Computing Freedom Threatened

On Wednesday, July 7, while the guests over at the President Hotel in Vedado enjoyed the soccer game between Germany and Spain on the lobby’s screen, I struggled with the internet on one of the computers located in front of the bar.  In a matter of an hour I only managed to check my e-mail and respond to three messages, into one of which I simply copied and pasted a piece of writing I had stored on my Flash Memory stick.

Since I couldn’t attach documents nor view the images sent to me, I called for the specialist of the hotel — young mulata of very few words — who told me that the newly installed program made it difficult to attach, which meant that instead of losing more time and money, the user should instead just open their flash drive and copy and paste on Word what he/she would send, and then just copy it on to the message.

Before these new obstacles I decided to search for other alternatives, although I know that the “Avila Link” installed on various Havana hotels is a malicious program, conceived with the purpose of acting like an agent of the political police, as it forbids the uploading of web sites from The Exile which are censored by the government.

Perhaps that is the reason I cannot access my blog from the hotels in the capital.  Which also explains why I can’t even see Generation Y, Octavo Cerco, Penultimos Dias, or any other blogs written from within or out of the island.  Such installations present risks for tourists and Cubans as they run the risks of possibly having their writings monitored, their passwords recorded, and the use of certain software prohibited.  Even worse — the danger of spam that damages the efforts of so many alternative bloggers and communicators.

We know that running risks is a constant, but it is such madness having to confront these malware products which try to control your servers and install secret programs that record your messages.  Hotels are properties of the State, but the people are neither basic pieces of media nor dogs with muzzles.

If the owners have the right to protect their properties and secrets, we citizens deserve respect for our public images and what we wish to publish.  Adding on to the cost of establishing a connection, we must also point out all the cyber-vigilance we face, all the “gifts” brought to us by spam, and all the combing of our passwords and personal matters.  I think it would be better if they denied us internet altogether in hotels and cyber-cafes, or that they would just abolish all the absurd limitations and authorize connections from home, as is seen in more than half of the world.

That same day Yudeisi, a girl who was not able to chat with her boyfriend in Spain, told me that he had actually bought her a Chinese computer on Paseo and Malecon, and “since he is an expert in computing,” he checked the system inside and out, for “they say that Cuban officials ordered their Asian counterparts to install the filter software known as Green Dam Youth Scort on all computers sold here.”

I barely know any of these new technologies, but my experiences in hotels and cyber-cafes lead me to suspect that information media censors and supervisors still insist on controlling those who search for, and share, information from within Cuba.

Translated by Raul G.

Prison Diary (1) (La Cabaña Prison)

OUTSIDE OF EVERY imaginable world, is the extreme awareness of reality, you live in cell twelve feet by six feet, usually with four inmates, sometimes sixteen who have to stand up, and when it comes time to sleep they fall slowly, like fainting, like sugar canes thrown on top of one another, creating a deformed mass, you couldn’t guess which extremity belongs to whom.

The air is not enough for two, not even one, and the sound of gasping, of shortness of breath, sounds like an instrument out of tune. But this asphyxia turns into chronic asthma, it’s worse than being alone. Many times, according to the treatment, they leave you alone so the madness will come more quickly. In this case, for some moments, the only thing you can see, other than your own body, are some fingers on a hand that disappears, as if it were the product of your imagination, when they open, three times a day, a small rectangular window in the bottom of the door to put the trays in. Then you have to settle for observing, in those few moments, how one or the other hand pushes the tray into your cell and beans or soup spread across the floor, mixing with the rice that you collect with your spoon, because in these circumstance you can’t waste a single grain.

Sometimes you want to touch the hand, hold it, kiss it, ask forgiveness, mercy and that it would be moved and let you out of there, end the anguish; but it’s not worth the trouble, this hand only knows how to threaten, push and hit.

Request for Review Presented to the Minister of Justice

Havana, April 26, 2010

“Year 52 of the Revolution.”

To: Director Maria Esther Reus Gonzalez

Minister of Justice

I, Ines Ramos Napoles, resident of Calle 4, number 119, between 1st and 3rd Playa, Havana, with ID Number 40012108557, in the name of my son, my family and myself, request the URGENT REVIEW of case No. 11/2008 of the Second Criminal Chamber of the People’s Provincial Tribunal of Havana. where Yamil Dominguez Ramos was sentenced to ten years in prison for the crime of trafficking in persons.

Yamil has always declared that he is innocent of these charges. To the court if was enough to judge him based on the initial declaration of Marleny Gonzalez Rodriguez, previously manipulated by an official of State Security, and so to find him guilty and not by virtue of an oral judgment, a declaration that had already been thrown out of court in a previous motion, showing clearly that it had been gotten from his wife under pressure, by telling her that it would benefit her husband.

We appeal for an annulment of the sentence. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling of the lower court and ordered a reconsideration and drafting of a new ruling eradicating the defects identified. (Attached is a copy of the Ruling No. 2929/2008 of the People’s Supreme Court).

However, on returning to the actions referred to the Provincial Court, with a change of date, roll number, and typography of the letter, it drafted the ruling in the same terms as the first and with the same errors. However, when we brought back the Appeal for an Annulment to the Supreme Court, far from questioning the role of the judges sanction by the court in the first place, for having ignored the order given, we found to our sad surprise that this time the Supreme Court, with other judges, ratified the second ruling of the Provincial Court. From then my son has served a sentence for a crime he did not commit. The process of review through an attorney cost us 500.00 CUC that we do not have. So today I am preparing this report to ask for a review of the case and with it, that JUSTICE be done. The decision is urgent, more so when Yamil, in claiming his civil rights which he was cruelly stripped of, has been on a hunger strike since April 14.

To continue, we explain the reasons that Yamil should not have been sentenced and deprived of his liberty:

First: Yamil has no need to traffic in human beings. He is a worker and a good father to his family. He emigrated legally to the United States of America on 7 December 2000, with his second wife and his two younger daughters. When he arrived in that country he worked hard to get ahead. First in a construction company, while studying for a university degree, with the objective, through his own efforts, of owning his own company. This allowed him to be successful financially. From the point of view of economics and finance, I repeat, my son Yamil has no need to traffic in persons.

Second:Yamil had no reason to take his family illegally out of the country. In February 2005, I went to the United States of America which he arranged. In September 2007, my sister and I had a passport visa and in October we received the letter of invitation to return on a visit to the United States, scheduled for the end of the year. In August of that year his elder daughter, from his first marriage, who was 13 at the time, was reunited with him, which he also arranged. By the way, since October 13, 2007, she has been without the protection of both of her parents, because her mother lives in Cuba. From August 24, 2007, he had from the U.S. Department of State, the paperwork for the visa process for Marleny Gonzalez Rodriguez, a visa that would allow his current wife to travel with her son to be reunited with him, so there was no reason to look for illegal means, let me repeat that the visa was already authorized for his current wife from the date previously mentioned and the file is open at the U.S. Interest Section until Yamil’s situation is resolved.

Third: My son has no need to enter this country illegally. He has visited Cuba seven times, four of them through Cancun. At 8:00 in the morning on October 13, according to what he told me on the phone on the 10th, he headed to Cancun on his own boat to participate in a marine event and then was planning to fly to Havana, carrying in his luggage 54 music CDs, a video camera, $1,900 U.S., the documentation for his oat and his passport in order, including the Cuban passport visa good until 2010. Due to two storms on the open sea (the Meteorological Institute of Cuba has confirmed these storms as actually occurring and not merely forecasts as written in the ruling) he sought assistance to enter the International Port at the Marina Hemingway. This was the only reason he approached the Cuban coast.

Yamil was forced into the nearest port by force majeure, which is allowed under international standards of navigation and, although he was not able to give prior notice of his arrival, Article 215, Paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code Act 62, exonerates him from criminal responsibility. On the other hand, every crime must be duly proved, as the sanctioning Board should not rely on the initial testimony of Marleny (his wife), which contrasts with that made Yamil and without a shred of evidence to support it, the reason that the Supreme Court in Case No.2929 signals the trial court; besides, my daughter-in-law accused, prior to the trial, the official of manipulating her and inciting her to declare false testimony, which she stated in oral testimony where she told the reality of the process, as well as the legal paperwork for the fiancée visa with which she could travel along with her son and that, as said before, the court omitted in its ruling, but that should be taken as documentary proof and that I am attaching in the form of a certified copy of this document.

If Yamil really intended to pick up Marleny in the area of La Puntilla (coastal zone separated from the Havana seawall at the mouth of the river Almendares) and, if Marleny really was in that place, why didn’t he do so, if the boat was in perfect physical condition, with two GPS receivers to inform him of his position and the distances of the Cuban boats, with sufficient fuel to get to Cancun or return to the United States? Yamil entered Cuban waters in the area of Habana del Este and traveling west, a mile from the coast, headed toward the Hemingway Marina International Port, being spotted by the Coast Guard ship around the Hotel Triton, where with his engines off he awaited the arrival of the Coast Guard and they escorted him to the international port, an action that corresponds to the testimony of the witness who escorted him. The route followed infers that my son passed through the area where supposedly Marleny was waiting but never came to pick her up. This act shows, without any doubt, that Yamil never had the intention to illegally pick up Marleny.

Fourth: The decision made by the disciplinary tribunal has ERRED IN THE LAW by stating that the participation of Yamil in these events is “proven,” and considering my son an intentional action of the crime of TRAFFICKING PERSONS , sanctioned in Article 348, Subsections 1 and 2, of the Criminal Case, which no doubt has influenced the decision handed down, punishing him with ten years’ imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. On the other hand, the sentence is not consistent with the evidence presented during the trail that might have influence on the verdict.From reading the narrative of events, recorded in the proven evidence of the sentence, it is not possible to understand precisely and clearly, what is the profit motive that is present in the actions allegedly undertaken by my son, or allegedly taken for him? It is evident that if true the argument that seeks to be substantiated in the sentence, such actions would be motivated exclusively by purely sentimental reasons and family reunification, particularly that the tribunal admitted as true in the fifth paragraph of the judgment in question where it says, “…the accused only intended to smuggle out of Cuba his fiancee and sin, not other people, nor did he have any interests other than sentimental and impressionable because he also endangered his own life…”If this is true as stated, I can assert that the facts, reported in the proven evidence, do not meet the legal significance required by the legislature to charge someone with the crime of trafficking, as erroneously charged. In the facts related and the proven evidence for which my son was punished, the element of criminality is not present, perhaps the most important for this offense which is “THE PROFIT MOTIVE.” In the Judgment No.476 of January 17, 2001, issued by the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme People’s Court, published in the pages of the 50 to 58, the Bulletin for the year 2001, the Supreme Judicial Body, ratifying such an approach by saying: “… Traffic in Persons (Art. 347.2 and 348.1 in relation to Articles 9.1.2 and 12.1 of the Criminal Code). The criminal provisions of Article 347.2 of the Penal Code has a body and life itself, its wording is clear and is violated by those who, “without being permitted to do so, motivated by profit, organize or promote the exit of the country people within it to third countries …. ” This ruling itself admits that in classifying this type of crime it can be omitted, including undertaking this kind of effort with no motive to profit, and one of the recitals says: “… assume the specific activities endorsed in these types, which do not fit any association or linkage of people who are in the country with others who are in other countries and vice versa, and much less when engaged in the Trafficking in Persons in violation of immigration regulations, or dedication does not exist, these activities are motivated by profit, because when there is such a connection and purpose with which we participate is to obtain economic benefit or personal gain of any kind, reflecting the broad sense that this term has , the conduct falls within the normal offense against the Immigration …. ” These fragments I have quoted illustrate the error of law committed by the Second Chamber and the Supreme Court in Case No. 2929/2008. From the above I consider that, based on the facts of the ruling of the Second Chamber of the Provincial Tribunal of Havana as “tested” the correct legal description could be then UNLAWFUL ENTRY IN THE NATIONAL TERRITORY. Such a misunderstanding of the Board is of extraordinary significance to the extent of the penalty that was applied (Ten years of imprisonment), for the crime described by the Board, even when made use of the 239 Agreement by the Governing Council of the Supreme Court, has a penalty under twenty to thirty years imprisonment or life imprisonment, while the crime allegedly committed by my son, is a framework of penalties of one to three years imprisonment or a fine of three hundred thousand shares. The adoption of the legal qualification I suggest, on the facts “proven” in the sentence, would bring an invaluable benefit for my son, who, besides being an honorable person, has no criminal record either in Cuba or the United States, and with appropriate consideration of his social and moral behavior there would be a substantial change in the length of the sentence, which would already have been served as he has been in custody for two years and eight months.

However, Yamil Dominguez should not spend even one more minute dispossessed of that which has no price, his freedom, and much less for a crime he did not commit. In addition to being a man of excellent hum qualities, of revolutionary origin, without a criminal record, and even were all the elements declared in the sentence to be “proven” were true, in our Penal Code Article 13.1 it is not punishable when a subject spontaneously avoids the criminal act. From the above it follows that if his intention had been to illegally collect his wife and son, he abandoned, by his own will, that act, and never even entered the area where they supposedly were waiting for him.

In hopes that the truth will win out and an error in the Justice will be amended, before the effects are worse for Yamil Dominguez and, in consequence, for his family.

Inés María Ramos Nápoles mother of Yamil Domínguez, and other relatives.

“In justice there can be no delay: and he that interferes with its fulfillment, turns it against himself.”

José Martí. (Complete works, volume 13, pág.320)

PD: Attached

Copy of the Ruling No. 2929/2008 of the People’s Supreme Court

Copy of the notarized document from the United States Interest Section in Havana attesting to a visa for Marleny Gonzalez and her son.

Copies of the Letters of Invitation from Inés María Ramos Nápoles and Migdalia Nery Ramos Nápoles.

CC: Council of State

The Test Tunnel

If we start from the struggle between the military authorities and the peaceful opposition in Cuba, the first, supported by the Spanish government and the second with the Catholic Church as occasional intermediary, the recent release of five political prisoners and the transfer of six to their home provinces is a first step in the tunnel test, i.e. the search for light on the issue of human rights.

To this type of first-time Goal, we add the announced released o the remaining 47 prisoners of those from the Black Spring of 2003, which approximates a win for the goal of rationality, but is not a definite penalty because it lacks some corner kicks and a lot of pressure on the government to release all the prisoners of conscience and to modify the laws that penalize the opposition and justify the existence of the cards — white, red and yellow — against the thousands of people who try to survive on the margins of the State.

More than 140 political prisoners remain behind bars, not counting those sentenced for defending civil rights but charged with alleged common crimes, such as social dangerousness, assault, or receiving stolen property.

We are looking at a positive gesture from the government, influenced by hunger strikes, the marches of the Ladies in White, denunciations of the human rights violations, the internal economic crisis and the international disrepute of the regime, which seeks legitimacy to get external credits and to get the European Parliament to lift the so-called Common Position, which would improve its image and allow it to concentrate on the country’s basic problems, immersed in collective misery and generalized repression as it is.

But there is a history of prisoner released that eased the humanitarian crisis, without affecting the structure of domination established in the name of a Revolution that hit bottom with the Sovietization of Cuba, in the mid-seventies. From 1977-1979, the prison bars opened to more than 3,660 political prisoners. In 1998 101 prisoners of conscience were freed after Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island.

Such antecedents generate skepticism among groups of exiles and leaders of the opposition, who perceive the prisoner releases as a new media landscape with political purposes and faces far from the real actors: the peaceful opposition facing the military government.

It’s certain that neither the Havana Archbishop — Jaime Ortega Alaminos — nor the Spanish Foreign Minister — Miguel A. Moratinos — suffer the effects of the problem, but their intervention constitutes one point of the island’s political triangle, where the powers-that-be represent the point that exclusively moves the pieces, when they sing songs of protection and their adversary is approaching the goal.

The release of the prisoners of conscience shows the weakness of the Castro regime. Perhaps the beginning of the end, but it is hasty to think that it represents an essential change in the transition to democracy. There are no social changes without internal movements and international pressure. How do we access the highway of freedom without throwing off the blinders of fear and the masks of the group anchored in power? The path of light passes through the test tunnel.

Tribulations

Edith Piaf

July 14th, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille.  My little homage to France. A portrait in patch-work created by me.

Recently, two Spanish filmmakers I know, commented to me that every time they talk in the street to some native of my planet they comment to them about “the media campaign” of the European Union against our country, and when the filmmakers ask them what this campaign consist of, simply no one is able to explain. I remarked to them, that in general here on my planet, it’s like this. People repeat incessantly what the media manipulate and call news, based on the headlines, but from there to being able to give the details, is a long way! It’s the same whether it’s the Cuban Adjustment Act, the sick people who died in Mazorra mental hospital, or the recent and much-lauded release of the dissidents of the Black Spring, and on and on and on.

With my ears once again glued to the shortwave I heard some news that made me jump to attention. Ingrid Betancourt had withdrawn a demand she’d made to her country to pay her a million dollars. Was it ingratitude or bad memory, I wondered. As far as I know, it was the government of her country itself that freed her from the guerrilla terrorists, who held her hostage for years. To err is human, I have no doubt!

And another thing, here I go again, about the Arizona law. It’s good that the Latin American countries show solidarity when something is wrong in a neighbor’s house, but what strikes me is, no one ever said anything about it when on my planet they go after the native-born from different provinces for being in the capital of all Cubans illegally. There are none so blind as he that will not see!

A couple coming towards me were talking loudly about how nervous they are thinking about the impending war that is looming. I couldn’t help but speak to them, apologizing for having overheard. To reassure them I commented that surely the ones who were really nervous were their respective grandmothers and moms, thinking of the daily war to be waged in the kitchen to put some food on the table.

Fine, that’s enough for now, I’ll say goodbye because I just heard news of the 6.5 earthquake in central Chile (near Temuco), and in truth, what is trembling now is my heart. Remember that I have people very dear to me in that country.

On Olga Guillot’s Death

Olga Guillot has just left us. Another matchless Cuban patriot is gone without having returned to a free Cuba. In Cuba and in exile there is the same feeling, pain and nostalgia. When I received the news of her death, I remembered Celia Cruz, and like those of my generation here in Cuba, I could not nor will I ever see her. I will have to be content with listening to her music and taking pride in her having been born in Cuba.

Her dying without seeing her homeland free, and her artistic life linked to her patriotism, give us one more reason not to falter in this noble effort.

Those of us who continue living and fighting, are depended on by many others, like Olga, in order for them to be able to return to this beautiful and unique Cuban land of their birth. It’s no wonder that our apostle said, “There is no ground more firm than the ground on which one was born.”

Criticism Can Be a Crime (II)

Juan, a commentator, told me he had sent a “Down with Fidel” email to the newspaper Granma, knowing that it is a crime in Cuba. He asked me what sanction they would impose if they found out who he is.

First, I don’t believe that the Cuban authorities are going to pursue him for sending a message. If they can identify him (as a specific person with all his particulars), at a minimum, they will not let him enter the country. I am delighted for this person to know the Cuban criminal law.

The current criminal law protects leaders, officials, and state institutions against negative expressions and opinions of the citizenry. In other words, criticism in Cuba can be a crime.

The Criminal Code regulates various offenses to protect the honor of the people from general forms of defamation, slander, and insult.  But protection against disrespect is given exclusively to the authorities, over and above the crimes mentioned above.

The penalty is a fine or imprisonment of three months to a year to those who “threaten, slander, defame, insult, injure or in any way outrage or offend, verbally or in writing, the dignity or decorum of an authority, public official, or their agents or assistants, in the exercise of their duties or at the time of or because of them.”

The initial penalty against Orlando Zapata Tamayo was for committing this crime. A prisoner of conscience, he died in prison after 86 days of a hunger strike. He was sentenced to three years in prison, because the offense is aggravated when committed with respect to the President or members of the State Council of Ministers and the National Assembly. Thus, it is a common crime strongly tied to politics.

This means that mocking the comrade who reflects,* calling him stupid for his incoherent policies, or labeling the speaker of parliament a cynic, can be interpreted by the police as a crime of contempt.

Juan also asked me how the Cuban authorities could identify him. I don’t know. I am only warning him of the risks.

The commentator is right when he says that “Cuban criminal law is applicable to all crimes committed on national territory or aboard Cuban vessels or aircraft, wherever they are, except as otherwise provided by treaties signed by the Republic” (Criminal Code Article 4.1).

But he must carefully read Article 15.1 of the same law. The rule specifies that “the place of the commission of a crime is where the agent has acted, or has failed to carry out a required act, or where the effects are produced.”

Juan should remember that, although he lives in Spain, when he comes to the island he is treated as a Cuban citizen, and Article 5.1 of the Criminal Code states that “Cuban criminal law is applicable to Cubans and stateless persons residing in Cuba who commit crime abroad, if they are found in Cuba or are extradited. ”

The criminal laws, to our regret, are very general and abstract. Let me explain: they contain very broad descriptions of acts (part of the standard that describes the prohibited conduct). This allows the regime to interpret and apply them loosely and as they choose. In Cuba, the judiciary depends on instructions from the State Council. This is according to the Constitution of the Republic.

If Juan wants to be sure that he will not be prosecuted if he enters Cuba, I recommend that he wait for the time prescribed in the criminal code. That is, the time that starts running from the day he sent the message. According to the sanction that applies to the crime of contempt, it is three years (Criminal Code, Article 64.1, subsection d).

* Translator’s note: Fidel Castro writes a column in Granma that until recently was titled “Reflections of Comrade Fidel.”

Translated by: Tomás A.

The Impunity of the Police

Sometimes I lose interest in denouncing the violations committed by the Castro regime because they are repeated time and time again.  It wears me out and it wears my readers out, too.

Once again there are house arrests without any official notification because such a legal argument does not exist in the constitution. How does the G2, that repressive sector of the Cuban Communist Party, justify detaining peaceful opposition activists in their own homes every time there is a commemoration service?

This time, they were paying homage to the 16th anniversary of the March 13th* Tugboat Massacre, and numerous members of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) wanted to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the sinking of the ship.  Others wished to visit the home of the mother of the Cuban martyr Orlando Zapata Tamayo, so they could all go together to pray before the grave of their fallen brother.  In Banes, Antilla, San German, and Holguin, social workers, veterans of the Cuban wars in Africa, and G2 officers all stationed themselves at the corners of the neighborhoods and homes of dissidents and independent journalists to prevent them from making it to the sites of the pilgrimage and homage.

The last few weeks have been explosive.  Mariblanca Aguila, a slender human rights activist who supports Reina Luisa Tamayo, was beaten on two occasions by three political police officers in Banes.  After the first incident she wound up in the hospital.  The second time, they handcuffed her and kidnapped her, threw her into a car, drove her far from any public places, and even humiliated her.  The shocked woman said that one of her kidnappers, who was dark, tall, and heavy, actually kissed her and said dirty things in her ear while he tightened the handcuffs on her until they left marks on her wrists.  She still has sudden frights while she sleeps and says that she does not know how to free herself from such nightmares where an image of that man comes close to her to force kisses on her.

As for Idalmis Nunez Reynosa, the beating given to her by political police officers in Placetas was so severe that she actually had to be checked into the intensive care unit of that neighborhood.  She tells us that when she was transferred to the observation room so she could rest and recuperate in her delicate state, the G2 actually disregarded the doctors who said she must rest and took her out of the hospital by force and put her back in a police car headed towards Santiago de Cuba.  Idalmis continues telling us that in her own native town, they denied her access to her medical certificates and just hours after she arrived at her own home they once again detained her to raid her house.

Also on that day, Jose Cano Fuentes, a resident of Guantanamo and active member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, went out to try to find out about the state of Idalmis’ health, but once he was heading back to his house he was actually detained near the bus terminal of Santiago de Cuba.  He was also beaten, this time it was carried out by the chief of the sector of the Calle Cuatro neighborhood.  He tells us that later he was taken to Guantanamo and they released him, only to once again detain him an hour later, and without any preface, to once again carry out another beating.  From this last one he still has scars and wounds on his body.

They seem like isolated cases, but they are the result of “Letters of Marque” — official permission to attack at will — received by the Cuban military counter-intelligence section in Oriente, while Cuba pretends to be releasing dissidents, and the world just laughs at the supposed acts of goodwill and the gullible await changes in Cuban society.

Translator’s Note:
*The name of the tugboat was the “March 13th”, the event happened on July 13, 1994.

Translated by Raul G.


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Luis Felipe’s Blog: Crossing the Barbed Wire.

Double Dealing

The Cuban revolution ceased to exist in 1976. The death certificate was signed when they put into force a rigid constitution and institutionalized the country with a questionable political-administrative division.

Farewell to the romantic phase of improvisation and a charisma-laden Fidel Castro, who in his uniform, travelled through fields and towns. And with a small group of escorts lunched at any cheap Chinese restaurant. With an everlasting Vueltabajo cigar and rough-framed glasses, the bearded one ruled the island from an olive-green jeep made in Russia.

What came next was pure political marketing. Castro continued to administer the country as a landowner manages his farm. But the republic entered the era of the gray five-year plans. With a mammoth bureaucracy hindering, rather than helping, the performance of Cuba.

He wove a dense network of myths and hackneyed speeches. Except for the commander, who has always been above the institutions and laws, the island lost spontaneity, the alleged generosity and that humanism which had shamed European intellectuals.

With the death by decree of the Revolution, and an absurd and inefficient regime, the stampede of the former flatters of the Fidelista project began.

Castro no longer walked the streets of the old part of Havana nor breakfasted in second-rate cafes. Already, he was no longer a human being. He was thought of as a God. Surrounded by the largest entourage any leader up to then had ever had.

Fidel spoke of the exploitation of man by man and the paying of poverty wages to their workers. He condemned the predatory imperialist wars of the U.S. against Third World nations, but in 1978, during the civil war in Ethiopia and Somalia, he supported the dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Only because this was in line with Moscow, then the faithful ally.

He intervened in civil and tribal wars in Africa. In the name of the revolution and proletarian internationalism, he enrolled thousands of Cuban soldiers in numerous military adventures.

Wanting to be the flag of the world’s left, Fidel Castro and the leaders under his command were unconcerned with the economy. Following a rigid political and economic plan, exported from the former USSR, the island became one of the poorest nations in the Americas.

In theory, tropical socialism is generous, productive and humane. But in practice, it does not work. World revolution is a joke in bad taste for ordinary Cubans who daily breakfast with coffee without milk.

Cuba today is a virtual game. The reality is spoiled with so much demagoguery. People live badly and want to live well. They have an empty fridge and want it full. In the wardrobe are old clothes and shoes, and at night the heat does not let them sleep.

The Cubans of the third millennium aspire to have air-conditioning, cable television, the ability to buy computers, connect to the Internet 24 hours a day or travel abroad without needing permission to leave. The regime does not want, or know how, to ensure that people have a decent life.

Gen. Raul Castro, the current president, has been given a real hot potato. A bankrupt country, thousands of Cubans unhappy with the status quo, and a luggage cart of slogans and mottos that have become worn-out clichés.

To change the state of things you must tear down the building. Leave it in ruins. Castro II is trying. He has sat down to negotiate with the Catholic Church. And he has opened the floodgate a little, trying to deport the majority of the dissidents who were incarcerated in 2003.

Cuba is pure mirage. Many of the native petty bureaucrats demand sacrifice and saving, but drink Diet Coke in their air-conditioned homes. The only thing that is different is that the Cuban system was not implemented by Russian tanks.

After Fidel Castro aligned himself with the communist ideology, the island started to march backwards.

The cry of the current Cuban leadership is about the “evil” U.S. and European Union. While talking about the longed-for world-wide leftist insurgency, they try to do business with Western businessmen and send to Tokyo, New York, London or Madrid to buy the latest thing in electronics.

The Cuban Revolution died in 1976. In 2010, it still maintains photos of Fidel Castro and Karl Marx in official dispatches. But secretly, they read the advice of gurus like Alan Greenspan or George Soros. In Cuba, one lives by double-dealing.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by: CIMF

The One Who Understands Nothing is Me

“Don’t believe, don’t fear, don’t beg.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The last days have been dizzying, torn between joy and uncertainty. I didn’t say goodbye to Pablo Pacheco because he sneaked out of the country, I haven’t been able to talk with Pedro Argüelle and I still have my eyes fixed on the image of Fariñas, frozen in the moment when the grimace on his face proved that to take a sip of liquid was, for him, Pure Misery.

I felt a little disconnected, running here and there, from Pinar del Rio to Santa Clara, finding out about everything going on through a flow of text messages that we managed to keep going between some friends. I have seen many people with the faith that one day we will live in a free country, I was struck by the network of solidarity outside Coco’s hospital, a score of his loyal friends and colleagues desperately watching the ups and downs of his health, turning to the clueless, like me, who arrived three hours before the visit, bringing everything they have, and that is: almost nothing. I sincerely regret that not a single journalist has taken the trouble, until now, to talk with these people who for four months, silently, have cared for the life of the freest man in Cuba.

It is sometimes unsettling to see so much courage and the kindness in people, like the mother of Fariñas, and so much indolence and hypocrisy in articles like this*. There are times when it is preferable not to connect to the Internet.

It bothers me deeply, horribly, to see the sleight of hand that has been shown to the voices of civil society in pursuit of a policy so opportunistic towards those who live in my country today: the release of the innocents. At what point in history was the dialog between the Church and the Cuban government, and with Moratinos left as mediator? When will the prisoners who want to live in Cuba be released? Why, in an international airport, don’t “free people” board the plane like the rest of the passengers? If they can come to Cuba whenever they want, why couldn’t they say goodbye to their friends today, or stop and have a cup of coffee at home before leaving the island?

Today for the first time I saw José Luis García Paneque’s face in a photo on the Internet, my feelings are indescribable, this post would become absurd if I indulged all my questions. I hate to say this, but so far only one word describes the achievement of this unique dialog that excludes the protagonists and victims of one of the two parties: Exile.

When at least one of the ex-prisoners of conscience released in Madrid puts his feet on Cuban soil again, when Pedro Argüelles, Eduardo Díaz and Regis Iglesias are in their homes, when the laypersons Dagoberto Valdes and Osvaldo Payá are invited to the negotiations between the government and the Catholic Church, and can express their opinions on equal terms, then we will be engaged in DIALOGUE; until that time we are only talking about concessions, convenience and emergency exits.

* Translator’s note: The link is to an article, in Spanish, titled, “Dissident Cubans in Spain Face an Uncertain Future”

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Claudia’s Blog: Octavo Cerco – English

A Mediation Discussed

Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
Photo: Luis Orlando

The talks between the Cuban government and the highest Catholic leadership on the Island, which started last May and led to the gradual release of all the political prisoners from the Black Spring, have not only occupied the attention of the foreign press, but have also generated a great deal of debate among different sectors of the opposition and independent civil society within Cuba, many of whose leaders are offended by their exclusion from this process.

I don’t think it necessary to enunciate here what we know, the important role played by all elements that has led to such a positive outcome as the release of these Cubans, victims of totalitarianism since 2003. The tenacious and peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White over the long seven years was a persistent drop of water eating away at the rock; the death of Zapata Tamayo, a warning bell that the climax had been reached; the altruism and dignity of Guillermo Fariñas with his hunger strike, the coup de grace. Without these three pillars, nothing would have been possible. But, objectively, other facts are no less important, among them, the severe economic and social crisis of the regime, its loss of credit both within the Island as well as in its image in the world, international pressure, the suffocating external debt, the reduction or absence of foreign investors, the rupture in absolute control of information thanks to the use of new communication technologies (despite the well-known limits of their application under conditions in Cuba), and the discrete increase in the independent sectors within society which have been exerting a constant force to open critical spaces and move the spectrum of opinions on the most diverse subjects, from within Cuba itself. All this, without even taking into account the long history of dissident resistance, of different tones and points of view, over the whole of the 51 years.

Just a few years ago, the regime would not have agreed under any circumstances to hold a dialog — not with the Catholic Church, nor with any other social actor in Cuba — must less regarding the release of those whom they had systematically demonized as “enemies,” mercenaries,” traitors,” and other epithets of similar style, and against whom they they have publicly unleashed their bestial shock troops every time they’ve considered it appropriate. Thus, they avoid creating false expectations: it is essentially the same dictatorship. The release of these Cubans today is a currency of exchange to try to recover the grace of acceptance before the the world, but it is also a breakdown of the autocracy, which, on the other hand, will try to regain lost ground by weakening the opposition.

In the midst of this situation, the Catholic Church emerges to mediate in a conflict and seek an arrangement; and — as often happens at every critical juncture between Cubans — this leads to burning questions and the adoption of polarized positions about the legitimacy of the Catholic Church’s role as mediator, of the moral authority of Cardinal Jaime Ortega for this job. For my part, despite the fact that I am not Catholic nor do I practice any religion, I consider the conduct of the Church positive in this case because I endeavor to analyze the moment and circumstances with a cool head. It is a difficult exercise, certainly, but we must face facts: the dictatorship has been weakened and has been forced to cede, but this does not imply that they have lost control or that the opposition of the civil society is sufficiently consolidated to take a part in the talks as a condition of the negotiation. The authorities reserve the right to choose an interlocutor, and we know that, to date (and I say quite deliberately “to date”), they do not recognize the opposition or other independent sectors as such; we recognize it would be a suicidal move that they are not going to take, at least not now, nor will they take it willingly when they are forced to do so. In these circumstances, I do not know an institution more solid or with more social recognition in Cuba than the Catholic Church, an institution that, taken as a whole and in this work, is much more than the individual figure of Jaime Ortega.

But in fairness, we must recognize that in this earliest step the fundamental objective has been freeing the prisoners of the Black Spring — which implies a victory for the civil resistance and, along with Fariñas, all of Cuba — in which the Church has played a significant role.

It is up to all of us, as free citizens, to maintain the pressure and to continue to push the wall. We know that the dictatorship will retain all possible power for the longest possible time; we know that our road is long and uphill. I believe that we also have the responsibility to support every movement or gesture of conciliation or opening that brings us closer to democracy, because these cracks in the regime strengthen us only in so far as we know how to take advantage of them. And, of course, even though I am happy for the freedom of at least one group Cubans who have left their prison cells, or who expect to leave soon, I am still not satisfied. In my opinion, the Church cannot permanently monopolize the mediation, and so should, in the not too distant future, attempt also to defend the right of the people to represent themselves, above all in politics. We also should demonstrate responsibly and calmly that we are sufficiently grown and that we no longer want to have a Daddy State, and (without any intention to offend anyone and with all due respect), nor do we need a Mommy Church.

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Miriam’s Blog: Sin Evasion / Without Evasion

Declaration of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (ANTUNEZ)

In view of certain statements appearing in the media and on the Internet saying that, together with the dissident Juan Juan Almeida Garcia, I have accepted political asylum in the Republic of Chile through the efforts of that country’s Foreign Minister, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that at least in my case, I have not undertaken the slightest effort to leave my country, although I sincerely appreciate any efforts made on my behalf, and I once again reaffirm my position that I will not leave. I continue consistent with my slogan: I will not shut up, I will not leave Cuba. Any declaration, affirmation or insinuation to the contrary should be considered erroneous and unfounded, with infinite thanks for any gesture or concern for my person and for my compatriots.

Criticism Can Be a Crime (I)

Juan, one of the commentators of this site, is worried. He wants to know what would happen to him if they discovered that it was he who sent a “Down with Fidel” email to Granma, knowing that it is a crime in Cuba. He also asked about the risks involved in having a blog that criticizes the current prevailing system in the country.

We part on one point: I do not incite destruction of the “socialist state.” I do not do propagandize for war nor incite violence. I limit myself to opinions about the reality I live. I am aware that they can enforce the law against me and of the risks of going to jail. I assume my responsibility for this.

If a commentator outside of Cuba is afraid, what fate remains for me? My location and identification is very easy for the authorities. I give my name, address, telephone number, and I show my face. The only thing I haven’t given is my identity number. Here it is: 80060403759.

I’m not trying to be a martyr, I don’t want to be a hero. I want a future, to make plans, to have opportunities. I love peace and I have never taken up arms. I want to decide for myself what is good or bad for me. I simply exercise the rights that are recognized worldwide for all human beings.

Rights that the State has the obligation to respect and protect. No political group has the power to restrict or violate them, except in extreme situations, yet we have borne these conditions for over 50 years.

Yes I’m afraid; for this reason I say what I feel and think publicly. We have kept silent for too long out of fear of repression, prolonging its effects. But the result is the same whether you stay silent, whisper, or speak: they still control you, suffocate you, deceive you. It is time that we all lose the fear and speak the truth head-on.

Translated by: Tomás A.

The Church and Mediation: Fray Olalla

1-foto-fray-olalloIn 1833, when Havana was ravaged by cholera and there was a shortage of doctors, a boy of 13, immersed in the care of the sick, discovered his true vocation. When asked by one San Juan de Dios friars who observed him with curiosity whether he would like to serve God by caring for the sick, he answered, “Yes, Father, it is my greatest dream.” Almost immediately he took his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and became part of the Brothers of St. John of God, a hospital order which had representatives in Cuba from 1603. This child who become a monk, and who had been placed by his parents a month after his birth in the Real Casa Cuna of St. Joseph the Patriarch, was Brother Olallo José Valdés.

In 1835, when the cholera epidemic was raging in Port-au-Prince, where dozens of patients died, Olallo was sent to reinforce the brothers who worked the San Juan de Dios Hospital — supported by the order since 1728 — where he remained for 54 years, sweeping, washing sheets and bandages, bathing the elderly, healing and feeding the mourners. In this noisy place, accompanied by his readings he became the Head Nurse, using the best techniques to cure ailments, practice surgery and act as a pharmacist.

His strength of character, his dedication, his commitment to the suffering and above all his faith enabled him to deal with the variety of complex situations.

In 1842 Cuba had implemented the decrees of secularization, by which the religious orders were suppressed and their property seized by the government. That is why the Port-au-Prince Hospital became public charity. At that time, although the hospital’s brothers were forced to become state employees and submit to demands beyond their ordinary work, Brother Olallo, ignoring the order, continued his work, preventing the poor patients from suffering the negative consequences of the measure. In 1868, at the outbreak of the Great War, the military authorities occupied the Hospital, turning it into a military garrison and ordering a halt to the care of sick civilians. Olallo not only opposed this measure, but acted as a mediator, to ensure that the only patients discharged were those who could continue their treatment outside the hospital premises, thanks to which, the rest could remain in the hospital.

But it was in 1873 when his name was permanently inscribed in our history. On 11 May of that year Major Ignacio Agramonte was killed in combat on the field of Jimaguayú and his body was taken to Port-au-Prince. The next day, his lifeless body, carried on horseback, was put on display in the middle of the Plaza as a warning and a trophy of war, with orders that no one could touch it. Learning of this, Olallo ordered a stretcher prepared and went to the scene where he told the military authorities that the only higher orders that he followed were those of the Lord. He then loaded the body, took it into the hall of the Hospital and with his handkerchief, he wiped the face covered in mud and blood. The body was then transferred to the infirmary, where it was washed and shrouded, thus preventing the military from being able to further pursue the remains of the Major.

In addition to participating directly in several epidemics, as occurred with cholera, smallpox and yellow fever in 1871, he cared for cholera patients directly and never caught the disease. When Brother Juan Manuel Torres, the only member of the Order left alive, contracted leprosy in 1866, took over Olallo took over this grooming and feeding and cared for the priest until his death ten years later. The final proof of his care for the most seriously ill occurred in 1888. In the presence of witness and before a notary, he stated that all his possessions, including an inherited house and the money that was owed to him by the public administration, would be left to the Hospital de San Juan de Dios in Port-au-Prince, where he served for more than half century.

At 69 years of age, March 7, 1889, ill, but while still attending dozens of patients every day, he died at the Hospital where he exercised his charitable work. He lived for the poor, died poor, and his body was borne by the poor and among them was buried. On his tomb inscription reads: This monument would be in heaven, if it were formed by the hearts of the poor, grateful to Father Olallo who cared for them for 53 years in the Hospital de San Juan de Dios in Port-au-Prince.

In March 1989, the Catholic Church in Camagüey processed a claim for sainthood. In December 2006, Pope Benedict XVI signed the decrees that recognized him as Venerable. In November 2008, the Mass of Beatification was celebrated in the city of Camagüey, where they declared canonically that Brother Jose Valdes Olallo Beato was beatified, a valuable example of the participation of figures of the Church in the political and social issues of Cuba throughout history.

Farewell to the Queen of Bolero

The sad news came through short wave radio during early hours.  After a very fruitful life and at the age of 87, one of the most beautiful voices of our country has left us.  She was silenced for those of us who still live here for more than half a century.

Like I’ve said before, I requested her songs numerous times in the Sunday morning show known as “Memories of Rebel Radio”.  They never fulfilled my requests, they always used the most outrageous excuses.  They became accomplices of an absurd censorship that should have never existed.  Perhaps now that she has passed away, and that her declarations don’t pose a threat to the ideology of ‘the “New Man,” now those of us who knew who she was will have the luck to once again hear her interpretation of “Campanitas de Cristal” (‘Crystal Bells’), which, together with many other songs, became unique when sung by her beautiful voice.

May God keep you in Glory, Olga.

Translator’s Note:  “Bolero” is a genre which hails from Cuba, it is a ballad, a love song.

Translated by Raul G.