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.

The Castros’ Chess Game

After sorting through various possibilities, the Spanish journalist Lali Kazas and I agreed to rent a car and head to Ciego de Avila.

It’s the day they’ve announced the releases and extraditions to Spain of five political prisoners of conscience, among them is Pablo Pacheco, who used to call me from the prison to talk about baseball and football, among other things.

We got to the town on April 9, and went to the home of Oleyvis Garcia.  A few minutes later, without even wiping off the dust from the road, we knocked on the door.  A soldier in olive drab introduced himself and addresses Lali and me by name.

It was Colonel Mesa, from the Department of State Security.  When I call my mother to tell her this, she says to me, “Ivan, Mesa is the one who dealt with me in Villa Marista, the day after you were arrested on March 8, 1991.  He was a captain then, thin and not very tall.”

“I don’t remember.  The one I remember is Chaple, the one who was in the little room they sent me to the two times you visited me.”

“Mesa was in charge of your case and perhaps you didn’t speak with him.  How did he treat you and Lali?”

“He was very friendly.  He wanted to know how we knew about Pacheco’s release and we told him that we heard it on the radio.  Before he left, he gave us a telephone number to reach him in case a problem arose.”

And a problem did arise not long after the colonel left.  Oleyvis needed to go to the Western Union office to get money sent from the United States by Pacheco’s family.  The office closed at 4pm, so we drove her there.  But despite it not being 4 yet, it was closed. We checked and were told that the employee had not gone in to work that day.

We called Colonel Mesa and in a few minutes, the issue was resolved.  We don’t know where they found someone, but they opened up Western Union and paid Oleyvis the money, that very same night she had to travel to Havana with her son.  On Monday, July 12, when they’re already in the air, is the day that they will finally be with Pacheco.

My mother interrupts me.  She wanted to know if I was able to get any more information from the colonel concerning this odd process of prisoner releases, decided on by the hierarchy of the Catholic church, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Cuban government.

“Yes”, I told her, “But he told me that he didn’t know; that he just follows orders and the one that is responsible for them is General Raul Castro.”

At 6 in the morning on Sunday, I was awoken by my cell phone’s ring.  It was Pablo Pacheco, who had called me to say that he was with a military unit on the outskirts of Havana.  He was with other political prisoners who were being given medical checks and they were giving them first-rate care.  “The food is excellent; they’ve even given us beef.  We slept two to a room with air conditioning,” he told me.

I went back to sleep.  Four hours later, my cell phone went off again.  It was Oleyvis, Pacheco’s wife.  At that moment, both she and Jimmy, their son, along with other relatives, were being given a medical examination in a clinic of the Ministry of the Interior, on G and 19th Street, in the neighborhood of Vedado.

“We’re all being booked in the Instituto Superior Capitan San Luis, belonging to MININT (Ministry of the Interior), in Valle Grande, on the outskirts of the city.  We are being well fed and well treated, but we haven’t been able to see our husbands.  I think that before going to the airport, we are going to be greeted by Cardinal Ortega; I’m not sure if only the relatives or also the political prisoners”.

While he was still in Canaleta prison, Pacheco dreamed he was back home with his wife and son, watching the final match of the World Cup.  The three could watch it together and jump in celebration of Spain’s victory.

On the other hand, while not from there, it is in Havana that the Castros have begun their game of chess; with all of the pieces well controlled and well-played, among them the dissidents.  This is so nobody would even dare to take their king, and they will be the ones to declare checkmate.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by: Andrew Cuan

An Invitation to the Pictoral Universe of I. Miranda

For a decade critics have been talking about the poetic, Baroque, telluric and zoomorphic painter Ibrahim Miranda Ramos (Pinar del Rio, 1969), who presents his swarm of metaphors in UNEAC’s Manuela Villa gallery, where he invites us to unravel his allegories on Cuba and the world through the prints of his series Punishment, Bondage and Maps, woven together under the Carpentier title, The Lost Steps, which is presented  through a woodcut on paper, offering a face tattooed with rivers flanked by carts with goods on a red background.

In one of Villa Manuela’s rooms, Miranda surprises the visitor with an installation of multicolored fabrics of varying dimensions titled Without Destiny. The fabrics seem like a pretext to return to the rivers and infer the limits and the crossroads that interweave the searches of the man. The tendentious nearness of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Danube, with the Hudson, the Yangtze, Ganges and Mekong, exemplify the comprehensive geographical point of view of the creator.

Ibrahim Miranda’s search for paths and his philosophical concerns are reflected in the suggestive figures recreated in maps. The originality of his pictorial cartography gallops on the prints, A Pig in Sao Paulo, A Bull in Tel Aviv, Horse in Madrid, Elephant in Berlin, The Beast of Sanlucar, and Horse in London, the first four from 2007, the others acrylic on cloth from 2010.

While this surreal map room is a part of a hermeneutics that challenges our codes and puzzles, it will lead to a conceptualization that goes from history to the perception of the creator and his technical instruments, although initially Ibrahim was inspired by the poem by Jose Lezama Lima, Island Night: Invisible Gardens, and subsequently by the novel by Alejo Carpentier The Lost Steps.

But the authenticity of the maps and their philosophical narrative sense, connect the artist with the route closest to him, the cartography of Cuba, given in two series: Punishment and Bondage, both in collage on paper from 2006.

In the series Punishment, the photographic montage of a nude woman who hits a child, becomes a metaphor to suggest the pain of Cuba, interlaced by overlapping maps that externalize the notion of inside and outside: the island hits its children who, according to the exterior images, ceased to feel but put up with it.

In the series Bondage, less intensely colored, the limits intuited are more external and with a social connotation: discrimination generates emigration. Faces, maps and birds induce spaces and searches.

Other spatial codes animate the poetic and the philosophic uneasiness of the painter. Ibrahim Miranda Ramos, has exhibited in other galleries in Havana, Switzerland, Spain, the United States, Brazil, Austria and Canada, and lectured on his work in museums and universities in Europe and America.

Until mid-July Miranda’s screen prints await us on the walls of Villa Manuela, where his rivers flow and from his maps jump birds and animals who arouse reflection, illuminate memory and enrich our imagination.

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.

A World Cup as an Antidote Against the Past

Morgan Freeman was at the finals. Seated in the VIP section of Soccer City with his dark baseball cap and a nervous expression on his face. Nervous in the angle the television offered us, of course. Perhaps two seconds later he would’ve been euphorically screaming if he rooted for Spain or would have been another disappointed one if he rooted for Holland.

But the truth is, he was there. Just as during this month of the World Cup, many passed through the fields of South Africa (citing only a few) musicians like Mick Jagger and Shakira, actors Leonardo Di Caprio and Charlize Theron (back to her native land); tennis player Rafael Nadal and top model Naomi Campbell; the prince and princess of Holland and the king and queen of Spain, ex-president Bill Clinton and a long et cetera of chief executives, artists and business men and women from all over the globe forced by soccer to take a few days vacation on the poorest of all continents.

However, few other figures, I think, represent the sweet and festive reality that it is to contemplate the magisterial Morgan Freeman enjoying the finals just like another one of the 90 thousand spectators who filled up the Soccer City of Johannesburg this past July 11.

Why? Well because fewer than twenty years ago, these fields would have been open to Mick Jagger or the beautiful Charlize Theron, but probably not for him. Not for a “segregatable black” who, before 1994, had his own place on the beach, his own section of the sidewalk, but not a theater box seat inside a stadium for the white ruling class.

That is why I believe that two countries have just enrolled themselves in Modern History with this World Cup. One, the champion. The other one, the host. The rest is just color and enjoyment, anecdotes and effort. But these two countries have just given the world a lesson so subtle yet so overwhelming: Blessed be prosperity, blessed be evolution with which over the years two nations with very deplorable pasts have experimented.

First, Spain. The same Spain where today’s heroes are not Generals nor advanced plenipotentiaries, who do not achieve their fame by scorching caciques in the bonfire but by playing with a foot ball and, who can doubt it, exposing a fellowship and beauty over the field like only the best Selection of the moment can. It is a remarkable irony that champions are crowned, for the first time in ninety years, right on a continent where centuries ago it drained its own life’s blood with its shipment of slaves to the new world to slake its thirst for metals and power.

Are we speaking about the same Spain? No, definitely not. Not about the Spain of Torquemada and its infernal Inquisition. Nor is it the one of General Francisco Franco, whose bones I dare say shudder with shame before the face of the country which during decades he tyrannized.

This is the democratic Spain that in only a few decades reached the dream of all countries gripped by dictatorships: overcoming not only its economic indigence, but also its spiritual. Raising the collective spirit of the nation until it was more prosperous, more free, more hopeful for all its people. A country that only twenty years ago still exported Spaniards to all parts of the orb in search of peace and prosperity, and that today, must regulate immigration in order to preserve economic and social stability.

Is this motherland to Hispanics the Earthly Paradise? Of course not. Is it free of unemployment, crisis, internal ethnic conflicts, or terrorist organizations and suicidal attempts? Nor that. But not knowing the progress of this Spain that nowadays celebrates thanks to the most universal of all sports, comparing it with the one of only a handful of years ago, not only is it stubborn statistics but political blindness.

We still have South Africa.

If anybody, after knowing its designation as the site of the most watched sporting event of the planet (according to official figures, it has twice the television audience of the Olympics), grinned with disbelief and disapproval, I am sure they slyly hide it today. I include myself.

After going through some cultural and economic powers like France, Korea-Japan, and Germany, landing the World Cup in a continent destroyed by illnesses, violence and severe poverty, I thought it, from FIFA’s part, a decision if not quite sensible, doubtfully a romantic one.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Because South Africa’s World Cup has not only been the most beautiful culturally speaking, overflowing in musical and dancing references, and where natives clearly reminded us that from these latitudes is where, we, human beings, took our first steps on the planet; not only has it been a World Cup of truce during the crisis and the political idleness of the moment, but South Africans organized a feast as (or more) showy and technological than those held before in the hands of stronger powers.

Again the word evolution: the million dollar soccer date has just concluded in the same country that in 1964 incarcerated Nelson Mandela on Robben Island for twenty-eight years. In the same country where racist excess from Apartheid segregated 80 percent of the black population, and segregated a whole country in an international isolation whose economic consequences would lead the government to declare South Africa, in 1985, in state of emergency due to a loss of value of the Rand, the official currency.

The selection of this site over Morocco, the other great candidate to organize the event in the Black Continent, was deeply influenced by the favorable economic perspective that the nation has experienced in the last years, generating one of the highest standards of living on the continent, thanks, in part, to the return of the foreign investments which practically vanished during Apartheid due to international sanctions.

Another important factor (and vital to my judgment so I can comprehend the qualitative jump in South Africa in less than two decades of democracy), was the significant reduction in its crime statistics.

Yes, the same State where, in 1976, the police responded with bullets to the rocks of the students in the schools of Soweto, and massacred some 566 children in disturbances that shocked the International Community, today offered its millions of visitors more security that the majority of its companions on the continent.

I am sure: not because there was an exciting World Cup, the unjust differences between the lifestyles of wide sectors of the population will be gone from South Africa. Not because David Villa or Diego Forlan have led a tournament of dreams, the acts of violence that have marked a continent over and over again subjugating men and History, will disappear from Mandela’s country.

However, I don’t doubt that after the World Cup of the jumping Jabulani and the stentorian vuvuzelas, the leopard Zakumi, the visionary octopus Paul; the Cup that broke through superstition and (as an example) crowned for the first time a team that had reached the finals with one defeat among all seven games; after this experience of universal reach, I am sure that all of the African nation will look itself in the mirror of the present as the best antidote against a past that it should never look back to, ever. I am also sure, that full of national joy in the Spanish Motherland, fewer murderers, fewer thieves, fewer suicides and fewer extortionists will show up on the streets in coming days to perform their fearful acts, and that Spaniards will all feel a pride that grows out of a football but, bleeding from civil wars and sunk in a Jurassic military dictatorship, they wouldn’t have been able to celebrate with all this pride in previous decades. Even for as long as Andres Iniesta would have sent la Jo’bulani to the depth of the nets.

I believe that just for the speed with which these two countries distanced themselves from their pasts of intolerance and exclusion, it was all well worth it.

Of course, also because hundreds of blacks, and a “crack” from the world of acting like Morgan Freeman, experienced the finals in the Soccer City of Johannesburg with the sole concern of whether or not their team will take the gold Cup in their hands.

Translated by: Angelica Betancourt

Every Night I Prayed to the Lord

The doctor Oleyvis García, 38, is convinced that God heard her repeated prayers. “Every night I prayed to the Lord, asking him to free my husband, said García, wearing faded light-blue shorts and a shirt in the colors of the Spanish football team.

Oleyvis lives in a dusty half-paved village street. Her home is over a doctor’s office. Nothing fancy. Cheap wood furniture in a narrow room painted a dull white color.

Until March 19, 2003, her husband, Pablo Pacheco Avila, 40, a freelance journalist, also lived there. That day, eleven police patrol cars and half a dozen cars from the State Security raided their house and arrested Pacheco.

Until today’s sun. Pablo Pacheco spent 7 years and 4 months behind bars. His crime, writing without permission what he thought should be the future for Cuba. Today all that is ancient history.

International pressure, the death of Orlando Zapata, the marches of the Ladies in White, the hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas, and mediation by the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, the Cuban Catholic Church and the good will of the General Raul Castro’s government, have allowed the 52 prisoners of the Black Spring to be freed.

Pablo Pacheco will be one of the first. On a blazingly sunny afternoon with no water on his cellblock to wash himself, the penal authorities called him into a small room. He had a phone call.

On the other end of the line, with his voice neutral and cordial, was Cardinal Jaime Ortega. In a few minutes, the Cardinal told him that if he wished, he could leave for Spain. Without conditions and with his family.

According to Pacheco, the highest representative of the church on the island, made it very clear that in any case he could return to his country when he wished. Pacheco agreed to leave his country.

Above all, he was thinking of the future of his son Jimmy who is 12. It was his son who suffered most from his unjust imprisonment. Oleyvis, his mother, always meant to hide the truth from him.

“I told him his father was studying, or traveling, that he would be back home soon,” Oleyvis related. The lie had short legs. The boy sense that something wasn’t right.

Every three months he carried, with his mother, a huge burlap bag with over 20 pounds of provisions, on a journey of over 200 miles to the Agüica prison in Matanzas province, where Pacheco was first held.

One morning, looking at him with his café con leche colored eyes, Jimmy asked his father, “Papá, why are you always surrounded by men dressed in olive green?”

He was seven. Pacheco knew he couldn’t lie to him, “Jimmy, your father is in prison for wanting a better future for all Cubans. My son, prison is not a dishonor when a person is in prison for a just motive,” Pablo told him, while giving him examples of famous patriots who had been in prison, like José Martí.

“That’s true, Papá, I’m proud of you,” he answered in a strong voice. Jimmy grew up without his father’s advice. He wanted to tell him that the girl in the last desk in the classroom stuck up for him. How much he missed not being able to go to the beach with him. Play baseball and football, his favorite sports. Climb a mango tree together, or hunt quail.

During these seven long years Oleyvis was both mother and father. In Cuba the family also suffers from the imprisonment of their loved ones. The long journeys to the prison, the lack of money, the loneliness and constant tension about their future, have prematurely aged Dr. García.

On the left side of her bed there has been an empty space for a long time. With wet eyes, Oleyvis thinks that Madrid will be a good place to rebuild their marriage and family life.

Before we leave, she asks us not to forget to thank, in her name, all the people who made the release of her husband possible. The friends and neighbors who always supported and encouraged her. And God, who heard her prayers.

Iván García y Lali Kazás

Rooted Custom

Exactly how do minors become affiliated with the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution?

When you turn 14 years old they begin contacting you and requiring your presence at meetings of the organization and volunteer works. The parents (legal guardians) don’t have to consent or reject it. Consent is implied, there is no legal formality.

You do not need written parental permission. They (the parents) know that for their children to survive and to “be someone in life” they need the endorsements of each of the organizations. They also need  it. The experience is passed down from generation to generation.

They don’t object when they are asked to pay the price for their minor child. Even, as is often the case, when dad or mom are required to be present at the meeting. Keeping up appearances is a matter of necessity.

They know that the CDR can’t solve the problems of street lighting, the water supply, or the transport situation. But they are aware of how much damage can be done by a negative opinion from the chairman of the committee or the monitors.

The home of these “leaders” is an obligatory reference for the repressive agencies of the government: National Revolutionary Police (PNR), State Security (DSE), Department of investigative work (DTI). They are the ones that confirm to the state whether you own a building or car, or intend to leave the country. Their assessments affect the determination of a sentence.

Legal guardians are aware of the consequences of refusing to be quoted by the child or publicly declaring that they disagree with joining the ranks of the organization, because they are minors, and as such, have no capacity to act or economic independence.

It’s like a rooted custom. The organization brings together all the ‘mass’. As the body grows and renews itself be incorporated into the process. It is one of the tools used in building the new man.

It starts in pre-school with the Pioneer guards, and continues with the incorporation into the  many social and student organizations that the system has. In everything they ask you to be loyal to the “Revolution” and to sacrifice for it.

However, I can assure you that less than 1% of the members of the CDR know the rules of the organization. The important thing is your commitment, not what you are committing to. They don’t care if you consent to the rules, nor if you comply with the obligations assumed.

I watched as a daughter voted for her mother who was on a mission in Venezuela, at the request of one of the leaders of the committee, who wanted her polling station to have 100% turnout at the election. Also, as the mother of a judicially-declared incompetent, she paid her daughter’s fee in the CDR and as she (the daughter) exercised her right to vote.

The saddest thing of all is that most citizens are not aware of this situation. For them it is normal. We are a people with a general education, but legally illiterate.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Binomial of Three

Frank Delgado and Buena Fe have made a record together. I like the chemistry of these artists a lot, they have a very good eye for looking and for making music which is catchy and makes you think at the same time. The first song, Extremistas Nobles, from which the record gets its name, is a statement of intentions. The songs of love (and loss) are excellent, Retazos de amor, and especially the bachata song Loco por ti have beautiful lyrics. I have always been a fan of Frank Delgado, a rebellious singer who hasn’t been broadcast as much as he deserves precisely for that- he answers back. The duo of Israel and Joel, who are also among my favorites, have had a successful career starting with Sicología al día, and even though they have been marketed, broadcast and received several awards, some of their songs have been censored; but beware: the young crowds still sing their songs and fill their concerts.

This new record is a mix between both styles, which makes it very unconventional. Lacking any pictures for this post, I post here the lyrics for Cubannolito.

Please visit rockason.wordpress.com. I wanted to post some audio from the song here, but I didn’t know how to do it.

Hey, my brother, how come nobody wants to be Cuban anymore

And everyone is busily searching for their ancestors

Do you remember the black Marcelo, all dark and with long grelos

He got a blue passport*, yes, because he’s got a Basque great-grandfather.

Patriotism comes with many strings attached, I’ve been a Cuban for four generations.

The Spanish are achieving what the Gringos couldn’t

Maybe next year we’ll already be subjects of King Juan Carlos.

Nor was it that the Bourbons managed to be a panacea

But they got into the parade and now they’re the door to the European Union.

Perucho Figueredo** points his arrow up. It so happens the Spanish anthem doesn’t have lyrics.

I say what I think: Little Spaniard, say pal what’s up, or low grade Cuban.

And so I find many acquaintances, practicing this new sport, running with the whole family to make sure nobody ends without a passport.

And since it comes with the right to vote in spanish elections, their candidates will be coming to campaign in Cuba.

The good things and the bad things. Fighting to paint or to fade the flag.

If you’re Cuban they will bust your balls (with a stone). The voice of command has a Spanish accent.

When you finally get to be a Spaniard you’ll feel important, you’ll finally be able to travel and even open an elegant restaurant.

What I would like the most is a trip to Spain, but everyone is going from the slum to luxury, it’s becoming a crowd. To the Nigerian embassy!

Translator’s Notes:
* Spanish passport.
** Composer of the Cuban national anthem

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

I WILL NOT SHUT UP, I WILL NOT LEAVE CUBA

Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez

In view of certain statements appearing in the media and on the Internet saying that, together with the dissident Juan Juan Almeida Garcia, I had accepted political asylum in the Republic of Chile through the efforts of that country’s Foreign Minister, I think it an opportune moment 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 remain consistent with my watchword: I will not shut up, I will not leave Cuba. Any statement, affirmation or insinuation to the contrary should be considered erroneous and unfounded, though I am infinitely grateful for any gesture or concern for my person and for my compatriots.

Interview with Pedro Argüelles

Click Here for Audio of Interview with Pedro Argüelles

Transcript, translated:

Yoani Sánchez: What is your current situation? Where are you and what have they told you?

Pedro Argüelles: I’m in the provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila. And what I have been told is on Saturday, July 10, I went to the office of the head of the prison and there they put me through on the phone to talk to the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega. He informed me that I was on the list of those who would leave for Spain if I would agree to go. I told him that no, I had no interest in leaving my country. He asked me about my wife as well, if she would have any interest. I said no. Well, he told me, he would report back and he said goodbye. That is all I have been told, they haven’t told me anything more, I’m here waiting for events and their development.

Yoani Sánchez: Pedro, do you think these releases will strengthen or weaken the dissident movement and independent journalism inside Cuba?

Pedro Argüelles: Well, look, whether or not it will affect the strength honestly I can’t say right now because I am here inside and I’ve been here seven and a half years, here in the prison. I know there are new groups, I know there are new people doing independent journalism, carrying on the civil struggle. I think it doesn’t weaken it because in any case there are new pines, as our apostle Jose Marti said, and well, since 1976 when the first cell of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights was created in the Combinado del Este prison, that was the first cell, and we could get to this point because there have been relays, reliefs, there have been people who have carried on, people who died, new people coming out into the public arena. So I think that, ultimately, here we fulfill the law that everyone has the right and the freedom to decide for their own person, my brothers who would like to go I have absolutely nothing against them, that is their sovereign decision, it is their freedom. I make use of the thoughts of Marti who said that the duty of a man is to be where he is most useful. I believe that here is where I am most useful, that this is my place to fight for the rights and freedom inherent in the dignity of the human person and this is where I want to be. I don’t want to be in any other place, here on the front line of combat facing the Castros’ totalitarian regime.

Yoani Sánchez: And what will Pedro Argüelles do once he is outside Canaletas prisons?

Pedro Argüelles: Continue what we started in mid-1992 when I joined the Cuban Committee for Human Rights here in Ciego de Avila and then in 1998 founded the Ciego de Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative. Continue to denounce human rights violations and continue with the independent press and civil struggle. In order to achieve what we have so longed for and suffered for, the transition to democracy in Cuba.

Yoani Sánchez: Well, Pedro, thank you very much and we really hope that your name is among the next to be freed. We wish so much to give you that embrace so long postponed.

Pedro Argüelles: Some day it will happen, and I too am longing to meet with all all these new pines that have arisen.

Yoani Sánchez: Well, thank you very much.

Pedro Argüelles: A hug.