Sui Generis

I don’t know what lesson to draw from this boring celebration of the 57th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes military bases, an action which is considered something of a Genesis for neohistorians. Beginning at midnight, in the first moment of July 26, I was very surprised they didn’t stop the regular programming on TV to read the usual congratulatory statement for this date. At seven-thirty in the morning, amid choral singing, the official event started. The showings of local culture continued with a poem declaimed and some troubadours. And then the Party Secretary for the province hosting the event remarked on the achievements and the tirelessness of the locals, and president Raúl Castro handed rewards to the winning provinces; the high point of the event was the speech by Venezuelan minister Rodríguez Areque. Thanks to this speech I found out that the next war will not be in Asia, but in our own backyard, between Venezuela and Colombia. At the end, the speech by Vice-president Machado Ventura, clearly written by himself, demanding more sacrifice and exalting the unshakable friendship between Cuba and the Bolivarian Republic… does it sound familiar ? Yes, it sounds familiar!

At eight-fifty-five, after the July 26 anthem, it was over. It was the first time we’ve seen such a brief and lackluster celebration. As I said before, I don’t know what lesson to draw from this. Should I try to see anything new in the loquacity of Fidel and the terseness of Raúl ?

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

The Teachings of Chibás

adjuntar20chibas1The Cuban government, shackled by a chain of failures after seven long years of inflexibility, decided to begin releasing political prisoners jailed in the spring of 2003, in order to change its image abroad, to seek aid, and to proceed with a reform called “update the model.” This shift underscores the failure of inflexibility and the decision to change certain things. Though it certainly does not mean that the Government is moving toward democracy, the attempt itself entails the introduction of certain measures, such as the release of prisoners, which lead to a more favorable scenario for additional steps.

In the face of this challenge, it is important to consider why, since the emergence of the republic in 1902, Cuba has changed again and again and again, yet has always returned to the starting point. The principal cause of these setbacks is the lack of citizen participation as agents of change, due to the weakness of civil society up to 1959, and its disappearance after that date. That is, we approach possible changes from the past, representing a real threat of repeated setbacks.

The absence of the people, not as followers of this or that leader, but as agents of change has resulted in politics being monopolized by elite figures or characterized by personalism, messianism, the use of physical and verbal violence, and the use of public power as a private reserve, a fact that should be taken into account to avoid the upcoming changes once again ending in regression. To that end I will try to highlight some roots of these evils by analyzing facts and figures. This time I’ll spotlight a man who became involved in the fight against political and administrative corruption.

Eduardo René Chibás y Rivas (1907-1951), journalist and politician, exalted character, talkative, bold and eccentric, joined the Student Directory, 1927 and 1930. He was imprisoned and was exiled on several occasions. He was a member of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (known as the Authentic party) founded in 1934, and was elected in 1939 to the Constituent Assembly, representing the House in 1940 and Senator in 1944. In 1947, as a the result of an internal split in the Authentic Party, he founded, along with other leaders, the Party of the Cuban People (known as the Orthodox party),and was nominated for the presidency of the Republic in the elections of 1948 and 1952.

Chiba proclaimed himself as leader of the Moral Revolution. Bad politicians, he said, “steal from the people to enrich themselves”; all domestic political struggles are rooted in dishonesty, it is essential therefore to put the reins of the Republic in clean hands, however it would be wrong to reduce moral responsibility to regulate human behavior in social relationships with administrative honesty. The simplification of the concept allowed him to use it as a weapon against their enemies in elections, but it was unusable as an instrument of profound changes in the political class and the people. It had a purpose: to draw attention to administrative corruption in a time when that evil was widespread. His slogan, Shame against Money!, was used to achieve power as an immediate objective, but not to build the nation honored with social justice that he himself professed.

Chibas made heavy use of freedom of the press. As early as 1934, the Silver Anniversary edition of the magazine Bohemia, he appeared among his colleagues. In addition to The Crucible and other newspapers he used the CMW radio station CMW The Voice of West Indies, the CMQ and COCO, forming a new style of Cuban policy, based on the use of the media to stay in the limelight of public interest.

A relentless accuser, controversial and contradictory, he constantly turned for defense to verbal aggression. In 1933, with the dissolution of the Pentarchy, he proposed Grau San Martín for president; in 1946 he praised the work of Grau with the following words: “In education we have been effective for the first time in the history of Cuba, which was a dream of Marti and a desire of Estrada Palma: the republic has more teachers than soldiers.” But in June 1948, he called Grau a rival of the Borgias, “the greatest pretender given to the world since the time of Caligula, whose side have sacrificed twenty years of my life, without asking or accept anything.”

He used accusation in a systematic way. In May 1939, he accused Blas Roca of treason; in 1942, the chief of police of overstepping his boundaries; in 1943, he filed two motions in the House against Batista and against Congress; in July 1945, he accused Carlos Miguel de Céspedes of the sale of a piece of Paseo; and in January 1947, in a letter read on radio, he challenged Grau for supposed intentions to be run for reelection; in 1950, he accused President Prio of the assault on a correctional court, for which he stole the documents in a cause for embezzlement; in 1951, he accused Rolando Masferrer of placing a bomb at the home of Roberto Agramonte, and so on. His behavior earned him friends and enemies. Characterized as crazy, he replied,” I’d rather be an honorable crazy man than a shameless thief.” He engaged in duels with sabers, pistols, and fists several times.

The defense of what he considered useful at all times, led him in 1946 to defend something indefensible: terrorism. He established a distinction between revolutionary and simple attack terrorism. He said, “The use of the bomb can be explained when it is used as a cry of rebellion against a regime of terror… but never when used against a government which is the product of national will.”

Death was in his work and in his speech. In November 1939, on the eve of the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly, he was wounded by a bullet and when asked who had been the aggressors, he said: “Do not worry about finding out, I die for the revolution, vote for Grau San Martín”; but the popularity sparked by his having been shot resulted in his coming in second in the voting. In January 1948, at a meeting of the party, he jumped on the head table and began to shout, “Put your heart into it! Orthodoxy needs a martyr!” In May of that year, on the campaign trail in the East, he said, “The day that Chibas believes he is headed for extinction, or a decline in the love of citizen, he will leave with a shot to the heart, not because of cowardice before his failure, but because his sacrifice will lead to the victory of his disciples.”

Because of his popularity polls showed him as a favorite to win the 1952 elections, but on August 5, 1951, unable to prove the charge that he had made against Aureliano Sánchez Arango, he shot himself, from which he died on August 16.

The concept of immediacy, characteristic of the revolutionary changes, did now allow him to draft a political project that would respond to Cuban conditions and the social psychology; he simply asked people to follow him. On one occasion he said, “Our people are reporting the theft of the rulers with the same calmness that they read the colored comics pages or listen to the radio.” Because of this he called out desperately to the conscience of the indifferent citizen, “People of Cuba, wake up,” without understanding that interior changes in people don’t respond to revolutionary urgencies. So, quite rightly, someone said of his death, “Chibas was a man imbued with messianic ideas about history, morality and politics. He gave no time to thought about the new order, because ultimately, the new order was he himself, a chronic disease from which we still suffer.”

At that time, as in the present, Cuba needed a change capable of breaking both the elitist monopoly of the economy as well as the politics to access to social justice. For this it was necessary to strengthen civil society, without which there can be no progress, personal or social, toward modernity. Chibas devised a perfect paradise to be imposed on a complex reality, built from his own imagination: to expel the thieves of power and put in place an honest man, servant of the nation. That man had to be his own person, who did not want or need the national heritage; the changes he advocated had to be made from the damaging pattern of staff and warlordism, two of the negative cultural phenomena rooted in our political history.

His experience shows us that the current release of political prisoners must be accompanied by the implementation of rights and freedoms, and above all the promotion of civic culture, so that the destiny of the nation does not depend exclusively on messianic leaders, who so often arise in our society.

Hunger Strike

The prisoner Luis Alberto Rodriguez Camejo declared himself on hunger strike this past July 20th in the detachment known as Pending Trial No. 6, in cell 14 of the provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila. Rodriguez Camejo is 43 years old and is a resident of 1st street on No. 75 South, between Honorato del Castillo and Paseo (in the central city neighborhood of Ciego de Avila). He finds himself rejecting any foods as a form of protest against his alleged conviction of armed robbery in a plastic arts warehouse. The actual thief, however, confessed to the crime and yet he is out in the street under a fee and owes 6 years of conditional freedom. He also has 9 other armed robberies under his belt that can be confirmed. It seems that the thief was released from accusations because his skin color is white while Rodirguez Camejo’s is black.

According to Luis Alberto Rodriguez Camejo, he only did him the favor of watching over the frames without even knowing that they were robbed. He actually has witnesses that have told stories that benefit him. The wife of Rodriguez Camejo finds herself in City of Havana trying to help with her husband’s situation but they have only sent her from the General Prosecutors of the Republic to the State Council.

This report is by: Pedro Arguelles Moran from the group of the 75 of the Black Spring of 2003 . Provincial Prison Cell in Canaletas, Ciego de Avila.

Summer Vacation

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans are on summer vacation, among them students who enjoy almost two months until September comes around. The summer break happens at the time of the highest temperatures and all analysts believe that the social pot reaches its maximum pressure point at the beginning of August. The combination of heat, scarcity and the school break, especially irritates those adults who dream of keeping their family cool, fed and quiet. Many parents are forced to stop working because they have no one to leave their children with and in most workplaces productivity declines during July and August.

In summer the beach is inviting, especially on a narrow island where the coast — even at the widest point — is less than 60 miles away. But swimming in the sea also involves some difficulties, particularly with regards to transportation and because once we are lying on the sand next to the ocean, we discover that nearly all the food on offer must be paid for in convertible pesos. This goes for the umbrellas, too.

Sooner or later boredom leads us to the corners of the house that need repair. The chair that wobbles, the sink’s half-clogged drain, the outlet that sparks, the old clothesline that no longer supports the weight of the laundry, and the toilet tank that has sprung a leak. In short, the many corners that deteriorate over time and to which we must dedicate hours when we have some days of leisure. Thus, by the end of the vacation, talking among our colleagues we hear more about the difficulties of repairing the kitchen light than of the warm Caribbean waters.

ETESCA Down on its Luck

One day before collecting their bonus in convertible pesos, known as CUCs, which the Cuban government usually pays to certain institutions, close to sixteen thousand employees from ETECSA, the only telecommunications company on the island, got their second piece of bad news for the month of July.

In the previous days, the company had already started discreetly “downsizing.” This is a nice way of saying they started firing the first few hundred employees so that, according to the company’s executives, “it becomes more efficient and streamlined.”

This new unemployment shock – euphemistically known in Cuba as “relocation” – is part of the plan for strengthening the economy drawn up by General Raúl Castro, the country’s president, who in April during a speech to the Congress of Young Communists, said it would affect more than a million workers.

The unemployment phenomenon, which is vehemently denied by high officials in the government, is nothing new. In 2002, the last year for which there is data, unemployment was 3.3%, but independent economists say the real rate was much higher and is currently over 25% of the Cuban workforce.

Years ago, the government used to pay 60% of their last salary in Cuban pesos to the unemployed during the first 3 months, and offer them training courses. Now, according to the recently downsized employees from ETECSA, they’ll be paid 60% of their former salary just for one month, and then they’ll be on their own.

Besides “downsizing,” the other piece of bad news arrived the day before they collected their CUC bonus, when a memorandum notified them that due to a coordination failure, starting in April, the needed amount of convertible money had not been assigned to ETECSA by the responsible government institutions.

Until July the company had been able to make payments drawing from its reserves of hard currency. But in July there was nothing left. Many employees are angry. On the island, the convertible peso is essential when it comes to buying the basics, such as food, cooking oil, and clothes.

Alejandro, 32, tells how discussions between the workers and their bosses have turned into arguments. “Insults, openly criticizing the government, and calls to stop work until we are paid in hard currency.”

A white collar ETECSA worker earns between 400 and 800 Cubans pesos plus 27.50 in hard currency. Adding it all up it’s less than 60 USD per month. Until the year 2009, the company was a joint venture between the State and an Italian partner.

The Italian partner paid all salaries to a government institution, in hard currency. “For instance, for an engineer the government received up to 2 thousand euros from its foreign partner, and then the state paid 50 the equivalent of fifty CUCs in a combination of hard currency and Cuban pesos. If that is not exploitation, I don’t know what is.”, says Diana.

But it might not be as bad as all that. Company executives have taken notice. According to office rumors they expect there to be a meeting in August where the government would give them the hard currency.

Together with the Tourism Ministry and the Institute for Civil Aviation, ETECSA forms the small group of Cuban institutions which make a profit. This is the reason many employees can’t understand the lack of money to pay their July salaries. The don’t know if they’ll ever be paid either.

Ivan García

Picture: ETECSA main office, in Aguila y Dragones, La Habana. Built in 1927, this building housed the Cuban Telephone Company.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Whims, Sir? Are They Whims?

It seems incredible, a gentleman as old as that who once painted himself green, today faded to such a gray.

Of my siblings, I can’t even speak, I don’t speak with my family. With all the many problems we have in this country, I want to insist that it is obvious that the President acting as Cuba is wearing himself out trampling all over me, pursuing me, arresting me, even crushing me in violation of the law. It’s totally ridiculous.

I hope that Raúl Castro is very clear on the fact that I am neither inspired nor interested, faced with his immense power. The only thing I ask of him is to let me go.

Who could imagine the president of a country throwing all his power (military, secret service, digital media and much more) against a sick man separated from his family, now on day 42 of a hunger strike? Whim? Complacency?

It’s ridiculous, illegal, inhuman, anti-family, senile and even hormonal.

What can I do. Smile. I saw him facing a cassock, I will see him facing a toga.

Photo: Fidel Castro greets children of Juan Almeida Bosque,
siblings of Juan Juan Almeida, yesterday in Havana.

Lost Illusions

In his fourth opportunity to take advantage of the traditional date of July 26 to launch at least one sign of change, Raul Castro declined the privilege of addressing the most important event of the year, delegating the honor to the political leader who personifies intransigence: José Ramón Machado Ventura.

I send my deepest condolences to all those who maintained the illusion that this time there would be an announcement of the mythical “package of measures,” which each imagines according to his own interests: authorization to start small businesses, liberalization of the sale of cars and housing, the end of the immigration restrictions and, why not, the decriminalization of political dissent and the empowerment of the people in the only way possible: giving citizens full rights of expression and association.

I’m not saying that “I join them in this sentiment” because I became convinced a long time ago that our leaders are incapable of driving the changes that the nation demands. They are continuing to buy time, but every day they have less political capital, and every day less time remains in the market. The moment will come when their pockets are empty of promises and futile delays, and already not even one minute of patience remains.

Simpleness and Solidarity

They took me to a scenic park in the city of Holguin. I accepted the offer of a natural orange juice and we sat at the table. They were two young guys, most likely about thirty years of age. They lived through the hell of the rafter crisis and had returned in solidarity with the Cuban blogosphere.

She pulled out a small bag with some Flash Drives while he pulled out some blank DVDs, “So we can fill them up with whatever we like.” That is enough for them, they think, that is enough, I know it’s true. Carrying a few gigs with prohibited movies and documentaries to pass from hand to hand. That is well worth it.

“What else can we do”, she asks me. And the question remains lingering and contaminating the air of conspiracy and secrecy.

Many things can be done to help a blogger.

This example of ingenuity and simpleness is enough in itself.

Translated by Raul G.

Economy Bankrupt and Prices Rising

A new rise in prices, not announced in the media, has been taking place silently, both in products that are purchased only in CUC as well as in others, sold in Cuban pesos. “Silently” in a manner of speaking, because at times the price increases are a scandalous 20% or more over the previous value. That is, to the common tactics of theft applied directly by the merchant to the consumer, which are primarily associated with violations of weight and price, to mention the most common, is added, once again, the “legal fine,” through which the State-cum-owner gives itself the right to arbitrarily alter, at will, the prices of some products it considers “superfluous” or that aren’t considered to be “basic necessities.”

It was, therefore, a surprise to “consumers” — I hate this buzzword that tries to disguise its real meaning: “the consumed” — of various butcher shops in Havana when they discovered that these days a pound of processed cheese, frequently served in Cuban homes with spaghetti as a substitute for the inaccessible Parmesan, had gone up from 20 to 25 pesos, without any explanation beforehand, while some “specialized” butchers who sold visking ham at 30 pesos a pound have increased the price to 35 pesos. All this in a tropical county where only the price of a mango can fluctuate between 5 and 7 pesos in the farmers markets and a medium avocado in-season costs up to 15 pesos. Keep in mind that the average salary in Cuba is about 300 Cuban pesos, 12 CUC at the official exchange rate.

It’s in the hard currency stores, however, where there has been a major increase in prices, this time in unquestionably staple products such as oil, toilet paper and bath soap. Generally such “fines” happen just days apart and are often preceded by the sudden “disappearance” of the product in question for periods of time, just enough to create a modest shortage and increase demand. An example of this is the convenient ground turkey, one of the U.S. products added in recent years to the network of CUC shops, which enjoys great popularity due to its relatively modest price, the versatility with which it can be used in the meager Cuban kitchen, and its good quality. Of the three varieties of this product that have been marketed, the greatest demand is for the one that comes in a package of 400 grams costing, until recently, 1 CUC. After several days disappearance from the shops it has returned, this time for 1.35 CUC in stores such as Yumurí (formerly Casa de los Tres Kilos, at the central corner of Belascoaín and Reina), although in others the increase has been a more modest 1.20 CUC.

People wonder when the this dizzying monetary spiral will end, carried out by the State at the expense of people’s pockets in an economically ruined country, where wages are purely symbolic and where, in addition, an alarming wave of layoffs — which here has been re-baptized with the euphemism “rationalization of places” — has begun, one that will leave approximately one-in-five workers, a million people, “available.” No one can explain how products obtained through trade with a neighbor as close as the United States, can show up in the retail market with constantly rising prices, prices that are similar to those of products imported from China or Vietnam. It’s clear, however, that the desperation of a government lacking capital falls on the people’s nearly empty pockets and, in the medium term, helps to stimulate the black market, corruption and crime in Cuba. That is why, on this Island, our children understand contraband before they know the alphabet, because illegal trade is the only possible source of survival.

The Book of Eli: Something More Than a Message Between The Lines

I don’t think it’s risky to say, if we confine ourselves to the most recent events, that the Catholic Church, the principle institution within the Christian doctrine, is now living through one of the greatest crises it has experienced since its beginnings. Above all, a crisis that goes beyond the skepticism of some of its followers to the heart of the institution. The worst of it is, clearly, a crisis of faith that could spread, dangerously, across the whole of Christianity.

Events have happened, one after another. Some, in the form of literary scandals such as occasioned by the publication of the DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown. Others, featuring well-known names in the Church: from a prominent priest in Miami Beach photographed with his lover, and who later changed his religious order, to the amnesic German priest who doubts that the Nazis really martyred millions of Jews in the extermination camps.

Later, the harsh debates about whether or not priests of the Protestant religions were admissible, and finally the real scandal. With an impact of significant proportions, it involves several priests in the corruption of minors, and even reaches to the Holy Father as supposedly covering up events of this nature.

With this as a backdrop, after seeing the highly publicized film, The Book of Eli, I find it hard to discard the idea that it comes to fulfill a goal far from artistic and aesthetic precepts, and that its premier in this is tightly linked to the era that Christianity is living through today.

It did no favors to Denzel Washington’s acting career to star in this Hughes Brothers production. And not because the film is like an ashamed ostrich sticking its head in the sand. After all, cinematically speaking, it has virtues that, without going to extremes, are still tangible: competent photography, and a dramatic thread that easily captures the viewer’s attention. However, for an actor of his proven stature, he seemed comfortable in a project that in my judgment was more like an inconsequential tract, and what’s worse, came off in the crudest imaginable way.

A quick summary of the plot: In a distant and imprecise future, the planet suffers a devastating war that does away with the greater part of our material heritage. In this context, a chosen one will lead a legendary trek to save from oblivion, and reprint for posterity, a book without which humanity cannot recover. Let us say the obvious: it’s the Holy Bible.

Fine. So what, in my view, are the most questionable elements, the most inadmissible from a rational point of view? The subliminal traps (at times they aren’t even subliminal but obvious) that the Book of Eli tends to provide in a movie, to those who aren’t thinking much beyond art or entertainment.

For example: Eli as played by Denzel Washington faces ten, fifteen, twenty armed enemies with guns, machetes and chainsaws. They don’t even touch him. The bullets, fired from five years by expert marksmen, whistle over his shoulders and disappear in the distance. At some point, if the viewer hasn’t figured it out, one of the characters takes the trouble to say: It’s because he’s protected in some way. It’s as if no one can touch him.

What is the source of the strength, the superiority, the supernatural condition of this man whom his enemies can’t bring down? The book that he carries in his bag. The book that he manages to memorize and that he can recite with visionary ease.

However, the sense of manipulation reaches its limit when, once in San Francisco where they survive a catastrophe, Eli and Solara, his female partner in the adventure, access the site from which humans seek to rebuild the lost world. What do they find there, rescued from destruction, as the only indispensable things required to rebuild the foundations of our species? Shakespeare and Mozart. The Encyclopedia Britannica, Wagner, and, after Eli’s feat, the Holy Bible.

That is, only the West. If in some waiting bunker there are samples from other cultures that currently populate the planet; if it had sheltered a copy of the Ramayana or the Buddhist sutras, a page from Confucius, or a fragment of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the scriptwriters of this movie did not think it important to point it out. Or, effectively, they don’t exist. They were extinguished in a war in which evidently they did not emerge victorious, or it wasn’t possible (or necessary) to save them.

What the forewarned viewer has to wonder, inevitably, is: Why, in order to rebuild our plural, beautiful and vast realm, is one culture and one religion necessary, without taking into account any of the others that possess just as many faithful and representatives?

Damaging, very damaging this precept. I believe that no approach has been more harmful to humanity throughout its History than the imposition of one faith above all others, the alleged superiority of one religion, one culture, over all the rest.

Or who can reproach the Islamic fanatic who in the name of his beliefs assumes it is just to explode an airplane mid-flight, just because westerners are infidels and Allah demands that they pay for their blasphemy with their blood? How can one preach equality, respect for all beliefs, even if you don’t share them, if a kind of cultural and religious self-sufficiency leads us to express messages like those in The Book of Eli plants in its viewers’ minds?

Moreover, this film is also a disservice to the message of love, tolerance and nonviolence that Jesus immortalized through his disciples. I don’t believe that a true follower of biblical doctrines could commune with the idea of a chosen one to whom the holy voice dictates what to do, and who, on his way, destroys hands and throats with a knife of fear, and crushes with bloody fury every enemy on his path.

Come on, in once case we have Jesus energetically expelling the money lenders who profane the temple, and in the other a character who wreaks human carnage while marching for the salvation of one doctrine.

No, I cannot approve of a manipulative and disturbing film like The Book of Eli, pretending to spread a vital message. Nor do I believe that an honest Christian, who defends love as a practice essential to safeguarding the soul, and tolerance as the ticket to social equilibrium, could approve it either.

Behind the salvation of a book, the supposed reconstruction of our beloved planet, the Hughes Brothers propose with their film a view of exclusion, of irreverence for the Great Cultural Universe, as dangerous as the most fiery threat of a fanatic of the Holy Wars.

JORGE LAGEZAMA LIMA / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

JORGE LAGEZAMA LIMA, originally uploaded by orlandoluispardolazo.…

Months back, Willy del Pozo and Harold Alva, editor and deputy editor respectively of Altazor Editions, told me about an important project they were thinking of going forward with. Weeks passed and the objective showed signs of being coming off, and then they put it on hold to start the first tour of Latin American novelists, that will take them through different cities in the interior of the country, finishing in Lima the gray.

Authors who make up the delegation are: Ernesto Carlin (Peru), Claudia Apablaza (Chile), Miguel Antonio Chávez (Ecuador), Oliverio Coelho (Argentina), Jorge Enrique Lage (Cuba), Pedro Peña (Uruguay), Juan Ramirez Biedermann ( Paraguay).

For those who do not know, the publisher headed by Willy del Pozo led off its revival last year with nice editions that have enjoyed the sign of criticism and genuine appreciation by readers. Among them are JOURNEY THAT NEVER ENDS by Carlos Calderón Fajardo; MIGRATION by Victor Coral; as well as on the long-winded novel VALLEJO AND CELL NON PLUS ULTRA of Jorge Najar.

This first tour of Latin America represents for Altazor his definitive consecration in the panorama of publishers in Peru. All authors included in this catalog have a wide impact internationally. I know.

Last year Altazor Editions did the first tour of Peruvian writers in the north of the country. The experience was rewarding, it could not be otherwise if in the Altazor-mobile were Carlos Calderón Fajardo and Socrates Zuzunaga. Then we promise to repeat the adventure but thought to involve all the writers in our America. What started as a topic of conversation gained in seriousness and now we are pleased to announce the launch of the FIRST TOUR OF LATIN AMERICAN NOVELISTS, which opens in Ayacucho on July 12 and will close in Lima on July 26. The itinerary includes the Ayacucho, Junín, Ancash, La Libertad, Lambayeque, Piura and Lima.

This event is made possible through our strategic alliance of our publisher with the Eduardo and Mirtha Añaños Foundation. Which confirms that you can still work on projects of this nature with other private companies who have understood the importance of culture. This tour begins in the manner of a liberating expedition and coincides with the bicentenary of Latin American political independence. It will leave from Ayacucho to other cities such as Huanta, Tarma, Huancayoin our central Andes and continue north to Chiclayo and then Piura, a city where Jorge Tume, with Infolectura, has organized the First International Book Fair.

We know that this is an event whose significance is due to the quality of the invited writers, authors under 40 who present powerful works which speaks of the excellent health of Latin American literature. A contribution that without a doubt will do its part to heal the fractures of an area overwhelmed by the constant political, social and economic crises. This first tour will include the following writers: Oliverio Coelho (Argentina) with his novel BORNEO; Jorge Enrique Lage (Cuba) with CARBON 14: A NOVEL OF WORSHIP; Claudia Apablaza (Chile) with EME / A; Miguel Antonio Chávez (Ecuador) with The Heimlich maneuver; Pedro Peña (Uruguay) THE NIGHT THAT IS NOT REPEATED; Ernesto Carlin (Peru) TAKASHI: STOLEN STORIES; and Juan Ramirez Biedermann (Paraguay) THE FUND OF NOONE. They are ones responsible for this new itinerary, they are our choices, with them and for them we leave, two hundred years later, on another expedition of liberation.

Liberation or Forced Exile?

A press release from the Archdiocese of Havana on July 8 announced the release, over the course of three to four months, of 52 of the 75 political prisoners convicted in summary trials in April, 2003. Twenty-three had already been released on medical parole.

The releases were the result of an unprecedented dialogue between President Raul Castro and authorities of the Catholic Church in Cuba. Weeks earlier the cardinal, Jaime Ortega, had taken steps for the release of a sick inmate and the transfer of several others to prisons near their homes and families.

The events were described as “great news”, despite the lack of official notice about them from the Government. The subsequent diplomatic agreement with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos omitted to say under what legal basis the releases would occur, the most significant since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998.

It is inappropriate to talk of liberation while the criminal judgment imposed on the prisoners has not been extinguished. Otherwise, their departure from the country is forced.

Neither parole nor probation extinguishes criminal liability. In light of this, it would be advisable to anticipate the risks of serving the sentence outside of prison, but within the national territory. And under any pretext, they could be returned to jail.

Seen this way, it is not difficult to understand why the relatives of political prisoners prefer to leave the country. According to the note by the Archbishop of Havana, in the process of release, they took into account the proposals previously expressed to Cardinal Ortega by the families, eager to leave behind the ordeal experienced in the last seven years.

The criminal guilt of prisoners of conscience, according to the existing criminal law, could be extinguished by amnesty, pardon, or acquittal in review proceedings.

If they really intended to liberate, the Council of State would issue an official note, at the proposal of its President, who is in turn the Head of State and Government of the Republic of Cuba, pardoning all prisoners arrested and prosecuted in 2003.

The Council of State may order the Supreme Court to undertake a special review procedure and acquit those accused in the so-called “Black Spring”. Constitutionally, it has the power to issue instructions to that judicial body.

The National Assembly could also do its part. The supreme organ of the Cuban State could declare at its meeting to be convened on August 1st a general amnesty for all political prisoners. This power is recognized by the Constitution of the Republic.

Even more could be done. The parliament can declare the 1999 Law No. 88 (“On protection of national independence and the economy,” also known as the “Gag Law”) unconstitutional, for restricting the right of free expression, information and opinion, as it was used against most of the released prisoners.

According to the Spanish Foreign Minister, who traveled to Havana to join the dialogue between the Church and the Government, the released prisoners who travel abroad, once out, will require government authorization to return, while their family members may do so whenever they want. Fifteen of them are in Spain, awaiting political refugee status or assisted international protection, a special category provided in Spanish asylum law.

If the political prisoners who have agreed to travel to Spain or another country need authorization to return to the island, this means that entry and exit permits will continue in effect, and the confiscation of the property of Cuban emigrants, measures imposed by Law No. 989 of 1961.

This should not be confused with a humanitarian gesture, with a willingness to change. The unfolding of events shows that the Cuban Government has not the slightest intention of removing restrictions on the freedom of movement of its citizens. Is this a breakthrough in human rights?

Moratinos also told the international press that the Cuban government committed not to “expropriate” the homes of dissidents, among other unspecified rights. But during the negotiations there was no legally binding written agreement that ensures that the Cuban State will comply with its verbal commitments. In the national legal system there is no rule that allows making such concessions.

As a general rule, the Cuban authorities declare a permanent abandonment and proceed to confiscate the property of citizens who choose to reside permanently outside the country, unless granted the Permit of Residence Abroad (PRE). Permission is granted to Cubans who marry foreigners. But in the released prisoners are not in this category.

The fact that they talk of liberation, but not of the actions by which their release must be legally formalized, suggests that the Cuban government is trying to cover up the forced exile of political prisoners who agree to travel to Spain or other nations.

This is an illegitimate act and a violation of the rights of those people. No government action recognized by law may force a Cuban to leave his or her own land.

Laritza Diversent

Photo: AFP. Lester Gonzalez shows his passport shortly after his arrival in Madrid.

Translated by: Tomás A.

ALL ABOUT DAD / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo


Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Reading miracles in Mirta Suquet’s blog.

My father didn’t beg for alms, but depended on a brother and another son in the USA. My father had to go out into the street to sell a little packet of anything, even though he gave English classes at home like a horse. My father lived at home until he was 81, when he was already practically just the father of my mother (17 years separated them). My father, the grandfather who never had a “grand.”

Every day I return from the street with my father in the Canon camera and my head burned by the sun and so much loneliness. I took almost no photos of my father when he was alive. And now I am paying the price of this adolescent neglect (I was the son of his old age).

So I find him on the Cuban sidewalks and porches. Gasping, badly shaved. With humble clothes that always smell of Populares cigarettes at 1.60 pesos (a strange aroma: all smokers stink, except him). A guy so affectionate, when I would dare to say half a word to him. So clumsy with practical things, so deluded by useless writings. Of an immortal look when my psycho-rigidity would allow me to say, from time to time (from voice in time): papá

He died in August, as everyone dies in this noxious Tropical month. Of cancer, as befits a country with no cutting edge diagnostics. Nor therapy. All of a sudden, fortunately. Without pain. My father died of a merciful metastasis, amateur, between a rare vomiting fit of so-called “coffee grounds” and the ballads on Radio Martí, on a Selena radio before the Special Period.

Since then, I’ve seen him many times and always photographed him. I never talk to him in the street. But at home, I do. Always. ¡Papá, coño, if it’s all the same…! Papá, ¿is it true that you are never going to die again…?

My mother ignores all this traffic in emotions. She waters his flowers every day. Cuts off their heads with the punctuality of an executioner. My mother is a terror with the shears in our garden. And she prays for my father, with the timidity of someone who is getting old and still doesn’t know if she has the right to pray (solicitous servant in capitalism, mute worker in communism: my mother did know how to resist).

There s no consolation for not seeing my father, I suppose. But I invented one when the socialized sadness of Cuba wouldn’t stop. Then I search through my photos of street knights fallen in the uncivil trenches of Havana, feeling on the liquid screen and the chrome paper the marvelous myopic eyes of my papá. Even that WOW!, here he is again, like new, photographed as if he hadn’t died exactly ten years ago. The days will return.

And I’m glad, like a stupid student, that my father never asked for anything from strangers, neither in the crisis nor in the splendor; I applaud that his little businesses were a calamity without earnings because he didn’t need them.  I delight and envy that in his 81 years he didn’t know a doctor except the naive and ignorant native who only discovered his cancer during the autopsy (just like since I was a kid I know that after the Zero Year or two thousand I would be left orphaned even of Cuba).

It was a Sunday. Thirteen. In August. With Little Pioneers on TV bringing the first flowers for comrade Fidel’s birthday that day ( ). That night, the Luyano funeral parlor (dim little premises with a republican plaque of the People’s Socialist Party) was more crowded than ever with old people left along to face the thin reality of the island’s 21st century (insipid night, improbable gardens). And right there I became to feel some deadly pride that my father wasn’t there.

Good evening again, false papá with emphysema in these pixels of today. You who are resuscitated in the next photo and soon breath your next flower (it seems like a terrible title from Manuel Cofiño, but the life of my father, somehow antipodean, was this stylistically). Until tomorrow then, forgetting of my papá (it’s a privilege to write, finally, without complexes these loose little phrases from primary school). I suspect that my grammar will not return. Rev in Peace!

“We Are the Root of The Change,” by Raudel of the Patriotic Squadron

This video was made yesterday at a concert organized by the group OMNI-Zona Franca in Gaia house. There was very little light and the audio is bad, but the song of Raudel shines out above any technological problem.

I transcribed what I’ve managed to understand, any contribution from a reader with a better ear than me is welcome:

“We Are the Root of Change”

Ten months later I have to remember my position, given that we want the best for all and ensure a life with tolerance, balance and harmony for all the people of the nation and the diaspora, but also with a lot of progress, balance and spiritual evolution because there are many dreams and much faith.

The Squadron shows:
I am Afro-descendant and Cuba is my country,
We are not a threat to anyone, pay attention:
We do not want violence and confrontation,
They insist that our message is counterrevolutionary,
This is called reality and commitment to the nation,
Love conquers fear, the word to (inaudible)
We remember the mind the voice, not the resignation:
Revolution is change, it is progress and it is transformation,
Do not hide the hopes of millions for no reason.
Conspiracy against the Squadron, why? In my view
Who knows knows the worst side of this nation
Neither bourgeoisie, nor family in Yuma, nor a good position
I live in the heart where people suffer and swallow the pain
I do not sing to them of politics, mistakes,
I have a critical awareness and this is my projection
And of course I worry, I live in the center of the cyclone,
The demands of the country are so many without enough investigation:
Inequality, deprivation, poor nutrition,
overcrowding, isolation, repression,
disoriented generation, misfortune, separation,
racism, destruction and a list with no definition.
But we they still see us as a provocation
Who justifies that the shelters weaken the nation?
We are the blood flowing from the open wound of the revolution
The flag of the soldiers (inaudible)

May you stay in the light that this is revealing,
Let’s go, We are the root of the change!
Much time thinking and no action,
What are we waiting for? We are the root of the change!
They can’t with us: the truth is in the people.
They know, We are the root of the change!
For the children and the elderly, for the blacks and the whites:
We are the root of the change!

I’m not lying when I say that this control was
Surely (inaudible)
For the safety in action
The orientation of which is not to call for the arrest
And in each presentation there is respect and reconciliation
I know it takes a ton of work to wake up
(Inaudible) as I was a fatal victim
Certain partial information, state ignorance
Isolation is deadly I can show it
I am unable to promote hatred, to manipulate anyone
Nor to launch the most (inaudible) testimony
I have family, friends (inaudible)
I am rooting for a change for prosperity, it is obvious
Because what most people think
What most people want
What most people think of this people I know
I have no fear that it happens
Take up space in every corner of my house
Tell everyone the Squadron is a threat
Stop them from being the image .. (Inaudible)
And silence on the lips (inaudible) undermines the soul
The truth may have relativity
But we do not believe it: We are the reality
The dawn of a new day will come from (inaudible) and music
It is a nation tired (inaudible)
After a declaration against heaven
I remain silent and ask the supreme
That for every tear shed

May you stay in the light that it is being revealed,
We are the root of the change!
Much time thinking and no action,
What are we waiting for? We are the root of the change!
They can’t with us: the truth is in the people,
They know it, We are the root of the change!
For the children and the elderly, for the blacks and the whites:
We are the root of the change!
Every child in every neighborhood in every town
With a fist held high, We are the root of the change!
Much time thinking without acting
What are we waiting for? We are the root of the change!
They can’t with us: the truth is in the people,
They know it, We are the root of the change!
For the children and the elderly, for the blacks and the whites:
We are the root of the change!

(Inaudible) … Even my nation Cuba: Love, peace and faith. Love, peace and faith in the name of the highest of creation, we are all the root of the change. We all love this country. We all love it and freedom we want to have harmony, spiritual progress, economic and social development for our island. We all have responsibility and we are the root of the change.
Thank you.

Too Much Uncertainty to Claim Victory

Recently the Archbishop of Havana announced the release of 52 political prisoners over the course of three to four months. A rather strange act, this being a secular state. In turn, Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that those released will travel to his country, and once they are out of Cuba, they will require government authorization to return, while their family members may do so whenever they wish.

We should not be misled. Do not confuse a humanitarian gesture with a willingness to change. If those who are released need permission to return to the island, then the government does not have the slightest intention of removing restrictions on the freedom of movement of its citizens. Is this a breakthrough in human rights?

If they do not eliminate the entry permit, it means that they will continue to confiscate the properties of Cuban emigrants – measures imposed by the same legal provision, Law No. 989 of 1961, that also governs permanent abandonment.

Moratinos also said that the island government agreed not to “expropriate” the homes of dissidents in Cuba, among other unspecified compromises. Some doubts remain. Under what legal assumptions will the Cuban state fulfill the concessions?

The government declares a permanent abandonment and proceeds to confiscate the property of nationals who choose to reside permanently outside the country. Permission to reside abroad is given to Cubans who are married to foreigners, which does not apply in this case.

Will there be a legal formulation about this? What guarantees do these people have that, once they are abroad, the government will fulfill a commitment made by the representative of a foreign state? Who will compel it to comply? What will happen when it asserts the principles of state sovereignty and non interference in internal affairs? There is too much uncertainty to claim victory.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.