‘Empress’ Sissi Goes to Prison in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

Sissi Abascal Zamora

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 December 2021 — The Cuban revolution does not mince words or believe in noble titles. On Monday, December 27, a court in Matanzas confirmed the sentence of 6 years in prison for  Sissi Abascal Zamora, age 23, for the alleged crimes of “contempt, attack and public disorder.” Sissi was accused and imprisoned precisely by a woman, who has the rank of major in the Ministry of the Interior.

On July 11, 2021, the largest popular protests in 62 years of the Castro revolution took place across the island. A month after the ’11J’ protests, Sissi told me in an interview that, on the that day, she connected to her Facebook account and saw that the same things were happening in San Antonio de los Baños and Palma Soriano, in the eastern part of the country, and she did not want anyone to tell her the story about it later.

“My father, around three in the afternoon, was arrested and my mother, my sister and I were still in the demonstration. They hit my sister with a bottle on the head, where they had to give her stitches,” she said at the time from her town of Carlos Rojas, in the Matanzas municipality of Jovellanos.

For years I had interviewed her when, every Sunday, she marched as a member of the Ladies in White movement or in the activities of the “Pedro Luis Boitel” Party for Democracy, for which she was frequently detained or beaten by police forces.

Before entering the court and turning herself in to the authorities, Sissi posted photos of the police operation around the institution. In a previous post that morning, she wrote with all the bravery in the world: “Today, December 27, at 9:00 AM, the appeal of my sentence will be held in the provincial court of the municipality of Jovellanos. I was sentenced to 6 years in prison for demonstrating on July 11. Freedom for all political prisoners. Long live Cuba Libre. Patria y Vida.”court

After the events of ’11J’ (11 July) her father, Armando Abascal, went to prison and was later released. The prisoner of conscience Félix Navarro, president of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy, still remains in jail.

Of that wave of arrests, human rights groups have reported hundreds of people detained (more than 600 have already been tried or are awaiting trial). There are teenagers, mothers of several minors, people well into the third age, artists, a Christian pastor, university students and even two Cuban citizens residing in the United States and Canada.

However, Havana is deaf and continues to be “populated with slogans,” as a song by the Cuban singer-songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer says.

Sissi, perhaps an empress for human rights, does not make headlines in the mainstream media. The feminist movements are not going to tear their clothes because a 23-year-old girl asks for the freedom of her country, a country whose government completely denies there is any popular discontent.

Retaliation Against Prisoner Who Reported Terrible Conditions of Forced Labor / Luis Felipe Rojas

Kilo 7 Prison, in Camagüey. See link below to interview in Spanish.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 4 October 2018  — The common prisoner Vidal Valentín Antúnez Díaz denounced that he was transferred from a correctional center in Sancti Spíritus to the Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey after advocating for better living and working conditions in the manufacture of charcoal.

The prisoner explained in a telephone call that shortly after denouncing the terrible conditions in which he lives and works, the reprimand by authorities was immediate.

“Lack of water, mattresses chopped in half, terrible nutrition and the worst conditions for a person who, according to authorities, collaborates for the economy of this country,” Vidal said.

“Here you can’t say whatever you want to,” the guards warned.

Click here for interview in Spanish.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

Prisoners or Paramilitaries? Testimonies From Cuban Prisons / Luis Felipe Rojas

See link to interview below.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 October 2018 — The recruitment of violent inmates inside Cuban prisons is a method used to reduce the need for officials to maintain internal order, the ex-political prisoner Virgilio Mantilla Arango denounced from Camagüey.

Mantilla Arango said that, “to get rid of their responsibility,” the prison officials “have given a type of authority” to the inmates he calls “paramilitaries,” since “they are more guards than the guards themselves,” he affirmed.

In an interview with Radio Martí, Mantilla Arango, leader of the opposition group Unidad Camagüeyana (Camagüeyan Unity), explained that he lived his narrative in the flesh in the prison known as Kilo 9.

“They (the violent prisoners), loyally, as if they were soldiers, are those that direct us to line up, those who put us firmly in place, those who take the prisoners to the dining room (…) and they are going to pay them 200 pesos, inside the prison, for this work,” said Mantilla Arango.

Click on this link (interview in Spanish).

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

Report: Prostitution a la Carte in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

Luis Felipe Rojas, 8 October 2018 — Brothels in Cuba are within reach of anyone who wants to find them, as the Spanish newspaper El País described this Sunday in a report on the panorama of prostitution on the island.

The journalist Alvaro Fuentes interviewed women in Havana who dedicate themselves to “the oldest profession in the world”. Arlen, a 50-year-old who says she started in the profession at 13, told El País that times have changed. “Now having a prostitute at home is not seen as something bad, and their families support them even, since they bring a standard of living that is unthinkable for the rest of the population”.

In an interview for Radio Martí, the independent journalist Agustín López Caninó evaluated the social phenomenon. continue reading

Yanet, another of the women interviewed by the Spanish newspaper who looks for tourists near the Malecón around the Hotel Deauville, explained: “My father is a doctor; his monthly salary is some 50 dollars. I can earn that in an afternoon. It’s frustrating to think about the near future on this island.”

The Cuban Regime has never recognized the existence of prostitution. The U.S. Department of State, in its 2018 report on human trafficking, says that “the Castro government does not fulfill ’the minimum requirements’ for the elimination of the trafficking of people” although it recognizes that the Cuban authorities are making significant efforts to do so.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

"Fatal attraction" Magali Alabau’s Riddles / Luis Felipe Rojas

The poet Magali Alabau signs copies of her book “Fatal Attraction” (“Amor Fatal”) in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, Coral Gables, Miami.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 14 March 2017 — A poet writes to unpick puzzles, to sell and buy other questions.  The Cuban poet Magali Alabau came to Miami this Friday 10th March to give a reading from her book “Fatal Attraction” (Betania, 2016). She did it in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, which was founded and run by the poet Joaquín Gálvez in Café Demetrio in Coral Gables.

Alabau, a stage actress, who didn’t decide to write until she hit 40, has a voice which slides words around to tell a story which is forgotten here in the north, which all of us in exile are seeking – everyone in exile is seeking. Her sense of direction as she weighs every step becomes a necessity. “Poetry is the foundation through the word, and in the word”, states Heidegger when he embraces the poetry of Hölderlin, and it is precisely in that tone of voice that Magali Alabau has proposed to construct and name her domain, nomatter how small … or resonant … or large it seems to us. There is no other foundation which is not a word.

“This foreign body / which is, during the day, / only involuntary movements, prayer which starts / and doesn’t finish.” continue reading

What is praiseworthy in a poet who lowers her head to give herself to others, to not look back, and to follow those voices which will call to her all her life? Nothing, we can reply, if we understand the ancient profession rebuilt time and time again on the graves of other voices, of other authors.

The mistakes of friendship, the errors of custom, pseudo love, and violence, flow through this book like a flood. In Magali’s voice we encounter accidents and not human characteristics. It is a text without makeup, for which we should be thankful. “I can hear you behind me / harping on about supposed predictions. / I laugh at you, yes, I laugh”, she says to death.

Alabau lives in New York and is the author of a dozen books of poems, with a special mention for “Hermanas”, which won the Poesía Latina Prize in 1992; “Electra, Clitemnestra” (Ed. El Maitén, Chile, 1986) and  “Hemos llegado a Ilión” (Betania,, 19922), among others.

Translated by GH

21 km for Cuban Political Prisoners / Luis Felipe Rojas

Luis Felipe Rojas, journalist, Cuban writer. (Photo: Daniel Banzer).

Luis Felipe Rojas, 21 January 2017 — This 29th of January I will be running the Miami Half Marathon. It will be 21 kilometers of puffing and panting while I think about the people who are in jail in Cuba because of their opinions.

My legs and ankles will get unscrewed, my liver will tell me to stop throughout the entire 13.1 miles of the run, which I will try to survive. I come from an island where you are not allowed to criticise whichever dictator happens to be there. Isn’t 58 years a dreadfully long time to dictate peoples’ lives? continue reading

I am going to run for those who held up an anti-government sign, those who uttered a slogan which clashed with the chorus of sheep who say yes and think no. Also, for those who once took arms against the oldest dictatorship in the west: the two Castro brothers.

I have spent exactly a year puffing away along the road for more than two hours, in the stifling humidity of the Miami swamps, and the sun which doesn’t understand which season is which. Weights, treadmills, long runs, speed runs, and running barefoot. I want to run through the 21 kilometers of this beautiful city and the endless alleys where you can breathe the humidity of the Cuban jails.

I want to get to the 8 mile point, which will totally wear me out, like somebody who gets put in the Guantánamo Penal Institution, “Combinado”, as it is known, the dismal jail in Boniato, Santiago de Cuba, or the monstrous model prison at Km 8 in Camagüey.

I can do more, I know, but it’s a gesture which will do for now. I only want to invite you to watch the 15th Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. I will run slowly, to savour and suffer every mile, every pace within the pack of runners. This Sunday, more than a hundred Cuban political prisoners will hear the shout Count! and some will be beaten.

The country that is Cuba which will be subdued by each kick, each beating. A lock will be fastened. Someone will run along the road in Miami to open it.

Translated by GH

Pagan, A Very Bad Man With a Cuban Ministry of the Interior ID / Luis Felipe Rojas

Police raid the home that serves as UNPACU headquarters in Santiago de Cuba on Sunday, December 18. Photo: @patriotaliu

Luis Felipe Rojas, 20 December 2016 — Today I am going to tell you something you absolutely are not going to believe. But I don’t care, the military dictatorship violates human rights in cold blood and many don’t even want to know. Great is the fool who defends them.

The brothers Geordanis and Adael Muñoz Guerrero are two activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), an opposition organization located mainly in Santiago de Cuba. The Muñoz brothers were convicted of contravention: they didn’t pay the 24,000 peso fines imposed on them when they appeared with anti-Castro signs in their neighborhood of Rancho Grande, Palma Soriano, where they live.

Geordanis’s wife told me on the Radio Marti program Contacto Cuba (Minute 12:43), what happened to them on 3 November, when they were both in prison in Aguadores. An official from State Security named Dainier Suarez Pagan came to them. He ordered Geordanis handcuffed behind his back, took him down from Detachment 1, and he himself gave him a hard beating. continue reading

Yenisei Jiménez told me herself, her voice breaking, because she became furious telling about the abuse.

On 9 September 2015 these activists tried to go to the Shrine of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. On the way they were detained by the police, civil officials and members of the Rapid Response Brigades — ’ordinary’ citizens who supposedly rise up spontaneously to repress their fellow citizens — and they saw them in an unusual way.

Pagán, the bad man who beats women and men in Santiago de Cuba, took charge of the humiliation. He undressed Geordanis and beat him with a rubber cane and told him if he wanted he could put it on the social networks. As this young regime opponent is not ashamed of being martyred for the freedom of his homeland, he let a photo be taken of his bruised buttocks and handed it over to Jose Daniel Ferrer (UNPACU’s leader and former prisoner of the Cause of 75 from the Black Spring of 2003) and he posted it on his Twitter account.

Geordanis Muñoz was beaten by the G2 (State Security) agent Dainier Suarez Pagán who told him he could put a photo on the social networks.

The Muñoz Guerrero brothers were sentenced to prison in October for 6 months (Adael) and one year (Geordanis).

Geordanis Muñoz Guerrero leads the “Pedro Meurice Estiú” cell in Palma Soriano and had twice gone to Argentina invited by the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL). He participated in workshops on Human Rights and ’nonviolent’ struggle, put on by the young Serb Srdja Popovic, leader of the OTPOR movement.

There is more. Both brothers were fined again, but this time — you won’t believe it — inside the prison. They were fined 2,000 pesos because Geordanis sent a note outside about the bad conditions suffered by common inmates in the prison.

What will the hundreds of Cuban attorneys who know that a G2 official violates all the protocols of Prison Control, Prison Security, Internal Order, Reeducation and sees and mistreats his victims in cold blood do about it?

When are Cuban lawyers, with their law degrees, going to get off the fence?

The henchman Dainier Suárez Pagán is a particularly bad man. He has beaten dozens of opponents throughout the province of Santiago de Cuba. The little that is known of him is that he has the rank of first official (that is, Major or Lieutenant Colonel) and that he comes from the town of San Luis.

Ferrer wrote to the Cuban bishops, hoping to hear, but he has had no response. He did this on 11 September 2015 and started his letter in an elegant way: “Respectable Pastors: (…)” but the prelates turned a blind eye.

Ferrer, who denounces every injustice that happens to his activists, included this paragraph in the letter: “… In those hills (known as” La Tanqueta”), political police agent Dainier Suárez Pagán, with his subordinates, has beaten, injured and harassed more than a dozen activists. They have been stripped and forced, with pistols placed against the heads of these victims, to assume humiliating positions while they threaten to rape them sexually. They have also brought the flame of a match to their chin to force them to shout against their own organization while filming them with a mobile phone.”

Each bishop to his bishopric, all are silent. And the soldiers beat Cubans.

Translated by Enrique

Denunciation and Fear: Fidel Castro’s Family Treasure / Luis Felipe Rojas

Maikel R. Alfajarrín, an informant, seated next to First Lieutenant Alexander La ‘O Aguilera, a police officer who was convicted on corruption charges in 2011.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 November 2016 — Who in Cuba has not been asked to speak a little more softly? Who has not lowered his or her voice while making a comment about Fidel Castro? This is the regime’s family treasure: a snitch on every corner.

When the triumphant son from the town of Birán — Fidel Castro’s birthplace — announced the creation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in 1961, he set in motion the well-oiled machinery of denunciation, of the little men who direct the pipeline of information between neighbors and the much-feared State Security (known as G2). continue reading

Every company, hospital, cultural institution, baseball stadium, fine collection office and shoe shop is “served”  by one or more agents, the number based on the facility’s national importance or the sensitivity of the activities which take place inside.

Everyone knows them; many keep out of their way. These “officials” yield power with few restraints. If they tag you as being “hostile to the revolutionary process,” you will spend years trying to get your name removed from their list. They will then forget about you or look the other way when they see you, should that ever happen.

Within the provincial offices of State Security is the Department of Enemy Confrontation. This is the agency that deals with opponents, dissidents, writers and independent journalists, as well as those artists who once dared to use metaphor or irony in their work to portray the power or person of Fidel Castro.

At the bottom of the hierarchy are the confrontation officers, who have less visibility but more devious responsibilities. In the shantytowns, so-called honorary officers — often frustrated men and women who saw their Interior Ministry careers cut short — now find solace by keeping watch over an opponent’s house, snitching on a little old lady selling coffee beans or reporting a rapper who has just written a protest song.

I was detained on one occasion for five days and had to sleep the floor of a meeting room at a village police station. It was guarded in rotating shifts by almost a dozen young honorary officials who worked for G2.

Among them was “Pedrito,” an educator and active member of the Union of Young Communists. He had been accused of stealing televisions, then trying to sell them through a national Social Workers’ program. Pablo, an agronomist and former classmate, was unable to answer any of my questions about human rights in Cuba, explaining that conversing with detainees was forbidden.

I met others a little more despicable and despised. One was Maikel Rodríguez Alfajarrín, dubbed “Maikel the Spark.” A former bartender, student and civilian, he doled out punishments such evictions, fines and criminal prosecutions as a member of the Housing Intervention Brigades while also acting as an informant, or a chivato as Cubans in the 1930s called people like him.

There are others, many others. I cannot be the only Cuban to have had an experience with them.

The honorary officers carry an identification card displaying the State Security insignia, with the infamous acronym G2 stamped one corner.

One day in the town of San Germán in Holguín province, my wife was waiting in line to buy soap in store that only accepted payment in dollars. It was May and Mother’s Day was approaching. The line was very long. Women were talking or arguing when a seguroso, a State Security agent, arrived. The honorary official’s name was Luis Perez, commonly known as “Luis El Calvo” (Bald Luis). The store allowed only about twenty people inside at a time. Everyone else had to wait outside in the stifling heat. When the doorman looked up to let a few more people in, El Calvo demanded to speak with the manager: “Tell him there is a counterintelligence officer here who needs some nylon bags.”

Mumbles, furrowed brows, pursed lips and eyes moving wildly in their sockets were the reactions to the announcement by the honorary officer.

All honorary officers are affiliated with the Rapid Response Brigades — designed to come running at the least sign of protest — and even coordinate their surveillance, harassment and acts of repudiation. Many people fear them, many hate them, but few dare to challenge these evil Cubans who use their red pencils to turn you into a non-person.

Translated by GH

Why Does Cuba Have a Journalism of the Barricade? / Luis Felipe Rojas

Luis Felipe Rojas, 11 November 2016 — The answer is simple. Because we are a country at war with the media for almost six decades.

To speak of the green shoots of happiness, in the midst of hardships and political harassment, is little more than to put our heads in the sand. The dictators don’t believe in these brushstrokes, which they use at their ease.

The official journalism that directs the eyes and ears of the people has had an alternative for some time. It is independent journalism, which calls itself free, but it has had to suffer harassment from the State, prison and exile. continue reading

In recent times “alternative” journalists have appeared who come from officialdom or perhaps perform a few pirouettes, and they have said loudly that they prefer to narrate, to describe the country, to do research, before joining the “barricade.”

Of course, now this barricade-designation is added to previous expletives: “mercenaries,” “at the service of a foreign power,” “traitor” and others.

As I write these notes the young human rights activist Alexander Verdecia has been condemned to two years in prison; he is a young man who lives seven hundred kilometers from Havana and has been accused to posting signs against Raul Castro in Rio Cauto.

In the old Miranda Center, a rickety sugar factory from the early 20th century, lives Ariadna Alvarez Rensoler. She protested a month ago in support of a woman in her family who, in turn, had engaged in a hunger strike. Two weeks later they summoned her to a local court in the “J.A. Mella” municipality of Santiago de Cuba and imposed 6 months of home confinement.

The scene is this: Ariadna is four months pregnant and the prosecutor — a woman like her — hurriedly reads the sentence written in an almost police language. “They didn’t let me have a lawyer,” she told me in a phone conversation.

In Palma Soriana, also in Santiago de Cuba, the police put the siblings Geordanis and Adael Muñoz Guerrero behind bars, accused of the same thing, but they were taken to prison, condemned to one year and six months, respectively. It was a summary trial. Their family was not notified. There was no due process.

The young Catholic Juannier Rodriguez was handcuffed behind his back, they raided his home and took him to four police stations in three days. Rodriguez distributed some baskets of humanitarian aid for the victims of Hurricane Matthew in his native Baracoa, helping the nuns of the Sisters of Charity order. They took him very far from Guantanamo. Then left him in the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba, at ten at night, to get home under his own power.

Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, a restless and outspoken layman, has been summoned twice to police stations in Pinar del Rio, in less than a month.

Valdez directs the Center for Coexistence Studies. A kind of home where one can learn to be free and sovereign, and doing this in Cuba is a serious crime. They gave him two police summons and twice the Catholic and human rights activist published them on his Facebook account.

The second time they threatened him directly. “Starting now your life is going to be more difficult,” said a political police official with the rank of first officer. Valdes was not allowed to defend himself and has nowhere to go where he can be assured of being defended and not threatened.

These actions were performed by some men in plain clothes, with official State Security IDs who on most occasions were accompanied by uniformed police.

People do not say anything, they shrug their shoulders as if the victim did something bad, for not sitting still, for not bowing his head, for not smiling when the stick rains down on the beaten.

Describing these horrors is called “journalism of the barricade” or “yellow journalist” and in most cases they are accused “of playing on the enemy’s side.”

Why doesn’t a journalist question the victimizer? The institutions have the gag of the fifty-seven years of the olive-green revolution and its leaders never show their faces if it’s not to deal with the violators.

Why not do journalism of the barricade?

They Wanted to be Like Che… and They Are / Luis Felipe Rojas

Members of the Rapid Response Brigade monitoring the national headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana. Photo: A Moya. From MartiNoticias.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 31 August 2016 — Abusers, they beat women in the street, participate in acts of repudiation, and monitor those who think differently. They are the kids of the feared Rapid Response Brigade.

Now they are thirty-somethings. They graduated from Cuban universities, but before they were wearing red bandanas in school, raising their hands to say “We will be like Che”… and they are.

The Honorary Officials (OH) of State Security are a wildcard of repression in the service of the Castro tyranny. They started by betraying their classmates for making a politically tinted joke, or the neighbor who sold rice in the black market, and now they recycle themselves in monitoring posts in the neighborhoods where dissidents and opponents of the Havana regime live. continue reading

When the military whistle sounds they turn to kicking women and men who have no more defense than their shouts of “Freedom for the political prisoners! Down with Fidel! Laura Pollan lives!”

They wear tight shirts, cheap knock-off gold-colored watches made in China, and they always wear a frown. This is how they appear in the photos of the most well-known press agencies in the world, such as AP, EFE and REUTERS, but no one can hold them to account. The majority of the western democracies are too focused on picking up the crumbs that let them get a foothold with those who grant permission in Cuba: to site a hotel chain, operate flights, whatever it might be, a little corner of the cake raffled off by the honchos of the Cuban Revolution…

They have traveled the world not precisely to make war like the assassin Che Guevara, but to say they are persecuted politicians, to get a visa to stay or work, and to return with a handful of bills to show off to their fellow countrymen.

They are the sons of communism. Their prize is to sit themselves down in the first little neighborhood joint and raise a national beer, a plate with half a pound of pork and in some cases rent a third-hand car.

They wanted to be like Che… and they are. The shamelessness of the human being has no limits.

40 Years Without Lezama Lima / Luis Felipe Rojas

José Lezama Lima, Cuban author. (Image from YouTube)

Luis Felipe Rojas, 9 August 2016 — He was the son of a colonel in the army, but was born to be the literary father to several generations. José Lezama Lima departed this life on 9 August 1976, and left a vast canon of work in which he wanted to embrace literary criticism, poetry, and narrative (stories and novels). The fat Lezama Lima continues to spell trouble for the Cuban government, because the much-vaunted post mortem promotion does not fit  with the ostracism in which he was obliged to live the last ten years of his life.

With his novel Paradise and his posthumous book of poems Fragments to his Idol, he left tracks in both genres. The giants Julio Cortázar and Octavio Paz prologued (and possibly prolonged) both works and in each explanatory text they set out their admiration for the writer who had created a different subsoil. continue reading

Every type of literature has to be started by someone, a bricklayer who contributes to building the wall of the “great literary house.” Cuba had them in Villaverde and Martí, in Casal and La Avellaneda (Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga, 19th century Cuban-born writer). Lezama was a kind of restorer of that wall, on which we recline today to read a country. The Cuban narrative canon is made up of three fundamental novels: Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World, Cabrera Infante Three Trapped Tigers, and Lezama, with Paradise.

His poetic work is jumbled and inscrutable, based on insinuations and taking obscure liberties with good sense. Nevertheless it is in Fragmentos a su imán where Lezama seems to have taken a break from all his running about, and pushing to unsuspected limits the force of his literary searching.

The secrecy which he boasted of, including the evil they accused him of on many occasions, was left behind in Fragmentos …: “I am reducing, / I am a point which disappears and returns / I remain whole in the alcove. / / I make myself invisible / and on the other side I get back my body / swimming on a beach, / surrounded by graduates with snowy banners, /by mathematicians and ball players / describing a mamey ice cream.” (El Pabellón del Vacío).

He died alone, behind the backs of groups of intellectuals who attacked him when the Castro epic was started up as a new and highly polished epoch of an ancien regime, and decided to eliminate the bourgeois vestiges of the Republic. 1959 was the funeral of Lezema and of a literate republic. What came in the ’70’s was the opening and closing of the grave into which had fallen the intellectuals who had gone into obligatory exile or had stuck themselves in Cuba, never again to leave, as happened to Lezama; although the false recognition of the ’80’s had dazzled some and served for others to wash the vile hands of the censor.

Lezama raised himself with his own work, evaporated in the gossip of the island, which at that time was acclaimed as socialist and just, in order to make itself important and internationally recognised. His absence for years from national bookshops and the stupid limited space that Cuban universities now dedicate to him is an example of an official stoning.

To silence him is unforgivable. To lift him up as a false cultural policy is no more than throwing mud at his gravediggers.  Long life, maestro.

Translated by GH

The Peace the Castros are Looking For / Luis Felipe Rojas

Patrols keeping the Ladies in White headquarters in Havana under observation. Photo: A. Moya

Luis Felipe Rojas, 13 August 2016 — Now, in the second week of August, dozens of members of the Cuban opposition have been trapped in their houses. The Cuban political police have been instructed to close off the streets and mount patrols to prevent dissidents from going out to protest.

The photos published by the ex-political prisoner Ángel Moya Acosta let us see the Lawton area in Havana, where police patrols, olive-green forces and members of the Rapid Response Brigade harass Cuban dissidents, especially the Ladies in White, to stop them going to Sunday mass or arranging the monthly Literary Tea (monthly meetings with discussions and speeches on current social/political situation in Cuba, attended by opposition group representatives).

A police patrol keeping watch over the Havana office of the Damas de Blanco. Photo: A. Moya

The peace that the Castros are looking for: with plastic handcuffs, rubber truncheons and fetid prison cells.

Translated by GH

Armando de Armas Shows His Cards / Luis Felipe Rojas

Armando de Armas, Cuban writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 30 July 2016 — This weekend — the end of July 2016 — Armando de Armas will open the Festival Vista in Miami. In the middle of the diatribes coming out of the U.S. elections, the Cuban novelist and essayist has given another twist to the torture with his gift of this corrected and expanded edition of Los naipes en el espejo [The Cards in the Mirror], Neo Club Ediciones 2016).

You don’t write books to get applause. De Armas knows this, so he came with the rigor that accompanies him in speaking of “an epochal change.” In this handful of essays, De Armas takes a brief run through the U.S. political swamps, from Andrew Jackson to Obama. De Armas sharpens his stylus to take us into a game of cards: the myths that surround a “progressive” and generous Democratic Party, and the poisonous venom that the Republican Party spouts on the public plaza. But he also skirts the imaginary public that remains undecided or doesn’t want to call a spade a spade, in a fight where they’re going to lose their dreams of a lifetime. continue reading

The part about 2016 holds the political cards that are close to Obama and those following in the slippery footsteps of Hillary Clinton, and it ends with the ace unveiled on the U.S. political table: Donald Trump, a surprise for some, “a process that could be seen coming” for others, as Armando explained to me recently on the program Contacto Cuba, where I interviewed him.

“It’s possible that the world, facing fragmentation, returns to empires. Let’s not forget that in the past, empires came to impose peace, order, prosperity and freedom on vast regions of the planet dominated by chaos, desolation, poverty and death (a consequence above all of the coninuous wars and riots among the multiple tribes), and that, at the point of a sword, they were a decisive civilizing factor,” writes the Cuban essayist.

Perhaps this book won’t be one that draws applause. There are people who become serious when talking about politics…or when truths like these are thrown in their faces.

Armando de Armas will present Los Naipes en el Espejo [The Cards in the Mirror] on Saturday, July 30, at 4:00 p.m. on the panel, “United States: The Big Parties in the Election Season,” and will be accompanied by the journalist, Juan Mauel Cao, and the political strategist, Ana Carbonell. The location is the Miami Hispanic Arts Center, at 111 SW 5th Ave, Miami. 33130.

Los naipes en el espejo [The Cards in the Mirror], by Armando de Armas. Neo Club Ediciones, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Poets: Exile, Prison and Oblivion / Luis Felipe Rojas

At the front, a panel composed of Ángel Cuadra, Luis De La Paz y José Abreu Felippe (left to right).

Luis Felipe Rojas, 9 July 2016 — José Abreu Felippe has become a goldsmith. He’s a guy who’s creating a city that will be lost, and he wants to change it into a jewel that we all will carry with us. Poesía exiliada y pateada (Alexandria Library, 2016) collects poems of seven Cuban writers who already have left for other worlds. They are beings with lives twisted by existence itself, and even so, they wrote in verse and kept their fingers on the trigger for generations of readers and writers to come.

They are Eddy CampaEsteban L. CárdenasRoberto ValeroReinaldo ArenasDavid LagoJorge Oliva and René Ariza. Felippe read a poem from each one in the West Dade Regional Library of Miami. There are two routes these bards took: insanity and oblivion, but in both meanings, their transfiguration of reality preserved them for us. The power that they imprinted on their verses has left them a little more beyond the popular imagery. continue reading

“What a well-made trap they have set for us / we who are the mice and the bait / the wall and the point of the sword / the funnel and its narrowest cone,” René Ariza tells us while he practices his actor’s skills, crossing toward eventual liberty or death in a sprint from the port of Mariel in 1980.

Reinaldo Arenas pierced all his narrative with lashes of poetry. Abreu affirmed it today in his presentation at the bookstore: “Rei [sic] was, above everything, a poet. A total poet. Poetry is in all his work.”

Nor is it by far the first or most complete selection of deceased poets in exile. Felippe mentioned the investigation that Felipe Lázaro has done from his headquarters of Betania in Madrid, but each brick put on this wall where we all stop to read helps… a lot.

Here many more are missing, clarifies the journalist and writer, Luis De La Paz: “….too many perhaps — among them the young suicide, Juan Francisco Pulido, and José Mario, founder of the El Puente [The Bridge] group, to mention only two — because in the background all, or almost all, poetry that has been created in exile has been birthed with pain.”

Many more are missing.

The presentation was preceded by the words of the poet and ex-Cuban political prisoner, Ángel Cuadra, President of the PEN Club of Cuban Writers in Exile, as well as by the commentary of the journalist, Luis De La Paz.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The United States Denies Visa For Poet Rafael Vilches / Luis Felipe Rojas

Rafael Vilches, Cuban writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 July 2016 — This Friday I was informed that Cuban writer, poet, novelist, and cultural advocate Poemario de Rafeal Vilches was denied a visa by the United States embassy in Havana. Vilches has become an problem for those who claim that things have changed in Cuba. He has been arrested, interrogated by State Security, and remains in an intellectual shadow now that he is no longer invited to official literary soirees on the island.

It is a pattern. It happened some months ago to Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado (although the matter was resolved in three days after a diplomat urgently asked me for his contact information), and to the musician Renay from the band Prono para Ricardo. The writer Ernesto Pérez Chang was denied a visa at least twice. continue reading

A week ago I spoke with Yoel Bravo, a resident of Villa Clara. He told me that they denied him a visa to travel to a meeting of Cuban activists in Puerto Rico. “They do not give reasons, they only ask you to return in a year,” said Yoel, who has been arrested, brutally beaten, and  threatened with death after he was accused of putting up anti-Castro posters opposing the communist regime.

It is the decision of an official, a diplomat whose look and tone can sharpen in that certain way when dealing someone who speaks up in the face of abuse and tells it like it is. They are not the first dissidents who have been prevented from traveling to the United States to seek freedom and to talk about censorship outside a country that stifles them and chokes them off like birds in pen.

Vilches was invited to participate in the Festival of Art and Literature Summit, that was organized by the restive Armando Añel and his wife Idabell Rosales in Miami. The prize winners and Neo Club authors are not the sort of people to keep quiet. They include prominent intellectuals like Jorge Olivera Castillo, who was sentenced to eighteen years in a Cuban prison because the words rattling around in his head happened to coincide with those that came out of his mouth — a habit that many, but not all, Cubans have lost.

Vista has become a beacon of independent cultural thought, a picture of what a future country might be, just as powerful hands are trying to bind it to a long fifty-seven-year-old past marked by terror and low blows.

Such are the changes in Cuba. Now in Miami unabashedly militant communists, police collaborators, members of the “rapid response brigades,” who respond to the regime’s call to scream down any sign of dissent, and people openly supportive of the Castro regime — those who have enjoyed the benevolence of those whom they are now thwarting — embrace us along with the poet Rafael Vilches.