Letter From Prison: What Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin (Akiro) Has to Say / Luis Felipe Rojas

Due to the privileged angle of information which the political prisoner Akiro has been able to count on, every once in a while we can shed more light on what prison life is like. Here, I quote him:

“On October 14th, half a hundred of us prisoners witnessed how other prisoners who work in Holguin’s Provincial Prison’s pantry would distribute rice. This rice was taken from the casseroles which are supposed to be for us, and it was given to the functionaries of Interior Order so that they could feed their swine. I have seen bags of up to ten pounds of rice or ground beef and vegetables ending up in the hands of the functionaries from the chief group called Polanco (the same one which authorized and carried out the last brutal beating of Orlando Zapata before taking him to Kilo 8 in Camaguey). They would take such products to the guardian of the keys, who goes by the name of ‘El Pinto’. Bags, plastic small containers, and other packages filled with all sorts of goods (which could easily feed the prisoners or be used in the cafeteria) are taken out of the jails. From there, they end up in the homes of the guards, so that they could fatten their pigs.

“According to what I have understood, the henchman Polanco directly suggests that there be a reduction of how much food is given out. And we barely ever hear about this in all the condemnations that are made. People in the street who are used to the hunger somehow think that this is not a violation of human rights”.

On this occasion, it’s not a beating, or the refusal of medical attention for sick prisoners behind bars. Akiro has focused on an issue which, due to its generalization and frequency, we already think of as a given.

The same thing occurs in businesses, restaurants, and playgrounds. Just a few years ago a friend of mine, who worked in the “Delta Las Brisas” hotel located in the tourist zone of Gualdalava, would frequently cry because she was prohibited by the night guard from taking any left over ice cream to her children. Nor could she hide it anywhere to freeze because the scent-sniffing dog could find absolutely anything. Then, that Cuban ingenuity inside of her led her to bag the ice cream in nylon bags, and then to put it, hermetically sealed, inside the bags which were destined for the pigs. Later, when they were already outside the control area, they would pick them up and take them home. They couldn’t do this every day, only once a week. But later the same game and method was applied to olive oil, olives, and sausages.

Now, I doubt that these soldiers are doing this out of necessity. Instead, I think they are acting like an inverse version of Robin Hood, lacking any morals and ethics while they rob from those who are in need.

Translated by Raul G.

October 25, 2010

Flying Blind / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

With the arrest and possible prosecution of six senior executives of the “René Ramos Latourt” Nickel Company in Nicaro, Holguin, the Cuban government has just been given one more setback. The officials involved, were replacing some of the weight of the finished product with zinc, to make up the promised weights, since they weren’t able to meet the auditors’ quota of 23 TM a day. Everyone earned a bonus — in hard currency — for meeting production goals. According to sources consulted, after they’d met the quotas, they would go back later and substitute nickel back for the zinc, so it was all good. They never actually exported the zinc instead of nickel, according to some miners.

It’s funny, a sort of Robin Hood in reverse. Representatives of the State who didn’t agree with the high goals set by the Ministry of Basic Industries, and the all-powerful Nickel Union, trying to alleviate a little bit the plight of the dispossessed in modern socialism. The Sherwood Forest has become Nicaro, one-time emporium of Cuban nickel, with a Lady Marian in the recently fired persona of the engineer Yadira Garcia Vera, and an army of miners with their faces dirty from the red soil of the neighborhood, could all be part of a new telenovela, a Cuban soap opera that wouldn’t pass muster, not even with Rolando Alfonso Borges (ideologue of the Politburo) dead and six feet underground.

Those arrested and currently being held in prison in Holguin are Andrew Turro Medina, director general; Rafael Rodriguez Rodriguez, chief engineer; Hector Rodriguez Alvellana, technical director; Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, dispatch director; Idelfonso Laurencio Rivera, technologist; and Nelson Almira Elias, head of the Sinter plant in Mayarí, an annex of the factory in question. All of them have been locked in dark cells of the operations headquarters of the political police in the district of Pedernales, on the outskirts of the city, for 72 days. Of these, Medina Turro shows constant alterations in blood pressure and according to relatives despairs of his life and the confinement imposed on him. They will have to pay attention as, according to the miners, the determination to teach them a lesson comes from the hand of Ramiro Valdes himself, which is not surprising if we examine the record of this “hard ass” among the ossified group of the Cuban nomenklatura, an example of a drowned man still kicking… And how.

September 26, 2010

Delayed Tender Offer / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I’m astonished by the pretentious ordinances of those who have power. In a country like this one, where every five years, coinciding with the congresses of the holy Cuban Communist Party, people were encouraged to be efficient and to cooperate in order to make this a better nation, any attempt at economic independence was viewed as a sign of witchcraft. Every peanut vendor, weed clearer, piñata and birthday party supplies maker was watched closely by those who would rather suffer the punishment of an eight-hour work day in an inefficient workplace and looked on with envy to those who dared to break the chains of government control.

Now that they’re about to put out tenders for activities that were once not supervised, I laugh just thinking about how will they supervise the poor eastern Guajira who goes to Havana to take care of an old couple with sons or nephews in Miami: will that have to pay her in dollars? And Mr. Palacios, who cleans the house of a hotel manager on the outskirts of Holguín? How much will they have to pay him for each cubic meter of pruned branches from the gardens of the mansion?

I can’t imagine how my aunt Eloína (may she rest in peace) would have managed, with a room full of women who came to have their clothes sewn. She would mend, embroider, and even make shopping bags. This crazy new Stalinist attempt at supervising seems doomed before it even starts.

Roads and fences repairman, restorer of puppets and other toys, coffee roaster, hairdresser for pets, and many others, summing up 178 jobs that Cubans have been doing openly and unmolested, which now, with thousands of workers being fired from rundown factories and undersupplied workshops, the all-powerful state thinks it can control.

To put out a tender for economic initiatives in order to let society’s efforts flow towards employment and the common good, is fine. But the attempt at protectionism, with the intent to put locks and bars behind the door, when the dam that contains society threatens to break, is an act of hypocrisy that only sullies the face of the Inquisitor.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 22, 2010

A Firing in the Holguin Culture Sector / Luis Felipe Rojas

As expected by many for some time, the boss of the National Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC), came down from his presidential throne in Holguin.

Miguel Barnet himself, accompanied by an entourage of the ten heads of the various sections, appeared in this city to inform members about the irregularities detected by a committee with regards to the management of funds by its president, the writer and painter Jorge Hidalgo Pimental.

What is laughable on this occasion is that the investigation of irregularities was sparked by anonymous complaints from the artists and workers at the cultural center where Hidlago Pimental is accused of abuse of his position and the possible enrichment of his executive secretary, by the name of Zara.

Diario de Cuba has already published an article about it but I’ll share some details with you here.

Of the 45 works of art that UNEAC bought in the last three years from local fine artists, 15 were the works of Mr. Jorge Hidalgo. Among the other niceties appear payments under Resolution 35 (which offered payments of 135 and 200 pesos for public lectures and conferences among others) made to Mr. Hidlago. One of these was a talk he gave at the headquarters of the Cuba Workers Center in the mountainous city of Mayari and for which he was paid 600 Cuban pesos.

According the report read before a couple of hundred members, the amount that this director paid himself totaled more than two hundred thousand pesos in just three years. Can the committee still not believe that this constitutes a crime? We see in one program, “artistas al fin”, that this gentleman had the right to receive the remuneration that the Culture Ministry intended for this purpose, and even with that he is not before the court?

What happens is that the Cuba penal code doesn’t address those who slice the necks, rip off the heads and climb with their dirty boots on the shoulders of others. One indication of the stinginess which some artists have called attention to, is that for the poetry recitals and the cultural afternoons at the Holguin UNEAC there was almost never a sip of coffee or a miserable drop of locally manufactured rum.

The same Jorge Hidalgo Pimental, almost a year ago, launched himself into a witch hunt against the center’s vice president, Manuel Garcia Verdecia*, and its cultural promoter, Rafael Vilches Proenza*, both well-known writers with a national reputation. Vilches Proenza, as a prelude to that afternoon of the long knives had written some verses:

Let fear not seize the city
Prisoners worry not, be not amazed
In these times of plague
The larger specimens will die.

*Translator’s note: These two men were stripped of their positions for “mis-use of the internet.”

Mechanisms of Ongoing Control / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

How often should a restless dissident be called to the account, how often should the dumbbell of repression fall heavily upon them?  It’s possible that the answers to such questions could be established in the withered manuals of the operations of confrontation with the enemy which the Cuban political police keeps guarded behind various locks.  It could be that they simply are just improvisations of the agents of each neighborhood or municipality.  Whatever the reason is for the harsh banging on the door, the vigilant motorcycles driving through the streets where dissidents live all night long, and the half-open windows of the neighbors, they do not change from one day to another.

When they took me to the police station this past October 9th, I soon found out that the dissident Jose Antonio Triguero Mulet was also there with me, just as has occurred on other occasions.  This is a man who is 67-years-old and has participated in protest marches, has been beaten, and has told the “authorities” more than four phrases that they wish they would have never heard.

Triguero, at an age which is nearly twice that of most of the people who surround him, has slept in parks and terminals in order to evade vigilance, but also to accompany his brothers-in-disgrace.  He gets up on those high trucks to travel from one extreme to another on this Eastern land, and he is always willing to spit out the truth, to tell it like it is to whomever wishes to listen to his reality.  On one occasion he was detained by the henchman known as Rodolfo Cepena at the exit terminal of San German, heading towards Holguin.  He was being accompanied by his three-year-old grandson, and although he asked his repressors to halt such actions in front of the child, they paid no attention to this and sent him back  home.  The discussion changed in tone, and both suffered the shame of it, because they had no other options left.  Many people witnessed this event, and they will not be able to forget about it easily.  Another incident which has marked him is the pain he has felt when the repressors go searching for him at his house, in front of all his daughters and grandkids.  They come looking for him, a man who only does good deeds and simply thinks differently than those who govern Cuba.

One day, he told me that he was raised amid a family who only knew how to work to try to do the right thing.  During each detention, he has told me that they talk to him about the tomb of his parents, but they know that he is not a delinquent.

How often do they have to call a dissident to account? How many weeks or months apart do they have to remind him of the grim faces of the interrogation specialists, with their slaps and their pistols on their belts?

How often do they have to ring the door, hand out their papers crossed in red ink, the deafening whistles, the family shaken awake and let to know that “Security” is still after them?

Translated by Raul G.

October 18, 2010

“Akiro” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Known by the name “Akiro,” thanks to his martial arts talent and his involvement with combat sports, Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin has been confined to the provincial jail of Holguin. There, he has been condemned to suffer two years due to a supposed act of “disrespect,” which in Cuba can be anything from informally addressing a cop, lifting a fist to a G2 official, or mentioning the name of the mother of the “Reflector-in-Chief”* in an unimaginable fashion.

On this past 21st of September, Rodriguez Desdin sewed his lips shut with a wire to protest how the authorities had cut telephone communications with his family members. He stayed like that, with the wires, until the 23rd when they decided to allow him the mandatory phone minutes.

Some of the denunciations of the violations that were being committed there have to do with the fact that a common prisoner, Eliecer Sanchez Gonzalez, who is 21 years of age and is confined to the same prison, is kept under high security along with him along with various other prisoners classified as maximally dangerous. Desdin explained that the prison authorities of Holguin have said that the prisoner Sanchez Gonzalez cannot be sent to the center for minors in “La Cuaba” because of his crime, which has been labeled as Theft and Sacrifice of Major Livestock, in other words — he ate a cow. And this a priority level case. Sanchez Gonzalez also stated that in the center for minors they have also put prisoners who have been sentenced for 30 years, while they don’t allow them to be among those who make up his age group.

Desdin also adds that the military officers place the prisoners in the areas that correspond, as a benefit or as a regulation, according to convenience, while refusing other cases, which has led to quarrels, abuses, and theft, an act that constitutes a violation of the rights of people who are imprisoned in the penitentiary.

He also told me in a letter that officials from the Interior Order do not want to offer medical attention to the common prisoner called Maikel Sanchez Martinez, who suffers from nervous system issues, and is suffering greatly under prison life. According to Desdin, Doctor Elvis, who is the director of the prison hospital, is the one who is supposed to order the isolation or hospitalization of the sick Maikel Sanchez. He then goes on to tell me that Sanchez only receives promises from officials and paramedics that are never kept. Other young prisoners who live with this 23-year-old have constantly asked authorities to tend to him but they only receive evasive responses. He also pointed out that the common prisoner, Luis Miguel Arias Cala, a minor of 21 years of age, finds himself confined to a detachment of maximum severity, together with prisoners sentenced under homicides and murders, despite his delicate health.

Arias Cala suffers from a heart condition, with grade 3 arterial hypertension and heart murmurs. He was moved from the “Yayal” prison (commonly known as “CUBA SI”), and the officials lost his clinical history. Because of this, the medical professionals in the provincial hospitals refuse to treat him. Desdin argues in his letter that such a responsibility falls directly to Dr. Elvis, who refuses to proceed as the norms require.

In the same letter, he continues detailing the serious health situation of the prisoner Ramon Herrera Delgado, who suffers from a progressive withering left arm, loss of vision on his right eye, and constant headaches, without any effective medical treatments on behalf of the doctors.

The political prisoner Rodriguez Desdin adds that Herrera was sentenced to 6 years under the pretext of armed robbery, yet he had already been taken to the Axial Computerized Tomography (Somaton), in Santiago de Cub,a when he was sentenced for buying a copper wire to sell in a re-collection store where he used to work.

The officials of the Order of the Interior from the provincial prison of Holguin informed Herrera Delgado that his clinical history had disappeared. Such lost documents have led the doctors of the V.I. Lenin Hospital of Holguin to refuse to give him any treatments or to carry out any medical exams. Amid such a situation, Ramo Herrera and his family have spoken out, but Dr. Elvis, the director of the prison’s hospital, has not decided to carry out a medical exam to solve the issue, said Rodriguez Desdin.

Juan Luis Rodriguez Desdin is a delegate of the Political Prisoner Association “Pedro Luis Boitel” in Holguin, and is also an activist of the Eastern Democratic Alliance.

When I finished composing this post, I was informed of the good news that Rodriguez Desdin had been nominated for the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Dignity Award this year. It is something he deserves; he has more than demonstrated his worthiness. That prize had been previously given to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, and other brave prisoners from the Eastern region of Cuba, due to their honorable behavior under prison conditions.

Great news for “Akiro.”

*Translator’s note: A play on words referring to Fidel Castro’s regular newspaper column titled “Reflections.”

Translated by Raul G.

October 12, 2010

New Reports About Operation Nicaro / Luis Felipe Rojas

Rolando Pérez Rodriguez, a director at the René Ramos Latour nickel plant of Nicaro Holguín who has been in custody since February of this year is severely ill and hospitalized and sources close to his family told me.

Pérez Rodríguez, an engineer, is on trial along with other executives from the Holguin nickel industry. The sources told me that doctors say he has pulmonary ischemia, and they have extracted two quarts of liquid from his lungs.

As a patient Perez Rodriguez is in Ward A, Room 10 in the men’s ward at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Provincial Hospital.

In conversation with another source it turns out that for months Rolando’s family has been demanding his transfer to a hospital, because of the damp conditions where he was being held in preventive detention. But the prison officials of the State Security Operations Center in Pedernales, on the outskirts of the provincial capital, have refused, alluding to the their need to follow the procedures of an investigation.

The reasons he was taken, as a prisoner, to the hospital are not known, but many presume it was because of his delicate state of health.

Engineer Rolando Perez was exposed to the contamination nickel are in the mines of the Nicaro processing plant in Mayarí, Holguín.

October 16, 2010

Repressive Machine Without a Counterpart / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

On Saturday, I was finishing telling my friends over the phone to upload this post onto my blog, and on Sunday, the 10th, two political police officers show up to my house once again to take me to San German police station.  Like always, the reasons for this detention are unknown to me, and the accusations and threats will swell the “invisible archives” of this “very transparent” region.

Amid detentions, threats, and other coercions from those who wish to oppress me, I did not have enough time to take my complaints to the Provincial Office of Holguin.

On the 22nd of June, as stated on the document I’ve attached to this post, I decided to sue the officials who detained my family and myself by surrounding us with various soldiers and political police officers for 6 days during the month of May.

On July 2nd I went before officer Captain Juan Carlos Laborde to give more details about my accusation.  He told me that I should wait until the investigation was concluded.  On August 2nd I was once again cited and had to wait until 6 pm under the scorching sun since that office is closed off by a grating of bars. There, they checked me before going in, searching for some sort of recording device.  I had to listen to a military officer — who is supposed to serve as the counterpart of the repressive G2 apparatus — tell me that the soldiers had only acted on orders; in other words, they could handle my case without counting on any orders and interrogate me without any official citations.

The argument of this young soldier was based in the fact that “mine” is a national security case, so they have that prerogative.  Basically, this means that if they have to question an assassin, a rapist, or a corrupt functionary, then they would abide by the norms established by the Diligence of Citations and Detentions. The way in which they interpret the law according to ideological or political conditions keeps the Military Office from acting against officials, if the case deals with a dissident or social nonconformist.

The worst part is that this official admitted that yes, it was an irregularity, but that it is the common procedure in regards to a case of hostility against the Cuban social model.  This was all a prelude to what happened next: on Tuesday, August 3rd, one of the largest waves of repression against activists in the Eastern region of the country got underway.

That is their method.  They gave me no written records of these experiences, so for now I will have to continue denouncing this before international organizations — with luck they will believe my words, and believe that I did everything legally in my country, the same country in which, if you are considered “ideological filth,” you don’t have any rights to denounce the crimes committed by those in power.

The oppressive activities targeted and detained 28 people, some of whom already had previous detentions during that same week.

Here is the document:

San German, Holguin, June 22nd 2010
To: Military Office of Holguin
Subject: Denunciation

Through this letter, I, Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal, adult Cuban citizen, inhabitant of 20th Street No. 1303 between 13 and 15, San German, Holguin, and with ID No. 71022122865, with all my mental abilities intact, go before you to expose the following:

ACTS COMMITTED

– On numerous occasions I have been cited by the police authorities, especially by the instructor Luis Quesada and Majors Charles (who claims to be chief of the operational group DSE in the municipalities of Cueto, San German, and Cacocum) and Rodolfo Cepena Hernandez (who claims to be the head of DSE in San German).

– These men completely ignore the formalities that, for citations, are established by current Law of Penal Procedures which clearly states that any violation of these legal requirements goes directly against the rights provided by the document.

– On various occasions we have been impeded from attending weekly religious services which my wife, my two kids, and I are accustomed to attending. Among the impositions and restrictions of movement which are imposed on us, exists one on going out publicly accompanied by some of my family.

– My 6-year-old son has noticed and resents the strict police vigilance of our family. Other kids ask him why the police watch our house and on multiple occasions he has come home from school in tears.

– On December 25 and 27 of 2009 I was arrested at my house and in no instance did the police officers or the Majors Alberteris or Cepena ever hand me an official citation or arrest warrant, claiming that in such instances none of those documents were necessary.

– On February 21st of this year (2010) I was interrogated by Major Alberto Alberteris who did not show me a single arrest warrant or citation. Similar acts have been repeating themselves for 5 years now without the presence of any legal documents.

– On May 11th, I was arrested in my house once again by Major Charles, who refused to give me a citation document, and when my family demanded one he then alleged that I was not cited but instead that I was ARRESTED. He continued by saying that for an arrest, no document was necessary. In this case, my house was subjected to a public and humiliating surveillance carried out by police officers, state security officials (Cepena, Charles, Captain Otamendi, and members of the Quick Response Brigade (Gimon, Maikel Rodriguez Alfajarrin, the social worker Pedro Capote, and others).

BASIS OF RIGHTS

– Penal Procedure Law in articles 86 and 90.
Everything that I sign and mention here.

Attentively,
Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

October 10, 2010

Crossing the Barbed Wire with the Blue Bird / Luis Felipe Rojas


I spent the night of September 30th traveling, and part of October 1st on the expressway of Farola in order to get to Baracoa. The 7th session of the committee of the Eastern Democratic Alliance was to be held in Maisi, but the detentions began on Friday and did not cease until Sunday. The grand total of detentions was 19, with 6 deportations to Camaguey, Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, and las Tunas. There weren’t any beatings and there was less confrontation than other times, but it was still a mass operation which included the extensive search of the beaches which they thought we would try to escape by in order to get to Maisi.

In my case, I was detained along with 5 other human rights activists. Amid all of this, I noted something interesting: we spent various hours stationed on the outskirts of the road waiting for a military transport to take us to the police unit in Baracoa. When we got there, a political police officer ordered for us to be removed from the barracks immediately, a much different scenario than the usual, where we are nearly always put in cells instead. While we traveled aboard the olive-green jeep I thought that I was the king of the internet, for I was using Twitter to report the names of those who were detained, in order of the news I was receiving. I could already picture myself turning into a blue bird and flying to the homes of friends outside of Cuba and telling them the news.

But what a fiasco, none of my 140-character messages arrived at their destination, yet each and every one of them was charged to my account. The list of the detainees was the same as always: Rolando and Nestor Lobaina, Idalmis Nunez, Omar Wilson, Jorge Corrales, Belkis Barbara Portal, Virgilio Mantilla — in sum, 19 peaceful dissidents who were impeded from freely walking towards the lighthouse of Maisi, the eastern-most point of the island. There, we were planning to read the calling for the Unity in Diversity document which the Democratic Alliance had launched, but since such acts were impeded two days later, while we had been released we re-grouped in a central area of the city.

Early that day, we silently walked more than ten blocks, all the way to the bust of Marti where we placed a floral gift and sang the anthem before the eyes of hundreds of Baracoa natives. The Cuban G-2 (secret police) watched us during the entire process but did not impede the march. I’m starting to think that they did not want to repeat the macabre spectacle which they carried out last August when they took part in the condemnation mob against the Rodriguez Lobaina family. During those days, I could easily notice the air of disgust towards the political police which permeated among many locals after the beatings and barbaric acts which were carried out in the home of the brothers, where they used rocks to shatter the windows of the apartment where their father lives, and when they beat up some inhabitants.

To top it off, my old Sony digital camera ceased working, and seemingly forever. This is why I haven’t been able to take a single photo as I am used to doing on any of these trips. This time, you will all have to just settle with these bunch of words, believing or disbelieving what I say.

Today, many of us who report from this eastern cave have our cell phones blocked from making calls to places outside of Cuba. Meanwhile, Cubacel still continues charging us their draconian rates. The police continues to restrict our movements, shoving gags in our mouths so we won’t speak up, and strictly spying on us wherever we go. And as if that wasn’t enough, Twitter has just shut off the only ray of light we had left upon their shutting down messaging through the phone. In which direction are we headed? Reporting what really happens in Cuba, which is ignored by the popular media outlets, will become a rare privilege if the Great Blue Bird does not come back.

* Friends who have showed solidarity and who have found out about the difficulty of sending messages through twitter with our cell phones have opened a provisional account, which we dictate through the phone, to cross the barbed wires from Holguin to Guantanamo.

@alambradasCuba @RRLobaina @jccpalenque

Translated by Raul G.

October 6, 2010

Salve Regina / Luis Felipe Rojas

Picture/Luis Felipe Rojas

The chapel of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre in Antilla, Holguín looks like this, out in the open and vulnerable to the harsh weather. Facing the bay of the same name, and next to the waters where many years ago the mother of so many Cubans appeared, stands this wooden post fixed to the cement base that’s been rebuilt a few times. The lack of public concern has become general apathy: those who want to fix it have not been authorized to do so; those who have the power don’t want another place of pilgrimage on Cuban soil; others, tired of so many obstacles, do not feel like fighting against the bureaucracy and the grim looks of the official who should authorize the above mentioned reconstruction.

Now that Our Lady of Charity of Cobre travels around the country, the people of Antilla go to a run-down church, which still lacks the reconstruction permits it needs. The human hurricanes and natural disasters. There is no doubt that the salt of time and the hand that sweeps everything away have passed through these little towns of God.

Picture/Luis Felipe Rojas

I am 20 kilometers away from Barajagua, the place where the Lady of Charity first stayed, but it’s hard for me to get there, because on the way to Cueto, if you get down to that parking lot it’s difficult to get a truck back up, I have tried it a few times. I promise to take a picture of the place where the first chapel once was, when Juan Hoyos and his namesakes returned with her after going looking for salt for the miners of the copper mines in Santiago de Cuba. This month I’m planning to visit Barajagua… God and bad weather, you already know, permitting.

Translator: Xavier Noguer

September 29, 2010

Rolando Against the Impunity in Guantanamo / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a few months. I was afraid I might not be objective enough, being close to Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, to sound the alert to the world. Even so, my duty towards justice and truth is more important.

This young man, a computer engineer who graduated from Havana’s university system in the nineties, is being publicly hunted down by the political police, from the headquarters of the G2. His propensity to civil disobedience, his capacity to lead some thirty activists from every corner of eastern Cuba (Banes, San Germán, Contramaestre, Songo-La Maya, Baracoa, Manatí, Moa, Velazco, Antilla) and to take them to Camagüey where Orlando Zapata Tamayo agonized, proved his worth, but has made him a target. None of the more than a hundred transitory detentions of the last couple of years has been an accident.

The repressive system of my country doesn’t need any pretexts to jail anyone. They just apply the judicial puzzle. In the last few months Rolando suffered one attack after another, from the extreme-left web site Rebelión as much as from Military Counterintelligence high officials sent from Havana to eastern Cuba, on the pretext of “stopping subversion in eastern Cuba”. From his humble cabin in Baracoa to the many places where he has had to live, everywhere he’s been trying to avoid being arrested so that his peaceful activities won’t be disturbed. He’s been leading the highest profile public protests of the last 10 months in six eastern provinces, but his philosophy has always been “More united, being united is key”.

The decision by my country’s authorities to put a police poster in every town so that if he shows up he’s to be deported to Guantanamo, proves the absolute arbitrariness of the state towards its citizens. Even so Rolando doesn’t stop. Bravery and fearlessness are the flags he raises in order to gain liberty for Cuba. He directs the underground bulletin Porvenir and is a co-author of the collective blog Cuban Palenque. From Cuban Palenque he tries to draw attention to the use of torture and arbitrary acts of the state in the eastern part of the island. Punishments and convictions for trying to leave the country, social dangerousness and contempt for authority are the legal charges which are lodged against thousands of youths from eastern Cuba, and which Rolando has denounced on countless occasions. This enrages those who hold power. His last term in jail, 24 days, was a play to punish and frighten the latest generation of Cuban freedom fighters.

Meanwhile Rolando, an incurable rebel, starts the little engines of civil disobedience, a laxative the gorillas in military garb don’t swallow easily.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 16, 2010

The Cuban Judicial Puzzle / Luis Felipe Rojas

photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

Using the defence of national sovereignty as a refuge, the secret police in Cuba are utilizing methods of repression against internal dissension that aren’t dictated by the courts, nor is their implementation in that fashion even considered in the Constitution or the Penal Code.

House arrest, detentions, and the ban on leaving or entering certain provinces are part of the low intensity repression that is practiced silently and to the beat of a policy of tyranny. With the offices of Attention to Citizen Grievances and military district attorneys at their feet, the so-called Seguridad del Estado (State Security) applies the tourniquet of improvised jurisprudence that squashes the weakest.

Ex-political prisoners like Abel López Pérez and Anderlay Guerra Blanco of Guantanamo, immediately upon their release, have been banned by Counterintelligence from leaving the first and second peripheries, respectively, of the city. Did a judge order this? Is it on their release forms? Is it a special regulation decreed only against social nonconformists? No one knows.

Two friends of mine, jurists of officialdom, who went to school with me back at the University of Oriente in Santiago de Cuba say yes, that it’s a violation, but “the powers acquiesce to manu militari“. I’ve asked many dissidents across the island up until now if they’ve ever been presented with an order of detention signed by a judge and they’ve said no. Never. The same goes for the issued extent of the official summons, which is applied verbally or on some little scrap of paper that won’t appear in any file. If the summoned refuses, then he or she is automatically detained, but his or her name will never appear in the police station’s registry as a detained person. To the eyes of the statistics that could serve as a report, that person was never there. That’s just how complicated the Cuban judicial system is.

The provincial-level military district attorneys receive the complaints against their colleagues with reluctance, and even more when they’re on behalf of peaceful dissidents. The offices of “Attention to The Populace” have a wretched mechanism for the receipt of the grievance, notice of investigation, and results thereof, that makes even the greatest optimist give up on the complaint process.

Before such judicial neglect, few dare to play that diabolical game of chess where the secret police fancies itself a supreme God in order to move white and black pieces alike on the same turn.

And that’s how checkmate is declared upon the Constitution.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo
September 10, 2010

A Certain Bolaño / Luis Felipe Rojas

It often happens to me with good books the same thing that happens with the best dreams: when they come to me, they are here to stay.

Ernesto, a friend of a couple of friends, came from the warm city of Barcelona and brought this gift to my hands. It’s called The Unknown University, it’s the complete poetry of a complete novelist, the Chilean Roberto Bolaño, the one who surprised us all with the novel The Savage Detectives when we were just waiting for the death of a genre that deteriorated during the nineties to the point of stagnating as of late.

What happens with simple poetry is that it becomes a compass to find the right words. Bolaño’s poetry is exactly that: Ariadne’s thread in the middle of his life. The peculiarity of these almost 500 pages lies in the lack of a visible effort on the part of the author to find himself. Bolaño had a predestined route which was prose, as much in his plentiful novels (almost ten) as in his numerous short stories, and at the same time as a silent yet very visible scaffolding was erected for the seekers of novelty in new literature, he let his thoughts and the search for that other identity which is the human language, fall in poetry.

Poetry served Bolaño to cross the bridge between what is public and what is intimate. Even though some of his poems slipped into magazines and anthologies, at the end of his life, afraid it would get lost in the way, he put together, edited and corrected every page of his whole work, sometimes in prose, sometimes in the most pristine verses one could find. Here it is now, at least for us, readers from these parts of the hemisphere where books arrive several years after publication, the complete works of poetry of Roberto Bolaño, compiled in just one volume by Anagrama in 2007 and which today starts its voyage through the hands, the offices, and the benches where the readers of this island sit, to taste that unknown university that may be life or poetry

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 22, 2010

Doctrine, Cradle and Bread / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photos/Luis Felipe Rojas

A few days before the start of the new school year I was browsing my son Malcom’s school books and it seems to me he is going to have a heavy weight to struggle through. My wife and I bought colored jackets and cut our pieces of nylon to cover them, and pasted some little figures on them so they would look better. But what worries me is not the outsides, but rather the venomous burden he will receive in the next ten months.

His second grade reading book is infected with cartoons with militias, photos of Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara, an Abel Santamaría, the Moncada barracks, a high contrast black splotch that must be Fidel Castro jumping off a tank at the Bay of Pigs… and a thousand more slogans.

In the ruckus of the mornings to come his teacher will inject him, as if fulfilling a sacred duty, what she herself was injected with over nearly half a century of existence: hatred of the enemy, love of the leader, attachment to an ideology that at his age he can’t evaluate as optional.

In the middle of the new school year, the textbook — “which, as a sign of revolutionary benevolence, they have not made us pay for” — we see the lessons for April (a month that reminds me of the flowers the poets talk about), in which my son will have to forcibly repeat that yes, he wants to be like Che Guevara, while he salutes with his open hand to his forehead. Also, in October he will have to complete the Camilo-Che Lesson, where they always talk more about the latter.

It is a trap against the innocence of his nearly seven years. Banners with images of “The Five,” spies imprisoned in the United States, the television jingles that are not commercial but ideological, in short, a fence that it will be very difficult to escape from without a scratch. It will be up to us at home to speak of spring and winter, the pollen of the flowers and the stars of the night. Similarly we will have to bring him down to earth to teach him to plant the trees that will give shade, flowers and fruits tomorrow, and to try by any means to teach him to be a good man. It will be a long and thorny road.

September 19, 2010

Riot Squads? … If There Are No Riots in Cuba… / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Why is everyone so surprised to see photos of riot troops putting down a student protest in Jaguey Grande**?

I saw riot troops, led my Military Counterintelligence in Camagüey. Their objective was to avoid the public joining the demonstrations of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, which took to the streets in solidarity with Reina Tamayo while her son, Orlando Zapata, was dying in the provincial hospital in that city.

It was February 3, 2010. First came the paramilitaries, beating and arresting people, followed by the leaders of the province’s Communist Party with the plain-clothes police. They took the 29 activists away by force in civilian cars, patrol cars, and some car they found along the way. The clear intention was to remove them from the crowd that had formed and that hadn’t joined in the repression nor the repudiation. Then came the riot police to prevent any outbreak of rebellion in the crowd that was standing around watching women and men being beaten and arrested right and left. I saw it but I couldn’t take photographs because the friend I was with who had a camera had already left so his equipment wouldn’t fall into the hands of the repressors.

I’ve been told from sources outside this isolated-from-information island, that images are circulating on the Internet of a video where a strong operation controls a protest of dissatisfied Pakistanis at a school in Jagüey Grande, Matanzas.

In February, when they controlled the funeral of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, some acquaintances in the area of Banes told me that some military men wearing uniforms they’d never seen before appeared. The told me categorically — they are not the “black wasps” nor the “red berets” among others. I can’t affirm this because I remained under house arrest, but I have no reason to doubt the comments of the residents of the area, who are fully aware of the various military uniforms.

A month ago when the Baracoa dissidents led a resounding protest some I spoke to after their release, told me of the new clothing and equipment of those who controlled the place. But there, as in Camagüey and around Banes, there were no video cameras to record it and put it out on the sites where there is freedom of expression.

The ones I saw in Camagüey while giving the details by phone to the foreign press, wore a dark blue or possibly black suit (it was nearly dark and I was a distance away). They got out of two trucks covered with canvas, there were around thirty of them, with four or five technical canines and their German Shepherds (without muzzles). I was impressed by the helmets with transparent protectors from the forehead to down below the chin, hanging on their belts something like a knife or bayonet, and concave shields like the shell of a giant nut. I’d only ever seen these in demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, in South Africa which they’d shown us on Cuban television, and in the Los Angeles riots in 1991 and other areas from the tropical benevolence of Cuban socialism.

I have two testimonies of people huddled under these disguises to attack their countrymen. The first was in 1994, I was studying philology at the Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba, and the most radical students were grouped into Mambises and Manicatos*. Their mission was supposedly to guard against thefts at night, but we soon learned that in addition they prepared reports about the outstanding students, the life styles of the rest, watched the young people who fell into the arms of foreign students (better living conditions, clothes, stereos, and secretly hoping to get away to Togo, Mali or Burkina Faso).

They were a kind of teenage Rapid Response Brigade. Many of them like others hid behind a supposed sports rivalry, learning and conduct that demonstrate the worth of the “New Man.” They were given sweaters with appropriate letters, we said hello to them, had them in our cubicles, and smiled at their stupidity, but we all knew who they were: real whistle blowers.

Another who told me about it was a computer engineer friend, what in Cuban is known within the canon or racial discrimination as “a Yankee”: six feet tall, blond, intelligent and well versed in martial arts.

According to him (already working in another branch of the economy), his knowledge of combat sports earned him an extra profit, because in the case of civil unrest, his mission was to beat up the crowd, whomever it might me. So he told me.

I’ve had described to me the images of the fuss against the Pakistanis and I can’t believe it. Assault troops against Cubans? Aren’t we the most cultured country in the world where human rights are not violated and everyone is happy under the reign of the Olive-Green?

*This refers to the soldiers of the Liberation Army in the Cuban wars of independence of the 19th century and to the first natives they had news of on the island, respectively.

**Translator’s note:
A video has recently begun circulating on the web of Cuban riot police — wearing Chinese-made helmets — containing a student protest at a Cuban medical school specifically for students from Pakistan in Jaguey Grande, Matanzas, which apparently occurred sometime before March of this year.

September 13, 2010