Cuba Drilling the Deepest Horizontal Oil Well in Latin America

The well is located on the north coast of the island, and is already 6 km deep, although it must reach a record of more than 8.2. (Rincón cubano)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 4 April 2018 — Cuba is moving along with the drilling that will soon come to be the deepest horizontal oil well in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, located on the north side of the island (Cuba ) where it has already passed the 6 kilometer mark and will soon reach the record of 8.2 km according to a notice this past Wednesday from the official press.

The drilling of the West Varadero 1008 long range well has been supported with financing and guidance from Cuba, which has chosen this technolgy in order to “exploit from the coast, the crude that lies beneath the ocean” and “to lower the cost of investment” as pointed out on front page of the state daily Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). continue reading

The drilling began on the twenty-eighth of December 2016 at Boca de Camarioca, Matanzas and has been complicated “by the geology of subterranean rock” explained the Director General of the state Central Company for the Drilling and Extraction of Petroleum, Marcos Antonio Pestana.

According to the bulletin, CCDEP has produced 8000 tons of petroleum more than was previously planned for the trimester.

“Drilling always brings on new challenges and we are, at this time, drilling six wells which are very promising for company production and for the nation,” added Pestana.

Since January of 2018, operations of the company have reached up to the central area of Ciego de Avila. In Cuba, the first long distance oil well was the Varadero 1000 and today there are already a total of nine active wells with this technology in Cuba.

The Cuban energy system depends almost completely on petroleum although the nation is working towards sources of clean energy.

At this time, Havana is looking for alternative providers in light of the reduction of shipments of crude at subsidized prices from Venezuela, its main regional ally

According to some estimates, in the last two years, Venezuela has reduced its shipments down to fifty-five thousand barrels daily, about half of its peak shipments because of its economic crisis and the fall of the price of petroleum.

Recently the Island announced a new petroleum supply agreement in exchange for medical assistance with Algeria, which in 2017 brought some 2.1 million barrels of crude to Cuba, an amount that could be repeated this year, according to involved sources.

Russia also came to the aid of its former ally and shipped, this past year, 200,000 tons of petroleum for the Cuban company Cubametals under an agreement between the governments of Moscow and Havana.

The Russian state petroleum company Rosneft has also negotiated the development of future projects in conjunction with the production of petroleum within Cuba on land as well as in the ocean.

Translated by William Fitzhugh (Welcome back, from HemosOido!)


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Plebiscite not only for Cuba, but by the Cuban people / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The American President, Barack Obama, decided on behalf of Cubans. His holiness the Pope decided on behalf of Cubans. The Army General Raul Castro decided on behalf of the Cubans. Everyone, except the Cubans , decided on behalf of Cubans.

After more than six decades without any consulting of the popular will in free and competitive elections, it’s finally time for Cuba to decide for Cuba with everyone participating and for the good of all. It’s finally time for Cubans to decide for Cubans.

Any international solidarity will be useless if Cubans don’t have a say. Any dissent and national opposition would lack a legal framework as long as there is no referendum by Cubans. There is no legitimate government without the effective participation of the governed. No consensus will be credible as long as Cuba does not decide for Cuba.

One learns in the open exercise of freedom, how to live in freedom. The American President and His Holiness, and the General of the Army and all authorities of good faith in the world are invited not to decide but instead to accompany Cubans in this decision, in a historic meeting where the transit from totalitarianism towards an open society or another controlling regimen is defined.

The demand for a national referendum is already in motion. May no one speak for the Cuban people but rather support  the Cuban people so that they may recover their voice.

Translator’s note: The graphic is a “suggested design” by El Sexto for a new Cuban flag.

Translated by William Fitzhugh 

23 December 2014

Reynaldo Gonzales and The False Death of Fidel / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REYNALDO GONZALEZ Y LA FALSA MUERTE DE FIDEL, originally uploaded by orlandoluispardolazo.

Source: From a meeting of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) on 11 February 2012.

Note: Because this video is on Flickr, our subtitling site can’t handle it. So here is the translation and you can read along.

….he/she wins by making it harder for others… they win there, they can begin to speak, not of deeds but rather of the person and invent history

Every day they kill Fidel

Every day we’re even more corrupt and we have a hideous past and we are….I don’t know what

And that….there are people who ……I’ve been to Miami and I say: “damn! there’s a lot of people who are going to be stuck without work when Fidel really does die!”

Because friend, we’re going to see…… work because they live just to kill Fidel….they live finishing off Fidel…they’ve spent their entire life that way and they never get tired of it

and neither can we think that now when a Taliban is called for , not wanting it , not killing it

I would like to know, which of us has gone around the world slitting the throats of relatives because we all have someone, or some people, we all have complete families and we have love for these families and we haven’t quit loving them

This image, this desire to communicate among ourselves, is the motherland, like Gloria Estefan sings in a song….the fatherland calls you, this is true, it exists.

I have felt the fatherland in Miami, I have felt the fatherland in Paris and I’ve felt the fatherland (recording weakens )  intensely in Matanzas….this is the truth

Original Spanish transcript:

Gana con ponerle dificultades a los demas

como ganan alla, pueden empezar a hablar, no de la obra, sino de la persona e inventar la historia.

Todos los dias matan a Fidel

Todos los dias nosotros somos cada vez mas corruptos  y tenemos un pasado nefasto y somos no se que

Eso.. hay gente que… Yo he estado en Miami y digo “caramba, que cantidad de gente sin trabajo se van a quedar cuando realmente se muera Fidel”

porque caballero, va a ver un …. en el trabajo porque viven matando a Fidel,

viven acabando con Fidel … han pasado la vida… no se cansan…

y tampoco podemos pensar que ahora cuando se solicitaría un talibán, no quererlo, matarlo

Yo quisiera saber cual de nosotros ha ido por el mundo degollando parientes

porque todos tenemos a alguien, o “alguienes”, tenemos familias completas  y tenemos amor por esas familias y no hemos renunciado a quererlas

esta imagen, este deseo de comunicarnos, es la patria.. como cantaba en una cancion Gloria Estefan… la patria te llama, es la verdad, eso existe

yo he sentid la patria en Miami, yo he sentid la patria en Paris y he sentido la patria en la …

Translated by William Fitzhugh

February 12 2012

Hate Crimes? / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

“Click” to magnify the image

The Cuban paper Granma is an inexhaustible assortment of themes for any attentive reader. I , at the risk of seeming repetitive and without any intention of making copies of what they publish, found myself often challenging their texts and points of view, as in this case. The note shown in the image published by Prensa Latina, appeared on the first page of the aforementioned daily this past July 2 and because of its poor quality, I transcribe.

STOCKHOLM- Sweden reported a notable increase in hate crimes for the year 2011 compared to the previous year according to a report revealed by the Swedish National Council for the Prevention of Crime.

For the year 2011, the Nordic nation recorded 5493 crimes of this nature, some 350 more than during 2010. According to the study, racist acts, the majority of which took the form of verbal threats, followed by those with.the highest rate of physical violence, were most frequently directed at homosexuals.

In accordance with the most widely accepted understanding, hate crimes take place when a person attacks another and chooses their victim as a function of their belonging to a designated social group according to age, race, gender, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation, handicap, or sexual orientation.

It seems that Prensa Latina is trying to ignore what happened in Cuba in the ’60s with these types of actions like when they reviled those who were leaving the country and prevented them from taking or disposing of their own property, even their toiletries. They are trying to ignore the humiliation that Cubans suffered in the following decades because of the simple fact of their wanting to emigrate and how they were sent to perform farm work in order to humiliate them further. They also revert to forgetfulness when the historic leader of the Revolution said publicly regarding those who were leaving Cuba, not to return: “we don’t want them, we don’t need them.”

I understand that it’s not constructive to spend one’s life “reading old newspapers”. But are they that old? The only and state supported television of my country lacks programs with lead actors considered black on account of their skin color; there is political discrimination, after all, only one party is recognized and legally accepted; and they attack defenseless women like the Women in White for standing up for the rights and freedom of the Cuban people. Are these not hate crimes fomented by the government itself?

Translated by William Fitzhugh

July 10 2012

Interview of Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban Prats by Amir Valle – Part 4 of 4

Public spaces

In a recent column I published an anecdote with which I’m sure you agree: our meeting in 2004, by chance, on the corner of Palacio de los Matrimonios in Vedado, after months without seeing each other, in which, very concerned about the political and cultural pressures you were under, you told me, “You’re wrong, brother, this isn’t the way. Your way and mine is to write. They have to respect us for what we write. And besides, let the politicos take charge.”

My wife, Berta, who was there, reminded me a little later, whispering, after hearing your words: “What’s happening to Angel is that he still hasn’t been shocked like you”. But I knew by our conversations that already you were disillusioned by everything you saw, the censorship, the lack of liberties, the fact that most of our group had been forced to emigrate.

But I’d like you to tell me, how did that change happen to convince you that there was a need for your voice as a social individual to be heard, as well as your writing, and when did you decide to definitively jump into the search for liberty that had been taken from us and that they’re still trying to take away from many writers in Cuba?

It was forced on me. Now I would like to tell you it’s the same, but the reality is different. First we had to prove ourselves as writers, maybe that was the idea, for them it was easier to leave us “outside the game” taking advantage of the fact that we didn’t have a tangible presence in Cuban culture. Formerly you had to earn that place, that right that literature itself grants you. So we were educated to be teachers.

Heras always told us that there was a moment where the pupil killed the Teacher. I never understood him. He said it about the literary plane and he expressed it with sadness, because at the same time he accepted that it was a part of the natural process of the ascent of the writer. I never saw that moment arrive. I always accepted him as the Teacher. But I experienced that death in part, let’s say, as a citizen, because of deviations from the social and political point of view. There I killed the Teacher. And the Teacher killed the pupil. It was an assassination on both sides, something for which I was not prepared.

In any event I jealously keep a dedication that he wrote to me a few years ago, where he assured me of his admiration, because I’ve been upright in my position, in my honesty, and I never wavered in spite of official inducements.

My need to express myself, to communicate, to say what was inside me and which I also think is an essential part of being a writer, was an unconscious motivation, like the act of writing. I never intended to be a writer, it was a bitter and necessary need that quietly arose. Perhaps it pushed me to be a communicator of my circumstances. That also happened unexpectedly. Many times I said I would be happy if I could find a little corner on the last page of any periodical where I could express my point of view, however mistaken, superficial, personal, but definitively my way of seeing life, opinions I would assume in the face of history with all the responsibility that goes along with that. Then on a trip to the Dominican Republic, certainly my last trip outside Cuba, I learned from a Cuban writer friend, Camilo Venegas, and Zilma, his ex-wife, that something called a “blog” existed. That word meant nothing to me. And they taught me what it was and it seemed to me a great invention of the 21st century. And I could read for the first time the posts of Yoani Sanchez.

I went back to Cuba wanting to have a blog, but at the same time I wasn’t naive, I knew every thing that it would open up and bring about. I had several months of conflict and internal struggle. Finally I decided to do it. And I called the Book Institute and spoke with the President, Iroel Sanchez. I told him what I intended to do, and I asked him for a national space in order to anchor myself, I was thinking Cubaliteraria. After asking me what the subject matter was, I told him that I would take a cultural and social view, something different from the usual, with the intent of driving debate and prompting opinions. He told me that he didn’t have the famous “band width” (the title of an unpublished book I have written).

Then Cubaencuentro offered me the chance to be included with them and without asking me what my blog would be about. It was the first big find. They still support my statements and writings. To appear blatantly in the Cubaencuentro magazine was unacceptable impudence for the establishment.

I remember everything they did to Antonio Jose Ponte for having been part of the editorial staff of this magazine. In one of my first posts I referred to a delegation of writers that attended a book fair in Mexico, and I talked about their having to beg for funds. That image stayed with me.

When I attended an event in Martinica with a poet who won the National Literature award, I saw him asking for pocket money and saying that we Cubans were poor and they should help us. I remember that I fled from his side. It was obvious that this poet was used to these denigrating scenes. Before leaving I warned the organizers that he was speaking on his own behalf.

I remember writers who traveled to the same Guadalajara Fair, who at the end of their days of participation, had to stay wherever someone offered because otherwise they would be out on the street. I also remember the Cuban ambassador in the Dominican Republic fleeing, aghast, from the airport because he might have to take charge of two young writers whom the organizers hadn’t gone to pick up. And a lot of other things that people talked about.

Then, when I wrote the post, it caused a scandal. They branded me as a traitor. And even those writers in the delegation, knowing I told the truth, asked me why I wasn’t afraid that the possibility of traveling outside the country would be taken away with me, although they were among the ranks of the poor.

But that rejection was a promotion. You remember that they intercepted me in plain view of the public and beat me. They fractured my arm, after warning me that “being counter-revolutionary didn’t suit” me. The latest was that petition from 15 years ago that now joined another accusation of assault.

In summarizing all these stories, they haven’t left me any other choice but to take my time with all the force and energy of my soul.

Amir, you always were precocious; in literature and politics you had more clarity than the rest. You always came in first. And that expression of mine at the time was a strategy andeventually a naivety on my part. But I’m happy that things happen, at least in my case, through my own need. That they’re natural, not provoked or hurried, least of all thought out.

And here you see me, assuming responsibility for my acts and their consequences.

One of the methods of the dictatorship that exists today in Cuba has been to introduce the virus of fear in all citizens, whatever position they’re in, whatever their origin or training, whether they live on the island or in exile. Recently in an open letter you wrote that now it didn’t matter to you to go to jail for your ideas, to die. I know, because I had to live this also in 2001, which is a hard, difficult process, but how was it in your case?

It’s been two years of waiting. Everything started like a game. I start and you continue. I resisted it for two years. Continued detentions, acts of repudiation, scorn. I continued with the game because it embarrassed me, although my conscience was clear, from those shameful accusations that still weigh on me to write them here. But the game turned serious. They started to give a serious character to the case file, an instrument of the system, and Captain Amauri Guerra Toyo, with the dirtiest violations, has created a file without proof, from top to bottom, in conspiracy with State Security and the public prosecutor’s office, where they managed to forge my signature, to change documents that my lawyer and I had seen before.

Finally, in the presence of my attorney, I signed a document and made marks with the ball point pen so they couldn’t add other words that would incriminate me, and even so, after the period I put and on top of the marks that I demanded they make, this man added a comma and a sentence that I didn’t say, according to the testimony of my lawyer. The whole file is very ambiguous, as is the Prosecutor’s petition that plays with what they don’t have or don’t know, and only a third of it is readable.

My position is to be conscious and honest, so I can continue to live. There is no way of making me change my ideas or of stopping me from making my present situation better. There is only one way out of the quagmire, and it’s that the Counter-Intelligence officials accept that they should drop the judicial proceedings. And as we know, although times are different, they don’t want to lose, above all because they fear that later other intellectuals will try the same thing. They don’t want to permit this precedent, and they will try any way they can to make an example of me.

Finally, as I put in my open letter, I’m prepared for the worst. In that case, I will resist by conviction and innocence, even go on a hunger strike.

Tell me how you yourself see something that is very delicate but very important to understand: What is happening today with Cuban writers? Is there a difference between what they think privately and what they say in public? Is it true, as Barnet and Abel Prieto say, that the immense majority of artists and writers are on the side of Fidel, Raul and the Revolution?

For me, perhaps more than anyone, writers have given me proof of their real position on the system. Sometimes, when I listen to them, they make me feel closer to the politics of the system than they are. They have two speeches, the official and the critical, which they hide from the officials. Because they want to travel, as I said before, like poor people, but they can travel, because they resolve something, besides breathing free air. But I don’t believe most of them are honest. They pretend to be “traveling companions”, it’s a cynical status that both sides accept, and they use it and take advantage of it with the goal of remaining human for some and being part of the social system for others.

Writers wave the famous little flag, at times faster than others, according to the free gifts offered, and they silence their true feelings about the system. In this way they invent the history that infallibly garners hypocrisy for each one of them.

What about the powerful Cuban culture that has been created these past five decades in exile, in many parts of the world? How do you believe it can contribute, from outside Cuba, to the need for social change on the island?

Without trying to be an analyst, a political strategist, a philosopher or a demiurge, and someone taught me to avoid subjects I know nothing about, but it’s my opinion, more as an artist who humbly offers his point of view, I am of the opinion that the intellectuals in exile should remain very attached to Cuban culture, to defend it first as art and later from their own political position. They shouldn’t forget anything, first the culture, then everything else.

I’m sure that this artistic pressure will create conscience and respect for a national dialogue that will produce a political change for the rebirth of democracy and free will for Cubans, although some of them, as usually happens, will find themselves in the minority. The sentence I like so much and that surely I don’t quote exactly because I have repeated it so much I have it inside me and have made it mine: I will die for your right to think differently from me. Therefore, continue to take advantage of the space that freedom gives you and its methods of communication with advanced technology, and you can’t be persecuted or suffer direct repression like the confiscation of computers.

In some way, creating a space for national complaints will be the voice for those who are on the island. Refining esthetic rifts, attitudes of personal convenience, in order to advance unity. The strengthening of the diaspora offers us who remain here security, we who directly demand the rights of all to live together in a future free and democratic land that opens its arms for the longed-for reunion of its children who are now dispersed throughout the world.

So yes, I don’t have any doubts that Cuban intellectuals, inside and outside, are called on to contribute profoundly to a future political transition in the country.

So much emotional disequilibrium, so much psychological pressure, so much direct repression against you, so much responsibility for your blog, “The Children Nobody Wanted,” do they allow you to write? And if so, what could we offer that is new to a writer interested in your books?

Writing is an escape; it’s a space of sanity that protects you, when it should be the opposite, since being creative is the closest thing to being demented. But reality, as has been said so many times, surpasses fiction. And that’s true. On the outside everyone seems crazy to me. They know what they are looking for but even so, they walk in other directions. People I respect and with whom I agree on the facts.

In spite of everything, I try to write. I have several unpublished books, around 10, that are waiting for their moment patiently. I’ve never been in a hurry to publish, because writing them takes away that distress of residing on the cultural plane of the country. I know that they are there; I sense that they are of an acceptable quality, strange and moderately original, as far as subject matter and form, and that gives me peace. It hurts to write from your conscience because it’s not for your time, so it can be for a future in which you won’t even be present. But it’s not important; it’s a way of discharging a debt from your time and leaving a mark.

An obvious question comes up now about an old polemic, which started when Sartre and Camus discussed the role of the writer in society. Specifically in the case of Cuba, with its singular circumstances and from your personal experience of the last years, what should the responsibility of a writer be in regard to his society, his country?

My responsibility is to assume my conscience and feelings honestly and carry this over to my acts and position in life, whatever bitterness and harm follows. In my case it means fulfilling this need to communicate, to state my opinion and that of those who don’t find the way or the form of expressing themselves.

I try to be a voice for my people, who always will be those who suffer the most, the innocent ones. I know that confronting the system carries a high price, but I don’t have a choice. I always wonder what the formula is for shutting up, to think one way and speak publicly with another. How can you accept gifts at the price of seeing your country under a dictatorship, its people in poverty, and remain silent? How can history ignore that you are a hypocrite, an ally of a manipulative system that in more than 50 years knew only how to censor, muzzle personal opinion and fill us with a degrading sacrifice, full of sadness and ravenous hunger?

To be direct, the responsibility of Cuban writers, more than ever, is to protest, to make their disagreements public. To insist on their rights as independent artists and accept the consequences. It is the artists’ responsibility to be the echo of their time, their people and their conscience. And they will then be doing enough to say they follow in the footsteps of Marti.

Translated by Regina Anavy, AnonyGY,Rafael Gomez, and William Fitzhugh

Interview was conducted in December 2011

Posted on Angel’s blog on: April 5 2012

Interview of Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban Prats by Amir Valle – Part 3 of 4

Literary spaces

There are five moments in your literary career that I want you to talk about, trying to salvage the most important details, those details of each success that would mold you into being the writer you are now, or those other moments that made you open your eyes to the harsh reality that you are experiencing today.

A. Honorable mention for the Juan Rolfo International Short Story Prize, in 1989

A surprise. I considered myself, more than now, an experimental writer, not an accomplished one. I only entered the contest hoping to receive an opinion from a foreign jury. I wanted to know if my writing worked outside Cuba. If it would be interesting or boring, with a regional theme. It was the first time that established writers heard my name. In a certain way, I put myself on the map of the “newbies”.

B. The two times they took away your Casa de las Americas award.

Very sad, not just for me but also for the position they put the jurors in. The book’s subject was the war in Angola, where we remained for 15 years and where many lives were lost by Cubans who never understood why the hell we were there. The book was not an epic, as this war was usually treated. I was only interested in the human side, the men who were immersed in a foreign war.

I’ll never forget the face of Abilio Estevez giving me the unexplainable dissertation about the book, and that you later would write that the worst book of all won the Casa de las Americas prize that year. Abilio said that in the hotel when they were reading the works, they paged him on the PA system to come to the room. When he arrived, Security was waiting, and they told him that no one wanted to give this book an award.

They did the same thing with the Argentinian juror, Luisa Valenzuela, who later wanted to take me with her to her country because I was the same age as her daughter, and with this fact I understood how difficult it would be for me to rise in the literary world under the Regime. This was in 1992. Since then I’ve been reluctant to leave the country, and I told her I was grateful, but only God knew why I had been born here and that I wanted to stay. She never agreed, I imagine, and when the Alejo Carpentier prize was launched, I did everything possible so she could get an invitation to Cuba and be present.

Later in 1994 something similar happened, but this time State Security was more careful and tried, without success, to infiltrate the jurors. But the books survived the Tyranny and its Totalitarian Leaders. Censorship has never been able to stifle art. Once a writer told me that my book was unfair to those who had been in this war. And when I told Heras those words he told me that books weren’t fair or unfair, they were only good or bad, speaking from a literary point of view.

C. The 1995 UNEAC short story prize for Dream of a Summer Day and the publication of the book, with the censorship included, in 1998

Books catch on when one more person needs them, they are like life jackets. And this award finally gave me the possibility to be a published writer, because they knew me in the cultural milieu, but I didn’t have a book, which is definitely the calling card of a writer. It was also the genre of the short story, which is the most coveted genre in Cuba, above all for our generation. But the book was the same one that had been censored, anticipating that State Security would come back to spoil the award for me.

I changed the title (Dream of a Summer Day) and it passed through the filters and won. When they saw this book was going to be published, and that it talked about the human part, man immersed in that war, the contradictions, then the book started an emotional discussion. The book floored them. It went from one bureau to another. Occasionally they called me in to talk about my negativity in publishing it before they were able to edit it. And again I assumed the silence of Gandhi, but with the variant that I didn’t want a political scandal, what I wanted was literary. To be part of cultural news.

They even decided to call me to negotiate. They spoke to me openly, there were several stories that couldn’t see public light, above all the story The Forgotten, “It wouldn’t be published in 25 years”, the functionary told me (I managed to publish it in 2001 in the book The Children Nobody Wanted, which won the Alejo Carpentier prize).

As I told you before, I urgently needed to present a book, but I hurt myself with this book, because I accepted that it would be published without those stories. This was a betrayal, the worst of all, a betrayal of myself. But the need to publish was joined with another unexpected one: A woman was expecting my child and I didn’t have a place to live. They offered me an apartment. I thought about it a bit. I immediately saw the possibility of giving the woman and my child some stability in the next few months.

I also thought that any publisher would have the right to read the book and determine what to publish, and that the functionary was finally giving me the possibility of having a book published. And in exchange for the unpublished stories they were giving me an apartment. I felt like I was bargaining in a market in Baghdad, and at any rate, man is and always will be “a part of his circumstances”. I accepted. The book came out in the 1998 Book Fair, with a dark cover. They did it on purpose, so it looked less like a book and more like a box of detergent. Thus I achieved my goal of presenting myself to readers, and incidentally my first child was born in a dignified place.

D. The 2001 Alejo Carpentier Prize for The Children Nobody Wanted

This book has all my censored stories. That’s why I gave it this title. Furthermore, the story with the same name is included, and I felt that those scorned, censored stories were like the young people who escaped on rafts from the island. I found a similarity in both cases.

The jury’s vote was divided, of course. They all knew what they were risking by giving me the prize. The two votes in my favor were from Arzola (he had won the prize the previous year), and what decided him was a telephone call from the office of the then-President of the Cuban Book Institute, the “Taliban” Iroel Sanchez, who, as you know, is a new version of that person named Pavon who harmed Cuban culture so much.

They told me that Iroel opened his eyes as if praying to his gods, I imagined Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Marx and Engels, and his adored Fidel Castro, for whom he felt an almost homosexual love.

But coming back to the jury, Arzola left Cuba a little time after the award, but the other juror was none other than Eduardo Heras Leon. And certainly I entered the competition even when I didn’t know who the jurors were going to be, because if I had known he was there I wouldn’t have entered since that added fuel to rumors about our friendship later. And Heras, at least until 2009 when he lost his path, hadn’t been invited to any other competition than the one convened by the Book Institute.

That was the punishment that Iroel imposed on him, who told me that the Association of Cuban Combatants had complained in a letter, demanding an explanation for the publication of the book, and on a more personal plane, he commented that his buddies who were in Angola with him criticized him for publishing such a ruthless vision of war under his position as President of the Book Institute.

I asked him if the book told lies. “That’s the problem,” he answered. “We know it was like that and worse. But Angel is the enemy who takes advantage of our weaknesses to attack us. We can’t give him the pretext.”

Later it was funny. They took me to the Book Fair in Guadalajara, as every year they did with the Carpentier award winners. And they coordinated various presentations in universities, and in charge of this were some Mexicans from a Committee of Solidarity with Cuba. When the students asked about human rights in Cuba, my companions answered trying to discredit the dissident groups and calling them”factions”, a word coined by Fidel Castro, which everyone repeated later. That bothered me so much I took the word and said that 100, 50, 10, five or one, we had the same rights to think and choose as the other millions of Cubans. And the students and cluster of professors stood up and applauded me.

Upon my return, the organizers spoke with Iroel so they could exchange me for another writer, because I wasn’t giving them the right result. That made me laugh. And they exchanged me, of course, in the way that is typical of socialism. No one says anything to you, but everyone shuns you as if you had the plague. And later I saw several times that people I knew on the bus wouldn’t greet me. Of course, I took this on myself and didn’t mind.

In the official presentation of the book at the fair, all the functionaries of Cuba were there. At my side was Jaime Sarusky, who that year had won in the novel genre. And while I was talking, I saw how his hands were sweating. I’ve never seen anyone sweat so much. Drops were falling on the paper he later would hold to read and I started to worry that it would get smudged.

I was saying, in answer to some question from the public, that I wasn’t trying to bother anyone, but yes, being honest, above all with myself, that I identified with that sector of young Cubans who didn’t find any common ground between the Revolution and our generation. That the Revolution was something from the past with which we didn’t feel a connection. And I finished by saying that the majority of young people I knew were of the same opinion.

The functionaries remained stoic. They put up with it, but many years later, Iroel reminded me of it as a disagreeable moment in his life. For my acts of honesty I always was punished. In Manzanillo I knew that they had received calls and emails from the Book Institute, from the writer Fernando Leon Jacomino, who at that time was Vice President, criticizing them for inviting me and suggesting that they substitute the writer Rogelio Riveron for me.

On another occasion they called me to make me President of the Wichy Nogueras prize, and later they didn’t advise me of the countermand. And when I arrived at the Capitolio, to know the results, they told me I no longer was part of the jury. Or what happened in the last Book Fair in which I participated: I was in the Moron Hotel and Security asked to have me removed from my room. That night I slept at the home of our taxi driver.

Now I am a phantom writer.

E. The 2006 Casa de las Americas prize for Blessed are Those Who Mourn, the hardest and most critical of your books

It’s because the book touches the knottiest fiber of human beings: prison, the prisoner immersed in the most profoundly undesirable condition for survival. I could finally use all those experiences that I lived through in La Cabana. Some friends begged me, I think with the best intention, to not do it. They didn’t want to see me harmed, banished, as they had been in the Five-Year Gray Period, I shouldn’t write it since it wouldn’t be published. And the book contains only 20 percent of that repulsive reality. Now I’m writing a novel that frightens me because I’m releasing what I’ve kept inside. I want to be empty, to not return to this subject. To get it out. Because when I write, I hurt, I rip myself up in a way that makes me feel that everything is happening again.

The book, in one of those ironies in life, was presented at the Book Fair in the Cabana. It took place in one of those cell blocks in which I was incarcerated. While the others were expressing their impression of the book, I in my imagination was walking with the prisoners from one side to the other. I had gone back in time, and the people interested in Culture were substitutes for those who had struggled to survive physically and morally, who served as characters, so that my suffering and anguish would not be in vain. That was my way of paying homage to them, offering them my gratitude in spite of their being the same people who enthusiastically had rejected the gesture by not being part of that reality that so marked us.

For having shared the experience, the book is dedicated to Jose Marti, who really is the perennial convict blessed with Cuban goodness.

Translated by Regina Anavy, AnonyGY, Rafael Gomez, and William Fitzhugh

Interview December 2011

Posted to Angel’s blog: 5 April 2012

Interview of Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban Prats by Amir Valle – Part 2 of 4


There was a definitive moment for your career as a writer that I believe is worth remembering, even when I know that it can be a difficult question: your meeting with the writer Eduardo Heras Leon. Leaving aside the possible differences that you could have had from the clear ideological differences between Eduardo and us, how did that meeting nourish you spiritually and intellectually and give you that brotherhood over the years, which is known by our whole generation as an example of loyalty and sharing for many of those kids we called “the group of the Chinese guy, Heras”?

When I got out of prison, like I said before, for going with my sister to the beach, and when I was acquitted in court (the judges considered that I had not committed the crime of “conspiracy,” because I was her brother, and the only interest I had was to protect her, but because of that I had been in prison for 14 months), I then had the illusion that I could be a writer; the idea of creating filled me with magic. I passed from being a king of my neighborhood to being a god of my creation.

Since I was a child, I had been attending painting classes at the Casa de la Cultura ,and when I inquired I was told that there was a House of Writers, which I joined immediately. Later, I learned through the newspaper about the anniversary celebration of the Cuban Book Institute and that entry was free. A group of friends, their girlfriends and I decided to attend. There I met Eduardo Heras, whom I immediately approached with the intention of asking him to read a hand-written version of a horrendous novel that was the beginning of later horrendous books I would write. Heras, with evasions and explanations of how his work kept his schedule very tight, since he was the Director of the section on narrative, did not guarantee that he could read it, but because at that time I had all the time in the world, I said I could wait. I started to feel the first symptoms of anxiety after three months. After six months, I was desperate for a critique of my “novel” because I felt that until I received his valuable feedback I shouldn’t continue, and, on the other hand, the pressure of being 20 years old, as if time was running out. To dedicate my life to literature, I needed to hear the sound of the starting gun.

After I showed up in his office several times, I wore him down and he promised to read it the next weekend. And I waited. The following Sunday he called me at my girlfriend’s house to ask me to visit him the next day.

When I arrived, he had the novel on his desk, which made me happy. After 20 minutes telling me that he had many other works to read and that the novel was not publishable, of course, that I needed to learn literary techniques — and it seemed to me reading between the lines that the idea of being a writer was unattainable — Heras paused silently and told me, “I assure you that I can tell after reading a text when someone is wasting their time….and in your case, reading some sentences, I can say that you have talent, and if you want to, you will be a writer and will be able to accomplish everything you want. It only depends on your instinct, your will, your persistence in reading. There you will find everything you are looking for and all you should learn”. He kept looking at me, perhaps he knew how to read my alarm, since I think I was more prepared for criticism than for acceptance. It thrilled me to assume that I could be a writer. At that time, it was a very large and distant word, and I assure you that in some respects it still is today.

So I started on my way, where each minute had the purpose of going beyond the most recent one. It was a war of internal progress, where his advice assisted me. He’s a professor without equal because he has that vocation. Eduardo Heras has had many jobs, the most incredible ones, but I’m sure that his vocation is teaching. Through him I also met you all, the brothers that life has gifted me, you who support me, my first critics and editors. I met you all in that seminar at the Alejo Carpentier Center in 1985. In that moment I was the happiest being in the universe, perhaps we all were. I remember that you taught me that it was poetry in prose that I wasn’t able to decipher, and you were so tactful with what you did with my story, South: Latitude 13. I remember even the sentence that you pointed out to me as an example, and I surprised myself by writing poetry without being aware of it.

At the 1985 Writers Conference, I was invited as an observer. Of course, I was still not considered a writer, I had just opened my eyes to the literary world. That was the day that I met them. Arzola was amazed by all the lights in the city, a far cry from the darkness of Sanguily, his birthplace. To another writer it seemed incredible that some glass doors opened by themselves solely by approaching them, and he looked everywhere for the man who must be pushing a button, or the surprise of seeing the stairs at the department store Variedades de Galeano go up by themselves. We were so innocent!

There was a story that happened there and that remained in my memory and it happened at the Hotel Lincoln. For the first time, I had heard about Rulfo, about Hemingway’s iceberg theory, and all the others. It turned out that at lunchtime, you all had told me that you always had room for guests and that I would be able to have lunch with you. I wanted to decline but you insisted and I, who was as fascinated by this group as was Arzola by the lights of the city, had discovered how I wanted to dedicate my life, and I was in such a hurry to learn more, in a hurry to write, to bring out a world that was beating within me, itching to escape, to be born. And when I seated myself at the table, a staff member of the Center, in spite of having seen me in the conferences and lectures, asked who I was and told me I should leave the room, and I left, ashamed.

In truth, I didn’t want to have lunch. What I wanted was to keep listening to you speak of literature, the profession, a fascinating, magical world that excited me, that wouldn’t even let me sleep. It was my last attempt to join the “generation of the brand new” as we would later call ourselves. Maybe this was my punishment for praying for this.

I left the restaurant in a hurry wanting to get the hell out of there, not so much offended as embarrassed for having taken a seat that didn’t belong to me, that I had not earned. When I was about a hundred meters from the hotel, I thought they were calling me and it was all of you following me: You were out in front, then came Arzola, Gume, Garrido, Guillermito Vidal, Marcos, Alfredo Galeano, Torralba, and Eduardo Herras. You had decided to leave with me in solidarity, and we continued discussing literature while we ate a pizza together right out there on Galeano Street.

That meant to me a love pact. Anything negative that happened or would happen in the future with the members of this group could not equal that gesture of yours to me.

And as if to prove that everyone is born assigned what he will always be, a few months ago my ex-lawyer for the trial where I must confront slanderous accusations designed to convince me to shut down my blog, asked me for a letter from the Union of Cuban Writers that would list my literary achievements. And though something told me not to do it, because of her insistence I called and was answered by the same officer that expelled me from the hotel table, something I forgave him for because I understood that as a government functionary, it was his responsibility to maintain control of the event.

But it turns out that when I asked him for the letter he was reluctant and asked me to call the next day, and when I did he told me they can only give me a letter confirming that I was a writer belonging to the Writers Association because this would be sufficient. And, when I asked him whether they could add that I’d won the UNEAC prize, he told me, “No, only that”, which after all made me laugh, because I found it so ridiculous and alienating that I felt embarrassment and shame for them, and I told him not to bother, that I could go forward without this letter.

I never called again. And to be honest, when on my birthday they sent me a bottle of wine, I remembered that letter between Dulce Maria Loynaz and the Spanish writer and journalist Santiago Castelo where he commented that Fidel Castro had sent him a box of chocolates, adding, “and they weren’t poisoned”. I can say the same.

My son’s name is Eduardo in honor of Heras, who is also his Godfather. I can assure you, and you know that no teacher equals him, and I can add that no Godfather does either.

There was a time when we would discuss politics often and one time, to preserve our friendship, we decided not to touch any political topics. And so from then on we didn’t.

What happens is that life constantly summons us down a set of paths and we’re forced to decide which to take. And so, our paths diverged. He chose to stay with that archaic system that he realized was statist but that he was determined to defend. As I said, at times I understand; I’ll never question him because it may be too late for him to give up his position, which would be a kind of self-betrayal, because recognizing that so much sacrifice was in vain would not be an easy matter. He sees Fidel Castro as the man by his side when he risked his life at the Bay of Pigs. And I respect that. Everyone has his past and his conscience.

So when I opened the blog, which I did in the Cubaencuentro space, he sent me a message from Canada where he told me I had betrayed him. Since then, I’ve not have any more contact with him. And I’ve respected that decision, it’s what he wants, and I’ll always be grateful to him and keep that gratitude.

But the present doesn’t erase the past, right?

I noticed your saying that you gave Heras “a horrendous novel”, it’s understood that this was because it was the first you wrote without any kind of literary tool, but later you repeated that “it marked the beginning of the horrendous books that followed”. Do you actually consider your writing horrendous? Why?

My writing is not for people to savor, to enjoy. Without proposing it, it surged up inside me. From the first time I read in public, a lot of people came up to me to let me know that they didn’t like my stories because my writing depressed them, made them anxious, frustrated; it made them suffer. And I loved it when they confessed that. I suffer a lot in the creative process, and it seems I managed to convey this. Readers complained about the distress that my writing caused them and said that some times they threw the book at the wall, but that later they picked it up to continue reading.

My writing is about the pain of our people, their frustration. It’s the voice of those who would like to read their own experiences and see them reflected in some way. So that their problems will interest others. I feel that this is like a mission for me.

In one of my essays from a couple of years ago, I said that in Cuba the limits of marginality had faded so much that social, spiritual and moral marginality were a phenomenon visible everywhere. In your case, because of your humble beginnings, as we have seen, you were obliged to coexist with the marginal world in Havana almost from the time you opened your eyes, and I remember one day we were talking and you told me, and I quote from memory, that this world was “as ruthless as it was human and beautiful.” In what sense do those influences of marginality determine the person you are, on one hand, and on the other, the writer you are?

The marginal know what they are and do not hide it, they accept and internalize it. They have no pretensions. Friendship for them is an Omerta-style code, and they would die for you without giving it a second thought. They have their marginal ethics, and betrayal is unforgivable, which for me means everything I am. I tell my friends they are free to be whatever they choose, even belonging to the Communist Party if they are honest and they own it, since most of them I know do it to gain position in the system, they are opportunists, but when you speak with them they make you feel that they are the ones who are dissidents.

My friends can be marginal, professors or illiterates, gay or asexual. They can come with a human head under their arm and I will always seek to protect them and make them aware of their mistake, but above all I will never abandon or judge them. I will be among the first to visit them in prison. I was taught in my neighborhood that friendship means never abandoning someone, especially in their worst moment.

In my neighborhood, I was accepted as something strange and endearing. They saw me create frightening characters with respect. They looked at me with the same tension with which a physicist builds an atomic bomb. In 1992, when I got my first computer, a monochrome 286, while I was writing, one of them approached me hesitantly to ask whether I questioned the computer about the topic I planned to write and then the computer wrote the stories itself. I thought it was wildly cool that this idea occurred to him. And I said that in some ways yes and in some ways no. And that made him happy, because I made myself tangible, diminishing the difference between us, and he accepted this answer radiantly.

I remember another anecdote about our unforgettable Professor Salvador Redonet that you and I still ponder. He was also living in a poor neighborhood and at the ground level there was a vacant lot. But when guys were playing dominoes and drinking, if they noticed the light in the professor’s room was still on while he was preparing some class for his university students or some anthology in which he almost always included us, luckily and to our credit, they, his neighbors, poorly educated, would ask each other to lower their voices because the prof is studying”. The marginalized did not envy the success of others; on the contrary, they felt they were their guardians, protecting and respecting them.

In your work, as in all the work we do, there is a strong presence of sensuality and eroticism, although in your case, as I wrote on one occasion,there is a “heartbreaking sensuality, with an aggressively cruel eroticism, almost bestial”. I know that much of your vision on the subject originated many years ago, in that strange love-hate relationship, the rejection and admiration you felt for your father, a libertine, a man who was macho and promiscuous, as you told me in those early years, like most men of the hard times in which he lived. What do you think about this or other possible influences of those years on the writer who creates those sexually violent, almost fiendish worlds, where sex is part of the psychology that typifies many of your characters?

My father… from him I inherited the need for a constant feminine presence. Nothing has been more important to me nor makes me feel better than making women happy, especially my mate but generally all the women who surround me: family, friends and even those I don’t know.

But I saw in prison the side of sensuality that was heartbreaking, aggressive and cruel. There were men who bit into the wall because of so many repressed desires. Who got excited with their own odors, their sweat, their own caresses. They spent all day excited and even though they knew masturbating made it worse, only a moment of relief that was followed by a level of frustration and an uncontrollable rage, some got angry against everybody, with a visceral hatred towards life, which meant their lack of discipline could bring on punishment in horrendous and ruthless cells, or even worse, add years of prison time to their sentences.

Today many of those friends who by misfortune (for nostalgia) or luck (for many of us) are scattered around the world. I know that you nourished yourself a lot with certain works of our sisters and that many of these experiences were vital for the maturity of your work. When I mention that word and that time, what do you think about?

I remember that time shared with that magical group we formed. It’s incredible that with all the differences that we human beings had in that group there was never a rift. We read others’ work as if it were our own. There was never envy; on the contrary, we encouraged each other to compete and we were happy if someone won a prize, as if we all achieved it together.

We had Guilllermito Vidal who taught us about life experiences and literary resources. Gume Pacheco was humor personified, Garrido pretended to be serious until we knew him well, Arzola was naive, you were always the hardest worker, Marcos Gonzales, as talented as alienated from his destiny.

We made ourselves into a family, so much so that we bypassed literature and our personal problems began to be treated in a group and solved. We worked for the promotion and publication of the group. This makes me remember that once I bought the journal, Alma Mater, from the University of Havana, and when I came to the part about writing I saw a name like mine and a story with my title, and that furthermore it belonged to the Tenth of October Writers Workshop, and the first thing I thought of was that there had been someone else in that workshop with a name like mine.

I never imagined it was you; as you knew I refused to publish. You took my story from my house and sent it to the journal editor. That surprise was very welcome. So historically I have to recognize that the person guilty of publishing my horrendous stories for the first time was you.

Speaking of the Tenth of October Workshop, remember Chachi Melo? I brought you and introduced you to her and then you were also taken with her happy and profound friendship. While we were reading her first text her beautiful child kept interrupting us. Today he’s the important writer Abel Gonzalez Melo.

Translated by Regina Anavy, AnonyGY, Rafael Gomez, and William Fitzhugh

Interview December 2011

Posted to Angel’s blog: 5 April 2012

Interview of Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban Prats by Amir Valle – Part 1 of 4

Amir Valle

“The responsibility of Cuban writers, more than ever, is to protest, to make their disagreements public.”

For more than a decade, starting with invisible struggles that happened during literary events that were taking place in Cuban literature in the 90’s, the name of Angel Santiesteban was mentioned several times, but always strangely linked to the condition of “promise”; none of the other writers being promoted (now converted into literary critics who were judging the new phenomenon that the so-called Promotion of the ’90’s or the Novisimos) had managed to write stories of the strength and significance as this — at that time — very young writer. 

With barely a couple of years under the tutelage of Eduardo Heras Leon, in 1989, Santiesteban got an honorable mention for the prestigious and popular international Juan Rulfo short story award, convened each year by Radio France International, which has become the launching platform for the best writers of current literature in Latin America. That’s how the history of his myth begins. With this push he managed to finish his book Sur: Latitud 13 (South: Latitutde 13), which was sent twice to the Award of Casas de las Americas (1992-1994), where due to non-literary shameful circumstances, his book was discussed behind closed doors, and in spite of the quality of its stories it didn’t win the award, which was awarded to the two weakest books in the history of this short story contest.

But perseverance is one of the personal characteristics of Angel Santiesteban, and convinced that the book would be published some time, he changed the title and presented it for the UNEAC Award (given by the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba) in 1995, where it won. But because his point of view about the subject matter in the stories (the internationalist wars of Cuba in Africa) didn’t agree with the government’s, it wasn’t until 1998 (and excluding from the volume some stories considered “conflicting”) that it appeared under the title “Sueno de un Dia de Verano” (Dream of a Summer Day). It started a real commotion within Cuban story telling in the ’90’s, exactly at the time when the best books from the most outstanding authors of that year were being published on the island (Alejandro Álvarez Bernal, Alberto Garrido, Guillermo Vidal, Sindo Pacheco, Alberto Guerra, Raúl Aguiar, Alberto Garrandés, Jorge Luis Arzola, Anna Lidia Vega Serova, and José Miguel Sánchez, just to mention some), exactly when some of those writers began to have a regular presence in the large Spanish-speaking publications (Ena Lucía Portela, Karla Suárez, Ronaldo Menéndez, Alexis Díaz Pimienta, Andrés Jorge González), and just when a great number of the these writers were starting a drop-by-drop exodus (more than half of those kids today live off the island), and were leaving to enrich with the quality of their works the already solid Cuban literature written in exile during the last 50 years. 

Barely two years later, in 2001, he won the Alejo Carpentier short story award, this time with his book Los Hijos que Nadie Quiso, The Children Nobody Wanted, a selection also uncomfortable for the ruling official system, since the topic of the war in Africa was incorporated (Los olvidados, The Forgotten), topics like escape on a raft into exile (Los Hijos que Nadie Quiso), the hard Cuban prison system (La Puerca and La Perra, The Pig and the Bitch), the illegal slaughter of cattle for the black market (Lobos en la Noche, Wolves in the Night) and the rebirth of prostitution due to the economic crisis (Los Aretes que le Faltan a La Luna, The Bones the Moon Missed). Many of us writers, critics and scholars of Cuban arts and letters still wonder how it’s possible that Cuban publishing houses waste time republishing books that aren’t sold by authors nobody reads; however, they don’t republish a book like this, which literally flew off the shelves in just two weeks. 

Also, today many on the island wonder how they can get the book Dichosos los que Lloran, Blessed are Those Who Mourn, awarded the Casa de las Americas 2006 prize, which was sold in a really surreal way during the Havana International Book Fair this year. 

It’s worth mentioning that besides a brotherhood forged in good and bad times, I shared with Angel the teachings of Eduardo Heras León, the hugs of friends of our generation, the joy over the first awards received by those friends, and many other things, including some girlfriends.  And under that complicity, created in the middle of hugs and clashes, of agreements and disputes, this interview was born. It happened in a decisive, dangerous and (I know) traumatic moment in the life of this writer, considered by many Latin American critics and writers as the most important Cuban storyteller living today on the island.

Intimate Spaces

There are places in the personal life of a writer that, even when they are not generally known, are determining factors in understanding what his “mark” is, that unique take on life that many times may or may not coincide with that creative differentiation that some people call “his own style”.

Let’s talk about the three moments of your first years of life that, as we’ve talked about all these years, are essential to the writer you are today. But I want you to look at them from a distance and try to clarify what changes were made in the little person being formed that you were then, that could have influenced your point of view as a writer on a topic that’s in your case a recurring theme: “the voice of the losers”.

A) The family environment (your mother, the great Luis, your brothers)

My mother is the beginning of my creation, and almost was the end, because it took so much to be able to survive without her presence. She was my steadfast friend, my constant support. My writings passed by her eyes. I learned how to unfold her dreams and pains, and I wrote them down. Through her silence, an aversion to the system took hold in me. Mornings were spent listening to the short wave, Radio Marti, Radio Mambi, Camilo Cienfuegos. I listened  to Huber Matos*, whom I deeply admired for all his suffering and the stoic way in which he sustained his 20 years of unjust imprisonment.

Even you, Amir, many times stayed by her side until dawn, because she wanted you to hear something important. Willy Chirino’s song, “They’re Already Coming,”** at times I thought she was the one who wrote the lyrics. She used to always say that with Castro in power, little was left to her. Through her, I found out that we have a Cardinal, and she told me that kind and ingenuous adage: “The Cardinal is higher than the Commandate” and expressed it with devotion.

Also through her I suffered when my older brother was taken away to the war in Africa, and all because they promised that when he returned to his labor organization, they would give him a new truck (when he returned, they had closed the factory). Because of her, I refused to go to Angola, telling her that I didn’t want to inflict upon her another round of suffering and because I was convinced that the Angolan people were not grateful for our being on their territory because they saw us as an occupation force.

Because of my mother also, I refused to attend Compulsory Military Service; I was put at the age of 17 in jails like the La Cabaña prison. That was enough of social studies to make me be what I wanted and defend what I needed. And the psychiatrists diagnosed claustrophobia, and finally I was able to avoid the army.

The eyes of my mother were the large screen that dictated literature to me.

After she divorced my father, she married Luis, the great Luis, as you say, a lovely and profound man whom you knew very well. He was my paternal patron. He had great contradictions: He was immense in size and at times was like a kid my age. He was tough and sentimental. A man without deep education but with a surprising philosophy of life. He took care of me, my brothers, my nephews, and friends like you, with an sickly fervor.

My brothers taught me that above all in any dispute we were a family, and for even the smallest of reasons we were united to give each other strength and cooperation. My sister Mary, who has lived in Miami for over 20 years, has always been my second mother; since she was a girl she took on that role; from my birth I was her plaything. And when there were no cell phones, at least in Cuba, we had a day and a time when we both observed the moon; that was the way we met, through moon-gazing.

Because I accompanied my sister to the shore when she wanted to leave the country, to see them leave, I was put for 14 months in the most aberrant and abusive prison of any book that I’ve read on the topic. Not even in the novels describing South African prisons during apartheid did they suffer the injustices and the hunger that existed in the Cuban prisons.

My brothers were caught in the deep sea, it was a boat from INDER, and when they were returned, in order to escape, they threw the engine off the boat into the sea. But that didn’t impede them from being pulled in by the Coast Guard. They were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Later, me, for the crime of “conspiracy”.

Soon my mother found all her children in prison, in different prisons, and she was exhausted going from one prison to another. I will never forget her stoic figure coming through the moldy doors. Her way of demanding that the guards respect the supposed rights they granted us, and also the way she endured their jokes when she was asked if she were a lawyer, to which she answered that she was a Mother and that was enough. What happens is that many didn’t remember this, she answered them, and I had to watch all those violations through the bars without being able to defend her.

When she was gone, I felt for hours the pain of the bars on my face due to the despair and impotence I felt, because I could not protect her from those abusers who had no soul. All that anxiety we made her suffer, we were never able to make it up to her. There would be no way. Although she never complained, that’s why I tried hard to be the writer she admired who would make her proud. I could take her to literary readings and dedicate a book to her, which she took in her hands to accompany her in that painful moment that reminded me of the same impotence I felt before in jail.

B) The period when you were “Camilito”

That was the period of naivety. Military life always appealed to me. I wanted to be the Officer in Chief of Tactical Troops. But God wanted the opposite, despite everything, even the painful punishment of my mother on seeing us in prison. I thank God for having interrupted that path, because that same year I was supposed to begin my higher studies in the Military Academy.

Thanks to prison, I matured rapidly, skipping all the stages. I learned, in part, to understand human beings. I saw, felt their punishments, tears, desires, frustrations, dreams, and they permeated me deeply, making me a Doctor of Sociology of the System, and since then I carry those wounds with me. When I write, the saddest faces of the recluses who accompanied me on that voyage to Hell peep out; also the agony of the mothers who had to leave us there. The suffering was such that my subconscious obliged me to write, to drain off that anxiety through words, because I sometimes felt that it would explode inside me. Writing was my salvation and the thing that allowed me to endure that year and so much more without becoming insane, and since that time writing has been my salvation, the practice that allows me to resist every hour of governmental injustice.

Before going to jail, I never imagined I would be a writer. I detested writing because to me it seemed the work of weak people. But I didn’t know then the power of words, I didn’t know that a sentence could have the same power and destructive reach as a howitzer, and even more so, because a missile is used only once, while a sentence continues in time and detonates with the same force or more every time it’s mentioned.

C) The Luyanó neighborhood and your youth 

Luyanó was Paris. It had all the lights of the universe although there were often black-outs, as usual, which occurred more frequently in the Special Period. But that darkness was like a neon light. I couldn’t imagine my life without my neighborhood. There I had everything and felt like a king, in spite of being on the wrong side of the tracks, which I came to retrieve many years later, because those people seemed normal to me, good, unpredictable. I was happy, and I have pleasant memories of my past. The neighbors were like a large family. I still dream about my childhood and my friends’ grandparents. I always remember them in that time and space.

Now from a distance I wonder how I could stand it. Sometimes I visit the neighborhood. My daughter lives there and loves the place like I did, but when I go back the streets seem alien to me.

I give thanks for the advice of a friend’s father, who warned us that wasting time sitting around on the street was for losers. And I observed the men who remained for long hours in that place; I measured their lives and calculated their futures. The majority had prison tattoos, bullet and knife wounds from battles they had survived and for which they were respected.

Their messed-up lives frightened me so much that I didn’t even stop on the street when some friend called me. I kept walking on some pretext and hurriedly kept going. I was fleeing what I saw as my natural destiny, which terrified me. I escaped from those places as if they contained a virus that was just waiting for the right moment to invade and incubate in me.

Those I left there couldn’t emigrate, they passed their lives without leaving a trace, without contributing anything in their time, and what’s unfair or sad is that they never were aware of it, no one explained it to them. They assumed their destinies without complaining or having any higher ambition.

Translator’s notes:
*Huber Matos, a guerrilla chief, disagreed with the direction of the Revolution, was declared a traitor, and spent 20 years in jail (1959-1979).
**”They’re Already Coming ” is in the lyrics but the song is “Our Day is Coming


Translated by Regina Anavy, AnonyGY, Rafael Gomez, and William Fitzhugh

Interview December 2011

Posted to Angel’s blog: 5 April 2012

The Sword of Damocles over the Weekly Adelante; Libel and Legal Peril / Dora Leonor Mesa

In Cuba, using children for violent political acts has become repeated and dangerous — the well-known “Acts of Repudiation” — a kind of propaganda without the permission of the parents, harassing the children of people who do not sympathize with the government and other violations that appear in the Penal Code of the Republic of Cuba.

News from the Radio Marti program “Cuba today” and

They used the son of an opponent in order to judge that opponent’s political ideas”

On the 24th of February, 2012, the official weekly Adelante of Camagey Province published an article by the journalist Enrique Milanés León where he uses the child Dainel Gonzalez, seven years of age, from a family of government opponents, in order to judge his father for his father’s political ideas.

The publication of the local Communist Party titled “Incurable handicap who conspires against the country that keeps his son alive” takes upon itself to highlight the illness that Dainel suffers from, the one for which he receives free medical care and education.

“The father of this child contributes to the manipulation of the Cuban reality, without keeping in mind the efforts of the Revolution to attend to the suffering of his son,” Milanés León emphasized in one of his photo captions and in the second part of his work he refers to the father of this child and independent journalist Joan David González as “yet another who gets up and goes with difficulty” owing to the fact that he is missing one leg.

Without the permission of his parents, the press took photos of the child, meanwhile they came and even asked him to pose as if he were writing in his workbook.

“The child does confirm that this gentleman appeared before him, asked him several things even asking him if he would pose for him writing in his work book and when our son asked him for whom was this for, the journalist told him that it was for a Pioneers magazine( a children’s political magazine),”affirmed Joan David González.

Victim:Dainel Gonzalez, Seven years of age

Name of Mother:Diana Eliza

Name of Father:Joan David González

Address of the Family:Santa Cruz del Sur

Address of the victim’s school:Not available

Accost:to pursue, to pressure, to pester someone with bothersome tasks or demands.

Libel: Writing that denigrates or defames someone or something.

Presumed guilty:Enrique Milanés León, journalist for the official weeklyAdelanteof Camaguey Province, Cuba

Address of the victim’s school:Not available

Analysis of news not taken into account by the weeklyAdelante

1. The security of the school where Dainel González studies and that the boys and girls attend is very vulnerable because access of the press to the classrooms is prohibited in Cuba without an authorization from the local or provincial government. Neither is the entry of people outside the employ of the school permitted.

2. Other students are also at risk. The teacher was told that they were going to write a profile of the group. If it is true what the teacher alleges, this situation should be made known to the principal of the school because similar procedures have to be authorized directly by, at the very least, the town educational authorities.

3. The absence of the teacher from the classroom must be confirmed. If it is certain and without justification, then this is abandonment of the children during school hours. It would be advisable to reprimand if this conduct is routine and would be an additional factor that works against the security of the children.

“On that day of the photos, she was not in the classroom because when I picked up my son, he told me that the teacher wasn’t there,” continued Diana Eliza, the mother of the child, in her explanation.

4. There are contradictions in what the teacher describes: a characterization was going to be done of the group. And the questions of the journalist to the child: who was the teacher and how was she? The comments of the teacher raise more doubts than they clarify.

“I’m ashamed that I’ve been a participant in this. I never imagined that they were going to do this,” said Yaniusdy Betancourt to Diana Eliza. Then how many people entered the school? Who besides those attached to the school approached the child in one way or another?

5. The Cuban School of Journalism has a manual of ethics and a code of conduct. Also, Cuba is a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, an international legal tool and a binding agreement. Did the news article have the approval of an immediate supervisor, a middle manager, a supervisor of the reporting division or an editor in charge?

Journalists often gather information in a way similar to a police investigator or a historian when they compile verifications and can themselves see the necessity of checking the veracity of their notes in court. If someone attached to the profession wishes to break the rules, journalists of government media must learn to defend themselves. It’s not necessary to be an opponent of the government in order to go to jail. There are already people of the media industry in Cuban courts, some may even be accused in international courts. It wouldn’t be the first time, it even happens in democratic countries.

Translated by William Fitzhugh

May 4 2012

To be "a tiempo" (on time) and the fulfillment of legal terms / Yaremis Flores

By: Yaremis Flores

Mabel, the wife of Raúl Rodríquez Soto, incarcerated at Guanajay Prison, this past October, submitted a petition for parole to the Provincial Court of Artemisa. To date, no response has been received.

In Anglosaxon culture, punctuality is an inevitable custom. On timeis an expression in English whose meaning is “at the exact time”. If a reporter arrives late to an particular place, he loses the exclusive. If someone in search of a job arrives late to a job interview, it’s certain that they won’t be hired. If the goal is to maintain a friendship, a good job, or gain opportunities in life, one must understand this maxim.

In our country, to be “a tiempo” is complicated. However, Cubans must learn the honorable necessity of being punctual.

What’s worrisome is that the “relaxing” of schedules doesn’t occur only in the social sphere, Concerts, solemn ceremonies, meetings and other organized activities of state institutions never begin at an establish hour but rather “around ten in the morning” or “at about five this afternoon” as is habitually stated. The only exact times are closing times.

Within the offices of Judicial Administration, the same thing happens.The judges almost never hold court starting at 9:30 in the morning; the legally established hour. Neither is there given an official explanation to those present when there is a delay as prescribed by the rules of procedure. The announcement of sentences is late and the procedural terms are often incomplete.

These delays are symptoms of a weak etiquette or lack of respect for the citizen. Yet judges are not flexible when such terms are violated by others. Because if an individual not in compliance with a resolution appeals before a court a day after the expiration of the time limit, whether it be for any reason whatsoever, the appeal is rejected.

When a lawyer from the Legal Office is late with a file because more time is required to complete an analysis, the court imposes a fine of 25 pesos for each day of delay. I wonder what fine the Court will pay for the days that it delays in responding to Mabel’s petition?

Translated by William Fitzhugh

April 26 2012

Rafters Defenseless Before the Whims of the Captain of the Port / Laritza Diversent

Julio Cesar Rifa and Roger Pupo Fariñas are completely without legal defense and they have no way to remedy this situation. There is no lawyer to be found who wants to oppose the Captain of the Port of Havana for harm wrought against their legitimate rights

On the 17th of December of last year, the authorities surprised them, together with four others, in waters near the coast on a raft that they had built themselves, in a failed attempt at leaving the country. “There had been bad weather and we decided to return to port,” Pupo Fariñas confirmed.

On the third of March of this year, two and half months later, lieutenant colonel Jorge Luis Aluija Urgell issued a decision that affirmed that the six rafters had committed a serious infraction. “They constructed a crude method of departure in which they later navigated Cuban waters without the permission of the office of the Captain of the Port,” as was detailed in the decision.

In 1994, by political decree, under the auspices of protection granted by international treaties (migratory agreements), the Cuban state decided not to criminalize Cubans who leave the country illegally by way of sea in precarious, usually homemade, vessels that put their lives at risk.

Nevertheless, the government, by way of the office of the Captain of the Port, prosecutes administratively when these departures are found on the coast or at sea, for violation of standards for possession and operation of departing vessels in national waters.

In Cuba, there is a system in effect that holds back on fines and other measures such as seizure and confiscation, for violations of administrative positions that don’t constitute a crime, so-called personal infractions. Up until now, the government has enacted more than 90 laws regarding misdemeanors.

There exist fourteen infractions regarding the possession and operation of vessels ready to go to sea, ranging in seriousness from serious to very serious, punishable by fines that start at 500 pesos and go up to 10,000 pesos and include confiscation.

Yandi Vidal Cruz Alfonso, 22 years old, Renny Leyva Risco, 26, Alexander Lara Céspedes, age 36, Ricardo Mera Brides, age 36 also, and Julio Cesar Rifa Rivero, 33 years old, were all fined three thousand pesos in moneda nacional*while Roger Pupo Fariñas was compelled to pay four thousand pesos.

A repeat violation in the commission of serious infractions, or infractions considered light or serious incurred at the same time, are punishable by a fine of three thousand to ten thousand pesos.

Roger has, aside from this infraction, 12 attempts at leaving the country. In December of 2006, he was detained while returning to the coast and interrogated by officials of State Security but was not fined. Julio has made five attempts and in four of them was not discovered by the authorities.

The Captain of the Port in his decision acknowledged that the rafters have the right to appeal his decision. The young men in this case sought legal assistance from the main office of the Cuban Legal Association, directed by Wilfredo Vallín, Esq. The lawyers of this independent organization drew up the wording of their petition.

“The declaration of December 16 by the Captain of the Port of Havana was issued after the deadline,” they maintained in their allegations. “This became an ineffective legal act for not having complied with the establishedformalities, in this case, the terms for the application of the declaration,” they argued.

The Captain of the Port refused to accept the petition. The lawyers of the Cuban Legal Association recommended that they not pay the fine. Still, the rules that govern the system of misdemeanors warn that in order to appeal a misdemeanor, one must first comply with and fulfill the terms of the penalty.

Fines are doubled upon lack of payment within thirty days following their imposition. After two months of non-payment, steps are taken for their payment by way of withdrawal from bank accounts, withholding of salary, pension, or any other form of income connected to the person being fined.

The rafters were not satisfied. Their most recent move was to request the services of a lawyer from the Legal Collective who would represent them in a legal case against the Captain of the Port. The Law of Civil Procedure currently spells out a procedure for appeals, within judicial channels, of the administrative decisions of State bodies that infringe upon established legal rights.

Julio Cesar Rifa Rivero and Roger Pupo Fariñas appeared at the main offices of the two legal collectives located in the Vedado and Arroyo Naranjo municipalities of Havana. They attempted to engage the services of four lawyers. All declined to represent them. The rafters assume that, perhaps, and only perhaps, the lawyers fear filing a motion against a branch of the Ministry of the Interior.*

Translator’s notes:

*Cuba has two currencies. The Cuban peso (CUP), also known as “national money” is the currency wages are paid in; one CUP is worth about four cents U.S. The Cuba Convertible Peso (CUP) is pegged one-to-one to the dollar, although transaction fees and a “penalty” for exchanging U.S. dollars, makes it the rough equivalent of eighty to ninety cents U.S. A fine of 3,000 CUP is roughly the equivalent of six to eight months’ wages.

**The Ministry of the Interior (MININT ) is the government agency responsible for law enforcement in all of Cuba. This includes the ordinary duties of crime prevention, criminal investigation and prosecution, immigration control, passport issuance, and extends into oversight of dissidents, issuance or denial of exit permits, and by way of the General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI), intelligence gathering inside and outside the country including the acquisition of technologies from outside the country deemed necessary for government operations. Its operations are said to be modeled after the East German Stasi.

Translated by William Fitzhugh

April 16 2012

Mothers of the Accused Threatened in the Case of the Jeweler / Laritza Diversent

This last March 23rd, two officials of the Department of TerritorialInvestigations (DTI) and the military Counterintelligence, respectively, threatened the mothers of the mother of Jesus Daniel Forcada Portillo and Ramon Echevarria Fernandez, who have been sentenced to 35 years in prison for murder, with a worsening of the case of their sons because of signs that appeared in Mantilla, a working class neighborhood of the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo.

“On March 20, there appeared several signs in Mantilla denouncing the injustice committed against our sons” explained Adelaida Portillo Heredia, mother of Jesus Daniel. “The officials wanted to know who put the flyers up and we don’t know anything about that” she added. The climate of tension in the streets increased with the arrival of the Pope to Cuba

Portillo Heredia confirmed also that the officials threatened to obstruct justice in the case of her son. “They told me that it was worsening the case if signs continued to appear, although I had contacted the police and the prosecutor and told them I was not going to be able to correct this, not even with the lawyer of the case,” referring to the possibility of filing an appeal of the sentence handed down by the Havana Court this past third of March

She also revealed that they had threatened Aida Echevarria Fernandez, the mother of Ramón with holding up her exit from the country and the return to Cuba of one of her sons who resides in the U.S.

The officials asserted to the mother of Jesus Daniel that the signs were all over the city and they showed her one. According to Adelaida, the flyers accused Esther Fernández Almieda, 60 years old and the widow of the jeweler, Humberto Gonzales Otaño as the person responsible for his death and of having paid the police, district attorneys and judges to avoid being incriminated. Also on the flyer, they asked why the families of the Five Heroes* appealed for justice all over the world while they could not and because no-one was listening to them, they would appeal for help from the Pope”

Portillo Heredia also affirmed that they had sent more than a dozen written complaints to different authorities motivated by the departure from the country of Mrs. Fernández Almeida during the investigations and asserted that she is recently overseas. The wife of the jeweler gave her declaration as the only eyewitness of the murder and surviving victim in the trial but the court did not ask her about her travel outside the country in spite of continuing complaints of the family members of the accused.

Translator’s note:

* A reference to the five Cubans convicted in a Miami court of being unregistered foreign agents and given long sentences in the U.S. The Cuban government has maintained a high level of publicity regarding “the 5″.

Translated by: William Fitzhugh

April 3 2012

A 2nd Colloquium on Reggaeton and Problematic Social Situations in Cuba / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Reggaeton: a love story; Better bayuti[1] than dictatuti

In real time, it’s illegible but the Cuban press has come to be very creative if it is read with a five year lag time, “chabacaneria”[2], luxury, lechery, lamentation, vice, consumption of toxicity, banality, corny-ness, trinket shops, flamboyant attires, cheesy bargains, and an ecetera half ethical and half ethnical. The self-titled “Cuban Youth Daily”put forward its best effort in the beginning to frame the coordinated condemnations of reggaeton, even if a bit late, with the flow of time and money, and has attempted several baby steps towards tolerance.

Why would the Cuban intellectual have to think or at least give some weight to reggaeton? Why isn’t it reggaeton that intrudes on the theory chorus of the cultural realm? To think is to possess. We want to put all phenomenon in the civil waistline of power. We can’t stand to be stuck outside the the flow of sense that, for its part, is a source of capital. We know that we can legitimize or stigmatize a genre of music that, while the more it goes along with a big mouth and sticks to people, the more voiceless and vulnerable it seems facing the Institution that is always a bit inquisitorial. for the moment we fool along (we make ourselves the fools). It’s still early to be passing judgement and maybe it was our turn before for a good piece of cake.

Reggaeton as a form of linguistic violence has always captivated me as a distortion of the Cuban norm (unconscious Cabrera infantilisms or translated captions something like the movie La Naranja Mecánica[The Mechanical Orange]). Any break-out or emptying of the language fascinates me, even when it closes upon itself and doesn’t blow up in the face of the social consensus.

In terms of textual terrorism, the territorial reggaeton slang in truth promised much more than it produced, but in Cuba this inefficacy far from being a sin, at these heights already, should be a constitutional preamble. We don’t come to any libertarian limits. We cross the line, yes, but only from a heavy conservatism, never out of fashion. Cuba as commodity.

The strange family sagas of the first texts that I have a poor memory of, with their twisted Oedipus-isms and certain common, criminal-esque places, soon were dissolving in the friendly media of the caricature. The themes ended before being completely explored, even before turning out to be interesting for our most restless intellectuality (worthy oxymoron).

There remain then the eternal twitches of Cubanity, the alpha macho uprooted or predatory, the mean and voracious girl, the consuming at an open bar (the CUC [3] as the measure of all things, the almighty buck as the only real event to be remembered in anniversaries) complete forgetting of those who died needlessly, hedonism before historicism, a certain “sexual promiscuity” and a lot of “moral relativism” (that still generates panic in the chorus line of our insular churches), and all the other aesthetics that pass for icons, brand name clothing, tattoos, glitzy jewelry, luxury cars, purebred pets, the mass orgy as a substitute for the organization of the masses, in the end, a final assault on all those delicate distractions that the ideological elite hid for decades by the frugal instinct of self-conservation.

When it’s allowed (with some possible exceptions) to be aired in official media, reggaeton pays homage to the popularity they charge for it under the table [4]; and pardon me those of you present here from the left, this bad metaphor, the announcers and radio producers, among other new actors of the Cuban post-socialism of the 21st century). The Quinquenio de Oro of this class does not stain its fingers with the ink of the “best pens of the Republic” as have been called its songwriters a bit in the style of “the best minds of my generation” of Allen Ginsburg, howled a lot but seldom criticized. More like attendance records and prohibitive prices for their spectacular spectacles not like the cock fighting rings but like vaudeville. No-one loses. Not even those who lose their heads only to lose their clothes in public in a corporal climax of the corporate show (there was even someone who involved their skin in the first comandante-esque tattoo in five discursive decades of the Revolution).

Precisely then, after the first putative death of Fidel, it was the Cuban state that began to find itself outside the game, victimized budgetarily, reggaeton-icized by an emerging industry much better than its functionaries. Tickets were running somewhere between the corrupt and the legal, between the clandestine disc burners and the video clips of national television (contaminating the increasingly professional artists and technicians) between the Makumba and Miami (it’s only an example) and the power doesn’t know how to boycott this short cut direct to the future, no, to the extreme future.

The little dogs, who knows if from the political police (it’s only another example), gave a hand to the ministerial marionettes. Here or there in every six months there rises some brilliant conference that rebukes reggaeton in the sacred name of the little people, that fascist totalitarian defect of the disguised demagogue of pedagogy. When the Premier of Culture himself appeared on the Mesa Redonda[5] of Cubavision Internacional(which is our de facto Parliament before the world) a fake head was chosen and it was so simple to deconstruct the remains of a slang that was barely mumbling genital syllables.

Case closed, comical circus , semantical of semen cyclical: chabacaneria,luxury, lust, lamentable, vice consumption of toxics, banality, corny, trinket shop, flamboyant attire, cheesy bargains (put on the hot underwear-uty, take down the wild par-uty, spit all-uty out the mouth-uty because the dictator-uty is here to order you to stop-uty [6]).

To the new class of non-consumers of Reggaeton, you’re within your right to defend the status quo of your governancead infinitum. For lack of rash intellectual attempts, the transition in Cuba could have well been able to slip into the background of the neighborhoodof the last tam-tam[7]. A lesson is necessary in order to expose the lack of solidarity of the trade (not even a single collection of signatures against the censorship) and the shunning by steps of its most successful leaders .

Now in the second stage of the rhetorical recruiting of Reggaeton as state lever, for sure a mutual pact in terms of taxes and resolutions against the delinquency of debt and infractions, ethical codes and sanctions including even for reasons of grammar, symbolic management salaries and permits in passports in order to allow departure from and return to the country with money, more so the customary community signboards, clearly, and perhaps these colloquiums or lectures where, to legitimize or stigmatize this idiot son of the post-modernity that, meanwhile the more lap dancing, bumping and grinding gets more promiscuity to the people, the more mute and defenseless it leaves us in the face of our own inquisition that’s always a bit institutional. We fool around for the moment (we make ourselves the fools ). It’s never too late to pass sentence and I believe it will be our turn before that nice slice of cake.

Translator’s notes:

[1] The word “bayu” in Cuban Spanish means a wild, orgiastic party. Adding a syllable to the end of that word enables reggaeton to rhyme the word bayu-ti with “dictadura” (dictatorship)which has the same syllable added to it to make dicatu-ti

[2] “Chabacaneria”: crass , loud , mannerisms of the street including vulgar sexual talk.

[3] Cuba has two currencies. There is the traditional CUP (Cuban peso, also known as “moneda nacional” or national money), and then there is the coveted CUC – Cuban Convertible Peso, thevalue of which is tied 1:1 to the American dollar. CUC enables the holder to purchase goods at government stores that sell goods from overseas, quality foods, luxury items in addition to anything that CUP can buy as well as purchasing or selling such items between private parties.

[4] the expression “under the table” in English is rendered as “by the left” in Spanish which is why the writer apologizes for the use of the metaphor.

[5] Mesa Redonda or Round Table is a nightly show on Cuban television where prominent academics and members of the government discuss matters of national and international importance.

[6] A satirical change of lyrics from a reggaeton song by Osmani Garcia about the joys of oral sex. The song can be heard at

[7] Drum circle or a drum of African origins.

Translated by: William Fitzhugh

February 25 2012

Del Llano Flames Out With "Veni Vidi Vinci" / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

In “Vinci” the episodic film on the life of Leonardo, Eduardo Del Llano borders on indigence.

“Don’t fool yourselves; my film is “buenisima” as its screenwriter and director Eduardo del Llano rebukes us in his eponymous blog.

The sentence could not be more precise. That something is buenisima is said in Cuba in television adventures as they approach the final, definitive conflict. And it is not that the unique location of the film Vinci(2011) has room for many heroes or much action. It’s that by its duration and visual splendor this work could well aspire to be the final chapter of one of those “historic” series that routinely occur at La Cabaña[1] (There’s no art direction that can manage to conceal the truth about this jail in Havana that is nowadays portrayed so festively). And, as in any self-respecting final chapter, in Vinci everything is a bit sudden and brought on by the really long hair of an almost pre-pubescent Leonardo.

Enveloped in a little war of e-mails without any real consequence in the realm of Cuban culture, Vinci finally debuted in January on the Island and did so with nothing less than a monster-ography that bragged publicly that it was by the same author of the censored short film Monte Rouge,a canonical little work that put Eduardo del Llano between the La Jiribilla[2] and the CIA, between the dissidents and the G2[3] (wake me up if we are not already in that transition!).

This time, as was customary in each independent audiovisual of his Decalogue of Nicanor (Sex Machine Productions) it was not necessary to clarify in the captions that exhibition of the film was prohibited in the United States. Perhaps Del Llano intuited that, from coast to coast of the lands of the exile, that on no “channel of the enemy” would they be interested in pirating and conducting an “anti-Cuban campaign” with this, his most recent “buenisima” film.

Vinci is, with all and for the bluff of all, in spite of the resume of its director, the film of a beginner and those involved in it should know it, beyond the protest signs or solidarity in reaction to its exclusion from the competitive round of the 2011 Havana Festival of New Latin American Cinema. A first class crew including the director of photography Raúl Pérez Ureta and the Argentinian composer Osvaldo Montes who preferred to lower expectations of the movie to “a good film”, is no guarantee of a graceful coming out of Veni-Vidi-Vinci.

Praxis vs art, truth vs lies, acting vs lecturing, desire vs reason, who knows if also capitalism vs utopia: thematically the Renaissance was that, a magister ludi’s hat where it is possible to pull the rabbit out of any conflict. Better that we don’t make a game of the erudite exegetes of this Golgotha with a happy ending (Vinci as acronym of INRI).

More than with Mick Jagger, there’s a lot of marvelous affectation in the Diego of Jorge Perugorría in the Leonardo of Héctor Medina accused of sodomy (although this kiss of the woman doesn’t “spider” like that of the Brazilian director Héctor Babenco[4]).

Be it collective unconscious, or evolutionary convergence, there’s much of the dim and noble David from Senel Paz’s script for the film Strawberry and Chocolate,in the two common prisoners who share a cell with the more political Da Vinci who, “determined” in the opposite, demands, like a servile Piñerian serf, to wear the robe of the underclass. One of his lascivious compañeros, the illustrious and fatherly serial killer (Manuel Romero) plays the seemingly inexcusable in the style of the maniacal mimicry of the Cuban poet Delfin Prats in the documentary Extravagant Beings. The other, a pickpocket with a chicken mind and rotten teeth (Carlos Gonzalvo) is a cut-and-paste version of the humor of the Cuban TV show Kicking the Can that is the only social critique even barely allowed on our national television: the idiot as the hypostasis of the intellectual.

Right at the halfway point of Vinci, a glimpse of lucidity is sighted in the false Florence of 1476 which doesn’t escape from its cubicle at the Havana Book Fair. After seeing the placing of the immaculately clean feet of Leonardo (was he floating over the filth of the props that were his cell?) there then, literally, occurs an animation between the bars; a bird flying that no critic dares to cite in order to not commit the sin of intertextual ignorance. But if it had been conceived the other way around; an hour of animated cartoons and only a few seconds of realistic filming, (for example the rats of the CENPALAB[5] breed) the Tomas Piard[6] type ballets of Vinci and its overacted dialogues would be pardoned now as a cult piece.

“Is it that you would have had to create a native Da Vinci?”, is the question in the more rigorous Eduardo del Llano interviews. Worse, impossible. Everything in this opera primais an indigenous-ism on the verge of indigence. Without mentioning the fatality of the fauna of a Fabelo[7] that is too fabelesque to be believable. On top of that, a cameo appearance by the director at the very end falls into the ridiculous; Eduardo del Llano in museum armor straight out of the adventures of Asterix and Obelix.

Vinci is the type of aesthetic tragedy caused by being within the church and in an institution. For years now the ICAIC[8] has been a straitjacket for Eduardo del Llano and both sides know it without saying it. The author of Monte Rouge shouldn’t use his microphones with such mediocrity. Ready to speak, we can only speak until State Security separates us as in the German drama The Lives of Others. Del Llano runs the risk of boring the agents who “attend” him and he makes them suspect that he is up to something more intense than just the second season of a Nicanor. Anyway he’s already a lost case for whom they will never let down their guard, in as much as he defends the “ideal of a democratic socialism that still doesn’t exist.”

or precisely because of it!

[1] The fortress of La Cabaña is posed dramatically on a bluff overlooking the entrance to Havana harbor. It was built by Spain in 1763 and has been the scene of many turns in the history of Cuba as a military installation. Captured by the forces of Che Guevara in the final hours of the Cuban Revolution, La Cabaña became a grim prison and the location of Revolutionary tribunals that ordered the execution of many of the former regime’s operatives. Today it is a tourist destination. The hour of nine ‘o clock is marked every evening by “cañonazo“, the firing of a cannon by men dressed as Spanish colonial soldiers. It is an easy choice as a setting for historical dramas.

[2] A reference to the official magazine of Cuban culture La Jiribilla.

[3] TheG2is Cuba’s intelligence service known for watching over, and arresting, dissidents.

[4] Hector Babenco is the director of the movie “Kiss of the Spider Woman”(1985).

[5] CENPALAB is the Spanish acronym of the National Center for Laboratory Animal Production, a personal project of Fidel Castro that carried out arcane experiments in milk production using at times, cattle breeds imported from Canada at great expense during the sixties and seventies.

[6] Tomas Piard is a director and producer of many films and television shows shown in several countries and has taught in both Spain and Cuba at university levels . Born in Havana in 1948, he has been awarded the Order of Artistic Merit by the Cuban Ministry of Culture.

[7] Roberto Fabelo Cuban painter and illustrator (b. 1951 Camaguey) of international renown , illustrator of Gabriel Marquez’s100 Years of Solitude,whose work sought by collectors, is on display at the Cuban National Museum of Fine Arts.

[8] ICAIC is the Instituto de Arte y Industria Cinematográficos (Institute of the Art and Industry Filmmaking) formed by the Cuban government in the earliest days of the revolution to promote non-commercial cinema that often carried overtly political themes.

Translated by William Fitzhugh

February 10 2012

Condemned for Rape Without a DNA Test / Yaremis Flores

Yaremis Flores

On the tenth of January 2006, the Provincial Court of Las Tunas condemned Ramos Utra to 20 years in jail for the rape of a six-year old girl. The accused, 46 years old, declared himself innocent. Nevertheless the judge sentenced him convinced that “the facts occurred in this way and no other, according to the testimony of the minor”.

The victim recognized as hers underwear found in the home of the accused, with which she was supposedly tied and gagged. But the investigation found no physical evidence corroborating that it was this underwear and no other, that used in the crime.

According to judicial authorities, the convicted took advantage of his having found himself alone with the child and “giving free rein to prurient impulses, penetrated her, performing movements pertinent to the act”. The following day, the child told her mother what had happened and “she alerted the authorities”.

It turned out to be credible to the judges that although and when the accused had “aberrant desires”, it was the child alone who presented with raised fissures in her genitals, unnoticed by the mother who did not suspect what had happened.

Although three witnesses testified that the accused was not alone with the minor at any time, they were dismissed by the Court “not for being favorable to the accused but for showing a marked interest in helping him” the judges confirmed at the time of sentencing, when they also threw out a laboratory test that affirmed that there was no match between the semen found and the blood of the accused.

The lawyer for the defense proposed a DNA exam of the underwear that the minor was wearing on the day of the crime. The judges denied this and validated what had been declared by a police investigator who assured a match between the semen and the blood type of the supposed guilty, insufficient evidence in any just legal system, to overturn the presumption of innocence of the accused

Cuban judges judge sheltered in a “free” assessment of the test. A flawed assessment allows that “you may arrive at any decision but justify it well” according to the President of the Chamber of the Court of Havana which conveys its “insights” to the less experienced. In this manner, the accused must bet on the good faith of those who judge them.

“A delayed examination of DNA, beyond 24 hours, successfully revoked a wrongful judicial finding in the United States, in the case of one sentenced to life imprisonment for sexual assault” according to a press release published in the official press Granma on the 12th of December, 2005. More than 160 people have been freed thanks to the test, in this country.

Ramos Utra has slept more than two thousand nights in prison and insists on his innocence. The possibilities that a trustworthy laboratory analyzes the genetic information of his blood at this point are zero. This is because the Court ordered the destruction by burning of the underwear containing the semen and the panties found in his home.

Translated by: William Fitzhugh

March 27 2012