Declaration of “Convivencia” Magazine on the Restoration of Diplomatic Relations Between Cuba and the U.S.

Convivencia (Coeixistence) magazine salutes the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America.

We hope that this climate of dialogue and negotiation is also established between the Government of the Republic of Cuba and independent Cuban civil society, with a respect for unity in diversity, the right to self-determination and the exercise of citizen sovereignty.

Convivencia magazine is glad for the release of political prisoners, and believes that all political prisoners must be released, including those who are on parole in Cuba.

In the same way, all repression for political reasons must cease. The Cuban Government should ratify the United Nations Human Rights Covenants and the conventions of the International Labor Organization, as they claim the four points of consensus identified by a growing and significant group of Cuban civil society. continue reading

Convivencia magazine is grateful for the mediation by his Holiness Pope Francis in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America.

Likewise, we hope that the Church can continue to offer its service of mediation in an achievable and necessary dialogue between the Cuban Government and independent civil society in Cuba, with the consequent recognition of the latter as valid interlocutor.

Convivencia magazine believes that the restoration of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America removes a serious obstacle so that the fundamental dispute can be clearly seen as being between the Cuban Government and its citizens, not between Cuba and the United States. Thus can it be understood that the most important thing for our people is inclusion, civil and political, economic, social and cultural freedoms and the exercise of an ever more participatory democracy in Cuba.

Convivencia magazine hopes that this historic event and the lifting of all blockades, especially the one that the Cuban government uses against the initiative and entrepreneurial nature of its citizens, will create the necessary conditions so that the Cuban people are the principal actors of their own history, and so lead the nation — including all our compatriots on the Island and in the Diaspora — towards a future of peace, freedom, progress and social justice.

The Editorial Board

Translated by: Hombre de Paz, with some assistance from Alicia Barraqué Ellison

18 December 2014

Poland’s Solidarity With Cuban Civil Society / Intramuros, Dagoberto Valdes

Former Polish President Lech Walesa and Dagoberto Valdés


by Dagoberto Valdés Hernández

A year ago I was able to realize one of my lifelong dreams: to visit Poland, a country that remained loyal to its faith and liberty. This past October 20, I had the honor and joy of my second encounter with President Lech Walesa. Just before midday, we arrived at the Warsaw Hotel following a fruitful and cordial meeting with Poland’s vice minister of foreign relations, Mr. Leszek Soczewica.  There we learned that solidarity does not necessarily have to be at odds with an ethical pragmatism.

President Walesa, energetic and affectionate in manner, arrived with quick greetings for everyone, then took his seat to address some urgent words of attention to Cuba and conveying a transcendent message of affection and exhortation toward courageous and responsible action.

Upon concluding his wise words, he expressed his desire to listen to us to better learn first-hand the actual reality of the Cuban people. Various of those present were able to express our concerns for Cuba and we asked him to support the four points of consensus identified and claimed by a growing and significant civil society group in Cuba. President Walesa expressed his support for the four points and encouraged us to strengthen the structure of civil society.

Others also presented their projects and agendas. The wife of Mr. Manuel Cuesta Morúa asked Walesa to support and request the total liberation and exoneration from charges of her husband. She received backing for her cause from the leader of Solidarity and his countrymen. Mr. Walesa expressed, with fervent devotion to Cuba, that he concurred with the four points and also that he desired to travel to Cuba when conditions were right for him to do so.

Each participant was able to have his or her picture taken with President Lech Walesa, grateful for his time and commitment to Cuba.

Director of Convivencia (Coexistence) Project and Magazine

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

30 October 2014

A Gift from Pinar del Rio on Padre Felix Varela’s 225th Birthday / Intramuros, Yoandy Izquierdo Toledo

I remember every November 20th for a special reason (besides being the birthday of a dear aunt, and of a friend): on this day the Cuban nation gave birth to one of the preeminent pillars of our founding history, Father Felix Varela.

“The complete patriot,” as Martí called him, knew how to merge science and conscience in order to carry out the difficult art of showing the way toward freedom and social justice.

Pinar del Rio has the only full-body statue of Varela on the island, located on the grounds of the Cathedral. The work, done in marble from San Juan y Martinez by the sculptor José M. Pérez Veliz, shows us Varela in a walking position, looking into the distance, like someone watching over the fate of the city and the nation. In his left hand he holds his greatest work, Letters to Elpidio. About Impiety, Superstition and Fanaticism. He seems to be telling us from its pages: “Dear ones, never be arrogant with the weak or weak with the powerful.”

Twenty years after the founding of the now-defunct Center for Civic and Religious Training (CFCR) in Pinar del Rio, and seven years after the unveiling of this sculpture, we members of the Coexistence team, the successor to the work of the Center and its magazine Stained Glass, made a pilgrimage to the foot of this wonderful work in order to offer of our project of ethical and civic education – an edited volume of Coexistence Issues, containing courses taught by CFCR from 1993 to 2007.

Inspired by the Varelian maxim that “There can be no homeland without virtue,” we offer this book as a continuation and application of the legacy of the first one who taught us to think. It is a gift from Pinar del Rio to the Father of our culture.

Yoandy Izquierdo Toledo (Pinar del Río, 1987).

Diplomate in Microbioology, Manager of Coexistence Issues, Resides and works in Havana.

21 November 2013

Poland, Walesa, and a Journey to Freedom / Intramuros, Dagoberto Valdes

Dagoberto Valdes and Lech Walesa

By Dagoberto Valdés Hernández

For years I had a dream. Today it has been realized. Poland has always been part of my cultural, religious and freedom identity. Disappearing several times on the map of Europe, “semper fidelis” Poland maintained its nationality thanks to its rooted ancient culture. I learned from Poland, and its greatest son, Blessed Pope John Paul II, that culture is the soul of a people and the soul is immortal. Since then I have dedicated my entire life in Cuba to rescuing, promoting and cultivating the cultural identity of my Fatherland.

Later, I had the inexpressible honor to participate in the preparation for the Polish Pope’s visit to Cuba in 1998. And to be one of his colleagues at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Now I have arrived in twenty-first century Poland. I walk the path of his roots. The path of his history. I drink from the sources. Thanks to Lech Walesa Institute.

As luck would have it I arrived in this country on June 4, the anniversary of the elections won by the Solidarity Union. I’ve met its leaders. Heard their testimonies of their lives. Their love for Cuba. On Thursday June 6 I personally met the living legend of the last stage of Polish history, President Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize winner and and legendary leader of the Solidarity Trade Union.

Just after eleven o’clock he came hurrying to the headquarters of the Institute that bears his name and where he continues his work. He entered the meeting room and sat with confidence. He greeted us. He spoke briefly and quite frankly about his impressions of Poland and Cuba. Respectfully and cordially he gave us the floor to ask him questions or to give him news of the Nation  where he said he wanted to go one day when we have freedom and democracy. Each one expressed his thoughts and his admiration for his work and the history of his nation.

Personally, I enjoyed the meeting. I looked at the lapel of his suit and found there, as always, the blessed image of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Queen and Patroness of Poland. I heard him mention with deep devotion the name of Blessed John Paul II, his role on the long road to freedom in Europe and in his homeland. The support the Polish Pope always gave to Solidarity and its leader. His visits before and after the change. continue reading

I asked for the floor to express my respect and before it was turned over to me I heard an unmerited presentation about me and my work from my friend and interpreter Tomasz. I thanked him for the opportunity to meet him and told him I wanted to convey good news about Cuba.

I said that ordinary Cubans had become less fearful and the fabric of Cuban civil society had grown and strengthened and is poised for greater coordination for unity in diversity. He listened to me intently, nodding his head, staring at me. At the end of my speech that lasted less than three minutes, I got up from my seat and offered him a symbol of the workers and peasants of Pinar del Rio: a box of Cohiba cigars.

At the end we quickly took informal photos. He had spent more time than planned with the Cubans. He signed some books and reiterated his love for Cuba and wished us the best for the future. He left as fast as he had come. After the applause was a feeling of hope and confidence in ourselves, that “there is no freedom without solidarity” in which the peaceful path to democracy is not just an option but the only ethically acceptable option.

Over the long weekend, from 8 to 10 June, we went to the places where it all started: Gdanz, an ancient and beautiful city on the Baltic Sea. We visited Westerplate, where World War II began that September 1, 1939. We offered honor and prayers for all those who died in this horror of the twentieth century. On Sunday at early Mass at the Parish of Santa Barbara the Eucharist was offered for them all and for the conscience of mankind with that gigantic phrase on the memorial for the fallen: “No more war”. We could feel the terrible cross of a Poland invaded and bloody.

But there is no cross without resurrection. On Monday, we visited Gdanz Shipyard, door of life, a sanctuary for the rights of workers, temple of nonviolent struggle. Tabernacle of peace with justice, freedom and solidarity. So I wanted to express the famous Polish poet who was asked to write a verse to place forever in the back wall of the monument, but he refused humbly expressing that none of his poems could express what had happened and chose Psalm 29 verse 11 which proclaims: “The Lord gives strength to his people. The Lord will bless his people with peace.” In fact, in this sacred place, the Polish people received “the power of the powerless” and not to use it for war and violence but for freedom and solidarity by way of peace is the gift and task.

We began what was for me a pilgrimage and a school, by the monument to the fallen workers in these yards. Over the intense and luminous blue of Gdanz, rise, solemn and serene, the three crosses with three crucified anchors. This symbol of hope and of the deep sea. This symbol of the Passion of Christ in his people. But it does not give the impression of a tragic monument. It looks like a giant flower of life that comes from the assumed cross and redemption. It looks like a lighthouse in the sea of oppression and injustice, that the eventful life of those who row tirelessly toward freedom loses neither its direction nor its way. I got the impression of an immeasurable arm of warning. A warning signal, a prayer which rises for all who decide to fight for their freedom, we take the paths of solidarity and peace.

I could not stop the tears as I joined this silent prayer and looked down to pay tribute to all crucified in their body or in their soul, I realized that the blood and tears of so many men and women had been marked by the artist’s hand, concentric circles on the pavement, widening from the center of the monument, it seemed to reach to each pacifist fighter and every crucified village. I wanted to kneel there and stay awhile open to expansive mysticism. But Magdalena’s voice dissuaded me, the passionate guide who told us that there was a wide balcony reserved for the contemplation of this triple cross, in the huge cultural center and museum that  Solidarity built just below the monument and in line with the famous Door 2 which we approached reverently.

There it remains close to three decades later, the picture of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the portrait of Pope John Paul II that the shipyard workers had placed as shields during strikes where it all started. Then we passed through the vast hall of the Directorate of Health and Safety at Work, where the rounds of dialogue and negotiation were held over the 21 demands that the Solidarity Union demanded from the government that said it had been “the dictatorship of the proletariat” to guarantee the rights of workers.

In the end, we were cordially invited to the opening of Museum-Center of European Solidarity, which will be June 4, 2014.

Our friend David, mystic and musician from the Omni-Zona Franca project of Alamar, gave me a huge red pen with the image of Pope John Paul II, a true copy of the one Lech Walesa used to sign Gdanz Agreements. With it I wrote in the guestbook the incredible religious experience of having stepped on ground sacred to the history of mankind.

I did think of my suffering mother, of the example that my father left me on leaving this world too early, of my three children, my granddaughter who was born on May 20, the day of the independence of Cuba, of my family, of close friends and collaborators from the Civic Center, of that magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), and the current magazine Coexistence. And also forgiving all and each of those who have considered themselves my enemies or opponents with a prayer for the reconciliation of all Cubans.

This land has been inscribed with the letters of Solidarity the eternal message that full and true freedom can only be achieved through the paths of justice and peace.

I left with the deep conviction that it is worth spending a lifetime to inscribe, educate, empower, ethically and civilly, this message in the soul of the people, in the language and the circumstances in which each nation embarks on his own journey toward the civilization of love.

20 June 2013

Jose Marti Society is a Ghost With the Site in Ruins / Intramuros

Jose Marti statue in Pinar del Rio - from Wikicommons

Jose Marti statue in Pinar del Rio – from Wikicommons

By Juan Carlos Fernández Hernández.

José Martí, the man we Cubans call our “Apostle,” was, and let no man doubt it, a man of vast moral, spiritual and cultural heritage. Qualities that have served as the cornerstone for modeling the thinking of being Cuban.

Well, some years ago José Martí Cultural Societies were set up in provinces and municipalities, designed and created to foster among our population, especially young people, the thought and vision of the Master; this was a vain endeavor by Communist Party leaders to somehow fit Marti within Marx, Engels and Lenin.

It sounds crazy but the effort still persists, although it is fair to say that the Communist ideologues don’t know how to insert the liberal ideas of Marti within those of International Communism, and no one swallows their story anyway because the Complete Works of Jose Marti circulate freely on the streets, and in these works Marti dismisses Marx, Communism included.

But back to the idea of the so-called Cultural Society, as an idea it is very good but, it all depends on the intentions… let me explain.

If this was intended to rescue the thinking of the Apostle from shameless oblivion shameful for new generations, for them to have as a reference in their lives, it would be logical that these institutions would have the social role that the name suggests. But, on the contrary, the organization almost unknown to the ordinary person from Pinar del Rio, passing by its headquarters, dilapidated and unpainted, in an old house located in San Juan Street between Yagruma and Martí. What irony, given that this was the home of a respected and wealthy local family. It is in such a shameful state due to the degree of neglect that is inhabited only by the ghosts of its former owners.

I do not think anyone in Pinar del Rio would be happy with the fate of the José Martí Cultural Society, but the complaints can be put to good use, we have to rely on citizen action, so we can together find solutions to rescue something that can be very valuable and appreciated by all.

A public collection in Pinar del Rio would involve a lot of citizens, taking as its theme something that can’t miss: “With all and for the good of all.” It would be healthy, it would empower citizens and they would feel a part of a city repairing one block for this Society, where the authorities are rushing to repair the hard currency store  popularly known as “Bambi.”

I would like to note that material things are important to us, but more important than profit are the healthy and transcendent ideas of the Apostle of all Cubans, who preferred to reach out with the white rose because he could not hate.

by Juan Carlos Fernandez Hernandez. (1965). Pinar del Rio. Co-leader of the Brotherhood Assistance to Prisoners and their Families Pastoral Care of the Diocese of Pinar del Rio. He is a member of the team of Coexistence.

4 April 2013

Patience and Work / Intramuros, Livia Galvez Chiu

By Livia Galvez Chiú

“Time puts everything in its right place” or maybe peoples’ work does it too?

There are many stories in which in the end everything finds its proper place. Perfect. Fine for some, and for others, not so fine. Everything depends on where we are situated while the “process” occurs and where we find ourselves when we get to the end.

The mistake is thinking that things end up in the right place through a magical process.

Putting to one side things which happen by chance or accidentally, in order for this to come about you have to have people who mess things up and people who try to sort things out. People do what they can, and God, or life, or time, takes care of the remainder. There are people who divide, sow discord, cultivate hatred, feed resentment; there are those who wait patiently or impatiently, like spectators, without getting involved; and those who, moving between patience and impatience, are watched sceptically as they work and make an effort to “put things in their proper place”. continue reading

I know people who pass through the three positions. These are, for me, those who learn from getting burnt, grow and mature. It’s difficult, after getting it wrong, to accept you have made a mistake, and then work very hard to try to put things right with the patience necessary to help regain the confidence of others. Extremely difficult, but possible.

Cuba has endured 53 years of disorder. Those who have messed things up appear to have no intention of putting things right. Something has to happen. If the damage has been done, we have to try to put things back in their rightful place, because those people who only want to wait without getting involved have no way out apart from hope.

Cubans have a lot to do. Someone who tries to take one step forward towards liberty cannot go backwards again. There are men and women in Cuba, not all of them Cubans, who can bear witness to that. They are a light on the dark bad road we have to pass through.

Translated by GH

4 April 2013

Interview with Juan Juan Almeida*

Photo: Dagoberto Valdes, Juan Juan Almeida, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sanchez: 1. You are an important public figure, especially because you are the son of one of the historic icons of the Cuban Revolution, the commander Juan Almeida Bosque. How have you dealt with these circumstances? Have you taken advantage of them? Have they become a burden?

Juan Juan Almeida: Figure? Importance? Me? I can tell you, one morning in October a General chose me, saying with reverence that I was the favorite son of my commander father, and a few years later, this same General kicked me out, almost literally, from the funeral of my father.

You see, experience is the referent, and what you could have called “circumstance”, has been, is and will be for me, my whole life. It’s in my blood, in my genes, in my surname. I would not be able – nor do I want – to give up what I am. My father is not and was not a burden.

I don’t think much before speaking and I always say what I think. I have already said it, I have thought about it, I reaffirm it: If I were to be born again, I would not want a similar father, I would want the same one.

To say that I took advantage of him, of his position, of his power, excuse me, that would also be relative. By the way, my father had nine children, there are eight of us siblings, why are you interviewing me? I don’t think it’s just because I’m the son of a Comandante.

2. I want to wrap up the topic of your father with this question and then talk about you. The folkloric image of Comandante Juan Almeida is that of a man of the people, fun, down to earth and transparent. No excesses or abuses of power have been attributed to him. Do you agree with that image? How was he as a family man?

Folkloric image? Wow, Yoani, you come up with such phrases!

Well, let’s say that in some ways I agree with that image if “down to earth” means that one is not a complicated person. More than “a man of the people” he was Cuban, very “Cuban” and very human. The day I went to the morgue I went up to him and kissed him. He was on a stretcher, serious, cold – that was not my father. And although it’s difficult for a son to give an unbiased opinion, today I would say that my father’s smile was something incredible, fascinating, the most beautiful one in the world.

I remember when I was a child I loved to run my fingers over the marks that his battles had left on his body and he would tell me proudly, with a smile, these happened here, those happened over there, this one happened in El Uvero. So I know each centimeter of my father’s body, an extremely tender man who paradoxically died without saying “I love you”. Maybe that’s why he took refuge in his songs. He composed one for me, I Want to be a Sailor, and every time I hear it my heart crumples up.

My father was what I would like to be someday: unique.

But that’s enough, let’s change the topic. I get sentimental and I’m terrified of suffering.

3. From reading your book, Memories of an Unknown Guerrilla, and from other testimonies of people close to you, one gets the impression of a certain disastrous quality in your conduct: an undesirable student in several schools, a terrible State security agent, failed businessman and irredeemable bohemian. If you were forced to say something good about yourself, what would you say?

Ah, but were you saying bad things about me? You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If I had been a good agent for the organs of State Security, I bet you would be criticizing me right now. If I had been a “successful” businessman, would you be complimenting and envying me? And if I were not a bohemian, I wouldn’t know poems and this interview would be a boring antic, flattering and pedantic.

Look at that, it rhymes!

A while ago you called me “an important figure”; now, “disastrous” and “undesirable.” Hell, woman, you’re acting like the General. Look, you know who I am? I am Juan Juan and, by the way, I love saying my name. I am a Havanan by birth and in my heart. When I was very little and the carpets were rolled out, someone would always whisper: “the son of Comandante Almeida just arrived.” Later, when my daughter was a little girl and I would take her to school with her mother, her friends would say: “Indira’s father just arrived.” As you can see, my friend, the same way I am my father’s son, I am my daughter’s father. So that’s what I am: Indira’s father, Consuelo’s husband, Púbila García’s son, Juan Almeida’s son, my siblings’ brother, my friends’ friend. In conclusion, I am a guy who is many things, who loves to live his life and, as opposed to others, does not dream of that image of being an intelligent man. I am not a victim, I am not a hero, I have no pretensions of being a leader and even less a role model; no parties, no groups. I am only a human being with defects and fed up with so many people who have fantasies of fixing the world, which of itself is not even round. I think that a good chaos can be something fantastic!

4. In your youth and because you came from a family like yours, you were involved with that group of young men know popularly as “daddy’s boys”. Are you still friends with any of them? What happened to that pleiad?

Wouldn’t it really sound better to ask what happened to my group of friends? Well, all right, you like “pleiad”, I’ll use “pleiad.”

I am not going to mention their names, but all my friends, like all “friends”, some are here, others are elsewhere, others in the beyond.

Before, I used to talk to them a lot, and would even visit the ones here or elsewhere. But after suffering something as emotional as the persecutions were and are, being followed, arrested, interrogated, marginalized, excluded, etc., one has to learn to live with his present. I see no reason to affect or contaminate or want to convince anyone. My mother used to tell me: Juan Juan, I raised you to be a little man. And that’s it, I believed it.

I separated from my friends in order to protect them all, also from some relatives. I would have been a son of a bitch if I had acted any other way. But let me tell you something, the day I was kicked out of my father’s funeral, immediately after, my whole family left that place, they all got the hell out of the Plaza of the la Revolution. Listen well: All of them, Plaza of the Revolution. It’s not easy. From there I went home and I locked myself in to cry alone. And you know what helped me? The many phone calls, the great number of friends who, like you, know that my phone is always “congested.” Oh, and more than six thousand e-mails. I’m not an angel, I’ve said it, but that seemed to me enough to believe that I’m not so bad and that I had been able to sow a bit.

Did I tell you that a long time ago I removed from my dictionary the words “enemy,” “victory,” “defeat”; and because it rhymes with “combat” [in Spanish], I also removed “debate”.

Suffering terrifies me; so does power. I know them, I have seen them since childhood, they go hand in hand. Whoever prefers power should always understand that definition clearly, in its strictest sense, so as not to commit acts contrary to the duties imposed by the law, nor satisfy the personal interests of those who exercise it by abusing their authority and acting without respect for the law, decrees or constitutions. I don’t want that kind of power, I prefer to smile calmly.

By the way, and in conclusion, “daddy’s boys” is one of the many phrases that only create division and although it may seem funny to you, it’s quite discriminatory and exclusionary toward that “pleiad” that you call “daddy’s boys.” Not everything is absolute, the apple doesn’t look the same from the ground as from the sky.

5. Your current drama is described as one of a sick person who needs health care overseas where, in addition, your family lives, while the regime will not let you leave the country. What reasons have they given for denying you an exit visa? What do you think the real motives are? What do you think you would have to do or what would have to happen for you to finally get on a plane to leave Cuba? Will you return to live in this country if you manage to leave?

First, let’s put this in context: I have a life, not a drama. I was born with a genetic incurable illness, I don’t like talking about it, and I detest acting the victim. In the ’80s my conditions started to cause me pain and periods of being an invalid. I tried the best-known Cuban experts without finding any solution, including calling at the office of my father one afternoon because, and he had told me this, Minister Raul Castro had tried to find some Korean doctors because, among other things, he was also concerned about my case. I went to the Koreans, various sessions of acupuncture and other techniques but they didn’t resolve my problems. Go ask Raul, he must remember it. It was then when, through a decision of a commission of MININT and MINSAP, my medical records were sent to an international conference. I started to go to Brussels to see my doctor and things were going well even thought they were getting worse. The reasons, I don’t know. I received threats, arrests, persecutions, a ton of things; but an explanation, nothing.
Why don’t they let me go? I have no idea. I don’t know my interrogator nor anyone in Villa Marista. Nor can I accept that it’s on account of my father ordering it, because I don’t lack witnesses who destroy that hypothesis.

I have no doubt, that it’s a whim of someone who literally can piss on our Constitution, having forgotten the Hippocratic oath of the Minister of Health, to silence the highest leadership of the Ministry of the Interior and the President of the National Assembly.

Who has so much power? Fuente Ovejuna, señor. It’s because he can liquidate me, make me suffer pain, keep me from my daughter with no regard at all, from my wife, my family, he can put me in a cell in a secret case. But this hard-hearted pride will destroy his prestige because everyone looks and asks, why is the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba so taken with the idea of fucking over a guy like me? The answer is, I don’t know, it could be pride.

Am I going to return? I’m going to answer the same as I told a Colonel who interviewed me one day: my interest is in coming back — this I’ve repeated — but look, first I have to leave.

That which I’ve made clear is that if I leave illegally, I’ll return illegally.

6. It’s going around that you made at least one attempt at an illegal exit from Cuba. The incomprehensible is that, according to rumor, you guys were caught “red-handed” in a bus? Can you be more explicit?

Yes, but first I have to make clear that it wasn’t one, it was two attempts at illegal exit, or almost three. The first failed because the raft sank, fortunately next to the shore, I have at least two friends that can confirm it.

The second, is that one that many know: one afternoon they called me to say that, if I wanted to leave illegally, I was to show up dressed in white at 7 AM in a cafeteria that is located at the entrance to Lenin Park in the outskirts of the capital.

That I did, on May 6, 2009, out of pure desperation. I already said that I wrote letters, I already said I’d begged, I already said that I’d interviewed, I already said that they ignored me and there was no option other than an illegal exit. Besides, it’s already part of this old and sad story that sometimes seems spent: dreams, cries, frustrations, destroyed families — in the end, I said that on the bus we were 70-and-some-odd people.

Some said that God had abandoned us, and others, that He had simply saved us from a death on the high seas. The fact was that at 9 PM — by luck or disgrace, I don’t know — after hours on the road, the transit police detained the bus at the highway police control point in the city of Manzanillo. They took us to a police station, they took our identity cards and cell phones, they gave us a talking to in a theater, and then they divided us into groups. I remained with those who stayed overnight in that station. They put us in cells, and there, thrown here and there, we spent that first night together.

The next day, early, after breakfast, they took away our belongings, they took our fingerprints, they took statements and then locked us up in the same cells that were open before and to describe that now would be meaningless. At that time I learned that some of my fellow travelers had tried to illegally leave the country so many times and already knew too well the police procedures. After a while they returned all our belongings minus phones and identity cards, they offered us lunch and we rode the same bus, filming us as we rode, to take us to the delegation of MININT of Bayamo. But imagine it, a bus, with sixty-odd passengers tried to leave Cuba illegally; it was a noisy bomb running up the ghoulishly fascinated streets of Manzanillo, maybe that’s why many people in that town wanted to stand on the sidewalks to watch us pass. At first I thought they would throw stones or the like, but none of that, girl, people gave us examples of their solidarity. That was touching.

We got to Bayamo, were interrogated, taken to Havana, secret houses and even a thorough search of my house, a real atrocity. At last, after several days I left that nightmare with a hood over my head and I’m still required for many months to go and sign in at Villa Marista. I’ve said many times, I do not want to go sign, I want a trial, a trial to accept my own guilt, and the guilt of those who, by not answering my letters and leaving me in a legal limbo also becomes clear, they forced me and do force me to choose an illegal option. A situation and a suggestion that both, still, continue.

But what few know is that there was “almost” a third illegal departure, this last I told them personally in Villa Marista, I told them I would call the national and international press, meet them at the Malecon and get into a raft. Before, of course, I would also tell the Miami press that someone, a boat, a coast guard ship, a speed boat, whatever, something needed to come and wait for me in international waters. I have a visa. I’m will not stop asking or trying to get out, legal or illegal, that part doesn’t interest me, I need to go to the doctor, hug my family, because no one, absolutely no one, has the right to trample on my rights.

7. Do you consider yourself a dissident, government opponent, or something similar?

You don’t give me many options! I don’t consider myself a dissident or an opponent and much less “something similar.” I learned to get along, I’m everything and nothing. I have political opinions but I’m not political, I have a blog but I’m not a blogger, I have friends in the army and friends not in the army, friends who are foreigners and friends who are not foreigners, I’m a friend of Ventolera (that skinny lowlife they say is an expert at stealing clothes off the clotheslines) but I’m not a thief, I have a voice but I’m not a speaker, I have many gay friends but… Well, this is a topic we will talk about later.

Did you know that once, just to shut me up, they offered me work in a prominent place with gifts included? Did I ever tell you about the dissident friend who invited me to participate in his party? Did I tell you that in Villa Marista they constantly invite me to behave myself so they’ll give me the exit permit? Did I mention that a few days ago I received a strange message from the mouth of a General?

Oh, God, I consider myself a living being, an animal, a human, a Cuban, a Havanan who pursues only the welfare of my family, my friends, friends of my friends and my country.

I like a poem by my friend Roger Silverio that says something like:
“I’m tired, my Lord, I’m tired, it is a very large load you have given me
And being tired, I have almost forgotten, you promised me a world restored.”

8. Is it true that you have a private room in Villa Marista, the headquarters of State Security? Have you ever been subjected to cruel treatment, physical or psychological tortures? Do they still, at this point, propose that you work with them?

It’s true and interesting that the times they have taken me to Villa Marista and I had the privilege of sleeping on a bed in the same cell … sorry, I meant “the Presidential Suite.” But look, they have changed my number, the agent assigned to me and even my interrogator. Of course, the latter apologized and explained that he had been working outside of Havana. I do not mention his name because he begged me and I respect his privacy.

The treatment hasn’t been bad, no one has hit me, no one has pulled out my fingernails and they’ve even shown me letters. But beware, a cautionary measure that lasts longer than the sentence for a crime I never committed would be a violation, to be imprisoned for no reason could be an abuse, you feel and see yourself persecuted by people and cars, even to have photos of them is harassment, to not allow me to leave to see a doctor could be a kind of physical torture, and the simple and insignificant fact that they have taken me far from my family on a whim and the command of a lord, could be something like a psychological pressure. Especially when this is often accompanied by a polite, “Be good.”

What if they propose I collaborate? No, it is not that they have asked me, but believe me, I’d be enchanted although according to the manuals I remember from the KGB, there are certain characteristics people should have to “be recruited.” I don’t know if I can talk about these issues without violating any law, but now let me say that I do not fit the profile.

9. Lately you have been given to taking to the streets with signs. What does each of them say? What have you been trying to accomplish with the public protest?

Juan Juan Almeida walking with one of his signs.

No, lately no, I’ve always drawn posters. The first time I was just little boy. I was a José Martí Pioneer and I wanted to be like the apostle. On that first occasion, my sign said “I want to be like Marti.” For the record, I had nothing against the Che Guevara nor the Pioneer slogan [“I want to be like Che”]; but they punished me.

Later, I was in high school, I hung a sheet from the balcony that said in black letters, “Teachers, we students are not coming to the field today, we’re tired, please, replace us.” The teachers didn’t understand that I was asking a favor. That week I didn’t get a weekend pass.

For my wife, my daughter, I have filled the house with posters. In the bath, on the mirrors. Anyway.

In 2005 I was at the Plaza municipality immigration office with a poster that said, “I need permission for me and my wife to leave.” They threw me out. The same year I was at the Plaza of the Revolution with a poster that said the same thing. They detained me and confiscated the poster.

Finally, in 2009, they told me in Villa Marista that my case was closed and I could ask for permission to leave, and the next day they told me they reversed that decision, I went to the Plaza with a placard but this time it was blank. That was the problem, the agents didn’t understand and no matter how much I explained they didn’t believe I was thinking of doing it there. Geez, it’s that smart people are always very complicated.

The last and most recent was in December. An official from Villa Marista assured me that on a certain day they would have a definitive solution to my problem. That day came. Nothing, I felt played with, I grabbed my poster and went in the direction of Raul’s house, they stopped me on 5th avenue; that time it said, “Mr. President, respect the law, respect my rights.”

I never intended to disrespect anyone, I’m not a brave man, my posters aren’t offensive, they don’t create public scandals, I just want to get the attention of the people who run things. Nothing more. I already said in Villa Marista that they love to invent heroes, figures, myths, histories, legends, personages and enemies. They are making me into something I’m not.

10. How many weeks ago did you open your blog on the internet titled, “The Voice of El Morro”? What is the content of your blog? What made you participate in the alternative Cuban blogosphere?

I’ve repeated infinite times that for me, they won’t let me leave because of the whim of my “Mr. President,” because I write letters, I try to leave illegally, etc. etc. etc. I got to this point and I know that I’m not an isolated case, I opened my blog to open a window for everyone who wants to scream, to testify and to expose to the world the face of those of us who today are ghosts. It’s not my intention to pick at anyone’s wounds, I just want the testimony of those people who, for reasons or the whim of a “Don Juan of the pen,” can’t travel from this island or leave it. I want to claim all those who sadly share this absurd prohibition, because rather than separate us it unites us.

It’s simple, there is no double standard or hidden meaning. What is surprising is that some prefer the fear and choose to stay silent hoping the government will pardon them for something they never committed. I understand them, it’s their choice, they have written me hiding behind pseudonyms, but I want facts, not stories. To see you, when you get excited, about putting your face on my blog.

Look, I don’t like this name, “alternative Cuban blogosphere,” it sounds ugly to me and I want to clarify that we are not part of it and we don’t agree with it.

Now I want to tell you a story. One morning someone summoned me to a place, and after much talk a person told me that I resembled a certain Yoani Sanchez. I swear, I had never heard that name and started to wonder about her, with the sole intention of knowing who someone might compare me to. Then I read what Fidel Castro had written in the forward to a book [Fidel, Bolivia and Something More] and my curiosity was piqued. So it happened that, and it was after I’d forgotten that little name, one afternoon I was writing in my house and I received a text message saying, “I am Yoani, if you want to meet me I’m at the home of…” (A friend I don’t want to mention.)

I answered the text message, “Of course, I’ll meet you right now and I am going to kiss your feet,” I said, “If you have washed them.” I dropped everything and went there with the dream of meeting a fawning mulata, tall and delicious.

What a let-down, my friend! At my good friend’s house, on the only sofa, was a white skinny thing with nice legs but too demure for my tastes. And this is Yoani Sanchez? I wondered. So I met an enchanting woman and her husband with his captivating sense of humor. You invited me to your house and I went, I got in the elevator and two young people got in with me, I watched them covertly. One of them had a certain arrogant and dreamy look, and because I am indiscreet I paid particular attention to some metropolitan buttocks. And the boy, well the truth is after looking at those buttocks I didn’t notice anything about him. And in this way I met Claudia Cadelo. And because a beautiful woman is not the youngest, nor the skinniest, nor the one with the smoothest skin or the most stunning hair, but the one who with just a smile and a word can light up your life, I ended up being her friend and the friend of that spectacular guy who is Ciro. Later I met Orlando Luis and I also loved him, and Ivan, Miriam, Ricardo and all those who today are part of my family. What’s more, I can tell you this, and I have told you, so started this crazy fable which, more than a fairy tale, is a story and more than a story is now history.

11. If right now the president of the Republic, General Raul Castro, called you on the phone and asked your advice for solving the problems of Cuba, what would you tell him?

This is not going to happen, but if it did, I couldn’t talk to him right now, I’m talking to Yoani.

Interview by Yoani Sánchez.

*Translator’s Note: This interview is taken from Convivencia’s main website where it appeared, rather than from its blog (which is a part of the website). It is much longer than the typical blog post, but of such humor and interest we thought English-speaking readers would enjoy it. The interview was originally posted on March 30, 2010.

Minutes of the First Convivencia Contest 2010

First Convivencia Literary Contest 2010

Minutes of the Jury

Prize in the Essay category:

Utopia, Challenges and Difficulties in Today’s Cuba. By Dimas Castellanos Marti, of Bayamo, who lives in Havana

Unanimously and in one of the most difficult discussions that taken by this jury, it emerged as the decision in the prize for a creative essay that addresses the current Cuban reality. For the complete and comprehensive analysis of different phenomena in our society and having found the strings that weave the emerging civil society of the island. The successful use of historical profiles and a language reminiscent of teaching that helps make the essay readable in a single sitting without a too heavy burden of academic language.

Prize in the Audiovisual Script category:

When the Other World Ends. By Henry Constantín Ferreiro, de Camagüey

Unanimously, this jury has awarded this work for its attractive dash and daring, with an excellent rhythm that effectively combines real-life scenes with elements of fiction, without losing credibility. This aesthetic combination gives the project its documentary aspect, formidable values and an anti-hieratic tone. The jury took into account the potential of this script to be produced, it has enough aperture to give freedom to the filmmakers. It retrieves a figure of our literature that has been pushed to the limit of its scriptural and social existence.

Prize in the Story category:

The Exit. By Francis Sánchez Rodríguez, de Ciego de Ávila

Unanimously and with the excellence and narrative art and the ability to overwhelm readers with a clean and modern prose, this book of stories has been highlighted by the jury among the others submitted. This collection shows the mastery of a mature writer and clearly has also penetrated in the chords of poetry. The different planes in which the narrative moves drink from the best part of the best Latin American prose, but it is not indebted to it, rather autonomous and very personal.

Prize in the Poetry category:

This is not a poetic art… By Pedro Lázaro Martínez Martínez, of Pinar del Río.

By a majority, the jury found this collection rewarding its renewal, approaching a performance. For its fluid and diverse poetics and because it is never out of tune, despite the dissimilar subject matter it addresses. For both the freshness and depth of his verse: versatile and greatly organic. Because the dialog established respects the sacred spaces of the reader, with an almost architectural precision, allowing a commendable connectivity among the articles that shape the notebook, resulting in a symphony-book.

Prize in Photography:

Impotence. By Ángel Martínez Capote, of Pinar del Río

Unanimously, the jury believes that this photographic triptych contains a bold sequence that builds to a crescendo. It reviews not only the realism and metaphor but also — successfully — the montage. To the eye of the photographer’s is added the expertise of framing and pressing the shutter at the exact perfect moment.

Meeting in Pinar del Rio, together with the Board of Convivencia, June 29, 2010.

The Jury: (in alphabetical order)

Reinaldo Escobar Casas
Maikel Iglesias Rodríguez
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Yoani Sánchez Cordero
Ángel Santiesteban Prats

The Words of Dagoberto Valdés at the Awards Ceremony for the First Literary Contest of the Magazine Convivencia

By Dagoberto Valdés

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Dear Prize Winners, Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury, Friends:

Coexistence Magazine, less than three years old, begins the journey of literary and artistic competitions, next to the wall of a family that has given us a home without borders. After three years spanning the distances, we could mimic the famous poet Fray Luis de León who paid dearly for translating the Song of Songs [during the Inquisition, and when he returned to the classroom after four years in prison, he began his lecture with]: “As we were saying yesterday.”

This is another night of resurrection. We know. Today we can’t fail to recognize the legacy of those Stained-Glass Contests that over more than a decade appreciated and promoted the Cuban literary creation. Then from our original Cathedral, and now from this cathedral of palm fronds of all those who rebuild the national civic fabric.

Any resurrection emerges from some previous life, undoubtedly, but it also opens the door to a new life. This is a small crack for the light of civil society in Cuba. May the multiple chinks in the door that illuminate the interior of the island be joined together. An aperture for humanistic creation and academic skill. Another way to serve the soul of a nation. An homage to those who offer their lives, as martyrs, for her and for us, like Zapata, like Fariñas, and others.

If a Contest has the future of its jury or of its prize winners, that of Coexistence already lives in the greater fullness from its seed. Thanks to those who believed and trusted and sent fragments of their spirit and their letters.  Thanks to those who discerned the finest and offered their time in this exercise that is always threatened. A stellar jury, with Santiesteban as an angel of continuity with his “Libertad de la Luz,” of three years ago when we plowed indoors; Yoani, Pardo and Reinaldo like the innovation of these times of sowing in the open air, Maikel presiding over them in the love of weaving coexistence for the future vintage in the national home.

But first, now, there are signs of pain hovering over the Cuban house and, in its gestation, flutter the oasis of life, like this. We know, however, that the last word is Life. The course of civic formation of the Coexistence Gatherings today finish their third year, and in this small contest inaugural could be other seeds of the harvest to come.

It is near.

Thank you very much.