Archive | December, 2010

Polemical Anthology

30 Dec

My wife, Exilda, gave me this post from her collection of unpublished articles to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of my blog.

I have just finished savoring pleasure and, at the same time, bitterness upon witnessing the presentation of the series, “Anthology of Paths”. This time, the theme was “Race and Racism”. It’s a compilation put together by the editors of the magazine known as ‘Caminos’ (Paths) and dedicated to the Martin Luther King Jr Center. This was prepared with the intent of trying to understand the current racial problem in Cuba — that trend which we do not know when it will vanish.

The anthology has appeared in Cuba at the same time that the century-long anniversary celebration of the Independent Party of Color, founded by Evaristo Estenoz and Pedro Ivonet during the first decade of XX century was going underway. In this deficient anthology I have found a text which I have found to be tendentious, and I would like to point out some issues.

In the essay, “Racial Identity of People without History” by Yesenia Selier and Penelope Hernandez, it is stated that we, whether we are blacks or mestizos from Cuba, have a negative and conflicted view about ourselves. Historically, according to the work, we have always been marginalized and forgotten, but “thanks to the Revolution of 1959” we managed to integrate socially and politically.

In the same vein, a center such as the Martin Luther King one is in charge of promoting the messianic pro-Castro program in the Cuban nation, which states that, supposedly, Fidel Castro and his bearded men came down from the Sierra Maestra mountains to save us from the ignominy of racism. This supports that plan and image which theorists of tropical socialism subdue for the sake of posterity and to seek other followers.

From my own personal experience, I can testify that my grandparents, Oscar and Iris, were immigrants from Antigua-Barbuda and Jamaica, respectively. She was a mulata and he was a black man, and both were searching for fortune and prosperity. They found love, and they made a family composed of 5 sons, and they also helped to establish this small town lost somewhere in the Eastern Cuban geography — San German.

Their love of work, their being of a race with patterns of dress, dance, and other unique ways of behaving, made them respectable people. In addition, they also always respected others, despite how Cuban society functioned at the time. As their descendants, we learned that being black was not a burden or an error, but that it is a source of pride. Being black means that you have rhythm when you walk or make gestures, that you have a particular way of cooking foods, and that you have a distinct way of representing the history of your predecessors — those who lived through humanity’s worst crime, which was slavery. But this does not make us better than anyone else, but it does make us different. And as a black woman in the XXI century, I have accepted this responsibility with much dignity.

The references used by some critics of racism in current times sometimes places them in the same group as that of the most frantic racists.

Anthologies such as the one made by the Caminos Editorial, which respond to the good relations between Christianity and the Latin-American left with the Cuban state are also a form of induced false memory. The phenomenon of racial integration should not be passed through the sieve of false celebrations or underpinnings of past errors.

The essence of the “black problem” in Cuba will be to shed light on all the torpor, while being able to count on the support of all so that we can start referring to both things as one: nation and race.

Garrincha’s Talons

26 Dec

Raul: Now go and tell the people why they are going to be laid off. Labor Union: I thought my job was to defend the Revolution, not explain it.

I was born in 1971. My generation grew up under the imprint of “Revolutionary” humor. I never knew about the Comics, except for those by Cecilio Avilès and Blanquito, the weekly Palante, and the late DDtè. I didn’t enjoy the ones by Quino and Fontanarrosa until I was over 20. I couldn’t see the magic behind Charlie Brown. After I was 25, my passion became Garrincha.  I did not enjoy the lombricillas, little worms, that appeared in the military magazine Verdeolivo (Olive-green), but I began to collect every one of their comic strips from the Cuban newspapers starting from the beginning of the ’90s of the twentieth century.

I think we lost them from our national life about two years ago and later found them again in the graphic opinion section on Cuba posted on Miami´s EL Nuevo Herald. Garrincha is a character who exudes the best of humor from all sides. I think that he has, in abundance, the sarcasm that the Cuban press has lacked for a very long time. The lombricillas, his depressed men, super-light women, “cool dudes,” “hot chicks” and bureaucrats are the best of creole satire since Castor Bispo, Gaspar Pumarejo and the best of Enrique Nuñez Rodrìguez when he wasn’t being professorial or excessively pro-Castro.

Every month someone sends me the Garrincha vignettes from that Florida newspaper, and though we know that living in a village like San Germán in Holguin province might cost me my objectivity — given the apathy of the major media that surrounds me — my joy in good Cuban humor remains. Neither far-right and vulgar, nor from the center, nor moderated by luxury, it is simply him, humorous, sarcastic, and without loyalties to dull his sharpness. I celebrate my ignorance in front of my readers: I imagine he has a website or collaborates with various digital publications, but for now I’m content to know that every week I can expect to see him, re-posted from the press, copied on CD, or in some newspaper that managed to slip through the bars of the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba.  This is good enough, while this mischievous boy who answers to the name Garrincha sticks out his tongue at the stiff-necks who think themselves safe from a good “raspberry.”

Just what we need to begin to be a real country.

December 24, 2010

One Year for “Crossing the Barbed Wire”

26 Dec

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I would have liked to have a public celebration in an internet cafe because in every respect this blog is not mine alone, but it also belongs to my readers and friends. But reality imposes itself and I know I am far from such merrymaking.

The generosity of a group of people has allowed me to post from a physical and technological distance, living in this little town in the center of eastern Cuba.

The kindness of some kids (I am nearly double their ages) have made it possible to have my work read in English, French, and, God willing, in a few days in Polish, and this, for a writer whose books haven’t sold 500 copies, is an unbelievable celebration.

It’s been a year and writing this diary, this road map of the Cuban reality has given me a passport to some police cells, a gang of outlaws who watch my house every day (they make a living out of that), and has placed my name on the lists of various highway checkpoints.  That is not a record, or even a good average, just the response of a wounded animal: the absolute power that does not permit fingers to point out its stains.

A balance sheet of the road taken reassures me that the whippings for not bowing down have been greater than the awards and nominations, but this will serve as a reminder of what happens in my country, not a wailing wall or a tourist postcard.  Those who seek to discredit me: thank you for the time that you dedicate to me, the actions of the regime you defend give me reasons and strength to continue. To those who encourage me: “Rosi de Cuba,” “Armienne,” Lory,” “Gabriel” and everyone else, thank you, I humbly say, thank you, I will try to be more objective every day, you’ll see.

The interest of Yoani Sanchez so that I could open this weapon against the human rights violators and those who think they own this country has made this part of the blog possible.  To her, I express my gratitude.

Finally, my faithful administrator, that person who from the North Pole will continue being a guajira, and a good soul beyond compare, thank you.

What I can say with all the pleasure of the world is that this is a blog that is made in fragments, between the horror that I see, and that my countrymen tell me about, the little I know about writing to put these stories together, and the commentary of the readers, for all that, applaud yourselves.  Greater efforts will come. Congratulations.

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 26 2010

Democracy and Subversion on the Bus

20 Dec

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Once more I made the journey from Havana to Santiago de Cuba in a glistening Yutong made-in-China bus, which doesn’t belong to us Cubans, but rather to those “embattled workers” of the capitalist world who come to spend the summer in Cuba. It was the Transgaviota busline, a tourist emporium that belongs to the Revolutionary Armed Forces in my country.

Since these buses should not return empty to the east of the island, they are made to pass through the bus stations to pick up those passengers who have spent several days in line to move between provinces. This time I must shamefully admit that Raul Castro’s government has made some changes, superficial (as the politicians say), skin deep (as ancient Cubanology states), but there have been changes. Now, instead of poisoning us with the latest reggaeton or the last concert tour of Alvaro Torres through Europe (forgive me, fans of the Salvadoran), they showed us a Celia Cruz concert where she never ceases missing her homeland.  Some young people behind me were surprised and they were asking why not show it.  When we left the first conejito on the National Highway, the driver surprised us with a selection of the hundred best plays in the Major Leagues, and we saw Ordóñez, José Ariel Contreras, Canseco and Alex Rodríguez.

I don’t like the lovey-dovey music of Marco Antonio Solis, but when those Hispanic crowds cheer him on, I take  my hat off and step aside. In a tribute that makes up the stock of any respected bus driver, Marco Antonio is greeted by former President Bush and when they shook hands, I saw the face of a Lieutenant Colonel in the People’s Revolutionary Army who was in the row next to me — he looked like he was recovering from a heart attack.

Afterward, the trip became boring.  They started playing a few programs which were made in the USA, called “Decisions” and “Case Closed”.  Everyone on the bus would just stare at each other in awe as those Hispanics butchered the Spanish language — and yet, they had jobs and they were apparently happy.  The trip ended with a “Case Closed” episode, a sort of personal life program.  In this specific episode, a Dominican man was being accused of exploiting a semi-mentally challenged girl.  Astonished, he was alleging that he had not done anything out of the ordinary, stating that, “in Cuba they give you a girl for 20 bucks!”  The bus driver started lowering the volume, while some on board were staring at the Eastern landscapes.  The afternoon was arriving and we barely even noticed when the guy behind the wheel put on a bank-robber movie.  We were hungry and sleepy, worn out by 700 kilometers of bad roads and horrible food service.  But for 12 hours, we lived outside the heat of the nation and of its television, something which the housewives and workers who will now become unemployed cry out for.

This is also my country.

Translated by Raul G.

December 20, 2010

Celebration and Condemnation

16 Dec


Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

While throughout many parts of the world many tributes were being held for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Cuba once again opted to go against it.  They began on Thursday the 9th with beatings, mob acts, and harassment towards the Ladies in White, who were carrying out their usual march throughout the capital.

All throughout the country there were arrests, blocking of telephone service, and police harassment towards activists.  The first piece of bad news came to me in text message from Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina at 7 am on Friday.  He and his brother, Nestor, were detained at that time.  They left Rolando in the Parque 24 barracks in Guantanamo, and Nestor was taken to the center of police operations.  Later, the government cracked down on Enyor Diaz Allen, Isael Poveda Silva, Jorge Corrales Ceballos, Jose Cano Fuentes, and other activists.

From Santiago de Cuba I received word that Idalmis Nunez and Tania Montoya had not been detained in the capital city, which they traveled to in order to support the Ladies in White.  However, they did suffer from much harassment, collective repression, and overall harsh treatment carried out by trained mobs.

Later on I received a message from Moa: Omar Wilson Estevez, Angis Sarrion Romero, and three other activists (whose names I could not decipher due to the strange sounds emanating from the phone line) had all been detained.  In Velazco, a small town near Gibara, there was also a repressive wave.  They detained Jonas Avila and Rafael Leiva.

Bayamo reported the detention of Yoandris Montoya Aviles and another young man by the name of Ariel.  I still do not have the names of the detainees in Banes and Antilla, and they also have not been able to explain to me why Nestor was kept in the G2 offices until Sunday, the 12th, when he was taken to the Provincial Prison of Guantanamo without a single trial or formal accusation.

I did not even try to travel out of San German.  I am well aware of the vigilance and control methods exercised over my family and me.  I also know which individuals are responsible for this.  But once Jorge and Rolando were released they were able to inform me that in Villalon Park there were students and social workers placed there by the government.  These groups attempted to halt the activities of the Eastern Democratic Alliance which were to take to the streets to hand out flyers with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on them, while also explaining how the Cuban police and government violates this document which was signed 62 years ago.

I don’t know why they are so fearful of a celebration where the present members were holding pieces of paper that, among other things, stated:

Article 19. Every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes not being harassed because of your opinions, having the freedom to investigate and receive information and opinions, and to spread them without the limitation of borders, through any means of media expression.

Article 20: Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful reunion and association.  No one shall be forced to belong to a specific association.

Translated by Raul G.

Osmany and the “Other Scars“

12 Dec

All photos/Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina

I knew that in 2005 he was shot several times by a law enforcement officer in Antilla municipality in Holguin province. Since that time he has become an open dissident, a staunch enemy of the olive-green power that has been running the lives of Cubans for half a century. He showed me the scars, the remains of beatings, and, eyes wide, he told me of the “other scars,” those that aren’t removed with creams or magic ointments. That is, the psychological effects of having gone to jail after being beaten and taking a bullet.

On October 31, 2010, during the last beating carried out against the defenders of Human Rights in Banes, the most talked-about, where they arrested and beat fifty activists, Osmany Espada Rodriguez was savagely handcuffed to the point where it once again left visible marks.

On more the one occasion he has been arrested, as he defends more than anyone the rights of all Cubans. His name is not on the list of the most well-known dissidents, nor do the notable organizations call him, wanting to know about the latest arrest, but those of us who know him well know that he works from the shadows and that his efforts are there in every action of the Eastern Democratic Alliance. The photos accompanying this post were given to me by Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina and are available here for your use. If you see someone defending the socialist cause from the Palace of the Revolution, or a pseudonymous commentator on my site daring to deny all this once again.

Osmany deserves attention, he is a sick man from the effects of the shootings, the hunger in prison, and the scarcities suffered by all Cubans multiplied by the most fierce repression happening right now, on this tongue of the sea that is Antilla, the corner where the Virgin of Charity of Cobre appeared once to three men: a white man, a mulato and a black man, just like Osmany Espada Rodriguez.

Life, The Dead

10 Dec

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

The night of December 3 was full of light and friendship. Yoani Sanchez invited a group of friends of Ernesto Santana to her house to grab from his hands a copy of his novel The Carnival and the Dead, the most recent winner of the Premio de Novelas de Gaveta “Franz Kafka”.

It’s an award for perseverance, an award against censorship, and authors who for various reasons do not receive Cuban’s permission to publish in the land of their birth, have the opportunity each year to send their works to this type of act of generosity and solidarity and see their works published with the highest quality, as you can see from the pictures that accompany this post.

Of course, I have not read the novel and I can not talk about its literary quality, I spent only a couple of hours without being able to put it down and that is already something.  Marginality, the impossibility of personal fulfillment, including lack of interest in what many try to call happiness are, in this short novel, the keys to this very long story.  Ernesto Santana’s characters are ghosts beaten by the war in Angola and the disruption of national life, so it will be a few hours of distress-pleasure well worth retracing in the dark.

I met Ernesto at a book fair in Pinar del Rio, back in 2005 and some months later he gave me  a bunch of poems for the first issue of magazine Bifronte. Thus, we published for the first time in that magazine poetry of a narrator, a kind of Violon d’Ingres, or pastime.

For me, who has been away from the country’s official literary life for years, it was a gratifying moment to know that there is a group of men and women who think of the country, who are rebuilding it piece by piece and putting it in a safe place through their novels and poems. Five years later I run into Ernesto Santana, and, for the first time, others: Amel Hechavarría, Daniel Díaz Mantilla, Ernesto Morales, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and several others, a sign that Cuba pulsates in its writers, and how.

Cell 16: Another of the Sewers Through Which Those from the Real Cuba Pass

6 Dec

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Raciel

Dark, burly and with that untamed something of the typical eastern youth who has emigrated to Havana in search of a better life. His grandmother raised him because his mother abandoned him. He was hauled in front of the court in Guanabacoa, charged with “Pre-criminal Dangerousness,” that Cuban legal monstrosity that lets them charge you with behaviors that show you are “prone to crime,” even though you haven’t done anything. The sanction should have been to find work but there is no work. His alcoholism and drinking had got him in various brawls. The night they brought him in his face was swollen by the “spray” they used on him, he said, and his eyes teared up all night. He told me that in the Department of Technical Investigations (DTI) a cop sprayed him and the others in the cell with pepper spray. Now he was in the Operations Unit because the police alleged they’d received death threats from him and his son. Raciel told us the whole time, but I don’t know. I don’t know if he has kids, a family.

When I left he gave me a hug and asked me to tell people a bit about his story. He’s been deported from Havana — “The capital of all Cubans” — six times. He’s managed to get four temporary documents allowing him to stay there, but every time they send him back with the pretext of being a “socially dangerous pre-criminal.”

Alfredo

I saw him on the bare bunk, no mattress, with his large, frightened eyes. Not even ten minutes passed before we began to chat. He met Jordis García Fournier and Abel López Pérez, political prisoners who had been there the previous night. He is a quiet-looking young man, a lover of baseball, movies and home life. This was his first stay in a cell, he was never fined or cited by any authority.

He said that he left his job in the accounting unit of the Post Office in August; it paid very little and the boss was an ex-military, a bit of an extremist. Three months later, they went to search his house because some documents were missing that guaranteed more than 38,000 Cuban pesos. When he told us this story, we asked him if he had handed over all his documents to his superiors before he left and he said yes, he had, even drawing up a document guaranteeing the handover and, what’s more, it was signed by his boss, secretary of the local Communist Party of Cuba and principal accountant. He said that a week ago he asked the Criminal Investigator to look for this document in his house, and at some point he was allowed to speak with his wife and he told her where to find it. But before each interrogation, the investigator would promise to go to his house and look for the document. The night before I arrived, they had picked him up at 2:00 in the morning and now they were threatening to impose a fine of 2,300 pesos for not having told them earlier about this document, now accusing him of having hid information from the authorities and obstructing the investigation.

Carlos

He’s a Guantanamo native, from the Eastern part of the city.  He is somewhat unsociable at first, but as it turns out, he proved to be the most talkative and the most intelligent.  Before he was changed for Raciel, he was ranting against the government all night.  They had surprised him a week ago, more than 80 kilometers from the Guantanamo Naval Base — more than 80 kilometers.  Some auxiliary country peasants from the Border Patrol Troops woke him up from a lazy afternoon’s nap and took him more than 5 kilometers across the land towards the well-known “Posta 16″.  There, they turned him in and locked him up.  He says that during the first few days they were accusing him of “trying to exit the country illegally”, but later, due to lack of proof, they threatened to  sentence him for being the one who assists people to exit Cuba through that region of the country.

These men are three examples of the beauty that can be seen within this horrific scene known as “The Other Guantanamo”, the Abu Ghraib of the Castro Brothers.

Detainee 1263: Cell 16

2 Dec

Photo: Exilda Arjona

It was Saturday, November 27, and we left early for Guantánamo. At 12:40 pm we were at the control point known as Río Frío, a few kilometers from the city of Guaso.

When the police stopped the vehicle we were riding in, they asked me urgently for my identity card, as well as that of the driver, and under the burning Eastern Cuba sun, they used the pretext of checking the vehicle.

My son, Malcolm, who is 7, started to vomit from nausea and lack of food. Some police approached, one of them looking a little embarrassed, but they kept us there a few more hours. At 3:00 pm a G2 official came and they put me in a patrol car and took me directly to the operations unit. A slight altercation left me with a scratch on my forehead and bruise on my arm. The rest was a mere formality. They left my wife Exilda behind with the children. In Guantánamo, Rolando Rodriguez and his wife Yanet Lobaina were waiting for us, because they we were to be the godparents at the christening of their three children on Sunday, the 28th. This was the first time I heard of a Catholic baptism being prohibited in the last 20 years. I was left with the face of my son, Malcolm, as I said goodbye to him, handcuffed in the jeep.

1263

Officer Ramirez told me, “You are number 1263.” To which I answered, “Let’s be clear about this, I won’t respond to that number.” The rest was the anxiety of imprisonment and good conversation with my comrades in the cell. I had to explain to them that I am one of those who is politically persecuted in my country, and that I could even denounce what was happening with them if they told me their stories, But, still afraid, they asked me not to use their names. So I asked them to choose their own pseudonyms: Alfredo, Raciel and Carlos. On another occasion I will tell you their stories.

From 3:00 in the afternoon on Saturday when I entered the operations unit, I took no food until Sunday night when I drank some orange juice, acidic and lacking sweetness, that they gave me in the snack. At dawn on Monday I drank again, some dark broth that once might have been chocolate. The two nights were a hell. The walls are covered with blood stains, as the inmates entertain themselves killing mosquitoes against the wall, and then with their remains they write their names, note the dates, the time they’ve been there and where they’re from. The toilet gave off its stench the whole day, and I could see that they never sweep the cell. I refused to eat, but I could see the food of the other detainees: watery soup with no flavor, they told me, boiled yellow rice, and a boiled egg, cold and hard.

The night before my detention, three young men from Guantanamo, Abel López Pérez, García Fournier and Yoandris Jordis, had been in the same cell; the first two are political prisoners and prominent activists from the peaceful opposition.

I could see how far the bureaucracy has gone to undermine the lives of Cubans. They wanted me to sign off on my detention, the confiscation of my belt and telephone, the return of the belt and telephone, the warning notice, and the release letter. Of course I didn’t sign a thing.

On Monday at 8:00 am they returned me to San Germán. The whole journey was the opposite of that of Saturday when I had gone with my family. It was a return to the inverse, seeing how my country has been turned into a pack of wild animals who trample the gardens. Forbidding us to attend the baptism of three children, what madness.

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