Archive | May, 2010

Public Decoration

29 May

San German, the town where I live, is nearly 40 kilometers from Baragua, one of the main military units of the Eastern region, and 34 kilometers from Holguin where the region’s major military base is located.

As you can see, we have the “rare privilege” (according to the poet Orlando Core) of living in the war corridor.  For these reasons we must endure beauties like those displayed in these photos. They are the evidence of the war musculature that grace us every December 2nd in one of those endless military parades, only today they did it without announcing anything, which made us sit up, rather uneasily, and take notice.

Are those the tanks that the bosses of G-2, Roilán Cruz Oliva y Douglas told me about, as did the journalist and Director of Culture in Holguin, Alexis Triana, saying that they would pass through whenever we tried to “damage” the dignity of the revolution?

When I took these photos, I was reminded of a young man in Tienanmen Square stopping a tank with roses in his hand. I don’t know if I am brave enough to do that, I photographed these thundering metal animals and that frightened me enough.

I am not a kamikaze but these streets are also mine.

A Conversation With Anderlay Guerra Blanco

25 May

Q – You got out of prison a few months ago, on August 18th, 2009. For how long were you jailed and in which prisons?

A – I spent four years jailed in Guantanamo’s Provincial Prison. The sentence was because of an “illegal attempt to leave the country”. During those four years, I was never transferred to any other prison, so everything I saw and learned about Cuban prisons was taught to me right there, in the infamous “Combinado”.

Q – Did you witness tortures and punishments in Guantanamo’s Combinado Provincial Prison? If so, tell me about them.

A – The prison guards use several forms of punishment against the inmates, but the most humilliating ones are the beatings they give to men who are in handcuffs. From those abuses, the “Shakira” is the most outrageous. Batons and sticks are used to beat the man up, after he has been handcuffed. Then, the inmate is left in a punishment cell for 24 or 48 hours.

Q – “Shakira”, why that name?

A – The “Shakira” is the worst method of torture that I saw in that place. Since the individual is handcuffed with both hands and feet tied to his back, and later is thrown in the dirty floor of a punishment cell, he is left in an extremely uncomfortable position. When he tries to make any movement, the only part of his body that moves are his hips. Can you imagine the irony?

They have established the parallel with the singer that happily dances moving her hips in a very peculiar way, with the way the inmate copes with the pain and the uncomfortable position. I saw men there who urinated and defecated in that position because thye are held like that for 24 or 48 hours. Besides, there are different variations of that same torture. The chain that ties hands and feet can be lengthened or shortened. If they shorten it, the inmate can only rest his chest in the dirty, humid and putrid floor they share with insects and rodents. The decision to stop the punishment comes from the guards when they want to, if the inmate is to much of a “rebel” or if the “infringement” is considered severe, he is left like that for a longer time.

There is even a variation of the “Shakira” where the inmate is literally hung from the ceiling of punishment cell, through the chains that tie his hands and feet. This lacerates the skin, leaving permanent scars in wrists and ankles.

Q – That name, “Shakira”, was the idea of Guantanamo Prison’s guards?

A – As far as I know, no, it was not the idea of Guantanamo’s guards. There, it was said that way to torment a man was initially used in the Kilo 8 prison in Camaguey, and in Boniato prison, in Santiago de Cuba. Later on, they started using it in Guantanamo.

When the guards decide they want to punish someone, first of all, they handcuff the man like that and beat him up before putting him in the punishment cell in that position. That’s why I told you it is humiliating for everyone, but the cruelty is worse when it is a prisoner that it is there for political reasons, or when the inmate shouts off against the government or when they engage in hunger strikes to demand to be taken to a doctor or what they call “their prisoner’s rights.”

Q – Those punishment methods are, obviously, applied by the so-called re-educators with the OK of the prison wardens and the higher up organizations that manage the prisons. Could you give me more details on how this impunity mechanism works?

A – Sure, that is an open secret and everybody in the prison knows about it, from the unfortunate who receives the punishment to the higher ups in the Interior Department, the warden in the “Combinado” Prison. Furthermore, the higher command outside the prison’s system also know about it.

Sometimes, even the guards tell you “I can do this or that to you, I can kill you and nothing will happen” or they scream at you “I’m authorized to do this to you!”, but again, everything ends there. Nobody “sees it” or nobody “wants to see it.” Then, to add insult to injury, you hear officials from the Cuban government going around the world and saying that Cuba has the most humane prison system on the planet.

Q – Those guards that allow or apply the beatings and the tortures, could you name some of them?

A: Captain Jesus Bouli Robles, ex-chief of interior in the prison, was – while I was there – the main character aiding and abetting the use of those beatings every time he issued the order “make him feel uncomfortable.” Right after he uttered those words, the guards would go ahead and apply the “Shakira” to the inmate. The other one who did it was Lieutenant Jose Sanchez Noblet, second in command.

Both of them are the most repressive officers that province’s prison has known; they even beat up minors.

Those individuals have been denounced and accused in the tribunals by the family members, but the Cuban government has never taken any action against them. Many relatives that have gone through that path, of claiming investigations, think that it is convenient for the province’s authorities that they continue to be aggressive with the inmates. I have friends still there with whom I speak frequently and they tell me they situation could not get any worse.

Q – I know you were arrested in Guantanamo’s US Naval Base (Gitmo), that is US territory, when you crossed the fence while running away from Cuban authorities. Do you want to talk to me about it?

A: I still have stories from this Guantanamo where I am now, and I also have stories from the other Guantanamo, the one on the base, but we will keep talking about it when you come back again. I promise.

Note: Anderlay Guerra lives in San Gregorio Street # 1917, between 14th and 15th streets, South of Guantanamo. He is 33 years old and served a sentence of 4 years in prison for trying to leave the country.

His phone number is 53-399-709

Translated by Cubanita

Different Times, Similar Circumstances

23 May

Again, the prohibitions, the threats for writing without a police permit. My blogs, my pictures and videos, are circulating the Internet. My voice is heard on radio stations where one can say what one thinks and dreams without having their words, their divine words, edited.

Again ZAPATA,ZAPATA,ZAPATA.

I knew that Reyna Luisa, Zapata’s mother, had summoned Boitel and Zapata to their life’s journey;  I knew that many people would try to get to Banes to visit the Queen Mother. so when they mentioned Zapata to me. The Man left me no doubts that for the next two months plus a few days, my travels to the north of Holguin would be forbidden as they were on February 23, when we were getting ready to give him our final farewells.

They let me return home but not before a King’s Herald told me that the package of prohibitions to traveling outside of the municipality had an included clause: Two of us will escort you, even if you only walk around town, go to a store or to church.

Of what happened later I dictated by phone so my friends could post it on my blog. Of what I saw from my haven of prayer and peace I left a sample written and graphic.

- Major Charles from G-2 (machinery of repression known as State Security) and one of the police officers.

- Major Charles this time together with Captain Carlos Otamendi from G-2

- Charles, again

- Charles plus an officer from G-2 whose name I do not know.

- Only a police officer (uniformed).

- Major Cepeda and another civilian that judging by his body language is also watching.

- But not to worry, a uniformed officer came because the political police officers were taking a break.

- To change the subject… others watched

- But to continue changing… I was watched by others.

- Do not get bored with me my dear little friends!

If you have patience continue reading to the end.

What a coincidence they watched me, I bet you can guess who? Well.. The G-2, the political police (without uniforms) and the badly named “National Revolutionary Police” (in uniforms).

- Look at that! Maykel Rodriguez Alfajarrin from the G-2 also came to watch.

-But Maykel did not do his rounds alone, he was accompanied by a sector chief of the PNR.  Gentlemen, it’s for discipline and one pair of every kind.

- Always a shirtless neighbor would go by and to get on the good side of the “poli” as if not on purpose, he would tell some stories, he would smoke a cigarette… pretending to be a revolutionary, recalling the televised series in which the Cuban Secret Agents will be everywhere to save Cuba from a giant located at the North. He reminisced about the time he was in Angola, he listed the accomplishments, stunts and exploits of some of the ones who today are in the military hierarchy, and he complimented the Commandant who directed a tremendous battle from his desk in the island capital.

Six days of been watched went by. You need to be patient with me when I tell it to you.

- In addition, so that I would be clear that the people’s war was not going to stop, a social worker did his job of watching, because “we have to help the warriors, no?”

- Nevertheless, as in Cuba, there is equality of the sexes and women have the same rights and duties as men.  A young revolutionary social worker made her triumphal entrance. I believe they let her study in the school of the social workers because she is a “distinguished combative militant.” I do not know her, but when I go out next week, perhaps I will find her in a store that sells in hard currency, and I will tell her that her jeans fit her very well, and that my wife received a similar pair from the North. I will also tell her that some years ago, I enrolled in the same school that she is in now, but that I was expelled for writing verses that according to the editorial police did not define me as a “good revolutionary”.

- I want you know that among the watchdogs they had helpers from the G-2 (I do not know that if the one who watched me fulfilled the requirements of the unpolluted life, because usually those helpers are of a humble appearance. You can tell that some do it because they are afraid, because they want to  get rid of the ones that watch everything in the CDR (Defense Committee of the Revolution)). They do it so they can sell their quart of milk from their own backyard, the onions, the ounce of coffee and give the appearance that they are combative.

- Gracious me! Some kids thought to visit me. They are good people. I know them, and they are funny. They told me after they lifted the absurd vigilance and I went for a walk, on Monday, as they listened to a foreign radio station, that can be heard on the sly in all the neighborhoods, that I had said that my dignity as a free man would not allow me to go out into the streets accompanied by two gendarmes. It was best to go to my house to listen to stories and to show solidarity with my family, but no way they had to leave, they assured me.

- It wasn’t always necessary that they were more than two. With wireless equipment to notify that “little rogue” had left to go to the arena or that I went to join guerrilla warfare at the Escambray hills. The lone guardsman on his shift could call the others that is how come they left him alone, completely alone. He thought that if I intended to go out, immediately the rangers specialized in search and capture would come. Even the Mayaguaya horse would descend from hell to show them the best access ways to the guerrillas of Osvaldo Ramírez or the Chelito León guerrillas, which according to an informant were the ones that I had chosen.

- Excuse me! I left to another time. The reason being that on these days of captivity I read a book that a friend send me, “Escambray, the story that the totalitarians tried to bury.” I saw a documentary about Porfirio Guillen, that brave young man who left to Escambray in 1960 and who Castro sent to the firing squad. Because he could not allow that other men would think differently than he did and because they accused Castro of being a communist, and my mind wondered to our past history to another time that many of my era do not know well.

Coming back to reality! I will say that if I escape they will come in a JEEP car or in their ZZK model motorcycles that the G-2 officials ride.

- Does the subject bore you yet?

- My family and I are staying put. We can say with certainty that the light that we want for our kids turned on precisely on February 23, the day that Orlando Zapata Tamayo reached immortality

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras and PH

Intermediate Stations

20 May

I had to come to Havana and I was about to start when they informed me of my house arrest. To avoid problems I postponed the trip until yesterday. I committed suicide by taking the so-called “regular” train service in Cuba. It was eighteen hours from San German to Havana, and I thought it would never end.

Plagued by the mosquitoes, cockroaches and the more than 85 degree heat, I passed the sea in the background.

To those who don’t live at end-of-the-line stations but rather along the line, they don’t sell us tickets to Havana and almost always only assign about a dozen for each trip, and if we add to that that on this occasions two of the cars were full of soldiers from the Interior Ministry (MINIT) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), traveling to their schools, and another one with athletes for the sports Olympics the State has invented for them, then the opportunities to get where you’re going are two: Either wait for “mass transportation” to come by, or get on no matter what the cost.

In this case I chose the second. I got on, paid the ticket surcharge (twice the fare), but never mind I still didn’t get a seat for 100 pesos. Then I sat on the floor like many others in each car, and between sleeping and swatting the mosquitoes I passed some of the worst 18 hours of my life.

On this train there’s no water and I had in my backpack a plastic bottle just in case. The food they sold had been made eighteen hours earlier and to top it off the trip turned into a mob of underground sellers running from the police and railroad inspectors.

For every minute it’s late to each station where it has to stop, we have to wait and give priority to others. I wanted to see the face of an executive, businessman, or “Communist party cadre” but didn’t find one; we who travel crammed into these trains are those euphemistically known as “the New Man.” We are that nuisance for which society must subsidize even a train adventure, like the one I’m telling you about, we who do not know how to live, as they say in the national speeches, without “Daddy State.”

This, my trip to Havana, would be the best way to introduce the new Minister of Transport to his job, someone who never dreams that he would ride for a single minute on the living hell of regular train service. I’m sure of it.

House Arrest for No Reason

17 May

After my detention for some hours on May 11, when they informed me I was prohibited from leaving town until after May 16, I returned to my house, as is logical. I never thought the prohibition would be accompanied by a plan that included hurting my two children. From that moment until Sunday, cars passes by on the street where my house is, “by chance,” filled with military police in plain clothes, and to give proof that there were there they would honk their horns right under the window where my baby girl, sixteen months, sleeps.  They also sent inspectors and sanitary officials to check on I don’t know what. I also had several apparently casual visitors snoop around my house.

The situation also affected my son Malcolm, who would look out every now and then “to see if there were cops outside” and who was frightened by the nightmares of a child.  The elderly people who live with me saw the other face of Cuba, the contemporary, that “Fidel has enforced.”

Nevertheless, my wife, Exilda, and I have not stopped dreaming of freedom. When a police detachment of more that 20 men is put in place to watch one writer and to be sure his writings do not reach the freeways of cyberspace, something is broken in the repressive machine of the dictatorship.  Why such a ruckus to keep a handful of free men from celebrating the birth of a martyr to democracy, in this case, ORLANDO ZAPATA TAMAYO in Banes, Holguin?

I should clarify that during the house arrest of six days we were given, according to G-2, the opportunity to go out only to the streets of San German and then only in the custody of two gendarmes.  I could have walked on the streets but this was not a spectacle that I wanted to perform in.  My sisters, the Ladies in White, are unbeatable in this and my action would be only a minuscule caricature of civil disobedience by comparison.

My Twitter friends from Havana, Canada and Spain recharged my cellphone account.  From Miami and Texas arrived messages of encouragement and more recharges so that I can continue reporting through the use of this organization that has become a cannon ball.

Father Adonis González Betancourt came to my house so that we could strengthen our faith, and feel companionship. The text messages of Father Pablo Emilio Presilla came always without delay from Antilla. Human solidarity is a rubber band; we never know how far it reaches.

Even as we remembered Zapata we sent messages of gratitude to Reyna Luisa alone with her family, since no brothers were allowed to get all the way there. They were many detentions; there will be  more but ZAPATA LIVES, AND ALSO BOITEL

After they lifted the police surveillance of my home, Sunday around noon, we were once again able to hear the street vendors selling plastic paper clips, candy, marmalade, fresh fish, salty crackers…

No one can stop a runaway horse that is bent on its freedom.

“Marti promised to you, and Fidel kept that promise,”  says a verse written by a Cuban poet to praise Fidel Castro as the only savior of the nation.

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras and Paige Harbaugh

Natural Craftsman

15 May

I only know his name is Robert, a natural craftsman.  A friend of mine introduced him to me one summer afternoon. He makes useful objects, like belts, purses, bags, and key chains from empty packets of the Piñata soft drinks sold in Cuba. He learned to do this from prisoners, who are very creative.  He did not speak throughout the entire afternoon, “I am behind on some orders, buddy,” he said and continued tearing strips of metallic paper.

Robert’s work brought smiles to the more humble mothers a few days ago when they received their gifts.  He earned a few pesos to feed his own and buy his own mother something, because in any case, tenderness is the last quality to be lost. He is now racking his brain to invent something so in June fathers will have their own joy.  His task is difficult because in addition to knowing men don’t care for knick-knacks, he also has to contend with hellish police surveillance.

He has already seen an elderly man be fined 300 pesos and have his two strands of garlic confiscated, a woman having to go to court for selling plastic bags that in other parts of the world are used for carrying one’s purchases.  He knew about the checkpoints when exiting any town, about police on the road–which connects his small inland town to the seaside– who ask to see one’s national identity card and he is afraid the same could happen to him.

Translated by HEFA

From the Highlands of Eastern Cuba

11 May

On May 6th I walked into Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba.  I had been invited to cover the 5th meeting of the Board of Directors of the Eastern Democratic Alliance.

A group of government opponents, we were caught in a sting operation led by Major Diorkis of the Cuban political police, Department 21, to prevent us from gathering in one of the most sacred bastions of the Cuban high command.

Those of us who saw what was happening regrouped in the center of the market and walked towards the University of Oriente–there we yelled “Long Live Zapata” three times. It was a cry for freedom in Cuba.

We quickly climbed to the top of Quintero Hill, adjacent to the university headquarters. We walked across “El Hoyo” neighborhood where we visited with the residents and then retreated to a secluded place for the Board of Directors’ meeting.

Among the dozens of activists were members of the Liberal Cuban Party, MC Youth for Democracy, FLAMUR, Political Prisoners “Pedro Luis Boitel,” People’s Party (Progressive Branch), and others within the Eastern Democratic Alliance.

Alliance meetings are typically held publicly, and this time, as part of its analysis of the problems and issues raised by the Board of Directors, the Board expressed its support for the Damas de Blanco, Guillermo Fariñas, and Reina Luis Tamayo Danger, Orlando Zapata’s mother.

Fifteen activists were detained and released hours later that day, except for Rolando Rodrigues Lobaina, who was detained until the next day.

The situation at the Square, young men taken away in patrol cars and the persecution to which we were subjected afterwards, reminded me of what I have read regarding the underground struggle in this eastern city against Fulgencio Batista.

The same story retold, but with different actors, in special circumstances.

Translated by HEFA

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