Will the Prisons be Filled Again? / Iván García

It is a likely probability.  It is known that the Castros are unpredictable.  At times, they attempt to behave like brothers respectful of international norms.  The truth is the rules of democracy and human rights agreements are instruments against which the government in Havana holds grudges.

The three-way negotiations between General Raul Castro with the Cuban Catholic Church, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and a left-wing branch of Barack Obama’s administration, which culminated in the agreement to release the 52 prisoners of conscience from la primavera negra del 2003 (the black Spring of 2003) and promises to reach out to more political prisoners on the island, could become a sterile gesture.

Since Castro II’s speech on the 1st of August, alarms were set off in the Cuban Secret Services.  The General did a 360 degree turn on the alleged easing of tensions and sent a return message to the disidencia del patio (courtyard dissidents).

He said it clearly.  Do not confuse tolerance with impunity. The street belongs to the revolutionaries.  We know what that means.  Beatings by the “pueblo indignado” (incensed citizens), acts of repudiation and thorough verbal lynchings to those who oppose the regime.

State Security took note and began work to gather the necessary pieces in the best way it knows how: repression. On the 5th of August, a date on which the sixteenth anniversary of the maleconazo* is commemorated, the political police conducted an extensive operation against dissidents and independent journalists who that day went to the United States Interests Section to surf the Internet.

Dozens of opponents where detained for up to 12 hours.  All detainees were warned that there would be no impunity.  As part of the strategy, citations and warnings have been issued to independent journalists in different provinces.

Reina Luisa Tamayo suffers fierce harassment at her home in Banes, Holguín, 700 kilometers (approximately 435 miles) from Havana.  They were not satisfied that Reina had lost her son, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, after an 86 day hunger strike, last February 23rd.

She is the Lady in White who has been treated most rudely by the political police.  They have not respected her pain as a mother nor have they allowed her to mourn as she is entitled to do.

The question that many ask today is what was the reason to unleash such a raid.  It could be that the government expects more from the European Union and from the United States.  Or, that the release of a handful of prisoners was only a measure to obtain political breathing room and some international credibility.

I have no doubt that there are factions in power with different opinions.  At this moment different springs are moving within the status quo.  He who manages to impose himself will dictate the rules of the game.

If the ‘talibanes’ (Taliban) succeed, the historic hard-line revolutionaries, we will return to the past.  Beware of economic measures and of the iron fist with dissidents.  We will have to wait.

Yet something is certain.  The hasty negotiations of Castro II, the church and Moratinos, left behind some rough edges.  What is important, without a doubt, was the promise to release 52 political prisoners who should have never been in jail.

But apparently neither Cardinal Ortega nor the Spanish Foreign Minister could get General Raul to promise to never again incarcerate someone because of their opinion.  Also not on the agenda, was the abolition of the dark Law 88, which continues to float around the air of the Republic.  With the strike of a gavel, it allows any prosecutor to put a dissident behind bars for 20 years or more.

The Castros may have decided to start playing hard and without gloves again.  A sector of the opposition knows it.  It asks itself if there will be new black summers, winters, autumns or springs.

In 51 years of revolution, prisons have always been full of political prisoners.  They are valuable bargaining chips.  If the regime wants, they could empty them.  Also if it wants, it could fill them once again.

Iván García

*Translator’s note: The Malaconazo was a riot that broke out on the Malecon, Havana’s seawall and waterfront arterial.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 22, 2010

Tropical Cancer / Ernesto Morales Licea

From the moment you push the door open, you notice something is not right. By now you should be feeling a change in the atmosphere, the change of temperature to give your skin, so mistreated by the sun, a breather. You should feel the air conditioner running at a place where you pay with the coin of higher value in your country.

Nevertheless, inside awaits a heat as intense as the one outside.  Maybe hotter.

The salesclerk, a skinny mulatto, is wearing his button-down shirt as required by the rules.  At his armpits, the blue color from the shirt gets darker: the sweat runs all the way down his ribs, it forces him to pull the shirt away from his body over and over again during his shift.

You ask him for a soda, and you lay the convertible peso that equals two days of work on the counter.  You know you can’t allow yourself to spend that type of money frequently, but the climate is maddening and at moments you feel forced.

When you reach for the can, you think there has been a mistake:

–  It’s not cold, my friend, can you change it for me?

His answer, a little indifferent, is the answer of someone who has had to repeat it on countless occasions:

– They’re all like that.  The rules about saving force us to set the fridge at the highest temperature, that is why they can’t get as cold as they should.

You’re still holding the can in your hand.  You know that it is not what your lips are waiting for to mitigate your thirst.  You know you’ll regret having spent two days worth of your salary for a drink you won’t enjoy.  But you sense the same thing will happen in every store you go to.

Just out of curiosity you ask him:

– Is it the same everywhere? I mean, is it an orientation given to all the units?

– Not only to the units that sell in convertible pesos –he assures me – but to all the places with a refrigeration system, whatever they are.  Here, for example, out of the twelve hours that we work, we can only use the air conditioning for four, and the fridges should be on the highest temperatures.

You look around: you don’t see even a window.  There isn’t a single hole from where a light breeze can come in to alleviate the drowsiness.  You think of your office, which never had air conditioning, but at least had a window as consolation from where you could look out and, from time to time, cool your forehead.

You thank him, keep the can and rush out of that café so similar to a crematory.  You finish the soda with no desire, almost out of obligation to the money spent.

You walk the streets with not much to do, but now you start noticing all of your surroundings.  A Banco Popular, for example.  Designed like a concrete fort for obvious reasons, with hardly any windows for natural ventilation.  Inside, the consoles are covered with spider webs.  You don’t know this because you don’t get to ask, but they also prohibit the use of air conditioning here, for good.

Hundreds of people wait for their turn to be called.  Hundreds of workers spend their eight or ten hours in there, receiving and giving out money.  The heat multiplies itself due to the agglomeration of so many bodies.

You push another door open: another store for convertible pesos only.  This time you are not surprised by the suffocating atmosphere, but a nauseating smell of concentrated air fresheners, along with the humidity from all the sweat in general, makes you leave immediately in search of oxygen.

You remember when, a few years back, the national authorities announced that the energy crisis in Cuba had come to an end.  They mobilized the entire country; they got the streets in party mode.

They took away the improvised fans from everybody, their fridges, their TV’s.  Under the “change” euphemism, they sold them brand new equipment, imported from China.  They sold them electric burners and rice makers.   It is true that beforehand they had raised electricity rates noticeably, however, it seemed like we were moving forward.  You remember feeling a vague illusion of prosperity.

A name was dedicated to the year the initiative started.  2006 was called “The Year of the Energy Revolution.”

And every Cuban, you included, thought the era of endless power outages, implacable savings, as part of the past.   A past to which seemed, we were never going back.

Today, every spot is gripped by savings.  Offices crowded by computers and equipment in need of air conditioning.  Cafeterias with perishable products.  Workplaces where it is an inhumane practice if working hours are not reduced.

So, what happened this time? What failed once again?

You know you won’t have the answers to these questions.  If you asked somebody, you would hear all sorts of justifications – the criminal imperialist blockade, the world crisis, the adjustments in our economy – that you could recite to yourself beforehand.

That is why you’ll get home very soon, to your own heat bubble and exhaustion.  You, just like many others, have lost all hope for progress.

You know that tomorrow, maybe the energy subject will be stirred up any unthinkable way, but then, the tires will stop and this country’s busses will be paralyzed, or salt will vanish from all the markets and you will be forced to cook while adapting the taste buds to the emergency.

Too many years in training to be that naïve.

As you come back to listening to your own steps you notice that the soda you paid for didn’t take your thirst away.  You also notice you weren’t able to find any other insignificant things you were looking for in the stores.  And that you’ll get home with your skin a little more scorched from the sun.

The only thing you ask for is, for nobody, absolutely nobody to cross your path with an offensive phrase, any type of rudeness, a subject of discussion.  Not even your family or friends.

You don’t know this, you think that the discouragement you have inside is not important.  But at this very moment you believe you are sick from a tropical cancer, a loaded gun in search of a reason to pull the trigger.

Translator: Angelica Betancourt

August 19, 2010

Aldeano’s Codes / Ernesto Morales Licea

I think that in my subconscious, I felt something more than professional interest when I visited them. Something like personally knowing the two rappers whose music and political positions greatly influenced my decision to confront, with the written word, the lies that embitter my beloved country.

I still remember with pleasure my “punisher” using that article (Revolution in the Village) where I spoke of them as two daring youth and as the best of my generation, as tangible proof of my unacceptable rebelliousness.

Los Aldeanos (The Villagers) have become a secret code. In a subversive way they assimilate reality. I remember an amusing incident: A friend introduced me to his girlfriend. As I walked toward them, I had headphones on my ears. After a conversation in which we exchanged some words about my job, and about my particular thoughts, she said, in a way of summarizing: Well, you look like you listen to Los Aldeanos.

I couldn’t avoid a good laugh. I, faithful follower of heavy metal, was indeed listening to Los Aldeanos.

In the seven years that they have performed together, this young duo has starred in a story as beautiful as it is unique in the Cuba of the twenty-first century.

Due to the sincerity in their lyrics, many sleepless nights over what occurs in our country, they have climbed to reach an admirable position in the conscience of a society that, although some deny it, listens to them with the respect inspired by those with (to say in blunt Cuban speech) well-placed balls.

What I am now transcribing is just a small fragment of the interview with Aldo Rodríguez Baquero, El Aldeano (The Villager) who has given over his alias to name the duo. A 27-year-old native of Havana, with a 9th-grade level of schooling and an incredible talent for the polemic and brilliant universe that is Cuban Hip-Hop.

-Aldo, what are the aspects of Cuban reality that you would most like to be able to change?

I can only mention one to you, that I think would make me very happy if I achieved it. And it is that Cubans go back to being human beings. That we go back to being good people. That Cubans go back to smiling without having a dirty mind.

And when I speak to you of going back to being human beings this means that the whole world here would feel the desire to love, to not rat on each other, to not resent someone because they bought a refrigerator, to not be involved in other people’s’ lives. When I say “the whole world” I am including, as one and the same, the President, the bus driver, and the trash collector.

Because to tell you that it’s necessary to improve transportation or the nutrition of Cubans, this is evident, but I think that all of this can be solved with a little more love, and less mistreatment of each other.

-Are you conscious of what you currently represent for the Cuban youth? Up to what point does the music of Los Aldeanos have the intention of becoming the symbol of a generation?

Look, we never planned anything specific for ourselves. But yes, many people come up to me in the street and thank me because they have changed their lives, and they have encountered a little courage or happiness in some song of ours.

Whether we are a symbol or not, until now I wouldn’t have dared to tell you. Now, I know that many people support us because we support the people, you know? Because we talk about the problems of the people. It is like a marriage that we have with the people.

In fact I have to take a course to be an artist because I don’t have a car nor a palace, I don’t have a way to hide myself from anyone. And also sometimes I can’t go to see someone singing because I don’t have money and I have to eat like everyone else. Imagine what a strange kind of artist I am…

-In many of your songs I have listened to, referring to yourself in relation to other rappers, you say things like “we are those who show our faces,” “we say what you don’t dare to say.” For Los Aldeanos, is it an inherent function of rap to be critics as you are with respect to politics?

Here each has their own distinct point of view, but for me this is what rap is. It is social denunciation, an abundance of style, it is to say things in the most clever way possible. It is floating. But I can’t stop seeing the rapper as the mambí of today. It is above the bullets.

And for this I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble and my mom has to go through it all with me. But for me there’s no other way to look at it. For me, rap should always bring its courage, we have to remember that those of us who have this music are here and they can’t shut us up.

Also, man, how can such a strong rhythm in a such a fucked up society talk about other things?

– What’s it like for you day by day carrying the little sign on your backs that says “counterrevolutionary”?

It’s not easy, you know… State Security does not call me. They don’t talk to me. But they call my friends. And they suffocate them, threaten then in a thousand ways.

And yet, so you can see the hypocrisy, when we are in the street with our friends, quiet, sharing a bottle of rum, the police come and arrest us for reasons they invent, they take us to the station and there other cops ask for our autographs. And to top it off, it’s the same State Security that gets us out of there, as if they’re saying, “Leave these boys alone.”

A little while ago we gave a concert in Holguin and when we went through Camaguey we were arrested. Because we embody a (police) goal, we argue and we end up in jail. And we always know that, at bottom, it’s about the music we make.

Other time we gave a concert in Pinar del Rio, and at the end a guy came and said to us, “You are counterrevolutionaries,” and again, we were in jail. That time we had a huge argument with them at the station, because they made us strip and all because they filmed us and we wanted to get the tape from them…

Some time ago the Sector Chief came with seven cops and took the computers in my house, on the pretext that I was selling movies. They’d already taken them and I had to call Silvito’s dad (Silvio Rodriguez) and say he had given them to me, and then they returned them to me, although I had to go get them, they didn’t bring them back to the house. The two computers, mine and my sister’s.

That time they argued a lot with me, you know. Because it’s not easy for me to come to your house and take your cap… your cap, that I didn’t buy you, and it cost you enough sacrifice. And without a warrant or anything: “I’m taking this,” and that’s it.

And still, as you can see, there are many people out there who say nothing happens to us because we are State Security… I don’t pick fights with them. I’m trying to get them to fight for themselves, and they respond to us like that. I can’t think about it because I get more depressed.

– After hearing songs like They Crushed Us, which is so upsetting for young people, one has to ask: Do Los Aldeanos have a pessimistic vision of our generation?

Chico, it’s that life gives back to people what they live, and makes them think that way.

When you’ve had friends, and those friends have betrayed you and abandoned you at your most difficult times, when they’ve exchanged ten years of friendship for two hundred pesos, when you feel people all around you but at the same time feel alone, it’s hard not to have a pessimistic vision.

And I wouldn’t even call it pessimism… I would call it realism. It’s what I see so much around me.

Right now you go out on the streets and find a whole bunch of thugs who want to stab you just because you stepped on them, but they change their tune when they see an officer.

Guys who don’t have the capacity to confront the authorities and tell them they don’t feel good about the way they are treated. So how can I not take a pessimistic view of my surroundings?

For me, today Cuba is a paradise of injustice, because for so many parts of the world it’s seen as a “happy face,” but here, inside, there are thousands of fakeries and lies and sad things. And I think the greatest part of the fault for that is our own because we allow it.

Then a young man takes out his frustration in the street, with violence. He acts all tough with me, sticks a knife in me… Hey dude! I eat the same eggs as you, ride the same bus as you, your mama cries when the power goes out just like mine does.

I can’t understand that this is happening with our youth. And that a girl has to give it up for foreigners, old farts. I could understand if she did it to feed her child, but not to dress better, not to have a cell phone in her pocket.

I believe that as long as these things are happening in Cuba without anyone stepping on the brake, while I see so many ugly things every day, I will continue to have a pessimistic vision of what I see around me. And I will continue rapping.

August 4, 2010

Essay from Voices 1 by Dimas Castellanos / Posted in: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The Limits of Immobility
By Dimas Castellanos

The multiple factors that made possible the paralysis of our history in recent decades, while interacting on a different stage, have placed the limits of immobility on the daily agenda.  The attempts to convert citizens by the masses, to ignore the vital function of rights and liberties, and to determine from above when and how every single thing needs to be done, ultimately killed personal interest, generated stagnation and lead to a profound structural crisis with immeasurable material and spiritual damages. It is a publicly recognized fact, by way of the country’s authorities themselves posing the need to cambiar todo lo que sea necesario (change everything necessary); even though they did not manifest the corresponding political will to face said changes.

Like I have expressed during other opportunities, the coincidence between the exhaustion of the model, the unhappy citizen, the stagnation of the nation, the deterioration of the exterior image, external pressures and the citizen’ consensus for change, has shaped a scene that summarizes that los de abajo no quieren y los de arriba no pueden seguir como hasta entonces(those below don’t want to and those above can’t until then).  In that context, it interrupted a chain of events in the year 2010, among them: the prohibition of entry into Cuban territory of the Socialist MEP (Member of the European Parliament), Luis Yánez, the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo during a prolonged hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas’ hunger strike, the repression against independent journalists, bloggers, Damas de Blanco and other opponents, during a time in which, thanks to information technology, power began to loose its monopoly over information.

Immersed in the complex social framework, the Government announced in the congresses of the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas or Communist Youth Union (October 2009) and the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños or National Association of Small Farmers (May 2010), the “actualización del modelo” (updated model), an impossible proposition without first replacing the foreign policy of confrontation with the acceptance of critical dialogue, whose first and most basic requirement is the release of political prisoners, a fact which created a shift in the Cuban authorities, whose main event was to call on the Catholic Church to mediate before the Damas de Blanco and Fariñas’ strike, and initiate a process of gradual release of those incarcerated in the spring of 2003. Something to which they had refused for seven long years. Although that shift is not synonymous with the political will for democratization, it expresses at least an awareness that without changes their own proposals are unthinkable, equivalent to the failure of immobility.

If in the new conditions, the intention of the Government is to liberate prisoners to change the image and accept plans for cooperation and sources of funding, it is on the path to flat-out failure; since the release of the first prisoners, regardless of the form or pace at which it is occurring, will become, like it or not, a prelude to other urgent demands from Cuban society. Not ignoring the grave dangers that new stagnancy would represent, the liberalizations will lead, sooner than later, to other changes.  Stopping on this point, it is important to note that since 1902, when it the Republic was established, Cuba has changed many times only to return to the starting point again, a reality that forces one to take into account the causes of the regressions when faced with evident prospects for change.

Among them, these cases highlight the weakness of civil society, independent and legally recognized in the first half of the twentieth century, and then its disappearance between 1959 and 1968, without whose existence it’s not possible to advance personally or socially toward modernity. In the absence of civil society and civil and political rights, the concept of the citizen was eclipsed until it came to be considered a pejorative term. This means that at the time that Cuba is approaching changes, it lacks the essential tools and spaces to realize them. A reality that constitutes the most complex challenge for the many transformations that don’t leave to a return to the point of departure. Everything depends on the capacity of the pro-change forces, of intelligence in the form of action, and also of the hidden forces that oppose this process.

In the next installment I will discuss various figures of the Republic emerging from the revolutionary movement who opposed the extension of Gerardo Machado’s powers, who, from the Army or the student population, were characterized by the use of physical and/or verbal violence, and by personalizing public affairs; these are phenomena closely related to the current situation, so this analysis may give rise to valuable lessons for the present. In this article I will concern myself with a man who was essentially characterized by the fight against corruption.

Rene Eduardo Chibas y Rivas (1907-1951), journalist and politician, exalted character, talkative, bold and eccentric, joined the Student Directorate Against the Extension of Powers in 1927. He was highlighted in the Student Directory of 1930, was arrested, imprisoned and exiled on several occasions: in 1925 for his participation in the rally demanding the release of Julio Antonio Mella; in 1929 accused of wanting to kill Machado; in 1931 imprisoned in the Castle of Prince and the Island Prison Pinos; in March 1935, he spent six months back in the Castillo del Principe; and in 1950 her served six months in prison handed down by the Emergency Court.

A member of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, founded in February 1934, in 1939 he was elected delegate to the Constituent Assembly, and sat in the House in 1940 and in the Senate in 1944. In 1947, the result of an internal split in the Authentic Party, founded together with other leaders of the Party of the Cuban People (Orthodox), he ran for the presidency of the republic. From March 1928, he published his first statement in El Mundo, and he made intense and repeated use of the freedom of the press. As early as 1934, the Silver Anniversary edition of the magazine Bohemia, he appeared among its collaborators. In addition to The Crucible and other media of the printed press, he used the radio station CMW Voice of the West Indies, the CMQ, and from 1946  the COCO. His denunciations and controversy formed a new style in Cuban politics, based on the use of the media to stay in the limelight of public interest. He defined himself, in this work, as leader of the Moral Revolution.

He was essentially controversial and contradictory, constantly going from defense to aggression. Some examples: In September 1933, when it was agreed to dissolve the government known as the Pentarchy, he proposed Grau San Martín for president; then, in January 1946, praised the work of President Grau with the following words: In the educational order, we have cash, for the first time in the history  of Cuba, which was a dream of Martí and a desire Estrada Palma: that the republic would have more teachers than soldiers. However, in June 1948 he accused Grau of: emulating the Borgia, the greatest pretender that has been given to the world since the time of Caligula, at whose side I have sacrificed twenty years of my life, without asking or accepting anything.

Consummate anti-communist, he presented at the Constitutional Convention a motion of solidarity with Finland on its invasion by the Soviet Army and among other things said: Stalin has betrayed the teachings of Lenin by transforming himself into an imperialist despot in the style of Ivan the Terrible. And in July 1940, during the signing ceremony of the Constitution, he denounced “that it already is being violated in spirit in favor of some who signed it.”

He employed the accusations, mainly corruption, in a systematically way. In May 1939 he accused Blas Roca of treason; in 1942 the chief of police of overstepping his boundaries; in 1943 he filed two motions in the House against Batista and against Congress; in July 1945 he accused Carlos Miguel de Céspedes of the sale of a piece of Paseo; and in January 1947, in a letter read on the radio, he challenged Grau for alleging intending to be reelected; in 1950 he accused President Prio of the assault on a correctional court, and stealing the documents of a charge of embezzling hundreds of thousands of pesos; in 1951 he accused Rolando Masferrer of a placing a bomb in the house of Roberto Agramonte, and so on.

His behavior earned him friends and enemies. Considered crazy, he replied: I’d rather be a mad person with shame than a shameless thief. When Carlos Prio won the 1948 election, he said: Chibas has been a fraud all his life. Not exactly crazy, but abnormal. Chibas doesn’t know where his heart is and is not aware of the existence of truth. With others, Chibas dueled with swords, guns and fists. The defense of what he considered useful at any time led him to make critical assessments.

In February 1946, he established a distinction between a revolutionary attack and simple terrorism. He said: The use of the bomb can be explained when it is used as a crack of rebellion against a regime of terror … but never when used against a government which is the product of national will.

Death was in his work and in his speech. In November 1939, on the eve of the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly, he was wounded and when asked who had been the aggressors, he said: Do not worry about finding out, I die for the revolution, vote for Grau San Martín; but the popularity from having been shot gave him second in the voting.

In January 1948, at a meeting of the party, he jumped on the head table and began to shout, Throw out your heart! Orthodoxy needs a martyr! In May of that year, during a campaign tour in the East, he said: The day that Chibas is thinking about warning of an extinction or a decline in the civil love, part of a shot to the heart, not for cowardice before the failure, his sacrifice will lead to the victory of his disciples. In 1951, unable to prove the charge against Aureliano Sánchez Arango, he shot himself on August 5, from which he died on the 16th of same month.

In The Crucible of August 7, 1944, setting forth the reasons for authenticism, he said that it only needed a group of Cubans ashamed of the government of the State to break the circle that is suffocating the Republic, and condemning us to the status of outcasts in our own land. Then, to create  the Orthodox Party, which was considered the only political force that provides the people of Cuba  a new perspective, one that opens new avenues into the country. As a result of his work and his style, in a survey conducted in June 1950, Chibas was the strongest candidate for the presidency, which was confirmed with another held on May 20, 1951, which gave him 29.70% of the vote against 19.03% for Fulgencio Batista.

The idea of administrative honesty was the essence of the political movement that started from the Authentic Party and continued from the initiation of the Orthodox Party: The bad politicians, he said, steal from the rich people, all domestic political struggles are rooted in lack of honesty, it is essential therefore to put the reins of the Republic in clean hands. Chibas reduced the moral — a cultural component responsible for regulating human behavior in social relationships — to administrative honesty. The simplification of the concept allowed him to use it as a weapon against his enemies in elections, but it was unusable as an instrument of profound changes in the political class and the people. It had a purpose: to draw attention to administrative corruption at a time when the disease was becoming a public menace. The slogan Shame against Money!, served perfectly to achieve power as an immediate objective, but not to build the nation honored with social justice that he himself professed.

The program of his party had three main directions: economic independence, political freedom and social justice, but in those times, as in the present, Cuba needed a change capable of breaking both the elitist monopoly of the economy as a policy to access social justice. Because it was necessary to strengthen existing civil society. Chiba devised a perfect paradise to be imposed on a complex reality, mentally constructed from his imagination: expel the thieves of power and put in place an honest man, servant of the nation. That man had to be his own person, who did not desire nor need the national patrimony, and thus the changes advocated had to be realized from the damaging pattern of focusing on personality and warlordism, two of the negative cultural phenomena rooted in our political history.

The concept of immediacy, characteristic of the revolutionary changes, did not allow the drafting of a policy to respond to the existing conditions and  social psychology of Cuba. On one occasion he said: Our people are reporting the theft of the rulers with the same calmness that they read the pages of color comics or listen to radio programs. So he called desperately to the public conscience of the indifferent Cuban citizens: People of Cuba, wake up, not realizing that the changes within people do not respond to revolutionary emergencies. So, quite rightly, someone said at his death: Chibas was a man imbued with messianic ideas about history, morality and politics. He dedicated no time to thinking of the new order, because ultimately, the new order was himself, a chronic disease that we still suffer from.

Chibas is a paradigmatic example of the impossibility of social change if it is not accompanied by a corresponding civic culture and arises from a strong civil society, as a condition of participation. That’s one of the main lessons that comes to us from this martyr to cleaning up society. An experience that tells us now that the release of political prisoners can not be more than the starting point for other rights and freedoms, without which Cubans remain marginalized in the decisions of the nation. These include: the right to freely leave and enter the country, whose absence explains the continuing mass exodus by any means; free Internet access, without which superior technical and professional qualifications are devalued in the knowledge era; and freedom of expression, the foundation of all other freedoms.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 16, 2010


Claudia Cadelo uploaded, very early, her photo of the accident at Fabrica and Lyuano streets at:http://a.imageshack.us/img826/4273/accidente.jpg.  In recent days in August several accidents in Havana involved these large articulated buses.

[Translator’s note: This blog post is a reprint of a series or “tweets” from Twitter — which are combined here into a single text, slightly edited to be less “choppy.”]

It’s dangerous to have so much traffic, especially where the children and grandparents of Luyano live, a poor area where people live at street level next to the hot asphalt. Factory Street is very narrow and doesn’t accommodate so many large vehicles and the drivers go too fast for the area.

Hopefully the injured will recover as soon as possible. The causes of this disaster need to be clarified as soon as possible.

It’s been a black day for Havana and Cuba. Victims taken to the Calixto Garcia Hospital, according to what I heard.

The bystanders started to gossip and even joke, and talk about the black market, life resumes as soon as possible after the tragedy.

In the end the children of Luyano were hanging out the windows to see what was happening inside the bus; the police chased them off without much enthusiasm.

I heard the driver survived the impact but I don’t know where he was taken afterward.

Already the traffic is running on Fabrica and Luyano again, although I haven’t seen any P7 buses go by, perhaps it’s that it’s already early morning and the P7 only runs until midnight.

I also took some pictures, the bus left a terrible hole in the wall of the bakery that could easily collapse now.

In the end the State Security agents disappeared leaving only the police, and people began to film and take photos with their cell phones.

Relatives of the victims were severely affected, some going into shock or even fainting at the scene hours later.

There were apparently victims standing in line at the bakery, or standing nearby, thus the terrible confusion in the neighborhood.

The P7 apparently hit or was deflected by a truck and then was embedded in the wall of the bakery.  Even after midnight people remained in suspense about the tragedy which involved fatalities to neighbors.

With the situation under control people are finally returning to their homes, with the news traveling from balcony to balcony. Sadness and misfortune.

It’s dark, the streetlight failed. They quickly brought in artificial lights.  They are using a saw and a crane to remove the bus.

My photos are only from a single perspective and don’t capture the human drama, the victims, firefighters, police.

A Security Agent came and we talked and he almost took me away, but I eluded him, and continued watching from several yards from the tragedy. I went up to the balcony to avoid him. He asked for my identity card and didn’t read it. I asked him how I could help.

Then a young one came up and asked me for my license to be a photographer as if the street was the private territory of the rescue workers. The neighbors are in the street.  Talking about the events. My immediate source of information. How to help in this tragedy? I tried to take photos. I see the stretcher bearers running in. Police are parting the bystanders to open to the street but it’s not happening quickly. Officers on motorcycles. Military in green. Police in blue. Civil Security. Two hours later the operating is slowing down. The majority of the wounded are in the hospital.

There are many corners taken over by police around the Enna Reforma Rodrigues Municipal factory and beyond. They won’t let you take photos. There is no press.

The neighbors are taking about mutilated bodies. Heads, arms, organs. Very difficult even for the specialized personnel. Families are desperate. Initial victims taken to Miguel Enriquez Hospital and others in Havana. Critical cases. The rescue operation is huge. They also have to avoid incidents and vandalism and disturbances among the people.

Later the Ministry of the Interior activates some kind of special system to help in disasters. They come with young civil defense people, and even high level people.

The neighbors are gathering around, chilling screams, crying, hysteria, panic. The first call was to police, fire and ambulance by phone. There was an impasse at the beginning because the magnitude of the accident was too much for the poor people, but then they were very supportive.

About 8:10 or 8:15, then it was on the TV news. Then they noted that the bus was completely embedded in the facade of the shop and also a family home.

In the shock there were those who heard the frightening crash and ran in all directions thinking it was an explosion in some factory.

The P7 doesn’t normally run on Fabrica Street but rather on Calzada and Luyano, but for some weeks its been detoured while Calzada is being repaired.

Terrible bus accident with the articulated P7 (number 758) at Fabrica and Luyano streets, almost 2 hours ago, situation continues difficult.

Corners of Luyano taken over by police and State Security. Neighbors gathering, talking of deaths. No photos close up. No signs of the press. Two hours later they haven’t taken away all the bodies.

Today, Saturday, August 21, 2010, barely 12 hours after a terrible crash of a bus into bakery, the Luyano Mortuary is full of the grieving families and neighbors in the area, as well as abundant military personnel.

August 21, 2010

Beating a Prisoner / Voices Behind The Bars, Pedro Argüelles Morán

Ciego de Avila. The inmate Pento Ariel Garcia received a beating, August 16, 2010, by the two heads of internal order, subordinates of the Minister of the Interior Roberto Mesías y Rigoberto, who is better known as El Indio. Both have stood out for beating prisoners while they are handcuffed. Pento García, 34, resides at No 7612 Ave 105, between 76th and 78th streets in Güines, Havana Province, and has been beaten by officers on several occasions and confined in solitary confinement even though he suffers from psychiatric disorders.

Report: Pedro Argüelles Morán, from the group of 75, from Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila.

August 18, 2010

Lion Prophet / Voices Behind the Bars, Pedro Argüelles Morán

“Confusion Painting” by Keenya Woods

After nearly 200 years since humanity has known a prophet, the earth has one, his name is: Fidel Castro Ruz. This aged prophet is trying to write an epilogue to the Apocalypse, although much more catastrophic. To do this he called an extraordinary session, on August 7, of the one-party National Assembly, of the so-called People’s Power, and met with four Venezuelan journalists the following day. This allowed the official communist organ, the newspaper Granma, in its August 10 edition, to devote seven pages to the interview.

At the same time, said organ of the State press has been publishing for some months the so-called “Reflections of Comrade Fidel.” Here he analyzes the problems of the entire world, expect the urgent — problems of every kind — the Cuban ones.

Also this neo-prophet tries to present himself as a champion of peace, but he forgets that in the early years of the decade of the sixties of the last century, during the October Missile Crisis, he then asked the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to launch a first strike nuclear attack against the United States of America. That during the sixties, seventies and eighties of the same century, he tried to export the socialist revolution to different cardinal points, sending Cubans into guerrilla wars or training guerrillas here in Cuba, and providing them medical care. He also sent regular troops to the Republic of Angola and to Ethiopia in Africa, just to cite two examples. Perhaps now the prophet Castro would like to get another Nobel Prize, this time for peace, along with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he got years ago for turning the entire country into scrap metal.

Pedro Argüelles Morán, from the group of 75, from Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila.

August 18, 2010

Unknown City / Claudia Cadelo

From so much looking out the same window, seeing the same street, talking with the same people and living in the same city, you end up thinking you know everything. If someone had told me I would not have believed it, now that I know it’s true I’m full of questions. The streets of Havana still hold many surprises for me, fortunately.

Lethal August. I arrive gasping at 23rd and 12th and find, scattered on the ground, various papers as in the photo: FREE IRAN. My God, what’s this? I grab one and look around, I would say I’m the least surprised of those around me. A guy who looks like State Security gets caught in the act of putting one in his pocket and makes a gesture of disgust with amazement. I don’t think he likes it. I couldn’t say if FREE IRAN falls within “Enemy Propaganda,” but apparently it’s not “Friend Propaganda.”

At 23rd and G there are more. Many more. Most have been trampled. Who could have thought up such a brilliant idea? I have no doubt that this is related to the fixed ideas that have gripped the hallucinatory mind of Fidel Castro. How would Compañero Fidel take it if if instead of the Third World War what came to pass was the end of the Iranian dictatorship?

August 20, 2010

Prison Diary (2) (La Cabaña Prison)

Photo: Alina Sardiñas

At first I thought I was isolated, that there were no other prisoners in the other cells; sometimes I heard some door that would open slowly and quietly, as if trying not to strain its hinges; with time and so much silence my ears became fine-tuned, they began to warn of a certain scraping, then something dragging, later I discovered it was the sad steps of someone carrying the world on his shoulders, trembling legs bent in panic, but I didn’t care, the joy of knowing you’re not alone overcomes you, that you aren’t the only unfortunate, your eyes tear up, you want to beat on the door, to see through the iron and the walls, eager to embrace, to be hugged, to hear a word, a whisper, but just let it be a human being; later I preferred no noise, to say not a word, or I didn’t have the courage, I would just huddle in front of the door, knowing the guards would trace it back to me immediately, and in reprisal they would send me to the hole, the punishment cell, and possibly deny me family visits.

I had a little cry against the cold stone. I would have loved to feel the warmth of another human being; I tried pressing my body to the floor, staying that way a few minutes until I could feel the sweat on my back, and with an agile movement I flipped over and rushed to press my face to the still hot place that had been covered by my skin; I thought I might materialize another person this way, preferably a woman, who would stay beside me; the movement barely took two seconds, I practiced it so many times I could do it in one second, but every time I pressed myself to the floor I was overwhelmed by the coldness, the same as in the eyes of the soldiers when they interrogated me, or as flowed from the walls and the doors, emanated from the food and the air; I also blew my breath into my hands, trying to catch it in my fingers and smell it, seeking the sensation of having someone close, accompanying me.

Finally I came to the conclusion that all this effort was useless, I felt that the place was designed to make us feel like a piece of meat in the slaughterhouse.

August 20, 2010

My Friend The Enemy / Ernesto Morales Licea

A suspicious incident has provided me with writing material this time. As a sample of a rare will for controversy and democratic confrontation, the site Kaos en la Red, which promotes itself as the champion of intellectual reflection, has just censured a post originally published on this blog, which some reader decided to post on that portal.

The text My Own Vindication of Cuba appeared on that site under the free publication section and soon after went to the main pages of the section named Cuba. After reaching a considerable amount of readings, and after being commented on by many readers, it disappeared without leaving a trace.

The interesting thing is that, according to some comments I had access to via e-mail, a few feverish readers uttered howls of indignation before such opprobrium towards the progressive Kaos en la Red. The opprobrium was the appearance of my text there, not its later censorship, even requested by many of them.

How is it possible – they asked themselves – that our site, the trench of the united leftists allows the enemy to infiltrate in such way? How is it possible that we offer tribune here to an author (me) who admits on his Facebook page that he reads with dedication Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Alberto Montaner?

Soon after, Kaos en la Red retired my inglorious article.

I must confess: I have enjoyed the anecdote. At some point they announced to Sigmund Freud that the Nazis burned his books. The response of the wise psychoanalyst was a sarcasm without equal: “Humanity has progressed so much!” he said, “in the Middle Ages they would’ve burnt me.”

In no way does my ego want to think itself dangerous to the orthodox leftists, just as it seemed the work of Freud was to the retrograde fascists. But this thought seduces me: it had to have something, right? Otherwise my simple article would still be there.

Neither do I think I can discover any truth by affirming that Kaos en la Red represents a faction increasingly impoverished and discredited precisely for their lack of plurality, for the panic that divergent voices inspire in them; I wouldn’t expect anything else.

Even more analyzable is the scream “Enemy in sight!” coming, perhaps, from any of the trained boys from the University of Information Sciences (UCI), or from any other group with similar occupations, whose brains possess a delicate programming in binary coding: zeros-ones / friends-enemies.

As for me, I propose each day to fill myself with more doubts with respect to these frontiers. To undergo a general skepticism that can make me doubt how good of a friend the ones who call themselves my friends really are, and how much of an enemy are the ones that introduce themselves as such…

I’ll explain.

One of my best friends is a militant of the Communist Party. He’s 38-years-old and was previously a part of the Communist Youth. I have argued with very few people in my life as much as I do with him. In between beers and beers we have come, in certain moments, to whip ourselves up in an intellectual duel which (good Cubans that we are) resembles a violent dispute rather than a confrontation of ideas.

Later, having finished our drinks, we each go our own way onto our chores, and continue to miss each other for the rest of the day.

This friend possesses a vast universal culture, and a humanistic formation that with unusual frequency, allows him to disagree with the party he is a member of. Why does he confront its directives and arbitrariness, and yet keep sympathizing with the process? If I had those answers, maybe I wouldn’t argue with him so much.

But a man who loves women and Martí as much as I do, who would never betray nor condemn anybody for thinking differently from him, and who seeks out his own path for the well-being and progress of his country, can’t be my enemy, even when some of his ideological positions seem incompatible with his intelligence.

A little while ago, during my ephemeral link the official Cuban journalism, I met a radio broadcaster who had a certain prestige in my city. He would announce himself every day before the microphones, at six in the morning, and conduct an informative program lasting two hours which, in my Socialist Cuba, was strictly compliant with the establishment.

That man wouldn’t poke even a toe out of the box which his militant conscience established as just and necessary for his country. He felt proud of his politically committed broadcasting but, luckily, in his conscience of what is just and necessary, he would publicly whip incapable managers, demand attention to the handicapped elderly, and face, from his microphone, the prevailing local violence.

I rarely agreed with him in his visions about the Government, or on infinite topics surrounding Cuban politics, but in my particular Republic I would include a broadcaster who believes in what he says, whether he agrees with me or not, and who knows when to be on the side of the weak people if that is what his conscience dictates.

Now, the conflict occurs when this way of understanding divergence is not reciprocated. I have to admit it is necessary to be cold-blooded, to have a Tibetan superiority, in order to not harbor hostility against those whose beliefs we respect, but who are not capable of returning the favor.

Those who call us “the enemy,” and in their infinite array of vicious euphemisms, use terms such as “worms,” “scum,” and “deserters” to define all those who do not agree with their ways of understanding a social process.

I believe that a good exercise for all, liberals, leftists, humanists, republicans, ecologists, would be to copy the phrase from Voltaire on a piece of paper and stick it on the most visible spot of their home: “ I detest what you say, but I would die to defend your right to say it.”

After incorporating such message, it is very hard to censor articles, denigrate opponents, and consider as enemies all those who express, out loud and without hypocrisy or opportunism, what they really think, either about an ideological or religious doctrine, or about any sexual conduct.

My definitions of friend-enemy rarely pass through a political sieve. Above all, I am interested in human rights, and I celebrate that many great people I know don’t share my postures. When you are a democrat, when you have pluralistic thoughts, you are radically unable to accept intolerance and exclusion.

August 16, 2010

All The Lights Are Red / Ernesto Morales Licea


They knocked on the door twice before identifying themselves. When they said “It’s the Police,” he already knew it couldn’t be anybody else. No one else would’ve knocked with such rudeness.

His face pale from nerves, he let them enter, knowing there was no going back. After searching the house all over, they decided to open a washing machine placed (strategically) behind the bathroom door.

They looked at each other with a satisfied expression: they had found the merchandise. The thief was lost. Soon after, in a drawer in the bedroom they would also find some money that, although it wasn’t much, it was proof of illegal commerce; therefore, it would also be seized.

They took him out in handcuffs, in the middle of the day. They put him inside a police car. One of them stayed at his house, interrogating his wife who was barely able to stammer with her throat tight from fear and astonishment.

The operation had concluded with great success on a busy city street, and the curious, the neighbors, and the occasional lingerers stepped away so as not to be taken as sympathizers of the disgraced.


I would’ve wished all this to be only my imagination, my literary voice, but it’s not. What I just described took place in Bayamo only three days ago. The detained man was a personal friend of mine. I have to confess I haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep since this past Thursday.

This delinquent is not really a delinquent. The merchandise is neither marijuana nor laundered money. It was simply pants. Just that. A load of twenty jeans bought at a good price in the country’s capital, and brought (along with many sleepless nights, shock and hardship) to this eastern city.

Let me clarify the “good price”: fifteen convertible pesos. They were bought at a store in Havana that had lowered their price for having small manufacturing defects.

They could be sold for twenty convertible pesos, or with luck for twenty-two, in this part of the country. Small profit for this smart merchant, big profit for the buyer who wouldn’t have had access to them any other way.

Nevertheless, the eyes trained in the art of informing don’t rest. Some diligent “collaborator” reported the crime, and the forces of order showed up. What crime? Well… something that in this, my island of euphemisms has been named, “hoarding.” That’s how it’s defined, and that’s how it is punished.

What does this idea of hoarding consists of? Possessing a large enough quantity of something to make it worth trading in it. It doesn’t matter if it is soda crackers, fan blades, or in this case, jeans with small manufacturing defects. The number they consider as too high has not yet been stipulated. That is left to the police officer’s interpretation.

That is why I remember, for example, my trips to the University of Santiago De Cuba, when the cops would board a truck full of students, go through our entire luggage, and detain or give tickets to anyone who had more than the usual packs of candy or wafers than was considered normal. Obviously, the merchandise was confiscated as well.

Many times it was only bread, guava paste, or any other edible product students would have to sell in order to earn some money to subsist, while at the same time alleviating the hunger of their companions in poverty.

“Hoarding” is only one of the many denigrating terms with which every attempt to trade, for personal benefit, can be nipped in the bud in name of a supposed common equality which becomes more pathetically fictitious each day.

Behind this term lies a government mentality dedicated, at its fullest, to mercilessly sweeping away anyone who refuses to live as an indigent on their state salary, anyone who decides to try to get by through some kind of trade, as minimal as it is stressful. For those, the path is strewn with red lights.


Two currencies circulate in Cuba. Workers’ wages are paid in one – “national money” or Cuban pesos; but what workers buy must be paid for with the other – “convertible pesos,” which are worth twenty-five times more. It is evident that “buying” the convertible peso – required to purchase basic needs – is, in itself, an almost constant labor for Cuban workers.

OK, at least in my city, with nearly 300 thousand people, there are only two “Exchanges” where you can undertake the operation legally. The serpentine lines that snake out through its glass doors are depressing — hundreds of people standing under the sun in order to be able to obtain the convertible pesos.

What does this bring as a consequence? That many choose to buy those convertible pesos at the Exchanges in order to then sell them to their fellow countrymen, who can then avoid the long lines under the hot sun for the such slight rewards. They would lose more time standing in line to get the convertible pesos at the Exchanges, than the time it takes the cops to arrest them if they are caught selling them in front of the stores.

The iron fist of a centralized economy, however improbably, never slips, never sleeps, never leaves an area uncontrolled. The private commerce in Cuba is a painful demonstration of the way in which a system has forced millions of humble beings to live.

Recently, I heard an elderly barber say that he had turned in his permit that allowed him to operate legally, and that he would, from time to time — at the price of being a nervous wreck — see some clients at night in his back yard. The reason? Right after the supposed economic reforms in favor of our society, the State had raised his taxes to up to two hundred pesos a month. With such lump sum, he would barely have any profit.

Seeing that old man with his wrinkled skin, his clothes transparent from being worn every day, knowing that he won’t even be able to cut hair peacefully, managed to ruin my day.

As a consequence, I can’t stop wondering what we have done to the ones who lead us, the ones who sign the laws, who manage the fate of this nation, that they would make us lead such a difficult and battered existence. How is it possible to think that a man who earns one Cuban peso – 4 cents – for each convertible peso he sells, or a few cents with a bag of limes that he displays in some doorway, is a deplorable scourge whom this society needs to wipe out?


I have not yet heard anything about my friend. I have passed by his meager apartment (which is so small it almost makes it hard to breathe) a couple of more times and every time I go I find the same windows and doors are shut. I’m scared for him. I know that he would at least be charged with a huge fine and lose all his investment. I know that if worse comes to worse, his wife and five-and-a-half-year-old son would not know how to live with him behind bars, without his risky inventiveness to sustain his family’s stomachs.

But I am mainly scared for the conscience of those who arrested him, and of those who blew the whistle. I suffer from the decorum of so many Cubans devoted to reporting their neighbors, with withering smiles, of taking away what little they acquire , of vaporizing the shred of peacefulness that it represents to a pater familias to be able to earn some money with which to alleviate the scarcities of the home kitchen.

It makes me suffer because in my commitment to some day building a happier and freer country, a country that better meets the needs of its sons and daughters, they will all be the burden that will tie us to the past.

Translator: Angelica Betancourt

August 14, 2010

Support, Fraternity / Juan Juan Almeida

Today I was overcome by a horrific fatigue, my vision is blurred, and I fell while bathing; my sister and my friend Tomás helped me into bed.

I will continue my strike, asking for help and solidarity, to visit the doctor, hug my family and return.

I think it’s practically normal that some citizens engage in violations of the law, but NOT that it be the government that violates it. This is a homicide, a torture, a defiance.

I thank all those who have, in one way or another, raised their voices for me, those who have remained silent, and those who have criticized me. I’ve said, I am plural; to the latter let me say that if, being the son of my father, asking for specialized medical care and wanting to be with my family makes me guilty of something, I assume with pleasure full responsibility.

My goal is purely family, humanitarian, domestic and very Cuban; perhaps somewhat stubborn and unwavering, but nothing epic.

August 20, 2010

My Friend, My Brother / Rebeca Monzo

Sometimes people use the term friend-brother irresponsibly, without taking seriously the connotation and the commitment that is implicit in the word.

Juan Juan Almeida is more than fifty days into a hunger strike. This cheerful young man, who is bright and loves life, came to this choice following the refusal of his just petition: to leave the country to receive treatment for his unusual illness and to be reunited with his wife and daughter, from whom he has lived apart for more than two years. He has sent letters which included his medical history as requested on each occasion by the State: his answer has been silence. His journey has been solitary, carrying posters on which he asks that his rights be respected. He has not wanted to involve anyone else, nor involve himself in anything that isn’t his private problem. He has been imprisoned as a result of his petition on several occasions. Everyone seems to understand the justice of his plea, but only one person has the power to authorize his departure from the country.

Dear readers, I am a mother and, as any normal mother, I adore my children. If it should occur to anyone to say that I am their friend, their sister, and in spite of this, they mistreat any one of my children, it would be more than a joke, it would be a betrayal of our friendship.

Translated by Jon Lindsay Miles

August 15, 2010