Cuban Regime Frees Activist Lia Villares

The activist Lia Villares. (FACEBOOK / MARTÍ NEWS)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 23 December 2017 — Activist  Lia Villares was released this Friday morning after being detained since Wednesday, activist Rosa María Payá Acevedo said in her Twitter account.

Villares, in addition, was fined 500 pesos by the authorities, according to Martí Noticias.

During the arrest, “her interrogators told her that she had committed crimes, and in order to prove it to her they showed her a photograph that she had taken some time ago with two policemen. In the photo she appears with a fan with the logo of the CubaDecides opposition initiative” directed by Payá Acevedo, according to the Miami media. continue reading

In the cell where she was detained, the activist wrote with a stone on the wall “Art Yes, Censorship No. I am free.”

“They tell me that this is a damage to property and carries a fine of 500 pesos,” she explained.

Villares  was arrested Wednesday along with other artists when they tried to attend the staging of the play Psychosis.

Among those arrested and then released were Tania Bruguera, actress Iris Ruiz (protagonist of the monologue that was to be performed), Adonis Milán (director of the play), poet Amauri Pacheco, art historian Yanelys Nuñez, another person identified as José Ernesto Alonso and the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

The plot of the piece revolves around a person enclosed in a very small space showing obvious signs of madness who wants to leave the place.

The version that was presented was inspired by the events of 2010 at the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana, popularly known as Mazorra, where  26 patients died of hunger and cold. In the monologue direct allusions were to be made to Raúl Castro and terms such as “dictatorship” were used.

The independent gallery El Círculo is subject to constant repression by the regime. State Security also closed this independent space in April to prevent the presentation of the documentary Nadie, by Miguel Coyula, which deals with the life of the poet Rafael Alcides.

Likewise, the political police set up another operation last November to prevent public attendance at the work “The Enemies of the People”  directed by the documentary filmmaker Miguel Coyula, which fictionalized the final minutes of Fidel Castro.

Castro Regime Censors Blog Calling Raul Castro Responsible For UMAP* / Diario de Cuba

From the documentary: Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution (From Havana Times)
From the documentary: Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution (From Havana Times)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 9 February 2016 — A blog on sexual diversity, Proyecto Arcoiris (Rainbow Project), housed in the government-run blogging platform Reflections, has been censored by the regime after addressing UMAP and publishing a text attributing the responsibility for it to Raul Castro, according to the Global Voices international network of bloggers.

Those responsible for censorship alleged that the blog broke the rules for participation on the site and that the text “defamed the Revolution,” explained blog author Yasmine Silvia Portales Machado to Global Voices .

The censored paragraph from the Rainbow Project blog that refers to the Military Units to Aid to the Population (UMAP) is hosted here; but currently readers get a message that says “This site has been archived or suspended.” continue reading

The fragment is part of the text “Cuba’s Mariela Castro and Historical Reparations,” published in December in Havana Times by activist and member of the Rainbow Arc Jimmy Roque Martinez.

Roque called on the General Raul Castro to apologize and accept responsibility for the internment of homosexuals in the UMAP camps.

From his point of view, not accepting responsibility and not apologizing for such acts “are proof of the homophobia” of the current leaders of the island and a sign that they are not repentant.

In the article, the activist says the General and others who are “still alive” as “those maximally” responsible for the camps where dissidents, religious and gay people were defined.

“It’s been 50 years since the creation of UMAP said Roque and not a single official has apologized to the people.”

He also said that “the minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) from that time is now the country’s president,” referring to Raul Castro.

“It is now time for them to apologize for that act of penalization, exclusion and punishment to which they subjected thousands of homosexuals and Cubans with ‘improper conduct’,” said the activist.

Roque demanded that “those responsible, every single one of them, must recognize their error, and ask for a real apology directly to the victims and their families, as the only way of historical reparation.”

The state platform Reflections groups blogs written from the island and is the only one from the island that provides this service. It is managed by the Youth Computer and Electronics Clubs (JCCE), under the Ministry of Communications.

Reflections is accessible from abroad, although it is not possible to create a blog from outside the island, nor to manage it from abroad even if it was created in Cuba. Operating a blog on Reflections requires that the blogger access the blog from a JCCE site.

Yamilé Garro Alfonso: ‘Being a Lady in White has taught me to appreciate the desire for freedom’

Yamilé Garro Alfonso
Yamilé Garro Alfonso

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 10 December 2015 — Yamilé Garro Alfonso was just a housewife, the mother of a baby and a teenager, when regime forces arrested her sister Sonia and her brother-in-law Ramón Alejandro Muñoz in a violent operation on March 18, 2012.

“At the time I knew almost nothing of the opposition,” she said. Two months later, she began to march with the Ladies in White movement her sister belonged to.

“I went to the Ladies in White (…) after I went to government institutions seeking an answer for the injustice they had done to Sonia,” she says. continue reading

“I received no reply from anyone.”

“They were very difficult times. There was a lot of harassment, abuse from State Security. I was completely disoriented. I went to the Ladies in White and they welcomed me and gave me their support.”

The story is similar to those of most of the women who have belonged to women’s organization over more than 12 years. Their lives had been disrupted by the political imprisonment of a family member.

In her case, Yamilé had to take care of her sister’s daughter, who had been left without her parents at just 15. “I tried to play the role of her mother, but it was impossible. I tried to do the best I could,” she recalls. “It was very complex for the girl who was a teenager and needed the guidance of her mother. She did not understand how it was possible that, overnight, her mother was deprived of freedom. It was a very radical change.”

Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz were in prison two years and nine months. The authorities accused them of “attacking, public disorder and attempted murder.” The prosecution asked for long prison sentences, but the trial never took place. Yamilé always maintained that the regime had no evidence and was trying to gain time to build a case.

“Going to prison was pretty hard. I went there and they told me they had suspended the visit, that Sonia was in a punishment cell and they didn’t give me any explanations,” she says. “They didn’t allow me to bring her many things, the visits were sporadic. My sister suffered a lot, she had health problems. When I did manage to meet with her and saw her in that situation it felt horrible.”

After her release the regime continued to harass Sonia, who even reported threats on her life. A few months ago she had to go into exile with her family. Her sister continues marching in Havana with the Ladies in White.

“Being a Lady in White is the best thing that happened to me. I have learned to appreciate the desire for freedom. I’ve noticed so many abuses, so much mistreatment. I thank these women who have given me the opportunity to be among them,” says Yamilé.

“There have been extremely difficult moments. Right now we are in a period when the repression has greatly worsened. The government feels it has a free hand to abuse the Damas de Blanco and other opponents because their international situation has improved with the restoration of relations with the United States,” she says.

“They beat us, insult us and take us to deserted areas and leave us there. No one speaks of it, no one criticizes then, and they feel a tremendous impunity to continue to do what they want,” she criticizes.

A few days ago, Yamilé visited Spain with other Ladies in White.

“I had the opportunity to see a place where freedom breathes, where there is democracy, where people are not abused when they say what they think. That reinforced my desire for my country to be free; for my children, that we Cubans will be able to enjoy the country we deserve.”

Cuban Film Institute: “There can be no place in our forums for the enemies of the Revolution” / Diario de Cuba

Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) headquarters. (CUBARTE)
Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) headquarters. (CUBARTE)

Diario de Cuba, Havana, 4 December 2015 — A statement from the president of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), published on Thursday on the State website Cubarte put a stop to the recent discussions by filmmakers against censorship, in meetings where, “there can be place for the enemies of the Revolution.”

“The point of view of the debate we have defended has been, is and will be unequivocally Revolutionary,” says the ICAIC directive. “We are working, together with other organizations and institutions, to find a solution to the problems of audiovisual creation, from an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and socialist perspective.”

The communication has been issued within days of the expulsion of activists and independent Cuban journalists in a meeting where a letter of support for theater director Juan Carlos Cremata was drafted. continue reading

The assembly, which was convened under the name “First Forum of Filmmakers on cultural policy and Cuban audiovisual content,” also had on its agenda the reading and discussion of articles on censorship and self-censorship such as those by filmmakers Enrique Colina and Juan Antonio García Borrero.

“On Saturday November 28 we rejected the presence of several mercenaries at the ICAIC Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center, where a gathering of filmmakers was held with their institution. None of the organizers had invited them and their presence was a provocation and a premeditated act to use this kind of space as a platform for proselytizing and legitimacy,” the statement said.

The situation became particularly heated when officials from the institution ejected the activist Eliecer Avila, present in the room as a listener to the debate.

“In the face of any attempt to distort the results of the joint work between the filmmakers and the ICAIC, we feel a moral duty to reaffirm our commitment to the Country, the Cuban culture and the Revolution, without which the existence of the ICAIC itself and an educational and cultural work of emancipation would not have been possible, work that is the pride of our people,” the statement continued.

The ICAIC insisted that “it will remain consistent with the cultural policy of the Revolution.”

Teenage Gangs Assault And Rob Residents Of Havana Neighborhoods / Diario de Cuba, Jorge Enrique Rodriguez

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Jorge Enrique Rodriguez, Havana, 24 November 2015 — Two teenage gangs disturb the public peace on the streets of the Havana municipality of Cerro, while the police remain passive. Known as Los Apululus and Los Atormentados, both gangs engage in physical aggression against the elderly, assault and robbery on public streets.

The slums of El Canal, Las Cañas, Carragüao, Pilar and Atarés are among the hardest hit. The victims are stripped of their belongings, especially cell phones, accessories, money and clothing.

For the psychologist Leticia Collado, a resident of Las Canas, “these behaviors are the result of the fracture of the family and the crisis of the ideological education structure, which shows little interest in cultivating civility and socio-cultural principles in children and adolescents. continue reading

“The family is immersed in daily survival exacerbated by the economic circumstances of the country, while the school environment is no longer an attraction or an incentive,” because of the lack of prospects for a successful professional future, said Collado. “These deficiencies are a breeding ground for criminal behavior,” she concludes.

Sayú, a retired teacher and resident of El Canal neighborhood, questioned the role of the People’s Power, the police and so-called “mass organizations” controlled by the government, mainly the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) .

“The People’s Power delegates and the CDR are only interested in ‘Revolutionary tasks’ such as CDR guard duty, volunteer work, or a call to a ‘combatant’ march; they report on how you dress, what you eat and who you associate with,” criticized Sayú.

“But they don’t care about the fact that these teenagers don’t go to school, or what happens there. To make matters worse, the police just wander the streets and when you do see a police car, you can be sure they are after some girl, intercepting old ladies selling peanuts or engaged in corruption. They bring more worry than security,” he said.

However, Cecilia Canteros, president of a CDR and a People’s Power delegate from Las Canas, said “the problem starts inside homes where families barely concern themselves with the upbringing and education of these teens.

“Many here know who the boys are in Las Apululus and Los Atormentados, but no one lodges a complaint for fear of reprisals from their relatives who are also violent people. The state is not responsible for these problems because people do not report them to the appropriate authorities,” said Canteros.

A police source, which cannot be revealed, said that these acts are considered “social indiscipline and not as criminal acts, so the responsibility and solution is left up to the Party and Youth structures.

“The Department for Attention to Minors only acts when there is a criminal process; it barely does any preventive work,” the source added. “There are several reports of these gangs, but the indication from the Party is that they are already dealing with the matter”.

While the Communist Party “deals,” the residents of these neighborhoods live in fear and many citizens have suffered injury as a result of the assaults committed by the two gangs.

“When they kill two or three old people or the godson of some boss for four pesos or a cellphone, that is when someone will pay attention. That’s how things work in this country: there has to be a death for the government to lift a finger,” complained Sonni Diaz, a mother of two.

In the face of the growing phenomenon of violence on the island, the official press is silent. With few exceptions, they always treat it as “isolated incidents,” and alert the population to violent criminal acts, but never when the perpetrators are teenagers.

US Embassy in Havana Denies Visa to El Sexto / Diario de Cuba

"This too shall pass"
“This too shall pass”

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 14 November 2015 – The United States Embassy in Cuba has denied a non-immigrant visa to the graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), according to information on Friday from the artist himself, via his Facebook account.

The graffiti artist displayed a document where the embassy said that the decision cannot be appealed, but that it is not permanent. In any event, it recommended that Maldonado wait for one year before submitting a new visa application.

The artist was recently released after spending 10 months in prison without trial for trying to stage a controversial performance in December of 2014. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Gorki Aguila Released After Several Hours of Detention / Diario de Cuba

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 8 November 2015 — The musician Gorki Águila was released on Saturday after being held for a few hours in the 5th police station in Playa municipality in Havana. Águila was arrested with two French journalists who were also released.

As he explained in statements to Radio Marti, the reason for the arrest was his wearing a shirt with the phrase “Down with you-know-you” while he was being interviewed on the street by journalists.

“People (agents) follow me and one of the minions spoke with State Security, so that was why we were stopped,” said Águila.

After two hours in the cells, the musician had an interview with a member of the State Security, according to the artist, and threatened him, “in the form of advice” to stop any kind of activism. “Same as always,” said Águila.

Tania Bruguera: “Cuba needs massive civic literacy in the streets” / Diario de Cuba

Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana (NPR)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall, 4 October 2015 — After being held in the country for eight months by the regime, in punishment for attempting to bring her performance Tatlin’s Whisper to the Plaza of the Revolution, Tania Bruguera refuses to give in. She recognizes that even when she was put in the cells at Vivac with Cuba’s repressive machinery fuming to put an end to her freedom of expression, she was happy because she felt herself to be free. She acted according to her principles, despite any action the regime took against her.

In a conversation with Diario de Cuba from New York, the artist recounts these days, speaks about the present and future of Cuba, and considers that the Cuban people have a lot to learn: “We need to help people to understand the happiness produced by things you believe in.”

After eight months in Cuba, what are the lessons you take away from everything that happened? 

I’m still processing a lot of things. I learned that the image of the Revolution is one thing and how it is sustained is something else all together. There is an extraordinary dichotomy between the image of the Revolution and living with it. I also learned that the words we use, such as “solidarity” and “camaraderie,” have lost all meaning. The Revolution has used them indiscriminately and they have been emptied of their emotional functionality, in terms of humanism and activism. continue reading

And what meaning have these words taken under the current system?

I think I had the good fortune to understand solidarity and camaraderie: to believe in the truth of your own principles. In Cuba, we spend our lives saying slogans that we repeat and that have no meaning. They are like a rhetorical construction. They are not even constructions to call to action, in fact they don’t want you to really think about them.

What did the attempt to stage Tatlin’s Whisper in the Plaza of the Revolution teach you?

In this work I’ve done nothing more, and it what I am most satisfied with, that it presents a revolutionary ethic and attitude. I have activated all the concepts and slogans to become part of history, the whole idea of having principles, everything they tell us that, in reality, they don’t let us act on.

In this sense I learned that words are not actions. We Cubans have the right to participate in the history of Cuba. It is a right that has been taken by the Government. This learning is a personal process all Cubans pass through.

What brought about the change?

I came to Cuba knowing what freedom is because I live in freedom. At the beginning, when I left Cuba, it was a huge lie. Because on leaving Cuba everything is a lie: you have to lie about your feelings, your ideas, lie about what you really want in life.

To speak the truth in Cuba is dangerous. It cost me great personal labor and great discipline to understand the value of truth, of experiencing saying it. I still have to be careful, although I have spent hears being a person who doesn’t lie and talking to people who don’t lie.

Because of this I stopped talking to State Security agents. I would like it if people in Cuba could experience how good it feels when you are doing things you believe in, being honest, speaking the truth for once in your life.

Was it difficult being in jail?

It was very difficult, but at the same time I had no problem because I had a much stronger sense of happiness because I said what I thought instead of what they tried to make me do. It is a very rare thing. I learned that injustice has a physical manifestation. You feel it in your body. So I believe that the Cuban body is numbed by the injustice it has had to bear for years. The blood is numb, it is something that is passed down from parents to children. Fear in Cuba is in the social DNA and that is what we must eliminate.

And how can that be done?

We have to make people understand the happiness that comes from doing things you believe in. My emotional spectrum is much broader now: I learned things that I still don’t know how to explain.

I learned that the country has to change and that it can’t continue like this. The Cuban government has the custom of projecting Cubans as a happy people. And how do they demonstrate this happiness.  Because there is a lot of sex, beaches and laughter. But this isn’t happiness, without know that one is honest with oneself. This is what is missing in Cuba.

I want to continue working for it. I learned that art can be a part of history and of participating in an event on a higher scale, beyond the exposition. I greatly enjoyed how everything happened.

Has your perception of the country changed? Any disappointments or surprises?

I always tried to understand who benefitted most from what I did. I was under a lot of pressure to speak badly of artists who didn’t support me. If my project is about freedom of expression, I don’t have the right to judge other artists. If I advocated for the coexistence of differences, I can’t judge those who think differently.

I harbor no anger against absolutely anyone, I have no personal problem with any Cuban artist, whatever position they take. I believe this is a very complicated issues, from many points of view, and nor does political art in every country support it.

I also realize that, being in Cuba, there was a lot of underground work, pressuring me to speak ill of the artists.

By whom?

It could be a Government strategy to support them in isolating my community even more. I know that my separation from the artists’ union was orchestrated by State Security. There were people who received visits from State Security. They told them I was working for the CIA and that if they went to the Havana Biennial and someone asked them about my case, they should say they didn’t know anything about what was going on with me.

They told every person a different story. I have faith and I know it will change. I know Cuban artists are going to join the fight for freedom of expression because art is finding personal freedom. Under all the pressure that came from State Security, the curators, the director of the biennial, there were a lot of people who supported me, perhaps not all of them publicly and person a person helps you by offering you their shoulder, they can help you see the light about something that you’re doing that they think you shouldn’t do.

I love artists very much and they sit down to share ideas with me. I know I’m not alone and that the community of artists in Cuba supports and respects me. Everyone has their time. I think that we have to respect the personal process of each person. I don’t think it’s healthy to force anyone to make a decision when they’re not prepared to make it.

Is Tatlin’s Whisper already a closed action? Are you finished with it with your departure from Cuba? Is it possible there will be new attempts and you will continue challenging the authorities of the island from art?

That depends on State Security, not me. For me, Tatlin’s Whisper is a work of art of conduct. The significance fo the work is in how people conduct themselves. The fact that some people were in the Plaza is a part of the work.

The Cuban Government wants to appropriate for itself all authority through State Security. It is what they always do. Many people say I already knew what would happen. What I knew is that it was a historic moment. In those moments things didn’t function in the same way as always, things could change the meaning. People were outside their comfort zone and reacted in unexpected and different ways. I had this element in my favor.

As an artist, the Plaza of the Revolution seems to me to be a place that is exhausted, an ugly place in the sense that its meaning is very closed. I had thought of a Plan B, of doing it in other places. But after everything that happened around asking permission and I saw everything develop all around me, the art work set aside and the entire Cuban system of repression and control of the masses put on full alert. Then the Plaza of the Revolution took on another significance: it is not a people’s place, it is the center of power, the buildings surrounding it are places where they create the strategies of repression. So it was the place to stage the performance. In that moment I thought it was the place I had to do it.

Throughout the months you have been in Cuba the “thaw” process has continued. There is an evolution toward models of authoritarian capitalism. Do you believe the Government will manage to insert itself into the international community with these “particularities”?

The problem we have in Cuba is the arrogance of the people who are in power. They believe they are the only ones who have the answers to what happens in the country and the only ones capable of fixing what is happening. This is the first problem we have in the country.

The second is that we are going through a transition in which the people are not given a chance to participate, they are converted into receptors of orders. It’s like what you would say to a small child, “This is best for you.” Well, maybe not.

In the model they are following in Cuba — capitalism, feudalism, or what they are inventing — they are giving a disproportionate priority to the economy as the solution to the human problems we Cubans are suffering. I have heard many people, in the opposition and others, who agree that private businesses and creating a strong middle class will resolve the problems. I don’t agree with this.

Yes, there should be an economic blossoming, because the people deserve it, but I believe that the middle class, without a civic education, could be as reactionary a caste as the leaders of today’s Cuba are. Why? Because what it happening is that the egotism of those who have power will be spread a little more.

The Cuban people are a traumatized people, abused, they don’t know what they feel because they haven’t escaped from it. The first thing that has to happen is a massive civic literacy program in the streets so that those who know how to read and write learn to understand what they feel and to express themselves. The second is the Constitution: it has to be changed, but by whom. The new Government? A group of intellectuals?

What has to change is the people. I would love to see a system like in Iceland, where the people were directly involved in the changes. I think it is very dangerous to transition from ideology as truth to money as truth. Now the Cuban people deserve explanations, not orders, they deserve the ability to ask questions have the right to get an explanation and to have their doubts about this explanation and to be respectfully responded to.

How do you see Cuba today and the role of self-employment which some consider the germ of other changes?

With everything that is going there, there has been no improvement in democracy in Cuba. The owners of the new businesses are reproducing in the most intense way the social injustices of the Government. There is no protection for workers in private businesses, there is a reproduction of the mistreatment… you have been abused and now it is your turn to abuse.

I don’t know to what extent the middle class has a social and national conscience, or if it is rather a logical response to this spiritual and economic hunger that they have had for 50 years.

Another question is who can start these businesses, people who have family in the Government or family abroad. It is false that businesses in Cuba are free, they are blackmailed politically.

And what does this context portend for the world of art. We recently saw the censorship of The King is Dying

The strategies of artists from the ’90s, speaking their demands obliquely and metaphorically and using displaced geographic examples to make a connection and to speak about their immediate reality are exhausted. Artists have the opportunity to present what is happening but not to question the cause of everything we are experiencing. No one can make a movie that explores the reasons for the problems.

Their treatment of Juan Carlos Cremata was abuse because it would have been enough to censor his work. But I think it is very important to understand why they took away his institutional right to do theater. They have such a huge fear that they are going to lose control in this transition that they can’t stop and they can’t fix. They are doing what they can to maintain control. They are looking for scapegoats so that the rest of the artistic community will get the message. They are afraid.

Do you think there will be obstacles for you to return to Cuba? On your departure you had a visit with an agent in the airport…

I did everything I needed to do so they would let me return to Cuba. It took me a month and a half to get them to give me a letter where it says my case is dismissed. They do everything illegally. Within six months they closed the case because after that they have to ask for special permission from the Ministry of Justice to continue with the investigation. They took it to the limit.

According to all the lawyers I saw, they have not one single reason not to let me enter Cuba. My only passport is Cuban, I have not renounced my residence in Cuba and I have never engaged in illegality. If when I decide to return to Cuba the government of the United States is still negotiating issues of human rights with Havana, I think they will let me enter to demonstrate that I was wrong and that I had an unfounded fear and to show the Americans that they are not so bad.

If they want to know something. if they need to find something out through an interrogation, that is another reason to let me in. When I return I have no intention of speaking to State Security again because on this trip they came to my house trying to change the way I think. I am taking advantage of this interview with Diario de Cuba — because they read it — to tell them that I am not going to speak with them again because they lied to me, they told me they would free El Sexto on 24 August and he is still a prisoner. And I have said that I do not speak with liars.

Another thing that can happen is that if when I return they feel secure and that they have gotten what they want from the United States, they might not let me enter.

Finally, what would be the best actions to advocate for an inclusive and democratic Cuba?

First, a massive civic literacy campaign. People have to learn that they have something to give and that things can change. What has to happen then is that the Government releases all the political prisoners.

We should enter into an absolutely democratic process where people express the vision they have for the country and hold a kind of referendum about where the Cuban people want to go. Of course, all this derives from a constitutional change.

I would also support a Truth Commission, so that people recognize what was done and as a process of social “clean up.” We have to face the difficult things we’ve experiences, but without condemning people, without revenge.

In addition, it would be good the for a few generations no Castro could be in power. I do not want a third Castro in power. Out of decency and respect for the Cuban people, the descendants of the Castro family can help the people, through foundations, but they should not meddle in politics.

Out of respect for the people and because they are not better than anyone.

Were The Firecrackers That Brought the CDRs to Life Spontaneous? / Diario de Cuba, Orland Freire Santana

Creation of the CDRs, 28 September 1960 (Liborio Noval, CubaDebate)
Creation of the CDRs, 28 September 1960 (Liborio Noval, CubaDebate)

Diario de Cuba, Orlando Freire Santana, Havana, 28 September 2015 – Recently a group of friends were talking about the way the Cuban government leaders, during those first years of Fidel Castro’s Revolution, were maneuvering until achieving the establishment of a Marxist-Leninist-type totalitarian system. At one point in the conversation, one of the participants threw out the following question: Could those firecrackers that went off that night of 28 September 1960, when Castro founded the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), been spontaneous, or was it merely a matter of self-provocation?

That year, even without the socialist character of the Revolution having been declared, already the authorities were taking giant steps to annihilate civil society. By that time, the opposition press had disappeared almost completely, and the state’s takeover of the economy would proceed apace through the nationalization of foreign-owned businesses, and the confiscation of large property-owners’ holdings across the nation. But Fidel Castro liked to wrangle with words – that is, to hint that his actions were a response to The Enemy’s aggressions. continue reading

Thus things went, and at the moment when Castro delivered a speech in the old Presidential Palace after having attended the sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, two firecrackers went off. Immediately, and in response to those explosions, the Maximum Leader declared that “we will put in place, before Imperialism’s campaigns of aggression, a collective revolutionary surveillance system, so that everyone will know who lives on the block and what relationship he had with the Tyranny, and what he does for a living, with whom he associates, and the activities in which he is involved.”

Truly, it is hard to believe that such a sophisticated method for denouncing every person who is opposed to or acts against the government could have been conceived by Castro at the very moment in which he was piecing together his speech. Anyone would say that on that day, simply put, a monstrosity was revealed that had been already carefully wrought.

Thus were born the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), an organization that has marched in time with its progenitors. Without a doubt, the Committees had their best moment—as far as the government’s interests are concerned, of course—during the first three decades of the Revolution. But they fell spectacularly starting in the 1990s, with the advent of the “Special Period in Time of Peace.”

At this time, at the grassroots level—on city blocks and in neighborhoods—the CDRs barely function: the CDR members’ monthly meetings don’t take place; almost nobody takes on guard duty in the blocks; there is no more collection of raw materials (that task is now performed by the self-employed); and there are very few Committees who celebrate on the night of September 27, the eve of a new birthday of the organization.

However, what hasn’t fallen by the wayside is the collection of membership dues. During the month of January, the members are required to pay the year’s dues in advance, thus providing the revenue that, among other things, funds the maintenance of the organization’s parasitic structures at the municipal, provincial and national levels.

Even so, the machinery of power does not give in, and it does not waste an opportunity to sing the CDRs’ praises. To do this they dispatch the retinue of Carlos Rafael Miranda, national coordinator of the CDRs, across diverse territories of the country to pass out diplomas and certificates, and to harangue the young people so that they will assume responsibilities in the various structures of the CDR. And, of course, they also call meetings where high-level authorities of the Communist Party (PCC) and the hierarchy of the CRDs converge. One of these was the Fourth National Plenary of the CDRs which met in recent days.

At that conclave, José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the PCC, said that “the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution are strengthening and will reach their 55th anniversary with important achievements and perspectives.” Even so, upon remembering (or upon somebody whispering in his ear) that the CDRs are practically non-functioning at their base level, Machado noted that “the system for reporting and making denunciations must be reinforced for the prevention of, and battle against, illegalities, crimes and social indisciplines”—a tacit acknowledgment that the power elite is dissatisfied with the level of snitching that the CDRs are currently exhibiting.

There was finally consensus among those friends who were recalling that night in 1960 that not even 100 firecrackers, such as those that went off on 28 September, would be enough to revive a patient who is in an irreversible coma and is waiting only for the machines that are artificially prolonging his life to be turned off so as to definitively die.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Raul Castro Tells UN that Human Rights Are ‘a Utopia’ / Diario de Cuba

Raul Castro on Monday, September 28 at the UN General Assembly in New York (MINREX)
Raul Castro on Monday, September 28 at the UN General Assembly in New York (MINREX)

The general stands in defense of Latin American populist governments and criticizes democracies with parties “alien and distant from the aspirations of the people.”, New York, 28 September 2015 – General Raul Castro affirmed this Monday, in his speech before the General Assembly of the UN, that the enjoyment of human rights is “a utopia,” and he criticized the fact that, according to him, “their promotion and protection is distorted.” “They are used as a selective and discriminatory way of imposing political decisions,” he remarked.

The ruler began his speech with reference to the “unacceptable militarization of cyberspace and information technology.” And he lamented that since the emergence of the fundamental charter of human rights, there have been “constant wars and interventions, forcible overthrows by government forces and soft coups.”

In this sense, he defended the freedom of countries to choose their own political, economic, social and cultural system, and he explicitly defended the governments of Nicolas Maduro and Rafael Correa, respectively. continue reading

The general asserted that the cause of the conflicts is found in “poverty,” originating, according to what he said, “in colonialism first and imperialism later.”

“The commitment assumed in 1945 to promote social progress and elevate the standard of living for people and their economic and social development is still a chimera,” he emphasized, pointing out that “795 million people suffer hunger, 781 million adults are illiterate, 17,000 children die every day of incurable illnesses, while military expenses are 1.7 trillion dollars worldwide.”

The ruler indicated that “with only a fraction of this amount they could solve the most pressing problems that afflict humanity.”

Castro also asserted that “even in industrialized countries social welfare states have practically disappeared” and added that “the electoral systems and parties depend on money and publicity.” They are, he said, “increasingly alien and distant from the aspirations of the people.”

Part of his address focused also on warning of the ravages of climate change and particularly the serious consequences for “small island nations.”

Castro also spoke of migration problems without reference to the Cuban problem. Instead, he appealed to the European Union to “assume its responsibilities” in the current humanitarian crisis “that it helped to create.”

As on previous occasions, Castro reminded us that the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will be completed with the end of the embargo, the end of broadcasts by Radio and Television Marti, the return of the Guantanamo naval base, and reparations for damages caused to the Cuban people by sanctions. He also asked for the end to “subversion” programs directed at promoting changes on the Island.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Repression of Science

Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bio-chemist, researcher for the National Institute for Oncology and Radiobiology, speaks of how he is pressured and prevented from fully carrying out his work because of his friendship with dissidents.
Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard

Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bio-chemist, researcher for the National Institute for Oncology and Radiobiology, speaks of how he is pressured and prevented from fully carrying out his work because of his friendship with dissidents., Waldo Fernandez Cuenca, Havana, 25 September 2015 — It all started because of a party for his best friend, Ciro Diaz, at the end of 2013. Ciro Diaz, besides being a graduate in Mathematics from the University of Havana, has just one remarkable characteristic: He is a dissident and member of the band Porno for Ricardo. Soon came the threats from State Security to make him a prisoner if he engaged in the activity.

Then came the accusations at work of his being “mercenary” and “annexationist*.” But at no time was this young man, a bio-chemist by profession, intimidated, and he resisted the wishes of his oppressors. Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard has kept his ties of friendship with Ciro and other opposition figures.

Casanella made his case known to the independent project Estado de Sats and was also arrested during the wave of repression unleashed by the performance by activist and artist Tania Bruguera at the end of last year. Since that time his harassment by State Security has continued, principally at his place of employment: The National Institute for Oncology and Radio-biology (INOR) where he serves as a researcher. continue reading

We talked about his current work situation and the plight of the Cuban health system. In spite of the difficulties he has lived through, Oscar has never lost his smile, and he maintains the same composure as always, which has lead to his repressors to try to corner him.

What situation are you in right now?

Right now I am subjected to psychological warfare in the workplace. Not just me, but also my co-workers, and it hurts me more for them than for myself because I have already overcome my fear, but my colleagues have not.

What does the psychological warfare consist of?

The doctor and deputy director of research for INOR, Lorenzo Anasagasti Angulo, has been pressuring and coercing my co-workers, above all the laboratory managers, to not let me into the various labs of the Center. He explains that there is a labor rule that says that access to these places is restricted, and that is true, but it only applies in my case, because the other researchers enter and exit the various labs without any restriction, while my access is impeded. I think I am treated very differently and discriminated against.

That is not the only thing that has happened to you…

Before this, in June of this year, I prepared a course on Bio-computing for students at the University of Havana and researchers from the INOR, and after my immediate boss had approved it, even though teaching personnel had reserved a hall for me to teach the classes, when this was all coordinated with the Biology Faculty so that students of that school could receive this training, this gentleman, Lorenzo Anasagasti Angulo, did not give me the authorization to teach the class.

But it did not stop there, he also coerced many employees of the Oncology Institute to not attend the course, and he has told them on more than one occasion not to talk to me. All these actions were not enough for him, and he told me: “Oscar, get this into your head; I am going to make sure that you have no future in this institution and I am going to make everything as difficult for you as I can.”

This gentleman, together with a member of the Communist Party from the Pedro Fernandez Cabezas Institute, has threatened to expel me from the Center just because of my ties with opposition figures. Also, Anasagasti has pressured my colleagues to deliver the copy of the lawsuit and letter that I sent to Raul Castro where I reveal the articles and laws so violated by the State Security officers, agents of the PNR and members of the PCC and where I demand the President of the country leave me in peace.

The deputy director asked my colleagues to destroy all this documentation and said that it was “enemy propaganda.” So, to demand adherence to Cubans laws is, according to Doctor Anasagasti, “enemy propaganda.”

As if that were not enough, just a month ago Lorenzo Anasagasti appeared with two State Security officers at the home of Doctor Carlos Vazquez, head of the Board of the Oncological Tumor Devices, in order to sound him out and tell him in a threatening tone: “We’re checking up on you.”

Lorenzo Anasagasti is a collaborator with the repressors, which makes him another repressor who occupies a job at the Institute of Health which has nothing to do with these issues. This is a person in service to the Cuban political police and for him that function is more important than the professional development and education of the INOR. This gentleman has demonstrated that he prefers no thesis be carried out if I participate in the statistical analysis of an academic project in the Institute.

I also am a Molecular Biology teacher for a module that is taught to doctors who are specializing in Oncology, and I have to interact with a person who coordinates that course, but Anasagasti has demanded that person prohibit me from accessing his laboratory and pressured him to not even talk to me. In this way the interaction between researchers and workers, so necessary to offering high quality training for the country’s future oncologists, is made more difficult. The development and quality of teaching are sacrificed for the sake of repression.

Some foreign mission doctors are familiar with the dispossession of their fees by the Cuban government, and they justify it on the grounds that the country invests that money primarily in oncology resources. What is your opinion of this matter? Do you believe that is really so?

It is true that cancer treatments are expensive anywhere in the world and that, for being an underdeveloped country, the country’s situation is not one of the worst. But really the duties that the doctors, researchers, nurses and service personnel perform does not correspond at all with the wages that they earn and the conditions under which they work.

Currently the volume of patients seen in Cuba by a single doctor is abusive. It is a situation that affects the doctor as well as the cancer patient, who has to wait long hours to be seen, and now the quality of the attention and treatment is not the same. This is mainly due to a stampede, a very big exodus of professionals to the outside, and this causes a work overload for those who remain, although those from the INOR who emigrate the most are the recent graduates, not doctors, who barely stay two years between their graduation and their exit abroad.

I worked some years ago on research about brain tumors and, of the specialists who carried out the research with me, all left the country. There was one point when INOR had no neurosurgeons or neurologists. Another interesting element is that when I started to work at the Institute in 2004, there was free internet access for all researchers, and the situation, 11 years later, is very different. In my department I do not have access to the internet, and I work in Bio-computing. They have restricted access to the internet only for department and laboratory heads, but there is less access than there was 11 years ago.

In spite of the promises that the Government has made to doctors about economic improvements like better wages, the chance to buy a car, a laptop, etc., several of the doctors at my workplace are very pessimistic, because they listened to the words of Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla at the press conference about the embargo on September 16, which confirmed that Cuba was not going to change its internal politics. “Maybe I improve my life, but my relatives who are not doctors are going to continue with the same deprivations,” one of them told me. That’s why they have decided to abandon the country at the first opportunity that is presented.

*Translator’s note: An “annexationist” is someone who advocates Cuba becoming a part of the United States.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Activists Are Preparing To Protest In Front Of The United Nations During Raul Castro’s Speech / Diario de Cuba

diariodecubalogoDDC, 27 September 2015 — Groups of Cuban activists will travel to New York on Saturday for a protest in front of the United Nations on Monday, when Raul Castro will deliver a speech to the General Assembly.

“The world welcomes a dictator of 57 years who has destroyed the Cuban nation, who has brutally divided it, who has encouraged the guerrillas, who has been involved in drug trafficking, terrorism (…) and who, on the other hand, does not want to hear the voice the people of Cuba,” criticized the exiled Ramon Saul Sanchez, who is leading the action in which Rosa María Payá, daughter of the deceased regime opponent Oswaldo Paya, will also participate, reported Channel NTN24 .

According to the report, the activists will denounce human rights violations in Cuba, the abuses of dissidents, and the division of the Cuban family, among other things.

“We will try to do something in the river (East River), behind the United Nations, and also on land. We propose – we do not know if we can do it because of the logistics, due to security – to deploy a floating cemetery (in memory) of the ten children who were murdered on the 13 de Marzo tugboat” incident in July 1994, Sanchez, leader of the Democracy Movement, told NTN24.

The first group of activists departed Saturday from Miami. According to the exile Felipe Rojas, another group will travel on Sunday to New York via bus, “to be present on Monday at 11:00 am at the United Nations.”

That day US President Barack Obama will also speak to the UN General Assembly.

Regime Arrests Berta Soler and Martha Beatriz Roque When They Go to Greet the Pope / Diario de Cuba

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, 20 September 2015, Havana–The government opponent Martha Beatriz Roque was arrested this Saturday in Havana, activist Ailer González reported via Twitter. Sources from the Ladies in White informed Diario de Cuba that Roque was invited to the Apostolic Nunciature to greet Pope Francis upon his arrival.

Also invited to welcome the Holy Father before the Nunciature was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler. Dissident sources fear that she has been arrested along with her husband, the ex-political prisoner Ángel Moya, said Ailer González.

The activist also denounced “power outages” that opponents’ telephone services are undergoing. Attempts to communicate by telephone with various opponents were unsuccessful.

For his part, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), José Daniel Ferrer, sent word via a communiqué of the arrest of 26 activists in Santa Clara who were intending to travel to Havana to attend the Pope’s mass on Sunday. In the capital, Ferrer said, five members of his organization have been arrested.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

El Sexto’s Mother Fears for His Health in Prison, Where an Outbreak of Dengue Fever Has Occurred / Diario de Cuba, Maria Matienzo Puerto

Graffiti Artist El Sexto (JUSTICE AND PEACE)
Graffiti Artist El Sexto (JUSTICE AND PEACE)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, María Matienzo Puerto, Havana, 5 September 2015 — The mother of graffiti artist El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado), María Victoria Machado, following her visit to her son on Friday at Valle Grande prison, reports that her son’s case file is “lost.”

In statements to Diario de Cuba, Machado expressed her anguish over this development, as well as for the health of her son, and the sanitary conditions in the prison. Because of health reasons, the artist ceased the hunger strike he had recently announced.

“I was quite worried about the cold he had,” Machado said after having visited him in prison. “Although he had ceased the hunger strike, he barely touched any food. I could see he had no appetite.”

Likewise, his mother said that her primary concern is the disappearance of his case file. “What they want to do is to prolong his imprisonment with no charges filed, nor justice served. They have kicked us around. And nobody can explain the file’s disappearance.”

El Sexto told his mother how the inmates had gone for three days without drinking water, while an outbreak of dengue had led to daily fumigations at the prison.

Another reprisal inflicted on the artist is to cross off his list of approved visitors any friends deemed objectionable by State Security.

Graffiti Artist El Sexto Declares a Hunger Strike after Eight Months in Prison / Diario de Cuba

Graffiti artist El Sexto (Danilo Malodonado) (VOICE PROJECT)
Graffiti artist El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado) (VOICE PROJECT), Havana, 25 August 2015 – Graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, declared a hunger strike Tuesday, according to his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, in statements taken by Radio Marti. As of August 25 he will have spent eight months in custody following his arrest and incarceration in the Valle Grande prison for the rebellious performance with the two pigs named Fidel and Raul.

In recent weeks, State Security had told the graffiti artist that he would leave jail on August 24, news that the jail authorities themselves denied Monday under pressure by relatives who appeared at the penitentiary center to seek explanations.

This Tuesday the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), which has awarded a prize to the graffiti artist for his artistic fight in favor of human rights, demanded his liberation.

“El Sexto is a prisoner for satirizing a family dynasty that for 57 years has arrogated to itself absolute power in Cuba, without holding a single democratic election and repressing any critical expression no matter how inoffensive it might be,” said the president of the HRF, Thor Halvorssen.

“Like the inhabitants of the farm [Animal Farm], in Cuba, artists like Danilo Maldonado, Tania Bruguera and Gorki Aguila, are systematically punished for refusing to live under the capricious tenets of a totalitarian regime lacking any sense of humor and repressing even the least manifestation of liberty,” Halvorssen said.

Translator’s note: Danilo is being held in pre-trial detention, he has not been tried.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel