advantage of someone who has had a free hand to dedicate himself to the labors of an intellectual.

Chucho, yours was manual labor. The struggle. Lottery pointer in the fifties to the Secretary of the Nucleus of the Cuban Communist Party, already tired, even of Cuban communism.

It’s three o’clock in the morning in Cuba. I write naked in my room while he is lying at The National of Infanta, Room A (third floor), not far from his house in a maze on Manglar Street. The night we joined in the desolation of the old Chucho and the late adolescent Landy.

Ever since my father died, he wanted to dictate his memoirs to me, but I gently eluded him. I have no regrets. His life did not deserve the fallacy of any story. His life was a thing more than concrete. A crack. Like the word “chucho” — mutt — for example. Even among his friends hardly anyone knew his name let alone his surname.

Chucho, will start.

Chucho, you could be my father in the proletarian maelstrom of volunteer works in the sixties.

Chucho, you no longer believed but you still trusted in the Revolution.

With his horse letters, that I was writing out on the Underwood typewriter, former private property of my father. Minutes of meetings and appointments for meetings. Chucho gave me this to type.

Clack clack.

Click clack.

Our class time is over.

With you, the spirit of the underdog died. Poor but honest. Resolving without screwing over others. With your roaring laughter in the urban character of Lino Novas Calvo. Crying on the phone like an uncouth peasant. That was it. A staggering guerilla in this abandoned palace of original dreams called Havana.

The official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba will not know, of course, of this “great loss of a fellow traveler,” but with Chucho the head of a time that no Cuban now lived in, fell off. In many mental ways, for me it is as if Fidel died (in many physical aspects it would seem like a mirror image at the end).

Chucho, I will not continue to speak of you in the second person singular, this empty vice of those bereaved, in grief.

The morning progresses and soon will dawn in Post-Revolution Havana. My mother has been left more alone. Your love for her is a little closer to being fulfilled in some place that may never be.

Chuco, I’m sorry. Adiós.

September 17, 2010

Impeccable in Memory / Rebeca Monzo

The great actress Greta Garbo knew to retire when it was time, in the splendor or her beauty and at the height of her fame. A very intelligent choice which many don’t make, led astray as they are by their ego.

But today it is not the great actress nor the stubborn that concern me. It is that yesterday I came across a document from the old store El Encanto, which still lives in my memory, and I was shocked. I remembered and I always will, most of all how their slogan marked the beginning of each season, how we all had to comply, no matter if it was cold or hot: “It is summer at El Encanto,” or “It is winter at El Encanto.” This marked the season for the whole of Cuba, regardless of the weather report.

When I first arrived in Paris, in the seventies, people took me to the Galerías Lafayette, and I experienced a feeling of dizziness, not pleasant for me, because I had come from my planet, where the streets were dark, there were almost no cars, and the display windows of the stores were decorated with streamers and books on Marxism. I said to the person who had taken me, get me out of here because I am very tired. But are you dazzled by this store, she asked me? Yes, it’s very beautiful, I answered, but on my planet we had El Encanto. Then she said, what you are is very chauvinistic.

Today, looking at the photos of that great department store (the first in Latin America and possibly in the world, in those years) with its elegant salons, exclusive clothes, charming and well dressed employees, as well as their spectacular Christmas decorations inside the store, on the façade and in its windows, something I had never though of occurred to me: At least El Encanto disappeared in full bloom, as the actress of yore. It did not suffer the shame that of the other major Havana stores such as End of the Century and Flogar, just to name a few, that time, apathy and neglect have made squalid, turning them into caricatures of what they once were.

October 16, 2010

EROS AND THANATOS / Miguel Iturria Savón

Wednesday, September 8, the painter Orestes Carreras Alarcón opened an exposition of his paintings, Eros and Thanatos, at the Fernando Boada gallery in the municipality Cotorro. There are 12 mixed media paintings worked with charcoal, graphite, acrylic and blended with textures. In them, the painter subordinates color to figuration, focusing on the relationship between eroticism, bullfighting and death. Eroticism as a necessity, death as a part of life and its connections with vigor and energy, symbolized by the human figure.

In this installment, the pursuit of freedom of expression goes through syncretism, the deformation of the faces and the mixtures, a recurring theme in the artist’s work, true to his own vision, oblivious to the market and the colors he uses, knowing that art fairs and local customs often limit the creative pulse.

The work of Orestes Carreras is essentially expressionistic and surreal, highlighting evocative provocative textures, and using universal codes that reveal his creative maturity.

The size of these paintings (almost all of 1.50 by 1.10 meters) forces the viewer to watch from afar due to the texture required to disclose the figurative representation of various steps of the canvas. The natural and human figures that decorate each painting embody a visual approach is neither symmetrical nor one of cartoonish figuration.

We infer, then, that there are beautiful, but not artistic, things, and that symmetry is the main element of beauty, palpable in these paintings that challenge taboos from the aggressiveness of the images to the simplicity of color, with predominantly gray, and combinations of sepia, yellow and blue.

The peculiar spiritual sensitivity of Orestes does not have many precursors in Cuban art, except in the syncretic vision of teachers such as Lam or Mendive, those who differ in the color palette and converge in the figurative overflow. The stylized Greco faces, the recreations of the Guayasamín Aboriginal environment and works of German Otto Dick, appear to be sources for the island artist.

We find ourselves facing strong proposals, disturbing, aggressive and sometimes shocking, although there are distinctions in the lines and intentions contained in each piece, with the interesting and grotesque form of beauty, conceived from stories intertwined with the mythology of Eros, the virility, the mixture, and death.

The paintings Alligator Love, Autumn Gift, Heresies and Narcissus At The Spring, certify the pictorial transgression. Heresies complicates the mixed expression of longing and ancient energies, love between life and death, represented by naked women on bulls, whose large noses hang like condoms, a kind of bridge and sexual limit.

The Narcissus of Orestes is not handsome, lost in looking at his face in the spring; it expresses sexual ecstasy with the fountain as the source, accented by silver graphite, charcoal and textures.

Sex gallops in the images of The Flight, Eruption, Desires and At The Theater. In The Flight a man and a woman are drawn without wings in white and gray. Eruption is an illustrative and subtle work that limits the figure in its space. The same cleanness is observed in Desires which offers two faces of surreal beauty that infer the unisex. At The Theater fantasizes about the promiscuity of four couples making love in the corner of a bed.

In Ochún and Shangó, the painter returns to the syncretic symbolism of the sensual Ochún (deity of the river) and his link with Shangó (owner of the fire), surrounded by their religious icons, sharpened by the artist who now gives us these pieces from his peculiar erotic gaze and perception of death.

September 24, 2010

The Martí I Prefer / Fernando Dámaso

  1. The ideas of José Martí, the largest and most universal of all Cubans, have been used for a long time by this person and that depending on their political interests. his scale and his having tried virtually everything human and divine in his work has influenced this situation.
  2. His ideas and thoughts, presented as general guidelines applicable to any geographic region and time, break the narrow framework of every country and time, and are extended to humans. This, has increased his value and made his work susceptible to various uses, which can move easily between opposing extremes.
  3. This has also contributed its part to the ambivalence that various scholars of Marti’s work who, from their individual worldviews have interpreted, sometimes honestly and sometimes not, responding to their own circumstantial interests to which they apply it. Thus has emerged a strange “multi-use” Martí, far from the real man. The brutal practice of extracting as if by forceps phrases and ideas outside their original context, as conveniences, and exposing them as dogmas, has expanded enormously, and today most people only know this castrated Martí.
  4. In addition, critical editions of his works, analysis, interpretations and even ratings, have flooded our libraries and schools, each with its vision and burden of subjectivity, tending, often without malice, to undermine and compromise Martí’s thought.
  5. I am proud to have the four volumes of his complete works, published in 1946 and, even more, to have read them. I’m not a specialist, but merely a connoisseur and admirer. Sometimes I have returned at different times to them, looking for something important and always to a greater or lesser extent, I have found it. This pure Martí in his natural state, unpolluted, with no additions or subtractions, is my favorite.

October 1, 2010

TAKEN FROM VOICES NUMBER 1 / Eduardo Laporte / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

I Don’t Know What The Dogs Have

By Eduardo Laporte

I DON’T KNOW what they have, but something hidden. A strange wisdom they can’t communicate, that they are resigned to carrying on their backs, as an unsolicited gift, the gift of a rare intelligence that does not escape their brains the size of a fist.

There is something insane about eating these faithful animals, as I saw one day on TV that they do in Cambodia without any scruple: the dog is one more beast, into the oven and you eat for two days. I dislike the idea.

My friend Alex Estupinian wrote some canine verses which read:

I do not know

but sometimes I think that the dogs

know of the substantiality of the world.

I discovered some of that in the secret language of dogs. One of those dogs who sings Silvio, in those songs of his where fortunately there is always a place where politics can’t reach, or reaches under: music, art. What I say to those dogs who were with me in lost nights without friends.

It seemed to me that Havana had many dogs. There isn’t so much poverty, I thought, because the dog at the end can be a good resource for the pot, in the absence of other more everyday foods. I saw many stray dogs, dogs without a master, street dogs, no one’s dogs, everyone’s dogs, in Central Park Square. Along with their Sunday customers at the Inglaterra Hotel, or the NH Parque Central they were sheltering dogs, lazy, dull, sleeping, on the slopes of the planting beds where they warn us not to step on the lawn that doesn’t exist.

Those dogs were tired, defeated, had ceased to be dogs. They retained their wisdom — even though some people say that the dogs are stupid — but one day had renounced communicating it. Fifty is a lot of years, they’re thinking, and the disbelief was already great. The despair.

I appreciated as a legacy of defeatism in these dogs, in these animals of the Canaries of Tropics who didn’t worry themselves apart from the of no concern to depart from the blistering sun. I would see them gutted, sad, on the edge of eternal tears, on the sidewalks of the main streets, but also in the darkest corners of the Havana night.

In my runs through Central Havana I saw them, at times, but they didn’t frighten me because all ability to fight had been lost in them.
They were domesticated dogs that had never seen, so they had lost their essence in the animal kingdom. They lost their dog dignity, and it was a sad reflection of what they were. They say that dogs resemble their masters, and all those dogs, I say, were everyone’s and anyone’s, but most of all no one’s.

On the morning of May 1, 2009, fifty years after the Glorious-and-other-epithets Revolution of Comandante Fidel, I fell into the bourgeois act of letting myself go for a bike-taxi. It was hot, I was late, did not want to go alone. I took it, what do you want. The heat, I already said, was made of lead and the poor driver of that infernal gadget didn’t complain, but his legs were shaking like old elevator cables when he pumped the pedals. Is there equality? There will always be a guy who takes you to another, and that one will never be the first. There is always a dark dog that leave from a slap to not disturb us.

In Cuba I would appoint as president a bloody mongrel, surely things would be better. That morning, the liquid sun, strange liquid light that I would say I don’t know who (well, I think Roland Barthes of the southwestern French), through white streets like an unreal, surreal Andalusia, a dog appeared. A black dog, a Cuban dog, not an Andalusian dog. A real dog, not surreal, Dali no.

He looked into my eyes as if asking for help, as if to say “Hey, don’t go, listen, I’m here, help us.” We left him back there alone in that morning of forced party slogans and scheduled programs, of official smiles and national pride so well understood that many end up believing it until they go home and nothing happens.

I do not know what the dogs have, that dog black and silent, but when I see, here in Madrid, dogs jumping, gooey, sometimes aggressive, sometimes athletic, sometimes all of that all at once, I remember the Havana dogs, perhaps the saddest animals I’ve ever seen. Only Julia Núñez, when I visited at here home in Belascoaín, made me think that there were still dogs with rabies, but good rabies.

It was a funny sausage, but barking like a Doberman. I don’t like barking dogs, or dogs in my face, but this time I appreciated the fortitude on all fours. It was unlike any other dog, the dog of Julia Núñez. It was different from all those dogs thrown on the streets, in the sun, with no desire or to seek shade.

Sad, I think now, as the hippopotamus, the crocodile or the polar bear I’ve also seen in Madrid, but in the zoo.

August 8, 2010

Eternal Rest for Art / Miguel Iturria Savón

Only two cemeteries in Paris and Barcelona exceed in funeral sculptures and architectural layout the majesty of the Cementerio de Colon (Columbus Cemetery) which occupies 140 acres in the elegant district of Vedado and is bounded by a fence that silences the bustling Havana, while those who make the cross as they walk or drive along Avenue Zapata, the obligatory destiny of the mortals who don’t avoid the Catholic rituals of burial and exhumation, nor opted for cremation in the ovens common in some hospitals in the city.

Built in the late 1860’s for a population five times greater than the 100,000 inhabitants at the time, the cemetery was expanded and remodeled later, according to the flow of crises or bonanzas crossing the island, whose elites turned it into a spiritual space that evokes life from death.

Although there are 20 more cemeteries in Havana, the Colon cemetery is home to one of five Cubans, which represents 80% of funerals in the capital and almost 20% of those in the whole country. It is a material challenge with ethical consequences for the cemetery personnel, facing shortages, theft, abandonment of family vaults and lost tombs, ossuaries and monuments of historical, architectural and cultural interest.

The stones of memory that try to perpetuate life in the sunny acres of this capital mausoleum are a testimony to the imagination, the social level, aesthetic taste and even human behavior and the desire for uniqueness among many Havanans.

Archive specialists say that at the end of 2009 the vast necropolis housed one hundred thousand remains in the state ossuaries, while the total number of individuals was one million two hundred thousand, which requires constant exhumation and use of the incinerator as an alternative for many remains unclaimed by family. This kind dispossession of the moral remains is a daily occurrence at the site, barely visible to passersby and tourists visiting the ancient streets of the cemetery, whose state varies based on the quality of materials used in vaults, tombs and sculptures.

To insure that there is a significant investment by the Office of the Historian of the City, the Provincial Department of Community Services, which administers the burial grounds, and institutions of Spain, the nation most represented after Cuba, as its vast descendants on the island acquired plots and mausoleums built to evoke their native Andalusia, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Castile, Catalonia, Galicia, Canary Islands, Navarra and the Basque Country, Valencia, etc.

Weather, climate, the exodus or the misery of families who owned the vaults, the death of some of them and the lack of materials in the administration seem to fit in with the redesign of a city that is over two million people and requires new solutions to the logical extinction of people.

Recent investments were directed to restore the north gate, of great symbolic value, the central chapel, and monuments of historical and social interest, in addition to replacing the caps on thousands of vaults and meet the ongoing needs of cleaning and gardening. The challenge of increased cost lies in the endless restorations of statues, mausoleums and monuments erected to figures and symbols of the city, such as La Milagrosa which viewed by most of the four thousand people who come daily to the most famous necropolis of Cuba.

Colon Cemetery, a kind of museum with walls running for four kilometers through Havana, is a life’s work to preserves its universality. Living together there for eternity and in perfect harmony are a Byzantine dome, an Egyptian pyramid, a Westernized obelisk, the entrance to a Roman catacomb, a Florentine Gothic palace, the miraculous French Lady of Lourdes and four very Cuban royal palms. Other groups of sculptures and mausoleums dedicated to heroes, dignitaries and artists of the colonial and republican period confirm the power, spiritual wealth and values bequeathed by our predecessors.

Preserving this monumental jewel of the island’s culture is equivalent to writing on the stones of memory and recalling our own names to relatives who journeyed through the brief galaxy of life.

September 12, 2010

Appropriateness / Miriam Celaya

Ever since the national organization that represents the Cuban workers elected itself as speaker on behalf of the olive-green bosses to announce the layoff of half a million employees in record time, a certain word has become fashionable and has circulated by word of mouth: appropriateness. To be “appropriate” has become the essential requirement to keep your job, but nobody quite understands what that term may mean, given that this is an extremely elastic quality that cannot be applied equally in each case. Let’s use as an example that an appropriate bank teller is not the same as an appropriate gravedigger. It is understood, although neither of them produces absolutely anything, like the respective appropriateness of an artist and of a restaurateur. Don’t panic if this is confusing, readers: I don’t understand how the mysterious meaning can imprint so much power on a simple word. I don’t think I am the appropriate person to explain it.

According to an acquaintance of mine, secretary general of the union section at her workplace, right now, in order to be considered appropriate, it won’t be enough to rely on the backing of a combative-intransigent-integrated-vanguard-revolutionary. No sir. The renovated model demands a “new” conception of work, according to which, the worker has to produce and be efficient (¿?). Come on, after 50 years of sweating in vain, our leaders have discovered that work has to produce something besides poverty. Let’s not be too demanding of them, at the end of the day, it is a modest achievement.

Thus, in every workplace, a different standard will be applied when measuring the adequacy of workers, and one wonders what indicators will be identified as appropriate for the street sweepers in a city so dirty, for the police officers who supposedly watch over the peace in a society that is becoming more violent every day, in which all kinds of crimes are committed, for the official jurists, responsible for carrying out legal injustices and twisting the already twisted laws, for the hundreds of officials who charge complete salaries to any son of a neighbor, to hinder all and each one of the undertakings they initiate, for the dozens of store employees and other service units that bask in customer mistreatment. Oh, by the way, what will be the appropriateness of the baker who will ensure the quality of our daily bread! (the extremely humble bread of the dying ration card that always comes up as the number one point on the government agenda of every delegate of the People’s Power).

But, above all, I wonder what the members of the Councils of State and Ministers, starting with the General-President, who might be labeled with the grace of appropriateness after such wreck and collapse of the nation, amid such administrative corruption at all levels, and after the utter devastation in which they have plunged this country. Or is that there will not be a reorganizational shakeup of posts on the heights of the Olympus warrior?

Now that we are renewing the model because “it doesn’t even work for us” – according to statements of the Great Orator in his first coherent words that we can recognize in a long time – isn’t it time to also remodel and rejuvenate the Jurassic Park of greenish dinosaurs that continue pounding on this devastated homestead?

Translated by: Norma Whiting

October 20, 2010

THE RED RAGE RELOADED / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

PHOTOS: Orlando (Pardo) poster: Rolando (Pulido)

CAN YOU HEAR THE DRUMS, FERNANDO?

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

This year, 2010, a lot of things will be defined in quasi-cultural Cuba. The fate of certain private art exhibition spaces, for example. The fate of certain digital publications cornered between permits and panics, for example. The fate of the Festival of Rotilla, beachhead of freedom unimaginable in any Cuban city. The fate of the group of performers and poets OMNI ZONA FRANCA, for example, who have been stuck between a rock and a hard place: the Deputy Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas and State Security (forgive the redundancy).

White Píter Ortega and Desiderio Navarro, for example, threaten to kill each other with expert thrusts, the uncivil elves of OMNI ZONA FRANCA are being gagged every day by the knotted rope of our lack of intellectual solidarity. It is not any shitty ministry in El Vedado that has killed them, they are muted by the insolent lack of culture of our nation. It’s not the police in the pay of the static State that has shut them up, we have soundproofed them ourselves; we do not deserve this amazing phenomenon of a decade of urban action and radical love.

There is no room in cuba for OMNI ZONA FRANCA. The government’s war against them is not open, but shameless. Zen/sorship. Confiscations, Threats. Partial permits. Pressure on third parties. Exclusions. Shouting officials. The dirty rag of the neighborhood or the military card. Histeria of the community rats. Attempts to erase the emotional map of our Havana in the mire… In Cuba OMNI ZONA FRANCA will never fit. There is no room for the light of joy in such a gloomy town, between the fantatacism and fear of the wrath of a Premier always ignored even by Washington, etymological enemy that has forced him into the ridicule of a living condemned to the perpetual hope of an unlikely invasion.

OMNI ZONA FRANCA was a breath of peace. Videos. Graffiti. Voice. Musicalia. Remix. Communion. Procession. Gospel that not even the Cuban churches have been able to imitate. That’s why we hate them.For their spontaneity. Their improvisation. For being a true minority in the lotus position, who corrupt the hypocrisy of our city of white guys dragging their CDs and kicking ass in the latest model Chinese car.

If the Cuban cultural camp doesn’t proceed immediately with a reaction of sufficient violence (a flower in the air could be enough, also a thousand signatures on a petition). OMNI ZONA FRANCA will see their freedom of expression tangled in some legal complication to the point of ending it. The squad of crazy clearheaded ones that made the cenotaph called Alamar a more breathable niche is on the point of disappearing. Like the dinosaurs, we are letting them disappear under our aesthetic noses. And we are so cowardly that we put our hand in the fire to receive at least a peck of official blind man’s buff.

The OMNI ZONA FRANCA have every right not legislated in Cuba to continue being social beings here and now. The pariahs are the public bureaucrats who know no communications logic other than espionage and blackmail.

OMNI ZONA FRANCA made us laugh and sing to everyone, without ever asking if we were one of the so many provocateurs surrounding them in each “acting,” like State wolves lacking the talent to roam the steppes.

OMNI ZONA FRANCA do not deserve the moral solitude in which we abandon them while giving them a hug and an “everything will work out,” or “it’s better to wait…”

It’s either now or now. Their political art will not long survive the red bullets of officialdom.

OMNI ZONA FRANCA, is the stuttering drum of my words: for you I bring them closer to the public pillory so that the Ministry of Culture will exile them sometime; for you I offer also my heart without cuirass, compañeros, so that the brutal boot of all these organizations they already don’t want to know you will finally attack me (or face the consequences of whiplash from my heartbeats).

August 1, 2010

Eight Times in Three Years: Refused “Permission” to Leave My Island / Yoani Sánchez

Exclusive to the Huffington Post.

Fortunately I had few illusions left, because otherwise I would have felt cheated a couple of weeks ago when I was refused – for the eighth time in just three years – permission to travel abroad.

Since General Raul Castro inherited Cuba’s presidency in February 2008, the topic of greatest interest to scholars and Cuba-watchers is the changes he will implement in Cuban socialism. Speculation was fueled by the General’s own statement that it was necessary to eliminate arbitrary prohibitions and to make structural changes in the economy.

Many of us had the fantasy that restrictions imposed on those of us living on the island would be abolished; for starters we assumed we would be able to have internet service at home, along with cable or satellite television We assumed he would eliminate the absurd prohibition on selling a home or a motor vehicle and that, finally, the economic right to found a company would cease to be a privilege allowed only to state and foreign investors. But our most delusional chimera, from the time we began to hear of coming “openings,” was that the restrictions that force the inhabitants of the “first free territory of America” to ask permission to visit another country would be eradicated.

But there should be no illusions that this kind of change is close to happening; better we should change our illusions. Mine are not focused on the will of my leaders, but on the weight of obstinate reality. Everything will change, whether they want it to or not. My grandchildren are going to think I’m a liar when I tell them how things used to be in my time, and I will be happy seeing that none of this nonsense will remain to fall on their heads.

October 25, 2010

Free Cuba / JUAN ADOLFO FERNÁNDEZ SAINZ

Europe shouldn’t normalize relations with the Castro regime until it transitions toward real democracy.

By JUAN ADOLFO FERNÁNDEZ SAINZ

The Spanish government believes that by releasing a few political prisoners, Cuba has now made enough advances in human rights and democracy to allow the European Union to normalize relations with the island. Madrid couldn’t be more wrong.

Although I was one of the lucky ones to be released and to arrive here in Spain with 38 other former Cuban political prisoners, my home country remains under the stern grip of an oppressive regime. Let me tell you the stories of some of those brave dissidents still left behind.

Among the many victims of the 2003 crackdown on regime critics is Felix Navarro Rodriguez, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail. I knew him for a long time as a peaceful oppositionist with great popular roots in his village, where he had been a high-school principal. We met again in Canaleta prison, where I was serving a 15-year sentence for my fight for democracy. He never even considered leaving Cuba. His daughter, Sayli Navarro, was expelled from university as a further punishment for his “crimes.”

Another Castro victim is Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, an economist sentenced to 18 years in jail. At 68 he is the oldest of all the 75 dissidents imprisoned in 2003. He has always said that he wants to die in Cuba. His old and fragile mother is still awaiting his release.

Or consider the fate of Pedro Arguelles Moran, who is 62 and was sentenced to 20 years for his work as an independent journalist. We were both in Canaleta prison, but never in the same section. He suffers from cataracts and when we met at the dining hall, always separated by iron bars, he would recognize me first by my voice. He says no one will ever get him out of Cuba.

Felix, Arnaldo and Pedro are three out of 12 political prisoners who have decided to remain in Cuba. The Cuban regime says it will release all the remaining political prisoners from the group of 75, even those who have no intention of leaving Cuba after being freed. But so far they all still remain in jail.

I respect the mediation of the Spanish government. Partly thanks to Madrid’s efforts, I am free today. But the fact that a group of us are now in Spain when a couple of months ago we were in prison, does not mean that the Cuban dictatorship has fundamentally changed.

We were unjustly jailed and arbitrarily condemned in a sham trial with no real access to defense counsel. (I saw my lawyer only once for five minutes just before the hearing.) We were given very harsh sentences—on average almost 20 years—for our peaceful and civic opposition. Searches of our homes produced no weapons, and nothing we wrote contained any incitement to violence.

We were kept under inhuman conditions, in overcrowded cells that we had to share with common criminals. We were locked away far from our families—in my case 777 kilometers from Havana—which, given the difficulties of transportation in Cuba, imposed an additional, cruel punishment on my loved ones.

Spain wants to normalize relations with Cuba because Havana quasi-banished us, with no documentation recognizing that we had been set free, when we should have never been sent to prison in the first place. Even if all political prisoners had been freed in Cuba and given the opportunity to decide their own fate and to continue their struggle in Cuba for democracy and for human rights, it would have been merely a first step. It would have been an indispensable but not sufficient condition to determine that Cuba has started its transition toward democracy.

Until the Castro regime repeals all its laws violating human rights, allows multi-party elections, free trade unions and independent media, and lets Cubans participate fully in our economy and travel freely, any attempt to normalize relations with Cuba would be premature.

By giving the Sakharov Prize last Thursday to Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who has spent 11 years in jail as a political prisoner, the European Parliament has made a clear statement that the struggle for freedom in Cuba is far from over. What should be on the negotiating table is not a token group of political prisoners, but a real prospect for a democratic Cuba.

Mr. Sainz is a journalist and translator who, in the spring of 2003 was sentenced to 15 years in prison for exercising freedom of expression. Since last August he resides in Spain.

Note from Translating Cuba: JUAN ADOLFO FERNÁNDEZ SAINZ, while in prison in Cuba, blogged on  Voices Behind the Bars. This op-ed was published on October 25, 2010, in The Wall Street Journal and we are reprinting it here for his loyal readers who might have missed it there.

Letter From Prison: What Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin (Akiro) Has to Say / Luis Felipe Rojas

Due to the privileged angle of information which the political prisoner Akiro has been able to count on, every once in a while we can shed more light on what prison life is like. Here, I quote him:

“On October 14th, half a hundred of us prisoners witnessed how other prisoners who work in Holguin’s Provincial Prison’s pantry would distribute rice. This rice was taken from the casseroles which are supposed to be for us, and it was given to the functionaries of Interior Order so that they could feed their swine. I have seen bags of up to ten pounds of rice or ground beef and vegetables ending up in the hands of the functionaries from the chief group called Polanco (the same one which authorized and carried out the last brutal beating of Orlando Zapata before taking him to Kilo 8 in Camaguey). They would take such products to the guardian of the keys, who goes by the name of ‘El Pinto’. Bags, plastic small containers, and other packages filled with all sorts of goods (which could easily feed the prisoners or be used in the cafeteria) are taken out of the jails. From there, they end up in the homes of the guards, so that they could fatten their pigs.

“According to what I have understood, the henchman Polanco directly suggests that there be a reduction of how much food is given out. And we barely ever hear about this in all the condemnations that are made. People in the street who are used to the hunger somehow think that this is not a violation of human rights”.

On this occasion, it’s not a beating, or the refusal of medical attention for sick prisoners behind bars. Akiro has focused on an issue which, due to its generalization and frequency, we already think of as a given.

The same thing occurs in businesses, restaurants, and playgrounds. Just a few years ago a friend of mine, who worked in the “Delta Las Brisas” hotel located in the tourist zone of Gualdalava, would frequently cry because she was prohibited by the night guard from taking any left over ice cream to her children. Nor could she hide it anywhere to freeze because the scent-sniffing dog could find absolutely anything. Then, that Cuban ingenuity inside of her led her to bag the ice cream in nylon bags, and then to put it, hermetically sealed, inside the bags which were destined for the pigs. Later, when they were already outside the control area, they would pick them up and take them home. They couldn’t do this every day, only once a week. But later the same game and method was applied to olive oil, olives, and sausages.

Now, I doubt that these soldiers are doing this out of necessity. Instead, I think they are acting like an inverse version of Robin Hood, lacking any morals and ethics while they rob from those who are in need.

Translated by Raul G.

October 25, 2010

From Honey to Bile / Yoani Sánchez

He was wearing a cap pulled down over his ears, but I still recognized in his face the features of the former vice president. Carlos Lage passed in front of me at the intersections of Infanta and Manglar streets with that gait typical of the deposed, a cadence fallen into when all hope of vindication has been lost. I felt badly for him, not because he was walking in the sun when so recently he had had a chauffeur, but because everyone looked at him with that punishing silence, with a look of revenge. A woman passed me and I heard her say, “Poor thing, look who had to do all the dirty work and in the end they did this to him.”

A year and a half after the dismissal of Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque, we still haven’t learned what led to their political demise. In an unusual display of discretion, the video shown to Communist Party members — explaining the motives for their sudden fall from grace — has never filtered out to the alternative information networks. Nor did they convince us with those photos where the two of them are at a party drinking bear and smiling; if that were cause enough to lose your position there wouldn’t be a single minister at his post and the presidential chair would be vacant. The phrase written by Fidel Castro in one of his Reflections — that both the foreign minister and the vice president had become addicted to “the honey of power” — seems more like the confession of someone who knows all too well the royal jelly of a government with no limits on the explanations of errors committed by others. So we are left without knowing why, this time, Saturn devoured his children, with that aftertaste of someone who is eating the final litter, the generation that might replace him.

I felt compassion for Carlos Lage, seeing him with his cap pulled down over his face as he hurried past to avoid being noticed. I had the impulse to call out to him to say that his expulsion had saved him from a future of ridicule and made him a free man. But he went by too quickly, the asphalt gave off so much heat, and that woman looked at him with such mockery, I only managed to cross the sidewalk. I left the ousted one with his loneliness, but believe me, I wanted to sidle up to him and whisper: don’t be sad, getting the boot, in fact, is what saved you.

October 25, 2010

Photos of the Opening of “La Paja Recold” Gallery by Claudio Fuentes Madan / Claudia Cadelo

“Citas históricas” by Gorki Aguila

The photos of Hebert Domínguez

Above Ricardo Orta (from Porno para Ricardo), on the left Guillermo Portieles and on the right Claudio Fuentes Madan

“Drunks” by Heriberto Manero and “Cop with walkie-talkie” by Guillermo Portieles

On the left los Graffiteros, above Arturo Cuenca and below Luis Trápaga

Fernando Ruiz and me

October 24, 2010