A Dirty Text on This Wall / Luis Felipe Rojas

Text and Photos: Nilo Julián González Preval

[From LFR: Today begins a series of photographs and texts from the experimentalist artist, Nilo Julián González Preval. My blog, Crossing the Barbed Wire, opens its windows to the artists and writers on the island. On this occasion Nilo presents us with a text, which is nothing more than a photo-reportage on daily life, “if you want it and believe it,” he told us from Havana.]

“Today I went to visit your aunt. I don’t know why this week I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. How can you live well in Holguin? She is fine. As fine as you can be in an institution of blankets and loneliness. I brought her a pudding and some sweets. A soft drink of mate. I slipped when I was getting out of the truck and looked to see who was laughing. The first one to laugh was going to get it. Gracefulness was what cost me our divorce. Is she very nice? She doesn’t ask me for anything. That is how people lie and lie without any reason. I know that you told me the truth. That you went, and I am grateful to you for the sincerity, although my heart was broken, until Miguel appeared, and it’s not that he is a watchmaker but he took me out of the hole and we could both advance. Are you following what is going on with the Party and politics? In the factory they’re talking about a Chinese boat that Cuba was hiding to make war in America and for the trafficking of arms and other things. I know that this separates us. I was thinking only of the family and about food for our children. As for their education…my politics is a united family and some children who will know that, for me, homeland means the love of my children. Their kisses every morning.

“What is her name? If you ask me to I’ll send you dulce de leche with your cousins who are truckdrivers.

“A big kiss.”


Translated by Regina Anavy

12 August 2013

I Have Two Homelands / Reinaldo Arenas (from the blog of Luis Felipe Rojas)

Reinaldo Arenas, the genial writer from Holguin, the dissident against all the banners he saw fluttering before his path. Those homelands of Marti that he could rewrite, Cuba, his immense sorrow, and the night, that friend who accompanied him up to that final hour in which we all find ourselves.

I have two homelands: Cuba and the night.

By Reinaldo Arenas

Both plunged in a single abyss.

Cuba or the night (because they are the same).

They both confer the same reproach

In the foreign land, of a braggart ghost.

Until your own fright is an illusion,

A lost wheel of a foreign coach

that rushes into a cataclysm

where breathing is itself a waste.

The sun has no light and it would be cynicism

that the time you were living was for loveliness.

If that is the homeland (the homeland, the night)

that has left us centuries of egoism,

I await another homeland, that of my madness.

*Translator’s note: The title of this poem is the first line of a poem by José Martí, titled “Two Homelands.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

24 July 2013

Photo-report: A Demonstration in the Middle of Miami

The activist, Jesús Alexis Gómez, during an hour of rest, showing symptoms of fatigue.

I have just come from the corner of 13th Ave. and 8th Street in the heart of Little Havana. There the activist for human rights, Jesús Alexis Gómez, and the leader of the Democratic Movement, Ramón Saúl Sánchez, have been carrying out for 17 and 10 days, respectively, a hunger strike. Their goal is to call the world’s attention so that the Governor of the Bahamas frees and stops torturing the Cubans who are detained there, when they arrived on the coast in search of a longed-for liberty.

Alexis converses with his brothers in struggle.

Ramón Saúl interacts with the activists.

Ramón Saúl Sánchez took advantage of the occasion to exchange words with his organization’s activists and give instructions about the strategy to be followed. In the state in which he finds himself, he writes his opinions about the boycott of the Bahamas and the purpose of the strike.

The leader of the Democratic Movement continues his work to call for the world’s attention and solidarity with the prisoners now in the Bahamas.

An activist, upon leaving church this Sunday, went to the tent to offer a Christian prayer for the strikers and the prisoners in the Bahamas.

Posters, placed in public view.

Many visitors pass by without asking, although their curiosity is aroused.

…but others arrive and ask about the reason for the strike.

The activists help expand the space and put up signs.

The demands go from the cessation of torture to the unconditional release of the detainees in the Bahamas, without sending them back to Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

4 August 2013

The Hungers That Kill Me / Luis Felipe Rojas

“Fly without fear” series, by Luis Felipe Rojas

It was the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges who said “To organize libraries is to silently practice the art of critique.”  In the past few months I have also dedicated myself to organizing  ’my library,’ but backwards, the library of books which I maybe had one day, or that I dreamed of there, inside, when I was behind the wires.

I imagine the independent journalist Jorge Olivera Castillo, in that Havana that fell to pieces reading all of Kundera, or whatever had become his latest obsession, chewing to pieces the best Polish poets.  Or the sharp chronicler Luis Cino with a universal encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, illustrated, with thin columns on the right, in grey, explaining the footnotes.

Now I have two hungers, mine and that of my friends.


A long time has passed since the poet Antonio José Ponte didn’t have to send me the magazine Letras Libres from Havana, when some writer friend went to the capital. Thanks to the persistence of Ponte I’ve seen the best portrait of Tijuana, laid out in Letras Libras from the hand of Juan Villoro. Letras… he said in that long ago 2000, “Only a chronicler of the likes of Juan Villoro, author of the The Eleven of the Tribe and Palm Trees in the Quick Breeze, is capable of capturing in all its infinite nuances a city so strange, repellent and fascinating as Tijuana.” In a village in the interior of Cuba we also reconstruct that city of gunshots, visit its bars and marvel at its magnificent graffiti.

Now that the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban is imprisoned some shout themselves hoarse saying they are his friends or that they enjoyed his friendship … or they deny it, as a young Havana writer did recently. I enjoyed the goodness of ’Angelito’ on a rainy afternoon in 2006.

Santiesteban gave me a coffee that afternoon, was united with me in those days when, by a ministerial order (of Culture or Interior, or both), I was excluded from the literary life of my country and extending the hand of friendship, he told me to pick a couple of books from the shelves in his home. I had savored quickly a pocket edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote, and that enduring gem Men Without Women, by our Carlos Montenegrao.I hestiated to ask for them, they were new, just arrived from Spain, but Angelito put them in my backpack and even the sun of today.

Maria Montejo Martah taught me to read Hector Abad Faciolince without lapsing into sentimentality, and Michael Hernandez Miranda told me to read everything by Cabrera Infante without becoming a fanatic, a chauvinist who goes around rubbing everyone’s nose in the the fact that Reinaldo Arenas and Gaston Baquero were born in Holguin. I admit I have overcome it a bit.

Today’s specials

It was Ricardo Piglia who said that literature is not transmitted from parents to children if not from aunts and uncles to nieces and nephews, and it was my uncle Gabriel who gave me the César Vallejo there was in Cuba, that lean edition from the Casa de las Americas in the ’80s. A week ago I bought his Complete Poems and it is now ready to enter Cuba.

A professor of Arts in Camagüey has entrusted me with all of Stanley Kubrick as if he were going to kill himself and I downloaded his movies, television interviews dubbed in Spanish and put them on DVDs, along with two specialized magazines, and recently I had news of cinematic soirees held among friends.

When the Universal Library was releasing their jewels at hamburger prices, I want and bought, for my friend Cecilia Torres, El salón del ciego, Las sombras en la playa and La ruta del mago, from the late Carlos Victoria. Now that summer is raging over Santiago de Cuba, Cecilia has written to tell me I’ve saved her from the atrocious reggaeton weekends in the neighborhood, and to thank me, which I pass on to Juan Manuel Salvat who had the patience to save Cuba in such a small space.

These are requests I’ve fulfilled. They are hungry others to fill them up through the long nights of prohibitions. This must be done before life comes to a close, or others come and give us the bad news about the printed book, the uselessness of paper or the ecological disaster we’re living in.

Before I crossed the barbed wire, people came to my house who, before getting off the plane, had collected all the popular editions, the fashions magazines, first aid catalogs, brochures, in short everything printed distributed by the airlines, which would all be outdated in a few months, but in a closed country it was received as if it had just come off the presses.

Now I thank everyone who helped me, and there’s nothing left for me but to imitate them if I can save one minute in the lives of those who were left there, in that feared and beloved hell that is Cuba.

15 July 2013

The Banned Book in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

I am in search of the forbidden book, like the Golem, or like the treasure of Eternal Youth. Why does a presidential, dictatorial or authoritarian edict decide to ban, hunt down and remove a book from a country. Faced with these questions I went looking with my Facebook friends and put an invitation on the forum what was sure would always be rich in nuances.

Then the ex-prisoner politician  Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta showed up, along with the activist and now professor Osmel Rodriguez to accentuate the absurdity of such literary persecution. “Of the most censored books is at ’The Big Scam’ from Eudocio Ravines, also books by Adam Michnik, Milan Kundera, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with the ’Gulag Archipelago’, dozens and dozens,” said Herrera Acosta.

For his part, Rodriguez believes, that “Not only are studies of Cuba banned, but even so many novelists, some for not applauding the Cuban system and others for having escaped the island, I can make a little list …”

I have no idea about how, how much and what was prohibited in the early ’60s, but I do know that in the ’80s, when they returned, students and collaborators coming and going from what they called the Socialist countries, they brought quite a bit of literature not very welcomed by the Communist Party bosses. As the nineties started they knew what books were “inconvenient” and they were the motive for raids on the homes of peaceful opponents.

A brief investigation lets us know that the so-called “bible of opponents,” The Power of the Powerless, by Vaclav Havel, “How the Night Came,” the autobiography of Major Huber Matos, magazines such as “The Universal Dissident,” “ Encounter of Cuban Culture,” “Hispanic Cuban Magazine,” and the books of Carlos Alberto Montaner, Rafael Rojos, all swelled the “NO” book list.

My specific question for my followers on Facebook was this: “They say the book most wanted in Cuba by the political police is “The Wasp Network .”  What books are banned in Cuba? What have they been since 1959? How have Cubans mocked censorship to get the banned books? Hubert Matos with his “How the Night Came”? “1984″ by George Orwell? Or those of Cabrera Infante Gillermo”?

This gave me the ability to create virtually online, to get writing and sharing with my readers and friends while they entered the messages in a network that is called frivolous and dull.

Ramon H. Colas, known in Cuban for having created, along with Berta Mexidor, the Independent Libraries, said that “more than the ban on the books has always been the policy of censorship against authors, which means that all of their work, in fact, is banned in the country. Bertrand Russell, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Paul Johnson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Luis Borges, Milan Kundera, Eudocio Ravines and Juan Carlos Onetti, are, among many, some of the writers banned by official censorship in Cuba,” which makes the list more controversial.

It’s just an outline of the ban, which applies to the authors, the persecuted, the modus operandi of the persecutors and creepers and a small ranking of proscribed titles, where we certainly find The Wasp Network (about 12 agents, not 5, who acted in service to Havana on American soil) or History Will Absolve Me, that cache of Fidel Castro promises never entirely fulfilled. As Cabrera Infante said, it is not a brief, and not a brave list.

31 July 2013

Oswaldo Paya: The Act of Serving / Luis Felipe Rojas

Note: I published this a year ago and have nothing to say I didn’t say them, I have reposted the text (on the anniversary of his death).

Still dazed and in shock I compose these words to Oswaldo. When I started to get the first messages about Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas’s death they were showing the film “War Horse,” and in one of the scenes a soldier leaves his foxhole to save his charger and before the imminence of his death he is praying parts of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” as if nothing should be lacking now to someone who is and well be a man-bridge, man-dialog, man-country.

The messages clogged my phone with the hashtag #OswaldoPayá and the mention ©OswaldoPaya. The questions of friends from every corner of the island and of the world. The police cordon at the hospital in Bayama, the details of the fatal incident, the doubts of a witness about a supposed police chase, the construction crews in the middle of the road on the El Naranjo curve. The questions. The answers. The words. The damn words.

It’s difficult to think of Payá and not go back to the now well-known EFE Agency photo where he, Antonio Díaz Sánchez and Regis Iglesia, on that 10th of May 2012, are approaching the site of the National Assembly of People’s Power to deliver the 11,025 signatures of citizens who supported the Varela Project.

There was the map of tomorrow’s Cuba. I say that because now the faces of the three blend together for me with those of hundreds of anonymous opponents, without a visible mark for the “mass media” merrymaking, those who gave birth to and collected these desires.

The most insignificant of the Cuban dissidents saw pass through their hands a form, a copy, or a summary of the range of strategies that Payá wanted to tune into so that Cuba would be different. Along with virtues, defects and contradictions, there was his greatness. The Cuban regime had to move, in an acrobatic high-wire act to the people to amend those articles that gave a glimpse of freedom and that were a dead letter in the Constitution until Oswaldo Payá grabbed hold of them.

The Varela Project was a lever that moved the country

I think of Payá, but also of Osmel Rodríguez (The Chinaman Manicaragua), of Ezequiel Morales and Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña, of the Ferrer-García brothers and of the hundreds of Cubans who armed with courage went out through our dark country to seek signatures for the Varela Project, to spark the desire to be free or to dream with this treasure that is freedom.

I didn’t support all of Payá’s initiatives, and for this I won his friendship. The first time we met he listened to my arguments without interruption. In 2007 he invited me to review the draft of something he’d been “cooking up” for months and I still appreciate that gesture, that cunning to get me to participate. From that time he called me and I him.

The first close people who talked to me about him were Father Olbier Hernández and Deacon Andrés Tejeda who described him as a contradictory being, helpful, a rebuilding. They and the way in which the former American president Jimmy Carter in some way presented him on that day in 2002* in the Great Hall of the University of Havana depicted the face of Payá Sardiñas in the tapestry of an inclusive Cuba for everyone. It will come, we will have to find it together.

*Translator’s note: Jimmy Carter was allowed to address the Cuban people on live TV and took the opportunity to praise Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project.

22 July 2013

Trial of Anti-Eviction Activist in Old Havana Suspended / Luis Felipe Rojas

The Old Havana Municipal Court suspended the trial of anti-eviction activist  Madelín Caraballo Betancourt, scheduled for the morning of July 10 in Havana, according to statements by the independent journalist Dania Virgen García, who was outside the court along with a twenty human rights activists who were there to show solidarity with Caraballo Betancourt.

All the witnesses came forward to testify in favor of Madelín, accused of public disorder offenses, contempt, incitement to crime and resistance under the Criminal Code, and subject to a sentence three years’ deprivation of freedom.

Defense attorney Amelia Rodriguez Cala, requested the release of Madelín Caraballo arguing that the prosecutor’s request does not correspond to the crimes charged, and that the document issued by the prosecutor presents the assessment that Caraballo “meets with people with antisocial behavior with whom she has no occupational relationship” and that “she has appeared, on countless occasions, to be against the revolutionary process.”

The afternoon before the suspension of the trial several activists were arrested and threatened so they wouldn’t support Caraballo Betancourt, among them Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco. The telephones of some of them had their service cut off, including Madelin’s mother, an old woman of 81 years old.

10 July 2013

They Are Prosecuting an Activist Against Evictions in Old Havana / Luis Felipe Rojas

The opponent Madelín Lázara Caraballo, detained for nine months in a prison for HIV-AIDS sufferers, in San Jose de las Lajas, will be tried Wednesday at the Old Havana municipal court.

She is accused of the crimes of “public disorder, Article 200.1.2, contempt, 144.1, incitement to crime, 202.1.3, and resistance, 143.1, of the Penal Code, for a single and joint sentence of three years imprisonment ,” according to a report released by Major Zeida Hernández González, head of Reeducation of that prison.

Within the Cuban opposition Lázara Caraballo has been principal of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR) in Old Havana and a member of the Republican Party of Cuba (PRC) in the Havana municipality.

On numerous occasions Caraballo was present as a Human Rights activist in sites of potential evictions, as confirmed by several activists and independent journalists from Cuba. Martinoticias had access to this evidence through the program Contact Cuba, led by Norma Miranda and Luis Felipe Rojas.

“This crime she is charged with, is because of her constant activism,” says independent journalist Dania Virgen Garcia. “Every time there was an eviction in Old Havana, she supported these people. “

Among the charges Lázara Caraballo now faces are those cited by the prosecutor, who said that “she joins with people whose conduct is antisocial who are not occupationally related” and that “she had shown herself countless times against the revolutionary process.” However, among the witnesses is an administrator at a private business where she worked part-time, and other workers will testify at the trial.

Madelín is a woman suffering from HIV-AIDS, but her case is aggravated because she was two small children, a teenage daughter 13 and a boy 6. The situation at home is bleak.

Her mother, Zoila Betancourt, is 80 and carries all the weight of the family and has not seen her daughter since February.

In an interview with Contact Cuba Zoila said the 13-year-old occasionally visits  Madelín in prison but because of her age she can not travel frequently to the site.

Zoila recalls that on her only visit to the prison to see her daughter, “When I saw her I cried until I left.”

Vladimir Calderón Frías, a HumanRights activist, accompanied Madelín Caraballo to several activities and believes the authorities have shown her no mercy because she is very aware of the evictions that occur in her environment and the threats that the authorities use against citizens.

Vladimir confirmed with his testimony, the danger that others have seen for the family of this opponent, as her 13-year-old daughter is being raised practically alone, at a time in her life as difficult as adolescence.

Until 2011 Caraballo Betancourt supported the Ladies in White movement, and was arrested several times, beaten and her house was kept under strict police surveillance.

“That is a the reason there is now a prosecution request for three years’ imprisonment,” said Calderon Frias.

9 July 2013

Repression of Dissidents Who Return to the Island

Left to right Juan Antonio Madrazo, Manuel Cuesta Morua and Leonardo Calvo Cardenas

Cuban dissidents Leonardo Calvo Cardenas and Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna were detained on the afternoon of Thursday, June 20, on arriving at the Jose Marti International Airport from Havana.

In conversation with Martinoiticias, Madrazo added that they took his tablet, two Nokia brand mobile phones, two flash drives and a sample of a Pittsburgh daily paper where they reported on his visit to the university in that North American city.

Madrazo Luna said that on arriving at the terminal area several officers from State Security cloaked in uniforms of the Customs General of the Republic, conducted him to an interrogation room on the pretext that he had been selected for a routine check.

In the interview at customs they asked Juan Antonio about his contacts on his tour of the United States and the activities he’d participated in. Faced with these questions, Juan Antonio — who is also a member of the Committee for Racial Integration — told the repressors that all this information was public and at their disposal on various media and social media.

Finally, Madrazo said he is aware of the measures related to racial discrimination and apartheid, to which much of the Cuban population is subjected.

Independent journalist Leonardo Calvo Cardenas said when we stepped ashore officials were interested in his belonging, but he stood firm, warning them he would not stand for the humiliation and confiscation of his things. Calvo said the official retired to consult with a superior and on returning let him go freely without seizing any of his belongings.

Even so, Leonardo Calvo says that he is now involved in an official complaint because when he left the country they confiscated a camera, two flash memories and some works by independent artists that he was taking as gifts for colleagues abroad.

Both Madrazo and Calvo Cardenas agree that repressive measures are connected to racial discrimination and are part of what many call “cosmetic changes” in referring to the tepid reforms of General Raul Castro.

Manuel Cuesta Morua, who returned to Cuba several days ago, was also a victim of the seizure of items, in this case a laptop and two cell phones.

Translated by mlk

21 June 2013

The Dilemma of Lunch in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: LFRojas-@alambradas

It’s not enough dealing with the high cost of finding products to make lunch for a family of four people. In Cuba, we have to add up the amount needed, the share of sacrifice go find all the products for decent nutrition. If it costs 15 CUC* we’re talking about a disproportionate figure of 375 Cuban pesos*, an amount that far exceeds the minimum wage, fixed at 225 Cuban pesos (or “national money”).

But many Cubans eat lunch every day without including a main dish of the two meets that they most crave, which are pork and chicken. The delicacies of the Cuban table are reserved for the weekend, when family gets together, and they don’t have to work or return to boarding schools.

A pound of rice is 5 Cuban pesos, one of beans (black or red) are 12, and quart of oil is 60 Cuban pesos, or 2.50 CUC. If we include a salad which the majority of times costs more than 10 pesos a pound for  products like tomatoes and avocados. Meat is a side.

For a very scant ration that any woman who has the task of preparing the meals for her home, spices are a vital piece. Right now, a pot’s worth of “full flavor” — a mixture of cumin, garlic and onion — has come to cost 1.50 CUC each.

Currently, a quart and a half of soda costs 25 Cuban pesos or 1.50 CUC, not counting dessert, which many consider a luxury for any Cuban who survives on his salary.

Yuliet Rodríguez Báez, a housewife from Pinar del Rio who also cares for her sick mother, believes that lunch is an odyssey that can’t always be managed gracefully.

Yuliet said that, “A pound of melon is about 12 Cuban pesos, and a pumpkin is about the same. If I manage to buy pork, it could cost me 30 or 40 pesos a pound, which could be 4 steaks.”

Looking for what you need

Maikel Martínez Cruz, an independent photographer who makes a living capturing the happy moments of the locals in Holguin province, thinks it’s madness what lunch costs for four people.

“In Cuba dessert is a luxury food,” he says, and continues, “almost nobody eats dessert because it’s very expensive. A soft drink, a soda, could cost 0.60 CUC each.” In the case of meat, according to Maikal, it’s now a privilege, “If it’s pork, it’s 25 pesos (fat, meat and bone, together), and it it’s chicken, a kilo (2.2 pounds) cost 3.40 or 3.50 CUC, which is not for whole chicken, its only the thigh, no breast, that’s the one we sell here at the ’shopping’.”

In addition to these high prices, consumers have to add “trying to find it,” says Maikal, who concludes, “this can cost you four hours of running around because if you find a place with meats, they have no rice, and so you have to keep going.”

The “complete”

However, most Cubans live their lives eating lunch in the time allowed to them at work, and arrange to have a small snack they bring from home or they see what they can find on the recently opened stands.

A lunch with two-peso croquettes and a soft drink for the same amount; a 5 peso pizza with a natural fruit smoothie are generally the choices of those who have a half hour off from the workplaces or universities where they work.

Although still illegal, services that deliver what is known as a “complete” with a base of rice, beans, mincemeat or root vegetables (or salad), is an option for those spending 10 Cuban pesos in the provinces, but in the capital it can be about 2 CUC a serving.

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies, convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (also known as “national money”). Many products are only available in CUCs, but wages are paid in Cuban pesos. The exchange rate is roughly 24 Cuban pesos to 1 CUC, and a CUC is roughly $1 US (it varies and exchange fees can add to the cost). Salaries in Cuba tend to top out around $20 (480 Cuban pesos) a month (even for doctors), though “benefits” can add to that; with the minimum wage set at 225 Cuban pesos (less than $10).

5 July 2013

The Man Who Gives Color to Cuban Activism / Luis Felipe Rojas

Poster by Rolando Pulido

That poster in support of Orlando Zapata, Antonio Rodiles or Yoani Sánchez, which you are about to “Like” on Facebook and share with your friends, was designed by a man from Cienfuegos who lives in New York. Rolando Pulido came to the United States twenty years ago and since then has worked as a sign-painter and graphic artist in the Big Apple. Passionate about the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba, he has created more than 500 posters to promote various causes of Cuban civil society,  events and campaigns to gain the release of prisoners. His activism has put color and motif on many Cuban spaces on social networks.

Luis Felipe Rojas: The digital siteCapitol Hill Cubanshas just implemented a campaign for free access to internet for all Cubans, #FreeTheCuban11Million and you have made the poster. What inspired you this time?

Rolando Pulido

Rolando Pulido

Rolando Pulido: This was a campaign that my friend Mauricio Clavel, who maintains the blog Capitol Hill Cubans, gave birth to in Washington DC. He gave me the idea and I was immediately fascinated, it seemed a tremendous idea, one we could do a lot with, and I made this graphic immediately. It was released yesterday to a huge response.

It is a campaign that we’re launching more from Twitter. Is to free the 11 million Cubans who do not have Internet. It’s a campaign countering the one for the five spies, in which the Cuban government has spent a fortune, a tone of energy and immense resources. Right now in Washington DC there is a large group of people calling on the U.S. Government to release the “Cuban Five,” they have enthralled all those people. I think it’s time to turn the tables on them. So instead of Free Five Cubans, we have #FreeTheCuban11Million.

Look, what we are doing is advertising, they counter the advertising based on lies, on things that are not true. We have a pretty big media campaign, but in favor of the democratization of Cuba, on behalf of the freedom of our country. This is a tool that works well if you know how to use it, especially if you have the truth and you have so many millions of people who understand that and support you.

In this time of the digital era, graphics and other arts are part of an ever wider river, are you afraid that your art will be lost?

Not at all, I do this especially for Facebook, for a community looking for these things. I do it there, because to navigate in that sea, and to travel far, because it’s a message I want to give to you through the graphics. I have no fear, because the vast sea has many Cuban ports, and until then will offer my posters.

You have led several campaigns, which do you think has been the most successful for you?

No doubt it was the first, in 2009, with a friend I called for a virtual prayer for Orlando Zapata when he was involved in his hunger strike. We prepared, we launched it and right there I realized the number of Cubans everywhere who want to help, from every corner. Since then I have made over 500 posters because I came to the United States working as a sign painter, but new technological tools have allowed me to do other things.

Facebook has been blamed in a thousand ways. However, we have seen campaigns that have come to fruition, you are on the same path, what do you think?

I see everything as a great campaign that we are all conducting for the freedom of Cuba. There are others, I am not alone, many people in the world are doing something, we are creating events together, doing all sorts of things, but we are more united than ever thanks to the new technologies and tools like Facebook and Twitter.

And right now, what is your latest project?

In a few hours or maybe tomorrow I will release a poster because Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa want to come to the United States to promote the rights of LGBT people in Cuba. They are very active within the island and it is necessary that their voice is heard around the world, they have very interesting things to say and we have to listen. We will release the poster, to see if it can help raise funds for the trip of these two beautiful people who will say and tell us things that happen in Cuba and we must help them.

7 June 2013

Debating Social Networks / Luis Felipe Rojas, Alexis Romay

“Modern Times” courtesy of Osmar Santana

I asked several cyberactivists their opinions about the social network Facebook, about its impact on the island and the relation it’s created, within the island, outside the island, with Cubans and the insults from Power.

Alexis Romay, a good man, partner and friend, sent me (after-hours) this response and was kind enough to include it on his personal blog Belascoaín y Neptuno. Many thanks to him, and to the friends who joined in the debate, thank you as well.

Totalitarianism in the times of social networks

By Alexis Romay

Cuban poet and activist Luis Felipe Rojas, author of the blog Crossing the Barbed Wire, is doing a survey on cyberactivism and, by the way, sent me a question. Here goes, followed by my response.

How do you think social networks like Facebook — with many detractors who see it as puerile — are helping the community of activists on the island?

In a totalitarian regime like Cuba, social activism beyond the margins of Power has a very high cost which started with the automatic conversion of these activists into “dissidents,” which implies a dangerous and immediate association of the term with this aberration of all nationalisms: the dissident is a traitor to the fatherland. We can’t forget that in the name of love, mother, fatherland with a capital F, the worst atrocities are committed.

This isolation of the activists, converted by state decree into dissidents, passes through dehumanization (they are then transformed into “worms” by similar abracadabra), slides down the scale to social stoning and may end in physical death.

In other words, the “worm,” before being one, was a dissident, social activist, citizen, and in the beginning, a person. I put the steps in order to illustrate the precipitous drop on this scale in which the nonconformist Cuban — or person in any other totalitarianism — begins his journey as a human being and ends it in the order of invertebrates.

I give this preamble to highlight the pariah status that opposition in Cuba leads to. In the face of this forced isolation to which Cuban activists are subjected, social networks, not just Facebook, become the human tissue that envelops them. To feel the support of a virtual community has a specific weight for anyone who has been separated, by imperial edicts, from the society to which they belong. But in addition to filling this gap, social networks also serve as a protective shield for activists; they make the impunity of the regime ever more costly for it at the international level; they remind the Castros that the vast dungeon they have made of Cuba has glass walls and it is already impossible for them to hide their repressive methods.

If the political police evict a family of opponents, deal out a beating, or effect an arbitrary arrest at eleven in the morning, five minutes later the information will be circulating on the networks with hashtags that tarnish this great achievement of the regime of the island which is projecting an image of itself that does not correspond with its totalitarian reality.

In fact, Castro has a huge presence in the networks, the budget allocated for this purpose must be incalculable. As Cuban Democrats we can and should establish a presence on the networks with an infinitely more appealing discourse, creating and disseminating our own spaces. This will be the testing and projection in the digital world of that democratic country we dream of.

5 June 2013

Cubans Prefer Shortcuts to Get on the Web / Luis Felipe Rojas

Cuba’s Ministry of Communications has announced the opening of a hundred Internet cybercafes throughout the whole country for June 4. The official press informs us there will be a doubling of the navigation capacity and a reduction of 1.50 CUC in the price per hour (to 4.50 CUC, or a little more than $4.50 US), if we compare it to the previous 6 CUC per hour it cost for an access card.

With the implementation of the 118 centers, government officials announced an increase to more than 334 computers with internet access. This is a ridiculous figure when taking into account that about 68,000 specialists  from the Ministry of Health use email and the Internet, who in turn sell it “under the table” at prices ranging between 30 and 60 CUC per month. The same applies to journalists, intellectuals and other employees of ministries and state enterprises that have access to the Internet from their homes and who, with this practice, earn extra money while helping to scale up access to the network among Cubans.

For the small business owner in Cuba is still more profitable to rent email accounts and Internet service “under the table” in the interstices of the black market. At the distance of a click or a discreet phone call it’s possible to have sixty or ninety hours a month, according to their needs. Use of public Internet sites for businesses such as real estate, sales of various items, and rooms rentals is infrequent. A domestic connection remains the ideal way.

Illegal Internet cafes, which operate at rates between 1 and 2 CUC per hour, will not be affected by this measure that is announced as one more reform of the Revolution, because payment rates, although they have fallen by a third, will still be prohibitive for most people, if we consider that the minimum wage is about 220 Cuban pesos per month and a connection card cost 112 Cuban pesos for an hour.

Email service is commonly used for messaging with family and friends abroad, in these rooms you can see the long lines of girls waiting for their turn to communicate with their foreign boyfriends or suitors. Those who want to have a more secure communication, rarely use the email service sold by the State.

Another innovation is the implementation of the e-mail “@nauta” with international reach with storage capacity of up to 50MB.

In the flood of information coming from the main official newspapers, nothing appears about about the restrictions on sites opposing government policies. Magazines and newspapers showing the daily life of the Cuban reality are sometimes censored by the controllers of the national servers.

The famous “Operation Truth,” where restless kids from Computer Science University launch daily attacks on the social networks in search of new dreamers with the revolutionary project, has sharpened its weapons.

For over five years the “Hermanos Saiz” Association offered young artists and writers the possibility of a fixed line, computer, and a fee to pay the telephone bill in exchange for “combatting” inconvenient intellectuals, wandering daily through the social forums to convince Internet users around the world of the revolutionary benefits and to submit a monthly report of their cybernetic fidelity.

With proceeds from one 11-hour session, the 118 Internet rooms should report an average of half a million CUC at least, assuming a massive influx to the connection spots, but with the rising cost of everyday life, connecting to the Web is still a luxury that few can afford if they use only the services the State provides.

30 May 2013