Support, Fraternity / Juan Juan Almeida

Today I was overcome by a horrific fatigue, my vision is blurred, and I fell while bathing; my sister and my friend Tomás helped me into bed.

I will continue my strike, asking for help and solidarity, to visit the doctor, hug my family and return.

I think it’s practically normal that some citizens engage in violations of the law, but NOT that it be the government that violates it. This is a homicide, a torture, a defiance.

I thank all those who have, in one way or another, raised their voices for me, those who have remained silent, and those who have criticized me. I’ve said, I am plural; to the latter let me say that if, being the son of my father, asking for specialized medical care and wanting to be with my family makes me guilty of something, I assume with pleasure full responsibility.

My goal is purely family, humanitarian, domestic and very Cuban; perhaps somewhat stubborn and unwavering, but nothing epic.

August 20, 2010

My Friend, My Brother / Rebeca Monzo

Sometimes people use the term friend-brother irresponsibly, without taking seriously the connotation and the commitment that is implicit in the word.

Juan Juan Almeida is more than fifty days into a hunger strike. This cheerful young man, who is bright and loves life, came to this choice following the refusal of his just petition: to leave the country to receive treatment for his unusual illness and to be reunited with his wife and daughter, from whom he has lived apart for more than two years. He has sent letters which included his medical history as requested on each occasion by the State: his answer has been silence. His journey has been solitary, carrying posters on which he asks that his rights be respected. He has not wanted to involve anyone else, nor involve himself in anything that isn’t his private problem. He has been imprisoned as a result of his petition on several occasions. Everyone seems to understand the justice of his plea, but only one person has the power to authorize his departure from the country.

Dear readers, I am a mother and, as any normal mother, I adore my children. If it should occur to anyone to say that I am their friend, their sister, and in spite of this, they mistreat any one of my children, it would be more than a joke, it would be a betrayal of our friendship.

Translated by Jon Lindsay Miles

August 15, 2010

The Customer Is Always Right / Rebeca Monzo

“That was before,” answered the girl who was ahead of me, when I mentioned the old slogan. “Now it’s more like Save Yourself If You Can.” Though still very young, she spoke as if we had known each other our entire lives. Looking through the windows of the store, awaiting the doorman to authorize our entry with the well known little phrase que pasen tres (three may pass), we kept busy watching the cashier struggle, due to the exaggerated length of her fake fingernails, as she input codes and prices. My attention was drawn to the ring she exhibited on her ring finger. It was round, flat and huge; just like a bull-fighting arena. This, together with the noise caused by her plastic fingernails as they crashed against the calculator, made me think that she too was haciendo el papeleo (processing her paperwork) to become a cubañola (a Spanish citizen who would still pass as Cuban) and was simply, already trying to fit into her environment. Well, it sounded almost like castanets playing.

“We’re almost there,” commented the girl, who by the way, was either nervous or in a hurry and wouldn’t stop talking. “I’m here,” she told me, “because I’ve gone through all the stores in el Vedado, plus all the ones in this town and this little store is the only one that has it.” “Calm down,” I told her, “it’s almost our turn to go in.”

At that moment, a truck parked in front of the store and the doorman pokes his nose out. “Now us right?” I asked him as soon as his head peeked out. “No ma’m, I’m very sorry, the sale will stop because merchandise just arrived and as you can imagine, we have to unload it and take inventory.” The talkative young girl, looked as if she was about to have an anxiety attack. I tried to calm her but it was impossible. She screamed saying, “And Now? What will I use to wipe my …? This is the only store that has any!” “Be quiet I told her,” before I left. “Remember, the customer is the last card in this deck.”

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 12, 2010

Repression as Signs of Identity / Miguel Iturría Savón

From the silence, the impunity, and with the same contempt for the activists who promote human rights in Cuba, the political police triggered the arrests and threats in Havana and other cities in the country, between July 10 and August 12, which coincides with the resumption of activities by ex-president Fidel Castro and the official celebration of his birthday, on Thursday, August 13.

As the press is an area where the real world and that world designed by the ideologues of power meet, it is enough to compare the newspaper Granma and the official media who display the tyrant’s need to be in the limelight on the island, with Cubanet and other pages from exile, that report the daily events from alternate sources, without censorship or half-truths.

To illustrate the repression it’s worth some examples of arrests, threats made to people in their homes and at police stations, beatings behind bars, “persuasive conversations” in offices of the “apparatus,” statements, written denunciations and unusual outbursts, like that of Colonel Samper to Alfredo Guillaume (age 82), to whom he said, “It’s not worth wasting a bullet on you, but we would save resources.”

A reported dated July 26 and signed by Joel Lázaro Carbonell Guilar, leader of the group Human Rights Free Cubans, illustrated with names and recent violations the Articles 3, 9 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Articles 9 (sub-paragraph a), 58 and 59 of the Cuban Constitution. According to the activist: “They include acts of genocide and torture against members of civil society, victims of detentions, threats, mistreatment, kidnappings on the public street and being besieged by mobs organized by the political police.” He adds that, “the events remain unpunished and the damage to the injured is not repaired.”

Yoel Lázaro Guilar refers to the cases of Lilvio Fernández Luis, leader of the Comisión Martiana, taken from his house to a cell in Villa Marista; Alfredo Fernández Silva, president of the Partido 30 de noviembre, taken by force from his home and help in a distant place for 10 hours; Juana M. Oquendo Gómez, executive of the Partido Liberal Ortodoxo, detained and threatened in front of her son, whom they detained to pressure her; and the kidnapping of the elderly man Alfredo Guillaume.

The arrests gained intensity on July 12, before the anniversary of the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo (resulting in 41 deaths, including children); the days before the July 26 anniversary, celebrated in Santa Clara; the lead up to the August 5 anniversary of the Maleconazo riot in 1994; and August 12 as a gift from the Minister of the Interior to Fidel Castro on his 84th birthday (August 13). Activists calculated that there were more than 100 arrests on August 5.

Ricardo Medina, a theologian and representative of the Liberal Catholic Church was arrested on August 4 together with the activist Hugo Damián at the Pinar del Rio bus station, where he was to greet the layman Dagoberto Valdés. He was taken by an official from State Security with Ricardo’s dossier, and freed two days later.

The arrests in July on the Malecon in Havana and on August 5 in the Park at Calzada and K in Vedado, added the names of journalists and independent librarians who enlarged the list of opponents interrogated in Santa Clara, Holguín and Guantánamo.

The siege against human rights defenders in mid-July and August coincided with the release of a dozen prisoners of conscience, and with the media role of Fidel Castro, who retakes the ideological reins of the regime and announces universal catastrophes.

August 18, 2010

Writers, Awards and Nonsense / Miguel Iturría Savón

As a teenager I imagined that writers were wise, sensible, creative, focused and responsible people. For me, a poet was a chosen of God in communion with men, capable to singing to the moon, describing encounters with the stars, and shouting the word freedom before the rifles of the tyrant. With the passage of time I met several literary types and discovered the human profile of some poets and writers.

I didn’t imagine, however, that there was a trafficking in praise, a commerce in applause, and even poems and stories made to order. Perhaps in exchange for prizes, publications, trips, and positions at cultural institutions. So I thought until I read an August 14 article in the daily paper Juventud Rebelde — Rebel Youth — by José Luis Estrada Betancourt, “The Poets Are on This Side.

Incredible but true. The writer starts with a fragment from Declaration of Love by Carilda Oliver Labra, National Literature Prize of 1997, who read this work, and continues with her Song to Fidel, in the recent fair at the Cuba Pavilion where she participated with other literary celebrities in the recital, “With Fidel and For Peace,” organized by the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) the previous day, on the occasion of the Island tyrant’s 84th birthday.

In reviewing the evening, the journalist set out the certainties around the peace of the figures assembled with Carilda Oliver, who came from Matanzas to receive the Youth Teacher Prize, awarded by the Asociación Hermanos Saiz and given out by Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture. The writers lists the names of the other personalities, quotes the worlds of novelist Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, and ends with a poetic apology by Nancy Morejón to the despot who calls for world peace after half a century of shooting off canons.

As it never rains but it pours, on Saturday night I saw on the National Television News the faces of Fernández Retamar, César López, Barnet, Carilda, Pablo A. Fernández and other scribblers with more excuses than published books, all attentive to the orders of the Caudillo, ever ready to grab a stick and frighten the sparrows.

If Carilda Oliver re-read her old Song to Fidel, Miguel Barnet repeats the pacifist chant Coma Andante, and Nancy Morejón described the fortune of being loyal to Fidel, it’s all consistent with the Juventud Rebelde reported who affirmed without blushing that “The Poets Are on This Side,” as if the island had only one shore and the mission of the rhapsodies consisted of denigrating a nation enslaved by its enlightened ringleader.

Although time has taught us that some poets sell their verses and write tributes for a crumb of power, we know that on other shores of the island’s geography there are dozens of writers without prizes nor choruses, sensitive and creative people who suffer for a geranium, discover the beauty of the rain, and challenge the campaigns of the despot who convenes the debased.

August 19, 2010

ONE-EYED WILLY / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REDRESSING WRONGS
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Paid or unpaid, collaborating or not collaborating with technical and artistic professionals, what’s certain is that Cuba is getting along without TeleSur. Fortunately or unfortunately, save in certain “super-authorized” offices, in Havana there is no way to tune in to this great channel whose North is the South and which is supposed to unify the new dawn in Latin America. In telecommunications, Cuba remains in a continental twilight.

But at night a small breach opens in this so-called dike of our Bolivarian brothers. On an educational channel of TVCuba, Walter Martinez appears, summarizing what we Cubans wouldn’t know how to interpret for ourselves. Like a good teacher, or better yet, a nice literacy coach, Walter Martinez unforgettably marks the screen.

Moody and with the throaty voice of a soap opera Latin lover. Enigmatic light of a Hitchcock, terrifyingly anti-hegemonic. Intimate solitude of the magister revolucionarium on the set. And a media patch over his right eye (his mono look is from the left): irresistible symptom that we traffic in pirated information that, in any other way, would never happen on the Island of the Free.

Our WWWalter appears each night with a little of this and a little of that. He doesn’t let anyone talk, but it doesn’t matter: he is the polyglot or he works with a team of translators who move easily from Farsi to Korean to Guarani.

Walter Martinez narrates with objective anti-capitalism the bombings of the day. Democracies dragged down by the Marines. Yankee bases boycotted. Diseases created by companies. Floods caused by the First World. Apocalyptic accidents.  Corrupt leaders. Misery close up. And so on and so forth from a shitty post-liberal planet.

A full hour of the Gospel According to Saint Walter. Cuba trembles at his feet, to the point where many change the channel to avoid the worst. Even the Roundtable show is more palatable, in neurotropical terms. Even the rebroadcast of the rebroadcast of some official speech.

The fact is that Walter Martinez is now our ambassador of ill-will and this deserves respect. He’s even spoken, as friend-to-friend, with the re-emergent Fidel Castro. And it wouldn’t come as a surprise of, sooner rather than later, Cuban TV assigns him his own interview program in the style of Amaury Pérez Vidal.

In my neighborhood I’m one of the few who sees, every night, this slice of censored TeleSur. I don’t do it to keep myself informed, which would be ironic, but out of sheer perversion. I have a hunch hat Walter Martinez doesn’t even see us as people, with his one surviving eye. I have the impression that Walter Martinez, in reality, spies on Cubans through the black patch of his empty socket.

He knows something Cuba is still ignorant of. And that is horrifying. It’s called the marketing of paranoia: Walter Mercado falls short faced with the predictions of Made in Martinez. In this effect hooks you on something for which there is no cure before the proletarian screen of your TV.

August 19, 2010

The Five Reasons of a Blogger / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Exilda Arjona

I’ve spent weeks developing today’s explanation. My colleague Miriam Celaya has given me, as we Cuban peasants say, “the forced foot”, a shove in the ass. I think I did it once, in my previous blog. Even now I fear that if other colleagues from the free and alternative blogosphere decide to explain how they post their texts and images, we’ll end up finally giving the compass to Military Counter Intelligence (G2). But as “he who has nothing to hide has nothing to fear,” here goes.

ONE. I am helped by a kind soul who from time to time once a month copies my texts from abroad; the money she spends on international calls doesn’t allow her to receive my dictation for more than three minutes. So because of this, three hundred words.

TWO. I send the photos at random, indiscriminately, and as the repressors are less and less original, at least in the Eastern part of the country, and almost always repress the same people, when they beat Caridad Caballero Batista, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina or Idalmis Núñez in Santiago de Cuba, maybe a few months ago, I already sent their photos off into cyberspace. Sometimes I hit the target and report within 72 hours of an event, a real privilege.

THREE. With this I really can’t manage. I don’t denounce for the sake of argument, I reveal the images, the names of the violators “so that the shame may convert him(them)” in the words of Martí. One day they will be pointed out by the accusing fingers of the most ordinary citizens and it will be worth it to have a Constitution; you will see, be patient. I don’t reply to insults or provocations. I am a poet and actor in the theater of the street: that is, a provocateur par excellence. I’m satisfied with letting loose this chirp of trumpet-blasts in order to stir up the honeycomb a little. Among my standards of ethics and civility is the intention not to offend anyone, and I never will, I’m sure.

FOUR: This blog is divided into three pieces: one belongs to me, its intellectual author, here are my tantrums and doubts; another belongs to my good administrators, patient and sweet people as long as I deserve it, and if I behave badly it is not due to them, they don’t deserve it, because there they are, ready to serve me every day; and the third is you, my readers and friends. So everyone has the right to sustain me or threaten me with “cracking your face in two” as someone has said recently. Help yourselves to equal servings, don’t fight over it.

FIVE. Sometimes I travel over 120 miles to view the blog at an internet cafe. From San Germán there’s no place closer where I can get on-line. Is it a reward or punishment? I don’t know, but I feel like a great guy when I walk through the door of a hotel with a piece of my blog on a flash memory stick recently fished out of this stormy sea of the universal country that is the Internet. So, you have to believe me, these sacrifices are for my children: so that one day I can tell them without blushing the little that I did. I do it for the patience of my good Exilda, who prays every night “so that the beasts won’t come back to the garden” (sic), and I do it for you: in a few years when compiling these shreds you can see the face of a man who was often afraid, but whose desire to become a free man overcame all his anxieties. Thank you.

August 17 2010

Welcome to the Island of Rum! / Iván García


Drinking alcohol is one of the passions of the average Cuban. A true national sport. Next to baseball, sex, playing dominoes, and leaving the country.

Drinking rum or beer is known in Cuba as “bending the elbow.” Or “sucking the rat’s tail.” There are various groups of drinkers. There are hard and fast alcoholics. Those whose only thought is one liter of rum.

Really, “rum” is a euphemism for what they drink. They usually ingest a kerosene distilled from molasses and charcoal in a miserable still. So it is with Pedro Marín, 56, whose only aim in life is to drink.

When he gets up at seven in the morning, he rinses his mouth with a swig of bitter 90-proof alcohol. Then he goes to carry sacks of flour in a bakery, taking along a plastic bottle full of homemade rum, with an unbearable smell, known as “Superman.”

“The guy who can take a shot of Superman without doubling over is one of us,” said Marín, a black man with few teeth and bloodshot eyes, wearing old patched clothes.

These kinds of curdas (drinkers in Cuban slang) do not read the press or care what’s happening in Cuba or in the world. Nor are they interested in their wives or husbands, if they have any, or their children and family. Every penny that goes into their pockets is invested in one liter of distilled alcohol.

They are sick men and women. Rosa Aparicio, 65, is a grimy old woman who sleeps in the doorways of any street and gets in tremendous fights every time she goes drinking.

Most of these habitual drunks do not receive specialized medical care. They don’t want it. In the interior of the country, the situation is as bad or worse than it is in the capital.

The independent journalist Osmany Borroto, of Sancti Spiritus, reported the death of Omar Ulloa, a neighbor in Jatibonico, after he had drunk a moonshine known as White Horse, produced in central Uruguay, widely consumed because of its low cost.

But there are also social drinkers on the island, who drink regularly and don’t lose their composure. They usually have good contacts and buy good-quality imported or domestic beer. And rum or whiskey purchased with convertible pesos.

But they are in the minority. Most people drink to ward off the daily anxieties. We already know what they are: the lack of a future and the great national problem – putting two hot meals on the table every day.

They also drink to try to scare away ghosts and fears. They do not know how they will get money to take their children out on the town during the holidays. Or buy them clothes, shoes, and a backpack for the next school year.

The accumulation of problems makes them take the easy way out. Bend the elbow. “There was not enough money to repair the house, buy a car, or celebrate my daughter’s fifteenth birthday. So I don’t stress out, and when I can, I take four drinks,” says Mario Echemendía, 40 years.

“Four drinks” in Cuba means sitting with friends at a neighborhood street corner or in a dive bar, to drink cheap, mass-produced rum or beer.

The government provides a great distraction to the passion of the Cuban by means of alcoholic beverages. Every event ends with a beer truck and a kiosk for selling cheap rum.

The philosophy of the Cuban drunk can be read on posters hung in run-down taverns: “He who drinks, gets drunk. He who gets drunk, falls asleep. He who sleeps does not sin. He who does not sin goes to heaven. If you want to go to heaven . . . DRINK!”

On the island many things may be missing, but there will always be a rum drink or a glass of beer available. If you are creditworthy, you’ll drink first-rate. And if your name is Pedro Marín, ingest diabolical concoctions. This is the final step of an alcoholic. A true Hell.

Iván García

August 18 2010

Government Measures Raise People’s Expectations / Laritza Diversent

Self-employed

In his most recent speech, General of the Army Raul Castro Ruz announced a series of measures affecting the employment rights of the Cuban people. The most far-reaching of all was the extension of self-employment.

According to Castro, who is also President of the Councils of State and Ministers, the government agreed to extend the practice of self-employment as an alternative employment, and eliminate several existing prohibitions against the granting of new licenses.

The rise of individual economic activity on the island began in 1989 with the collapse of the socialist sphere, as a government measure to readjust the economy, given the lack of credit and the inability to obtain the cooperation of international financial organizations. Starting in 1997, the state began restricting licensing, to reduce the independent economic sector.

At present, self-employment is subject to control and supervision by the government, which considers it a supplement to state activity. It is done at the municipal level, on a case-by-case basis.

Permits are renewable every two years. They cover activities of producing and marketing goods and services, at the address of the permit-holder, and can only be offered to private individuals.

It is prohibited to conduct on the island any activity of producing, processing, or selling goods or services without authorization. The authorized activities are specifically listed in Resolution No. 9/2005, “Regulations on the exercise of self-employed person,” by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. The law approves 118 activities, and authorizes the granting of new licenses for only 40 of them.

The law requires the self-employed to buy the raw materials in the retail market in convertible currency, but to offer their products and services for sale in national currency. This requirement impedes the development of private economic initiative on the one hand, and on the other it promotes the rise of lawlessness. The self-employed turn to the black market in order to continue their business and keep their license.

At the same time Castro, the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, announced that the Council of Ministers approved the implementation of a system of taxes on this type of activity, presumably to ensure that the newly self-employed contribute to social security, pay personal income and sales taxes, and that those who hire workers pay a tax for the use of the workforce.

The measures – especially those concerning the marketing of new products and flexibility in hiring labor – have generated an expectancy among the populace. Their implementation will require the government to reform the legal system: the criminal law that prohibits the employment of labor or the use of methods or materials of illicit origin, also revokes licensure.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 17, 2010

Waking Up From This Lethargy / Voices Behind the Bars, Pablo Pacheco

At 40 years of age, I have finally understood that the international community does not see the sad ruin that today is CUBA as being a consequence of the inefficiency of a system of government that has promoted hate, intolerance, and an out of proportion level of evil. However, the blame has always systematically fallen upon supposed internal and external enemies. This is so because those who are the true culprits, those who have resided in power for more than 50 years through ostentation and impunity, have encouraged divisions and dislikes among Cubans, perfectly playing the role of Pontius Pilate as they wash their hands off of blame during each crisis.

The island is going through a total crisis in economic, political, social, and also humanistic, terms. There are visible clues that a witch-hunt may unfold in Cuba. It’s no secret that totalitarian systems that are on their final phase lash out and attack their own people, producing irreparable damages for families. That is how they behave and that, amongst other things, is what sharply separates them from the civilized world. It is the responsibility of all the Cuban people to avoid a human catastrophe of such unmeasurable damage, especially for the sake of those who live in the island. If we do not prevent such a disaster, we run the risk of making our children, our grand-children, and further descendants not forgive us.

With the grave problems that Cuba currently faces, the least important news hailing from within the island has to do with the former Commander in Chief. Yet, these news reports are the ones that dominate the most powerful media slots, further attempting to increase his inflated ego. Now, he is the new Messiah of the Apocalypse. What Fidel Castro doesn’t know, or wishes not to know, is that at this point in the game nobody pays attention to him, not even his followers or imitators. The time has come for us to stand up for the interests of Cuba, not have Cuba stand up for our interests.

Pablo Pacheco

Translated by: Raul G.

August 19, 2010

Solidarity / Juan Juan Almeida

Sixty-four days of hunger strike I feel a decline in vision, nausea, cramps, malaise; talking tires me quite a bit and ideas get lost in my head.

Curiously, yesterday (Tuesday, August 17, 2010), they should have sent me from the hospital where I was admitted a the medical summary and its recommendations but suddenly the doctor went on vacation. Luckily it’s been some time since I stopped believing in coincidences.

August 18, 2010

Prison Rats / Iván García

The first time Valentín set foot in a jail, he was fifteen years old. Up and down the narrow streets of Old Havana, together with a group of delinquents, he set out to steal the purses or video cameras of the unsuspecting tourists.

“I was sent to a youth reform center in 1996. From that point on, prison has been my home. I’ve spent 12 of the last 14 years behind the bars of a cell,” Valentín recounts to me during one of his brief stints of liberty.

When he entered the slammer for the first time, he was young, black, thin, and with a full head of hair. In 2010, I see in front of me a bald man who lacks many teeth, with two cuts on his neck from some sharp object, and with a face and physical make-up that would inspire fear.

“In jail, I have had more than one problem. The treatment of common criminals by the guards is violent and humiliating. We are non-persons. The Cuban jails are a jungle. Only the strong survive,” he points out, as he drinks a vile beer at an improvised bar.

When Valentín is free, he returns to his old adventures. He is a first-class anti-social. His way of life is to rob or swindle the unwary. He knows nothing else.

“I do not see myself living on a miserable salary. I like weed and rum, white women, and to dress well. My way of obtaining all that is stealing. For me, there’s no other way,” he said, without pretense.

Eighty-eight percent of the common (non-political) prisoners in Cuba are black or mestizo. These two groups make up 50% of the population of the entire island. In general, they have the hardest lives. Their families are madhouses. Violent crimes are usually committed by blacks.

The Martell brothers are also black. Two boys who speak rapid-fire slang. From age 13, their lives have been one transgression after another.

Six months ago, they were on the street. And now they’re next in line to visit prison. “We’re awaiting a hearing, where the prosecutor is asking for 12 years,” they tell me, in an almost jocular way. They add, “Our partners in jail are already saving us a bunk.” To be prisoners is the natural state of being for the Martell brothers.

The worst part is that in Havana, young black, marginalized youth, who believe themselves to be tough, abound. They are prison rats. Roberto Dueñas, age 22, has been in jail for 7 years. He carries a sentence of 43 years. He entered for a minor infraction with a sentence of 3 years.

But once in the system, he killed a couple of inmates, choking them with his own hands. And one afternoon in 2009, together with a group of prisoners, he rioted, trying to take over the jail located in the outskirts of the province of Camaguey, 600 kilometers from the capital.

If, one day, Dueñas gets out of jail, he’ll be 58-years-old. Without a wife or family. In a letter he mailed to a friend, full of spelling errors and in childish handwriting, he confessed that he does not regret it.

“Here in the tank (jail), what matters is force, to earn respect and the benefits that make life more bearable. If my life is to die in jail, so be it. I will never permit another man to be above me. The only person above me is God,” wrote Dueñas to his friend.

The government of the Castro brothers has never offered data on the number of common prisoners on the island. Nor on the number of jails. The environment in which these youths grow up is fertile ground for delinquency.

The worst part isn’t the silence. Rather, that the Cuban State doesn’t have a solution for the problem of a society that grows more unstable and violent.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by: Gregorio

August 17, 2010