His Own War / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Saturday, August 7, Cuban television aired another chapter in the media tragicomedy of Fidel Castro Ruz, who chaired the special session of the so-called People’s Power National Assembly, to which he spoke about the disaster that will be triggered in the Persian Gulf if the U.S. government dares to underestimate the threats of Iran, whose government is developing a plan of nuclear weapons, destabilizing the region.

The parliamentary track became a pre-scripted session of claiming the limelight. Castro resumed his role of universal guru and the deputies confirmed their loyalty to the tyrant, interrupting him with applause, complacent questions, and congratulations on his 84th birthday. Without moving from his chair, the former leader showed off his dramatic poses, enhanced by his raving verbal and mental excesses; meanwhile, the entourage of fawningly servile adulators, avidly listened to the Caudillo’s prophecies.

More than a conclave of national interest, the Saturday assembly between the despot and his legislators, became a meeting of shadow plays that accentuated the desperation. Neither the yawns of the Caudillo’s brother, multiplied by zero among so many blunders, nor Alarcon’s caution in conducting the “debates,” justified the irresponsible diatribe of the aged commander, sick from power and prominence.

In this role play of Fidel Castro he fired his last cartridges against the people of Cuba, suffocated by half a century of totalitarianism. Castro, like Stalin, Mao and Franco, intends to rule until the end of his days, with the the reins of power in the hands of his worshipers, whose veneration and servility are beyond doubt.

Castro fought his own war against our island, though disguised his legacy of deaths, mass exoduses, economic devastation, collective misery, generalized corruption and external dependency; camouflaged in speeches from his own barricades of the Cold War, when he was exporting the Socialist Utopia and destabilizing the countries in the region.

The cynicism of the cacique and his vassals elicits guffaws more than sympathy. His recent public interventions, the “reflections” that his amanuenses write in his name, and the 800-page tome on the strategy of his victory, represent his closing mutterings.

In reviewing the Parliament session of August 7, the foreign correspondents accredited in Havana will be respectful and circumspect. Perhaps Patricia Grog, Andrea Rodríguez and Fernando Ravsberg will show their admiration for the island patriarch and describe the warnings against the United States, which now “seeks to humiliate the people of Iran,” whose ayatollahs are Castro’s allies.

Cubans, weary of tragicomedies and verbal bombast, know that Castro’s prophecies of war and the applause of his legislators, are one more branch on the tree of cynicism. More of the same from the pit of inertia.

August 13, 2010

Prison Diary (4) (Hunger) / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo: Karen Miranda

The sergeants collect the empty trays, so well cleaned by the tongues of the detainees they don’t need to be washed.

The sound of the last door being shut leaves a silence that makes them feel more trapped, and the air, scarce and hot, suffocates them.

No detainee would even dare to raise their voice to avoid being taken to the punishment cell for indiscipline. The sergeants walk slowly, stopping to spy through the doors and listen to what the prisoners say when the apathy and despair of seclusion provokes a feverish state of anxiety that spills out into idle talk, and later they denounce them to the higher-ups.

When the silence feels eternal, some sadistic mechanism stops the night, making it last longer than usual; and there comes a whisper, a word grinding at the metal doors, sliding on the floor like a glass of water; and the detainees are frightened because they know well the voices of each sergeants, the steps, the way they let their boots fall when they walk, how they clear their throats and even how they snore. So, from their cells, they are all intrigued because they can’t decipher whose voice escapes like a lament. This time it is not someone who dreams and calls out for a loved one or shouts the name of an officer telling him to stay away, now someone shouts from a cell, every word pronounced forcefully; at first you can’t hear what he’s saying, then you understand something like, “I’m hungry.”

The sergeants quickly walk past the cells, searching, like dogs with rabies, for where the voice is coming from; they open the slot, tell him to shut up, but the detainee talks, and through the orifice of the door the words escape with more clarity, forgive me, sergeant, but I don’t know how to bear hunger, I can’t stand it, a thousand pardons, but I have always been a man with a good appetite; the guards continue advising him it is better to remain silent, that if he continues it will go very badly for him; the prisoner begins to plead, and the plea becomes tears. They warn him that later they won’t be able to do anything when he wants to stop, now is the time; but the detainee cries like a baby and asks forgiveness, he was never a man who caused problems, I never have been, please, understand me.

The sound of the padlock is heard, and then of the bolt being violently opened, then the screech of the hinges. The man’s panic grows, his weeping increases while the menacing voices of the sergeants question him; he begs them not to hit him; and the guards tell him then shut up and they’ll leave and there won’t be any problems; they insist that he understand they are giving him more chances than usual, but the detainee claims that they don’t understand him, the problem is that he can’t stand the hunger, it’s something that’s not in me, I don’t know how to control it.

We hear a few blows, and then he cries. The sergeants ask him if he is finally going to shut up, and the prisoner in the midst of his uncontrollable crying explains that even a piece of stale bread is enough, a tiny scrap of leftovers, a piece of sweet potato. The guards realize that not even the blows will shut him up and decide to take him to the punishment cell, what they call “the hammock.” His weeping turns into screams of panic, not the hammock, please, not there. And the sergeants force themselves on him to immobilize him to be able to move him. The detainee twists his body, curls up like spring so he can burst out and escape the hands of jailers, until he can’t move any more and they drag him in front of the other cells. He keeps crying and apologizing, he doesn’t want them to see him as an antisocial, he’s a good man, but with a big appetite, this is his only crime. Not the hammock, I’m afraid, he says. They take off his clothes, as the punishment requires, throw him in the cell and close it; but the soldiers know they haven’t done much, the detainee keeps asking for food because he is a man with a good appetite, he’s convinced that this excuse is enough to make them understand.

The sergeants open the cell, they warn him if he keeps acting up it’s going to make them furious. But nothing shuts him up, he asks for food over and over. One of them enters, desperate, and hits him over and over until he realizes he won’t shut up as long as he’s conscious. Another soldier brings handcuffs for his hands and feet and some bandages to tape his mouth. They struggle with him a while until the voice of the detainee can no longer be heard. Then they slam the door and from the footsteps of the sergeants and the way they let their boots fall, the detainees conclude that they are tired. The silence returns, a silence that had been forgotten for a few minutes.

At dawn, they open the punishment cell. Nobody has been able to sleep thinking of the man in the “hammock,” on the damp floor bathed by the drops of water that inevitably fall from the ceiling and crash against his body; they know it’s unbearable to spend an entire day there.

When they take the bandage off his mouth he’s still crying, now with less strength, but you can still hear his voice: I’m hungry, please, I’m a man with a good appetite.

Translated by Raul G.

August 29, 2010

POEMS FROM VOICES 1 / Jesús Díaz / Posted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REQUIEM

by Jesús Díaz

This city was born of the harbor’s salt

and there it grew hot, irreverent,

its sex open to the sea

its clitoris guiding sailors

like a lighthouse on the bay.

And inside Chinatown, Tropicana,

Floridita, Alí Bar, Los Aires Libres,

orchestras of women jamming

a chachachá danced by aliens.

She talked, muzzled,

in a muddy mix of Yoruba and Castille,

of gypsy and Catalan, of Babel and Congo,

and all this patois, this creole,

the sweet streaky Esperanto

of Moore hullabaloos, Cantonese chitchat,

Jewish Jerusalemite jargon,

barbaric Spanglish of bars and bayous.

Stupefied, she confused Lebanese with Turks,

Asturians and Basque with Galicians,

Ukrainian Israelites with Polish,

all together and in sync screaming

on tables of tasteless linens

covered with yellow tamales,

gray crab, red shrimp,

the whitest rices dovetailed

publicly with black beans,

plantains like dicks and for dessert

a papaya open like a dare,

a great cigar and a gulp of coffee,

Satan’s preferred infusion, black and smoking.

An expert in contraband she dressed

with brandies, Chinese silks,

or well she wandered in rums or rags

and prayed Sunday at dawn

in churches of Gothic deceit,

false romantic, Baroque colonnades

sustaining the tricky art nouveau of the mansions.

Full of complexes, shameless, ridiculous,

she enjoyed a dark pleasure

impressing the more famous whores:

in her bay a gray Christ,

contaminated by the slow vapors of the party.

There, in the womb, a toy Prado,

a vacuous Capitol and skyscrapers

that never touched a clouds’ ass.

Euphoric tropical peacock

in the stained glass and ocelli of its sea-reflected tail,

her profound pain grazed above all

listening to soap operas on the radio,

snakes of the hopelessness invented by her

that traveled the world proclaiming

the insatiable evil of men.

Then, at night,

she showed her vampire fangs

elevating a hymn for the slaughters

to the music and lyric of La Guantanamera.

And in the break of day

she even gambled her butt cheeks

which she usually lost with cheer.

She gave herself to joy and strange rituals

and awoke dancing, the fucker,

boleros, mambos, rumbas,

in shindigs, cocktail parties and balls,

the devil’s revelry, her most revered angel.

Nothing moved her, not even

the blood her children offered

by burglarizing the Tyrant’s Palace.

She kept carousing, it was said

that nobody could romance her,

shut her music off and leave her

like a faithful wife, so tempered.

A little later the warriors came

reciting what verses

what songs, compositions, madrigals,

to make her forget centuries of partying?

With what wile did they manage to put a spell on her?

She fell in love with virtue like a whore.

Asked for forgiveness on her knees

to expiate her multiple sins.

Sacrificed her congas, her lies,

her scented soaps, her trifles,

her luxuries, passions, outbursts.

She ate a pair of eggs on a frugal table.

Screamed pure and happy until becoming hoarse.

She waited in a long line, interminable,

and to her great dismay, sometimes,

while with a saint or a man

she suffered the delirious nostalgia of the frolic.

Her pronouncement was not enough.

The sons of bitches, us, her bastards,

denied her three times. She never again had

nailpolish, not even

a sip of reflecting alcohol

to take to her lips in her frenzies.

And if she screamed with thirst, we did not hear her.

We were clamoring for the world

Translator: Joanne Gomez

August 10, 2010

Thirteen Hours of Punishment / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

On Monday, August 16, at 6:45 AM, the political police burst into my house to detain me. I was forced to sit in a chair in the lobby, where everyone passed by, of the police station in San German for thirteen hours. It was a punishment, I was nauseated, I had a constant migraine, and muscle pains that lasted for days. I was unable to do anything, anything but pray during the intervals between both of the interrogations, and wait for my release or that they would finally put me in the general prison barracks that the G2 has in the Pedernales neighborhood.

I returned to the love of my relatives after 8:00 that night. One day, I will not return home so quickly, I know it. Now, I write while I can. My wife also suffered her par, spending the entire day in front of the Police Station, informing the press by phone, leaving voice-mails and being on the lookout to see if they sent me back to Holguin.

The week before I had posted the report about human rights which the Eastern Democratic Alliance released that week and which they also published on various web sites or sent to various organizations which monitored human rights in countries which violated them.

I saw it coming, I even had a premonition dream about it (it has happened more than once to me).

I have searched the Human Rights Covenants, including the one about “Principles for the Protection of All People Subjected to Any Form of Detention or Prison.” In paragraph a) it says: ” By ‘arrest’ is meant the act of apprehending a person who has supposedly committed a crime or by an act of authority.”

Amongst the different norms about torture, and cruel or degrading treatment, there is nothing about sitting a person for 13 hours in a chair without access to any food, simply because in a specific place in the region where I live, they were going to undertake a peaceful activity, or for divulging the testimonies of horror that I have seen, as it seemed was my case.

Their arguments seem to run out quickly, the corporal punishments assume the morality of those who have the power. This reminded me of when I was a child and I misbehaved, like now. I have always been irreconcilably disobedient, I don’t think I will change at this point in my life.

On Monday the 23rd, I hadn’t even gotten up from bed when I once again heard some loud banging on my door. I had to live through the same police story, only with the difference that now they told me about reports denouncing human rights violations, about my blog, and about the independent journalism which I do. They reminded me that to write, like I do, many others spent much time in prison since 2003. They told me about the Gag Law which mentions something about 25 years behind bars.

I could only think of Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, of his brother Nestor, of Enyor Diaz Allen, Roberto Gonzalez Pelegrin, and Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz who were all imprisoned incommunicado, over there in olive-green Guantanamo. They were paying for the crimes committed by the police of Baracoa.

Now I wonder, what will the regime consider my next prank to be. I think about the path that has brought this country the totalitarian power that is eating away at itself. What will be my next punishment?

Note: This post was delayed 15 days from being published on “Crossing the Barbed Wire,” but it was finally able to be posted.

Translated by Raul G.

August 29, 2010

TAKEN FROM VOICES 1 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

REPORT AT THE FOOT OF THE HORDE

Orlando Lius Pardo Lazo

I believed in the knowledge of writing.

I believed in the power of freedom.

So when a colleague called me from Mexico, inviting me to collaborate on a magazine entitled Letras Libres, I had no option but to accept on two accounts.

The editors wanted a group picture. In public, under midday light, without the shadows of the Island of Cuba. Currently, in full action of March 2010. An intense snapshot, capable of inaugurating the White Spring in this city without seasons. They asked, of course, for a picture of the Ladies in White in their intrepid pilgrimage leveled next to a Havana that had become the Mecca of the acts of repudiation.

I accepted. I declined. I accepted. I declined again. Then I accepted again. I was afraid to be witness. I felt political panic, not only of writing, but of my own pixels set free. The title of the magazine suddenly sounded like an oxymoron: free letters, what for…?

After a week of doubt and a megabyte worth of e-mails, I felt like the pettiest being in the universe. I decided to do it, or I would never take a worthy picture or grow as an author: an entity with aesthetic authority, even against all types of static authority. Being a chronicler of my age couldn’t turn me in accomplice of that or any other social crisis. I sent my colleague a lapidary email: “yes.”

That dawn from Saturday to Sunday I did not sleep. At 7 in the morning I took the labyrinthic P1 bus route, from the proletarian suburb of the Virgen del Camino to the bourgeois district where the Parroquia de Santa Rita is climbed, in Miramar’s Fifth Avenue.

As soon as I entered, a lady climbed on me. I thought that would be the end. But she just called me aside and asked me to put the camera away inside the church. She was right, I had not considered the commercial obscenity of my lenses in that sacred ground.

I put the Canon in the backpack and I asked the lady for a thousand pardons. I probably stuttered. As (bad) luck has it, she asked me if I was a foreigner, because of my pronunciation that swerved from meticulous to precarious. No, no way (in vain I tried to imitate the most classic Cuban slang). A journalist maybe? Neither. And-then-what?, she relished the question like one who asks: po-li-ce?

Please. My name is Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. I write and take personal pictures of my country, I publish many of them immediately in a blocked blog that a friend let me use online. If you wish, I can leave you the address for you to verify: Boring Home Utopics. As a citizen I represent only myself. Maybe a fraction of the future that never was. I am here precisely to lose this paranoia that now clouds our glances and makes us seem like worse Cubans. Excuse me, can I sit now? Mass is about to start.

And I approached them. Towards the clearest pews, halfway in the luminous ship of the super modern parish, and republican to boot. I, suddenly sitting amongst the Ladies in White, las Damas de Blanco. Hearing them breathe, even. Smelling their perfume, I don’t know if expensive (the are accused of being Miami mercenaries) or cheap or if it was the fragrance of the gladioli, standard of gladiators which they each carried almost hidden inside, like I my camera.

I closed my eyes, I don’t know if I prayed. In fact, I don’t know if I know how to pray. The priest’s voice was grave and the microphones gave him an echo of celestial profundity. Five years back, the very same priest had closed the temple’s doors behind the backs of the Ladies in White, in the middle of an hysterical ordeal, pretendingly popular. If I prayed, I did it so that today, winds of brighter mercy would blow.

When I opened my eyes, one of the women in white extended her hand with a paradisaical smile. I shook it. Everyone greeted everyone as part of the liturgy. I joined in the enthusiasm of solidarity and then I noticed that I was surrounded by people much more tense than I: men on their own, holding nothing in their hands, short hair, graceful plaid shirts or striped t-shirts, belts with cell phones, in their looks a certain mystery of ministerial marble. It was the civil uniform of the Security of the State. Alea jacta est: Cubansummatum est!

At the end of mass, the Damas paraded towards the Virgin that presides over the parish, They asked for the prisoners: the sick and the healthy, the resigned and those who have decided to die of hunger before waiting. They asked for their family members and for the rest of the Cuban country. The asked for the soul of a martyred deceased, whose mother named him like my mother named me: Orlando… And to hear that name in their mouths broke my resistance and I fell apart ridiculously and cried.

I noticed that I was not the only one. And that those tears of life were our little security cord, because the congregation was already moving away from the Ladies in White, even making a point to not touch them: the faithful were fearful of catching the plague of such a prayer. And the ladies dressed in white, still asking for justice and peace. Prudence and forgiveness. Without ever raising their voices. Almost whispering at the ear of our lady of the impossible. The gladioli finally on high, to immediately trespass the threshold of the urban openness, and end up, like the first Christians, so alone and so saved in the leprous sand of the Revolution.

We went out, a procession condemned to repudiation (perchance provoking it like an exercise in virtue). I saw grimaces, adolescent wolves, howling with plastic jars holding tropicola or cubalcohol. I saw fists pointing towards the flat sky of the city. I saw a poor woman, foul-mouthed, ostensibly a convict or lunatic, dancing the demonic conga of one who wishes to delight in crime. I saw uniformed men in all the colors of the rain brawl. I saw cars of all the modern makes, unimaginable for a little country, supposedly underdeveloped. I saw people gesturing from the balconies of 42nd street in Havana. I saw cameras, and I think even a helicopter filming (my cowardly Canon stayed inside the backpack until the end of days). An entire evil alef that twisted wide and long across the Avenue of the Americas, until it reached the headquarters of National Parliament.

Then the Ladies in White, in a double file that seemed to cut noon’s hatred around them in two, chanted, out of tune, those same Sunday decibels that, thanks to the safe-conduct of Pope John Paul II himself, once resounded in the Plaza de la Revolución: freedom, Freedom, FREEDOM…!

And they went tranquilly to the sea, I magnetized with them amongst so much equanimity: women no, myths. I with skin soaking of their sweat after so many blocks. And they went to the stop of the P1 route, no less, in Playa, a bus that I boarded in between professional shoving as if I knew them. In fact, I still don’t know them. I mix-up their names in the headlines that nobody published in Cuba. I don’t even have a picture of our ordeal. As (good) luck has it, I sent my Letras Libres colleague not-so recent images from another colleague who pitied me. I have not yet heard an editorial response.

I know they are being produced with ferocious frequency, but not since 1980 did I survive an act of condemnation in my homeland (I had not ten years then; today I carry almost forty). I know that I must not trifle with this un-spontaneous debacle, but the images reverberate in my nightmares more and more each day, not only on weekends. Many other things were broken and healed on that Day of the Lord.

That is why I prefer to put everything in words now, like the exorcism of a foreigner who doesn’t understand anything in the beginning but will soon understand everything. I know that even the Cardinal of Cuba has taken charitable interest in the matter, and that my voice is implausible in matters of the State or Realpolitik. Precisely for this I write it down, to bet not for the masses with clubs, but for the piety of a new Realpersona.

So that, as my country, we may forget this perverse practice as soon as possible. So we don’t have to tell it to the Cubans who come after us. So that Cubans seeking vengeance never exist. So that the pain that burns these ladies white-hot won’t turn another vital color. So that the dialogue of the hordes doesn’t culminate in disaster. So that a Sunday mistake doesn’t convoke more demons of horror.

And to keep believing in the power of writing.

And to keep believing in the knowledge of freedom.

Translator: Joanne Gomez

August 7, 2010

The Repression Against Dissidents Intensifies After the Prisoner Releases / Laritza Diversent

After his speech before the National Assembly, in which Raul Castro warned that “there will be no impunity for the enemies of the homeland,” the repressive and intimidating actions against opponents have intensified.

Troops from the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and State Security (SE) agents selectively arrested several dissidents near the Malecón on the 5th of August.

The majority of the detainees were trying to enter the United States Interest Section in Havana, the only place on the Island offering Internet access to Cubans. That day was another anniversary of the “Maleconazo” – a popular uprising preceding the exodus of 1994.

Arbitrary detentions, official subpoenas and warnings are the measures most commonly employed by the political police to suppress the dissenters. On the 9th of August military counterintelligence (MCI) and State Security officers summoned for questioning the independent journalist Iván García.

The authorities fail to comply with the requirements for summons set forth in the Criminal Procedure Code. In most of the cases they act on their own, disregarding the law.

The agents claim that García has defamed military institutions in one of his articles published in the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo.” This Penal Code classifies this act as a crime against the public order and stipulates sanctions. However, the officers choose to warn the correspondent officially.

The reporter thinks that the officers who questioned him were applying the words of the President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers.

The issue of several official warnings (at least 3) constitutes a precedent enough to justify a trial on the grounds of what is called “pre-criminal dangerousness” (peligrosidad predelectiva) because of antisocial conduct. This is one of the most commonly used criminal law concepts applied to the opponents of the regime. The sanctions can be as high as 4 years in prison.

The government made its point clear, that the recent releases of prisoners would not suggest an end to the use of the repressive methods. The First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party explained that to defend the streets and squares would continue to be a revolutionaries’ duty.

The message is clear for those who hope for an improvement of the human rights situation on the Island. The prisons can be filled with political prisoners again at any moment and on any grounds.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: undef

August 27, 2010

In Cuba, Many Don’t Share the Attitude of Some Ex-prisoners in Spain / Iván García

The initial joy over the release and flight to Spain of some 20 prisoners and a substantial number of their relatives, has given way to a certain malaise over the news that’s reached the island from different sources on the Iberian peninsula.

It hasn’t gone over well, not within the dissident community, nor among those with the highest access to information in Havana, that many of those former political prisoners, in less than 48 hours after their arrival in Madrid, began to complain publicly.

First, it was over the accommodations, then they started demanding to be granted political asylum status, because they rejected the “assisted international protection” status, proposed by Spanish authorities.

Moreover, one group refuses to be sent to other cities, as almost a dozen already have done. To be sure, almost all of those who accepted a move to Andalusia, Valencia, and La Rioja are professionals: doctors, dentists, nurses, art teachers…

The Madrid group has dug in its heels and, with the advice of an attorney, not only have they questioned the Spanish Constitution, they consider themselves within their rights to submit their protest to the Public Defender.

“What upsets me most is that they’re giving the impression that all of us Cubans are ungrateful, and it’s not true. Because if there’s a people with which we’ve always sympathized with, it’s with the people of Spain”, said an indignant

María Rosa, age 56, home-maker, who stays in the know through foreign radio stations.

A dissident who preferred to remain anonymous, thinks that these prisoners and their families, on top of giving the Cuban dissidents’ and political prisoners’ movement a bad image, are being manipulated. “According to what I’ve read, the Partido Popular (Spain’s leading right-wing party), as well as long-established Cuban exiles, has been using them. And it’s a shame, because these men have just been freed after seven years of being locked up and they find themselves misinformed. And that misinformation has been taken advantage of for [the Partido Popular’s and Cuba exiles’] political interests,” he stated.

Lorenzo, age 23, university student, had the opportunity to browse the Internet and was able to read commentaries left by readers of Spanish online news media. “I felt ashamed, because you don’t spit on the hand that offers you food. More so, when you come from a prison and a country with so much hardship. And over there, they’re making demands, as if here they’d been living in mansions in Miramar or Nuevo Vedado.”

There are all kinds of opinions. Yarisleidys, age 20, street-hustler, lamented not having been able to get with a political prisoner in jail, since maybe now she would’ve been able to leave with him for Spain.

When I tell her that if they release the 52 the Cuban government promised, there’d still be nearly 100 political prisoners in jail, she responds: “Oh, yeah? Well, look here, I’m gonna get on these guys’ side, I don’t care if they’re old and sick. What I want is to get the hell outta this country.”

In politics, as with sports, one has to wait til the game ends before chanting victory. Those who protest today in Spain, not only should have shown themselves to be more grateful, they should’ve hung in there until the rest of the prisoners were out from behind bars, either on the island or en route to exile.

At any moment the Castro brothers may decide to blow the whistle, and declare the game ended before the clock’s time.

Iván García

Photo: EPA. Meeting held by ex-President José María Aznar with the group of former political prisoners and their relatives on July 28, 2010, in Madrid.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 20, 2010

The Open Veins of a City / Ernesto Morales Licea

Today, when I should be publishing the last part of my articles about Cuban journalism, an emotional inability cut short my intention. Because to speak, at this time, about something else other than the lamentable events happening in the city of the national anthem, the contaminated atmosphere of pain that falls today over Bayamo’s fiery summer, is to be a traitor to what it means to be a chronicler in my blog.

The small town I live in is covered in gray. The iron gray of violence. It is a terrorized city in waiting, one whose nerves have not known peace for a long time.

It all began with a death.

As always, a death impossible to accept. This one, most of all: the death of a child, a 13-year-old girl.

Her little body was found a couple of months ago in the bushes, lacerated, where it lay for days, subject to insects and decomposition. A small prostitute who died in a rented room, victim of an overdose of drugs forced on her by an Italian tourist.

Her story unnerved all the good people of this city. It hurt us, wounded us, we who above all base our lives and behavior on the idea of humanism. Her destination (taken in a car, at midnight, abandoned by the tourist and Cuban accomplices to the mercy of scavenging dogs and vultures in some desolate place), filled us with horror when we learned of it, especially because of her young age.

When she was discovered and photographed by the police team, she was still wearing the yellow skirt of her school uniform.

The authorities took several weeks to find the culprits. The arrests followed, one after another, endlessly. Too many well known names were implicated in one way or another in the homicide. Those who have lived in provincial towns understand how explosive such a case can be in such a confined environment where everything becomes known.

As for the perpetrators, they put them behind bars. Those directly responsible, those indirectly, those suspected, and those presumed to have knowledge of the crime. The squeal of the tires, the wail of the police cars, were repeated in different parts of the city, at any hour, any house.

Then the deadly insecurity struck. Even today.

Because still, at the very moment I write with sincere unease, the arrests have not stopped, the operations, the deployment of soldiers that are obviously intended to extend justice, even beyond the point where I don’t know if I should support it. I am referring to a social lesson.

It happens that a sad reality has been brought to light from the depths of the case. A reality where several children, underage, have sold their prepubescent bodies to depraved tourists who at the very least inspire contempt and disgust. A panorama where it has now been proved that some relatives have been involved, including mothers, who knowing what lucrative merchandise is represented by the waists of their daughters, ironed their clothes and delivered them freshly bathed to the highest bidder.

But there is more filth in this sea.

Because there are so many arrests that we now suspect a social mercilessness, a raging river that at this point doesn’t pretend to punish those guilty of these horrible crimes, but leads us to think of strategies of another kind and another wickedness.

A strategy that takes advantage of favorable public opinion to mercilessly sweep away the few wealthy in a city that is by definition poor, people who have had little or nothing to do with criminal acts of this nature. It is about, obviously, ending the economic prosperity of a few whose guilt cannot be established with any certainty, and may be entirely fabricated.

I am speaking of the owners of Homes for Rent.

The young girl died in one of these central and comfortable houses which tourists often choose over the State-owned hotels. The involvement of the landlord, who allowed an Italian to entertain a Cuban minor, is something we cannot yet know; fortunately, we are only spectators.

But we do know the arguments they have used to justify, for days now, having arrested another four homeowners of Homes for Rent at five in the morning, in an operation that paralyzed, shocked and frightened the city.

The arrested, on this occasion, were men and women (including those of advanced age and with severe illnesses) who, save specific exceptions, have until this very second maintained an immaculate social status.

I cannot judge the depth. I simply immerse myself in the reality that surrounds us, and from which it is impossible to escape. But what took place last Tuesday morning, in this city of history and celebration, I cannot accept as a fate for anyone else. I don’t believe it to be healthy for the social environment that already lacks the oxygen of peace.

Before daybreak the trucks and trailers stopped in unison, in front of five of these private hostels. Hundreds of soldiers blocked off the nearby streets, avenues and parks. The residents of these areas awoke in the middle of disturbing noises about which they had no idea where they were coming from.

In the middle of the day they were still loading a mountain of possessions on the trailers. They seized everything.

Twin beds and refrigerators. Plastic chairs and wooden chairs. Full-length mirrors, dining tables, copies of paintings in wrought iron frames. A sports jeep that they hooked to the back of a trailer. Antiques preserved as ancestral relics, modern air conditioners. Hundreds, thousands of items that they emptied from the interiors of the houses leaving a dizzying silence.

Five families have just lost their patrimony, assembled over decades of inheritance and purchase, sacrifice and privation, legal and illegal business dealings, everything they had managed to collect as their own. And most incredible: all this without yet having gone to trial.

I don’t know the true extent of their responsibility, and I refuse to make too many categorical judgments that may ultimately prove to be unfounded. But I dare to dust off the French Revolution where the “Incorruptible Maximilien Robespierre” established his regime of terror on the pretext of supposed equality and social justice.

I also dare to dust off the words of another Frenchman, the infamous Joseph Fouché, when he affirmed with pleasure in his writings, “Here, to be rich makes one blush,” words that his biographer Stefan Zweig belied saying that, in truth, he should have said, “Here, it terrorizes one to be rich, because of the bloody actions suffered by those who are presumed to have accumulated more than anyone else.”

What are the social consequences of this crusade against crimes that, to naive minds, cross the boundaries of what must be penalized and confuse that with opportunistic strategies of the State? This I cannot know, nor can anyone around me.

This time, I confess, that the analysis required exceeds my intellect, and I declare myself one more spectator without a solid opinion.

But at the same time, I can’t not raise my voice, which is also that of an entire city: a cry that is a white flag for the authorities of this town.

I can’t not say that with this social instability, this perverted atmosphere of fear, of agitation, of not knowing when it will be time to flee from a crime you didn’t commit, but which may arise suddenly; in this atmosphere of a surrealist film where anything is possible, the honest people of Bayamo no longer want to live.

Let me repeat that anything is possible. Yes. It is possible, for example, that traveling from computer to computer, from flash memory to DVD, are the horrific images of the body found in her school uniform skirt, and even more horrible, the video of her autopsy. Both filtered out through the hands of the investigation itself, to the general population.

Too many times I have had to reject, indignantly, the offer from someone to show me this evidence to satisfy an alleged curiosity. Morbid curiosity is one of the human deviations that I have most learned to detest.

I know that in such a climate it is impossible to bear up. I know that the dialectic will be diluted at some point in this nightmare, which, unfortunately, many will continue to suffer for far too long. The guilty along with the innocent. The criminals whose punishment will never be sufficient to pay for this act, as well as those unjustly caught in this web of judicial opportunism.

But from my humble position as a writer who has never ceased to be aware of the danger, and of the excesses of those who enforce the law at their own will, I hope that my beloved Bayamo will wake from this social nightmare in which we have been plunged for several months.

August 28, 2010

TODAY VOICES FLY FROM HAVANA / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

INDEX:

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. Reporter-on-the-street Report of the Horde

Claudia Cadelo. Leaders of an Alternative Revolution

Eduardo Laporte
. I Don’t Know What The Dogs Have

Melkay. The Best Selection in the World

Wendy Guerra.
Between Perseverance and Virtues

Iván de la Nuez. The Near East

Reinaldo Escobar. The Reach of Cyber-Dissidence

Emilio Ichikawa. Role and Screen

Jorge Ferrer.
Writing a Cuban Blog (Decalog)

Yoani Sánchez. That Won’t Come Again

Antonio José Ponte. A Childhood Without Comics, an Adolescence Without Pornograpy

Juan Abreu. Pissed / Anal bleach / Nyotaimori.

Miriam Celaya. Open Letter to the London BBC

Maikel Iglesias. Pinar del Río City

Jesús Díaz.
Requiem

Luis Marimón. Death of Yumurí.

Mirta Suquet. Prosperity and goodness: The Other Face of the Money of the Martí Enlightenment

Miguel Iturria. Martí: Spirituality and Political Illumination

Ernesto Morales. The Happiness of the Long Distance Runner

Ena Lucía Portela. Hurricane

Dimas Casrellanos. The Limits of Immobility

Yoss. Close But Distant: The Universe Next Door

August 6, 2010

FOR WANT OF GLOBES, NEWSPAPERS / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

FLYERS

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The history of Cuba told by its newspapers.

Rough leaves with ink heavier than air, but even so they all fly when the neighbors drop them from their eaves.

Volatile words. Weightless cartoons. Headlines of heroes inflated with helium balloons.

Fly, fly, fly.

Official newspapers that float over the nothingness of reality, over the skin of unreality, over the rumor never disproved of our heads.

Skulls clenched under the shadow of these magic carpets woven with gazette paper.

It ascends on the vapor of Cuba.

Until infinity and beyond.

Smoking paradise of the proletariat.

Spontaneous acrobatics that isn’t even and is already subversive

All the Zepellins — Granma, Trabajadores, Tribuna or Juventud Rebelde: each with its archaic monotony of one color.

I saw them take off from their hangars on the rooftops.

I’ve seen them hovering for minutes or even hours and possibly months over the same swept neighborhoods of my city.

Gaseous Havana taking the shape of its container.

Village of the racing press in the free air of a tropical atmosphere, slurred.

Globosphere.cu…

August 4, 2010

Bit by Bit Marketing / Yoani Sánchez

Ministry of Work and Social Security

Eight in the morning and the rails of the station at Factor and Tulipán still have the freshness of the dawn. The only train, coming from San Antonio de los Baños, is delayed. The elderly, seated on the walls, resell the newspapers bought very early and offer, as well, cigarettes at retail. This week they suffered a tough setback with the announcement that the distribution, on the ration book, of the packs of Titans and Aroma has come to an end. Bad news for those on the lowest rung of our informal market, those who sell their own cigarette ration to survive.

Among the absurdities of the centralized market in Cuba, was that only those born before 1955 received the rationed cigarettes. In my family, my father had an allotment but my mother, three years younger, got nothing. Half joking half serious, a friend told me that in the future they would deliver the final pack of subsidized cigarettes to a long-lived Cuban who had been born in the middle of the twentieth century. Can you imagine the ceremony? Flags waving, trumpets sounding, a ceremonial marching battalion approaching the ancient one and presenting him with the last rationed cigarettes.

For better or worse this is not going to happen. These who were the youngest when they started to receive subsidized nicotine, are just now entering their sixth decade of life. Those of us who never benefited from this supply feel that today there is one less thing to throw in our faces. I believe, however, that someone should compensate the elderly at the Tulipán station, along with all those the length and breadth of this island who shore up their lives with this little bit of marketing.

The Accident / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The other day I witnessed an accident in Luyanó. Orlando Luis and I tweeted what we could, and managed, poorly, to take some photos without some of those guys dressed in civilian clothes taking away our cameras. Traffic accidents happen all the time everywhere in the world and I wonder why the Cuban government blocks these incidents from press coverage. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing that State Security agents spend their time, in the middle of a catastrophe, chasing after little cameras and avoiding reporters.

Sometimes it seems that censorship and bureaucracy are living beings, with their own laws of survival, their need to perpetuate themselves and their life cycles. Does it put the State at risk to tell us how many were killed or injured on August 20, what caused the accident, and what happened to the driver?

It’s not even about a free press press or political freedom, or even the rights of citizens. It’s about this monster that in fifty years has grown to the point where it could swallow everything that happens in the nation. A monster that feeds on our knowledge, our intellect, our ability to understand history. A monster who swallows our sorrows and joys, our dreams and our lives.

August 27, 2010

Live Culture at Casa Gaia / Miguel Iturría Savón

There’s a discrepancy between the sign board and program schedule at the Casa Gaia, located in Teniente Rey, between Águila and Cuba Streets in the historic quarter of Havana. That’s where art and thought now come together, but the sign board at the entrance announces the staging of Flechas del Ángel del Olvido (The Angel of Oblivion’s Arrows), scheduled to run Friday through Sunday until 29 November, under the direction of Esther Cardoso Villanueva, the director of the center.

Maybe it’s hard to take down the sign board. Perhaps the play continues to be on the sign board with sporadic interruptions and new options for patrons. Maybe it’s a strategy to avoid chaos on the premise, the top floor of which holds hundreds of people.

I myself am happy, since from Friday, July 23, to Sunday, July 25, I was invited by phone to the series of activities that the “dialogue among friends” disseminates under the title Estado de Sats (The State of Sats), which signifies “being attentive, awake and conscious of real transformation” in order to expand “open exchange and diversity as principal resources.”

There were three days of open discussions and lectures. Cuba and the future as the central theme. There were visual arts presentations, conferences, audiovisual projections, and concerts. A large crowd, in spite of the outdated sign board.

A collective exhibit of visual arts was launched on Friday at 8:00pm in the Vivarta Studio-theater, located in the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall, under the title Recargable (Rechargable), with works by 15 young artists, one from Spain and another from Taiwan. The works alone are worthy of appreciation and deserve exhaustive commentary.

From the cinema, on Saturday at 8:00pm, Sats screened the documentary Memorias del Desarrollo (Memories of Development) by Miguel Coyula, who, through analysis and manipulation of images conveys the alienation of the individual and reflects upon how art reflects reality. The film was described by Sundance Film Festival as a “subliminal and cinematic collage that forges new cinematographic dimensions by way of multiple expository levels that intercept one another in a sort of picaresque saga about desire and decadence.”

The open discussions, conferences and presentations regarding cultural projects merit a special mention. On Friday morning Prof. Carlos Simón Forcade presented “Imagination and Growth within the Cuban Social Project”; following him was Antonio Correa Iglesias, PhD, and undergrad Ana María Socarrás Piñón with the topics, “Epistemology, Cognitive Sciences and Neural Networks: towards a Plural Zone in the Building of Knowledge” and “Contemporary Cuban Art or The 70s Generation?: Alternative Projects vs. the Visual Arts in Offcial Media”. In the evening, the AISHA Company project was held, as was the Art and Society Open Discussion with writer Víctor Fowler as moderator, and performances by Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico, Luis Eligio Pérez, Maylin Machado, and Glenda Salazar.

On Saturday morning Dr. Antonio G. Rodiles presented “Complexity and Society”, while Carmelo Mesa-Lago by way of video projection, dealt with “The Economy of Cuba at the Crossroads: External and Internal Crisis”. In the evening, the “Raise the Voices” project and the Economy and Society open discussions occurred, with Hiram Hernández, Jorge Calaforra, Ramón García, and the quoted A.G. Rodiles.

On Sunday morning, the engineer Jorge Calaforra explained the “Cuban and Global Perspective for 2030” and Dr. Alexis Jardines presented “Cuba: Premodernity and Thinktanks”, referring to Western liberal democracies, ethical schisms in the national project, and factors such as the island’s intellectual potential and a thesis on the hollowness of “capitalism” and “socialism” as concepts. The evening session belonged to the “OMNI-FREE TRADE ZONE” and an open discussion about “Futures and Visions of Cuba”, lead by Castor Álvarez, Dimitri Prieto, Gabriel Calahorra, and Romina Ruiz.

The Casa Gaia sessions on Art and Thought culminated on Sunday night with the “A Good Thing Jam Session”, described by organizers as a “spectacle of textures and fragments as vehicles of national history and identity”, with rotating, projected images and rhythmic counterpoint music (jazz, hip-hop), all falling somewhere along the spectrum of blunt emotionalism (Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico) and sensible civility (trova and danceable elements).

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 3, 2010