Julio Cesar Alfonso, Executive Director and President of Solidarity Without Frontiers / Juan Juan Almeida

We believe every human being in the world has the right to health, with no consideration of costs.
Juan Juan: Solidarity Without Frontiers is a relatively young organization with very defined purposes. Somewhere I read, “Our membership is composed of doctors who have fled the Cuban communist government, and today live in the United States and other countries.” With such an explicit declaration, someone might wonder if Solidarity Without Frontiers is a politically based organization where health and ideology come together.

Juan Cesar Alfonso: Solidarity Without Frontiers is not only Cuban doctors; we also have doctors from other countries. It was founded in Miami in January 2004, to be a humanitarian organization. An non-profit organization like ours cannot engage in political activities. The Cuban regime brings the politics. Many of our members are doctors who have deserted from Cuban missions in third countries, making them “traitors to the Revolution,” and of course, denying them entry to Cuba. We help those who come to the United States and help them to create their own future.

In September of 2006 we achieved a law offering visas to all the Cuban medical personnel who desert in third countries. Many people worked on this; we put in our grain of sand.

JJ: Forgive me for interrupting, you use the word “desert” and you are not military…

JCA: That’s true, thank you for the clarification; the doctors did not desert, they are refugees who decided to live in freedom, abandoning their missions which, from the Cuban side, they are not allowed to leave. They are forced to flee that way, or illegally.

When a Cuban doctor decides to leave the country, the government will delay him for five or ten or more years; later they won’t let them return. I know a boy whom the Minister of Health freed after his visa had expired. Now he has no work and he can’t travel.

JJ: And in those cases you take some action?

JCA: We do what we can, we talk with Washington or with whomever can help. Sadly, the Cuban government has the last word about allowing or recognizing any kind of intervention. It’s a form of punishment. So it happens all the time. We make known our interest in sending donations; but the Cuban government won’t allow it We have helped in indirect ways, regardless of who governs the country, Solidarity Without Frontiers is a commitment to the Cuban people.

In his work, a doctor has to be apolitical, he serves others, like a priest. A doctors consultation is a sanctuary. As it says in the Hippocratic oath.

JJ: Many swear to the oath, few uphold it.

JCA: That’s true. But what is right is that once you cross the threshold of your office, you are no longer a soldier or a politician, but a human being and you should be serving others. It’s an inviolable principle for those who believe in their profession.

JJ: You, Julio Cesar Alfonso, are one of the founders of Solidarity Without Frontiers; tell me a little about your life.

JCA: I was born on June 6, 1968, in Cárdena, Matanzas. I grew up there, studied there until my pre-university schooling in Jagüey. Gathering oranges and supporting la santanilla. Man, those ants bite.

I decided to study medicine in Havana, at the Giron Faculty of Medical Sciences, then went to the Carlos J. Finlay Hospital and CIMEQ (Center for Medical-Surgical Research). Back in college we had a group we call the June 14 Youth Movement, a name which camouflaged our intentions as that day marks the birth of Che Guevara, and also that of Antonio Maceo. It was a group that was characterized by frequent and sharp criticism of the Young Communist Union Federation of University Students and was a good experience. We had a meeting where they forced us to dissolve the organization. My problems started from that and my discontent grew.

In 1993, we went out as a group to write counterrevolutionary slogans in the street and someone snitched on us and the next day I was arrested. I was in prison for seven or eight months, in Matanzas State Security where you never knew whether it was day or night. They released me, they couldn’t prove much. I was thrown out of work and had to put to invent things to make and sell crafts in Varadero. Every time something happened, they came looking for me and took me prisoner. I did not want to leave Cuba, I had no choice. I applied for refugee status from the United States, and was accepted. … Here’s the funny thing, if you remember a little while ago I said that I founded the June 14 Youth Movement? Well, the first of my two daughters was born here, on June 14. My two creations, amazing coincidence, Papa God has a good sense of humor.

JJ: … tell me now about your parents.

JCA: My father is a mechanical engineer living in Cuba. My mother is a dentist… she was. Recently she went to Venezuela as an internationalist doctor, and we got in contact by telephone, and then for some strange reason she suddenly took ill and had to return to Cuba where she was admitted to the Naval Hospital in Havana… and she died. It’s one of the hardest things that has happened to me, I still can’t get used to it. So I say she is, not she was.
I couldn’t go to Cuba, I didn’t even try to ask permission to see if they would let me because they would have refused it.

JJ: You could not attend her funeral…

JCA: it’s one of the ways that one pays for exile.

JJ: You could be right, I don’t like the word exile, it feels excluding. I thank you for the interview and want to offer my admiration of your very commendable work.

JCA: Thank you, and come back whenever you like.

November 2, 2010

Justo J. Sanchez, Reason #550 / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida: You’re a journalist, curator and art critic. You have written for Sotheby’s and specialized magazines. You’ve been interviewed for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, RAI, CBC, NBC Nightly News. Anyway, like it or not, you have a known profile. Tell me something about you, something no one knows. How do you see yourself?

Justo J. Sanchez: As a chubby subversive with an unflattering profile. (Laughter.) But seriously: as a man of insatiable curiosity, rebellious, provocative, a believer in dialogue. My revolution removed the terra firma armed with the question: Anything else? My inner struggle is inspired by Foucault and Thoreau. A secret wish? To slip, swift and silent (like the angels in Wings of Desire) into Havana. To emerge on Diez de Octubre Avenue at the Church of the Passion, perhaps to visit the chapel of Santo Cristo de Limpias on Corrales street. To give thanks for my absence, to mourn for my deceased mother, mourn the crushing paradox that is Cuba. A man’s encounter with chaos, destruction and the cruel absurdity opens the door to the deepest sadness. I can not imagine otherwise.

JJA: I was reading your blog “Ink and Poison,” clearly you have something abandoned and your readers protest. It’s bold, exciting, irreverent, immodest, descriptive … and enviable. How, in what circumstances and why the idea of the blog?

JJS: From the Greek idea of “The Pharmakon,” dual nature as a poison and cure. My ink would be a “Pharmakon” with an effect therapeutic or lethal. Thanks, JJ, for portraying me as “immodest” because in reality “Ink and Poison” has self-indulgent moments when Gallicisms abound and references are reanalyzed.

How did it come about? As an act of rebellion against the stupidity institutionalized in the Spanish press. El Nuevo Herald, Univision, Telemundo, El Diario / La Prensa based on the assumption that on crossing the Straits of Florida, the Rio Grande or arriving at an airport one loses one’s intelligence. The mission of the “Latinalia” in the U.S. media is to disconnect the reader or viewer from strongholds such as El Clarin, El Tiempo, La Jornada, El Pais, El Mundo from Spain to Latin America that are the pride of the profession. Meanwhile the less they think and the more they entertain — with soap operas and JLo’s buttocks — the more prizes they win.

JJA: I read you had a friend who is a spy. Describe to me briefly this feminine James Bond. Did she try to recruit you one day, get important information out of you or uncover your closely held secrets?

JJS: Let us make two adjustments: it was friend and with regards to James Bond, I would say that Vicky Pelaez and her husband worked like Austin Powers, a spoof on spies. We were coworkers at a New York newspaper. The Peruvian that now cleans the streets of Butovo was no more than a bourgeois agit-prop. With converted rubles and dollars she paid for piano lessons for her son. She lived (courtesy of the SVR — the Russian Intelligence Service) in one of the most dull suburbs of New York. She was paid by the director of a newspaper who published her string of slogans — written during trips paid for by Cuba — like front page news. The writings of the spy Peleaz, like those of the director Gerson Borrero (Borrico? Borrego?) appeared in Granma and Cuba Debate. Thus we can measure their editorial objectivity. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists never investigated the case. I never liked the spy Pelaez. My political ideology made it impossible to join up with this so-called “vermin.” She always made be feel like she was a slogan-repeated jukebox.

This whole little group sounds like Chomsky and Galeano as if they were systematic and rigorous observes through an acute progressive lens. I still communicate with writers, journalists and activists in the “Latino” world. In addition to writing with spelling mistakes, all of them, their so pompous friends included, repeat clichés about as sophisticated as those on a Che T-Shirt and, SO HAPPY! I wonder: do you think there is anyone in the Latin American left or is it all a pose? It’s not like this in the Anglo world where Professor Michael Harrington, professor at Yale, joined a group of union activists who carefully reviewed the political praxis. In London the New Left Review is published. In North America we have Mother Jones and The New Republic, which are reflective journals. Neither in Cuba nor in other Latin American countries am I aware of any serious thinkers of the academic left.

JJA: We met in a corner of Miami. We started to talk, you caught up with me and told me that the Cuban authorities will not allow you entry to your country. What explanation do they give you? Why not hop on a boat or an airplane and show up in Havana? Why accept the violation of a civil right?

JJS: The reaction is very simple and is numbered. Is reason # 550. My emails to Cuba are returned consistently with: “The user is blocked, reason 550.” Maybe we’ll have to look at texts of number theory, some multiple of “i” the imaginary number, some imaginary world like the Borgian “Tlön” where 550 is meaningful. One publisher wanted to send me to Havana for a study of colonial art. Not even through a European government where he resides, could he get me the visa. A feudal lord and his entourage do not have to give reasons for its provisions. It is executed.

Remember that in the operas of Wagner there is the concept of sacrifice. Brunilda immolates herself at the twilight of the gods. Tristan and Isolde have a “Liebestod,” a “love death.” Do you see me immolated in Cuba? For whom do I suffer my “Liebestod”? Can I visualize myself as Siegfried in his day? How to speak of Wagner when there all you hear is Van Van? What boat or plane would take me to Havana? That of Penelope or Odysseus? Who waits for me in the Ithaca?

JJA: Why would a man of your height own such a small car?

JJS: I don’t have the budget for nor do I need a grown-up car. I loved this little car in Berlin and as soon as it went on sale in American my sister bought it for me. I’ve always driven small cars. In Miami, the car, the outrageous ready-to-wear clothes, are measures of stratification of the brain dead. I assure you, friend, I refuse to participate.

Thank you for the interview and for your friendship.

JJS: You have a friend at your disposal. I admire your simplicity, kindness, gentleness and humility in the Christian sense. You are a warrior of peaceful resistance. Don’t change.

October 19, 2010

Woman and Sagittarian / Juan Juan Almeida

My name is Rosalba Susini, I was born December 5, 1974 in Old Havana, and today I am an American citizen.

I studied at the teacher’s training college of Cojimar, East Havana. I graduated in 1993.

I Cuba I had no problems until, like all families, mine also split up. My father came here when I was 6. He returned in 1994, and have a huge hug, I breathed deeply and called forth all my courage and whispered in his ear what all kids tell their parents, even today, “I want to go.”

Imagine, my mother there, my father here, and me, a young girl. At that time people were leaving Cuba through a third country. We tried to go to Panama but that was frustrated because my mother would not give me permission to leave, she worked in the hospital at La Covadonga.

In 1996 I had the chance and I threw myself on a raft. The trip was horrible, I don’t even like to talk about it; but I can tell you that if you were born in the same circumstances, living without freedom, you would have done exactly the same thing.

It was hard, very hard, 8 years without my seeing my mother until I could bring her over. More than once I asked permission to enter my country but I always got, from the Cuban authorities, the usual response with no explanation: “Your entry permit has been denied.”

I have been here 14 years, the punishment is indefinite, and when you ask for a reason, everyone looks away. My grampa died, I couldn’t see him. My grandmother lost her mind, she doesn’t know who I am. My aunt us very old. It is not fair to have to ask permission to enter your country.

Havana is my obsession. I frequently dream I travel there without telling anyone and that I land at the airport and go straight to my house, stand at my door and people start screaming, “Rosabla’s here! Rosalba’s here!…” I don’t know if it’s the excitement or for the block party; but my dram is over. I wake up. In my dreams I always go… but I never arrive.

October 9, 2010

Enriquito, a Good Man, Much Loved, and a Dreamer / Juan Juan Almeida

My name is Ramón Enrique Ferrer Yero, son of Enrique Ferrer (an electrical engineer) and Elisa Yero (a homemaker), I was born on 6 September 1941 in Cuba’s Oriente province, in my dear Palma Soriano, in a home located on Cisneros Street, number 4, top floor, between Martí and Maceo Streets. You can imagine that, with that kind of address, I was born a patriot.

I went to a Catholic school of the Claretian Brothers, then studied at the Sanderson Institute, and later, in the Sinai Baptist school. I didn’t make it to college, due to my views, openly contrary to the evil Revolution, the government didn’t allow me to continue exercising my right to study and chose to cut short my professional life.

In 1962, they started to make my life impossible. They summoned me to the offices of State Security, they pressured me, they tried to blackmail me, they surveilled those who visited my house. All of these things I’m telling you would provoke a discontent in me that I shared with many people.

I’m a practicing Catholic, and I used to attend the church of the late Father Cayo Simón, the parish priest of Palma Soriano. One June day of 1964 or 1966, during a celebration of Saints Peter and Paul, after so much pressure, several of my friends and I agreed to meet in the church to go out and protest, with pots and pans. State Security found out, and together with the Communist Party, brought out many people armed with planks with nails to repress our march. The echo of their cries of “To the firing wall! To the firing wall! Down with the gusanos*!” still sound in my ears… all of a sudden a mob removed me from the church, dragging me before a rudimentary tribunal that they had organized for such needs. I don’t know how I got out of there. The mob that chased me took it upon themselves to stone my house, yelling those stupid chants that struck with the same force as rain against sheets of zinc. Someone I knew well, whose identity I don’t wish to reveal, got me out of that severe nightmare through the patio of my house, put me in a car, took me to the province of Holguín, and, from there to Havana. After some time in the capital, I decided to return to Palma. Immediately after, I was called up to conscripted military service, which wasn’t even military service at that time, but rather the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs, by their Spanish initials). There, there were students, doctors, engineers, lawyers… it didn’t matter if they were for or against the Revolution.

They cut the lights off on the town, put us on trucks, and took us, after stopping along the way and picking up youths in Contramaestre, Baire, Jiguaní, Bayamo, Holguín, Tunas… to the stadium in Camagüey, where it rained unceasingly. After registering us, they put me on a cart and sent me, together with a group of lads, to these camps bordered by barbed-wire, in the town of Vertientes, that looked rather like the concentration camps of Hitler’s Europe. Trenches, mud, beatings, torn Bibles, mistreatment, drowning victims, suicides, long walks, early mornings, bad nights, rotten food, thirst, fasting, heat, cold, sickness, skin infections, shivers, rain, sun, forced labor, sugarcane fields, beatings, lost teeth, bayonet-stabbings… Who could forgive such an atrocious thing?

When all of that ended I started looking for work, but I was now labeled and no one wanted to hire me. I got caught by the Slacker Law and they took me to work at a stone quarry, breaking up gravel. On returning to my town, they put me to work sweeping all the parks of Palma Soriano, from where I kept conspiring in activities against the evil Revolution.

The constant threats, disrespect, and summons were my inseparable companions. In 1995, I was taken in by the refugee program offered by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

A long while later, and after offering various bribes, they finally allowed me to travel. Upon reaching my destination, I was received with an admirable and emotional welcome that left me speechless. But, to tell you the truth now, in that precise moment, my body was here in the U.S. and my mind over there in Palma, from where I never departed. I want to be among Cubans, so I came to Miami. I could not, nor can I, abandon the cause of Cuba. Here, I signed up with all the different organizations to which I belong to today.

I’m an only child, and my mom wanted to see me after such a long absence. I attempted to go back to Cuba to give her my last farewell, but they denied my entry. That has been the worst punishment. My mother died of sadness; you can imagine how much family separation can hurt. Today I live here with my Virgin of La Caridad del Cobre, with my St. Jude, and with my little dog, Niña. What I most wish for, when that horrific tyranny falls, is to fly off to Palma even if I have to live on the banks of the River Cauto in a house built of palm fronds and timber. I want freedom and democracy in my country; maybe that’s why, each time I lay down in my bed, I can’t fall asleep without first going for a stroll, in my mind, all over my Palma Soriano.

* Translator’s note: although less in use today, gusano, literally “worm”, has been the political epithet historically used by the state, its media, and its supporters in post-1959 Cuba to denounce counter-revolutionaries and citizens who wish to leave the country.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

Support, Fraternity / Juan Juan Almeida

Today I was overcome by a horrific fatigue, my vision is blurred, and I fell while bathing; my sister and my friend Tomás helped me into bed.

I will continue my strike, asking for help and solidarity, to visit the doctor, hug my family and return.

I think it’s practically normal that some citizens engage in violations of the law, but NOT that it be the government that violates it. This is a homicide, a torture, a defiance.

I thank all those who have, in one way or another, raised their voices for me, those who have remained silent, and those who have criticized me. I’ve said, I am plural; to the latter let me say that if, being the son of my father, asking for specialized medical care and wanting to be with my family makes me guilty of something, I assume with pleasure full responsibility.

My goal is purely family, humanitarian, domestic and very Cuban; perhaps somewhat stubborn and unwavering, but nothing epic.

August 20, 2010

Solidarity / Juan Juan Almeida

Sixty-four days of hunger strike I feel a decline in vision, nausea, cramps, malaise; talking tires me quite a bit and ideas get lost in my head.

Curiously, yesterday (Tuesday, August 17, 2010), they should have sent me from the hospital where I was admitted a the medical summary and its recommendations but suddenly the doctor went on vacation. Luckily it’s been some time since I stopped believing in coincidences.

August 18, 2010

Whims, Sir? Are They Whims?

It seems incredible, a gentleman as old as that who once painted himself green, today faded to such a gray.

Of my siblings, I can’t even speak, I don’t speak with my family. With all the many problems we have in this country, I want to insist that it is obvious that the President acting as Cuba is wearing himself out trampling all over me, pursuing me, arresting me, even crushing me in violation of the law. It’s totally ridiculous.

I hope that Raúl Castro is very clear on the fact that I am neither inspired nor interested, faced with his immense power. The only thing I ask of him is to let me go.

Who could imagine the president of a country throwing all his power (military, secret service, digital media and much more) against a sick man separated from his family, now on day 42 of a hunger strike? Whim? Complacency?

It’s ridiculous, illegal, inhuman, anti-family, senile and even hormonal.

What can I do. Smile. I saw him facing a cassock, I will see him facing a toga.

Photo: Fidel Castro greets children of Juan Almeida Bosque,
siblings of Juan Juan Almeida, yesterday in Havana.

Is There a Law that Allows a Person or Institution to Trample My Rights With Impunity?

I will not go on and on, I don’t intend to bore anyone. My name is Georgina Noa Montes and I live at number 24 First Street, between Calzada de Bejucal and A Street. There is my home and if you want to call me you can do so at (535) 236-1408.

On December 7, 2009, I was granted a visa to travel to the United States as a refugee. On December 14 of the same year I presented my documentation to the Immigration Office, they took the papers and told me to come back after a month. I waited the prescribed time and returned on March 1 and an official attended to me… Well, rather he neglected me because he said neither I nor my family could leave the country.

I won’t deny that it bothered me. I am powerless, knowing that in my country, and this is true for everyone, there is always someone who decides for me. So I counted to ten, took a deep breath, and turned back to ask, calmly, “For how long and why?”

The official said he couldn’t give me an answer because the information is not in the public domain.

Fine, it is not in the public domain, but it doesn’t affect the public.

On June 9, 2010, I wrote a brief letter to the Council of State demanding an explanation. No one has answered me, I am still waiting for a reply. I remind them that it is a violated to refuse to answer the complaints and letters of the citizens.

I understand, and even respect, those who remain silent. But I have no reason to accept this violation of my rights, or that anyone has the right to punish me for exercising my right. Do we or do we not have rights? Are we or are we not prisoners? Are we or are we not hostages? Is there a law authorizing a person to institution to trample on my rights with impunity? No, no there is not; and if there is, we will change it. That is why we are Cubans.

Declaration of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (ANTUNEZ)

In view of certain statements appearing in the media and on the Internet saying that, together with the dissident Juan Juan Almeida Garcia, I have accepted political asylum in the Republic of Chile through the efforts of that country’s Foreign Minister, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that at least in my case, I have not undertaken the slightest effort to leave my country, although I sincerely appreciate any efforts made on my behalf, and I once again reaffirm my position that I will not leave. I continue consistent with my slogan: I will not shut up, I will not leave Cuba. Any declaration, affirmation or insinuation to the contrary should be considered erroneous and unfounded, with infinite thanks for any gesture or concern for my person and for my compatriots.

Declaration of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (ANTUNEZ)

In view of certain statements appearing in the media and on the Internet saying that, together with the dissident Juan Juan Almeida Garcia, I have accepted political asylum in the Republic of Chile through the efforts of that country’s Foreign Minister, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that at least in my case, I have not undertaken the slightest effort to leave my country, although I sincerely appreciate any efforts made on my behalf, and I once again reaffirm my position that I will not leave. I continue consistent with my slogan: I will not shut up, I will not leave Cuba. Any declaration, affirmation or insinuation to the contrary should be considered erroneous and unfounded, with infinite thanks for any gesture or concern for my person and for my compatriots.