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

An Island Without The Sea / Yoani Sánchez

From the wall of the Malecón there is not much to look at. A blue dish that gets annoyed now and again and launches its foamy waves over its bordering avenue. There are no sailboats, just a couple of patched vessels authorized by the captain of the port. In summer, teenagers throw themselves into the warm waters, but in winter they fearfully shy away from the salt spray and cold wind. A boat plies the route from east to west each night; a shadow on the horizon preventing potential rafters from escaping across the Straits of Florida.

Just now we are in the months of the year when the coastal avenue comes to its greatest turbulence. But everything happens between the reef and the street; this vitality doesn’t even dream of extending to the wide and salty expanse on the other side. When did we start to live with our backs to the sea? At what moment did this part of the country, which is also ours, cease to belong to us? Eating fish, sailing on a yacht, looking back at the buildings from the cadence of a wave, enjoying the contrast of blues along the beginning of the first ridge. Chimeric actions in a coastal city, sharp delusions on an Island that appears to float in nothingness and not in the Caribbean.

I have the illusion that one day, in order to rent even a rowboat, it won’t be necessary to show a foreign passport. The sails will return to take over this bay, reminding us that we live in a maritime Havana, born between the cries of the corsairs and the clamor of the port. The red snapper will displace the catfish and carp on our plates and from the wall of the Malecón — our legs dangling over the limestone reef — we will greet a flotilla of boats coming and going from El Morro.

August 18, 2010

Open Letter to Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo / Voices Behind The Bars, Reynol Vicente Sanchez

The following letter was written by Reynol Vicente Sanchez, a common prisoner who is currently in Combinado del Este.

To Mr. Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo:

To classify the conditions which you were subjected to as torture is not only irrational but also very cynical on behalf of the Castro regime, for these inhumane conditions we prisoners on the island live under are truly abusive and degrading, and this has been happening for more than half a century. Here I am sending you a short description so that you could draw your own conclusions.

In any of the three buildings of Combinado del Este in the city of Havana, as in any of the many prisons throughout the island, the regime condemns its prisoners with the poorest diet any prisoner could be subjected to. It consists of 30 grams of rice and, as the main dish, a mix of flour with soy ground beef in a portion that is approximately 15 grams, and it is handed out between lunch and dinner with an egg which you realize is just a piece of yolk with remnants of shell when you’re done peeling it. Furthermore, a watered down and insipid pea soup is given to us by force along with more bread flour. Every fifteen days we receive a small quarter of chicken.

I’ve been in Building 1-2 North, in Detachment 3 company 1223 of Combinado del Este for exactly 6 months and 21 days. I live alongside 8 other prisoners. We are all basically living on top of each other in a jail cell that is 3 meters in width by 6 meters in length and 2 meters in height. The three single-person beds, which are separated by a mere 50 centimeters from each other, barely even fit in the cell. They are so closely placed to one another that one could even try to squeeze in a fourth one, as is done in many other cells. Furthermore, there is a tiny space for the foods that are brought to the recluses by their relatives (through much sacrifice) in order to prevent death by hunger.

It is normal for us to share our living space with roaches, rats, and mosquitoes. The roofs are sealed up with nylon in order to prevent bathroom residues to fall down on us from the floors above. That permanent dripping sound follows us all night long, every night, as if it was a musical backdrop. All prisoners are full of all kinds of parasites and bacterias. The water is not drinkable and it is scarce, and lack of hygiene is immense. Cleaning the cell consists of cleaning the beds only. The small hall between any of the bed bunks is barely ever cleaned, and the times that they are, it is very little and with dirty old rags which are so worn out that they can’t even dry a body. Yet, here we value them (the rags) as if they were treasure and we lend them to our companions or we ask prisoners from other cells for them.

In the very tiny spaces below our beds we keep our belongings, which are kept in bags or suitcases that often do not even fit down there alongside with our shoes, sandals, plastic water bottles, and our plates and spoons that we use daily to eat in an atmosphere of the worst imaginable hygienic conditions where we are constantly pestered by flies, roaches, and rats.

At the back of the 6 meter long cell lies the bathroom, which is 3 meters by 1.60. It is divided by two walls that create three very small spaces- one for showering, a latrine full of filth and sediments, and a washing room which consists of a tube without a sink. The tubes are plastic and are the same ones used to pass electric cables and together they conduce water towards the space where we shower where there is an old tank that is completely rusted and has been fixed at the bottom with cement. That is where we fill up our bottles, which we guard with our lives due to scarcity of water.

We don’t have any disinfectants, for the authorities of the jail do not give us any and they don’t let our families bring them when they visit. They also do not engage in any form of pest control, just like there is no mass effort to collectively combat rodents. This explains the presence of large bugs, rats, and mice, and also is the reason why roaches crawl over us while we are sleeping or even while we are awake. All the excrement and waste from the bathrooms in each cell do not circulate through a pipe system. Instead, it falls on the ground by the back walls of the building. There they produce gases which are carried upwards, producing scents that we constantly smell minute by minute, day by day.

You were in the hole for only 13 days, subjected to temperatures of up to 34 degrees. We live under similar temperatures during all the summer months on this island- a climate which you are very well familiar with. They don’t allow us to have fans, and much less any radios, and even if we had any it would be pointless because the country is going through one of its worst economic crisis ever, and for approximately one year now, they have prevented any form of flow of electricity to us, keeping us in our cells in pitch darkness. They don’t allow us to have any electric razors, yet they want us to constantly be well shaved. They sometime take us to get our hair cut before the chief of the building. As punishment, they remove our sentence reductions which are normally 2 months each year, alone with the allowed visits we have every 45 days and the conjugal meeting that we are permitted every 2 months.

In such meetings our families finds themselves forced to use the little they have in order to bring us bags of foods which normally contain crackers, sugar, milk in powder, and anything else that can be preserved and that is allowed during visits. If they bring us cooked meat we have to eat it within the first two days because we have absolutely no access to any sort of refrigeration.

With all the sincerity in the world, I must tell you that you have not traveled to any country in the world to fight against terrorism, but instead you have gone with the purpose of collaborating with this state-sponsored terrorism under which 11 million Cubans suffer. We live under an awful dictatorship which attempts to perpetually remain in power. Neither many kilometers of paper, or liters upon liters of ink, can ever be enough for me to narrate, with much detail, just how much Cuban prisoners suffer in this giant prison, the largest one in the universe.

A true example of torture is the case of the Cuban-American Yamil Dominguez Ramos, who as of today, has been carrying out a 118 day long hunger strike as he protests his unjust confinement. With pure conviction about his dignity and his values he has declared himself innocent of a false accusation of “human trafficking”- an accusation which has caused him a sentence of ten years of prison. What they cannot accept is that Yamil accepted the nationality of another country that has lent him a hand and given him the chance to grow and feel like a truly free man, something that continues being just a Utopian ideal for all of us Cubans.

I just hope that you are able to read this letter which I have written in my jail cell, number 1223, where I reside along 8 other companions and together, we are witnesses of each and every one one of my written words.

Without further adieu,

Reynol Vicente Sanchez

Translator: Raul G.

August 17, 2010

Horror Report / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photos: Luis Felipe Rojas

And here is the report on human rights (derechos humanos) presented by the Eastern Democratic Alliance. Within a six month period in this Cuban region there have been reported 128 arbitrary detentions, 32 police citations without proper official warrants by the political police, 4 evictions, 49 beatings, 6 fines levied on human rights defenders, 23 cases of hunger strike and almost twenty cases of suicide attempts in jails.

The partial Report is available for reading where the names of t the victims and of the victimizers are recorded, and also private addresses and even phone numbers for verification. It’s a shame — and I never get tired of repeating it — that the great and lustrous international press agencies located in Havana never hop over to the East, the heart of the horror in Cuba.

The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the beating of about 15 women in Camaguey on February 3, and later the abuses against Idalmis Nunez, Caridad Caballero and Mari Blanca Avila are signs of some horrible events. Before or during when his Lordship Cardinal Ortega, Raul Castro and Moratinos shook hands for the future Cuba that is being dreamed of only for a few.

There is physical torture and cruel and degrading treatment in Santiago de Cuba, Banes, San German and the Guantanamo of the olive-green government. The attachments to the document corroborate it for you.

PS: In the pictures Isael Poveda Silva, former political prisoner in Guantanamo Prison Complex staged for bloggers and the independent press showing how they apply the techniques of torture known as “The Bat” and “The Rocker.”

August 14, 2010

The Return of Castro I / Iván García

One week before turning 84-years-old, and after one month of public appearances, Cubans were not surprised with his appearance before the National Assembly of Popular Power, in an extraordinary session that he himself called and that, in addition to the mass of deputies, was attended by his brother the president, General Raul Castro.

As his health recovered, people accustomed themselves to seeing him in photos and videos. First as a host with diverse guests, then as a visitor himself.

The population had already gotten used to his absence. And was grateful for it too, because television programs were no longer affected by some appearance or a long speech.

Now, in seeing him again before the parliament with an olive-green shirt, the same one worn on two previous occasions, a mix of fear and uncertainty has assaulted people. “It frightens me to think that he has recovered enough that every now and then we once again hear him speak,” comments Jose Luis, 51, a construction worker.

Elvira, 45, a primary school teacher, does not believe that Fidel will return to the political arena. “At least not like before, even though he still maintains an important position, First Secretary of the Party.”

These worries arise among older citizens. Meanwhile, the older they are, the more convinced they are that “the Maximum Leader has not only returned to the national political realm, but also to the international realm,” emphasizes Mario, 66, retired.

The ones who lose no sleep over his return, temporary or definitive, are the youth. To them, who had practically forgotten his voice and his gestures, what has called their attention is his “look.”

Yendri, 25, chef, saves various photos of ‘El Comandante‘ with Adidas, Nike, and Puma active wear, among other famous brands. “If only I had a collection like that,” he confesses.

On the streets, opinions are divided with respect to his clothing, which evokes laughter among some. In private, of course. “Sometimes, he wears a very bad combination and when they focus on his feet, he’s wearing outdated tennis shoes,” says Javier, 32, unemployed.

What everyone can agree on, young and old alike, is that no one in Cuba with the sense that God gave a mule is paying any attention to his latest rant: that of impending nuclear war and catastrophe.

Some account for this by saying that during his period of convalescence he read books about the end of the world and watched films like 2012. I personally believe that Fidel Castro is not interested in those subjects. These are just a pretext so as to retake the role of protagonist that he was obligated to leave when he was on the brink of death four years ago.

Iván García

Photo: EPA

August 11 2010

The Powers of the Minister of Finances and Prices are Unconstitutional and Arbitrary / Laritza Diversent

The Minister of Finances and Prices, Lina Olinda Pedraza Rodriguez, ordered the execution of a process of confiscation against Teófilo Roberto López Licor, 66, based on Legal Decree 149 “on the confiscation of goods and accumulations made through improper enrichment,” known as the Law Against the Newly Rich and its regulation, Decree No. 187, both from 1994.

The state representative demands the confiscation of the goods and income obtained by the López Licor family, during a period of ten years (1998 to 2008). However, the resolution dictated in July 2009 is based on confiscatory record 1349, which does not specify the year of filing. This is a detail that creates doubt concerning the application of the legal decree with retroactive effects, on behalf of an organ of the state.

According to the Constitution of the Republic, non-criminal laws have retroactive effects when they deal with a matter of public interest or utility. Decree Law 149 is of an administrative character and in its operation does not mention that particularity.

The process also affected Pompilio López Licor, 61, and Teófila Elsa Ávila Gutiérrez, 60, brother and wife of Teófilo Roberto, who along with his son, Antonio, were named by the Ministerial decision, as third parties who benefited from the unjust enrichment.

The national deputy for the province of Villa Clara said that the three houses, two cars, a motorcycle and several other items, including appliances exchanged under the “Energy Revolution,” were obtained and legalised by Teófilo, and hidden through subterfuge, under the names of his relatives, without specifying which acts were illegal.

However, no legal action has been directed against members of the Municipal Housing Management of Arroyo Naranjo, in the City of Havana, who acted in the legalisation of the assets and property mentioned.

The confiscated goods amounted to 2,347,834 Cuban pesos and 24 cents. The value was certified by experts who did not specify, as they are legally required to, how the appraisal was carried out, or what the parameters were that were considered, nor the factors that were taken into account in the estimate.

López Licor is self-employed in the regulated activity No. 646 of “maker-seller of food and soft drinks at a fixed point of sale” and has documents from the income tax office substantiating an income of more than 500,000 Cuban pesos.

Teófilo Roberto can also establish receipt of 18,000 convertible pesos (CUC), 450,000 Cuban pesos (CUP), as received remittances from the United States from six brothers and a son living in that country.

However, the Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Cuba, Pedraza Rodriguez, dismissed the evidence provided by López Licor. He argued that the self-employed workforce engaged and the bank documents did not prove that he had actually received the money. The law considers it criminal to use labour that is not family. However, against López Licor, the penalty is not imposed for that reason.

The defendants appealed against the ministerial decision through the Reform Appeal before Pedraza Rodriguez himself, who declared it to be without merit, confirming his decision, in October 2009. On June 22, they appealed to the Head of Finances and Prices, the start of a special review procedure. However, the execution of the penalty of confiscation is not interrupted, although they have not exhausted all the avenues for appeal.

Decree-Law 149 places in a state of helplessness those affected by it by preventing access to the courts for justice against an act of the administration that is harmful. However, the Constitution of the Republic states that “the confiscation of property is applied only as a punishment by the authorities in cases and procedures determined by law.” The Penal Code applies as a specific penalty and accessory for a crime.

However, the Prosecutor, who is responsible for the exercise of public prosecutions on behalf of the state, decided to undertake an administrative proceeding before activating the court for the commission of crimes. In a criminal trial, the relatives of Teófilo Roberto never would have been responsible for the acts of others. The responsibility is individual.

The Cuban Penal Code, in force since 1987, provides that “the confiscation of property does not include … the goods or items that are essential to meet the vital needs of those sanctioned or their close relatives.” Therefore, in criminal proceedings, housing can not be seized.

The validity of this rule in the Cuban legal system does not protect general interests, destroying the trust and security that should surround the whole legal system. Its application violates the legal and penal guarantees offered to citizens and leaves them defenseless against the excesses of the government.

Lina Olinda Pedraza Rodríguez, Minister of Finance and Prices, claimed in her decision that the seized items “are not the result of honest work.” However, the Cuban Civil Code defines unjust enrichment as the transfer value of an estate to another, without legitimate cause. The Economic Control Minister was appointed by the government but is not qualified to administer justice. The powers under Decree Law 149/94 are unconstitutional and arbitrary.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: CIMF

August 16, 2010

Breaking the Stigma / Miriam Celaya

JJ Almeida at graduation from the Blogger Academy

Just over 60 days ago Juan Juan Almeida started a hunger strike. His, in some ways, is the most solitary of strikes. It is true that many of us bloggers and his other friends have been aware of his condition and have followed the long-running saga of his pursuit of an exit permit to allow him to get treatment, not available in Cuba, for a severe health problem; it is also true that several digital sites have published his trials and tribulations (including his arrests) as he constantly pressures the authorities and demands his right to travel, to be reunited with his family, and to receive on-going treatment for his illness. But regardless, public opinion has not been sufficiently mobilized.

Reflecting on the crossroads where Juan Juan finds himself, I think of how difficult it is in his case and the stigmas he is burdened with at a time when he so greatly needs to rally support. First, because his fight, placed within the contours of a personal drama, lacks the heroic elements traditional solidarity demands; his dispute, according to some of the more ignorant, is not for Cuba and Cubans, but only to resolve a personal problem. Why don’t we just describe his drama as that of any Cuban, and therefore, of all Cubans. Second, because the most well-known and far-reaching of the international media pay attention to someone whose huge mustache or quantity of body-piercings earn them a Guinness record, but not to the tragedy of a lonely man who launches a desperate appeal to defend the right to freely leave and enter one’s own country. Third, the greatest stigma, is because JJ – as many of us call him – is the son of the Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque, which brings with it a strong prejudice: being one “of them” and having enjoyed benefits and privileges that the most of us do not, he “deserves what happens to him.” A pattern repeated over and over when I’ve expressed JJ’s dilemma among friends, as if being born to someone in particular entails a curse, as if to each of us our parents were not always loved and lovable, or as if the coincidence of not belonging, as a birthright, to the anointed grants us some certificate of moral purity, without “the children of so-and-so” hanging over our heads.

For my part, I think it is precisely his origin that makes his struggle more difficult than mine. His rupture has been greater and the cost of his daring higher. From my vertical dissent I have not lost even one friend (in fact I have gained many new friends); I have had no ruptures nor family resentments, no one has separated me from my loved ones (neither living nor dead), nor have I suffered any rejection. This has not been true in his case.

I prefer to see JJ in another way: not as the privileged person that he’s not, but as another of my companions along the way. I choose to strip the name and pedigree from this man and see the human being who lacks the same rights we all lack on this Island – and as even some do who are outside of it – including the greatest right which is Freedom. This is a sick man who, thanks to his many friends who love him (but no thanks to the Revolution which, for some reason, detests him… and that makes him good in my eyes), has the chance to improve his health outside of Cuba; but the government prevents him from traveling and condemns him to die. This is a man prevented from being reunited with his wife and daughter for having committed the incredible sin of writing a book where he says what he knows, what he believes and what he thinks about certain topics that discomfort the warrior oligarchy, the master of all our fates. I choose to stand by this human being in whom I recognize so many gestures of solidarity toward others and toward us, the disobedient ones, with whom he has cast his lot.

Since August 10, 2010, Juan Juan Almeida has been hospitalized in Havana. His health has deteriorated and his body has been debilitated by the long fast. His demand to leave Cuba has ceased to be an individual claim; and although JJ himself has no pretensions of leadership or of carrying the flag, today he claims a right for all Cubans. We must not leave him to do it alone.

August 17, 2010

Translator’s note: JJ Almeida yesterday: Photos here.

A Court Summons the Minister of Justice / Laritza Diversent

On the 15th of July the second chamber of Civil and Administrative Law of the Provincial Court of the City of Havana summoned the incumbent Minister of Justice, María Esther Reus González, in the matter of the lawsuit filed by the Cuban Law Association (CLA)for denying their request for certification, a step that is indispensable for the legalisation of this organisation of independent lawyers.

The Cuban Law Association is an independent NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation). It was founded in October 2008 and provides legal advice to citizens on a non-profit basis. On three occasions State Security suspended courses on Cuban laws offered to the general public by the Association, which also seeks to increase the public´s awareness of the legal system.

The Registry of Associations at the Justice Ministry didn’t certify if there was another NGO in the country with the same name and purpose as the CLA in the time between April 2009 and March 2010. The independent lawyers brought the matter to the court after the Minister in charge of the Registry ignored an administrative appeal against its decision, made on the grounds of violation of procedure.

The lawsuit brought on June 24 was filed by the Court on the 29th. A week later the judge, Alfaro Guillén, and the lay judges Núñesz Valdés and Figueredo Ramos responded to the lawyers with a delay due to the Chamber´s excessive work load, demanding that they changed the wording of their motion´s terms.

The Court considered it inadmissible that the attorney Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, president of the Cuban Law Association, is acting on behalf of a legally unrecognised entity. The Cuban legal system considers any group not inscribed in the Registry of Associations of the Minister of Justice to be an “illicit association.”

As a matter of fact, the Associations Act (Law 54 from the 27th of December 1985) and its bylaws do not impose any formal requirements for the establishment of an association: the interested parties assemble in order to pursue a common goal and request their recognition as a legal entity by the State.

The writing of the judges demanded that the attorney Vallín bring the lawsuit as a private person and that the terms of the petition be changed to reflect the fact that the Justice Ministry has not responded to the request for certification. The judges declared the formulation “refusal to grant authorisation for the establishment an an association” used in the wording of the petition to be incoherent.

It is the the first time that a dissident organisation sues a representative of the government. This is an event without a precedence in the last fifty years of Cuban jurisprudence.

Laritza Diversent

Note: See also “The lawsuit is getting ahead”: La demanda prosperó.

Photo: The Cuban Minister of Justice during her participation in a session on human rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

Translated by: undef

August 14, 2010

Waiting to be Evicted by Force / Iván García

Right now, Teófilio Roberto López, age 66, is out of his mind. He ambles like a lunatic doing the paso doble along the edges of his farm, located a stone’s throw from the National Highway.

Lopez is on the razor’s edge. All of his possessions, erected with sacrifice and with the help of his eight brothers who live in the United States, are lost. Sitting on the large porch of his two-story home, rocking frenetically in an ivory-colored rocking chair, with a frown and a threatening gesture, he vented his ire.

“When the authorities enter my property to evict me, I’ll make a ruckus. All this” — and with his thick index finger, he signaled everything around him — “I built in 30 years, so that my family and I could live comfortably,” said the elderly Teófilo, a gentleman of medium stature, who speaks at the speed of light and with nervous movements of his hands.

The case of Teófilo goes back to July of 2009, when the minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Olidna Pedraza Rodriguez, ordered the Directorate of Housing of the municipality of Arroyo Narranjo, in Havana, to confiscate the belongings of the family of Teófilo, outlined in Decree 149 — the law against new riches — that permits the dispossession of properties of a person for “improper enrichment.”

Here began the ordeal of the Lopez family. If there’s one thing Teófilo has known all his life, it is work. Born in 1944 on a remote plantation in the province of Sancti Spiritus, 400 kilometers from Havana, he has labored hard to come out ahead.

In 1996, together with his son Antonio Lopez, age 40, and his wife, Elsa Avila, age 60, the Lopez Avilas began a small personal business. They established a small but successful roadside cafe.

Highly particular, the elderly Teófilo saved the receipts from the repairs to his home and those from the money sent to him by his brothers from Florida.

He saved all the documents regarding his properties in a file. “When I obtained this house as owner, it was a miserable shack. Thanks to our efforts, we constructed a spacious home and began to work the land,” recalls Teófilo.

The family farm was 0.6 hectares, and from a bird’s-eye view it was obviously well cared for, and one could see groves of mango, avocado, guayaba, orange, plantain, and dwarf coconut plants.

To this, Teófilo added pig breeding, and had obtained six cows that produced hundreds of liters of milk. In the best months of the farm and the cafe, the income exceeded 30,000 pesos (1,400 dollars). Along with the remittances sent to him from the north, he was able to build a residence that, by Cuban standards, was “luxurious.”

He even built a small swimming pool, to spend time with his family and his brothers, who visited the island up to three times a year. Teófilo knew he broke the law when his son Antonio began to rent the house without a license.

“We paid an outlandish fine, and they seized our house from my son. I believe this was my family’s only error. From that moment on, the authorities were out for me. They weren’t able to catch me in any more illegal activity. I have papers that attest to that,” noted Teófilo while he sipped from a cup of coffee.

The Lopez family has tried everything through legal channels. But they have not been able to stop the bureaucratic machine, which set the month of August as the date to kick them out on the street. In exchange, they offered the family a minimal house, cracked and damp, with only one bedroom.

In the deepest part of his soul, Teófilo considers that the state is acting against him arbitrarily. And he has considered the worst. From setting fire to his property, to setting up with a rifle in the middle of his plantation, refusing to abandon it.

After consulting with a group of attorneys from a firm on the margins of state control, he made up his mind. Laritza Diversent, one of the attorneys who helped him, believes that if, in Cuba, its own laws are respected, Teófilo would come out on top in this case, and the state would have to return what had been seized up until that point. And those were not little things: two cars, a motorcycle, and countless electronic appliances valued at two million pesos, according to official appraisers.

Meanwhile, while justice decides, with each dawn the Lopez family waits for the authorities, supported by the police, to evict them, by force, from their farm.

Whatever happens, Teófilo thinks that his biggest crime was to try to have a prosperous life. “This is not looked well upon, in Cuba,” he said, hanging his head. His eyes tear up. “I’m too old to try to start a new life.”

Iván García

More about this story in “Minister puts a citizen in defenseless position.”

Translated by: Gregorio

August 15, 2010

My Own Vindication of Cuba / Ernesto Morales Licea

I think of Martí this very instant. I remember his fired up words on that document he named “Vindication of Cuba,” where, in name of the voiceless, the Master answered a diatribe of The Manufacturer newspaper that accused us of being inefficient and soft, weak on the thought of establishing a true nation. It also accused us of laziness.

Today it is not The Manufacturer who marks us as lazy people. It is called Granma, and it is this country’s official newspaper. Whoever follows its pages daily knows what I’m talking about: the constant and increasingly more aggressive terms in which its journalist refer to an evident phenomenon in current Cuban society: all the willingly unemployed among a great part of the population, especially among the youth.

Paying attention to what our mass media proclaims, it looks like the offensive words of such newspaper are revealed in our current Cuba. What does this mean? That our most recent crusade undertaken by the Cuban officials is against lazy people, against whom even our Penal Code establishes measures under the title “Social Dangerousness.”

The Granma editorials say: “We have to eradicate them. We have to cut out the laziness by the root.” For my part, in order lay out my argument, I allow myself to demonstrate elementary concepts.

FROM THAT SIDE OF THE OCEAN…

If there’s something that this fertile land produces, aside from fruits, cigars and baseball players, it is working men. Men who, behind any adversity or impossible task, find the way to accomplish their endeavor, always with effort, always with work. We have a legion of laborers who get up from their beds every morning without knowing what they’ll be able to eat for breakfast, what they’ll leave for their children to have for lunch, on what transportation they’ll get to work on time, with what tools they’ll perform their functions during the eight or ten hours they must stay at their post.

And just like these, we also have another legion that got tired of that bitter litany and decided to test their luck in other shores at their own risk.

How many immigrants do we have scattered around the world? It is a figure we’ll never know with precision. But the undeniable truth is what no one, neither the journalist from Granma nor any executive dreamer can deny: the vast majority of Cubans who migrate live from the sweat of their hard work.

We receive them by the thousands, mainly newcomers from Miami. There, they leave an unstable job, a job they don’t know if they’ll still have when they get back. Most of them leave debts. But they live. They don’t subsist.

And they would live a lot better if they didn’t have family members here, that just like involuntary leeches need to suck a percentage of their income to eat a little better, to not dress in rags, or to give ourselves that handful of pleasures that are so limited they end up being exceptional.

What do those Cubans, sons of the same land that Martí vindicated with his prose do to sustain a lifestyle so superior compared to the one they would’ve had had they stayed in the island? Are they all mafia members who traffic drugs, fire weapons, or launch human beings from their prows of their speedboats? Do they all receive salaries from the CIA for planning terrorist attacks against countries or presidents? No. What they do is work. And as we Cubans say: they work like mules.

They work two or three jobs. With a tenacity and formality they never learned in their native country. If they don’t do it for love (which in many cases they do) at least they work with responsibility. They’re not “absent people” who take days off on their own, they’re not bad-tempered people who mistreat any client from their Olympian viewpoint.

And they don’t do it for two reasons: 1. Because they want to preserve their job, and 2. Because that job, even though is not enough in many cases, serves to satisfy their basic needs, including the ones of the family members in Cuba.

And I’m talking about the simple cases. I am not referring to the talented, the attorneys, the excellent engineers, the sportsmen, the businessmen who, without the obstacles of an economic axis centralized to point of asphyxia, are able to prosper at a surprising rate. I am not taking for as example the great economic success of the few who are not so few: I am talking about the honest work of many.

Because those are our family members. Not the millionaires, but the middle or lower class. The ones who come and with their presence, with their money and salary (citing Frank Delgado), fill their family member’s souls with joy.

What allows it, what brings them to Cuba like the Three Kings of Buenaventura, satisfying shortcomings, soothing necessities? Their jobs. The twelve or fourteen hours they daily dedicate to having a life from their own sweat.

… AND FROM THIS

OK, so let’s go back to the beginning: are we a lazy people? Are we that nation of incapable men that The Manufacturer proclaimed we are, or the society infected by incorrigible idiots that the Granma newspaper suggests? We are not. What we really are, with no room for doubt, is a country where work is only a decorative concept.

We are a country where no one, absolutely no honest worker is able to accomplish any level of quality of life with 300 pesos that is earned after a whole month of harsh work.

We are a country that has had to become thieves, ruthlessly stealing from each other (the chef steals the cheese and later sells it to the mechanic, the mechanic steals the parts that the dentist needs, the dentist then steals the anesthesia or the amalgam needed to be used on the grocer as dental filling…), everyone hustling and passing the money any chance they get because the salary received in more honest ways is not even enough to fill one’s own stomach.

Where does this bitter reality take us? It leads us to accept that in Cuba, the sense of ownership towards work is an idealistic dream. The ones who, instead of stealing from work actually live from the salary earned by it cannot profess any type of gratitude towards it.

Cubans cannot like working because they receive very little or nothing from it. The ones that sacrifice themselves the most hang their diplomas or distinctions on a wall or keep them in a drawer because they will never be able to use them to feed themselves or clothe themselves. The accomplishments acquired by their sleepless nights turn to food for the moths, to dust collectors.

That is why I not only don’t denigrate, but understand, so many young people and so many wasted fertile hands hanging around on the corner, in the parks, sitting behind a domino table or what is worse, attached to rum bottles. Those, have learned either by experience or intuition that they will have a better lifestyle by reselling items on at central plaza in their neighborhoods, earning ten convertible pesos for an occasional sale, rather than dedicating eight hours a day to a job that will give them the same amount, but in a month.

We are one of the very few countries in the world where unemployment is not an issue. Our issue, is that employment doesn’t help.

That is why the media gets angry: it so happens that those lazy people are a genuine product of this very society, not reminiscences or a surplus.

UTILIZE YOUR THUMB, NOT YOUR INDEX FINGER

No Granma newspaper, no National Television, we are not a lazy people nor social scum. We don’t need to undertake new bloody crusades with police operations that imprison whoever doesn’t have a stable workplace, nor launch harassment campaigns: we have already experienced that and know it doesn’t work.

Beforehand, it is necessary to ask ourselves what is really happening, why young people on this side of the ocean don’t think about working, why they want to move to another country, why they’d rather steal or traffic, why they choose the uncertainty of not knowing what they will earn daily in their juggling instead of the stability and security of an honest salary at the end of the month.

The complicated thing is looking at our entrails. It is easier to utilize our index finger than to appeal to our thumb. The complicated thing is to answer for ourselves those questions that underlie each accusation that the official media publishes or the leaders prefer, the answers that they all know none of them want to hear.

This time, it is not about vindicating Cuba. Before defending the physical and geographical platform, it is only fair to defend the truth of all Cubans. And overall, with the same dignity with which Martí reduced to ashes a series of slanders, and with his limitless honesty remembered:

“Freedom is the right that all men have by being honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy (…) A man who hides what he thinks, or doesn’t dare to say what he thinks, is not an honest man.”

August 11, 2010

And Presenting the Names of Some Cubans / Iván García

My grandmothers were called Carmen and Andrea, and my grandfathers, Jose Manuel and Rafael. Names are given according to the era. My uncles and aunts were given common names: Luis, Mario, Candida, Teresa, Maria, Dulce, Augustine, Maximus, Adelaide, Victoria, Milagros, Lidia… The exception was Avelino, no longer in use, and Veneta, of Italian origin.

For siblings, cousins and nephews, the tradition began to change: Tamila, Yaricel, Himely, Yuri, Yania, Mathew … Of the six mentioned, three are written with a Y. A boom that began in the 70s and still continues, as with the names of stars. The most popular, Maikel, is for Michael Jackson, a national idol.

It has become common to “nationalise” foreign names. So, for Ricardo, they say Richard; Billy for Guillermo, Robert for Roberto; Tony for Antonio; Maggie for Margarita; and Elizabeth for Isabel, amongst others. We gave my daughter the name Melany, from the French Creole version of Melanie.

Many parents opt for combinations like Sarim (Sara and Manuel), Leidan (Leida and Daniel), Franmar (Francisco and Marina) and Julimar (Julio and Maria) of endless possibilities which sometimes seem like trademarks. There are some who have wanted to be more original and have given their children the name of the parent reversed: Legna (Angel), Anele (Elena), Oiluj (Julio) and Otsenre (Ernesto).

Some recall characters and conflicts in other places: Lenin, Yasser, Indira, Hanoi, Libia, Nairobi, Namibia … Some are geographic: Israel, Argentina, Africa, Asia, America … Or planetary: Luna, Sol, Venus …

Soap operas have had an influence, too. In 1984, when the Brazilian serial started, a woman was called Malú, and many girls (and also dogs and cats) were given the name Malú. Others got the nicknames of the soap opera of the day. Like Dondita, a girl whose true identity nobody knows.

Even though in Cuba you can go to the civil registry and file a change of name, those who do not like the label given them by their parents tend to change it on their own, without wasting time on paperwork. This is the case with Yanet who hates the Yanci of Charity which she is registered as. When the mail carrier changed, the new one did not know that the correspondence directed to Yanet was for Yanci.

Amongst athletes born since the 1980s, there are many names beginning with Y: Yan, Yipsi, Yadel, Yumisleidys, Yoroemis, Yunel, Yoennis, Yargelis, Yannelis, Yunidis,Yeimer, Yuniseski, Yuriorkis, Yormani, Yoerkis… And a few rare ones: Jonder, Dayan, Level, Vismay, Gelkis, Uziel, Erislandy, Salatiel, Vicyohhandri, Osbiel, Roidel, Asniel, Edisbel, Leovel, Mijaín, Idales, Eglys and Arasay, among others selected at random from a long list.

In 2004, in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, they gave the example of Rayni Rodriguez, then 11 years old, whose parents gave him the name because he was born one rainy morning: Rayni is a variation of Rainy in English. The boy confessed that he would have liked to be called David, after Bisbal “a singer whom I admire a lot.”

In that report are mentioned other cases of Cubans with unusual names: Evergreen, Mylady, Sugarcandy, Geisha, Danger, Alien y Usnavy. Perhaps none is as bizarre as Yunaiestei. It only lacks the addition of “of America.”

Iván García

Photo: Yargelis Savigne (Guantánamo, 1984), gold medalist in triple jump, World Athletics Championships Berlin 2009 .

Translated by: CIMF

August 16, 2010