Bit by Bit Marketing / Yoani Sánchez

Ministry of Work and Social Security

Eight in the morning and the rails of the station at Factor and Tulipán still have the freshness of the dawn. The only train, coming from San Antonio de los Baños, is delayed. The elderly, seated on the walls, resell the newspapers bought very early and offer, as well, cigarettes at retail. This week they suffered a tough setback with the announcement that the distribution, on the ration book, of the packs of Titans and Aroma has come to an end. Bad news for those on the lowest rung of our informal market, those who sell their own cigarette ration to survive.

Among the absurdities of the centralized market in Cuba, was that only those born before 1955 received the rationed cigarettes. In my family, my father had an allotment but my mother, three years younger, got nothing. Half joking half serious, a friend told me that in the future they would deliver the final pack of subsidized cigarettes to a long-lived Cuban who had been born in the middle of the twentieth century. Can you imagine the ceremony? Flags waving, trumpets sounding, a ceremonial marching battalion approaching the ancient one and presenting him with the last rationed cigarettes.

For better or worse this is not going to happen. These who were the youngest when they started to receive subsidized nicotine, are just now entering their sixth decade of life. Those of us who never benefited from this supply feel that today there is one less thing to throw in our faces. I believe, however, that someone should compensate the elderly at the Tulipán station, along with all those the length and breadth of this island who shore up their lives with this little bit of marketing.

The Accident / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The other day I witnessed an accident in Luyanó. Orlando Luis and I tweeted what we could, and managed, poorly, to take some photos without some of those guys dressed in civilian clothes taking away our cameras. Traffic accidents happen all the time everywhere in the world and I wonder why the Cuban government blocks these incidents from press coverage. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing that State Security agents spend their time, in the middle of a catastrophe, chasing after little cameras and avoiding reporters.

Sometimes it seems that censorship and bureaucracy are living beings, with their own laws of survival, their need to perpetuate themselves and their life cycles. Does it put the State at risk to tell us how many were killed or injured on August 20, what caused the accident, and what happened to the driver?

It’s not even about a free press press or political freedom, or even the rights of citizens. It’s about this monster that in fifty years has grown to the point where it could swallow everything that happens in the nation. A monster that feeds on our knowledge, our intellect, our ability to understand history. A monster who swallows our sorrows and joys, our dreams and our lives.

August 27, 2010

Live Culture at Casa Gaia / Miguel Iturría Savón

There’s a discrepancy between the sign board and program schedule at the Casa Gaia, located in Teniente Rey, between Águila and Cuba Streets in the historic quarter of Havana. That’s where art and thought now come together, but the sign board at the entrance announces the staging of Flechas del Ángel del Olvido (The Angel of Oblivion’s Arrows), scheduled to run Friday through Sunday until 29 November, under the direction of Esther Cardoso Villanueva, the director of the center.

Maybe it’s hard to take down the sign board. Perhaps the play continues to be on the sign board with sporadic interruptions and new options for patrons. Maybe it’s a strategy to avoid chaos on the premise, the top floor of which holds hundreds of people.

I myself am happy, since from Friday, July 23, to Sunday, July 25, I was invited by phone to the series of activities that the “dialogue among friends” disseminates under the title Estado de Sats (The State of Sats), which signifies “being attentive, awake and conscious of real transformation” in order to expand “open exchange and diversity as principal resources.”

There were three days of open discussions and lectures. Cuba and the future as the central theme. There were visual arts presentations, conferences, audiovisual projections, and concerts. A large crowd, in spite of the outdated sign board.

A collective exhibit of visual arts was launched on Friday at 8:00pm in the Vivarta Studio-theater, located in the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall, under the title Recargable (Rechargable), with works by 15 young artists, one from Spain and another from Taiwan. The works alone are worthy of appreciation and deserve exhaustive commentary.

From the cinema, on Saturday at 8:00pm, Sats screened the documentary Memorias del Desarrollo (Memories of Development) by Miguel Coyula, who, through analysis and manipulation of images conveys the alienation of the individual and reflects upon how art reflects reality. The film was described by Sundance Film Festival as a “subliminal and cinematic collage that forges new cinematographic dimensions by way of multiple expository levels that intercept one another in a sort of picaresque saga about desire and decadence.”

The open discussions, conferences and presentations regarding cultural projects merit a special mention. On Friday morning Prof. Carlos Simón Forcade presented “Imagination and Growth within the Cuban Social Project”; following him was Antonio Correa Iglesias, PhD, and undergrad Ana María Socarrás Piñón with the topics, “Epistemology, Cognitive Sciences and Neural Networks: towards a Plural Zone in the Building of Knowledge” and “Contemporary Cuban Art or The 70s Generation?: Alternative Projects vs. the Visual Arts in Offcial Media”. In the evening, the AISHA Company project was held, as was the Art and Society Open Discussion with writer Víctor Fowler as moderator, and performances by Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico, Luis Eligio Pérez, Maylin Machado, and Glenda Salazar.

On Saturday morning Dr. Antonio G. Rodiles presented “Complexity and Society”, while Carmelo Mesa-Lago by way of video projection, dealt with “The Economy of Cuba at the Crossroads: External and Internal Crisis”. In the evening, the “Raise the Voices” project and the Economy and Society open discussions occurred, with Hiram Hernández, Jorge Calaforra, Ramón García, and the quoted A.G. Rodiles.

On Sunday morning, the engineer Jorge Calaforra explained the “Cuban and Global Perspective for 2030” and Dr. Alexis Jardines presented “Cuba: Premodernity and Thinktanks”, referring to Western liberal democracies, ethical schisms in the national project, and factors such as the island’s intellectual potential and a thesis on the hollowness of “capitalism” and “socialism” as concepts. The evening session belonged to the “OMNI-FREE TRADE ZONE” and an open discussion about “Futures and Visions of Cuba”, lead by Castor Álvarez, Dimitri Prieto, Gabriel Calahorra, and Romina Ruiz.

The Casa Gaia sessions on Art and Thought culminated on Sunday night with the “A Good Thing Jam Session”, described by organizers as a “spectacle of textures and fragments as vehicles of national history and identity”, with rotating, projected images and rhythmic counterpoint music (jazz, hip-hop), all falling somewhere along the spectrum of blunt emotionalism (Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico) and sensible civility (trova and danceable elements).

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 3, 2010

He Did It / Yoani Sánchez

fdfdfdf
Aug .26 in Miami: Juan Juan with his daughter Indira and his wife Consuelo

The day that Juan Juan Almeida announced the start of his hunger strike was like reliving the nightmare we’d experienced with the long fast of Guillermo Fariñas. “This is the worst of all decisions,” we, his friends who love him, told him, sure that he would not withstand the rigors of starvation, nor that the authorities would yield before his empty gut rebellion. Fortunately we were wrong. It turned out that the talkative JJ — as his close friends call him — was not only willing to take his chances arm wrestling with the government, but seemed willing to sacrifice himself for all of us, who have repeatedly been denied permission to travel outside this archipelago.

The jovial forty-three-year-old leaves us a painful but effective lesson, because although we have no elections to vote directly for those who govern us, nor courts to accept claims of police abuse, much less means by which a citizen can denounce the immigration restrictions holding the national territory in their grip, we still have our bones, our skin, our stomach walls, to reclaim, by way of the fragile terrain of our bodies, the rights they have taken from us.

Juan Juan Almeida with his daughter, Indira, yesterday in Miami. The two had not seen each other for five years.
Juan Juan Almeida with his daughter, Indira, yesterday in Miami. The two had not seen each other for five years.

Translator’s Note:
Juan Juan is the son of the recently deceased Juan Almeida Bosque, one of the original commanders of the Cuban Revolution who fought with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra and subsequently rose to vice president of the Council of State. Juan Juan suffers from a serious degenerative disease that cannot be treated in Cuba, and repeatedly asked for, and was denied, permission to leave the country to seek medical care abroad and to see his family. He ultimately engaged in a hunger strike and other protests to that end, and yesterday he succeeded.

August 27, 2010

Clarification Note / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

In the absence of bread, cassava, say the grandparents. I say that in the absence of a tweet, a post.

I was able to put a note on Twitter before leaving for the barracks of San Germán this past Monday, the 23rd because I only had enough money on my card for one “twit” (tweet). I left the phone in the hands of my wife before I left so that she could attend to those interested during the time they would have me in that Cuban farce that’s called “detención” (detention) and in which no official procedure is entered into.

There was no lack of solidarity from others who from other latitudes immediately came to reload my phone so that I could let them know of my situation, however, after an interrogation, unknown voices clarified in my wife Exilda’s ear that they would not permit reloads. Later I learned that on the other side of the barbed wire, my supporting friends received the same information: no reloads permitted.

Now like always I dictate to two big restless young men from FIU, this that you just read.

Later I’ll add more because my restless and loyal guys from beyond will have to return to the old method of sending money via foreign routes so that I can buy the card and continue “twiteando” (tweeting) my island in 140 characters.

On Monday I was released six hours later and I lived the same story from the previous Monday: my complaints, the blog, my daily use of freedom of expression and movement, well ultimately… last Monday was a shorter penance. I thank all those for the concern but since I couldn’t do it in 140 characters I have no other option other than this dictation.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 26, 2010

Escape to Eternity / Voices Behind The Bars / Omar Ruiz Hernandez

-Painting by Lori Mcnamara

December 16th 2006 could have been a day just like any other in detachment No. 1 of the Sancti Spiritus provincial prison. But that day we awoke, in addition to a requisition, with the news that Javier had just injected petroleum in his legs with the aim to have them amputated in order to receive a possible release from prison. Just two months before, Pedrito, another recluse of that same detachment, had just done the same just to find himself being confined to a wheelchair.

However, “luck” was not on Javier’s side. Apparently, he managed to pinch a vein. Since he was not attended to with the urgency that was needed, the infection grew to the point that it contaminated his whole body and he died one week after. He was only 37 years old when he died and had spent 19 years in prison. The crime for which he was sent to prison for at the young age of 18 was that of selling jewelry which he had found buried and which the government had decreed that they belonged to the national patrimony- according to one of his unfortunate companions. He was sentenced to 6 months of jail just for that act, yet he was never again released. Just before completing his entire sentence he escaped and robbed again. For this he was condemned to several years more in prison. Later, he repeated these acts on several occasions. His situation just seemed to be getting more and more complicated, and at the time of his death he still had 15 more years of jail time to serve.

But Javier is not the only fatal case of this prison. Just a few months ago a recluse of another detachment swallowed some wires, and because he was also not attended to with urgency, he died just a few days later. Self-infliction in Cuban prisons is a very common practice. Prisoners regularly lacerate their own bodies, they sew their own mouths shut (sometimes with wires), they inject petroleum into themselves (like Javier), or they even inject their own excrement, and I have also heard of some pretty unimaginable self-inflictions, like inserting wires up a urethra, poking ones eyes out, or even injecting oneself with HIV.

Before this grim scenario, which I was a witness of in more than one Cuban prison, the question arises: Why do prisoners in Cuban jails hurt themselves? I really do not know if this also happens in jails in other places of the world, but in the ones found in my country, this phenomenon was something that impacted me greatly. The reasons for such self-inflictions, in most cases, stem from the decisions made by the prison authorities to deny the prisoners the rights to certain benefits which they are supposed to have access to after having spent a certain amount of time in jail, and in accordance with good conduct, as is outlined by that very prison system. Some of these benefits include being moved to a farm or a camp where prisoners would enjoy more freedom, or also being moved to a jail situated closer to their original place of origin.

But lying behind these reasons are other ones that deserve to be analyzed on a deeper level. Perhaps, you might say, it is work that can be done by a psychologist or a sociologist. Meanwhile, according to the way I see it, these self-inflictions are greatly motivated by the feelings of desperation and impotence felt by the prisoners upon facing such a prison and judicial system that imposes long sentences for childish crimes, all the while leaving the prisoner with little or no time to occupy their minds. If prisoners were allowed to work, at least for a while, in prison, this could become a source of revenue for the recluse. Such a case would allow them to send money to family members or even to make enough to buy certain nutritional products or supplements that would provide healthier personal alternatives, which are things that are very limited in Cuban prisons. In the farms, common prisoners are allowed to work and are sometimes rewarded.

Ingenuity and creativity among Cubans is widely acknowledged, and perhaps many of these prisoners would have never engaged in criminal behavior if a free economic system existed in Cuba. In the multiple penitentiaries which I went through, I saw some prisoners put together some real pieces of art, made just by using disposable materials. However, the authorities, instead of promoting and stimulating such activities, they discourage it and prosecute it, as they confiscate, as in most cases, all the pieces of art, or prevent such objects from being handed to family members during visits. In Cuban jails the only form of entertainment allowed by the authorities is the TV. And even then, prisoners watching TV have to do so while crammed tightly in a small room along with many other prisoners- in many cases, one TV is set up for over 100 recluses. Meanwhile on the other hand, while pointing out that the majority of the penal population does not have an avid reading habit, there is very little material available to read anyway. Although libraries hypothetically do exist in these prisons, prisoners do not have access to them. I remember that in a detachment I resided in while my confinement in the provincial prison of Guantanamo, there was a room with a sign that read “LIBRARY” , but it was completely empty of books or people. It was the same room used to dispose of any garbage collected from the dining areas.

In accordance with this partial panoramic view of daily life in a Cuban prison, I think that it is not difficult to understand the level of insanity that could drive a prisoner to use self-inflictive methods as a form of escape, though sometimes, as in the case of Javier, it could be an escape to eternity.

Omar Ruiz Hernandez
Ex-political prisoner of conscience
Black Spring 2003

Translated by: Raul G.

August 26, 2010

The White Man and the Black Man / Voices Behind The Bars / Omar Ruiz Hernandez

-Painting by Sharon Cummings

“The White Man and the Black Man”

I have known two men who have risen to power, one was black and the other was white.
The white man achieved it through violence, the black man used reason.
The white man made it while young, the black succeeded as an old man.
The white man enslaved his people, the black man gave freedom.
The white man promoted hate, the black man favored love.
The white man built an execution wall, the black man use forgiveness.
The white man stained the ground with blood, the black man planted flowers.
The white man became a dictator, the black man turned into a president.
The white man never listened, the black man spoke with everyone.
The white man carries Latin American blood in him, the black man harbors African blood.
Their names will go down in history for being notable rulers: the white man hated by many, the black man respected by all.
The white man is named Fidel Castro, the black man is called Nelson Mandela.

Omar Ruiz Hernandez
Ex-political prisoner of conscience
Black Spring 2003

Translated by: Raul G.

August 26, 2010

¡Buen viaje! – ¡Bon voyage – Safe journey! / Regina Coyula

At last! The punishment for my neighbor and friend Juan Juan Almeida was lifted, and he will be embraced by his wife and daughter. I’m not going to tell the story that all of you already know, but then I ask, and I can not find the logic: why did the government close the doors to a natural and discreet exit in a humanitarian case like that of Juan Juan’s, to turn it into a political case in which the Church had to intervene? I confess that I did not like JJ’s decision to undertake a hunger strike, it did not seem in keeping with the public figure he represented, more in tune with his carrying signs or sitting in the Plaza.

But on Monday when I went to see him at noon he was in bed and appeared to be small, as if the bed was huge. He could barely speak and when I asked him several things he answered by signs. I left his house very distressed. Afterward I related the experience to my husband, who never leaves the house, and after my comments he said that we would go to see him. We went on Tuesday night, he wasn’t there, but that visit, which never happened, was like a farewell; I know it must have been a very happy moment when JJ heard the good news of the visit from the greatest poet of the world, as he usually would say to charm my husband. ¡Buen viaje! Bon voyage! Safe journey!

August 26, 2010

The Double Standard Policy, a Daily Routine / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photos / Luis Felipe Rojas

The Alianza Democrática Oriental (Eastern Democratic Alliance) energetically condemns the imminent arrests under a prosecution devoid of legal guarantees of five brave activists from Eastern Cuba.

Néstor and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Enyor Díaz Allen, Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortíz and Roberto González Pelegrín received non-written communication, that is, only verbally from the secret police, that they would be prosecuted for the supposed crime of public disorder, an action they did not commit at any time and which was actually carried out by the police in Baracoa themselves.

This story surpasses the recent incident of 11 August, when Yordi García Fournier and Heriberto Liranza went to Baracoa to attend a session of the Foro Juvenil Cubano (Cuban Youth Forum), along with other activists and residents.  Immediately, the police detained García and Liranza and decided, without cause, to expel them from town; they were then notified that they were under ‘deportees’ status and, by order of the high command, were barred from returning to Baracoa.  Their friends who witnessed the incident reacted without hesitation and demanded an explanation as to why the police themselves were violating citizens’ rights to move throughout the country and to meet with whomever they choose.  The response once again was, ‘you can’t come back here.’

The only method available to Cubans facing injustice is to protest in a peaceful manner, chant slogans, or display banners with demands, even if later they’re worked over by a good beating or thrown in jail.  That’s what the remaining activists did, only this time not in broad daylight nor in groups along the main avenue.  They went to Néstor’s and Rolando’s house and from the balcony of the third floor they displayed banners that demanded freedom of mobility, they chanted slogans such as ‘Long live human rights!’ and ‘Orlando Zapata was murdered!’ The trained mob soon appeared. From the ground-floor entrance of the building, kids, elderly, men and women in a tight crowd chanted slogans of praise for some guy named Fidel and some other guy named Raúl and said that the streets belonged to those two. No policeman made a single arrest, nor scolded the mob that, from the groundfloor of the building threw stones and bottles, shattering apartment windows.

There was a nighttime pause on the 11th but daybreak on the 12th was more turbulent.

The protest activities from above and the aggressions from below continued.  Later came the detentions.  From the third floor the police brought down, in handcuffs, the five men who remained up there.  They raided a residence where a young girl, a pregnant woman, and an elderly woman had witnessed the entire spectacle and from which they were expelled for the 12 hours the police took to search the home.  They took whatever objects they pleased, including cell phones.

As those who know well the brutality of the Cuban police can attest, the five activists were the victims of a disturbance brought about by the mobs at the service of the National Revolutionary Police in Baracoa and yet they are the accused.  International public opinion has been informed, as have organizations that monitor human rights on the island been informed that the judicial prosecution will be carried out against the five for the crime of “public disorder.”  All this, after a brutal wave of repression was conducted in the eastern region of the country between July and well into August resulting in more than 50 detentions and a fierce smear campaign by the government against the Alliance’s platform.

The possible sentencing of the five dissidents from Guantánamo confirms yet again the double standard policy assiduously practiced by the government as part of its greater foreign policy.  On one hand they release some dissidents from prison, on the other those who attempt to say ‘I disagree’ get shoved behind bars.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 24, 2010

The Spy Gerardo Hernandez and the Cynical Campaign Supporting Him / Antunez

For those who do not have the slightest idea what prison is like in Cuba, a punishment cell and how prisoners are treated, they would have been shaken by the fanfare regarding the supposed mistreatment of Gerardo Hernandez, confined in an American prison for committing serious and proven crimes against the national security and stability of that nation.

The fanfare could have even confused those who know that the Castro-Communist penal system is a veritable hellhole of torture and death where human life has no value.

As it turns out, Gerardo Hernandez is prohibited from having in his punishment cell a radio, books, a fan, and other conveniences. Imagine the indignation the ringleader of the infamous Wasp Network must have felt when he was deprived these luxuries.

It seems that in addition to being an accomplice and a liar, Ricardo Alarcon is exceedingly cynical and shameless to the point that he and his thugs cannot ignore that in Cuba no prisoner is permitted to have a radio, telephone, or even a fan. Access to telephone calls is limited and under strict control and has only been allowed since 2002 or 2003. This is thanks to the famously stupid mistake committed by the spies’ wives and mothers who complained on the Mesa Redonda TV show that none of them – Gerardito , Renecito, nor the others – were not allowed to call them in who knows how many days.

In my case, I had to wait fourteen years and six months to make my first telephone call. Cuban prison cells lack water and the majority of the time there is no light. When one is there as a prisoner, you can only bring with you your woeful personal toiletries such as soap, toothpaste, deodorant – items that many times are useless due to the lack of water.

The Cuban regime’s punishment cells, in contrast to where Gerardo is serving, are veritible coffins where there is not even sufficient space to walk. A hole, referred to as a turco, serves as the toilet and is near the bed.

I am certain that Gerardo can sleep at any hour of the day; that he is not given his mattress, pajamas, and spread to cover himself at 10:00pm, only to have them taken away at 5:00am; or that, as an additional punishment, he sleeps on the floor like a dog. I am certain that if he violates some that he is not brutally beaten.

I don’t pretend to compare either the two prisons nor the penal systems, much less the food and visitation policies – that would be like comparing night and day – only the situation in the punishment cells.

Still, it would be a good thing if these spies could spend a few hours in one of those Cuban prisons. Even if they lack the courage to face it, they would think to themselves, “Cuban prisoners truly live in veritable holes.”

When I heard about Gerardo’s radio, I remembered that when I was found with one in Camaguey’s Kilo 8 prison, I was beaten so badly that my teeth came loose. When I heard about his books, I recalled how in 1996 I went on a hunger strike for more than 20 days until they returned the Bible they had taken from me. And while in prison in Guantanamo in 1998, they confiscated my copy of La Prision Fecunda(The Fertile Prison), edited by Cuban officialdom, which details Fidel’s Castro’s conveniences while in serving time in the Isle of Pines prison.

The comfortable conditions enjoyed by the spies are proven by how the Castro brothers obfuscate and deny them outright. In their methods and human insensitivity, you can draw parallels between Nazism-Fascism and Communism. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini who publicly proclaimed their crimes – the theory of Lebensraum (living space or territorial annexation) and racial superiority – the Communists hide and deny their crimes.

Please, Ricardo Alarcon, have some self-respect. You should defend the common sense of almost 100,000 men and women who are permanently confined to their holes. Respect and consider their families and quit sounding so ridiculous about your five spies. For the true heroes are those suffering torture and mistreatment, of which I am convinced that neither you nor your five spies could ever withstand.

Translated by Louis A. Mayor

August 5, 2010

Castro Responds to the “Reformists” / Antunez

The recent speech by the ruling Castro in the National Assembly of People’s Power is a clear and devastating response to those who believed in the possibility of reforms and relaxations within the current system, and that the controversial releases – better understood as exilings – could be the signal of a process of détente and tolerance, a prelude to a step towards democracy.  Once again the government’s strategy for maintaining its position of power consists of well-calculated delaying actions and sowing false expectations.

Even though the large media outlets have brought more attention to the economic situation he laid out, I believe that discourse of the barricade, the same rhetoric against his opponents, and threats against Cuban civil society are more important and are the equivalents of a clear demonstration of his rigidity and continuing policy, such that the people have no other option but to fight for their freedom.

Castro was clear and precise, and once again made our argument for us – those of us who do not subscribe to bland politics and approaches, like the naive idea that with moderation one can exhaust his repressive speeches and gestures regarding failed and useless strategies.

When one has no enemies, one invents them – the siege mentality is his strength, and whoever tries to take that away is taken out of circulation.  “He that is not with me is against me” – this is and will continue to be his ideology.

Sometimes I find it hard to see that any analyst who knows the macabre mind of the Castro regime would entertain the slightest hope that reforms and change would come with Raul, as if the dictator was not involved in the creation and support of this totalitarian monster, as if his younger brother did not share his fierce anti-democratic and dictatorial zeal.

The other part of his speech concerning warm openings in the economic sphere I believe is secondary, and to spotlight them with too much seriousness would make it easier for the regime to spread them.

It is true that Cuba needs the introduction of a market economy and economic liberation from the tight control the government monopoly exercises over people and property; anything else is more of the same and sleight of hand.

There, in the words of the dictator, are the answers and the results of those who urge restraint to avoid hurting the beast, and there also is clear affirmation of we who refuse not to continue calling things by their name, we who do not accept that a president who is not one governs by tyranny. We who refuse a reconciliation without justice first.

Translated by Alexander Gonzales

August 5, 2010

Bethlehem Hill / Antunez

In the early morning hours Idania Yanes called me. “Antúnez, there is going to be an eviction here in Santa Clara, in the Bethlehem Hill subdivision. Seven or eight families were given 48 hours to vacate their homes, or else the bulldozers will come and remove them. They just called us asking for support. I cannot allow this. We must go back them up.”

“And when is the deadline?” I immediately asked her.

“Tomorrow at noon. I’ve prepared the troops here to help these families.”

Very early the next day we arrived there – more than a dozen members of the Central Opposition Coalition. Bethlehem Hill is far removed from the city center, close to the ice plant and nearly adjacent to the National Highway, so an eviction there would be hard to hear in the city. Seven or eight houses, nearly all masonry, were to be demolished.

Upon seeing us, the families were visibly and touchingly hopeful. The number of children and pregnant women there broke our hearts. As soon as we arrived we explained to them what their legal rights were, and how they should defend them.

“We are here and we will be with you until the end. We are human-rights activists and our duty is to stand with the victims. Don’t let them provoke you. When they come to remove these houses we will get in front of the bulldozer and if there is repression we will remain peacefully in the front row, but we will not let you be homeless.”

Our words encouraged the neighbors, and the rumor that “the human-rights people have arrived,” had spread throughout the area, so even families that had not been threatened with eviction were there to see and hear us.

Thirty minutes later a Lada pulled up on the side of the highway; two more stopped on the other side further back, watching and taking photographs. Out stepped Major Oirizat, Commander of the State Security Confrontation Brigade for the province, along with the Head of the Provincial Housing Department who, by way of greeting the families, said:

“What’s going on here?”

We dissidents preferred not to speak at that moment, or at least not until we were addressed. We were not there to do politics, but in solidarity to solve a problem.

“Although yesterday you came to tell us we had 48 hours to leave or you would demolish our houses, we do not . . .”

“That was a mistake – nobody is going to be thrown out of here, so be calm. What I can assure you is that by your being here you will not get title to the property because this is illegal!” said the official.

Upon hearing that we breathed easier – the same person who hours before had publicly announced to these families: “You have 48 hours to collect your stuff and leave or I will come back with the bulldozer,” now said the opposite.

Oirizat looked at us hatefully. “And now we are leaving and we hope you will withdraw and not complicate things,” he said as he was leaving.

August 5, 2010

Young But Not Rebels / Miguel Iturría Savón

As August progresses, as if the summer sun and rain weren’t enough, the official press is punishing us with news that tests the boundaries of even the complete joke represented by the newspaper Granma, the Communist Party organ, and Juventud Rebelde — Rebel Youth — the newspaper for the younger generation, two sides of the totalitarian coin, accustomed to embellishing statistics, interviewing “leaders” and courtesans, pointing their magnifying glass at events in the United States and giving a pat on the back to allies like Iran and North Korea.

As each edition reiterates the twisted perception of the world versus the wonders that happen on this island, these media beat us over the head with the little story of Comandante-Saviour-of-the-World and the disasters in other latitudes that confirm his prophecies. To the worst leader in our nation’s history they dedicate poems, art works, celebrations for his 84th birthday and comments on the 896 page tome he wrote when he was seriously ill; it can’t be topped, right?

In this satirical operetta is inscribed the interview published by Mayte María Jiménez, on Saturday, August 14, in Juventud Rebelde, of Maydel Gómez Lago, 23 from Cienfuegos, who is a recent graduate in Pedagogy and the designated president of the FEU (Federation of University Students). If anyone would like to see Maydel’s teeth and to know “What Cuba dreams of in the future?”, I suggest you get the newspaper or ask Google the title “Creative and in love with life” (Creativos y enamorados de la vida).

As we know how they fabricate these puppets converted into leaders of this or that organization, I am not going to question this girl’s biography nor repeat the questions and answers. Maydel seems less intelligent than Carlos Lage and nicer than Felipe Pérez Roque, two men who ascended the ladder to the top tier of the Cuban government years ago from the little position now occupied by her. Lucky girl!

The girl spoke, of course, of the ideological political work and the academic plane, of being more creative to strengthen the Revolution, of giving continuity to the leadership of the FEU, which Julio A. Mella and José A. Echeverría gave their lives for, and bet on “an eternally socialist and revolutionary Cuba,” Come on! The same as always. Nothing about the autonomy of the university nor how to extract the FEU from the clutches of despotism.

On Tuesday, August 17 Juventud Rebelde provided one of its pages to another young official. His name is Jesús Lara Sotelo and he emerged by drawing Fidel Castro, to whom he dedicated his most recent work, “The Triumph of the Prophecy,” now exhibited at the Hotel Nacional, and displayed on August 13 at the Cuba Pavilion, where the celebration With Fidel and For Peace was held. We know through the journalist José Luis Estrada Betancourt, whose interview appeared on page 6 under the title of the picture.

Rather than a marionette, Lara Sotelo seems more like a pygmy with a brush in front of a colossal and ancient David. In his responses to the reporter, the new Painter of the Olive-Green Court could displace Alexis Leyva (“Kcho”), who encouraged him “through a mutual friend.” Thanks to the push (or the order, who knows?) from other celebrities of the eternal army, like Alex Castro, who presented him with photos of his father; Armando Hart, ex-minister of culture, and the pianist Frank Fernández, who blessed him with a homonymous work.

As a reward, the new portraitist of the tyranny left on a trip to the Basque Country, where he will exhibit his mural, “Haiti is another Guernica,” in the Make Bacon salon. The young palace decorator is clever and manipulative, right?

August 24, 2010

Summer / Regina Coyula

I’ve been around here less, but I’ve had the joy of being with new friends who bring messages from old friends and with friends I haven’t seen in some time.

The first was Carmen Agredano, from Córdoba, who doesn’t live in Córdoba but in Las Palmas, and who brought me an old card from my friend Manolo Díaz Martínez. Carmen came to give presentations in several cities on the (Cuban) isle and I had the pleasure of enjoying her spectacle on two occasions. Poets to whom Carmen lent her beautiful voice and emotional Flamenco interpretation, with arrangements and accompaniment from that luminary Reynier Mariño, so good with the Flamenco guitar that he literally dances at the home of the spinning top*. Seeing him play, you get the deceitful impression that such flourishes are simple. They completed the spectacle with a most versatile dancer, the actor Carlos Padrón, Cecilia reciting poems and two more musicians (box drum and bass), plus any that should show up casually. It was a group of friends having a good time, doing what they like to do, transmitting good vibes to the public who knew how to appreciate it.

And two days after saying goodbye to my friend Carmen, Marival and María came to see me from Logroño, Spain. Like the Wise Men, they came loaded with gifts and love from all the friends we have over there. For my friends from Logroño, I gave them a somewhat profound walk around Havana and here in our little garage, we spent the hours conversing.

Although they carry back to our friends all the impressions of having been with us, I am taking advantage of this opportunity to thank Alfonsa and Ane, to Doctor Germán, to Isabel and Colo, to Rafa Pérez Foncea, to the Mongoleles for that little magazine that I adore. To all those who sent books.

Many thanks for the friendships that have given me something similar to a vacation.

* Translator’s note: bailar en casa del trompo translates literally as “to dance at the home of the spinning top.” In colloquial English, the best translation would be “to best someone on their home turf”; but this is one of those literary uses that would be lost in translation … so artful that I just can’t cover it up.

Translated by: JT

August 18, 2010