Inside the Neighborhood, Outside the Heart / Yoani Sánchez

Barrio Adentro Clinic in Venezuela -- Image taken from: http://paulagiraud.blogspot.com/

“You must turn in your passport!” So they told him on arriving in Caracas, to prevent him from making it to the border and deserting. In the same airport they read him the rules: “You cannot say that you are Cuban, you can’t walk down the street in your medical clothes, and it’s best to avoid interacting with Venezuelans.” Days later he understood that his mission was a political one, because more than curing some heart problem or lung infection, he was supposed to examine consciences, probe voting intentions.

In Venezuela he also came across the corruption of some of those leading the Barrio Adentro Project. The “shrewd ones” here become the “scoundrels” there, grabbing power, influence, money, and even pressuring the female doctors and nurses who travel alone to become their concubines. They placed him together with six colleagues in a cramped room and warned them that if they were to die — victims of all the violence out there — they would be listed as deserters. But it didn’t depress him. At the end of the day he was only 28 and this was his first time escaping from parental protection, the extreme apathy of his neighborhood, and the shortages in the hospital where he worked.

A month after arriving, they gave him an identity card, telling him that with it he could vote in the upcoming elections. At a quick meeting someone spoke about the hard blow it would be to Cuba to lose such an important ally in Latin America. “You are soldiers of the fatherland,” they shouted at them, and as such, “you must guarantee that the red tide prevails at the polls.”

The days when he thought he would save lives or relieve suffering are long gone. He just wants to go home, return to the protection of his family, tell his friends the truth, but for now he can’t. Beforehand, he must stand in line at the polls, show his support for the Venezuelan Socialist Party, hit the screen with his thumb as a sign of agreement. He counts the days until the last Sunday in September, thinking that after that he can go home.

August 31, 2010

Havana Reinvents Itself / Iván García


The family of Hector Iznaga lives hand to mouth. His daughter, 18-years-old, was going to have a baby, and they realized that their house was very small. They got to work. Without permission from any state body, they quickly turned the balcony of their small two-bedroom apartment into a new bedroom.

Many families in this country are like the Iznaga family. There are areas of Havana geography that have been turned into veritable architectural Frankensteins. Very different from their original design.

In Cuba, the respect for rules and directives of the Housing Institute and for the municipal architects do not exist. In general, people wipe their rear ends with the norms of urban order.

It’s like we live in an African jungle. The disregard for the laws of coexistence is typical on the island. People like Hector Iznaga show why. His family has lived for 20 years in an dreadful building of five floors in the Alamar neighborhood, one of the largest and worst slums in Havana.

its upkeep, supposedly, falls to the State, but only in theory. No official organ cares that the inhabitants of the property have carried their water for months, because the water pumps don’t function.

When it rains, the roofs leak to even the lowest floors. The situation is the same with the sanitary services. The stairways are dark and without handrails. The building speaks for itself. Filthy and dilapidated, crying out for a even a little paint.

The neighbors have complained to their local delegation of the Popular Power in their area, but nothing. Life continues the same. So, the inhabitants, in the face of such state slacking, do as they please.

At a glance, you can see that numerous families make adaptations without legal permission. They change the facade. They take collective areas for themselves. And without any knowledge of construction or engineering, they tear down load-bearing walls, putting themselves and the rest of the residents in danger.

I’ll offer you a figure. Sixty percent of the housing in the city of Havana is in fair to poor shape. In general, up to four generations live in one house.

In the middle of the capital, or in other overpopulated areas like Luyano, Lawton, or Vibora, it has been decades since many buildings have seen repairs. They have not even been painted.

People who live in larger houses or chalets renovate them based on their economic situation. It’s “save yourself if you can.” Although the State offers very little, it severely punishes urban violations.

According to the official press, just in Havana, in the first six months of the year, more than 3,500 fines have been imposed for illegal construction projects in private homes. The fines range from 200 pesos (10 dollars) to 1,500 pesos (60 dollars). In the case of about 500 families, newly finished construction projects have been torn down.

The issue of housing is one of the unresolved problems of the government of the Castro brothers. The deficit of housing is enormous. They have tried to patch this enormous gap with small patches, like allowing organizations or individuals to construct their own homes, but the supply of materials is precarious, and of poor quality.

Throughout the city, one can see buildings that have been under construction for ten years or more. And they threaten to take longer. In the face of such a necessity, families patch them together the best they can.

The same families construct “barbacoas,” a 100% Cuban invention. It consists of a wooden or concrete porch inside their own house. If later, they want to add on to the house, if they have an empty lot next door, they will take it over and expand their dwelling with no consent from the authorities.

This all serves to give a little more capacity for a relative from the country, or for a baby on the way. Like the Iznaga family, who got rid of their balcony in favor of a new room for their future grandchild. And they have been lucky, not having been caught by the state inspectors. For now.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by: Gregorio

August 29, 2010

Epilogue of the JJ Saga / Miriam Celaya

JJ during his hunger strike in which he lost over 40 pounds

This past August 24th, 2010, on his return from the Archdiocese of Havana, where he had been summoned, Juan Juan Almeida settled his hunger strike: his departure from Cuba was being discussed. He eventually left by way of Mexico on the afternoon of the following day (August 25th). This ends another one of the personal dramas that the absurd Cuban emigration procedures provoke, in which every Cuban must go through the odious and humiliating process of soliciting an exit permit from the authorities. This time, another Cuban who stands up for his rights just won over the opportunity to exercise them, I rejoice.

Due to the extent and complexity of the subject, I would like to put aside, until another occasion, the proposal for a debate on the fickle and secretive institution that answers to the name “Directorate of Emigration and Foreign Affairs”, where certain uniformed officers –who misleadingly appear humanoid- dictate whether or not to authorize the release from this country-prison any ill-fated person who has committed the unlucky mistake of having been born into it. If the insect in question (a category that I state while taking into account what the circumstances suggest and not meaning to offend any of my countrymen who, like myself, are subject to the same disgraceful tourniquet), that is, if a Cuban who asks permission has the additional aggravating circumstance of belonging to the black list previously composed from on high, names and inventory numbers (i.e., Identity papers) those highly toxic individuals who are absolutely banned from leaving the country, must say goodbye even to the simple idea that there is a world beyond the geographical boundaries of Cuba, and can only hope for a miracle … or make the miracle happen. We all know that.

For now, I will just refer to the comments that my post (Breaking the Stigma) from August 17th provoked and thank the readers who participated in it for their sincerity. At the suggestion of some readers, I have posted a picture of JJ during the strike, which I found on the Internet, you can appreciate the difference between the pictures when compared with the one I previously posted.

I think that you and I have found in that debate -which was colored by the most diverse criteria around, contrasting and even sharply polarized- how much hatred has been sown among us in these 50 years of dictatorship and how much there is still left to argue and cast out of our souls so we can find reconciliation, the necessary foundation for the Cuba who so many of us dream of.

I am also thankful that all points of views, whether in favor of solidarity with another Cuban, (not “somebody’s son”) as those who chose moral condemnation, helped me to hold on even with more conviction to the principle of harmony that eggs me on: every Cuban who peacefully defends his freedom and his rights against this regime may count on my respect, solidarity and sympathy, independent of his origin, creed and ideology. Nothing is going to make me seem like those who have sown intolerance and mistrust among us.

Nor is remaining in Cuba patriotism. In my case, I have never wanted to leave my country permanently -I assume it would be more convenient for those who have ruined my country to leave- but I have never felt that such a decision makes me a patriot nor a better or worse person than others. “Patriot” is a title that, besides, produces in me certain uneasiness: here and there are terms that have been widely manipulated. Maybe, in order to recoup the true meaning of the word, it would be interesting to also define some day what we are calling “Motherland.”

For now, I will avoid the peculiar word “patriot” while I take back having used the term “idiots” if its use brings unnecessary trouble. Pretend I never wrote it, however, I will leave it in the original post to have it remain a witness, lest some suspicious person suggest that I cheat or that I delete my mistakes so I can deny them. Just know that I defend my stumbles as much as my successes: they make me more human. I don’t write to please, but it is not my intent to offend anyone.

I congratulate Juan Juan right now for having achieved his goal (personal or otherwise) and I offer my best wishes to regain his health. In addition, to all my readers, including some that from time to time carry the suspicious aroma of a camouflaged troll: remain in the ring. Thank you.

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 27, 2010

Hatuey* in Flames… / Henry Constantín

[Translator’s note: This post apparently got posted in the original missing the beginning… whether it starts in the middle of a sentence, a paragraph, we don’t know, as we haven’t been able to get in touch with Henry. If he adds the rest, we’ll add it here… but given internet access in Cuba… or lack of same… readers are advised not to hold their breath.]

but without the Catholic clergy or the heroism: the town where my father and grandfather were born has been consuming itself for years in that bonfire of miserable and faded Macondos, which for almost a half century have been sizzling and crackling throughout this island.

Alcibiades’ store was the most prosperous in town. Of the three or four there were, it was the best stocked: fine canned fruit-preserves from Europe, wines, spicy sausages and hams, crackers, and soft drinks of the best domestic and international brands… you didn’t even have to go with the exact amount of money: no matter how poor the buyer was, it was enough to be a person of your word to take home all that was necessary, and pay later, with no hurry.

With that method of honest work and duty, which did work back then, my grandfather made up for his almost nonexistent academic education. Long before the era of eternal promises had arrived, Alcibiades Constantín was already a respected member of the Order of Caballero de la Luz and the people of the region, who trusted in then President Grau San Martín’s sense of Cuban identity, had elected him to represent them. His discreet economic prosperity allowed him to help the local 26 of July Movement rebels. While he lived in Hatuey, he never ceased to work as a laborer in the Najasa sugar mill.

A short while ago, I returned to his town, the first one crossed by the central railroad line – to which it owes its existence – that goes from Camagüey to Oriente. Of course, all dust and teetering wooden houses. There’s nothing to eat on the streets, because there’s nothing to buy, except little government sandwiches surrounded by flies. Every night, every evening, every weekend, bored men and the remaining youth get together in any old place, in a doorway or under the trees in the plaza to drink rum, talk about the lives they don’t lead, and drink rum.

An obedient creature showed up that morning in 1968 in my grandfather’s store, with a piece of paper in hand: “Alcibiades, starting today this is owned by the people. Only thus will we all have a better future.”

* Translator’s note: Hatuey was a Taíno chieftain who has attained legendary status for having led an indigenous resistance in Cuba against the invading Spanish colonialists, thus gaining among Cubans the historical distinction of “First Rebel of the Americas”. He was eventually captured by the Spaniards and burned at the stake. There is also the Cuban town of the same name (presumably named after the chieftain) featured in this post, which the author makes use of as a pun.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 28, 2010

Sacrifice / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

She grabbed the mission for several reasons: they would put 50 Cuban convertible pesos (cuc) in a bank in Cuba every month, she could acquire the home appliances that she’d needed her whole life, she could buy her children clothes, and what’s more, she could leave the damn polyclinic that was ruining her life.

She knew Venezuela was pretty violent and politically unstable, but the Cuban delegation would surely be well protected, supposedly they were a priority. They were located on the outskirts in a poor, high crime area. No one warned her that after she got there they would take her passport and she would be undocumented. She worked hard, discovered that most Venezuelans felt like Cubans: politics had split the society in two.

She suffered the hatred of a people who, like hers, had lost control of their future. She discovered that paranoia knows no borders and that fear also travels on airplanes. A colleague of hers was killed in a brawl between gangs in the neighborhood. She asked to return to Cuba, but the commitment was unbreakable — like the Communist Party — and being depressed is not consistent with solidarity among peoples.  She still can’t return and to console herself she gives herself therapy in front of the mirror every morning: 50 cuc, 50 cuc, 50 cuc.

August 30, 2010

From Revolutionary Friend to Foe / Laritza Diversent

If Chilean businessman Joel Max Marambio Rodríguez does not appear before the Inspector from the Ministry of Interior, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Miguel Estrada Portales, this 23rd of August (the deadline specified in an indictment), the criminal proceedings initiated against him could proceed to a final judgment of guilt.

Max Marambio was summoned and interrogated on July 10 and August 3, by Officer Estrada Portales, who is in charge of investigating the case, according to two notices published by the Interior Ministry in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba. According to the published documents, the businessman lives in the “Las Condes” Commune in Santiago de Chile, where his business offices are also located.

Marambio, known in Cuba as “El Guatón” (the fat man), arrived on the island in the mid ’60s, when he made personal contact with then-President Fidel Castro. On the island he began his training as a guerrilla, under the direction of the legendary Manuel Piñeiro, known as Barbarossa.

At the end of that decade he returned to Chile and joined the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and then led the Group of Personal Friends (GAP), the non-military cohort of President Allende. He took refuge in Cuba after the 1973 coup.

He also worked with Patricio and Tony Laguardia, in the Special Troops of the Ministry of Interior, and survived the political scandal that resulted in the firing-squad executions of Antonio Laguardia and General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989. Then he was one of the founders of CIMEX, among the largest Cuban state-owned corporations, with annual revenues of more than one billion dollars.

During the decade of the nineties, under the protective wing of Fidel, he went from guerrilla to successful businessman, to the point that today he owns a holding company that does more than a hundred million dollars of business per year. His memoir, “The Weapons of Yesterday”, was presented a couple of years ago in the Havana Book Fair.

There is speculation about what caused his status to change from revolutionary friend to adversary. Some say it was for financially backing the campaign of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, who was dismissed from the center-left coalition that governed Chile for 20 years, and whose candidate lost to the rightist billionaire Sebastian Pinera.

Others believe that it was for indelicately demanding his capital, when a year ago Cuban authorities froze the funds deposited in Cuban banks, and the transfers of all foreign businessmen, because of the serious lack of liquidity in the country.

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 29, 2010

His Own War / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Saturday, August 7, Cuban television aired another chapter in the media tragicomedy of Fidel Castro Ruz, who chaired the special session of the so-called People’s Power National Assembly, to which he spoke about the disaster that will be triggered in the Persian Gulf if the U.S. government dares to underestimate the threats of Iran, whose government is developing a plan of nuclear weapons, destabilizing the region.

The parliamentary track became a pre-scripted session of claiming the limelight. Castro resumed his role of universal guru and the deputies confirmed their loyalty to the tyrant, interrupting him with applause, complacent questions, and congratulations on his 84th birthday. Without moving from his chair, the former leader showed off his dramatic poses, enhanced by his raving verbal and mental excesses; meanwhile, the entourage of fawningly servile adulators, avidly listened to the Caudillo’s prophecies.

More than a conclave of national interest, the Saturday assembly between the despot and his legislators, became a meeting of shadow plays that accentuated the desperation. Neither the yawns of the Caudillo’s brother, multiplied by zero among so many blunders, nor Alarcon’s caution in conducting the “debates,” justified the irresponsible diatribe of the aged commander, sick from power and prominence.

In this role play of Fidel Castro he fired his last cartridges against the people of Cuba, suffocated by half a century of totalitarianism. Castro, like Stalin, Mao and Franco, intends to rule until the end of his days, with the the reins of power in the hands of his worshipers, whose veneration and servility are beyond doubt.

Castro fought his own war against our island, though disguised his legacy of deaths, mass exoduses, economic devastation, collective misery, generalized corruption and external dependency; camouflaged in speeches from his own barricades of the Cold War, when he was exporting the Socialist Utopia and destabilizing the countries in the region.

The cynicism of the cacique and his vassals elicits guffaws more than sympathy. His recent public interventions, the “reflections” that his amanuenses write in his name, and the 800-page tome on the strategy of his victory, represent his closing mutterings.

In reviewing the Parliament session of August 7, the foreign correspondents accredited in Havana will be respectful and circumspect. Perhaps Patricia Grog, Andrea Rodríguez and Fernando Ravsberg will show their admiration for the island patriarch and describe the warnings against the United States, which now “seeks to humiliate the people of Iran,” whose ayatollahs are Castro’s allies.

Cubans, weary of tragicomedies and verbal bombast, know that Castro’s prophecies of war and the applause of his legislators, are one more branch on the tree of cynicism. More of the same from the pit of inertia.

August 13, 2010

Prison Diary (4) (Hunger) / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo: Karen Miranda

The sergeants collect the empty trays, so well cleaned by the tongues of the detainees they don’t need to be washed.

The sound of the last door being shut leaves a silence that makes them feel more trapped, and the air, scarce and hot, suffocates them.

No detainee would even dare to raise their voice to avoid being taken to the punishment cell for indiscipline. The sergeants walk slowly, stopping to spy through the doors and listen to what the prisoners say when the apathy and despair of seclusion provokes a feverish state of anxiety that spills out into idle talk, and later they denounce them to the higher-ups.

When the silence feels eternal, some sadistic mechanism stops the night, making it last longer than usual; and there comes a whisper, a word grinding at the metal doors, sliding on the floor like a glass of water; and the detainees are frightened because they know well the voices of each sergeants, the steps, the way they let their boots fall when they walk, how they clear their throats and even how they snore. So, from their cells, they are all intrigued because they can’t decipher whose voice escapes like a lament. This time it is not someone who dreams and calls out for a loved one or shouts the name of an officer telling him to stay away, now someone shouts from a cell, every word pronounced forcefully; at first you can’t hear what he’s saying, then you understand something like, “I’m hungry.”

The sergeants quickly walk past the cells, searching, like dogs with rabies, for where the voice is coming from; they open the slot, tell him to shut up, but the detainee talks, and through the orifice of the door the words escape with more clarity, forgive me, sergeant, but I don’t know how to bear hunger, I can’t stand it, a thousand pardons, but I have always been a man with a good appetite; the guards continue advising him it is better to remain silent, that if he continues it will go very badly for him; the prisoner begins to plead, and the plea becomes tears. They warn him that later they won’t be able to do anything when he wants to stop, now is the time; but the detainee cries like a baby and asks forgiveness, he was never a man who caused problems, I never have been, please, understand me.

The sound of the padlock is heard, and then of the bolt being violently opened, then the screech of the hinges. The man’s panic grows, his weeping increases while the menacing voices of the sergeants question him; he begs them not to hit him; and the guards tell him then shut up and they’ll leave and there won’t be any problems; they insist that he understand they are giving him more chances than usual, but the detainee claims that they don’t understand him, the problem is that he can’t stand the hunger, it’s something that’s not in me, I don’t know how to control it.

We hear a few blows, and then he cries. The sergeants ask him if he is finally going to shut up, and the prisoner in the midst of his uncontrollable crying explains that even a piece of stale bread is enough, a tiny scrap of leftovers, a piece of sweet potato. The guards realize that not even the blows will shut him up and decide to take him to the punishment cell, what they call “the hammock.” His weeping turns into screams of panic, not the hammock, please, not there. And the sergeants force themselves on him to immobilize him to be able to move him. The detainee twists his body, curls up like spring so he can burst out and escape the hands of jailers, until he can’t move any more and they drag him in front of the other cells. He keeps crying and apologizing, he doesn’t want them to see him as an antisocial, he’s a good man, but with a big appetite, this is his only crime. Not the hammock, I’m afraid, he says. They take off his clothes, as the punishment requires, throw him in the cell and close it; but the soldiers know they haven’t done much, the detainee keeps asking for food because he is a man with a good appetite, he’s convinced that this excuse is enough to make them understand.

The sergeants open the cell, they warn him if he keeps acting up it’s going to make them furious. But nothing shuts him up, he asks for food over and over. One of them enters, desperate, and hits him over and over until he realizes he won’t shut up as long as he’s conscious. Another soldier brings handcuffs for his hands and feet and some bandages to tape his mouth. They struggle with him a while until the voice of the detainee can no longer be heard. Then they slam the door and from the footsteps of the sergeants and the way they let their boots fall, the detainees conclude that they are tired. The silence returns, a silence that had been forgotten for a few minutes.

At dawn, they open the punishment cell. Nobody has been able to sleep thinking of the man in the “hammock,” on the damp floor bathed by the drops of water that inevitably fall from the ceiling and crash against his body; they know it’s unbearable to spend an entire day there.

When they take the bandage off his mouth he’s still crying, now with less strength, but you can still hear his voice: I’m hungry, please, I’m a man with a good appetite.

Translated by Raul G.

August 29, 2010

POEMS FROM VOICES 1 / Jesús Díaz / Posted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REQUIEM

by Jesús Díaz

This city was born of the harbor’s salt

and there it grew hot, irreverent,

its sex open to the sea

its clitoris guiding sailors

like a lighthouse on the bay.

And inside Chinatown, Tropicana,

Floridita, Alí Bar, Los Aires Libres,

orchestras of women jamming

a chachachá danced by aliens.

She talked, muzzled,

in a muddy mix of Yoruba and Castille,

of gypsy and Catalan, of Babel and Congo,

and all this patois, this creole,

the sweet streaky Esperanto

of Moore hullabaloos, Cantonese chitchat,

Jewish Jerusalemite jargon,

barbaric Spanglish of bars and bayous.

Stupefied, she confused Lebanese with Turks,

Asturians and Basque with Galicians,

Ukrainian Israelites with Polish,

all together and in sync screaming

on tables of tasteless linens

covered with yellow tamales,

gray crab, red shrimp,

the whitest rices dovetailed

publicly with black beans,

plantains like dicks and for dessert

a papaya open like a dare,

a great cigar and a gulp of coffee,

Satan’s preferred infusion, black and smoking.

An expert in contraband she dressed

with brandies, Chinese silks,

or well she wandered in rums or rags

and prayed Sunday at dawn

in churches of Gothic deceit,

false romantic, Baroque colonnades

sustaining the tricky art nouveau of the mansions.

Full of complexes, shameless, ridiculous,

she enjoyed a dark pleasure

impressing the more famous whores:

in her bay a gray Christ,

contaminated by the slow vapors of the party.

There, in the womb, a toy Prado,

a vacuous Capitol and skyscrapers

that never touched a clouds’ ass.

Euphoric tropical peacock

in the stained glass and ocelli of its sea-reflected tail,

her profound pain grazed above all

listening to soap operas on the radio,

snakes of the hopelessness invented by her

that traveled the world proclaiming

the insatiable evil of men.

Then, at night,

she showed her vampire fangs

elevating a hymn for the slaughters

to the music and lyric of La Guantanamera.

And in the break of day

she even gambled her butt cheeks

which she usually lost with cheer.

She gave herself to joy and strange rituals

and awoke dancing, the fucker,

boleros, mambos, rumbas,

in shindigs, cocktail parties and balls,

the devil’s revelry, her most revered angel.

Nothing moved her, not even

the blood her children offered

by burglarizing the Tyrant’s Palace.

She kept carousing, it was said

that nobody could romance her,

shut her music off and leave her

like a faithful wife, so tempered.

A little later the warriors came

reciting what verses

what songs, compositions, madrigals,

to make her forget centuries of partying?

With what wile did they manage to put a spell on her?

She fell in love with virtue like a whore.

Asked for forgiveness on her knees

to expiate her multiple sins.

Sacrificed her congas, her lies,

her scented soaps, her trifles,

her luxuries, passions, outbursts.

She ate a pair of eggs on a frugal table.

Screamed pure and happy until becoming hoarse.

She waited in a long line, interminable,

and to her great dismay, sometimes,

while with a saint or a man

she suffered the delirious nostalgia of the frolic.

Her pronouncement was not enough.

The sons of bitches, us, her bastards,

denied her three times. She never again had

nailpolish, not even

a sip of reflecting alcohol

to take to her lips in her frenzies.

And if she screamed with thirst, we did not hear her.

We were clamoring for the world

Translator: Joanne Gomez

August 10, 2010

Thirteen Hours of Punishment / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

On Monday, August 16, at 6:45 AM, the political police burst into my house to detain me. I was forced to sit in a chair in the lobby, where everyone passed by, of the police station in San German for thirteen hours. It was a punishment, I was nauseated, I had a constant migraine, and muscle pains that lasted for days. I was unable to do anything, anything but pray during the intervals between both of the interrogations, and wait for my release or that they would finally put me in the general prison barracks that the G2 has in the Pedernales neighborhood.

I returned to the love of my relatives after 8:00 that night. One day, I will not return home so quickly, I know it. Now, I write while I can. My wife also suffered her par, spending the entire day in front of the Police Station, informing the press by phone, leaving voice-mails and being on the lookout to see if they sent me back to Holguin.

The week before I had posted the report about human rights which the Eastern Democratic Alliance released that week and which they also published on various web sites or sent to various organizations which monitored human rights in countries which violated them.

I saw it coming, I even had a premonition dream about it (it has happened more than once to me).

I have searched the Human Rights Covenants, including the one about “Principles for the Protection of All People Subjected to Any Form of Detention or Prison.” In paragraph a) it says: ” By ‘arrest’ is meant the act of apprehending a person who has supposedly committed a crime or by an act of authority.”

Amongst the different norms about torture, and cruel or degrading treatment, there is nothing about sitting a person for 13 hours in a chair without access to any food, simply because in a specific place in the region where I live, they were going to undertake a peaceful activity, or for divulging the testimonies of horror that I have seen, as it seemed was my case.

Their arguments seem to run out quickly, the corporal punishments assume the morality of those who have the power. This reminded me of when I was a child and I misbehaved, like now. I have always been irreconcilably disobedient, I don’t think I will change at this point in my life.

On Monday the 23rd, I hadn’t even gotten up from bed when I once again heard some loud banging on my door. I had to live through the same police story, only with the difference that now they told me about reports denouncing human rights violations, about my blog, and about the independent journalism which I do. They reminded me that to write, like I do, many others spent much time in prison since 2003. They told me about the Gag Law which mentions something about 25 years behind bars.

I could only think of Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, of his brother Nestor, of Enyor Diaz Allen, Roberto Gonzalez Pelegrin, and Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz who were all imprisoned incommunicado, over there in olive-green Guantanamo. They were paying for the crimes committed by the police of Baracoa.

Now I wonder, what will the regime consider my next prank to be. I think about the path that has brought this country the totalitarian power that is eating away at itself. What will be my next punishment?

Note: This post was delayed 15 days from being published on “Crossing the Barbed Wire,” but it was finally able to be posted.

Translated by Raul G.

August 29, 2010

TAKEN FROM VOICES 1 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REPORT AT THE FOOT OF THE HORDE

Orlando Lius Pardo Lazo

I believed in the knowledge of writing.

I believed in the power of freedom.

So when a colleague called me from Mexico, inviting me to collaborate on a magazine entitled Letras Libres, I had no option but to accept on two accounts.

The editors wanted a group picture. In public, under midday light, without the shadows of the Island of Cuba. Currently, in full action of March 2010. An intense snapshot, capable of inaugurating the White Spring in this city without seasons. They asked, of course, for a picture of the Ladies in White in their intrepid pilgrimage leveled next to a Havana that had become the Mecca of the acts of repudiation.

I accepted. I declined. I accepted. I declined again. Then I accepted again. I was afraid to be witness. I felt political panic, not only of writing, but of my own pixels set free. The title of the magazine suddenly sounded like an oxymoron: free letters, what for…?

After a week of doubt and a megabyte worth of e-mails, I felt like the pettiest being in the universe. I decided to do it, or I would never take a worthy picture or grow as an author: an entity with aesthetic authority, even against all types of static authority. Being a chronicler of my age couldn’t turn me in accomplice of that or any other social crisis. I sent my colleague a lapidary email: “yes.”

That dawn from Saturday to Sunday I did not sleep. At 7 in the morning I took the labyrinthic P1 bus route, from the proletarian suburb of the Virgen del Camino to the bourgeois district where the Parroquia de Santa Rita is climbed, in Miramar’s Fifth Avenue.

As soon as I entered, a lady climbed on me. I thought that would be the end. But she just called me aside and asked me to put the camera away inside the church. She was right, I had not considered the commercial obscenity of my lenses in that sacred ground.

I put the Canon in the backpack and I asked the lady for a thousand pardons. I probably stuttered. As (bad) luck has it, she asked me if I was a foreigner, because of my pronunciation that swerved from meticulous to precarious. No, no way (in vain I tried to imitate the most classic Cuban slang). A journalist maybe? Neither. And-then-what?, she relished the question like one who asks: po-li-ce?

Please. My name is Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. I write and take personal pictures of my country, I publish many of them immediately in a blocked blog that a friend let me use online. If you wish, I can leave you the address for you to verify: Boring Home Utopics. As a citizen I represent only myself. Maybe a fraction of the future that never was. I am here precisely to lose this paranoia that now clouds our glances and makes us seem like worse Cubans. Excuse me, can I sit now? Mass is about to start.

And I approached them. Towards the clearest pews, halfway in the luminous ship of the super modern parish, and republican to boot. I, suddenly sitting amongst the Ladies in White, las Damas de Blanco. Hearing them breathe, even. Smelling their perfume, I don’t know if expensive (the are accused of being Miami mercenaries) or cheap or if it was the fragrance of the gladioli, standard of gladiators which they each carried almost hidden inside, like I my camera.

I closed my eyes, I don’t know if I prayed. In fact, I don’t know if I know how to pray. The priest’s voice was grave and the microphones gave him an echo of celestial profundity. Five years back, the very same priest had closed the temple’s doors behind the backs of the Ladies in White, in the middle of an hysterical ordeal, pretendingly popular. If I prayed, I did it so that today, winds of brighter mercy would blow.

When I opened my eyes, one of the women in white extended her hand with a paradisaical smile. I shook it. Everyone greeted everyone as part of the liturgy. I joined in the enthusiasm of solidarity and then I noticed that I was surrounded by people much more tense than I: men on their own, holding nothing in their hands, short hair, graceful plaid shirts or striped t-shirts, belts with cell phones, in their looks a certain mystery of ministerial marble. It was the civil uniform of the Security of the State. Alea jacta est: Cubansummatum est!

At the end of mass, the Damas paraded towards the Virgin that presides over the parish, They asked for the prisoners: the sick and the healthy, the resigned and those who have decided to die of hunger before waiting. They asked for their family members and for the rest of the Cuban country. The asked for the soul of a martyred deceased, whose mother named him like my mother named me: Orlando… And to hear that name in their mouths broke my resistance and I fell apart ridiculously and cried.

I noticed that I was not the only one. And that those tears of life were our little security cord, because the congregation was already moving away from the Ladies in White, even making a point to not touch them: the faithful were fearful of catching the plague of such a prayer. And the ladies dressed in white, still asking for justice and peace. Prudence and forgiveness. Without ever raising their voices. Almost whispering at the ear of our lady of the impossible. The gladioli finally on high, to immediately trespass the threshold of the urban openness, and end up, like the first Christians, so alone and so saved in the leprous sand of the Revolution.

We went out, a procession condemned to repudiation (perchance provoking it like an exercise in virtue). I saw grimaces, adolescent wolves, howling with plastic jars holding tropicola or cubalcohol. I saw fists pointing towards the flat sky of the city. I saw a poor woman, foul-mouthed, ostensibly a convict or lunatic, dancing the demonic conga of one who wishes to delight in crime. I saw uniformed men in all the colors of the rain brawl. I saw cars of all the modern makes, unimaginable for a little country, supposedly underdeveloped. I saw people gesturing from the balconies of 42nd street in Havana. I saw cameras, and I think even a helicopter filming (my cowardly Canon stayed inside the backpack until the end of days). An entire evil alef that twisted wide and long across the Avenue of the Americas, until it reached the headquarters of National Parliament.

Then the Ladies in White, in a double file that seemed to cut noon’s hatred around them in two, chanted, out of tune, those same Sunday decibels that, thanks to the safe-conduct of Pope John Paul II himself, once resounded in the Plaza de la Revolución: freedom, Freedom, FREEDOM…!

And they went tranquilly to the sea, I magnetized with them amongst so much equanimity: women no, myths. I with skin soaking of their sweat after so many blocks. And they went to the stop of the P1 route, no less, in Playa, a bus that I boarded in between professional shoving as if I knew them. In fact, I still don’t know them. I mix-up their names in the headlines that nobody published in Cuba. I don’t even have a picture of our ordeal. As (good) luck has it, I sent my Letras Libres colleague not-so recent images from another colleague who pitied me. I have not yet heard an editorial response.

I know they are being produced with ferocious frequency, but not since 1980 did I survive an act of condemnation in my homeland (I had not ten years then; today I carry almost forty). I know that I must not trifle with this un-spontaneous debacle, but the images reverberate in my nightmares more and more each day, not only on weekends. Many other things were broken and healed on that Day of the Lord.

That is why I prefer to put everything in words now, like the exorcism of a foreigner who doesn’t understand anything in the beginning but will soon understand everything. I know that even the Cardinal of Cuba has taken charitable interest in the matter, and that my voice is implausible in matters of the State or Realpolitik. Precisely for this I write it down, to bet not for the masses with clubs, but for the piety of a new Realpersona.

So that, as my country, we may forget this perverse practice as soon as possible. So we don’t have to tell it to the Cubans who come after us. So that Cubans seeking vengeance never exist. So that the pain that burns these ladies white-hot won’t turn another vital color. So that the dialogue of the hordes doesn’t culminate in disaster. So that a Sunday mistake doesn’t convoke more demons of horror.

And to keep believing in the power of writing.

And to keep believing in the knowledge of freedom.

Translator: Joanne Gomez

August 7, 2010

The Repression Against Dissidents Intensifies After the Prisoner Releases / Laritza Diversent

After his speech before the National Assembly, in which Raul Castro warned that “there will be no impunity for the enemies of the homeland,” the repressive and intimidating actions against opponents have intensified.

Troops from the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and State Security (SE) agents selectively arrested several dissidents near the Malecón on the 5th of August.

The majority of the detainees were trying to enter the United States Interest Section in Havana, the only place on the Island offering Internet access to Cubans. That day was another anniversary of the “Maleconazo” – a popular uprising preceding the exodus of 1994.

Arbitrary detentions, official subpoenas and warnings are the measures most commonly employed by the political police to suppress the dissenters. On the 9th of August military counterintelligence (MCI) and State Security officers summoned for questioning the independent journalist Iván García.

The authorities fail to comply with the requirements for summons set forth in the Criminal Procedure Code. In most of the cases they act on their own, disregarding the law.

The agents claim that García has defamed military institutions in one of his articles published in the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo.” This Penal Code classifies this act as a crime against the public order and stipulates sanctions. However, the officers choose to warn the correspondent officially.

The reporter thinks that the officers who questioned him were applying the words of the President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers.

The issue of several official warnings (at least 3) constitutes a precedent enough to justify a trial on the grounds of what is called “pre-criminal dangerousness” (peligrosidad predelectiva) because of antisocial conduct. This is one of the most commonly used criminal law concepts applied to the opponents of the regime. The sanctions can be as high as 4 years in prison.

The government made its point clear, that the recent releases of prisoners would not suggest an end to the use of the repressive methods. The First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party explained that to defend the streets and squares would continue to be a revolutionaries’ duty.

The message is clear for those who hope for an improvement of the human rights situation on the Island. The prisons can be filled with political prisoners again at any moment and on any grounds.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: undef

August 27, 2010

In Cuba, Many Don’t Share the Attitude of Some Ex-prisoners in Spain / Iván García

The initial joy over the release and flight to Spain of some 20 prisoners and a substantial number of their relatives, has given way to a certain malaise over the news that’s reached the island from different sources on the Iberian peninsula.

It hasn’t gone over well, not within the dissident community, nor among those with the highest access to information in Havana, that many of those former political prisoners, in less than 48 hours after their arrival in Madrid, began to complain publicly.

First, it was over the accommodations, then they started demanding to be granted political asylum status, because they rejected the “assisted international protection” status, proposed by Spanish authorities.

Moreover, one group refuses to be sent to other cities, as almost a dozen already have done. To be sure, almost all of those who accepted a move to Andalusia, Valencia, and La Rioja are professionals: doctors, dentists, nurses, art teachers…

The Madrid group has dug in its heels and, with the advice of an attorney, not only have they questioned the Spanish Constitution, they consider themselves within their rights to submit their protest to the Public Defender.

“What upsets me most is that they’re giving the impression that all of us Cubans are ungrateful, and it’s not true. Because if there’s a people with which we’ve always sympathized with, it’s with the people of Spain”, said an indignant

María Rosa, age 56, home-maker, who stays in the know through foreign radio stations.

A dissident who preferred to remain anonymous, thinks that these prisoners and their families, on top of giving the Cuban dissidents’ and political prisoners’ movement a bad image, are being manipulated. “According to what I’ve read, the Partido Popular (Spain’s leading right-wing party), as well as long-established Cuban exiles, has been using them. And it’s a shame, because these men have just been freed after seven years of being locked up and they find themselves misinformed. And that misinformation has been taken advantage of for [the Partido Popular’s and Cuba exiles’] political interests,” he stated.

Lorenzo, age 23, university student, had the opportunity to browse the Internet and was able to read commentaries left by readers of Spanish online news media. “I felt ashamed, because you don’t spit on the hand that offers you food. More so, when you come from a prison and a country with so much hardship. And over there, they’re making demands, as if here they’d been living in mansions in Miramar or Nuevo Vedado.”

There are all kinds of opinions. Yarisleidys, age 20, street-hustler, lamented not having been able to get with a political prisoner in jail, since maybe now she would’ve been able to leave with him for Spain.

When I tell her that if they release the 52 the Cuban government promised, there’d still be nearly 100 political prisoners in jail, she responds: “Oh, yeah? Well, look here, I’m gonna get on these guys’ side, I don’t care if they’re old and sick. What I want is to get the hell outta this country.”

In politics, as with sports, one has to wait til the game ends before chanting victory. Those who protest today in Spain, not only should have shown themselves to be more grateful, they should’ve hung in there until the rest of the prisoners were out from behind bars, either on the island or en route to exile.

At any moment the Castro brothers may decide to blow the whistle, and declare the game ended before the clock’s time.

Iván García

Photo: EPA. Meeting held by ex-President José María Aznar with the group of former political prisoners and their relatives on July 28, 2010, in Madrid.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 20, 2010

The Open Veins of a City / Ernesto Morales Licea

Today, when I should be publishing the last part of my articles about Cuban journalism, an emotional inability cut short my intention. Because to speak, at this time, about something else other than the lamentable events happening in the city of the national anthem, the contaminated atmosphere of pain that falls today over Bayamo’s fiery summer, is to be a traitor to what it means to be a chronicler in my blog.

The small town I live in is covered in gray. The iron gray of violence. It is a terrorized city in waiting, one whose nerves have not known peace for a long time.

It all began with a death.

As always, a death impossible to accept. This one, most of all: the death of a child, a 13-year-old girl.

Her little body was found a couple of months ago in the bushes, lacerated, where it lay for days, subject to insects and decomposition. A small prostitute who died in a rented room, victim of an overdose of drugs forced on her by an Italian tourist.

Her story unnerved all the good people of this city. It hurt us, wounded us, we who above all base our lives and behavior on the idea of humanism. Her destination (taken in a car, at midnight, abandoned by the tourist and Cuban accomplices to the mercy of scavenging dogs and vultures in some desolate place), filled us with horror when we learned of it, especially because of her young age.

When she was discovered and photographed by the police team, she was still wearing the yellow skirt of her school uniform.

The authorities took several weeks to find the culprits. The arrests followed, one after another, endlessly. Too many well known names were implicated in one way or another in the homicide. Those who have lived in provincial towns understand how explosive such a case can be in such a confined environment where everything becomes known.

As for the perpetrators, they put them behind bars. Those directly responsible, those indirectly, those suspected, and those presumed to have knowledge of the crime. The squeal of the tires, the wail of the police cars, were repeated in different parts of the city, at any hour, any house.

Then the deadly insecurity struck. Even today.

Because still, at the very moment I write with sincere unease, the arrests have not stopped, the operations, the deployment of soldiers that are obviously intended to extend justice, even beyond the point where I don’t know if I should support it. I am referring to a social lesson.

It happens that a sad reality has been brought to light from the depths of the case. A reality where several children, underage, have sold their prepubescent bodies to depraved tourists who at the very least inspire contempt and disgust. A panorama where it has now been proved that some relatives have been involved, including mothers, who knowing what lucrative merchandise is represented by the waists of their daughters, ironed their clothes and delivered them freshly bathed to the highest bidder.

But there is more filth in this sea.

Because there are so many arrests that we now suspect a social mercilessness, a raging river that at this point doesn’t pretend to punish those guilty of these horrible crimes, but leads us to think of strategies of another kind and another wickedness.

A strategy that takes advantage of favorable public opinion to mercilessly sweep away the few wealthy in a city that is by definition poor, people who have had little or nothing to do with criminal acts of this nature. It is about, obviously, ending the economic prosperity of a few whose guilt cannot be established with any certainty, and may be entirely fabricated.

I am speaking of the owners of Homes for Rent.

The young girl died in one of these central and comfortable houses which tourists often choose over the State-owned hotels. The involvement of the landlord, who allowed an Italian to entertain a Cuban minor, is something we cannot yet know; fortunately, we are only spectators.

But we do know the arguments they have used to justify, for days now, having arrested another four homeowners of Homes for Rent at five in the morning, in an operation that paralyzed, shocked and frightened the city.

The arrested, on this occasion, were men and women (including those of advanced age and with severe illnesses) who, save specific exceptions, have until this very second maintained an immaculate social status.

I cannot judge the depth. I simply immerse myself in the reality that surrounds us, and from which it is impossible to escape. But what took place last Tuesday morning, in this city of history and celebration, I cannot accept as a fate for anyone else. I don’t believe it to be healthy for the social environment that already lacks the oxygen of peace.

Before daybreak the trucks and trailers stopped in unison, in front of five of these private hostels. Hundreds of soldiers blocked off the nearby streets, avenues and parks. The residents of these areas awoke in the middle of disturbing noises about which they had no idea where they were coming from.

In the middle of the day they were still loading a mountain of possessions on the trailers. They seized everything.

Twin beds and refrigerators. Plastic chairs and wooden chairs. Full-length mirrors, dining tables, copies of paintings in wrought iron frames. A sports jeep that they hooked to the back of a trailer. Antiques preserved as ancestral relics, modern air conditioners. Hundreds, thousands of items that they emptied from the interiors of the houses leaving a dizzying silence.

Five families have just lost their patrimony, assembled over decades of inheritance and purchase, sacrifice and privation, legal and illegal business dealings, everything they had managed to collect as their own. And most incredible: all this without yet having gone to trial.

I don’t know the true extent of their responsibility, and I refuse to make too many categorical judgments that may ultimately prove to be unfounded. But I dare to dust off the French Revolution where the “Incorruptible Maximilien Robespierre” established his regime of terror on the pretext of supposed equality and social justice.

I also dare to dust off the words of another Frenchman, the infamous Joseph Fouché, when he affirmed with pleasure in his writings, “Here, to be rich makes one blush,” words that his biographer Stefan Zweig belied saying that, in truth, he should have said, “Here, it terrorizes one to be rich, because of the bloody actions suffered by those who are presumed to have accumulated more than anyone else.”

What are the social consequences of this crusade against crimes that, to naive minds, cross the boundaries of what must be penalized and confuse that with opportunistic strategies of the State? This I cannot know, nor can anyone around me.

This time, I confess, that the analysis required exceeds my intellect, and I declare myself one more spectator without a solid opinion.

But at the same time, I can’t not raise my voice, which is also that of an entire city: a cry that is a white flag for the authorities of this town.

I can’t not say that with this social instability, this perverted atmosphere of fear, of agitation, of not knowing when it will be time to flee from a crime you didn’t commit, but which may arise suddenly; in this atmosphere of a surrealist film where anything is possible, the honest people of Bayamo no longer want to live.

Let me repeat that anything is possible. Yes. It is possible, for example, that traveling from computer to computer, from flash memory to DVD, are the horrific images of the body found in her school uniform skirt, and even more horrible, the video of her autopsy. Both filtered out through the hands of the investigation itself, to the general population.

Too many times I have had to reject, indignantly, the offer from someone to show me this evidence to satisfy an alleged curiosity. Morbid curiosity is one of the human deviations that I have most learned to detest.

I know that in such a climate it is impossible to bear up. I know that the dialectic will be diluted at some point in this nightmare, which, unfortunately, many will continue to suffer for far too long. The guilty along with the innocent. The criminals whose punishment will never be sufficient to pay for this act, as well as those unjustly caught in this web of judicial opportunism.

But from my humble position as a writer who has never ceased to be aware of the danger, and of the excesses of those who enforce the law at their own will, I hope that my beloved Bayamo will wake from this social nightmare in which we have been plunged for several months.

August 28, 2010

TODAY VOICES FLY FROM HAVANA / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

INDEX:

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. Reporter-on-the-street Report of the Horde

Claudia Cadelo. Leaders of an Alternative Revolution

Eduardo Laporte
. I Don’t Know What The Dogs Have

Melkay. The Best Selection in the World

Wendy Guerra.
Between Perseverance and Virtues

Iván de la Nuez. The Near East

Reinaldo Escobar. The Reach of Cyber-Dissidence

Emilio Ichikawa. Role and Screen

Jorge Ferrer.
Writing a Cuban Blog (Decalog)

Yoani Sánchez. That Won’t Come Again

Antonio José Ponte. A Childhood Without Comics, an Adolescence Without Pornograpy

Juan Abreu. Pissed / Anal bleach / Nyotaimori.

Miriam Celaya. Open Letter to the London BBC

Maikel Iglesias. Pinar del Río City

Jesús Díaz.
Requiem

Luis Marimón. Death of Yumurí.

Mirta Suquet. Prosperity and goodness: The Other Face of the Money of the Martí Enlightenment

Miguel Iturria. Martí: Spirituality and Political Illumination

Ernesto Morales. The Happiness of the Long Distance Runner

Ena Lucía Portela. Hurricane

Dimas Casrellanos. The Limits of Immobility

Yoss. Close But Distant: The Universe Next Door

August 6, 2010