Surviving Under Cuban Socialism

Life is a vicious circle for 79-year-old Juan Domeq.  Everyday he gets up at 5:30 in the morning, and with his slow and hesitant walk he arrives at a newspaper kiosk and purchases 50 copies of Granma (the official state paper) and also 50 copies of Juventud Rebelde (‘Rebel Youth’- another state paper).  Domeq invests 20 pesos (less  than a dollar) on the 100 copies.  If he manages to sell them at a peso each he will profit by making 80 pesos.  But he can’t sell that amount of copies every day.

“People on the street care very little for what the Cuban press has to say.  Besides, the guy who works at the kiosk can’t always sell me 100 newspapers, usually he sells me 40 or 50.  Later, if I have a good day, I buy food, milk, or yogurt for my wife, who for 4 years now is in bed due a paralysis.  The little money that I make selling papers I spend on food.  And I have to constantly keep my eyes open, for the police have already fined me  40 pesos multiple times for selling newspapers without a license”, points out Juan Domeq, a sad old man, heaped with problems, who lives in an unclean bunkhouse in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton.

At the same time Domeq gets up to buy his papers, Antonio Villa, 68 years old and physically disabled, also wakes up.  After drinking a cup of hot coffee for breakfast, he gets in his wheelchair to travel all the way to the neighborhood bakery where he sells nylon bags at the door for a peso (.05 cents of a dollar) each.

According to Antonio, an acquaintance sells him one-hundred nylon bags for 35 pesos.  “I sell bags for about 10 to 12 hours daily.  Sometimes I have a good day and I manage to sell 200 bags, but most of the time I can only sell 80 or 90.  With what I make, from about 65 to 120 pesos (3 to 5 dollars), I buy food and I put change aside to pay a lady who cleans my clothes.  On multiple occasions the police have taken me to the station.  Besides fining me, they confiscate my bags.  But as soon as they let me go, I go back to the only thing I know how to do to make money in a decent way,”  says Antonio, a black man who lost his leg during the war in Angola and lives in a wooden hut with an aluminum roof.

Also without much luck, Clara Rivas, 71-years-old and residing in a decadent asylum for the elderly in the neighborhood of La Vibora, tries to make some money.  Clara, dirty and badly dressed, sells cigarettes at retail.  “In the home (asylum) they give us lunch and dinner, but it is not appetizing, so much so that most of us old people prefer to make some money by our own accounts to eat out in the streets.”

After selling cigarettes for 14 hours, the money she has earned is sufficient to buy one ration of rice, stew, and an unidentified fish, full of spines, from a state store where the prices are low.  With her stomach full, she returns to her nursing home to sleep.

Juan, Antonio, and Clara are three elderly people burdened with problems, already showing signs of being mentally senile, and without families to take care of them.  They have to make miracles in order to survive under the rough conditions of Cuban socialism.  And they are not the only ones.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: Martin Baran, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.

Being a Journalist in Cuba

To engage in the profession of journalism in Cuba, outside the control of the state, has its dangers.  Not to the extreme of having a hitman show up at your door on a motorcycle and fire a full magazine at you point blank from a .45 caliber pistol, as happens in Mexico or Colombia.

They also don’t put a black hood over you and later dump your mutilated body in a dumpster, as occurred during the 80’s in Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala.  No.  For being an independent journalist or a critic of the Castro administration what could happen to you is that you can be thrown behind bars for up to 20 years if the government decides to do so.

The Castros promise many years of jail for those of us who report on our own account.  But to date, there has not been a documented State-sponsored assassination of a reporter, either official or independent.

For being a free lance journalist on the island, authorities can orchestrate an “act of repudiation”, a verbal lynching in which members of the public, instigated by the political police, insult and scream at you with the veins extended on their necks about to explode.

It’s also possible that some unknown person, a supposed “delinquent”, will ambush you and beat you up in the darkness of the night.  Or that the phone in your house will ring incessantly at 3 A.M. and when you answer it, a disguised voice shouts an earful of insults at you. By the way

When you decide to write without official sanction you lose your job, and State Security has the right to threaten you and summon and question you whenever they feel like it, under the guise of having a “friendly chat.”

The phenomenon of Cuban independent journalism was born in the 90’s.  Among its founders are Rolando Cartaya, Indamiro Restano, Rafael Solano, José Rivero, Julio San Francisco, Raúl Rivero, Iria González Rodiles, Ana Luisa López Baeza, Juan Antonio Sánchez, Germán Castro, Tania Quintero, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, Jorge Olivera, Olance Nogueras, Joaquin Torres, Héctor Peraza, Manuel Vázquez Portal.

On 18 March 2003, Fidel Castro was determined to strike a blow against journalism outside the State. During the early morning hours that day, the political police forces arrested 75 dissidents and journalists. In the black spring, 25 communicators ended up in jail; their only crime was reporting without government permission.

Correspondents such as Raúl Rivero, one of the heavyweights of Cuban journalism and director of the independent agency Cuba Press, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Thanks to the intervention of the Spanish government, today he is a free man who writes two columns a week for the Spanish edition of the daily newspaper El Mundo.

Right now, 27 journalists languish in the hellish Cuban prisons. One of them is Ricardo González Alfonso, correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, who has not stopped writing in prison. In Spain he has published two books: Bleeding History, a collection of poems, and Men Without Faces, a narrative. Another is Pablo Pacheco, whose written and oral testimony from Canaleta Prison can be read on the blog Voices Behind Bars.

But since 1999, law number 88, or the gag law, has been floating menacingly in the air of the Republic, giving the regime a free hand in deciding when to send someone to the penitentiary. Not a single text by a free Cuban journalist has been written without a measure of fear and paranoia. It’s normal. Because you never know if tonight you will sleep in your own bed or in the bunk of a jail cell of the police or State Security.

At times I have a nightmare. In the solitude of my room, I dream that there is a loud pounding on the door of the house. And some tough, dog-faced guys dressed in olive green take me out of the room without my feet touching the floor, throw me by force into a Russian-made car with military license plates, and take me as a prisoner to an unknown destination.

Not all are hallucinations. Sometimes I dream that the little hands of my seven-year-old daughter, together with her mother, wake me with the good news that the government of General Raúl Castro abolished the absurd laws — Cubans no longer need permission to leave the island, the exiles who wish may return to their homeland, and never again will it be a crime to write a chronicle or opinion piece telling the truth about Cuba and Cubans.

Whenever this happens, I wonder which of these dreams will become a reality first.

Iván García

Photo: AP. (Right) Ricardo González Alfonso in 2002, some months before being detained and sentenced to 20 years in prison. (Left) Luis Cino, also an independent journalist.

Translated by Raul G. and Tomás A.

The Students of Delphine

On February 11th, they left a comment in the blog:

Sorry for the bother.  I am a Spanish professor at a French school and in our classes we our studying the subject of free press in Latin America and, more specifically, in Cuba.  We have studied an article about the Cuban bloggers, taken from the newspaper “El Pais”, and the students are asking lots of questions.  They are very interested in the subject.  I proposed to them the idea of collectively writing a letter which I am thinking of sending to all of you within the upcoming days.  Don’t feel obliged to respond, but it would be a magical moment for them to actually receive news directly from Cuba.  Thank you, I congratulate you for your blog.

Delphine Bougeard

On March 1st we received two letters, one from the 1S2 class and the other from the 1S3, directly from Lycee Julliot de La Morandiere, in Northeast France, in Normandy, nearby Mont. St. Michdel.  Four days later, Ivan responded.  The following is what he wrote.

Havana, March 5th, 2010

To the boys of the Julliot Institute of Morandiere:

It is a pleasure for me to respond to your doubts and curiosities. I will tell you. My name is Ivan Garcia Quintero and I have been an independent journalist since 1995.  I was born in Havana on August 15th, 1965.

I am self-taught.  I started writing in Cuba Press, an agency at the margin of state control, run by the Cuban poet and journalist, Raul Rivero (who was one of the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring in 2003– since 2005, he has resided in Madrid).  In these 15 years, I have collaborated with different web pages and digital newspapers.

Since January 28th, 2009 I have a blog.  It’s called “From Havana” (Desde La Habana), and I regularly write there together with the lawyer Laritza Diversent, my mother Tania Quintero (also an independent journalist), and Raul Rivero.  Sometimes we publish texts from other authors, both Cuban or foreign.  The content aims to expose the reality that is lived in Cuba during this 21st century, along with dramatic situations, like the recent earthquake in Haiti.

Since October 2009 I have also been writing in a debate blog called “90 Miles”, in El Mundo/America- a special edition of the Spanish journal ‘El Mundo’ which is targeted to Hispanics in the United States.  90 Miles- which is the distance that separates Havana from Florida- is a blog with different viewpoints, with Max Lesnik, an old Cuban reporter and politician, admirer of Fidel Castro’s revolution, and exiled in Miami.  In that journal I also tell stories about diverse Cuban subjects.  Because I write on my own account, I do not have a censor.  I self-censor myself whenever my sense dictates to do so.

I do not wish to leave my country, which belongs to every Cuban, not only to the followers of Fidel Castro and his revolution like those who control the destinies of my country wrongly think.

In Cuba, it takes God and help to actually be an independent journalist for various reasons.  The main reason is because the government automatically considers you a “traitor”, “sell-out”, and a “mercenary at the service of the United States”.

The Cuban rulers neither accept or respect any disagreements in thought.  When one writes without a mandate, the State’s official response is a plethora of insults and disqualifications. And that is the least of it.  Hovering in the air of this island is an obscure law that allows authorities to jail us for up to 28 years, if they deem it appropriate. It is Law 88 and you can read it here.

Right now, while I write this letter to you, there are 27 independent journalists in jail.  For many years.  They can’t see their children grow and they can’t  follow their progress in school like other parents do.  They have been jailed for writing what they think and for using their pens as weapons.

The independent Cuban journalists and bloggers have to make countless sacrifices to carry out their work.  In general, Cuban immigrants residing in the Unite States, Spain, Europe or other countries, support them by sending them computers, cell phones, and other materials.

When you dissent in Cuba, with some exceptions, they expel you from your job.  This is without taking into consideration that the salary is a joke.  On average, a Cuban earns (in the national currency of Cuban Pesos) the equivalent to about 20 Euros a month.  This is the best scenario.

Many Cubans survive by robbing from the State.  Anything from cheese in a state-run pizza shop to toilet paper and soap if they happen to work in a hotel.  The bloggers I know do not charge a single cent for their blogs.  In the case of Yoani Sanchez, she has obtained some money from numerous prizes and books published in the exterior.

My personal situation is different.  Tania, my mother, my sister Tamila and my niece Yania, who is the same age as all of you, live in Switzerland since November 2003 as political refugees.  With thousands of sacrifices they send me money.  Thanks to those remittances I can maintain my family and Melany, my 7-year-old daughter who is now learning to read and asked me to send her regards, she saw your photo.  I also help out an uncle who is 92-years-old and laughs at the idea of death.

In ‘El Mundo/America’ they pay me according to the works I publish.  With that money, I am planning on fixing the run-down apartment in which I live, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora.  I also plan on helping Laritza, who resides in the community known as El Calvario, in a simple hut like any poor person from an African country.

I am an exception.  Nearly all the bloggers and independent journalists can only have coffee for breakfast and eat one meal a day.  Nobody in their right minds writes for money when right over your head their hangs a law that could condemn you to many years in prison.

If the Cuban government has not jailed, in a massive sweep, all of us who openly disagree, it is due to international public opinion, and sensible people like yourselves, who take into consideration what goes on under totalitarian regimes.

I’ll answer other questions.  Connecting to the internet is very expensive.  About 5 to 10 dollars an hour.  Almost the average salary in Cuba.  No independent journalist or blogger has DSL in their homes.  We have to connect in hotels where the service is very slow.  It is exhausting to load photos and videos.

There are embassies that, through compassion, allow internet access; but to go to diplomatic areas is risky because they can accuse you of “conspiring with the enemy.”  I do not have the vocation of a hero.  I am also not made out of martyr material.

Of course I fear the possible reprisals of the Castro regime, but my desires to one day live in a democracy is much stronger.  And it will happen.  Sooner or later, Cuba will be a democratic country and one day we will be able to chat face to face.

From the bottom of my heart I appreciate your concern for this small Caribbean island, full of symbolism and misfortunes.  You have all been raised to respect the ideas of your fellow neighbors.

France is the birthplace of the modern form of politics.  A short distance from your school, on June 6, 1944, the allied troops disembarked on the coasts of Normandy and did away with the evils of the Nazis.

From that moment, the world was changed.  The rights of men, freedom of expression, and freedom of information are now undeniable human rights.  Even if Fidel and Raul Castro don’t see it that way.

I hope that in the near future that approaches, you all will be successful professionals.

And when I am a grandfather, I will tell my grandkids that, one day, when in my country there did not exist essential freedoms, some French school boys, full of curiosities, wrote to me and sent a questionnaire with very intelligent questions.

It has been very pleasant experience for me to respond to you all.  If I was able to shatter your doubts, I will feel satisfied.  If I haven’t, please write back.

Let us stay in touch.  Keep on being concerned about what happens around you.  One day I hope to meet you all in Havana, which even if it’s not worth a mass like Paris, it’s worth making a trip to the city of columns and the Malecon.

With affection, to you all, Delphine and the rest of your companions and professors,


PS: Laritza asked me to please send you all a hug.  Like the majority of Cuban women who are workers, mothers, and wives, she has very little free time.  In order to actually publish her work she has to do it during the small hours of the morning.

Letter from Delphine’s students 1es2

Letter from Delphine’s students 1ls3

Translated by Raul G.

Martha Beatriz Roque Remembers Orlando

On the afternoon of February 27th, Havana looked run-down.  A persistent rain engulfed the worn out streets of the Santo Suarez neighborhood with mud.  The sky, with its rat-like color, added a sad touch to the city.

Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Laritza and I arrived to the house of the house of the opposition figure Martha Beatriz Roque Cabella, a 64-year-old economist, and a woman with a chubby face and with deep bags under her eyes.  Roque Cabella lives in a narrow inner corridor.  Right in front of her door, agents from the political police have placed a large drawing of Fidel Castro, embedded into a grayish wall which has been deteriorating with time.

The veteran dissident received us in her small living room.  She is one of the most active voices for change in Cuba.  She has had to pay a high price for choosing to oppose the Castro government.  She has lived through innumerable detentions and abuses.  On two occasions she was even condemned to long years in prison.

The last time she “visited” the woman’s jail called Manto Negro, in the town of Guatao, was actually the 20th of March 2003, during the so-called Black Spring.  Through a medical parole, thanks to a string of illnesses and the pressure of the civilized world, the Castro regime was forced give in and free her.

“I am drained from my exhausting trip to Banes, where I attended the burial of Orlando Zapata Tamayo — a trip in which I was 24 hours without sleep,” comments Martha, who is wearing a house dress the orange color of the mamoncillo fruit.

According to Roque Cabello, the town of Banes was completely taken over by State Security forces.  “It looked like a military fort, there were dozens of high-ranking officials, fearful and alert.  Reina Tamayo, the mother of the dissident who lost his life due to a prolonged hunger strike, resides in a poor concrete hut.  Walking in the streets filled with patches of misery was almost an adventure.”

She continued to explain to us, “There was a chain of soldiers and members of the political police.  There was a tense atmosphere, one could slice it with a knife.  In her living room, the body of Tamayo resided, along with a group of dissidents and the Ladies in White.  We placed a flag in the coffin,” she recalls with a calm voice.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello half closes her eyes and meditates.  “It was around the year 2002 when I first met Orlando Zapata Tamayo.  He was a very humble guy, very respectful and disciplined.  One had to extract words from him.  On December 2002 he was detained simply for participating in an act of protest in the Lawton neighborhood — a protest organized by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.”

She adds: “During the first days of January 2003, almost on the eve of the Black Spring, he visited my house and acknowledged the personal support that I had given him, as well as our group, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society.  Zapata had no desire to assume a leading role, he did not desire to leave his country — he was just a common brick layer who felt that his country needed changes immediately,” she says with vehemence.

Martha then answers a phone call and later returns to the dialogue.  “In March of 2003 a group of dissidents of our organization initiated a hunger strike in the house of Marieta, the wife of the deceased dissident, Jesus Yanes Pelletier, in Humboldt, Vedado.  Orlando Zapata Tamayo participated with us.  I clearly remember that it was in that hunger strike where I held a full conversation with him and he told me about his miserable lifestyle, about his childhood which lacked material goods, and his dreams.  He was a simple person with a very firm idea in his mind: that Cuba move towards democracy”, she says in a low voice.

One of the principal leaders of the Cuban dissidence, Martha continues telling us:

“On March 20th 2003, they detained Orlando along with 86 other dissidents.  At first, the government of Fidel Castro detained that number of people and later, I suppose to round off the numbers and so the totals could match, in other words, 15 imprisoned dissidents for each one of the 5 spies jailed in the US, then he reduced the number of those arrested to 75.  Zapata spent a few days in a cell.  A few weeks afterward they let him go.  Then, after a few days, during an act of protest in favor of the liberation of the 75 arrested dissidents, which he carried out in Havana’s Central Park, he was again detained and sentenced 3 years in prison for disrespect.  Then he started his ordeal, the beginning of the end for this humble mestizo from Holguin.”

During the initial 3 years, because of different protests and complaints, they held various trials where they accused him of acting out in prison and his sentence was lengthened to 43 years.  Later, the court combined a sanction and his sentence was reduced to years in prison. In all the jails where Orlando Tamayo Zapata stayed, he was tortured and brutally beaten by the prison authorities. I recall that in one of the trials they staged, he arrived with his mouth all bruised up, handcuffed, and with shackles on his feet.  During his fateful hunger strike, the soldiers of the jails denied him water for 18 days…it wasn’t an accident or suicide…it was a crime,” an indignant Mara Beatriz declares.

She then grabs the Granma newspaper, dated February 27th, and with her fingers points out an article by the journalist, Enrique Ubieta:

“Besides lying without blushing, in his article there are many inconsistencies.  To try to vilify Zapata Tamayo, he tries to fabricate a background of dangerous delinquency.  Without a doubt, it is an obvious contradiction, for according to Ubieta, he was sentenced 3 times for supposed grave crimes in 2000, but already towards the end of 2001 he was free.  If there is no bad blood, then Ubieta is lying and the crimes couldn’t have been so grave,” points out Marta.

And she adds that for the government of the Castros it is inadmissible for a person who has had common crimes on their record to have the right to demand political changes.

“In his protests, in the hunger strike he carried out for 86 days, Orlando only asked for decent food cooked by his mother, to have water, and the freedom of the political prisoners.  It seems that for the government these demands were exaggerated.  Then they would have to deal with the outpouring of protests throughout the world and the accusing finger of the world media.  It is still too early to derive lessons from the death of Zapata Tamayo.  At this time, 7 other prisoners of conscience have initiated their own hunger strikes and the journalist, Guillermo Farinas, who resides in the city of Santa Clara, a man whose body has already been debilitated by prior hunger strikes, if he and the others do not give up, the bad news could pile up for the regime,” finishes Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, who promises that the internal dissidency will not stand by with their arms crossed.

The government of the Castro brothers may think it has reason in saying that nothing needs change in Cuba, that everything marches along just fine, and that the people are happy.  But it should be difficult to sleep with a peaceful conscience when, in their country, a man has lost his life simply for reclaiming a bunch of rights during the 7 years he was in jail.

The case is not about ideology, it is about humanity.  At least that is what many Cubans on the island believe.

Ivan Garcia y Laritza Diversent

Photos: Martha Beatriz, to the right, honoring Orlando Zapata Tamayo next to his coffin, together with various Ladies in White.

Translated by Raul G.

Lula Did Not Want His Party With the Castros to be Spoiled

The story of Luiz Inacio “Lula” Da Silva seems to be taken straight out of a Globo TV soap opera.  Despite the fact of having only studied up to the 5th grade, Lula is a guy of natural intelligence, skillful statesmanship, and clever strategies when it comes to political moves.

He became a giant in trade union struggles back in the 70’s in the industrial belt of Sao Paulo, where he worked in a steel plant.  Lula is the Latin-American version of the Polish Lech Walesa and his Solidarity syndicate.  He never was communist and has been a firm critic of the former totalitarian regimes of Eastern Europe.

An active Catholic, he created the Worker’s Party in 1982, and thanks to his work, this organization became one of the principal actors on the political map of Brazil.  As a good Brazilian, he likes the ‘Cachaca’ drink, festivals, and soccer.  He is a fan of the Corinthians football [soccer] team and bets on DT Dunga returning the sixth Cup back home from the World Cup this coming June in South Africa.

He was elected to the government after three failed candidacies.  In his case, he succeeded after the fourth try.  He contracted with the number 1 campaign advisor in Brazil to run his campaign.  This choice took him straight to the Planalto Palace.  Of course, Lula did alter his discourse.  He realized that in order to run a country it would take much more than workers, people from villages,  life-long shanty town residents, and people without land.  He didn’t threaten the rich and he allied himself with International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, whom he has never failed to pay up to the last centavo of Brazilian debt.

Lula is a product created by political surgery.  He is a fruit produced by marketing.  He is an elite of political necromancy and transvestim.  His Zero Hunger campaigns have not achieved much.  Brazil continues to be among the countries in the world with the greatest inequality.  And such beautiful cities as Rio de Janeiro are also one of the most violent in the world.

Blacks and mestizos account for very little of the social and political life of the country, unless they are maybe soccer players, religious caretakers, or Rio musicians.  This year, Lula returns home to Sao Bernardo do Campo, with a Brazil that is amongst the 25 most economically powerful countries of the planet, yet it has a very uneven distribution of wealth and very few financial opportunities for those at the bottom.

As for the international realm, he has won success.  He is Obama’s right hand at international summits and representatives of the most richest countries have a soft spot for the working man who rose to be president.  Although Fidel Castro and his buddies, Chavez and Morales, have pulled the rug out from under the bearded Brazilian.

At times, Lula has turned away from the ideology of the left, but blood is thicker than water and before finishing his term he wanted to take a trip to Havana to say goodbye to his friend, Fidel, and to do some business with the Cuba of General Raul Castro.

He is within his rights as president of a sovereign country.  The bad side of Lula in his Havana trip, though, was to ignore the death of the peaceful opposition figure Orlando Zapata Tamayo due to a long hunger strike.  He was asked about the situation but he spoke about something else.  He turned a deaf ear.

Perhaps Lula was unaware that the 42 year old mestizo who, on February 25th, was buried in Banes, Holguin (an Eastern town about 850 km from the capital), was a bricklayer, and like him, a supporter of democracy and human rights.

His advisors did not want to spoil the party he was having with the Castros.  And Lula preferred silence.  The Brazilian president of the poor failed to point out that during that same day of his visit to Havana, a simple Cuban man died only because he was demanding the same thing that he (Lula) had demanded his entire life as a trade unionist, opposition politician, and statesman.  But despite having lived through periods of military dictatorship in Brazil, Lula had much more luck than Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

One night, while he is alone in his house drinking a Brazilian coffee, perhaps Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva will recognize how contemptible and cowardly he was to refuse to speak even a few words of condolence to the tormented mother of a man who, like himself, wanted the best for his country.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.

There are Deaths that End up Being Very Expensive.

There are some deaths that could avoided.  Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death, for instance, was one of these.  It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the Cuban government.  The fact that in the 21st century a man has died as a result of an extensive hunger strike whose sole purpose was to demand a handful of rights, will always be a slap in the face of the most elemental principles of humanity.

It is not a problem of pride or of clearly establishing who is right.  The implacable power of a state should not, and could not, squash, without consideration, the life of a human being.  Especially when that person was purging an unjust sanction of 36 years behind bars.

The strength of those who have power lies in knowing how to make good use of the same.  The government of the Castro brothers is not going to accomplish any merits with situations like those of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.  All the contrary.  In many ways, they should have, and could have, stopped his death.

Now, this cadaver has a symbolism attached to it that is far too great.  There are deaths that end up being very expensive.  It is not possible to talk to politicians of other latitudes and look them in the eye when you very well know that you have over 200 prisoners of conscience behind bars.

You can’t chat about ethics and humanity when in a prison cell in the depths of Cuba, a 42-year-old black and humble man like Orlando Zapata Tamayo, has died.  The point is not to discuss ideologies or to talk nonsense about groups and individuals who think differently.

What the government of my country should make a note of, with un-erasable ink, is that stupidity and caprice are not appropriate weapons for governing the destiny of a nation.

Zapata Tamayo is no longer with us.  He stopped existing on the 23rd of February at 3:15 pm in the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital, where he was taken by the penal authorities when his decease was already imminent.

His death is a message of coming and going, of should not be done in the politics of a state.  Before, they had an opponent without any weapon who demanded things that could have been negotiated, but now they have a martyr.

It is not the first time that a peaceful opponent dies, product of a hunger strike, in a Cuban cell.  On the May 24, 1972, the student leader, Pedro Luis Boitel, ex-comrade of Fidel Castro, died of the same causes.

While I type this note on the morning of February 24, others who are dead come to mind.  The 4 pilots of the Brothers to the Rescue planes, shot down over international waters by the Revolutionary Combat Air Force in 1996.  From Havana, and with that action, Fidel Castro gave the pen to then president Bill Clinton so he could sign the unjust Helms-Burton Law.

I feel indignation.  I didn’t even know Orlando Zapata Tamayo.  From chatting with some of his companions from the Alternative Republican Movement, I sense that I am far from sharing his ideology.  But at this point in the Revolution, the machinery of hate and violence should be dropped.

It resolves nothing.  It only increases the scale of resentments and polarizes political rationalizations.  The government of Raúl Castro, whose second anniversary of being named president happens to coincide with this death, lacks sense, dialogue, and the desire to fix the shameful economic and political situation in Cuba, that system for which both he and his brother are primarily responsible.

I think it was the icon of civil rights struggles, Mahatma Gandhi, that said that hunger strikes are an effective weapon when they manage to soften the hearts of your enemies.  It seems, though, that the hunger strike carried out by Orlando Zapata Tamayo could not soften the hearts of the Castros.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.