The Prison System the Cuban and Foreign Press Did Not Report On / Ignacio Estrada

By Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba – In recent days, correspondents from Cuban television and newspaper correspondents from accredited foreign media in the capital undertook an unusual journey through different prisons.

The reporting reflects only what the Cuban government wants to show the world in the face of their constant refusal to let the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights into the country, along with international officials of other agencies such as the Red Cross.

The deterioration of the Cuban prison system and the constant violations of inmate rights is reported by alternative media that exists on the island, denunciations that are narrated via telephone in often broken voices, people sobbing to themselves and another large number of their families and a smaller number through third parties.

Cuba is the Latin American nation with more prisons and a prison population mostly young, for crimes that include prison sentences just for eating beef.

If the accredited media want to talk about the island prison system they would have to take as a reference the countless testimonies of the many people graduate from prison and now despite being released can not get  their jobs back. Or better still to describe each of the punishment cells in which many have tried to to end their lives out of despair and others have lost their lives in some cases in unknown situations.

Those who have been in prison fall into things like this, they become accomplices of those who often repeat intimidating phrases like this: The Cockroach when he’s in the hen’s beak doesn’t make demands! A speech about explaining to the accused that they are trapped by the prison system.

A question to ask the National Bureau of Prisons is what is the annual number of self-attacks in prisons, a number that will never be revealed because it would show the mental imbalance and fears in a figure that is constantly growing. When we touch this issue we are not referring to something unknown, we are talking about a reality and that is the reason that hundreds of prisoners are admitted to hospitals each year and in most cases require surgery.

The self-attacks are described derisively by the jailers themselves unscrupulously labeling those who opt for this kind of protest of the system as “Tragics,” cutting their veins, swallowing barbed wires, sticking pins in their eyes, burning and mutilating parts of their bodies, injecting feces and urine into their legs and even voluntarily injecting themselves with HIV/AIDS; these are all some of the ways in which the Cuban prison population constantly attacks their own lives.

I respect each colleague of both the domestic and foreign press but there are things that piss me off and make me lose my faith at times in the work they do. Is it perhaps that Raul Castro and even the brand new Cuban vice president, are not calling on the press to be objective and fill the role of true communicators or the Cuban reality?  Lying is the same thing they did in ’fifty-nine. Everything continues to be a false government disguised by a puppet press.

I promise in a second paper to describe the Cuban jails where prisoners with HIV/AIDS serve their sentences. Prisons that now total six which together have an inmate population that excludes 500 inmates.

22 April 2013

Did the Cuban Clergy Escape the Pederast Scandals? / Ignacio Estrada

By Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba. While the Catholic Church stumbles before the growing number of child abuse scandals, the Cuban clergy seems immune to this epidemic.

The fact is that so far this Pandora’s Box has not been opened on the island. I don’t think that’s a reason to think that events like this could not have happened on our land. We would only have to dig and put our ears to the ground to hear the rumors of our grandmothers and grandfathers or even ourselves a little more what happens when we serve at mass.

With my note I don’t mean to accuse any priest or religious but if I pushed the drops would begin to fall. I am convinced that at some point someone started to talk and others thought about how, like in other countries, what the church can give in exchange for their silence.

That’s if the Cuban government, shrewd and cautious like always in its communications between church and state doesn’t think to collect evidence or those small and insignificant anomalies and ask for favors in return or better yet ask for the complicity of the Church and the Cuban Catholic hierarchy.

I know a large number of priests and religious of both sexes and I know some people like the opposite sex and some have occasional and spontaneous relationships but the largest number of these I know are gay.

As a Catholic, as a homosexual and as a Cuban I am going to be talking and this is the ground I stand on. I know cases like these exist and I simply try with my note to call attention to this abomination.

No matter what we are, nor the preferences we have, child abuse must end now. The Cuban and Universal Church should immediately receive an injection of renewal and delouse faults like these, that exonerate those who have not committed these offenses and sit on the bench next to those who have committed them but remain the silent.

I know that those who answer the call of vocation never cease to be men and women, I understand human matter and we are not ones to criticize. The fact that acts like these are committed should not because we, as the faithful, justify our one. On the contrary, we must fix on the true teaching of Jesus Christ.

To allow God that is really our Cuban church is far from any scandal like this. To allow God to enthrone the new Pope with the name of Francis I comes to repair our church and tidy up our home.

22 April 2013

A True Story That Reveals the Work of the Cooperating Cubans in Venezuela / Ignacio Estrada

By Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba — Some time ago I listened to a doctor from from Villa Clara narrate her life as a medical aid worker, in the Republic of Venezuela.

I listened carefully to each of her stories. Gossip that she perhaps told me in confidence between friends, but the mere fact of the imminent threat of the spread of red tide and the enthronement in Venezuela of Cubanization makes me see myself obliged to recreate one of these stories.

According to the doctor friend who served as a volunteer in Venezuela for more than five years and managed to become head of a Medical Mission to one of the parishes and that the role of the doctors was more than saving lives and, on occasion, they served as thermometers of Venezuelan society .

When I use the word thermometer, an instrument known for measuring environmental and body temperatures. It is because this also the work of the  majority of medical aid workers to provide services to measure the state of opinion of the Venezuelan people. Information that is collected and passed to the intelligence services and the government so that they know where they need to work and how to change that state of opinion.

Perhaps what for many is not important for others is novel and what a pleasure for it to be both, Important and Novel. Who can imagine the Cuban army of white coats doing intelligence work in a foreign country? Work is not unknown by the authorities in power who try to win converts.

According to what my friend told me things weren’t left there; during times of presidential campaigns they also had to work to win votes for the official President. And this vote is won by explaining to people that the benefit they receive from healthcare and other things is free thanks to former President Chavez and the humanitarian work of the government. These chats take place in the clinics and while traveling around the the neighborhoods to deliver medications, and the conversations also serve to threaten the beneficiaries that if Chavismo ceases to exist all the projects will cease to exist.

This work is repeated whenever Medical Mission Cubans are in Venezuela, many of them looking for what they can not achieve in their own country for their families with their profession. The Cubanization is one of the key factors and principle support and bastion of Chavismo Venezuela.

This same friend in one of our many conversations, also told me about where she lived with another compatriot in her profession. According to her, this other doctor was serving on a Medical Mission on Margarita Island, one of the opposition stronghold states in Venezuela. It turns out that the opposition mayor once visited the Diagnostic Center that was under her charge on this island. And seeing the poor conditions there promised to send help the next day to improve the waiting room, and fix the air conditioning and the consulting room.

The aid appeared quickly but the doctor could not receive it under threat of her superiors that she would be deported to Cuba and Medical Mission suspended for receiving help from the opposition. It would seem stupid but but it’s not, because on signing on the Cuban doctors would realize that not everything is like they say, and I am more than convinced that they exchange the improvements for their families for what they are forced to endure.

This doctor knew how to use one of the beneficiaries of her attentions and through him asked the Mayor that please not to send the aid the following morning, thanking him but he was sincere in the reason he attended and the opposition mayor heard her and didn’t fail to fulfill his promise to help the cooperative.

I do not advocate violence, or the witch hunt, but at times like these I sympathize with the Venezuelan nation and call for the social order and the restoration of democracy. I am one of the many Cubans who do not want to export the model that has failed our nation to another country in our America, I am one of those who wants Cubans to travel freely and conquer new areas and earn their livings with dignity but without trampling the suffering of others.

I apologize to God first and secondly to my friend, a doctor who for safety I don’t say her name name to reveal her stories, but just knowing that there are people who need to hear these truths is bigger than any secrets and I am convinced that someday she will be relieved by having used me to fix who knows what collateral damage that has been caused.

To say Enough is Enough of Cubanization in Venezuela, it not to close the doors of this nation to freedom-loving Cubans. It is to close off those who by deceit come to trample and usurp the rights that it is up to citizens to decide for themselves and that is the right to take back the future of our nation be it any of the existing models.

22 April 2013

Violence Increases in Cienfuegos Town / Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba — The increase in youth violence and police lawlessness are issues constantly criticized by the inhabitants of the municipality of Cruces in the province of Cienfuegos.

According to residents of this southern municipality, youth violence constantly fills the streets and has already caused deaths, without specifying numbers. According to some, most altercations occur late at night and early in the morning. The main stage for these events is the centrally located Martí Park and the Paseo del Prado.

The use of sharp and cutting weapons known as “Armas Blancas” — a term for knives — is the most frequent in these tumultuous quarrels in which local police don’t get involved and when they do they arrive after the altercation. This has happened on a number of occasions at the Cosmopolitan discotheque which belongs to the Cuban chain Palmares.

The inhabitants of this town are afraid to go out into the streets and publicly blame the police for the lawlessness, along with the sale of alcoholic beverages and lack of security around the recreational facilities to prevent those who go there from bringing weapons on their bodies.

By Ignacio Estrada

14 March 2013

Only Sausages, No Oil / Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba — The Cuban population living with HIV recently received nutirtional help from United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS/HIV.

The benefit is being delivered to the sick through the commercial network after several months of unjustified absence. According to a source who works as a representative of the agency in Havana, the previous assistance has been affected by the increase in new cases of carriers of the illness.

The source also said that the new aid that has already been distributed would only be renewed for twenty-four more months. For years the UN program has maintained this food aid to the island and at times this benefit has been affected due to poor management on the part of the Cuban authorities. They cleverly insert themselves into the plan for aid to new cases, causing a shortfall of aid ahead of schedule.

It is clear that this aid is distributed for free and in principle it covers the food needs of the sick population with products such as juices, cereals, canned meat and vegetable fat. The products have dwindled as the epidemiological situation of the island has grown, until the point where the aid only includes canned meat and vegetable oil.

The recently delivered aid only provides a total of 22 small cans of sausages which must last for a yea; the vegetable oil has not been delivered. One of the beneficiaries asked how it was possible to live with two cans of sausage per month, noting that each of these cans contained no more than six sausages.

People living with HIV/AIDS in Cuba who receive the UN food aid, receive a “basic food basket” that is described as inadequate. It is a diet that places this affected population at a disadvantage in terms of quality, quantity and weight, according to where they reside.

By Ignacio Estrada

22 April 2013

Alfredo Guevara Dies in Havana / Ignacio Estrada

Alfredo Guevara

By: Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba — Around 11:00 in the morning last Friday, April 19, while Latin America was following the inauguration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the distinguished intellectual and communist Alfredo Guevara died in the Cuban capital.

Guevara’s death was first announced on the multi-national news channel TeleSur and later on a cultural segment broadcast on the afternoon news. The news was further broadcast in prime time on the National News on Cuban Television (NTV), highlighting the role he occupied, the high positions in Cuban culture he held, and remembering his path as a student and his communist militancy.

Alfredo Guevara is known as one of the wealthiest Cubans in recent times, a fortune due in large part to his chairmanship of the New Latin American Film Festival and his career as a diplomat. Guevara’s wealth is exceeded, according to some, by that of the Prima Ballerina Absolute Alicia Alonso and the renowned Havana Historian Eusebio Leal.

What is true is that the next edition of the Havana Film Festival will not enjoy the presence of Alfredo Guevara, an absence that could mark an era of deterioration of this important event held every year in December.

Alfredo Guevara’s body was cremated at his request, and his ashes were scattered on the steps of the University of Havana in a ceremony attended by members of the diplomatic corp, advisers to the Cuban president, artist friends and family. Guevara’s ashes ascended the university steps before being scattered from the hands of his granddaughter.

The absence from the ceremony of the Castro family, close to the intellectual, is something that is even wondered about on Cuba’s streets, because the close ties of friendship that bind the children of former President Fidel Castro and the Cuban incumbent are well-known, children with whom he customarily went out to dinner and shared a few drinks in one of the most expensive businesses in Old Havana, the Mama Ines Restaurant. This business belongs to Ireneo, a renowned former chef to the Castro family.

Meanwhile, the national television broadcast recalled the final interview Alfredo Guevara gave to Amaury Perez Vidal, director of the television show “Con dos se quieren… basta” (When there is true affection, two is more than enough).

22 April 2013

Ordinary Cubans for a Democratic World / Ignacio Estrada

By: Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba. There have not been many Cubans since the immigration reforms who have taken a plane to the democratic world, to fulfill the role of true doves or pigeons, messengers from a nation that through them sends a message to each person who is a lover of freedom.

The country is proud to see them sending the message of a nation that for years longed to describe it, and has been forced to do so through alternative media. The real-time Cuba is being told in these moment by those who did not hesitate for a moment to board the first aircraft to, go to fulfill a noble task which, rather than enrichment, we will see what consequences it brings them when they return to our island?

There are many who cackle and try with the old tricks of the past to distort this reality that is already being experienced by the protagonists, followed by countless citizens of this universe and collected in the few media that exist.

People who pose as doves or pigeons have names, and no matter how much time they spend burning the midnight oil like many say, confronting the Cuban regime. The important thing is not only are journalists, writers, administrators, bloggers and human rights activists, above all this. They are courageous Cubans who do not hesitate for a moment, to call things by their name.

Each one is an example of the wider thinking of Cuban civil society, from the intelligentsia to those who peacefully take to the streets to demand the release of their loved ones armed with the unique weapon of a gladiolus.

Berta Soler, Yoani Sanchez, Rosa Maria Paya, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and Eleicer Avila belong to different generations and also have different thoughts and political currents. But only one truth unites them and that’s what matters, it is this which makes them the protagonists of what I now want to call a real Operation Truth.

The recognition was not enough to honor these who weren’t even for an instant those who cried, “I won’t travel!” “I’ll want to see what happens to the first ones who travel and who then return, and then I’ll travel!” Words that many repeated although looking at some of those boarding one of those steel birds, which for decades has been the dream of Cubans.

What each expresses during their journey, the way in which they do it, is as if they are fully entitled to exercise the right of freedom of expression. A right that is only paraphrased in the alternative media on the island.

I am also one of those who wish to travel, I am among those who want to narrate our daily lives not only as a communicator, nor as Cuban more than this, I would like to do it from my point of view as a person living with HIV/AIDS for 12 years. I have a passport, but I have no money now, I trust in God and friends I also, at the right time, will be able to leave and tell the truth of the community.

Whoever criticizes, criticize the history already written. We will only achieve part of it when with tears, sweat and blood we can also write our own page.

In my note I do not want to ask a vow of silence from anyone, on the contrary I want to urge them to write beyond any personal grudge or professional envy. We don’t all have to thing and say we have the right to be diverse.

We recognize that these Cubans are in these moments those who are fulfilling Pope John Paul’s words, Open the Doors of Cuba to the World. Making their way through the democratic world.

25 March 2013

Cuban Populace with HIV/AIDS Lacks Food / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

By: Ignacio Estrada, Independent Journalist

Havana, Cuba -For more than three consecutive months, the Cuban populace that lives with HIV/AIDS has noticed an absence of the nutritive products graciously granted by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS of the United Nations.

The nutritive products have not been coming to any of the established distribution points in the country since the latter part of last year. Leaders of the commercial entities respond before the questions posed by the affected that they do not know the why behind the absence of supplies and even less why there is such a delay in the distribution of the products.

In Cuba, more than 18,000 Cubans live with this malady and the majority receive important help which alleviates the lack of fats and meat available to the population. This isn’t the first time that help has disappeared without an explanation or cause, but the important thing to remember is what the benefit of it means for each HIV+ Cuban.

Many in the world are unaware of the nutritive inequities that exist on the island with regard to this malady. The foodstuffs that are received dwindle in quantity and weight depending on the region where they live and in accordance with the pre-established diet designed by the health system that was previously fulfilled by the “canasta básica” or “basic basket” granted by the régime.

We are mentioning this because we have received differing declarations from information sources throughout the island. The HIV/AIDS population in Havana is the most benefitted in terms of nutrition while the other infected populace in the provinces only receive half of what is distributed in the capital.

The subject has been discussed in different instances but never has there been a response or a solution that benefits every Cuban that struggles with this disease.

One could ask how many people are invested in this cause? Who would be to blame in this occasion? Or is it that even International Organizations headquartered in Havana cannot ensure and protect the interests they represent? The questions are many and I fear that they will continue unanswered.

As I write this note, I think only of that population, that while government officials enjoy meals in abundance similar to those representatives of international organizations headquartered in Havana, many in that population don’t even have something to swallow their medicines with, while others replace milk with water only to cite an example.

The situation might vary in different regions, yet if we discussed nutrition in the six penitentiary establishments that confine more than 500 recluses of both sexes with this disease, the discussion would never end.

Let this article serve as a voice for each person who lives with HIV/AIDS and allow it to resonate and reach the ear of someone who is really interested in these conditions. The scarcity and lack of food access to the population affected by this disease cannot be shunned or set aside.

Translated by: Ylena Zamora-Vargas

25 February 2013

Disabled Minor Receives Donation from Cuban National Council of Churches / Ignacio Estrada

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By: Ignacio Estrada. Photos: Ignacio Estrada.

Havana, 5 February 2013. Last Sunday, February 3, the disabled minor Keylis Caridad Alemán Rodríguez, received as a gift a donation made in the name of the Cuban National Council of Churches.

The donation was given to the minor in the presence of her mother Yamayki Rodríguez, the same day her daughter turned sixteen. Keylis could get the gift of a new wheelchair; alleviating her lack of one will allow her to resume her daily activities.

The donation was possible because of the efforts of the organization the Cuban League Against AIDS with the Cuban Council of Churches, an institution that did not hesitate for a second in facilitating the acquisition without any cost to the child.

The new wheelchair was received by the disabled child with joy and she gave thanks for the gift with tears in her eyes, grateful that her situation — which was so dire — was improved.

Yamayki said she was thankful for what her daughter received, and at that moment remembered everything that Keylis had had to deal with since she was very little, describing everything from her heart surgery to the malformations in her hips, knees and ankles.

Keylis sent a recorded message of thanks to the Cuban Council of Churches and I cite it: I thank this institution for allowing me to navigate again… a message that ended with tears in her eyes.

Keylis Caridad Alemán Rodríguez lives at No. 38 Agramonte Street in the municipality of Santo Domingo in the province of Villa Clara.

7 February 2013

The Oldest Profession / Ignacio Estrada

by Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba. The oldest profession has returned to Cuban streets and provides a stable source of income for a vast number of mostly young Cubans.

Regardless of time or weather, there are no shortages of sex workers in Havana to satisfy a sexual appetite. The revolution of 1959 promised equality for all but the largest share of its benefits went to those in positions of power, their cronies or closest relatives. In its wake and in spite of shutting down the old nightclubs and brothels, prostitution has returned as one of the best paid professions today.

The trade is practiced by those we least suspect — coworkers, neighbors or even classmates. Large numbers of people in recent years have changed their morals like chameleons change colors and lead double lives.

I have nothing against those who choose to become prostitutes. Quite the opposite. I believe that it’s time that the Cuban government legalize the practice, unionize the workers and allow them, as is done in other countries, to be licensed as legitimate Sex Workers.

Male and female prostitution is not only practiced in the Capital but it extends to every territory. There are known brothels, escort services and red zones, the last which are prone to violence and crime. Charges are different for citizens and  foreigners and are even higher when part of the profits go to a broker or a pimp.

Without sanitary practices and health screenings, prostitution has caused an increase in the spread of veneral diseases. The rate of HIV/STDs is now higher than it has ever been in the nation’s history.

There needs to be a call to action to demand that all who provide or use these services follow safe sexual practices.

While some parents are proud because their children bring home new clothes, perfumes, gifts or other items, others mourn the loss of a son or daughter to violence, to abuse or to illnesses such as HIV. There are also those who are happy that their children have managed to leave Cuba to live elsewhere and can return to visit them carrying gifts.

As a nation, we need to put an end to injustice and legitimize this line of work so it’s treated the same way as any other profession. Legalization would provide protection under the law as well as protection from officers of the law who abuse their power to extort and harass the sex workers.

It is important that parents, family and citizens safeguard children, supervise their activities, know where they are at all times and ensure that they are not exploited or misled, especially for sexual purposes.

While I have nothing against prostitution, I condemn those who take advantage of minors for sexual favors in exchange for gifts or money. The foreign press and other outlets report that child prostitution exists. I am unaware of any such case as a reporter but if I learned of one I would have no problem denouncing it in an article.

Legalization of sex workers does not condone civil disobedience. We need to find a way to keep our streets and neighborhoods clean and safe, to protect the workers and the customers from disease and to regulate and legitimize a commonly practiced trade.

Translated by: Vivian S. Bedoya

25 March 2013

The Disappearance of Taxi Drivers Continues in Cuba / Ignacio Estrada

taxi[1] By Ignacio Estrada, independent journalist

Havana, Cuba – Media collusion and police secrecy on the island have masked a very large number of disappearances of taxi drivers in both the private and public sectors.

This claim can be corroborated in different parts of the country and even in the capital itself. When getting into a taxi, passengers might notice that many of the drivers are accompanied by another person who serves as fare collector. This fare collector or co-pilot is a security precaution to make sure that monies cannot be taken from the driver of the vehicle.

If you ask drivers about the disappearances of their colleagues, many will confirm that this has happened, and will even provide information about the criminals’ modus operandi.

The official press and directors at National Revolutionary Police headquarters have made no mention of the increase in these criminal acts, nor have they alerted the population and specifically the drivers of vehicles which serve as taxis in the three areas affected.

Some drivers have begun taking security precautions such as availing themselves of mobile phone technology, bringing along another person to serve as fare collector, or carrying sharp-edged or blunt objects such as clubs or baseball bats. In the most extreme cases they will carry illegal firearms, one of the few precautions that will guarantee they return home alive.

The Cuban people do not know the total number of the missing, but what many agree on is that we are not looking at a baseless rumor.

25 February 2013