The Novel of So Many Lives

He received me on Monday in a quiet apartment in Mantilla from where he has written almost all his work. On a polished table he put cold water and strong coffee for both of us. He lit a cigarette whose smoke, luckily, chose as its victim the bust of Cervantes resting on a nearby sideboard. And began to answer my questions.

Maybe, I would never have decided to interview Leonardo Padura had I not read La Novela de mi Vida (The Novel of my Life). Up until that moment, the two pieces I already knew were enough to admire his clean prose and skillful police frameworks, but not much more.

So, I discovered this novel and found myself obligated to track down (just like investigator Mario Conde) where its author lived. For a character like Salinger there are some writers who, after reading their work, you just wish you could call them. Since I don’t have his telephone number, I decided to travel 498 miles from my native Bayamo to the Cuban capital, knock on his door and say: I need to interview you.

It so happens that The Novel of my Life should already be on the must-read list of every reader who thinks himself Cuban. Or one who lives or studies the historical truth inside this, our country, made up of water and sand. Because coming to find out the written novel of this immense and suffered man who was the poet Jose Maria Heredia is the best way to understand a country that, two centuries later, has not yet ceased to repeat similar tragedies in the lives of millions of other children.

With great precision, Leonardo Padura, a well experienced writer, wove two different stories that is one at the end. First: the one of the great poet of the Niagara, a man without real nationality that against all logic profoundly identified himself as Cuban (when he died, at 35 years of age, Jose Maria Heredia had lived in five different countries and only 6 of those years in Cuba), and he might have been the one to inaugurate the so-called Cuban tradition of suffering exile and dying defeated by nostalgia. Second: the one of a fictitious character known as Fernando Terry, who in the ’90’s returns from the exile (to visit for a few weeks) in search of a past from which he was never able to detach.

If you think the story of this contemporary Cuban — forced to migrate in the Mariel Boatlift due to the intolerance, the fear and the lies — as melancholic, you will be frightened by the first person tale that Heredia, revived by Padura, tells us about the time in his life when, mad by pain and frustration, as he himself called it, the novel of his life.

A life made up of love of poetry and the freedom of his oppressed country, of defense towards a Cubanness in the making that could not yet be defined, but it could be felt. A life thrown to the fiercest of exiles by the despot who governed at the time: Miguel Tacón, the tyrant of the day, who just like so many of them, gave himself the right to decide who lived inside the island, who died, and who should leave it. Cursed be the stubbornness of the dictators who manage their nations as if they were their own homes.

The same poet whose ode to Niagara today rests in a tombstone right in front of the waterfall, also inaugurated a habit that we have not been able to erase from this beautiful homeland in all these years: to suffer from the accusations and the betrayal of a false friend that would use the misfortunes of Heredia to climb towards success in a Cuba sick from corruption. The story takes his name: Domingo del Monte. But about this, we couldn’t care less.

The alarming thing to recognize is that, behind the ability of Leonardo Padura, the reader is warned of too much freshness, too much proximity to his own reality with this novel that, according to what the narrator tells us, is one of so many of our lives.

My interview lasted a little over an hour. The agile, well-argued responses from this Havana native writer, filled up a text of many pages which I proudly plan to include in a book that I am just now concluding.

Today, two weeks past that encounter with Leonardo Padura, after looking around in disbelief and remembering the ordeal of the exiled Heredia, I have not yet figured out how to detach myself from the question that the The Novel of Many Lives left me with as a harsh gift: Could it be that our beautiful island will forever condemn its children to escape from her in search of protection and a piece of happiness?

Translated by: Angelica B.

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Ernesto’s Blog: The Little Brother

Freedom of Expression in Cuban Legislation

Freedom of expression is internationally recognized in the Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19). These prerogatives include being safe from oppression due to expressing an opinion, conducting research and receiving and spreading information, regardless of borders, by any means.

Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution <em>gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the aims of the socialist society. </em>Under this provision, <em>material conditions for their exercise are given by the fact that the press, radio, television, movie theaters and other means of mass information belong to the state or society and could not, in any case, become private property, which assures their use exclusively for the use of the working people and for the benefit of society. </em>Lastly, it assures that <em>the law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.</em>

However, the constitutional protections of freedom of expression, despite the fact of being a judicial guarantee, is not sufficient to affirm that in Cuba it is exercised and enjoyed.

First:  the article being analyzed is technically and judicially deficient.  The legislator confused the right with the material guarantee necessary for its application.  A useless condition, given the nature and characteristics of this kind of freedom.  The same one devotes spaces that the state does not have to create, because they are innate to humans, in virtue of what only has to be respected and protected.

Second:  The fact that the means of social communication are in the control of the State does not constitute a guarantee of the application of this right.  In Cuba, the human prerogatives, acknowledged by the Constitution of the Republic, cannot be exercised against the existence and means of “The Socialist State.”  It means that its legal application is severely limited when rights cannot be curtailed. They solely admit these minimal limitations, only when regarding the function of public order.

Third: According to the Constitution of the Republic, freedom of speech and press should be developed through a law, which is the only way of applying and defending this right.  The National Assembly, the main organ of the State with legislative authority, consciously ignores the mandates expressed by this Magna Carta.  It still does not adopt a law that regulates this most important right in ordinary legislation.

Fourth: The National Assembly passed Law 88, “Of Protection of National and Economic Independence”, a normative penal device that impedes citizens from expressing and spreading their opinions in regards to political, social, and economic practices of the government.

This law, also known as “The Gag Law”, sanctions every person who seeks and provides information, accumulate, reproduces, and spreads materials that criticize the political system, and any person who collaborates with such ideas, via radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, magazines, or other means of foreign communication.

Translated by Raul G.

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Laritza’s Blog: Laritza’s Laws and Cuban Legal Advisor

Freedom of Expression in Cuban Legislation

Freedom of expression is internationally recognized in the Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19).  These prerogatives include being safe from oppression due to expressing an opinion, conducting research and receiving and spreading information, regardless of borders, by any means.

Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the aims of the socialist society. Under this provision, material conditions for their exercise are given by the fact that the press, radio, television, movie theaters and other means of mass information belong to the state or society and could not, in any case, become private property, which assures their use exclusively for the use of the working people and for the benefit of society. Lastly, it assures that the law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.

However, the constitutional protections of freedom of expression, despite the fact of being a judicial guarantee, is not sufficient to affirm that in Cuba it is exercised and enjoyed.

First:  the article being analyzed is technically and judicially deficient.  The legislator confused the right with the material guarantee necessary for its application.  A useless condition, given the nature and characteristics of this kind of freedom.  The same one devotes spaces that the state does not have to create, because they are innate to humans, in virtue of what only has to be respected and protected.

Second:  The fact that the means of social communication are in the control of the State does not constitute a guarantee of the application of this right.  In Cuba, the human prerogatives, acknowledged by the Constitution of the Republic, cannot be exercised against the existence and means of “The Socialist State.”  It means that its legal application is severely limited when rights cannot be curtailed. They solely admit these minimal limitations, only when regarding the function of public order.

Third: According to the Constitution of the Republic, freedom of speech and press should be developed through a law, which is the only way of applying and defending this right.  The National Assembly, the main organ of the State with legislative authority, consciously ignores the mandates expressed by this Magna Carta.  It still does not adopt a law that regulates this most important right in ordinary legislation.

Fourth: The National Assembly passed Law 88, “Of Protection of National and Economic Independence”, a normative penal device that impedes citizens from expressing and spreading their opinions in regards to political, social, and economic practices of the government.

This law, also known as “The Gag Law”, sanctions every person who seeks and provides information, accumulate, reproduces, and spreads materials that criticize the political system, and any person who collaborates with such ideas, via radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, magazines, or other means of foreign communication.

Translated by Raul G.

For the Democracy of Cuba

Several days ago the digital site “Rebellion” published an article which bitterly attacked the public actions of a group of men and women in Eastern Cuba who are not incorporated into the country’s Communist system, nor retain ties with any government enterprise or organization.

It was referring to the Eastern Democratic Alliance. Among the names that the journalist offered to “prove his case,” I saw mine, accompanied like the others, with adjectives used by the Cuban regime against those of us who take our time without masks or restraints.

The journalist who wrote it (Percy Alvarado) has the freedom to do so. The members of the Alliance have the freedom through my blog of telling a bit of what they have accomplished over the past seven months in parts of eastern Cuba and Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantanamo. Despite the arrests, beatings, restrictions on movement, and closed-circuit monitoring, they all lived to tell the tale.

Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina chairs the Democratic Alliance and spoke to me on their behalf.

Translated by: Tomás A.

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Luis Felipe’s Blog: Crossing the Barbed Wire.

Sad Highways

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

Practical woman that I am, I thought I would take advantage of my trip to Santa Clara to buy, along the highway, products which, in the capital, are hard to get or very expensive. From when I was little I remember the peasants by the road side selling what they themselves had planted and grown, trading their wares directly with travelers.

The lack of vendors on foot for miles and miles, surprised me, as I know these farmers have a very precarious economy, and I had to believe that the police dedicate themselves to punishing those who sell what they grow with their own hands. From their wooden houses, with their government-registered cows, they could earn enough from the sale of a few pounds of cheese to feed their families for some days.

There are still some, maybe fewer than twenty, along the miles that separate Havana and Santa Clara. Fearful, when a car stops they approach with caution, because the National Revolutionary Police hunts them by posing as customers.

The boy who finally sold me some cheese couldn’t have been more than 25. I asked him what happens when the police catch them: he said they run as fast as they can, trying to save at least some of the goods, while the police chase them back into the woods.

“They chase you into the woods?”

It’s hard to take seriously the ridiculous image of a uniformed officer knocking a peasant down into the grass to seize twenty bananas. As the poor boy hadn’t come to hear a lecture from me, I simply paid him and left, but the idea was making my head spin. Are there not, according to Raul Castro, a million unproductive people in Cuba earning salaries? Why don’t they start by getting rid of the jobs of these predators on the family economy and allow the farmers to sell their products wherever they want?

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Claudia’s Blog: Octavo Cerco / English

A Short Story for Distant Granddaughters

A few months ago, a friend, who was going to travel abroad, surprised me by offering to take whatever I wanted to my granddaughters.  It was a unique opportunity, but he caught me at a time when I did not have any money. I then had to use my imagination. I began to go through my drawers where I keep my things in the hopes of fashioning something, given my available means, which would be lasting and above all, something that the girls would like.

It was then that I remembered the beautiful drawings that they send me and I decided, that based on the drawings, I would come up with a story, made up of patchwork squares that would later become a quilt. This would be accompanied by a story.

That is how I came up with the idea of the story that I now transcribe below.

Grandmother with a big heart.

In a small country, long and green like a lizard, lives a grandmother that has a big heart because she constantly feeds it with pieces of love, from her other hearts, which are far away, very far away and dispersed, like the stars.

Since the distance is enormous and one can only get there by air she prays to God that he lend her a pair of angel’s wings, just so that her big heart can fly, fly, fly and finally arrive at the different countries where her other hearts are located.

As she passes by the castle where the Princess is, the Princess gives her a kiss on each cheek and invites her to follow the path until she finds herself on the beach with a Little Blue Whale who will take her on his back to the moon itself.

On the way, she makes a stop to pick flowers to fill an old wheelbarrow that she will take as a gift.  She will then be able to give out daisies, tulips and violets to her three granddaughters.

On her travels she runs into Mr. Radiant Sun and she gets closer to him in order to feel his heat. She is careful not to get too close so that she does not burn her brilliant wings so that she can continue to fly, fly, fly until she reaches her destination and is able to reunite with all of the hearts, to make her own heart bigger and stronger.

Once all are together, they will reunite under the shade of a large tree and from there, they will send messages of love to all the other countries, leaving room in the wide branches to hang more hearts.

Translated by: Amante de una Cuba Libre

Using the Criminal Law for Political Purposes

In principle, States enjoy sovereign power, which they are able to express through the actions of their government bodies and the enactment of laws. The latter are the suitable instrument for exercising their right to prescribe crimes and penalties (the right to punish). But it is disturbing how the Cuban government uses the coercive force of criminal law for political purposes.

Supposedly, the criminal law and the activity of the coercive state apparatus should protect society in general. Their purpose is to prevent and suppress acts that injure or endanger fundamental interests that affect the lives of human beings. For example, protecting property against theft, and human life against acts committed against one’s person, etc.

The precarious economic situation of the nation determines in part that conduct which qualifies legally as crimes, may be welcomed, supported and tolerated by society. For example, theft in the context of labor relations with the state. In other cases, socially accepted behaviors are penalized for political reasons. The sale of goods between individuals is prohibited by law. Economic activities are the exclusive province of the Socialist State.

There are also actions that are not prohibited by law, but which are suppressed by law enforcement. For example, having an official address in a province other than the capital, and staying in the capital without authorization, can result in being detained for illegally being in Havana.

Carrying on critical journalism independent of the official media is another example of prohibited conduct that does not represent a danger to society. Law 88 of February 16, 1999, “On the Protection of National Independence and the Economy,” popularly known as “the gag law,” punishes those who publish their opinions by any means – on radio and television stations, in newspapers, or in magazines or other foreign media.

It is clear that the repressive apparatus of the Cuban state has deviated from its fundamental objective and the principal reason for its existence. While Cuban society is sinking into decay, it uses the right to punish to suppress and persecute conduct perceived as undesirable by those who wield political power.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by Tomás A.

“Carné d’idá”

In the popular slang of my little planet, this is what we call the Identity Card (DNI).

This slang has been adopted by the police. Almost all the members who make up this repressive body have been imported from the eastern provinces; in general, people in the capital refuse to participate in this work. The police are almost always characterized by the low educational level and equally low stature, where normally it could be resolved with just one, well that’s one way to reduce the unemployment numbers.

Yesterday was one of those days when it took all morning, or all afternoon, to settle a little matter that really shouldn’t have taken more than hour, as they brag in the propaganda posters in these offices: Rectifying a mistake, even if it’s their fault, as for any other kind of issue, means you begin by standing in line. Soon a voice emerging from somewhere over there says, “Number three.” You go into a little office, where they ask you what you’ve come about, your name, et cetera, which they dump into a computer. Then they send you out again to wait, until they call your name. After a great deal of time has gone by, another voice from the back of beyond calls your name and takes you to another office where you are asked the same questions all over again. Then they take your old card, three photos, two stamps at 5 pesos each, and tell you to go down to the end of the hall and wait to be called. I was with my sister who is physically disabled, which no one seemed to notice despite its being completely obvious, since she can hardly walk on her own.

There, in the final waiting room, we stayed nearly four hours. Each time I approached an employee to explain the physical condition of my sister, they told me her card still had not arrived. It was as if to get from the little office at the entrance to the last room of the building, the paperwork had to make an inter-provincial journey on the back of a turtle.

Finally, after checking the new card, and correcting the accent which was missing from her last name, they had taken my poor sister’s ten osteoarthritic fingerprints twice, which is twenty prints as if to say, AY! We left there at noon, happy, despite the ordeal, to have had issued a new and correct carné di dá.

Fidel Castro Counterattacks

The bearded Castro is a loose cannon. He always has been. His behavior is unpredictable. Foreseeing his next move on the political chessboard is unimaginable even for people with the abilities of Nostradamus.

But something on the Cuban scene smells like it’s burning. There is a sort of forced cohabitation. Two-headed power. His brother, General Raul Castro, governs, but Fidel does everything possible to distract his management.

Castro I resists retirement. The only word is “Comrade Fidel.” In fact and law he remains the Only Commander. The glorious old man with delusions of being father of his country. The guy who sees more than anyone else. The world-class statesman.

A Caribbean soothsayer who equally predicts the path of a hurricane, the decline of U.S. imperialism, or his proverbial ability to foretell slaughters.

Now his laser points to a nuclear war between Iran and the Western nations. He is watching for it. Castro is a textbook narcissist. His gloomy reflections on the Middle East conflict interests no one in Cuba.

Ordinary people are focused on other things. On their own struggle. Trying to get two decent meals a day. And getting money however they can to buy clothes and shoes for their children and to repair their house.

Castro reappeared just at the moment everyone had forgotten him. For the first time since 2006 he hit the streets. The strategy was to overshadow the real news: the release of 52 political prisoners. He returned to fray at the same time that news was announced.

Then, when seven prisoners of conscience were flying towards Madrid, the old guerrilla came to the fore in a television interview, chatting and predicting misfortune in his new role of necromancer.

In local circles the emergence of Castro I is being called a desperate gesture of leadership. And it is evidence of tensions and disagreements with his brother Raul.

The signs are not new. The rebellious and unrestrained language of Fidel has placed the government of Castro II in more of a problem. He is like the senile grandfather that the family tries to give the best care, but at the first opportunity manages to put them through a public embarrassment with his incoherent behavior.

I have no doubt of the respect that Raul feels for the historical figure of Fidel. The General tries to manage the island in his image. But when he wants to disconnect from the policies of his predecessor, the ghost of Fidel appears.

Now the Single Commander counts for little in the real politics of Cuba. Or anything. His brother had the foresight to fire two dozen ministers, officials and secretaries of the party in different provinces. He replaced them with leaders who had his full confidence.

Unlike Fidel, Raul is known to have much lower political talent. But he is a team player and appreciates his unconditional friends. Fidel only had interests. He was above everything. Raúl bases his government on the spirit of clan.

There is a key point that causes friction between the two brothers. In essence, both have the mentality of a dictator and Olympic contempt for democracy and the rule of law.

The brothers born on a farm in Biran, Holguin, like and want power. The means that each of them use to keep it is what raises concern in Castro I.

Fidel is convinced that his younger brother is inept, that without his help he would never succeed in the arena of political subtleties. And Raul intends to show the contrary.

It is time to let him govern. For Fidel to rest in a clinic and be devoted to writing about the topics of his choice or a memoir. But the One is reluctant to go out of style.

He does not want the authoritarian power with which he ruled for 47 years (1959-2006) to go to waste. The old Castro no longer has the support of the armored divisions and the salute of the generals.

But he mastered the art of words and knew how to manipulate the media. It is an uncomfortable burden. Especially at this time, when the General savored his political triumph with the release of 52 political prisoners. A couple of things can result.

As has often happened, the younger brother bows his head and let’s his idol take the reins of power. The General has already adapted and apparently feels comfortable as second fiddle.

The other is that Raul Castro wants to leave a legacy to the country and a consolidated power in the future for his immediate circle. And these are the upstarts in local politics who really hate the unpredictable output of Fidel Castro.

Although they only say it quietly. For now.

Iván García

Photo: European Pressphoto Agency.

The Hopelessness of the Commander and Human Rights

Upon mentioning the death of the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) published, on Saturday June 19, fragments of the interview carried out by Saramago with Rosa Miriam Elizalde (2003) when the writer ignored the repressive Castro wave against the peaceful opposition within the island.

The excerpt concludes with the advice of the novelist for the parties of the left, at the request of the interviewer, who asked to be referred to with terms such as Human Rights, the Left, and Freedom.

“I’d tell the left-wing parties that everything that could be proposed for the people is contained in a bourgeois document known as The Declaration of Human Rights, approved in 1948 in New York. Don’t get tangled up with any other programs. Everything is written there. Do it. Abide by it”.

At the edge of the honesty of Saramago and of the current journalistic impunity of the interviewer, the suggestion of the old narrator remained. In Cuba, however, the government continues violating the most elemental rights of the people, and considers members of the peaceful opposition as agents of the enemy, which justifies persecution and political apartheid.

The author of Up from the Ground, The Stone Raft, and Blindness, considered himself a “libertarian communist” and believed in the ideals of the left, whose tenacious propaganda steals the dreams and hopes of humans, which enslaves people in the name of freedom. If Saramago would have lived under the dictatorship of the proletariat, perhaps then he would have understood the horrors of a socialist utopia, far from promoting and applying civic liberties.

Saramago, like many other left-wing intellectuals clinging to the umbilical cord of the Cuban dictatorship, did not understand that the ends touch.  If the Castro regime survived the collapse of the Soviet Union it was, precisely, because it eliminated freedom of expression, press, and association, in addition to penalizing any contrary opinions, abolishing rights to property, and creating a state system that controlled and subordinated the individual.

Since the rulers of Cuba are more leftist than Jose Saramago, until now it has not even occurred to them to heed the suggestions of the Nobel prize winner in Literature.  If they, by chance, ever read the articles of the Declaration of Human Rights, they’d have the alternative of tossing it to one side and damning the writer.  Taking them into account is equivalent to renouncing power and changing the social model to one that is less revolutionary and more in accordance with human nature.

Either way, the suggestion is worth it.  How do you create a better world if you don’t respect the achievements reached and pre-established by society?

Translated by Raul G.

Judicial Power in Cuba

In Cuba, the power to administer justice belongs to the People’s Courts. The Supreme People’s Court (TSP), under Article 121 of the Constitution of the Republic, is the highest judicial authority and its decisions are final. But it is not recognized as the highest organ of “the People’s Power.”

Not having the status as the highest organ of the State means that the TSP does not have sole and exclusive jurisdiction to administer justice. It means that another state body may exercise those functions. For example, the general and compulsory interpretation of current laws is the prerogative of the State Council (Paragraph Ch of Article 75 of the Constitution of the Republic).

The defense of the Supreme Law is a function of the National Assembly. The parliament decides the constitutionality of the laws that it issues, the legal decrees, decrees and other general provisions (Paragraph C, Section 75 of the Constitution of the Republic). They also revoke judicial decisions that contradict the Constitution (Paragraphs Ch, R, and S of Article 75).

The Council of State has this same authority (Subsection O of Article 90) regarding the decisions of lower bodies. They can even suspend the decisions of the Council of Ministers and those of the local assemblies, when they do not comply with the constitution or laws.


  • The legal system does not have a Court of Constitutional guarantees or of Constitutional jurisdiction;
  • The judicial bodies cannot rule on constitutionality or unconstitutionality, to control and guide the actions of the government and the legislature;
  • Judicial power is void in Cuba, and with it the rule of law. Higher state bodies are immune and unaccountable for the excesses of government.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

Interview with Juan Juan Almeida*

Photo: Dagoberto Valdes, Juan Juan Almeida, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sanchez: 1. You are an important public figure, especially because you are the son of one of the historic icons of the Cuban Revolution, the commander Juan Almeida Bosque. How have you dealt with these circumstances? Have you taken advantage of them? Have they become a burden?

Juan Juan Almeida: Figure? Importance? Me? I can tell you, one morning in October a General chose me, saying with reverence that I was the favorite son of my commander father, and a few years later, this same General kicked me out, almost literally, from the funeral of my father.

You see, experience is the referent, and what you could have called “circumstance”, has been, is and will be for me, my whole life. It’s in my blood, in my genes, in my surname. I would not be able – nor do I want – to give up what I am. My father is not and was not a burden.

I don’t think much before speaking and I always say what I think. I have already said it, I have thought about it, I reaffirm it: If I were to be born again, I would not want a similar father, I would want the same one.

To say that I took advantage of him, of his position, of his power, excuse me, that would also be relative. By the way, my father had nine children, there are eight of us siblings, why are you interviewing me? I don’t think it’s just because I’m the son of a Comandante.

2. I want to wrap up the topic of your father with this question and then talk about you. The folkloric image of Comandante Juan Almeida is that of a man of the people, fun, down to earth and transparent. No excesses or abuses of power have been attributed to him. Do you agree with that image? How was he as a family man?

Folkloric image? Wow, Yoani, you come up with such phrases!

Well, let’s say that in some ways I agree with that image if “down to earth” means that one is not a complicated person. More than “a man of the people” he was Cuban, very “Cuban” and very human. The day I went to the morgue I went up to him and kissed him. He was on a stretcher, serious, cold – that was not my father. And although it’s difficult for a son to give an unbiased opinion, today I would say that my father’s smile was something incredible, fascinating, the most beautiful one in the world.

I remember when I was a child I loved to run my fingers over the marks that his battles had left on his body and he would tell me proudly, with a smile, these happened here, those happened over there, this one happened in El Uvero. So I know each centimeter of my father’s body, an extremely tender man who paradoxically died without saying “I love you”. Maybe that’s why he took refuge in his songs. He composed one for me, I Want to be a Sailor, and every time I hear it my heart crumples up.

My father was what I would like to be someday: unique.

But that’s enough, let’s change the topic. I get sentimental and I’m terrified of suffering.

3. From reading your book, Memories of an Unknown Guerrilla, and from other testimonies of people close to you, one gets the impression of a certain disastrous quality in your conduct: an undesirable student in several schools, a terrible State security agent, failed businessman and irredeemable bohemian. If you were forced to say something good about yourself, what would you say?

Ah, but were you saying bad things about me? You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If I had been a good agent for the organs of State Security, I bet you would be criticizing me right now. If I had been a “successful” businessman, would you be complimenting and envying me? And if I were not a bohemian, I wouldn’t know poems and this interview would be a boring antic, flattering and pedantic.

Look at that, it rhymes!

A while ago you called me “an important figure”; now, “disastrous” and “undesirable.” Hell, woman, you’re acting like the General. Look, you know who I am? I am Juan Juan and, by the way, I love saying my name. I am a Havanan by birth and in my heart. When I was very little and the carpets were rolled out, someone would always whisper: “the son of Comandante Almeida just arrived.” Later, when my daughter was a little girl and I would take her to school with her mother, her friends would say: “Indira’s father just arrived.” As you can see, my friend, the same way I am my father’s son, I am my daughter’s father. So that’s what I am: Indira’s father, Consuelo’s husband, Púbila García’s son, Juan Almeida’s son, my siblings’ brother, my friends’ friend. In conclusion, I am a guy who is many things, who loves to live his life and, as opposed to others, does not dream of that image of being an intelligent man. I am not a victim, I am not a hero, I have no pretensions of being a leader and even less a role model; no parties, no groups. I am only a human being with defects and fed up with so many people who have fantasies of fixing the world, which of itself is not even round. I think that a good chaos can be something fantastic!

4. In your youth and because you came from a family like yours, you were involved with that group of young men know popularly as “daddy’s boys”. Are you still friends with any of them? What happened to that pleiad?

Wouldn’t it really sound better to ask what happened to my group of friends? Well, all right, you like “pleiad”, I’ll use “pleiad.”

I am not going to mention their names, but all my friends, like all “friends”, some are here, others are elsewhere, others in the beyond.

Before, I used to talk to them a lot, and would even visit the ones here or elsewhere. But after suffering something as emotional as the persecutions were and are, being followed, arrested, interrogated, marginalized, excluded, etc., one has to learn to live with his present. I see no reason to affect or contaminate or want to convince anyone. My mother used to tell me: Juan Juan, I raised you to be a little man. And that’s it, I believed it.

I separated from my friends in order to protect them all, also from some relatives. I would have been a son of a bitch if I had acted any other way. But let me tell you something, the day I was kicked out of my father’s funeral, immediately after, my whole family left that place, they all got the hell out of the Plaza of the la Revolution. Listen well: All of them, Plaza of the Revolution. It’s not easy. From there I went home and I locked myself in to cry alone. And you know what helped me? The many phone calls, the great number of friends who, like you, know that my phone is always “congested.” Oh, and more than six thousand e-mails. I’m not an angel, I’ve said it, but that seemed to me enough to believe that I’m not so bad and that I had been able to sow a bit.

Did I tell you that a long time ago I removed from my dictionary the words “enemy,” “victory,” “defeat”; and because it rhymes with “combat” [in Spanish], I also removed “debate”.

Suffering terrifies me; so does power. I know them, I have seen them since childhood, they go hand in hand. Whoever prefers power should always understand that definition clearly, in its strictest sense, so as not to commit acts contrary to the duties imposed by the law, nor satisfy the personal interests of those who exercise it by abusing their authority and acting without respect for the law, decrees or constitutions. I don’t want that kind of power, I prefer to smile calmly.

By the way, and in conclusion, “daddy’s boys” is one of the many phrases that only create division and although it may seem funny to you, it’s quite discriminatory and exclusionary toward that “pleiad” that you call “daddy’s boys.” Not everything is absolute, the apple doesn’t look the same from the ground as from the sky.

5. Your current drama is described as one of a sick person who needs health care overseas where, in addition, your family lives, while the regime will not let you leave the country. What reasons have they given for denying you an exit visa? What do you think the real motives are? What do you think you would have to do or what would have to happen for you to finally get on a plane to leave Cuba? Will you return to live in this country if you manage to leave?

First, let’s put this in context: I have a life, not a drama. I was born with a genetic incurable illness, I don’t like talking about it, and I detest acting the victim. In the ’80s my conditions started to cause me pain and periods of being an invalid. I tried the best-known Cuban experts without finding any solution, including calling at the office of my father one afternoon because, and he had told me this, Minister Raul Castro had tried to find some Korean doctors because, among other things, he was also concerned about my case. I went to the Koreans, various sessions of acupuncture and other techniques but they didn’t resolve my problems. Go ask Raul, he must remember it. It was then when, through a decision of a commission of MININT and MINSAP, my medical records were sent to an international conference. I started to go to Brussels to see my doctor and things were going well even thought they were getting worse. The reasons, I don’t know. I received threats, arrests, persecutions, a ton of things; but an explanation, nothing.
Why don’t they let me go? I have no idea. I don’t know my interrogator nor anyone in Villa Marista. Nor can I accept that it’s on account of my father ordering it, because I don’t lack witnesses who destroy that hypothesis.

I have no doubt, that it’s a whim of someone who literally can piss on our Constitution, having forgotten the Hippocratic oath of the Minister of Health, to silence the highest leadership of the Ministry of the Interior and the President of the National Assembly.

Who has so much power? Fuente Ovejuna, señor. It’s because he can liquidate me, make me suffer pain, keep me from my daughter with no regard at all, from my wife, my family, he can put me in a cell in a secret case. But this hard-hearted pride will destroy his prestige because everyone looks and asks, why is the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba so taken with the idea of fucking over a guy like me? The answer is, I don’t know, it could be pride.

Am I going to return? I’m going to answer the same as I told a Colonel who interviewed me one day: my interest is in coming back — this I’ve repeated — but look, first I have to leave.

That which I’ve made clear is that if I leave illegally, I’ll return illegally.

6. It’s going around that you made at least one attempt at an illegal exit from Cuba. The incomprehensible is that, according to rumor, you guys were caught “red-handed” in a bus? Can you be more explicit?

Yes, but first I have to make clear that it wasn’t one, it was two attempts at illegal exit, or almost three. The first failed because the raft sank, fortunately next to the shore, I have at least two friends that can confirm it.

The second, is that one that many know: one afternoon they called me to say that, if I wanted to leave illegally, I was to show up dressed in white at 7 AM in a cafeteria that is located at the entrance to Lenin Park in the outskirts of the capital.

That I did, on May 6, 2009, out of pure desperation. I already said that I wrote letters, I already said I’d begged, I already said that I’d interviewed, I already said that they ignored me and there was no option other than an illegal exit. Besides, it’s already part of this old and sad story that sometimes seems spent: dreams, cries, frustrations, destroyed families — in the end, I said that on the bus we were 70-and-some-odd people.

Some said that God had abandoned us, and others, that He had simply saved us from a death on the high seas. The fact was that at 9 PM — by luck or disgrace, I don’t know — after hours on the road, the transit police detained the bus at the highway police control point in the city of Manzanillo. They took us to a police station, they took our identity cards and cell phones, they gave us a talking to in a theater, and then they divided us into groups. I remained with those who stayed overnight in that station. They put us in cells, and there, thrown here and there, we spent that first night together.

The next day, early, after breakfast, they took away our belongings, they took our fingerprints, they took statements and then locked us up in the same cells that were open before and to describe that now would be meaningless. At that time I learned that some of my fellow travelers had tried to illegally leave the country so many times and already knew too well the police procedures. After a while they returned all our belongings minus phones and identity cards, they offered us lunch and we rode the same bus, filming us as we rode, to take us to the delegation of MININT of Bayamo. But imagine it, a bus, with sixty-odd passengers tried to leave Cuba illegally; it was a noisy bomb running up the ghoulishly fascinated streets of Manzanillo, maybe that’s why many people in that town wanted to stand on the sidewalks to watch us pass. At first I thought they would throw stones or the like, but none of that, girl, people gave us examples of their solidarity. That was touching.

We got to Bayamo, were interrogated, taken to Havana, secret houses and even a thorough search of my house, a real atrocity. At last, after several days I left that nightmare with a hood over my head and I’m still required for many months to go and sign in at Villa Marista. I’ve said many times, I do not want to go sign, I want a trial, a trial to accept my own guilt, and the guilt of those who, by not answering my letters and leaving me in a legal limbo also becomes clear, they forced me and do force me to choose an illegal option. A situation and a suggestion that both, still, continue.

But what few know is that there was “almost” a third illegal departure, this last I told them personally in Villa Marista, I told them I would call the national and international press, meet them at the Malecon and get into a raft. Before, of course, I would also tell the Miami press that someone, a boat, a coast guard ship, a speed boat, whatever, something needed to come and wait for me in international waters. I have a visa. I’m will not stop asking or trying to get out, legal or illegal, that part doesn’t interest me, I need to go to the doctor, hug my family, because no one, absolutely no one, has the right to trample on my rights.

7. Do you consider yourself a dissident, government opponent, or something similar?

You don’t give me many options! I don’t consider myself a dissident or an opponent and much less “something similar.” I learned to get along, I’m everything and nothing. I have political opinions but I’m not political, I have a blog but I’m not a blogger, I have friends in the army and friends not in the army, friends who are foreigners and friends who are not foreigners, I’m a friend of Ventolera (that skinny lowlife they say is an expert at stealing clothes off the clotheslines) but I’m not a thief, I have a voice but I’m not a speaker, I have many gay friends but… Well, this is a topic we will talk about later.

Did you know that once, just to shut me up, they offered me work in a prominent place with gifts included? Did I ever tell you about the dissident friend who invited me to participate in his party? Did I tell you that in Villa Marista they constantly invite me to behave myself so they’ll give me the exit permit? Did I mention that a few days ago I received a strange message from the mouth of a General?

Oh, God, I consider myself a living being, an animal, a human, a Cuban, a Havanan who pursues only the welfare of my family, my friends, friends of my friends and my country.

I like a poem by my friend Roger Silverio that says something like:
“I’m tired, my Lord, I’m tired, it is a very large load you have given me
And being tired, I have almost forgotten, you promised me a world restored.”

8. Is it true that you have a private room in Villa Marista, the headquarters of State Security? Have you ever been subjected to cruel treatment, physical or psychological tortures? Do they still, at this point, propose that you work with them?

It’s true and interesting that the times they have taken me to Villa Marista and I had the privilege of sleeping on a bed in the same cell … sorry, I meant “the Presidential Suite.” But look, they have changed my number, the agent assigned to me and even my interrogator. Of course, the latter apologized and explained that he had been working outside of Havana. I do not mention his name because he begged me and I respect his privacy.

The treatment hasn’t been bad, no one has hit me, no one has pulled out my fingernails and they’ve even shown me letters. But beware, a cautionary measure that lasts longer than the sentence for a crime I never committed would be a violation, to be imprisoned for no reason could be an abuse, you feel and see yourself persecuted by people and cars, even to have photos of them is harassment, to not allow me to leave to see a doctor could be a kind of physical torture, and the simple and insignificant fact that they have taken me far from my family on a whim and the command of a lord, could be something like a psychological pressure. Especially when this is often accompanied by a polite, “Be good.”

What if they propose I collaborate? No, it is not that they have asked me, but believe me, I’d be enchanted although according to the manuals I remember from the KGB, there are certain characteristics people should have to “be recruited.” I don’t know if I can talk about these issues without violating any law, but now let me say that I do not fit the profile.

9. Lately you have been given to taking to the streets with signs. What does each of them say? What have you been trying to accomplish with the public protest?

Juan Juan Almeida walking with one of his signs.

No, lately no, I’ve always drawn posters. The first time I was just little boy. I was a José Martí Pioneer and I wanted to be like the apostle. On that first occasion, my sign said “I want to be like Marti.” For the record, I had nothing against the Che Guevara nor the Pioneer slogan [“I want to be like Che”]; but they punished me.

Later, I was in high school, I hung a sheet from the balcony that said in black letters, “Teachers, we students are not coming to the field today, we’re tired, please, replace us.” The teachers didn’t understand that I was asking a favor. That week I didn’t get a weekend pass.

For my wife, my daughter, I have filled the house with posters. In the bath, on the mirrors. Anyway.

In 2005 I was at the Plaza municipality immigration office with a poster that said, “I need permission for me and my wife to leave.” They threw me out. The same year I was at the Plaza of the Revolution with a poster that said the same thing. They detained me and confiscated the poster.

Finally, in 2009, they told me in Villa Marista that my case was closed and I could ask for permission to leave, and the next day they told me they reversed that decision, I went to the Plaza with a placard but this time it was blank. That was the problem, the agents didn’t understand and no matter how much I explained they didn’t believe I was thinking of doing it there. Geez, it’s that smart people are always very complicated.

The last and most recent was in December. An official from Villa Marista assured me that on a certain day they would have a definitive solution to my problem. That day came. Nothing, I felt played with, I grabbed my poster and went in the direction of Raul’s house, they stopped me on 5th avenue; that time it said, “Mr. President, respect the law, respect my rights.”

I never intended to disrespect anyone, I’m not a brave man, my posters aren’t offensive, they don’t create public scandals, I just want to get the attention of the people who run things. Nothing more. I already said in Villa Marista that they love to invent heroes, figures, myths, histories, legends, personages and enemies. They are making me into something I’m not.

10. How many weeks ago did you open your blog on the internet titled, “The Voice of El Morro”? What is the content of your blog? What made you participate in the alternative Cuban blogosphere?

I’ve repeated infinite times that for me, they won’t let me leave because of the whim of my “Mr. President,” because I write letters, I try to leave illegally, etc. etc. etc. I got to this point and I know that I’m not an isolated case, I opened my blog to open a window for everyone who wants to scream, to testify and to expose to the world the face of those of us who today are ghosts. It’s not my intention to pick at anyone’s wounds, I just want the testimony of those people who, for reasons or the whim of a “Don Juan of the pen,” can’t travel from this island or leave it. I want to claim all those who sadly share this absurd prohibition, because rather than separate us it unites us.

It’s simple, there is no double standard or hidden meaning. What is surprising is that some prefer the fear and choose to stay silent hoping the government will pardon them for something they never committed. I understand them, it’s their choice, they have written me hiding behind pseudonyms, but I want facts, not stories. To see you, when you get excited, about putting your face on my blog.

Look, I don’t like this name, “alternative Cuban blogosphere,” it sounds ugly to me and I want to clarify that we are not part of it and we don’t agree with it.

Now I want to tell you a story. One morning someone summoned me to a place, and after much talk a person told me that I resembled a certain Yoani Sanchez. I swear, I had never heard that name and started to wonder about her, with the sole intention of knowing who someone might compare me to. Then I read what Fidel Castro had written in the forward to a book [Fidel, Bolivia and Something More] and my curiosity was piqued. So it happened that, and it was after I’d forgotten that little name, one afternoon I was writing in my house and I received a text message saying, “I am Yoani, if you want to meet me I’m at the home of…” (A friend I don’t want to mention.)

I answered the text message, “Of course, I’ll meet you right now and I am going to kiss your feet,” I said, “If you have washed them.” I dropped everything and went there with the dream of meeting a fawning mulata, tall and delicious.

What a let-down, my friend! At my good friend’s house, on the only sofa, was a white skinny thing with nice legs but too demure for my tastes. And this is Yoani Sanchez? I wondered. So I met an enchanting woman and her husband with his captivating sense of humor. You invited me to your house and I went, I got in the elevator and two young people got in with me, I watched them covertly. One of them had a certain arrogant and dreamy look, and because I am indiscreet I paid particular attention to some metropolitan buttocks. And the boy, well the truth is after looking at those buttocks I didn’t notice anything about him. And in this way I met Claudia Cadelo. And because a beautiful woman is not the youngest, nor the skinniest, nor the one with the smoothest skin or the most stunning hair, but the one who with just a smile and a word can light up your life, I ended up being her friend and the friend of that spectacular guy who is Ciro. Later I met Orlando Luis and I also loved him, and Ivan, Miriam, Ricardo and all those who today are part of my family. What’s more, I can tell you this, and I have told you, so started this crazy fable which, more than a fairy tale, is a story and more than a story is now history.

11. If right now the president of the Republic, General Raul Castro, called you on the phone and asked your advice for solving the problems of Cuba, what would you tell him?

This is not going to happen, but if it did, I couldn’t talk to him right now, I’m talking to Yoani.

Interview by Yoani Sánchez.

*Translator’s Note: This interview is taken from Convivencia’s main website where it appeared, rather than from its blog (which is a part of the website). It is much longer than the typical blog post, but of such humor and interest we thought English-speaking readers would enjoy it. The interview was originally posted on March 30, 2010.

The Church and Mediation: Pérez Serántes

Monseñor Enrique Pérez Serantes, born in Galicia, Doctor of Philosophy and Theology, ordained in 1910 and professor of the Seminary San Carlos and San Ambrosio for six years. In the diocese of Cienfuegos he held the positions of Visor and Vicar General, where he founded the St. Paul Council of the Knights of Columbus. In 1922 he he was ordained as a bishop and was appointed second bishop of Camaguey by Pope Pius XI. In 1948 the Holy See appointed him archbishop of Santiago de Cuba.

Pérez Serantes was the bishop most committed to the social problems of Cuba, he called attention to the working world, became the prototype of a missionary bishop and one of the leading apostles of the Cuban church. His activity was inspired by the Rerum Novarum Encyclical (1891) of Pope Leo XIII, who favored the creation of groups, associations and Catholic unions, the germ of the current Social Doctrine of the Church. When the Moncada Barracks were assaulted on July 26, 1953, he assumed an attitude of commitment, as reflected in the circulars with which he assaulted the Batista government, and that involved the Church in the convulsive sitaution in Cuba.

The first circulars were Peace for the Dead, on July 29 of that year, and the Letter to Col. Rio Chaviano, the following day. Later he issued To The People of the East, on May 28, 1957, a pronunciation for social peace; We Want Peace, on March 24, 1958, a new call to seek peace, aimed at mediating between the government and the guerrillas; the circular With Regards to the Explosion of the Powder Keg of Cobre, on April 16, 1958, where he tried to show that those who set off the explosion didn’t think it would cause major damage at the National Sanctuary, avoiding any accusation against the Rebel Army; We Invoke the Lord, on August 22, 1958, issued during the counteroffensive of the Rebel Army; Walk Macabre, on October 7, 1958, where he castigates the parading of the corpse of a young rebel through the streets of the city and calling it a barbarism; and Enough of War, on December 24, 1958, in which he stated that “no one should idly enjoy themselves, while millions of Cubans writhe and groan in the anguish of intense pain and misery.” This position explained that in the act celebrated on January 2, 1959 in Santiago de Cuba, on hearing Fidel Castro for the first time, Monsignor Pérez Serantes was the first to make use of the word.

I heard one version that says Sarría saved him because he was following orders, and Fidel’s wife was the daughter of a politician very close to Batista, who had interceded for her husband. Regardless of which version may or may not be true, the fact that I want to emphasize is that, in the Letter to Col. Rio Chaviano of July 30, Pérez Serantes established his determination to intercede for the fugitives and his readiness to serve as a guarantor for their lives, a decision that allowed him to participate in the transfer of Fidel from the place he was captured to Santiago de Cuba, preventing his assassination. This latter was confirmed by General Juan Escalona Reguera in an interview with the journalist Luís Báez, in which he said that, being in Siboney, near where Fidel Castro was arrested, he could observe the moment when Sarría and Pérez Serantes were talking on the road with Col. Perez Chamont, who demanded that they turn over Fidel Castro, who was in custody.

In May 1960, after Fidel declared the socialist character of the Revolution, Pérez Serantes issued a circular in which he defined the position of the Church with regards to such a definitive turn of events: With communism nothing, absolutely nothing. After an ecclesiastical life, characterized by a commitment to social problems in Cuba, before and after the Revolution, and interceding for the life of Fidel Castro, Monseñor Enrique Pérez Serantes died in Cuba on April 19, 1968.

The contradictions between Church and Revolution were becoming more acute event to the point of open conflict. A proof of the worsening of relations was the detention for several hours in Camaguey — in December 1960 during a return trip to Santiago de Cuba — of the first speaker of the event held on January 2 in Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel Castro addressed Cubans publicly for the first time.

After a prominent ecclesiastical life, characterized by a commitment to social problems before and after the Revolution, and interceding for the life of Fidel Castro, as did other men of the Church in conflict situations in the history of Cuba, men such as Pedro Agustin Morell, Antonio María Claret and Olallo José Valdés, Monseñor Enrique Pérez Serántes died in Cuba on April 19, 1968, at 84 years of age.

Pedro Agustín Morell, Antonio María Claret, Olallo José Valdés and Enrique Pérez Serantes are not alone, but are representative of the importance of ethics, courage, commitment and willingness to confront conflict. The facts, which are part of our history, are little reported and they contain many lessons for the present case of Cuban prisoners of conscience and for many other problems faced at the negotiating table.

The Happiness of the Long Distance Runner

The calendar displays May 20, 2010. It’s half past ten in the morning. In my hometown of Bayamo it’s another hot muggy day that makes foreheads sweat and engenders moods very close to irritation. But that’s outside, in the unsheltered streets. In this office with its inlaid walls where I am now, an air conditioner set into the wall transforms the surrounding reality into something serene and peaceful.

In front of me an official waits, sitting behind his desk. Telephone in hand. Since my entry into the premises he has only interrupted his dialog to say to me, “Good morning Ernesto, take a seat,” as natural as if he had been expecting me to appear. A little later he finishes his conversation, and pressing two numbers with intentional precision, he asks after the presence of some of the institution’s employees. He asks them to come to the office immediately. No one tells me, but I guess: it is the Board members.

The official has a serene expression on his face, no sign of severity. His name: Ernesto Douglas Bosch. His job: Director of Provincial Radio Bayamo Broadcasting, in the eastern province of Granma.

The seconds crawl by, we are alone in his office waiting for the others, the weight of silence forces him to speak.

“Let me tell you something,” he finally says, acknowledging my existence. “You have no idea of the esteem I have for you. First, for your talent, and second, for your attitude as an employee of this Broadcaster, since the time you started more than a year ago now. But there are things that are difficult for me to accept, that I have a hard time believing,” he says, and he leaves the sentence unfinished, as if it’s not worth the trouble to continue.

I listen to him, and although he doesn’t know it, I study the circumstances with an obsessive interest. I have the feeling (just in the last ten minutes since he warned me) that something definitive is going to happen in my life, and I get ready to capture the essence of whatever is said, whatever is breathed this morning.

My arrival at the institution where I have worked as a Cultural Journalist since I finished my university studies in 2008, was marked today by a coercive act I’d never before had occasion to experience.

The receptionist had been prepared; I’d barely stepped foot in the door when she informed me, with great seriousness: the Director was waiting for me in his office. I thanked her for the information. But as I could meet with the director after saying good morning to my colleagues, I chose to go first to my office, understanding in passing that this time it was about something serious. I smelled it in the curt gestures and distance of some of my colleagues, and seconds later, more explicitly, I knew it by the Safety and Security Officer, who was charged with personally taking me to the Board. So there would be no more detours along the way.

So now, when three employees from different areas came through the door almost in unison, and sat down next to me, I had no doubt that I was present at a scene (and in a starring role) for which, to be honest, I’d been prepared, though I hadn’t imagined it would come so soon.

The silence was absolute. Ernesto Douglas limited himself to reaching for a document that (only now did I notice) was conveniently located at his right hand, on the desk. He handed it to me saying,

“Read this. When you’re done we’ll talk.”

My reading lasted much longer than the general patience desired. A comprehensive understanding of this Resolution 12 of 2010, plagued by wherefores, acronyms and legal references, and edited in parts to be nearly incomprehensible, was a real academic exercise.

The essence, however, of what I had in my hands admitted no doubt: By Resolution 12 of this year the Director of the Institution expelled me from the same. Permanently.

Was I taken by surprise? Again, no. My only surprise came from the haste with which this had occurred. And, also, by the reason put forward for doing so.

Let’s see.

Behind this meeting (which although it pains me to do so, I can only classify with one term: repression), figure four names in particular. They are the base of the iceberg. The first three are proper names: Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The third is the name of an artistic group: Los Aldeanos (The Villagers).

Just recently I had published two articles on the internet that centered on these people. First, an article (Revolution in the Village) based on Mayckell Pedrero’s documentary about this rap duo, analyzing musical, social and ideological aspects of this controversial and talented group. Then, under the title, The Death That Never Should Have Been, I published an assessment of the tragedy of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a case increasingly hidden from the Cuban population. And finally, there was an extensive interview, A Limit to All The Hatred, with the blogger of Generation Y and her husband, also a journalist, Reinaldo Escobar.

Knowing the dismal situation of the media in my country, I didn’t have the naiveté to try to publish these articles in some official space, say a magazine, web, newspaper, or website on the national network. And knowing (also) the disregard for freedom of expression in my country, I did not suppose that, after exercising the right of my own voice to critically question the attitudes and decisions taken at the highest level, I would pass unscathed by any reprisals. Cause and effect.

But the reason Resolution 12 2010 cited as serious misconduct on my part appeared to be the fruit of a creative mind capable of emulating the best of George Orwell, and here my adaptation to the absurd, my resistance to astonishment, could only give way entirely.

What was I accused of? That, in my capacity as a journalist with a personal Internet account (only available at my workplace), I had disproportionately, in my navigation, accessed sites I did not have authorization to access, specifically those of a subversive and counterrevolutionary character attacking our country. Make no mistake: the miserable wretch who wrote this letter should sweat ice for not mentioning, expressly, the true cause of my expulsion. But not talking about this apparently was more difficult than it seemed, as the writer yielded to the impulse. He said, “The publication of articles on the before mentioned sites is also verified.” Only that.

Let us, then, clarify the argument: I was not sanctioned for publishing. No way. Doing so would have confirmed certain accusations about the violation of individual rights, freedom of expression and other demons, that it was better not to awaken in these turbulent times. Then, on further analysis, all the masks fall away and institutional anger against a journalist who dared to be true to himself came bursting to the surface, but in the two pages of horrifying evidence, my articles figure only as an argument of fifth-rate importance and are only mentioned in passing.

So then, I was punished for reading.

For reading what other voices, both inside and outside my country, say about a hundred political, cultural and social aspect so connected to the journalism I practice, as to human reason. but in essence and without make-up, I was expelled for reading what I should not. For doing exactly what the overseers in the cane fields forbid the slaves to do, under threat of violent punishment. And also, what the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro once promulgated as a maxim of the process. “We do not tell the people to believe,” he said back then, “we tell them: read.”

Returning to the Board Room of Radio Bayamo Broadcasting, I finished my risky reading, and faced the same silence, the same dense atmosphere that doesn’t allow anyone present to say a word, or even feel comfortable.

I returned to the document to the Director, and with his, obeying his mental plan, he asked,

“Do you have anything to say?”

I didn’t know if my face betrayed my thoughts, but internally I had to smile. With perplexity.

Racing through my mind at the speed of light are the memories of so many expelled, so many censored in the most recent history of Cuba, which is not studied in any school on the Island. And not the memory of a Virgilio Piñera or a María Elena Cruz Varela in particular. I think of all the ones who say no, the unknowns who stories of abuse against their rights, or reprisals like this one, are never seen, never known.

“Of course I have something to say,” although really, I don’t want to. The size of the injustice, the arbitrariness, I’m at a loss for words.

But, finally, I speak. For the space of twenty minutes. I speak of violations, and of the amnesia my country seems to suffer from. Forgetting the results methods such as these have led to for decades, that we still haven’t come to terms with the shameful and seemingly immortal Five Grey Years, dedicating conferences to it or publishing volumes about it. I speak of my rights to information and free expression. I speak of the legal loopholes that, even without a lawyer, can be detected in a simple glance at this libelous accusation. I speak knowing that my restrained catharsis is nothing more than the right to kick the hangman. And when I finish, after a two second pause, my Director turns to the others present,

“Does anyone else want to say something?”

Heads shake, no. And to my surprise, with no more to-do, the meeting ends, though not without informing me that I have seven days under the law to submit a demand for my reinstatement.

His voice is toneless. His gestures are as indifferent as those he received me with while talking on the phone. And I think, the terrible thing is not that they are directors who give in to the temptation to use their powers in the most arbitrary and brutal way. The terrible thing is, I am sure that later today, Director Ernesto Douglas Bosch will sleep peacefully through the nights, with his wife and family relatively happy.

“You have nothing to say to me,” I ask him before getting up. “You have nothing to say after all the time I spent arguing against this punishment?”

His answer, rigid, now ruthless, comes without thinking,

“I have nothing to say. I heard you but everything that needs to be said is in that document you have in your hands. We’re done. Good day.”

At that very moment, in the second when I look into his passive eyes behind his magnifying glasses, I understand that during the entire meeting his ears remained closed to my voice. His ears, and everyone’s. No one listened to me in this spectral encounter.

Why? How evil of this Director made speaker, whose joviality at times borders on a lack of character and authority? No, I tell myself. The reason is something else. The true reason is that this man with his power to separate me from the entity he directs, is just following orders.

Explicit orders (“Take drastic measures in this case”) or implicit (“If I were you, I would handle this matter intelligently”). Or even worse, interior orders, incorporated into thought, that warns of the risks of not being assertive with a mistaken employee and in consequence being judged as an irresponsible and lazy worker. Orders of a thousand different kinds. But in the end, orders.

So even in this moment as I walk through the hallway to the exit, with the notable perception that those who look at me do with a, (yes, it’s so), humiliating pity, with eyes showing a solidarity that, if there were no danger, could sympathize with me; not even now, when I know that the link has been permanently cut, can I find any animosity against the one whose stroke of the pen it was.

Ernesto Douglas Bosch did not expel me, I think. Whether he recognizes it or not, his sad function is to be the puppet of other minds, minds that at any moment would hesitate to throw him into the fire, just as he did to me today. He is the executor of a firmly drawn direction, but at bottom, I will never know whether or not he agrees. Since none of the thousands of Cubans expelled from their jobs, removed, condemned to work in steel factories or cane fields, will ever know if the one who told him of his exile internally agreed with the measure, or if he had no choice but to carry it out for his own good.

It’s almost noon in Bayamo of my island Cuba. Under the same desert sun I once again wander the city where hundreds of years earlier a fervent and lacerated people sang the first verses of our national anthem. We, and them, we are no longer the same, I think, before losing myself in the busiest shopping street of the city.

And I think, also, that none of the people now passing me, nor those behind me, have been commenting on my case, nor could Director Ernesto Douglas Bosch back in his office with its inlaid walls, understand the state of mind with which I turn my steps toward personal and professional independence. This kind of inner harmony is similar to that of a long distance runner who, apart from the crowd (it doesn’t matter if he is ahead, behind or next to them) runs on air, without others understanding his lightness, and his smile of happiness.

Ernesto’s Blog: The Little Brother