November 15: Chronicle of a War Foretold / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Translator’s Note: The screenshot above is taken from a social media post in 2021 by the Archipelago Collective. The essay below by Jeovany Jiménez Vega appeared on his blog on November 9, 2021, six days before the originally-scheduled date of a protest planned by the organization. 

15 November 2021
Civic March for Change

The regime’s response shows once again that the rule of law does not exist in Cuba, that they are unwilling to respect even their own constitution, and that they violate the human rights of the Cuban people. The regime’s response has made a mockery of the very chief justice Supreme Tribunal, who declared that Cuba would respect the right of protest. The regime’s response is filled with falsehoods, defamations, and lies. The regime’s response constitutes a crime. On 15 November our personal decision will be to march civically and peacefully. In the face of authoritarianism, we will respond with civility and more civility.

______________

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 9 November 2021 — Just a few days remain until D-Day, but for several weeks now every Cuban has been fairly certain about where and how he will observe November 15 this year: whether he will be content to water his daisies and swallow the usual swill served up by “Humbertico”* on Cubavisión, or whether, for variety’s sake — just to humanly do something different — he will heed that deep voice of his conscience that demands he defy his fear and take to the streets against the Thousand-Headed Hydra.

Unlike others, the Archipelago announcement was not launched from abroad by some émigré safe from the repressive police baton, but from Havana and other Cuban provinces by young people assuming that tremendous risk on their home turfs. This time the call did not go unheeded but rather found resonance inside and outside of Cuba to the point of mobilizing thousands of émigrés who, in more than fifty cities, will support the initiative on several continents that day. Feeling challenged, the regime unsheathed its sword and made full use of its machinery of propaganda, coercion, and terror, before which Archipelago, with admirable nobility, has not backed down and stands by its proposal, so the die is cast.

When the sun rises above the horizon next Monday [November 15, 2021] over this Island imprisoned by Castroism, it will do so over one of three distinct scenarios, the first of which is what I consider the most probable:

Some 24 or 48 hours prior to the protest, ETECSA will have perpetrated its usual digital blackout — due to a certain “unexpected” rupture caused by some solar flare, no doubt — which, along with selective cuts to key phone lines, will render various centers of insubordination incommunicado. Already by that time, the principal organizers will have been detained or confined to their homes, and the mobs of thugs and hooligans assembled from whichever barracks or military academies can join in the parade convened by the “cultural” authorities to fill the streets on precisely that Monday (what better day for festivities than a Monday?) will have been “spontaneously” organized with all that revolutionary tastiness that so typifies the regime’s moments of great unease.

The second scenario would be somewhat less likely: somehow the organizers would have foreseen the first scenario, managed to evade the repressors, and gone into the street without being stopped at the first corner by the political police. Since they would know in advance that they would be incommunicado, they would have agreed on an independent action that would not require feedback between the parties and each one would proceed according to a previously agreed protocol — of which their repressors would also very likely be aware — which would significantly reduce the chances of success. In both cases, there would be several sources of protest, but the lack of coordination would quickly take its toll with a net result of dozens of new prisoners.

Most improbable of all — it pains me to say — would be the third scenario, something more epic: the Cuban people, aware of their rights and willing to defend them tooth and nail, being definitively fed up with the brutal and unjustified poverty to which late-stage Castroism subjects them, massively support the call; they do not give in to whatever threat the henchmen have hurled, and once the confusion of that first moment has been overcome, they resist with courage in the streets. continue reading

Against all odds, the flood is diverted from the regime’s control, this time growing bigger than on July 11, and after the first attack by the hordes of repressors, the neighborhoods entrench themselves, resisting for days that turn into weeks and months; the protest evolves into organized resistance that eventually paralyzes the country to the point of making it ungovernable; the oligarchs of Castroism quickly lose the support of a large part of the army officer corps who are aware of the abuses committed against their people and of which they disapprove; the first units rebel, others quickly second the uprising, the situation worsens and only then does the world take the Cuban problem seriously. All the major international organizations speak out and the rejection of Castroism becomes universal, Havana is completely diplomatically isolated and more and more regular troops join the uprising until the main squares are taken. This is when the Castro clan and their henchmen try to flee but are arrested and handed over to popular Justice, a civilian/military junta forms the transitional government, and a free nation emerges in Cuba.

Although this would be the happy ending dreamed of by all, it would be better that we were pinched and awakened, because with autocracies as consolidated as Castroism, things don’t work that way. The Cuban dictatorship has invested too much time, and too many resources and malicious instruction manuals to have it all come crashing down after a mere couple of quakes. It would be naive to expect that the number of Cubans taking to the streets would surpass that of 11 July, given the impunity with which the rights of millions were trampled, and after the thousands of detainees and victims of battery, and the more than 500 prisoners whose individual sentences exceed a quarter century.

If this dictatorship knows our fears so well, it is for having been their patient gardener, planting them one by one, and, fertilizing them with cold cruelty, it has grown fat on them, and on them it has pinned all its hopes. Today, Castroism reaps the fruits of the terror that it fermented in our brain, and the harvest seems too bloody for us to suddenly uproot the deeply implanted evil. It is at times like these that we as a people pay the high price rendered to tyrants every time we join their ranks out of inertia: when we apathetically cast a vote, when we parade on May 1st, or wave innocent banners on some “glorious” July 26th; every time we go on a work mission abroad knowing that we would legitimize their cynical discourse; when we keep complicit silence in the face of an oppressed colleague, an unjustly condemned opponent, a decent neighbor who with dignity resisted that rally of repudiation. When this would happen — you, Cuban who now suffers — we would do nothing but issue a license to tyrants and dig our own grave.

Recklessness is worth as much as the reasons that prompt it, even anger is worthy, but what is worthless is the naivety of supposing that Castroism has been exhausted when it still has ample resources within its reach — paralyzing tendrils from which to reactivate conditioned fears — at a time when the democratic world seems to have turned its back on our drama. Hence, this hand-picked monstrosity continues to mock the norms of decency with surprising success, and on the permissive world podiums — along with analogous regimes — even manages to reserve for Havana a comfortable seat on the Human Rights Council of the indifferent United Nations, which knows nothing.

Archipiélago’s call to action has generated wide controversy among those who support it and those who, for the time being, opt for more conservative tactics. The former group responds to an irrefutable argument: we suffer from an unsustainable economic and social situation in a country that has collapsed under not only a health emergency but, above all, due to decades of government ineptitude that stiffen our entire productive fabric; Cuba is a country paralyzed by the same backward “fortress under siege” discourse**, where poverty and hopelessness have reached unfathomable levels. Therefore, these brave people have enough with this list of very justifiable reasons to launch a protest which, by the way, is their right as legitimately endorsed in the current Constitution.

On the other hand, those who disagree over the prudence of this launch also do so from an irrefutable position: lacking logistical guarantees and without a previous organization centered around visible leaders who can summon the people from clear and credible assumptions, with achievable goals, and under the protection of minimally effective foreign support from the Cuban diaspora and the international community, it will be extremely difficult to put the dictatorship in such a compromising situation as to extract lasting concessions or ultimately remove it from power.

These are not less courageous nor worse patriots than the others, no — I am personally aware of this — but they speak from the certainty granted by the experience of suffering in their own flesh the consequences of mistakes they are sensing today in this new call; they do nothing more than warn against repeating mistakes so that everything may end up redounding in benefits for the regime and in popular frustration set off, rather than foster, faith in future calls. The reiteration of frustrated calls would be fatal in terms of negative conditioning as it would generate a predictable erosion that would bog down the social psyche. The regime knows this and will play its best notes on that string, knowing that it would not be able to brutalize a rampant people and will first bet on exhausting our capacity of resistance – something also foreseen by this “skeptical” opposition that these days has been unafraid to play the role of spoilsport.

The incontestable evidence of facts supports this undoubtedly correct strategic approach. In practical terms, the reckless exits of UNPACU [Patriotic Union of Cuba] during several decades or the activism of other groups such as the United Anti-Totalitarian Front (FANTU) have been of little use, as were the multiple initiatives of the Estado de Sats or the exemplary resistance of the Ladies in White once their undisputed victory was consummated in 2010, among other laudable and even inspiring examples, but all of which have something in common: none has managed to erode the regime in its deepest foundations. From all this, one certainty can be drawn: any opposition initiative or strategy in Cuba seems doomed to failure as long as it does not achieve enough convening power to bring the country to a standstill in an indefinite general strike or something similar in scope.

Courage is not reprehensible, nor even is recklessness, when the warrior goes into battle armed with reasons to fight. But even the most just ones are of little use when a long war is launched from false assumptions, ignoring the real scale of the challenge, or from the unfounded naivety of underestimating the means and cruelty of the enemy, if a realistic vision of the whole is not achieved or when, with supreme naivety, one hopes to dialogue with a counterpart who has never buried the hatchet of war. Let us hope that on Tuesday, November 16, we will have finally learned this.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Translator’s Notes:
* “Humbertico” – A diminutive version of the name Humberto. Cubans express affection or disdain for somebody by diminutizing their name. In this case, Jeovany is expressing his disdain for Humberto López, a presenter on Cuban Television and member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

** “the same backward ‘fortress under siege’ discourse” – A reference to a motto, “In a besieged fortress, all dissent is treason,” adopted by the Castro regime shortly after the 1959 Revolution from Jesuit founder Ignacio de Loyola. Fidel and Raul Castro were educated by Jesuits in Cuba. 

The Reclusive Poet / Carlos Manuel Alvarez, Regina Coyula

Rafael Alcides

By Carlos Manuel Álvarez, published in Univision News, 19 May 2016 Published in Malaletra, a Blog Made in Cuba, Regina Coyula, 11 July 2016

He looks like a god but is a heretic. He seems carved in stone, but is a nervous wreck. He looks like the first among men, but is just the last survivor.

Marina Tsvetaeva, the great Russian poet, said of Rilke: “He is not a symbol of our time, he is its counterweight. Wars, massacres, flesh lacerated in battles, and Rilke. Thanks to Rilke, our time will be forgiven.”

At eighty-two, Rafael Alcides is Cuba’s counterweight. Political courtesans, a nation eaten away by its own skepticism and cowardice, lives wasted in a useless march to nowhere, permeated by resentment and fear, and Alcides. Thanks to Alcides our country will be forgiven.

At age 82, in sacred communion with the world, equally reconciled with defeat and with light, Alcides is all he seems and is also all he is. A poet. He is someone who once wrote, “When a funeral procession of two lonely cars/ goes by and nobody cares, I quiver, I shudder, / I throb; I am afraid of being a man.”

***

He lives in a garage turned into an apartment — a cave, almost — on the corner of a quiet street in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. It is not the crumbling house of a tortured genius. It is not the lavish home of an acclaimed author. It is not the suffocating house of a bureaucrat. It is not the empty house of a suicide. It is a quintessential example of “mature homes, / where the act does not allow itself to be replaced by the word.”

The volitional force that is Rafael Alcides inhabits an ideogram. The narrow sofa, almost at floor level; the cushions with patterns of tremulous flowers; the still life painted on the ceramic vases; the polished wood of armchairs; the wicker furniture; the wax candles; the sober paintings, with motifs ranging from the ordinary to the lugubrious; the dim lighting; the pusillanimous cold of Havana winters; the afternoon’s plasticity; the vague noise of apparently uninhabited spaces; and the inconstant barking of a lanky dog, with variegated eyes and floppy ears.

Regina Coyula, photo from her blog

Regina Coyula, his wife who is  23 years his junior, brews coffee in the kitchen, and from the back of the apartment, enveloped in this conversational aroma, Alcides emerges. A man who, in order to describe him, calls forth the exclamation that today — except when aimed at him — would sound ridiculous for anything else: “Oh!”

He sports grey heavy trousers, a navy blue sweatshirt, black socks and slippers. The white and generous beard, his elegant baldness, his coppery country skin, wrinkled forehead, and in the depths of his face, howling, the feverish black eyes.

He recites the verses of Rubén Darío:

“Margarita, the sea is beautiful / and the wind / brings the subtle essence of orange blossom!”

The grave and tremendous voice, combined with his scintillating gestures, produces a strange fascination.

“I feel / in my soul a skylark singing; / your accent…”

The hands seem to initiate a subtle dance, led by the vertiginous rhythm of the words. Long, aged fingers trace the words as if his mechanisms of expression were activated all at once and nothing within Alcides were disconnected. If he is going to say something, he says it with his whole being.

“Margarita, I am going to tell you / a story.”

His ears are filled with water, he can’t hear himself, and a few meters away everything is in shadows. Alcides has spent the last two months in bed, except on the days when he goes to the hospital so the doctors can check on him. Only thus he has reconnected with a city with which he wanted nothing further to do, consciously isolating himself from the final stages of its destruction.

“For more than 20 years now, Alcides’ life can be summed up in a linear kilometer. From the apartment to the farmers’ market and from the apartment to the bodega [ration store],” says Regina.

Last November he had surgery for colon cancer; the doctors found it had metastasized and they performed a colostomy. But he still hasn’t decided whether or not to undergo chemotherapy. It seems he would rather spend his last months peacefully, regardless of how many may be left, rather than drawing out the process amid vomiting and nausea.

What is striking about all this, however, is his renewed capacity to celebrate concrete details that others might consider minutiae. This is something that no cancer — whether it is political power or the actual disease – has been able to take away from him. Today, 19 January 2016, Alcides just finished reading with delight the recent criticism of his work by one of his fervent readers.

Rafael Alcides (EFE)

“I’m going to be a beautiful corpse,” he says, “remembered with love.”

But he is not dead yet. He is Cuba’s greatest living poet and very likely the most honest, the most unjustly silenced, the one who has paid the highest price for his nobility, and the one who has not been subverted by fashionable trends nor bought by politicians’ petty cash. continue reading

Intermittently published, he has received some quite unusual awards. In Cuban prisons, in the Eighties, the inmates exchanged cigarettes for his book, Agradecido como un perro [“Grateful as a dog”]. The only things a rafter would take with him across the Florida Straits were Alcides’s books wrapped in plastic so that the sea would not destroy them. Young people from the provinces would show up at his house after reading some book of his at some second-hand bookstore.

Alcides is not a poster boy for exile. He is not a plaintiff from the Five Grey Years. He did not become cynical, coarse, sarcastic, cautious, or violent, nor even less did he ever cave in. For some inexplicable reason, he cares less about his personal luck and more about the death of his country.

“If I lose my book, after many years of writing it, I am the one who loses. That is my own personal loss. But this is the loss of the people and it is a sacred thing, a tragedy:  We have a patchwork of capitalism and socialism that means nothing. Look around for a damned vegetable. You won’t find it. Look at the prices. Is it the blockade’s [embargo’s] fault? Are you fucking kidding? You can’t be serious. What, the produce comes from London? The sweet potatoes come from Paris?

“No. Life goes on and it’s like a chess game. Each move changes the game. You cannot be rigid. This continues because Fidel and Raúl are in a duel with the United States. A shameless and mendacious duel; because Raúl says, ‘We can hold on for another 50 years’… yes, of course, you can hold on. But the people can’t hold on anymore. In no way am I proud of this situation. I feel like the worker who helped build the prison. I am one of those workers. But, if I reincarnated and were given the same circumstances, I would again join in that struggle and do everything that I did. I would sign up for that campaign. We thought we were going somewhere, even though it turned out that we didn’t arrive anywhere.”

— What about your literature?

“I don’t talk about my literature. My history is very simple. In the end, I have been an author of drafts. I have three or four meter-length of novels in my closet, and that’s where they’ll stay. Thirty years ago, when I moved to this house, I burned another meter and a half.”

— Doesn’t this trouble you?

“There was a time when it did trouble me, because it’s what I lived for and gave my life to. But later, you have much less anxiety. Why? Because there have been bigger losses. The biggest loss was losing the Revolution itself; it was the dream of many people like me. There was an opportunity, the opportunity existed, but that is a train that will not pass again.”

***

Previously, in an interview with the critic and writer Efraín Rodríguez Santana (Cuba Encuentro magazine, No. 36, spring 2005), Alcides had acknowledged that he burned his novels to pay off the mortgage on a future that was weighed down by so much draft material that he would never be able to finalize. In this sense, it can be said that the Revolution itself is the unfinished novel, allegedly complete, never to be finished, that its authors insist on continuing to write at the wrong time. Politicians are politicians precisely because the generosity of true poets is unknown to them.

***

“In Cuba, a Revolution was needed. What happens is that the Revolution soon ceased to be Revolution and became something else. Fidel began to do whatever he wanted, to lead wars around the world in which, on the other hand, he did not participate — unlike Alexander, Hannibal, and Napoleon, who did participate. Not even his children were there.”

— If we had to venture a year in which the Revolution ceases to be “Revolution”…

“Starting at the moment the new legal body is created. When it was established that blacks and whites were equal, that everyone had the same rights, and that the state was controlling the means of production…at that moment is when the Revolution ends. What takes its place is the natural contract between man and state and man and society, the social contract of all times, where the citizen produces, pays taxes, the state collects, distributes what it collects, builds schools, pays the salaries of officials, the army, the salary of Fidel and Raúl. That state is responsible for giving you a scholarship if you perform well, ensuring that you have a free education — which is essential — and hospitals, and doctors.

“The Revolution ended in 1965 or 66. But — what’s wrong with this picture? It’s that Fidel is very cunning, very intelligent, he is a genius, no doubt about it — he is sinister, and he retained the name, Revolución, that abstract entity.  Why? Because that way you owe things to the Revolution. But since the Revolution has no face, it is not a figure, you need to identify it with someone. Your father was a garbage collector and you became a doctor or lawyer thanks to the Revolution, that is, thanks to Fidel Castro. You owe everything to Fidel Castro.

“No! No! Fidel Castro owes everything to you, everything he is, the glory and power he has, has been given to him by the people, by me as part of the people. I pay him the salary to manage and direct, I have trusted him. That story of ‘At your orders, Commander in Chief’… No, sir! The sovereign is me, it is not you, you must take off your hat to the people, who are the true sovereign, the one who puts the hat on your head and the one who can take it away. This [would be], of course, things rightly understood in a rule of law. Here, you can’t take away fuck. He’s the one who can take away from you, he can take your life.”

–Did you ever admire him?

“Yes, of course, I followed him, he was the chief.”

— Did you have affection for him?

“Affection is a strange word. Affection is one thing. Love is another. Respect, admire, feel a part of. Rather, I felt a part of it all. Also, you have to think of yourself as a big octopus, because you love people for many reasons. So, you’re a leader, you’re a boss, you represent an idea, and there are lots of friends of yours who have been friends of mine and have died — that is, we are all part of an ideal. Already, once I know you, we are united by all those affections of people who have loved you and whom you have loved, or supposedly have loved. We are part of a big family. It is no longer a problem of whether I love. You are simply part of me, and as I trust you and we are part of an enterprise, everything that is decided is correct.

“Fidel was also the man who was facilitating the country’s dream. For example, one of the great things he invents is literacy, which is very beautiful. Or distributing land to the peasants.  Who wasn’t going to agree with that? Anyway, it was a very nice moment, really.

“Fidel could have become one of the Christs of human history, he was going down that road. People loved him, gave thanks to Fidel, ‘Fidel, my house is your house.’ All of this went on, things that would make you cry. And socialism seemed like the realization of man as a species, the political and cultural realization. Open hospitals for everyone. Although he didn’t create the hospitals, they were already there, and, well… the doctors left, because he harassed them. So that all the intelligence of the country would leave for good, and he could start over with people he had shaped from scratch and were in his debt.

“But, yes, it was beautiful. And we were making history, on the other hand. You don’t take money with you, but you do take glory. We were rebuilding the world. The great epoch.”

***

The life of Rafael Alcides is an excuse for nostalgia. If we continue with Rilke, it can be said that Alcides has been nothing more than the final verses of Duino’s Eighth Elegy: “Who has turned us upside down like this, so that, no matter what we do / we keep the attitude of one who is leaving?”

Everything – born on June 9, 1933 in a hamlet in Oriente province, “immense savannah with only ten or twelve houses” – begins, transpires, and ends this way: “I cannot stop being from Barrancas./ From Barrancas that today only exists in my dream.” We understand that fidelity to moral convictions is, then, a relatively comfortable and minor task for those who have known how to save that which is is most difficult: the integrity of their being.

Alcides is a pillar of memories, and time has finally forgiven him. Regina, his wife, describes him: “Another of the things that makes him extraordinary has to do with his appearance. When we started our relationship 24 years (!!) ago, my niece, with all the candor of ten years, wondered if he was Eliseo Diego. He wore then a venerable white beard and was unexpectedly balding. His contemporaries seemed like younger brothers. It turned out the joke was on them as he didn’t get any older while others lost their freshness, hair, pounds, physical and/or mental agility and for a long time the tables have been turned. That, despite a copious medical record very well concealed.”

He grew up in a clapboard house with a thatched roof and dirt floor. His first heroes were the heroes of Cuban Independence: Maceo, Gómez, Calixto García. Rafael and his brother Rubén were vying for the leading roles in their games, even coming to blows if necessary. Both always wanted to be Maceo, until Rafael convinced Rubén to assume the role of Ignacio Agramonte: young and beautiful.

“That was,” he said, “our childhood literature. And our cinema.” He already assumed Cuba as a vast fiction, the raw material with which his inventiveness would be dispatched.

He attended primary school in Bayamo, and in 1946, when about to finish high school at the Escuelas Pías de San Rafael y Manrique in Havana, he returned to Oriente – only to leave again. In Poema de amor por un joven distante [“Love poem by a far-away young man”] – dated 1989 – Alcides recreates as a protective father the archetypal arrival to Havana of excited young people of the province – that first, terrifying, Balzaquian clash with the city so many times evoked. But in reality, like Whitman, in the harmonious salutation to his fellow man, Alcides speaks to himself,  and comforts and embraces the young man “solitary and lonely, the loneliest of men” — himself — on that day “longer than a century” of June 22, 1952.

In that decade, his baptism of fire was the struggle against the Batista dictatorship, clandestine activity, and membership in rebel groups of action and sabotage. There are moments, situations that haunt him, furies of youth that today he would not subscribe to, that he does not even mention. But they were violent years, tense, he in the prime of his age. What else could he do but offer himself to the fierce ritual of justice?

“Once we were at the university, the police came and started shooting. We threw ourselves to the ground and then, the next day, we saw that the bullets had hit a meter above our heads. But we came to know it the next day. With life, it happens to you exactly the same way.”

In the first years of the Revolution, Alcides was assistant to Manuel Fajardo Sotomayor (Commander of the Rebel Army), participated in the Literacy Campaign, assumed positions of a political cadre in the ORI (Integrated Revolutionary Organizations), and wrote two initiatory and forgettable poetry books: Himnos de Montaña [“Mountain Hymns] (1961) and Gitana [“Gypsy Woman”] (1962). In 1963 he published El caso de la señora [“The case of the lady”] in Unión magazine, a poem that caught the attention of Nicolás Guillén – his close friend – and stood out in the effervescent literary panorama of the moment.

Alcides assumed the conversational language that, first in an organic way – starting with his generation, the so-called “Generation of 1950”: Pablo Armando Fernández, Manuel Díaz Martínez, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Fayad Jamís, Heberto Padilla, etc. – and then later imperatively (due to stylistic fashion or expressive obedience with which to praise the socialist project) would come to rule the Cuban poetic discourse for a couple of decades.

At the same time, within the ICRT (Institute of Radio and Television), he wrote scripts and conducted En su lugar la poesía, a radio program on which several of the most important poets of Latin America were guests. In addition, he amassed narrative projects. In 1965 he delivered, with the tagline Brigada 2506 [the name of the exile group that carried out the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961], his novel Contracastro to the Casa de las Américas contest. Mario Vargas Llosa defended it tooth and nail, but such a title aroused resentment and, the prize being declared null, Alcides was awarded an honorable mention.

“The novel was not a counterrevolutionary novel — far from it. Maybe it was the doing of Haydee Santamaría (president of Casa de las Américas), a wonderful woman, very big, but for whom Fidel was untouchable, and the name must have seemed like a rumble, an elephant in a glassware shop. Later I learned that while on a trip to Vietnam [Fidel] asked for a copy so that he could read it, and decided that yes, they could publish it.”

But he was asked to change the title, and Alcides did not accept.

— Maybe that’s where your disappointment with the project begins.

“No, it’s not that. It was a very individual thing. We are still in January of ’65, a romantic year, and any individual could come up with anything.”

In 1967, La pata de palo [“The wooden leg”] appeared on the Letras Cubanas imprint, and the first poem, El agradecido [“The grateful one”] is enough: “My whole life has been a disaster/ that I do not regret./ The lack of childhood made me a man/ and love sustains me./ Prison, hunger, everything:/ all of that has been good for me :/ the stabs in the night/ and the unknown father./ And so from what I had/ is born this thing that I am: a very little thing, it is true,/ but huge, grateful as a dog”.

Since then, Alcides is a parable. Diaphanous, but deep. Assertive, but suggestive. The straight line of his actions, the clarity of his verses, end up creating an immensity.

He broke down the epic patiently. He sat at his kitchen table, took the Homeland, put it in the coffee grinding machine, and began to crush at times with the left, at times with the right, and so on. His colloquialism is ambidextrous. He equally claims the legitimacy of agitating himself as though a blind and universal god to whom everything is incumbent, as the possibility of composing, like the industrious potter, the exquisite daily piece.

“The wooden leg” found immediate homage in Guillén’s late exercises, such as En algún sitio de la primavera [“Somewhere in Spring”], and in Taberna y otros lugares [“Tavern and other places”], Roque Dalton’s main collection of poems. About Carta hallada en los bolsillos de un monje [“Letter found in the pockets of a monk”], one of the poems in the book, Virgilio Piñera said: “The reader who tries to find the ’trembling’ of St. John of the Cross, the ’imagery’ of Góngora, the frisson (goosebumps) of Baudelaire, the flares of Rimbaud or the ’silences’ of Mallarmé would understand nothing of this ’Carta’ [’Letter’] in which poetry is anything other than trembling,  imagery, frisson, flares, and silences. And perhaps there is all that (…), but inserted into words that are not the words that the aforementioned poets used in their songs”.

In the braid (impossible to remove without destroying it) of History in capital letters and lyrical will that is the existence of Alcides, “The wooden leg” was followed by 1968, the Soviet tanks in Prague, the Cuban government’s approval of the invasion, and with it the pragmatic dagger of realpolitik destroying the brave illusions of the poet.

There would come the parametración imposed the literary and artistic field, the established and legislated censorship, the accelerated Stalinization of society, the most abusive methods of alleged ideological re-education, and the famous Padilla case – the author challenged for his “critical and anti-historical” literature, imprisoned under accusations of subversive activity, then pushed to publicly read a self-criticism in the purest of Soviet styles – and the Western intelligentsia’s immediate and majority divorce from the Revolution.

“We must understand the enormous cruelty that this meant, the wound it made in the field of culture. Everything went through a black hole. Someone moved the needle of the trains and diverted the route. The experience of the USSR began to be duplicated and the martiano program [the study of José Martí’s legacy] was betrayed: “a republic with all and for the good of all,” an economic program for small and medium-size business owners. This shows how that very human process, which seemed to be led by men, was carried out by So-and-Sos who wanted to look like divinities.”

In 1970, intent on publicizing his disenchantment, Alcides presented at the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) a notebook entitled The City of Mirrors, and was predictably rejected “as nihilistic, as improper of the New Man”.

Knowing that he would also be set apart, he decided to set himself apart. He would not visit UNEAC again. He would not submit books to any publisher. He would not attend any exhibition or cultural event. He would not be seen in cinemas, concerts, or public events. Thus began the longest inxilio [internal exile] of Cuban literature.

“The alternative would have been to plant bombs to destroy what I had helped build, and that I was never going to do.”

Alcides wrote radio scripts from his home and wrote prophetic verses in the most complete and conscious solitude. He subjected his soul to a disciplined military regime. He wrote: “The past and the future have already passed./ Everything we had we lost,/ and it was more than we could have./ We have this rumor. This / lot of sorrows that the wind spreads, / immemorial, without time./ This rumor / of what was / life before the future came.”

These were scary times and no one paid visits to anyone.

“César López and Pablo Armando saw each other more or less, from time to time. Manuel Díaz Martínez was stuck in a radio station without being able to put his name to his work, Heberto (Padilla) translated Maiakovski without being able to sign his work, Virgilio at that time also translated without being able to sign his work — everyone was very scattered. It was an offensive against intellectuals who had applauded the process, who had fought in Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs], who had slept rough, by the sea. People who loved the Revolution. These writers began to have ideas, to make critical literature, and they annoyed those who were already seated on the chair of Stalinism. That’s the whole story.

Later, many of the defenestrated intellectuals would be reinstated and would gladly accept the state’s perks. But not Alcides. An eminently sentimental — even melodramatic — poet, and with enough courage to write the fieriest confessions and walk the edge of any excess. But possessing, also, a cold lucidity. He believed that what the Revolution should expect from true revolutionaries was not faith anymore, but doubt: “A poem can be/ a machine of emotion/ or a machine of intelligence./ (Emotion passes).”

***

“Poetry is mixed with the story, with the novel, with everything. Poetry is given in fits and starts, it is like love. You have to write as you feel it. This is your chance, you will not be born again. That’s the secret. It doesn’t matter that others don’t see it. The creator risks his death, others risk their lives. Poets who today seem transcendent, tomorrow are forgotten. It happens with all authors. Poetry is the mystery, the gift that the word has to captivate. But it’s not a safe place. Today they can throw you kisses, give hugs, but tomorrow… There are so many poets out there. That’s why you have to take a chance. You don’t write for now, not for me, not for you, not for anyone. You are writing for your contemporaries — that is, the future. Sincerity. If it goes well, it goes well. If not, then no. Do not lie. Do not lie.  He who lies will have his hand withered,” says Alcides, the noble conversationalist.

***

It is easy to trace the transcendent events in Alcides’ life, because they are all in his work, without disguise. He married Teresa – “Without solitude to deceive,/ today Teresa and I do not eat and we drink the poem/ made stew and made coffee that is how it feeds,/ and we laugh at how they are heated in a jar / or fried in a pan with butter / our next Complete Works” – and had with her the most famous of his four children: the painter Rubén Alcides.

When Teresa – several years divorced from Alcides – emigrated in the early 90s with the son they had together, Alcides composed Carta a Rubén, one of the most shocking elegies about the main trauma of the recent Cuban family: “But we, / we alone, / the sad, / the mournful ones / in what homeland are we now? (…) / The homeland, far from what you love? (…) / Where you live between walls and locks / it is also exile…”.

He sang, also, to the helpless flower (Canto para los dos) [“Song for the two of us”], to the tomb of his only general (En el entierro del hombre común) [“At the burial of the common man”], and even to the ministers, in a poem where he confesses: “Every time I hear about a friend / who is going to be made a minister, / someone erases a part of my life …” If we review the updated list of cultural commissars or retroactive sacred cows – a good part of the Generation of 1950 – we will see that power has been erasing Alcides more than should be erased from a man.

But in 1984 – years of a certain thaw already – Agradecido como un perro [Grateful as a dog]” appeared, an indelible explosion. Reviews rained down and young and gallant readers, stunned, broke their fast with Alcides. In the title poem, the Revolution is mentioned. However, the poem does not wither, which is what usually happens, but the Revolution endures. The Revolution, after so many flat balladeers and grandstand impostors, finally owed survival to a dissident.

At the end of the eighties, believing that idle abstention made no sense, and driven by what he described as “the deceptive winds of Perestroika,” Alcides reconnected with the UNEAC and participated in meetings and congresses.

“My attitude had been that of someone who did not want to charge against what he had loved and continued loving, and for which he could still give his life because he had hopes that we would rectify it.”

Returning to the world, he found Regina, then an official of the Ministry of the Interior. She knew his poems inside out, and the gravitas, the manifest disinterest of Alcides in standing out, the silences interrupted only by his affable radio-announcer voice, ended up captivating her.

“I saw him for the first time at a wake and we didn’t speak, but I was very impressed by his concentrated expression, by himself, sitting in a Calzada y K [a Havana funeral home] armchair. Then we were introduced to each other at UNEAC and there was empathy, but no more. We met again through the complicity of a friend on 31 December 1988, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

In 1991, after the events of the “Letter of the Ten” [also called the Declaration of Cuban Intellectuals] – expulsion from the UNEAC, administrative sanctions, false accusations, and a shameful campaign to discredit a dozen intellectuals who dared to sign and disseminate what, according to Manuel Díaz Martínez himself, a signatory, was no more than a “list of moderate demands to the government” – Alcides concluded that everything would remain the same and so he again began to prefer his solitude to the company of colleagues whom he still loved but whom, in the best of cases, the pusillanimous silence turned into accomplices.

Around that time, Letras Cubanas released the forgotten notebook La ciudad de los espejos [“The city of mirrors”], but with a much more bitter title, which summarized the annoyances of Alcides: Nadie [“Nobody”]. It was his last book to be published by a Cuban publisher and he would never appear again in any public space. They once tried to recognize him with the National Prize for Literature and he rejected it.

As alternative avenues of expression opened up in Cuba, Alcides moved from silence to critical participation. He has held nothing back — not in interviews, not in articles, not in talks or events to which the political opposition invites him. During the last 23 years, his poetic work has only seen the light of day thanks to the Sevillian publisher Abelardo Linares, who one day knocked on his door and rescued him.

Screen shot of the documentary Nadie with Rafael Alcides.

***

On the occasion of his 80th birthday, Regina wrote: “Alcides is incapable of boarding a bus, a shared taxi (almendrón), or a called taxi (panataxi); he is incapable of walking even 200 yards to meet a celebrity. Instead, he is an extraordinary host, so warm and attentive, who immediately makes even new acquaintances feel comfortable.”

“In this time of ideological polarization, he keeps affection intact and that intense way of loving, be it for a high government official or a senior opposition leader in exile. He forgives (but does not forget, he has an excellent memory) some fool elevated? from bison poet to official who from his new position has allowed himself to treat him coldly. He still regrets the errata by omission of the dedication to Roberto Fernández Retamar in a poem from a book recently published in Colombia.”

A year later, some online media outlets published the following email, signed by Alcides:

“Havana 30 June 2014

Miguel Barnet, Poet

President, UNEAC

“Friend Miguel: In view of the fact that my books are no longer allowed to enter Cuba either through customs or by mail, which is the same as prohibiting me as an author, I resign from the UNEAC. You will also find in this envelope the Commemorative Medal of the 50th anniversary of the UNEAC which, as a founder, belongs to me. The rest of that mansion that was so mine in another time, are my memories, and these, being personal, will leave with me. Among those memories, that of the good friends found in the UNEAC of that time, treasures of my youth, what I have left of that great failed dream, figures whom I love even if they do not think like me and who love me, even if they do not dare to visit me. That is all, Miguel. Anticipating interpretations that would omit the text of this irrevocable resignation, I have gone ahead and made it public.”

And it has continued. Filmmaker Miguel Coyula’s YouTube channel has been publishing, since the end of 2015, some short videos – powerful visual haikus – in which Alcides talks about the lost dream of the Revolution, the people, beauty, Fidel Castro, artists. Similarly, the Verbum publishing house has just launched a poetic anthology of his, with definitive overtones, of which Alcides has only one copy.

Still, resentment is something he knows nothing about, and he fervently believes in God.

***

—Over time, you have gone further than any of your generation.

“No. I have advanced just like everyone else. I’m pretty sure we all think the same. In Cuba, there are only two dissidents: Fidel and Raul Castro. The rest of us agree that this does not work. What happens is that some dare to say it and others do not, because some are inside the game and others outside. Since I don’t need to take trips, nor do I accept trips, nor do I want a different house, nor do I aspire to be given a car, and I don’t even have a landline, I can say it.”

—But that’s going further.

“It is not.”

***

Manuel Díaz Martínez has said of him: “Rafael Alcides treasures still – they live on in his conduct and his writing – the rebellions and longings that were once the currencies of our already dismantled generation. It should not surprise us, then, that this Caribbean Ulysses continues to dream, in the grotto of Polyphemus, of reaching Ithaca. Across the Atlantic I discover him, a navigator of stubborn dignity, resisting the siren songs in a muddy sea of betrayals and surrenders.”

***

—Did you ever think about leaving Cuba?

“No, never. I am from here. Honestly, I wouldn’t know how to live outside of Cuba. But the problem is to continue fighting. It doesn’t matter if it’s here or there. That isn’t important. And I believe that those who fight for change, be it here or there, have the same right.”

—Do you feel alone at times?

“No, I don’t feel alone. I have many friends outside. But the friends from before no longer exist. They are a part of the before times. They don’t come here.”

—Do you still love them?

“Yes, I love them in the past. What has been, not even God can erase, and I respect it all. Now, those friends no longer visit me. If we run into each other, by chance, some of them hug me, others turn away. I have become invisible.”

—And how does that make you feel? Sad?

“Not even, not anymore. I realize that it can’t be otherwise. I realize that they are afraid. It makes me pity them (a little) because I know that they have not stopped loving me. Because I have not stopped loving them. I love them in the past, but I love them all the same. I greatly respect the choices of others, in every sense, but I also respect my right to disagree. If in the next government we will be as intolerant as we have been in this one, I’ll take this one, because I already know it more or less.”

—The radical position of the old exiles is not very convincing to you. “No, I don’t believe in radicalisms, radicalisms are stupid. We don’t realize it, but we have lived through a great tragedy. Today the word Patria — fatherland — doesn’t exist. We have drama. And literature — the novel, poetry — is made with drama, with pain. This is coming to an end. The time has come to start telling about it.”

Rafael Alcides

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others. 

Testimony of Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca Currently Being Held at Combinado del Este Prison / Ivan Garcia

Taken at the time Valle Roca was arrested outside the Yara cinema on the downtown Havana corner of 23 and L, when together with other activists he was demonstrating peacefully on December 10, 2015, International Human Rights Day. Before being imprisoned at Villa Marista on June 15, 2021 and then sent to the Combinado del Este, Yuri was detained many times. Image taken from Radio Viva 24.

From the Blog: Iván García at Desde de la Habana, 4 July 2022, Havana

Author: Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, political prisoner of conscience. Combinado del Este, maximum security prison, June 25, 2022, three days after being arbitrarily and unjustly tried by a court.

I write these lines to release those thoughts and events that led me to make the most correct decision I have ever made in my life: to declare myself an opponent and fight against the oldest dictatorship in Latin America.

It was the year 1978 or 79 when my grandfather Blas Roca arrived at the house feeling unwell. As I heard my grandmother, Dulce Antúnez, tell it, he had had a fierce argument with Fidel Castro. Those heated discussions with Fidel were quite frequent. It is already known what the character of the dictator was like, his arrogance and smugness.

My grandmother asked Dr. Cabeza what was wrong with my grandfather and he told her that it was nothing, that it had only been a headache and he had given him a painkiller. But my grandmother, who knew my grandfather well, called me into the room and told me to get ready because we were going to take him to the clinic. Dr. Cabeza questioned my grandmother’s decision, but she told him that she knew her husband well, after having been married for more than 50 years. When we arrived at the clinic, my grandfather’s face and mouth were already disfigured and he was diagnosed with a cerebral venous thrombosis.

From that moment on, things began to get tense, to the point that they got my grandparents divorced so that they could marry him to his secretary Justina  Álvarez. They argued that my grandfather and Justina had an extramarital affair of many years, something totally untrue. In that state that my grandfather was in, Raúl Castro got him divorced and then married to Justina. There were countless things they did to my family, to the point of not letting us go to see him. I went on several occasions and Justina would say that she had to give advance notice and schedule an appointment. On other occasions they threw me out because I would talk with my grandfather about subjects they didn’t like, especially the humiliations and contempt towards my family.

I remember the day my grandfather died. My grandmother, with tremendous courage, said to me, “Yuri, your grandfather died. Get dressed, we’re going to the viewing.” And so we walked to the Plaza de la Revolución. She sat next to the coffin and I sat next to her. Imagine the scene when Justina arrived, but my grandmother and I were unshakable. Fidel, Raúl, Ramiro Valdés and Guillermo García were looking on from behind a divider nearby.

At that moment Raúl calls me over to tell me why did I not take my grandmother home, so that she could rest, to which I replied: “Why the fuck don’t you tell her yourselves, or you don’t have the courage to do it, so go fuck yourselves, you sons of bitches.” And I went back and sat next to my grandmother. Five minutes later they ended the viewing. They requested that my grandmother not continue reading

attend the burial. After the ceremony ended, my mother, seeing that there were people throwing earth inside the grave, went and took the shovels from the gravediggers and gave them to her children, so that it would be her family who would bury her father, Blas Roca Calderío.

There were many vexations and humiliations against my family. There was a lot of hatred on the part of Fidel and his clique against my grandfather, who was a humble man, simple and correct. We ate, as did the people, according to the ration book. My grandfather never wanted houses on the beach and – after much insistence from Fidel and Raúl – he would rent a beach house for vacation, but the family had would have to save all year to pay for it.

On one occasion, Raúl sent a gift Jeep to my grandfather and he returned it to him. He told him that in the Central Committee you could only have one car. There are countless things I could tell you; that’s why my grandfather was not liked, because they could never corrupt him. He had arguments with Fidel when the 1976 Constitution was drawn up, because Fidel wanted to impose arbitrary things and my grandfather never agreed with it. He was the only one who would dare tell Fidel Castro that something could not be done. That’s why they hated him, that’s why they got him divorced while he was sick, with his brain shattered by clots from thrombosis.

On another occasion, in 1981, I was 20 years old and was spending my military service in border guard troops, in the national squadron located in the Ensenada de Cubanacán, near Jaimanitas, Havana, where I worked as a radarist on a Griffin interceptor ship. Many leaders kept their boat and yachts at that marina, including Fidel. The skipper of his yachts was Colonel Kiki Finalé, who was going around there that day in a speedboat. One of the boys I had under my command ran to find me, to tell me that Finalé was harassing and humiliating them, showing off and imposing on them his arrogance and despotism for being a colonel and the skipper of Fidel Castro’s yachts.

I went to the aid of the soldiers, getting into a tremendous argument with Colonel Finalé, to whom I ended up saying that over my cojones would he leave the marina towards Varadero – where they were headed that day – and then I left on the ship to do my guard duty. When I saw his battle-drill motorboat coming and fired the warning shots at him, he stopped the boat. When I approached, in the boat with Finalé were Alejandro Castro and Juan Juan Almeida, who immediately recognized me. I didn’t know that Kiki was accompanied by them, I apologized and they continued their journey. This incident resulted in the fact that five days later I was expelled from military service, with the prohibition that I could not carry any firearm.

I hope you understand that I cannot be more explicit and provide more facts and details. I am imprisoned and I have many inmates around me, keeping an eye on the smallest detail – what I eat, what I write – everything. In addition, to produce this text and make it reach its destination, I must circumvent searches and inspections. I hope that with these few examples you understand why I decided to stand against the dictatorship.

My grandparents always told me to think and do whatever I wanted. From them I learned to hate the dictatorship, to help the most needy, and that the people – the sovereign – are the ones who rule. I was also taught these words of our Apostle*: “One man is worth no more than an entire people, but there are men who do not tire when their people get tired, and they choose war before entire peoples do, because they do not have to consult anyone but themselves. And peoples have many men, and cannot consult each other as quickly.”

The time I was most proud of my grandparents, Blas Roca and Dulce Antúnez, was on one of my trips to the United States, when I was greeted by friends who knew my family. Their words of admiration and respect for my family were moving. That is why I fight against the dictatorship, that is why every day I feel proud of my grandparents and of my mother, Lydia Roca Antúnez, who instilled in me pure and patriotic feelings.

It is my commitment to continue with the fight they started. To carry out their ideas is my guide and my strength. And the examples of Martí, [Antonio] Maceo, [Ignacio] Agramonte – they give me strength to face all of the abuses and humiliations that inflicted on me in an effort to make me desist in my struggle so that Cuba and Cubans are free once and for all. The Apostle taught us that “heroes are those who fight to make peoples free, or those who suffer in poverty and misfortune to defend a great truth.”

Thank you very much to all the brothers who raise their voices in my defense to get me out of this unjust and arbitrary confinement, which I face with the firmness of my family legacy and my ideals. And with the conviction that Cuba has to be free now.

Homeland, Life and Freedom.

Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca, political prisoner of conscience.

Combinado del Este, maximum security prison, June 25, 2022, three days after being arbitrarily and unjustly tried by a court.

Note from Iván:

This testimony was made known in Havana by Eralidis Frómeta, wife of Lázaro Yuri.

*Translator’s note: José Martí, the 19th century national hero, is often called the “Apostle of Cuba” or the “Apostle of Cuban Independence.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Ordeal of Cuban Dissidents / Ivan Garcia

After a life of poverty, disease, and repression, Lisset Naranjo Girón, opposition figure and a Lady in White, died in Havana on April 10, 2021 at the age of 36. As the photographer and activist Claudio Fuentes wrote on his Facebook, from where this photo was taken, “the lack of protection of dissidents and political prisoners in Cuba is not only the responsibility of Castroism.”

Ivan García, Desde La Habana, May 2022 — For the act of writing this article, the regime – were they to deem it pertinent to do so – could prosecute me and slap me with up to twenty years in prison, according to the current Law 88 which was approved in February, 1999. For collecting payment for my contributions to Diario Las Américas, the new Penal Code says that I could be sentenced to ten years in prison.

If I were to leave the following comment on social networks – “Simply because they are enemies of the United States, their enemy the Cuban regime supports a comic-opera dictatorship in Nicaragua and is an ally of a nation like Russia that violates the rights of homosexuals, and of an autocratic asylum like North Korea” – the punishment could vary. Depending on the judge, I could be sentenced under Law 35 to pay a fine of three thousand pesos, or if Law 370 were applied I could be subject to three years of criminal sanctions.

The colleagues who produce the digital newspaper 14ymedio in Havana could also be sanctioned for “affecting world peace” or some other legal nonsense used for cracking down on free expression in Cuba – in addition to being charged under any current law that exists to muzzle independent journalism.

I do not consider myself a hero. But ever since I began writing in December 1995 for the independent press agency Cuba Press, directed by the formidable poet and journalist Raúl Rivero who died on November 6, 2021 in Miami, I have accepted the consequences of my way of thinking.

If there is something that those who oppose Castroism have never lacked it is laws and sentencing rules to forewarn us of long prison terms and even the death penalty.

Therefore, the new Penal Code, wherein the regulations against dissidence are expanded upon, is more of the same. Another roundabout message from the regime to warn us that we live on the razor’s edge, that we have few options to defend ourselves. If they open a case against us, not even the best lawyer in the world can keep us out of jail; the sanctions against opponents are pre-established by the State.

Years ago, I decided to be transparent. My opinion that Cuba will – sooner rather than later – begin the path towards democracy is one that I have always written and to which I have signed my full name in the digital and print media, where I have published for more than 25 years.

I am an uncomfortable journalist. I have no commitments to any opposition group or political current. My commitment is to journalism. I recognize that the newly approved Penal Code intimidates some sectors of the opposition and free journalism. And faced with the prospect of future criminal sanctions, members of those sectors often decide to leave the country.

When a dissident appears on State Security’s radar, the harassment that ensues is inhuman. The hostility of the political police affects the individual’s family, friends and neighbors. Almost all activists and reporters who have left the country have been arrested multiple times, faced imprisonment, and been harassed in countless ways.

Independent journalist Camila Acosta has been evicted at least eight times from the rental house where she lived because of pressure from State Security on the owners. Luz Escobar has been held under house arrest by State Security in her own home. continue reading

The repression in Cuba is constant. For this reason, opponents and journalists – particularly the youngest ones – have left their homeland or are packing their bags.

Currently, the internal opposition and ungagged journalism are at a low ebb. When you chat with any dissidents, they tell you about their plans to emigrate.

As the political refugee program of the United States Embassy in Havana has not been operating for several years, activists plot their itinerary like any other irregular immigrant, to try to reach the southern border of the United States and, once there, request asylum or cross illegally.

I remember the case of Ramón Arboláez, from Villa Clara, a cancer patient, who in 2016 fled Cuba with his wife and two children, harassed by the political police. Thanks to the involvement of Maite Luna, a reporter in Miami, and follow-up by Diario Las Américas, Arboláez was granted a humanitarian visa after being stranded in Mexico for two months.

Oppositionist José Daniel Ferrer, the artists Luis Manuel Otero and Maykel Osorbo, and independent journalist Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca have been in prison for months without being tried. The regime has proposed exchanging imprisonment for exile for all four. They have not accepted it. Activist Anamely Ramos is a victim of political exile in the 21st century.

The dissidents on the Island have it increasingly difficult. Like the vast majority of Cubans, they are suffering from the economic crisis, rising inflation, and widespread shortages. They have to queue for hours to buy a package of chicken or a bag of detergent. The health status of several opposition veterans is fragile.

Juan González Febles, an independent journalist who turned 72 on May 21, suffers from senile dementia and urinary incontinence. “He and his wife Ana Torricella, also an independent journalist, are going hungry,” a mutual friend tells me. Febles and Luis Cino founded the online newspaper Primavera Digital [“Digital Spring”] in November 2007; in June 2012 they also began publishing a printed edition that boasted a weekly circulation.

In Cuba, dissidents and independent journalists do not enjoy job protections, nor the right to take sick leave, vacations, or retirement. One example is that of my mother, Tania Quintero Antúnez, born in Havana in 1942, and since November 2003 living in Switzerland as a political refugee. In August 1959, at just 17 years old, she started working. On April 4, 1996, a 37-year career working for State-run institutions was cast aside when at age 54 she was expelled from the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (where she worked as a reporter for the Cuban Television Information System) for having signed on as an independent journalist with Cuba Press. They did not pay her a penny of the pension to which she was entitled by national and international law.

Some die destitute. Vladimiro Roca – a prominent dissident who in 1997, together with Martha Beatriz Roque, René Gómez Manzano and Félix Bonne Carcassés (he died in 2017 of a heart attack, blind and forgotten), authored the 1997 paper, The Homeland Belongs to All* – sold his residence in Nuevo Vedado and moved into a small and stuffy apartment. The money from the sale supports him in his old age.

Luis Cino, 62 years old, a brilliant columnist, lives on the edge. He cares for a sick aunt and supports her family with a salary of around 15,000 pesos a month, but due to rising inflation, barely has enough to buy food. “If I, who earn almost four times the average salary in Cuba, am having a hard time, imagine those who earn less or whose pensions are lower. I have friends and neighbors who go to bed hungry.”

Neither the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), nor Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have budgets to send stipends or subsidies to journalists living in dictatorial regimes. Instead, the latter must leave their countries because their lives are in danger or because advanced age or health problems have prevented them from writing.

A few years ago, there was a program in the United States, run by Cuban exiles, that every two or three months sent packages of food, personal hygiene products, and medicines to the most-needy dissidents in Cuba. For unknown reasons it was abolished, it no longer exists.

Due to economic hardships and constant threats of imprisonment, oppositionists in their 60s and 70s are emigrating. “It is preferable to be in a care home in Miami than to live without knowing what you are going to eat every day in Cuba, and with State Security harassing you 24 hours a day,” confesses an activist from Santiago de Cuba (who, because he lives far from Havana, is not known). Many compatriots in the diaspora, out of their own pockets, help dissidents on the Island. But something more than altruism is needed.

Iván García

*Translator’s Note: Archived copy of the Spanish original here: La Patria Es De Todos.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Shipments to Cuba to be Paid for in Miami

Taken from the Shipments to Cuba section of the Cuban Directory

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 4 April 2022 — After shaving his incipient beard, Sergio, 36, a software programmer, gets his smartphone and goes online. Using the WhatsApp tool Infotienda, he tracks down which market in Havana is stocking cheese, toilet paper, and milk powder.

His 10-year-old daughter and two of her friends play The Sims on a state-of-the-art PlayStation in the living room, while Mildred, his wife of 34 years and owner of a hairdressing business, seasons chickpeas in the kitchen. Sergio can’t complain. He lives in a two-story villa with a patio and garage in El Casino, a quiet suburb of the Cerro municipality thirty minutes from the center of Havana.

His house is equipped with all the comforts of modern life: appliances, air-conditioned rooms, and a small jacuzzi. He drives a 2018 KIA Picanto that cost him $55,000 on the informal market. This young professional couple, successful entrepreneurs, would probably not attract attention in any other country. But in Cuba, where on average people stand in line four hours a day to buy bread or food, that comfort level is the exclusive domain of foreign residents, or of the opulent olive-green* bourgeoisie who preach social justice while living the high life.

Sergio has shielded himself in these times of crisis. Gates, security cameras, burglar alarms and a pair of intimidating Rottweiler dogs protect the property. But “resolving”** the food problem, even with money, is a not-infrequent problem. “Getting food is a very tough battle in Cuba. You can buy beef in government hard currency stores, but it isn’t always available. They also run out of chicken breast sometimes as well as quality sausages, and the seafood costs an arm and a leg. On the black market you can buy some things like fresh fish and shrimp. If you buy beef you have to have a trusted contact, because many times the meat that is sold is not suitable for human consumption,” he says.

“The other big problem is the high prices and minimal variety,” Sergio continues. “For example, two weeks ago I bought eight kilos of beef and six kilos of veal from an MLC [hard currency] store and it cost me $237. Or, I could buy it in one of those places that sells food to Cubans living abroad. Some have better deals than others. For me, the two best are Supermarket and Katapulk, which sell food imported directly from the United States such as chicken, pork, rice, milk powder and toiletries, among other things. But the prices are scandalous and these places have a discriminatory policy against Cubans who live on the island, because you can only pay with Visa, Mastercard or some other foreign bank card.” continue reading

I’ll give you a price list. Katapulk, a mysterious agency founded by Hugo Cancio, a Cuban-American who presents himself as a businessman and also runs the online site OnCuba News, sells a pack of four five-kilogram bags of milk powder for $279.96. A 25-kilogram sack of long grain rice at $60.79. A small pig for roasting, 12 to 16 kilograms, for 131 dollars. And two pigs’ legs of 24 to 26 kilograms at $178.47. All Made in the USA.

Despite the vaunted economic embargo, Katapulk offers everything from frozen chicken, juices, compotes, smoothies, instant soft drinks, soaps, Colgate toothpaste, Palmolive shower gel and shampoo, to cereals and frozen green plantains*** brought directly from the United States. Cuban food producers sell beef, seafood, pasta sauces, juices, sausages, dressings, ice cream and cookies on Katapulk. This last fact is a reason for discontent among the population, because such items are rarely found in the poorly-stocked “peso” markets, or even in the so-called “MLC” [freely-convertible currency] stores.

Such is not the case with Sergio, a Havana man who in a month can earn up to three thousand dollars selling software and can afford to have cards from foreign banks that allow him to buy on sites enabled for Cubans living abroad, especially in Miami.

“If you travel to another country, what you do is open an account there, or you get a relative who lives abroad to send you a Visa or Mastercard. When I get paid, I deposit part of the money directly onto the card. You must use an address, email and telephone number of a relative or friend who resides outside the country. For home delivery they charge you between 15 and 18 dollars, depending on the site. You have the advantage that you can buy food that is not sold even in the MLC stores. But the prices are outrageous. Even for me, who makes a salary much higher than the average salaries in Cuba, buying in those markets is unsustainable. What I do is combine my sources. There are things that I get on digital sites, others on the black market and others in MLC stores,” Sergio confesses.

For María Elena, an 80-year-old retiree, her children in Miami send her food and personal hygiene products purchased on one of the more than 25 digital e-commerce sites designed for the Cuban emigration. “My children spend a fortune, from 400 to 500 dollars a month on food and toiletries for their family on the Island.”

A former foreign trade official comments that “most of these sites are camouflaged businesses of high-ranking government officials. The Council of State, with its Palco enterprise, is behind many of these businesses. COPEXTEL, owned by Ramiro Valdés, has also set up a beach bar. All these stores sell food at between three and eight times higher prices than in any Western country. They squeeze the pockets of the emigrants as though they were oranges. They are extremely lucrative businesses.”

The question that ordinary Cubans ask themselves is where and how does the regime spend all that money. The water leaks that abound in the country, the cracked streets,  and the 50 percent of houses that cry out to be renovated, are a sign that these profits are not invested in improving the quality of life of the people.

The only investments in Cuba right now are the construction of four- and five-star hotels. These are executed by GAESA, a military company that is a parallel State within the State. It’s likely that part of the foreign currency that enters the country through this route stays there.

Iván García

Translator’s Notes:
* “Resolving” is how Cubans refer to dealing with, or surmounting, the many daily impediments they face in meeting their basic needs.
** “Olive-green” is a reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders.
*** Green plantains are used in Cuban cuisine to make the popular chips,
tostones, and other dishes. 

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Why Don’t Foreign Baseball Players Flee Their Countries and Why Didn’t Cuban Players Flee Before 1959? / Dimas Castellano

César Prieto, Cuban baseball second baseman in the uniform of the Cienfuegos team.

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 31 May 2021 — César Prieto, second baseman for the Cienfuegos Elefantes and member of the Cuba team at the Americas Pre-Olympic Tournament, escaped on May 26 as soon as the delegation arrived in Florida. The frequency of this occurrence, although not considered newsworthy, becomes of analysis.

Why do Cuban baseball players, who before 1959 never used to flee their country, do so now? Why don’t players from other countries do so? The answer lies in history. Let us go there:

In Havana, between 1939 and 1943, five Amateur World Series were held, of which the Cubans won four. In the 1940s, the Cuban League was founded with the Havana, Almendares, Cienfuegos, and Marianao teams, and the Gran Estadio del Cerro [the Grand Stadium of El Cerro, today known as the Latin American Stadium] became the headquarters of Cuban baseball.

In 1949 the Caribbean Series, which opened in Havana, won seven of the 12 editions in which it participated — the last five in a row. Since 1954 the Cuban Sugar Kings (a Minor League team affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, based in Havana, that played at the Triple-A level from 1954 to 1960) played half the time in the Cerro stadium and the other half overseas.

In 1960, Cuba had 98 players in the Major Leagues and 68 were candidates for the Hall of Fame. The Cuban League was the main circuit in Latin America and second in the world. These and many other achievements turned baseball into a passion in Cuba. continue reading

Although the General Directorate of Sports was created in the 1940s, amateur and professional baseball was managed by private companies and civil institutions. Starting in February 1961, with the creation of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER), the rules of the game changed. Professional sports were banned, North American baseball broadcasts were suspended, and anyone who tried to participate in “slave” baseball was branded a traitor.

Baseball was nothing but a particular case of the absorption of everything and everyone by the State, which assumed all expenses in exchange for absolute control and fidelity. Athletes turned into “gladiators” were sent to represent the State in international competitions.

The sport’s subordination to non-sports-related factors is illustrated by the discourse of the Leader of the Revolution:

1- “Someday when the yanquis decide to coexist with our country, we will beat them also in baseball, and then the advantage of revolutionary sport over exploited sport will be proven” (January 1962).

2- “Professional sport was eradicated, and above all, it was eradicated in that sport, which was one of the most popular: baseball” (January 1967).

3- “The essence of the success of our sport is the disappearance of professionalism” (March 1970), and:

4- “If in other countries of Latin America there is no social revolution… no matter how much technique [they use]; no matter how many coaches they hire; no matter how many things they come up with, they will not be able to obtain the successes that Cuba obtains in the sport.” (October 1975).

The exodus

Given the INDER’s prohibitions, many of the Cubans who participated in the Major Leagues settled in the United States. In 1980 a group of them left the country through the port of Mariel, including Bárbaro Garvey, the first Cuban from the National Series who played, in 1984, with the Detroit Tigers.

He was followed by others such as pitcher Edilberto Oropesa and shortstop Rey Ordoñez. In 1991 René Arocha, pitcher for the Industriales, was the first to leave an official delegation. After him, Euclides Rojas — a reliever from the same team, who escaped with his family by sea in a homemade boat during the Maleconazo stampede in 1994 — did the same.

The permanence of the getaway, and the ineffectiveness of repressive measures to stop it, indicate the existence of a deep cause, whose common denominator is the inability of the athletes to realize their dreams in Cuba. Some like Orestes Miñoso — a glory of baseball for all time — died without ever returning to their homeland. Others, as Euclides Rojas declared, did not leave to play ball, but to seek freedom.

Subordinate baseball

With the rise of the totalitarian system began the decline of Cuban baseball. Our supremacy was established in the Central American, Pan American, and world amateur competitions — what was prematurely described as the victory of the “free baseball” over “the slave baseball.”

Without its own economy, this supremacy was achieved thanks to Soviet subsidies. At the Munich Olympics (1972), the year in which Cuba entered the Council for Economic Aid (CAME), the Cuban team ranked fourteenth in the medal count. In Barcelona (1992), it rose to fifth place. However, in Rio de Janeiro (2016), Cuba dropped to eighteenth place — four below where it had been in 1972.

Another demonstration of decline was at the World Baseball Classic. In the first version (2006), Cuba ranked second. In the second version (2009), it went to fifth place. In the third version (2013), the Cuban mentor assured that the team would win, but they couldn’t get beyond the fifth position. The final reckoning came with the sweep they suffered in 2013 at the hands of North American university students, whom Cuba had previously defeated in eight out of ten playoffs.

Finally, after 53 years of absence from the Caribbean Series, Cuba rejoined in the 56th edition (2014), played on Margarita Island, Venezuela, where it ranked last.

The results leave no doubt: the controversy between “free” and “slave” baseball was decided in favor of the latter.

The “blockade”?

The official explanation that the “blockade” imposed by the United States is the cause of the disaster and that Cuban baseball players cannot take part in the competitive circuits of that country hides the fact that the conflict began with Cuba’s decision to ban professional baseball and to classify disobedient players as traitors. Such a hackneyed argument is used to try to sustain the unsustainable.

In March 2017, the Cuban national baseball director, Yosvani Aragón, declared that “there will be no unified team until the United States eliminates the embargo rules that affect baseball players — and certifies that there will be no concessions that involve opening doors to those who have disavowed their country or abandoned delegations that were counting on their efforts.”

However, nothing is said about the responsibility borne by Cuban totalitarianism, much less about correcting this error, and even less about restoring freedom to baseball and Cuban baseball players.

Meanwhile, as happens with the economy, there is an insistence on getting out of the stagnation using slogans and speeches. On May 20, six days before César Prieto’s escape, the president of Cuba appeared at training to repeat the well-known harangues to the “gladiators” of the team.

Upon learning of César’s departure, the official statement from the Cuban Baseball Federation says that the athlete’s decision is “contrary to the commitment made to the people.” Fearing that others would follow his example, they ordered — according to what is known — a confiscation of delegation members’ phones to prevent further escapes. And, it is said, César’s family will be evicted from the house that the Government gave him, which shows that such a gift is in exchange for submission.

This behavior on the part of the State explains the degree of dependency to which Cuban athletes are subjected and the true cause of the escapes. The dependency in which the sport is held and the lack of freedom of the athletes provide the answer to why Cuban ballplayers did not flee before 1959, why they flee now, and why players from other countries do not flee.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Another Baseball Player Joins the List of ‘Escapees’ from the Cuban National Series

Wilfredo Aroche, 37, played 13 seasons with the Industriales team. (Photo credit: Tribuna de La Habana)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2022 — Four days before the start of the 61st National Series, the desertions continue to multiply in Cuban baseball — this time, from Havana’s Industriales team. Veteran Wilfredo Aroche, 37 — with 13 seasons playing for the “Blues” — left the country to try his luck in Italy.

The player signed his own, independent contract with the Italian Baseball League, according to the sports site SwingCompleto. Aroche had been practicing in the Italian circuit in recent years, but this time he left Cuba without permission from the Cuban sports authorities. This caused the immediate suspension of the 61st Series.

This loss for the Industriales makes a dent in the team’s regular lineup and puts its captain, Guillermo Carmona — who considered Aroche a key piece — in check. Now, they’ll have to move the bench to replace the shortstop with less than a week to go before the tournament.

For the moment, Carmona will have to settle for 39 men on the team. Aroche was already in the roster, which impedes his replacement, according to the rule approved by the sports authorities. continue reading

Industriales, the capital city’s team, has been heavily bleeding talent for years. What was once an impetuous team that competed for the top spots in the national league has become one of the main sources of departing athletes, thus diminishing its quality and the enthusiasm of its followers.

“The situation leaves a lot to be desired for baseball fans in this country,” stated Dairán, a connoisseur of Cuban baseball, speaking to 14ymedio.  “Our baseball was one of the best in the world, and now it isn’t worth a penny. To a great extent, this is because of the constant departures of the best players to other countries where they are paid what they should be,” added the young man, who resides in Cerro [a borough of Havana], very near the Estadio Latinoamericano.

The 61st series is being hit by players unexpectedly leaving as well as outbreaks of Covid-19 among the personnel. Barely a week ago, two young players in the Camagüey team — Yosimar Cousín and Yunior Tur — were discharged for “non-appearance at the conference,” according to sports authorities. Meanwhile, on the east side of the Island, the Holguín team was forced to quarantine its players after five of them tested positive for coronavirus.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Message from Yunior García Aguilera of the Archipiélago Collective

From the blog of César Reynel Aguilera, Montreal, 15 October 2021

Guest post from Yunior García Aguilera

In the year 2022, the country of our birth will mark 70 years without democracy. My parents have never been able to freely choose their ideology, their party, or their president. They have had to resign themselves to the decisions of others and have had to ratify those decisions to avoid trouble. In Cuba, unfortunately, to keep quiet about what we really think is seen by many as a sign of intelligence. They always ask us to wait for the right “time” and “place” — which never really come.

Almost my whole generation grew up hearing the phrase, “For your sake, speak softly.” Most of my friends have already left the country and others dream of doing so soon. I don’t want my phone to be recharged or a pair of shoes to be sent to me.* I want Cuba to be the nation to which everyone can return whenever they want — regardless of how they think — and from which no one, any more, will want to leave.

The Revolution promised rights, justice, freedom and free elections, but instead we turned into a Soviet appendage. It promised to be green as the palms, but instead wrapped itself in a red cloak with a hammer and sickle patrolling the Lone Star.** One sole ideology, censorship, and political persecution have been the daily bread of any Cuban who does not submit to the control of the bosses. And the end of the Cold War only increased our misery. We are survivors of an unfinished war, in which we were neither the victors nor the defeated, only hostages of an obsolete dogma, of a clan of officials clinging to power and its privileges, of a whim propped up with Russian-made rifles.

It is true that there were some achievements and wins — it’s not all gloom and doom. But what good are benefits if they will be used to blackmail me later? What is the value of my education if I am later forbidden to think with my own mind? Many slaves also learned to read. And they did not pay with money for their little corner of the barracks or their lunch, they paid with obedience and the sweat of their backs. If any of them happened to demand a change of regime, the whip, the stocks and the shackle would certainly await them. continue reading

I have already repaid the cost of my studies. Of this you can be sure. I went to all the schools in the countryside, I cut sugarcane, harvested potatoes in Artemisa and coffee in Pinares de Mayarí. I completed two years of social service, receiving the illusion of a salary. I owe a lot to my teachers, but as for the State, I have already paid my debts — stop dredging it up. Also, do not continue to use my work with cultural institutions as blackmail. To work is a right, not a privilege. And I have given as much as or more than what I have received.

I write these words while besieged by a cowardly campaign of lies against me and against the organizers of the march. The baseness is such that they have cut off our Internet services so that we cannot even defend ourselves within our networks. But I am not going to play the victim. Cuban ingenuity also knows how to circumvent these internal blockades. My only concern was for my parents. I know how much this hurts them, I know how much they fear for me. But I also know that they know their son. They have both overcome their fear and called just to tell me to be strong, and to say that they are proud of me.

It is obvious that nobody pays us [the protest organizers] a penny. No one would be such an idiot as to face all this (and the fury to come) for money. We do it out of conviction, and that has a desperate power. Nor does anyone, from anywhere,  give us orders. There are marvelous minds in this country and we are already learning to debate and find consensus, without need for false shows of unity or “maximum leaders”***. What they call “alliances” is nothing more than honest dialogue involving all Cubans, without discriminating against anyone. No regime will ever again tell us which Cuban we can or cannot talk with. We are not going to reproduce their scheme of prejudice, stigma and demonization.

I am infinitely grateful for the enormous solidarity we have received. If there were justice and we had 15 minutes on national television, the entire lie that the power structure has fabricated would collapse instantly. I respectfully ask for a stop to the lynching perpetrated against any Cuban who honestly defends his principles, regardless of political color. When we say “with everyone and for the good of all,”**** we mean it.

On November 15 we will march without hatred. We are assuming a right that has never been respected in 62 years of dictatorship, but we are going to assume it with civility. Everyone will be looking towards Cuba that day. We know that the power structure plays dirty, that it gives combat orders against its own people, that it lies to our faces, that it would even be capable of infiltrating its paramilitaries into the march to generate violence and later blame it on us. Each citizen must be responsible for their conduct and defend the peaceful and firm attitude that we have called for.

November 15 can and should be a beautiful day. Wherever a Cuban lives, we know that his heart will be in Cuba. May the powerful not insist on behaving in a cowardly fashion against their own citizens. Do not repeat the crime of July 11. May officers and soldiers understand that there is no honor in obeying immoral orders. I also hope that no foreign power interferes in an issue that we ourselves must resolve with true sovereignty, that of citizens.

Let us commit to courage, dignity and frankness. It is past time to say what we think out loud.

I send you a hug.

Yunior García Aguilera

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:
*Refers to types of material help  commonly provided to Cuban nationals by relatives abroad.
**By tradition, Cubans refer to their country’s flag as “The Lone Star” (“La Estrella Solitaria”)
***Here, the writer alludes to a popular epithet for Fidel Castro, “el máximo líder.”
****An allusion to the title of a tract written by José Martí. The phrase has been deployed as a rallying cry by the Castro regime throughout its tenure.

The Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba Pleads for Non-Violent Resolution of Differences

Dionisio García, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, during his homily this Sunday. (Capture)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 19 July 2021 — In his Sunday homily, Dionisio García – archbishop of the easternmost diocese of Santiago de Cuba – pleaded for the resolution of differences on the Island through peaceful means, and “never with violence and intolerance.”

“In the midst of the difficulties, the protests, the demonstrations of recent days, and because of the arrests that have been made, the repressions, the Church wants to intercede for all Cubans, for all of Cuba,” said García during his first mass following the antigovernment protests that shook various localities of the Island a week ago.

Speaking in the National Shrine of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint, the prelate said that the petitionary prayers that Sunday are “above all, that there be no violence, that the logical differences that may exist in each people may be resolved through dialogue, mercy and forgiveness, and never with violence and intolerance.”

The Archbishop of Santiago recalled that the Cuban Catholic hierarchy has advocated for the need to realize “changes that will give hope and trust to our people, who need to feel respected whenever they wish to express how they feel and view continue reading

our realities.” He also referred to changes that would help the people of the Island “to plan a better future and the wellbeing of their families, and that this may result in the wellbeing of the nation.”

García, a member of the permanent committee of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC), also prayed that in the current public health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, patients and the medical personnel who attend to them may have the resources they need. He emphasized the responsibility of all in the face of this situation.

Early this week, the Catholic Church in Cuba defended the right of thousands of people who took to the streets of the Island to express their displeasure with the deterioration of the economic and social situation during the unrest of last Sunday and Monday, which left one dead, several wounded, and a hundred arrested*.

In a statement, the COCC warned that “violence begets violence, the aggression of today opens wounds and feeds grudges for tomorrow that will take much work to overcome.”

Along those lines, the bishops invited “all to not energize this crisis, but rather with serenity of spir and good faith, promote listening, understanding and the attitude of tolerance, to consider and respect the other, so that together we may find ways toward a just and adequate solution.”

Pope Francis, this past Sunday, expressed his concern over the “difficult moments” that Cuba is undergoing because of the protests and called for “dialogue and solidarity” in that country, following his recitation of the Ángelus from his window at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

“I am close to the dear Cuban people in these difficult moments — in particular the families, who suffer the most. I pray to the Lord to help build in peace, dialogue and solidarity a society that is ever more just and fraternal,” said the pontiff, who has on two occasions (2015 and 2016) visited the Island.

The protests of last Sunday (July 11), the most extreme that have been documented in Cuba in the last six decades, occurred while the country is submerged in a grave economic and public health situation unleashed by Covid infections, along with a severe shortage of food, medicines and other basic necessities, in addition to long-lasting power blackouts.

*Translator’s note: Much higher numbers of arrests were reported by others.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Secret Video Shows the Deterioration of Castro Enclave ‘Punto Cero’* / Juan Juan Almeida

This video, secretly recorded and exclusively provided, shows the deterioration of what was once the jewel of the Cuban crown, and which today is nothing more than the refuge of a bunch of defenestrated heirs.

Punto Cero, the residential complex where the ex-dictator Fidel Castro and his family holed up, was always a place kept in good condition: the grass well-mowed, curbs painted, access points signalized, the guard posts strategically located. Even the waste containers were well-attended to.

No less than the garbage at Punto Cero was treated as a state secret. But after the death of Fidel Castro, the ensuing power struggles extended even to the legendary family bunker’s decay.

*Translator’s note: Point Zero. A highly secured government compound on the outskirts of Havana where members of the Castro family and other high-ranking officials live.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Colors of the Cuban Flag Will Illuminate the Headquarters of the Regional Government of Madrid

The president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso. (EFE).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 14 July 2021 — This Wednesday night, the Royal Post Office — headquarters of the Madrid regional government chaired by Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the Popular Party — will be illuminated with the colors of the Cuban flag in homage to “freedom fighters” on the Island.

The Community of Madrid president herself tweeted the announcement while issuing a statement in which her government “strongly condemns the criminal dictatorship that has turned Cuba into a giant prison and has condemned its inhabitants to poverty, hunger or exile for the last 62 years.”

Her autonomous government will always be, says the document, “on the side of the Cuban people, who in these times are demonstrating throughout the Island, demanding freedom and democracy.” Similarly, the text continues, “we reject the violent repression that the dictatorship is exercising over its own people, and we call for the immediate release of all those arrested as well as the safe return of the disappeared.”

The statement refers in particular to journalist Camila Acosta, a contributor to the Spanish newspaper ABC — who, according to close sources, remains under arrest, in Havana’s Infanta and Manglar Police Station, and will be prosecuted for continue reading

“contempt” and “public disturbances.”

Madrid — which calls itself “Kilometer Zero of Liberty” — asks the Cuban people for unity “in the face of the regime’s attempts to divide them,” since history “has shown the importance of remaining united at the moment in which totalitarian regimes begin to collapse.”

For this, says the statement, “an exercise of generosity” is needed: “The unity of the democratic opposition is an essential requirement for freedom to triumph.” This eventual triumph, the document predicts, “will undoubtedly have consequences in other countries of Latin America. The fall of communism will bring, sooner rather than later, the liberation of countries that, like Venezuela or Nicaragua, still live under its yoke.”

In its declaration, the regional government is tough on Spain’s national government, chaired by the socialist Pedro Sánchez, demanding that it “abandon ambiguity, dispense with euphemisms and act without equivocation on the side of freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

The declaration thus refers to statements by the head of the Spanish Executive on Tuesday, when he said that “it is evident that Cuba is not a democracy,” without calling it a dictatorship — as did his government’s spokesperson, Isabel Rodríguez when she evaded the issue before journalists by declaring that “Spain is a full democracy.”

For opposition leader Pablo Casado, the ambiguity of the head of the Spanish government “is not accidental,” but rather responds to the fact that Pedro Sánchez is president thanks to Unidas Podemos [United We Can], the “partners of Maduro and the Castros.”

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

What Really Interests the Cuban Regime? / Ivan Garcia

Photo Credit: Dominoes, from Diario de Cuba.

Iván García, Havana, 21 June 2021 — On July 4, 2016, in the splendid residence of the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Cuba located west of Havana, there was a celebration of that country’s Independence Day. Hundreds of guests nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, sipped red wine or cold beer, and chatted on sundry topics in small groups. Following the re-establishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba on December 17, 2014, the harmony between the two peoples was noticeable.

At the long tables dressed in white tablecloths and under the canopies set up in the gardens, you could see renowned artists, business executives, prelates of the Catholic Church, as well as activists, opponents, and independent journalists. A blues soundtrack could be heard in the background while I conversed with a Spanish businessman based in Florida, who told me how the huge state bureaucracy was preventing him from opening a ferry line between Havana and Miami.

That July 4th, I remembered that in November of 2015, Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons — of the Alabama-based tractor manufacturer Cleber LLC — had made the news when they wanted to install a small tractor assembly plant in the Mariel Special Development Zone, which would have been a beneficial business for the unproductive agriculture of Cuba, especially for private farmers and agricultural cooperatives. Berenthal and Clemmons intended to sell the tractors in national currency. It seemed that the Cuban authorities were going to approve the deal, as it was profitable for both parties. By then, the Sheraton hotel chain had opened a property in Miramar in partnership with the military-run company Gaviota. continue reading

Day in and day out, famous Americans would visit Havana and roam the city in antique convertibles. Travelers from the United States were amazed to see no advertising in the capital city, to have no internet connection, and they lamented the deterioration of buildings that were architectural jewels. On the streets of Havana, Barack Obama was more popular than Fidel and Raúl Castro. From balconies, bicitaxis and collective taxis, you could see the American flag waving next to the Cuban. Paladares (private restaurants) and private lodgings were bursting. At Sloppys Joe’s — a bar located next to the Hotel Sevilla that before 1959 was frequented by the actor Errol Flynn — between mojitos and “ropa vieja” (shredded beef) sandwiches, a bartender told me that on a bad day, he would earn 150 dollars in tips thanks to American tourists.

During that honeymoon period — when many Cubans naively believed that in ten years, skyscrapers would once again grace the Havana skyline and Starbucks and McDonald’s franchises would be seen everywhere — I would have assumed that the Spanish businessman from Florida was optimistic. But the Cuban government had applied the brakes. The official press and functionaries of the dictatorship were accusing Obama of not doing enough to dismantle the embargo. And the amanuenses were issuing warnings about the cultural “danger” inherent in thousands of American tourists being on the Island.

That afternoon in 2016, I was unaware that the Castro brothers’ order was to return to the Cold War trench. The Spanish businessman warned me: “They are not interested in businesses that benefit the people. All business has to be with military companies, and they must make good profits. I told a senior government official about my project to open a ferry service, which would lower travel costs. In addition, Cubans living in Florida could bring 300 pounds of luggage, and even cars. The official told me privately that this was not in the government’s interest, as it would affect the military companies that run the foreign exchange stores. And he confessed to me that the business they were interested in was cruise ships.”

Obama approved at least three packages of measures that favored the private sector in Cuba. When you chat confidentially with Cuban private entrepreneurs, they recognize that the internal blockade, the government’s distrust, and excessive taxes and controls affect them more than the U.S. embargo. Two business owners who were at the meeting with Obama said that “if the government wants it, we can import food, raw materials, and other items from the United States.”

One of them told me that they “imported cuts of beef from Canada. But when the authorities found out, they banned it. There is no manifest will for private businesses to flourish. All that support for entrepreneurs expressed by the rulers is what they say publicly. But the reality is different. They drown you with absurd taxes, excessive controls, and a lot of corruption. They force you to cheat and commit illegalities in order to be profitable.”

It was the regime that never approved, nor cared, that the measures passed by the Obama administration would strengthen the private sector. The dictatorship and its military companies were never interested in opening businesses that would benefit the families of émigrés by authorizing them to bring hundreds of pounds on their ferry trips. It is the Cuban government that charges excessive sums of money for the shipments sent from abroad by émigrés. A box weighing five kilograms mailed to Cuba requires the recipient to pay about two thousand pesos to receive it. It is a way of discouraging imports to poor relatives on the Island.

The Cuban government is lying when its officials try to sell the story that “it is the U.S. blockade that affects the Cuban family.” The regime has never cared about the Cubans who leave, except whether they support the system and do not publicly express their differences with it.

In the spring of 2015, I covered the exodus of Cubans to Central America together with Celeste Matos, a formidable reporter based in Florida. We traveled from one end of Costa Rica to the other, from Paso Canoas, on the border with Panama, to Peñas Blancas, bordering Nicaragua. Dozens of Cubans told me that the Cuban Embassy in San José never gave them any help or legal advice. Cuban émigrés are only useful to the regime as ATMs.

Never has the autocracy apologized for the verbal abuses and lynchings to which they subjected Cubans who wanted to emigrate. According to a former Interior Ministry official, in 1980, Fidel Castro ordered the delivery of only two thousand food rations during the occupation by more than ten thousand Cubans of the Peruvian Embassy. “He did it on purpose, to create riots, fights, and present them to the world as a savage scum.” A few days later, Castro released hundreds of dangerous and mentally ill criminals to contaminate the exodus that was leaving through the Port of Mariel.

The regime charges Cuban émigrés very high prices for their passports and permits to visit their homeland. Emigrés have absolutely no political rights. They cannot vote or be elected to public office. This new measure to suspend the use of the dollar is another act of arrogance against expatriates and their relatives in Cuba. The authorities, because of the economic madhouse, mismanagement, and the unproductive state sector — a kind of sit-down strike by the workers due to their insufficient wages — cannot offer a decent life or efficient public services to the population.

There are several ways to dismantle the embargo. The measures approved by Obama are still in force, so if the State were to allow the private sector to import food and goods from the U.S., to later sell them in their businesses, this would alleviate the fierce shortages.

The government itself can buy food from the U.S., as long as it pays in cash. If, as the Central Bank of Cuba officials say, they had their vaults full of dollars, they could buy tons of beef, fish and sausages in addition to the usual frozen chicken. If the regime is unable to guarantee the supply and production of food, why does it not allow foreign chains to import and sell food in Cuba?

The dictatorship only issues measures that allow them to stay in power. They detest private business. They have prohibited Cubans from accumulating wealth. They speak of authorizing investments by Cubans who reside abroad, but they delay approval, because it is a contradiction for their ideological adversaries to return to Cuba as successful entrepreneurs. Each new unpopular measure decreed by the government headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel digs its own grave deeper. Authoritarian systems doing things half-assed crumble on their own. Cuba is not going to be the exception.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Despite the Embargo, 10 Million Syringes Are En Route to Cuba from the U.S.

A volunteer participant in Phase 3 of the Abdala vaccine trial in Santiago de Cuba. (Sierra Maestra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 17 June 2021 – To immunize the Cuban population against Covid-19, along with those foreigners going for the “mojito with vaccine” vacation deal, the authorities have figured that between 20 and 25 million syringes will be needed. It is a goal could be within reach, given the donations – almost half the number and despite the embargo – that are coming from the U.S.

It is “Washington’s cruel and immoral embargo,” which is invoked by Edward Asner, American actor and member of Global Health Partners (GHP), an organization based in New York that is coordinating the donations. According to a recent statement by GHP, “the initiative is being handled through the Saving Lives campaign and includes dozens of local and national organizations – including MEDICC, DSA, CodePink [among those promoting the Nobel Peace Prize award to the Henry Reeve medical Brigade], IFCO, and the Center for Cuban Studies.” The group foresees taking around 10 million syringes in  containers to “relieve the shortage caused by the U.S. embargo.”

Paradoxically, the association – which since its founding in the mid-70s, has launched various campaigns to fund medical projects in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in addition to Cuba – relies on a U.S. Department of Commerce export permit to realize the donations. The embargo impedes the ability of the Cuban state to buy the material, but at the same time, the American government itself facilitates the acquisition of the product without one cent being paid. continue reading

Asner – winner of multiple Grammies and Emmies, U.S. Army veteran, and fervent socialist – details in his fundraising letter the importance of thanking the Island for all it does for the world through its medical missions and pharmaceutical products. “With this track record and their solidarity, we are in an ideal position to make this syringe campaign a success,” Asner argues.

According to GHP calculations, a donation of $ 1,000 would enable the shipment of 28,571 hospital-grade syringes, $360 would be enough to vaccinate 10,265 people, and $150 would finance the transport of 4,285 syringes to the island’s health centers. To encourage giving, the organization reminds the reader that donations to this cause are tax-deductible.

According to Asner, GHP has already delivered to Cuba more than $190-million dollars in medicines and medical supplies that are in short supply – thus confirming that the distribution is ongoing, despite the embargo.

Europe is expected to send a shipment of similar volume.  Europe is believed to be in a position to imminently supply an additional 10-million syringes, the result of a campaign coordinated by the solidarity network mediCuba-Europe, based in Agno (Switzerland) and the participation of member organizations from thirteen European States (Germany, Sweden, Italy , Ireland, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Finland, Norway, Spain and Austria). In addition, there are partner organizations from three other countries, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands.

“The Cuban Ministry of Public Health has placed an order for 10 million syringes and needles for a total price of $800,000 euros, which we hope to finance thanks to European solidarity and the collaboration of the Swiss Embassy in Cuba (SDC),” reads the introductory text of this initiative.

This is the third campaign GHP have carried out since March 2020. Previously, the network has raised more than 600,000 euros together with 250,000 Swiss francs (about 230,000 euros) from that country’s embassy, in Cuba with which they have acquired fans, laboratory reagents for PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests, and laboratory equipment for the production of vaccines on the Island.

Now, for the syringes campaign, the same embassy has raised about 380,000 Swiss francs, and members of the GHP network continue to gather support. The latest known data has been provided by Sodepaz, a promoter in Spain that aims to supply three million syringes, and on June 10 placed at 2,643,000 the number it can send with its collection. In the European context, the goal of the 10 million may have been exceeded, since as of April 27, it had already garnered 6,500,000 syringes.

MediCuba-Europa boasts that their shipments have contributed recently to the development of five vaccine candidates. “This is a considerable achievement of the health system and of national scientific institutions, which demonstrates not only the high level of quality and strong professional commitment of the island’s research community, but also the will and tenacity of the authorities to guarantee health care and services to the entire population, despite a precarious economic situation exacerbated by the deepening of economic, financial, and commercial measures imposed by the Government of the United States of America – that is, the illegal, arbitrary blockade, inhumane and against international law, as the United Nations General Assembly remembers it every year,” they argue.

The Island’s government has not wanted for aid from Latin America either. Albeit more modest, the region’s campaigns have managed to collect almost five million syringes from different countries, as confirmed to Prensa Latina by Humberto Pérez of the board of the Martiana Association of Cuban Residents of Panama (AMCRP).

The Panamanian organization raised money from Cubans, pro-Castro groups, unions, politicians, businessmen, and parties in countries such as El Salvador, Bolivia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Uruguay.

“On April 3, we sounded the call in Panama, based on an idea that emerged in Canada last year,” said Pérez, who collected 900,000 syringes from his country alone that have already been arriving in Cuba.

Thus the idea proceeded from the north of the continent, which has also collected almost two million more of the product. The campaign started in Canada on January 8 and already by April 1 the Canadian Network of Solidarity with Cuba announced the arrival of 1,920,000 syringes.

Nor is Argentina absent, having on June 1 sent a shipment of 380,000 syringes and 359,000 needles to Havana. “The contribution of the Argentine Movement of Solidarity with Cuba (MasCuba), the Union of Cuban Residents in Argentina (URCA) and other groups sensitized to the Cuban cause, was fundamental to the ability of carrying out this work, which is of a deeply human nature,” said the Cuban official press.

Although possibly one of the most peculiar campaigns is the one that comes from a pro-Castro YouTuber and blogger known as Guajiro Citadino, who raised about $10K for syringes through a project which, curiously, he named “Patria o Muerte” [“Homeland or Death“].

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison    

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Cuban Regime Expropriates My Sister’s House, But Celebrates My Father’s Birthday / Juan Juan Almeida

Monument to Juan Almeida Bosque in Santiago de Cuba: “No one surrenders here” (EFE)

Juan Juan Almeida, 24 February 2021 — When my father died and they put on that little show in the Sierra Maestra, Raúl Castro promised one of my sisters – who lived outside of Cuba – that, as long as she “behaved herself,” he would respect her house.

He gave her a hug, they exchanged tears, and the pledge was settled at the feet of the deceased.

So then, complying with her part of the bargain, my sister behaved very well. And now, while the super homage is being paid to our father, she gets the notification from the court.

And when someone inquires at the office of Raúl Castro, to find out what’s happened with that pledge, he is informed that she did indeed behave VERY WELL – and for this, the General was most appreciative. However – and this is how they put it – the “pledge to Behave Herself also included controlling me and shutting my mouth. Therefore, through my fault, she is losing the house.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Surviving in the Cuban Jungle / Ivan Garcia

A crowd of people lining up in front of a store in Havana, waiting for their turn to shop (Photo Mario Muñoz – Facebook).

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 10 May 2021 — It is the law of survival of the fittest: only the most quarrelsome, opportunistic, and worthless citizens can get ahead. From top to bottom, today’s Cuban society is a jungle. A failed state that lives off ideological propaganda, promises it never keeps, and a chaotic subsistence economy.

If you ask Magda – a 40-year-old from Havana who supports herself by reselling for dollars the merchandise she buys at exclusive stores and has made a business out of managing the long lines of shoppers – why this is so, she will give you a concise answer: “The system forces you.” She is silent for a few seconds and then makes the following case:

“The Cuban system works by caste. The mayimbes (bosses) do not want for anything, nor do the senior officers in the armed forces. They get free housing and food, and they can take vacations at recreational villas for reasonable prices. Mid-level party officials also enjoy their little privileges. The cuadros (administrators) of tourism, domestic trade and other ministries and large companies, they live by stealing and profiting from food, fuel and construction materials. We – those at the bottom, the marginalized, almost all blacks – who live in poverty, we have to fight each other for the crumbs. Wherever money can be made, that’s where I’ll be. I’m not afraid to fight, and I’m not afraid of the police. Whatever it takes.” continue reading

Then in a calm voice, Magda recounts how since childhood she has had to deal with family violence, husbands who beat her, and neighborhood fights. “I have been imprisoned twice. There, you have to be a lioness. It’s not that I’m a bad person, but I don’t have too many options. Either I sit on my hands while my children go to bed hungry, or I go out and fight in the street for money and food. Necessity forces me to fight like a beast to get ahead.”

Like Magda, many women and men in the capital and in other provinces make a living by earning dollars organizing the lines, buying food for resale, and bribing police officers and officials who are supposed to be ensuring the social order. “You also have to grease the palms of store managers and employees. There are people who spend a week in line and never reach what they need. If you don’t pay 500 or a thousand pesos to a colero (someone who stands in line – “cola” – for others) you won’t get anything. If it’s a freezer you’re after, you have to pay them $70 or $100. It’s hard, but right now in Cuba, the law of the jungle rules,” Magda explains.

At any store in Havana, the coleros have organized a corrupt structure in cahoots with store managers and employees. On the outskirts of the market at 5th and 42nd in Miramar, half a thousand people await entry to go shopping. A policeman tells the crowd that only the first 150 will be allowed in. “The rest of you, please go home,” he says. Those who have not advanced to one of those spots have an alternative: they can, for a higher price, buy food and toiletries at private homes nearby.

Let’s call him Hiram, who works by walking the lines and quietly selling places for a thousand pesos. “In this country there are three types of Cubans. Those who rule, who do what they want and are accountable to no one. Those who have no choice but to silently endure the foot that the government puts down on them. And the dissidents, who are cocky, but lacking weapons, are not going to overthrow the regime. Most of the population are terrified of joining the opposition, because they can lock you away for many years. Criminals don’t want anything to do with the opposition, either. However, there is an unwritten pact between the government and the underworld: they let you do what you want as long as you don’t get into politics,” explains Hiram.

He goes on to say: “That’s why you see a bunch of people in the worst neighborhoods of Havana selling stolen items, and the police don’t even show up there. Drug dealers generally work for the police, as do the higher-level prostitutes. I don’t like communism. In 1980, when I was 23 years old, I got into the Peruvian embassy. We were ten thousand people and Fidel only sent a thousand boxes of food and bottles of water. They would do this to get us to fight with each other. Now it’s the same thing. (Cuban President) Díaz-Canel’s strategy, he has said, is to break off little pieces of problems, not solve them. I was in the United States and I was arrested, and they returned me as undesirable. I have to live off something. And the best I know how to do is be in the jungle, the fights and the illegalities. When you see two old men wrapped around a package of sausages, you realize that things in this country do not work.”

For a high percentage of Cubans it is a big production just to eat, buy soap, or obtain medicines. Any errand takes five or six hours. The atrocious inefficiency of the olive-green* economic model forces the citizens to travel long distances and line up for miles to try to get a roll of toilet paper or a bottle of soda.

In the midst of the shortages, the eternal economic crisis, and the sustained pandemic outbreak (which has practically collapsed the healthcare system in Havana) the authorities – instead of calling back the thousands of specialists and doctors who work abroad to provide dollars to the State – bet on bringing doctors in from other provinces. Public health is at a low ebb in Cuba. There is a scarcity of healthcare personnel, dozens of ambulances are halted for lack of spare parts, and there is a brutal shortage of antibiotics, syringes, and medicines.

One doctor said that “physicians and nurses who work on the front line treating Covid-19 patients are exhausted. They have spent many months working in precarious conditions, deprived of the necessary security, and subsisting on a very poor diet. Government propaganda claims that the public health system here works wonders, but this is a lie. There are shortages from water to gauze and cotton swabs, not to mention broken medical equipment.”

Carlos, a sociologist, opines that “in times of economic crisis, the worst qualities of human beings come to light, such as selfishness and lack of solidarity. Civic values ​​are deteriorating, while speculation, theft and abuse of the weakest increases.”

These days, a 3-kilogram portion of Gouda cheese, which in foreign currency stores costs between 25 and 27 dollars (625 and 675 pesos at the official exchange), is resold on the black market for 1,900 or 2,100 pesos. A pound of chicken for 20 pesos is resold for 50 or 55 pesos. The pound of black beans that a year ago cost 10 pesos now costs 60. The kilogram of powdered milk that cost 40 pesos is offered at 300 or 350 pesos. Two packages of sandwich cookies and three of crackers, whose price was 70 pesos, are not available for less than 700 pesos. And worst of all, even with money in your pocket, you don’t always find what you’re seeking.

The biggest speculators are the regime’s commercial companies. The foods that are offered in stores for dollars – the so-called MLC (freely convertible currency) – obtain profit margins that sometimes exceed 300%, says an official of the TRD Caribe chain. And he gives this example: “A Samsung side-by-side refrigerator costs $1,870 here. At a retail store in Mexico, it might not even sell for $ 1,500. It’s abusive. If the reseller doesn’t murder you with his speculative prices, the State will gouge you with its inflated prices.”

The Cuba of today is an absurdity. A savage mix of dysfunctional, Soviet-style socialism and rudimentary feudal capitalism, sustained by a Zimbabwe-like public infrastructure, with prices comparable to those of Switzerland. Castroism continues to boast that its imperishable revolution was made by the humble and for the humble.

But the reality is that on the Island, the poorest eat a hot meal once a day and live in precarious huts made of aluminum and cardboard pieces. The Cuban model is a snapshot of rampant bureaucracy, full-throttle corruption, and mediocre officials. And in that jungle, people must manage as best they can to survive.

*Translator’s note: A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison