Archive | March, 2011

Friends that Remain

30 Mar

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

I met Jose A. Triguero Mulet during a heated political debate. The nearly 70-year-old Mulet is a freedom-loving man.  I’m writing this after he gave me an article he wrote about the humiliations he has lived through just for daring to scream the truth at the militants which rule my country.  It was from those experiences which I took these living testimonies.  I’m simply re-telling his griefs and hopes:

“On July 29th of 2004, I was detained in San German.  For two hours I was interrogated and threatened by State Security Captain Abel Ramirez and Major Parra from State Security in Holguin.  That’s where the harassment really started, through the phone and in person, towards me and also towards my family”.

“On September 10th 2004 I was then harassed in the middle of the street by State Security Captain Abel, just for participating in a vigil held in San German”.

“Then, on October 19th 2004 at 9 PM, he tried to hit me with his car.  Since I quickly tried to jump out of the way, I fractured my finger and suffered various bruises and wounds on my left hand”.

“On March 15th, 2004 Lieutenants Wilmer Sarmiento and Jose Hidalgo,  an unidentified State Security sub-official, and two witnesses from the neighborhood named Yolanda Mompel and Odalis Velazquez showed up at my house.  The reason for such a visit was to carry out a search in my home for articles used in illicit sales.  Of course, they did not find anything of the sort, so they revealed their true intentions, which were to dismantle my independent library.  They not only confiscated all my prohibited political literature but also anything written which attacked the Cuban dictatorship, as well as 2 portable radios and an old typewriter.  The home of my eldest daughter was also searched.  There, the authorities behaved in a gross manner.  They took my stuff and threw it up on their jeep and they took me to the P.N.R (People’s Revolutionary Police) unit.  Nothing was returned to me, and they did not even give me a copy of the confiscation letter after I was detained for 8 hours”.

(…)

“On June 17th 2006, when I was on my way to the city of Holguin, the bus I was on was detained at the entrance of the city by a Captain.  This official boarded the vehicle and walked directly towards me, asking for my ID card.  He then told me to follow him off the bus with my bookbag.  When we arrived to the P.N.R sector I saw that Lieutenant Colonel Enrique and Leonides Licea (both officials from State Security), a police named Emilio (and nicknamed “SOUR YUCCA”), and 5 other uniformed officials were also there.  In total there were 9 of them, standing there like police dogs waiting to pounce on me in that tiny office we were crammed in.  They snatched my bookbag from me and found documents which were to be sent to the Cuban Liberal Party of Havana.  This detonated all those henchmen to fire the most humiliating and offensive insults at me.  As if that was not enough, they took advantage of their strength and they rushed up on me, pushing my shaky body down, despite the fact that my blood pressure was through the roof.  They forcibly took off all my clothes and told me to squat.  I am guessing that the purpose of this was to make sure that I did not have anything hidden behind my genitals.  While I was getting dressed again, my hands were shaking with fear (I am not ashamed to say it) and I noticed that my nose was bleeding and my right eye hurt.  Apparently, while they were forcing the clothes off of me, one of them actually hit me.  Whether they intended to do so or not, I do not know, but I had been hit with a ring, and that’s how the small wound on my nose and the pain on my eye was produced.  They seemed to have gotten scared when they saw the blood, so they decided to let me go, but only after they threateningly told me that I was already an old man and that prison would not be easy on me”.

(…)

“During February 3rd of 2010, at around 5 PM, a group of Eastern opposition members, along with others from Camaguey, were all savagely beaten.  I was among one of the victims.  There were also 8 women.  In my case I received a strong blow on my neck and a strong kick on the back of my left leg.  All of this was perpetrated by the political police, all dressed as if they were civilians.  Some civil functionaries also took place, led by the first secretariat of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) from Camaguey, Julio Cesar Rodriguez Garcia.  Also present was the chief of the Provincial Camaguey Prisons, Lieutenant Colonel Bombino.  They were beating us because we were carrying out an act of solidarity with the demands made by the prisoner of conscience from the group of the 75, Orlando Zapata Tamayo”.

“I hope that this testimony will serve to inform readers that, without a doubt, the entire Cuban island is a large prison where some of our brothers have been summarily sentenced and jailed in hundreds of small jails away from their loved ones”.

That’s the testimony of Triguero.  It is a truth that is similar to a tree planted in the middle of the forest.  Jose A. Triguero Mulet is coordinator of the Cuban Liberal Party in the eastern provinces.  He is also one of the 4 members of the secretariat of the Human Rights sector of the Eastern Democratic Alliance.  Every semester, his role is to write up a report of the human rights violations committed in this region.

Jose resides in Ave. 29, No. 1806, e/ 18 and 20. San German, Holguin, Cuba, and his telephone is (53)243-81594.

March 29 2011

Yoandris Gutierrez Vargas: Walking Through the Labyrinths of Hell

26 Mar

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

For Rosi of Cuba…she knows.

It was Sunday, and amid the suffocating heat and the sluggishness of the truck which was taking me from Santiago de Cuba to Las Tunas, I chose to instead get off at Bayamo- that symbolic land full of rebellion and patriotism bequeathed to us by our ancestors.  I gulped down a refreshing drink, an “Eastern Pru”, which consists of a fermented base.  I went all the way to the home of Yoandris.  For quite some time now I had really wanted to talk to him; I wanted him to tell me about his jail experience and how life was treating him now as a freed dissident.

“In the year 2006, my grandfather Manuel Gutierrez returned to Cuba to see his family.  After just a few days of being here, he was taken to a tourist hotel in Guardalavaca (Holguin province) by political police officials.  The argument given to him was that Mr. Fidel Castro was going to visit Bayamo for the celebration of that unfortunate date- the 26th of July.  That was a day when many Cubans died on both sides.  My grandfather was relocated to Holguin and had to pay the mandatory hotel guest fee.  He had to spend the little money he had left which he had brought from the United States since he is already a retired man.”

“Since they were giving out little flags during those days in order to decorate the streets, I took one of those flags which were slipped under my door and I painted the white stripes black as a symbol of mourning.  I then wrote a “75″ on it, in reference to the prisoners of the Black Spring.  I hung it outside my house and it stayed there through the night.  Then came the attacks from the so-called authorities.  It was on July 23rd 2006.  On that day, State Security took me to the barracks known as “El Punto” (“The Point”) on the outskirts of Las Tunas.  They shouted at me, they offended me, and they threatened me thousands of times.  In addition, they even fabricated a crime for me, something about offending patriotic symbols.  Afterwards, my family was left abandoned. 

My 4 year-old-son was stripped of his father and protection, seeing as I was the one who sustained the family. They sentenced me to 1 year of imprisonment which I served in the Provincial Prison of Las Mangas.  That is where I met Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, Jorge Gonzalez Tanquero, and Felix Navarro, all 3 from the group of the 75.  Within a few days, I got to witness firsthand the torture that political prisoners were subjected to, all the threats and humiliations they force on them.”

 “I arrived the same way thousands of other youths did, without knowing what a prison was like.  In that place I was threatened by Major Nunez from State Security.  They quickly locked me up in a room with a group of violent men who actually had knives with them.  The leader of the group was Nilson, who belonged to the Council, and they all operated under the freedom granted to them by State Security, the Prison Security, and the Interior Order Chiefs. 

They told me that they were going to kill me if I publicly protested against the government because they had been authorized to do so by all their bosses.  They are people who are sadistically used to create terror, which is the only discipline excercised by the prison authorities.  Nilson later died in the Manzanillo prison for causing the death of another young prisoner, Yuliet, who was a 19-year-old homosexual that had been “bought” between one prison and another.  Yuliet was assassinated by a so-called Negrito.  And Nilson was charged for the death of Yuliet.”

 “There, I received beatings and plenty of restrictions just for protesting, as a dissident, against the government.  Later I was imprisoned again under the pretext of ‘disrespect towards the figure of our Commander in Chief.’  That’s the name they have given to that cause which has taken so many Cubans to prison.  The law was applied to me when this self-titled ‘Commander in Chief’ wasn’t even exercising the role of President anymore.  I was sentenced to 2 years which I served in the prisons of Las Mangas and the one known as ‘El Secadero’ (‘The Drying Room’).  In the provincial prison, I received multiple beatings carried out by Colonel Modesto, as well as one by Lieutenant Silvera on September 2nd.  The re-educator, Eddy, was the one on guard, and he ordered I be taken, injured, to the punishment cell with no medical attention.  That’s where I spent my birthday on September 6th.  I was not allowed any visits, my family was not allowed to see me at all until 2 months had passed and my bruises had disappeared.” 

“When I heard the disc containing an excerpt of ‘Against all Hope,’ by Armando Valladares, I felt as if I was once again hearing the screams of the prisoners, the abuses of the jailers, as if I was once again living behind the bars, because every single thing he narrates is real.  And it is even possible to say that today it has multiplied.  In modern Cuban prisons, they still assassinate and torture, they continue harassing family members of prisoners, and when they are political prisoners it is even worse.”

“Now, besides being a member of the Republican Party of Cuba and of being an activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance, I am also a missionary from the First Baptist Church of Bayamo.  My pastor is Samuel Columbie Iglesias, who has been attacked by State Security on multiple occasions.  Despite of all that has happened, I tell my oppressors to repent, to cease staining their hands with blood.  And to those who have kidnapped the happiness of Cuba, remember that we have all been created by the same God.  I tell them to repent before it’s too late for them.  Cuba needs to live in freedom, just like other nations of the world.  We Cubans have the right to be free and that is why many of us are fighting for it.” 

I left Bayamo late that night, the land of Cespedes and Fornaris. I left without snapping a photo of Yoandris, but I kept his words in my pocket. This is a voice that needs to cross the barbed wires, I repeated to myself over and over again.

Pd: Yoandris Gutierrez Vargas lives on 19th Street-A No. 11, e/ 12 & Liberty, Zamora Complex, El Valle, Bayamo, Granma.

Spanish post
March 25 2011

Tell Me Who Your Friends Are…

23 Mar

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Amid boredom and curiosity, I started to ponder on my personal relationships during the last few years.  The geography of my good friends had considerably changed.  When I count all those friends who crossed the sea, the oceans, and other frontiers and who are no longer by my side, I also realize that some undesirable relationships have patrolled my existence.

Although they are not my friends, every once in a while I have to deal with my police interrogators, the neighborhood snitches, and other people who make a living out of something so wrong due to their ideological difference with others.  This is the chain of oppressors which, during recent times, I have spoken to more than my uncles and cousins who reside on the other end of the island.

Lieutenant Saul Vega, Major Charles, Captain and Penal Instructor Luis Quesada, Major Roilan Cruz Ojeda, officer Caneyes, and the military prosecutor captain Juan Carlos Laborde, all of whom are from Holguin.  In Guantanamo, there is Lieutenant Colonel Caraballo, in Baracoa there are Majors Diesel Castro Pelegrin and Gerneidis Romero Matos (the latter who is the chief of the State Security Confrontation Unit in Villa Primada), and the one with whom I lived the most deceptive moment, Captain Ariuska from the G2 (Operations) unit in Guantanamo.

Ariuska is an olive-green lady who promised me, while nearly trampling the constitution she claims to defend, that the “Cuban government holds the ultimate power to decide who goes and who does not go from one province to another.”  Similarly, I recall the day when the above mentioned Captain Laborde, after communicating with the military prosecutors, rejected my denouncement against the security officials while he leaned over the table and assured me that he ran a reception office which catered to the needs of the people, and that although I was from that town because I was born there, I did not have access to certain benefits since I had “attempted against the powers of the socialist state.”

These are dangerous relationships provoked by the special circumstances of living under a dictatorship and in a closed society.

March 21 2011

A Museum for Violence

21 Mar

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

They told me about it a few weeks ago and I couldn’t believe it.  In my neighbor city of Holguin, they are about to inaugurate the Museum of Clandestinity.  They are renovating the building and have invested plenty of money on fine woods and expensive accessories to improve their looks.

It is the same building in which, more than half a century ago, the commercial offices of Cuban Air once stood.  On November 23rd of 1957, one of the commandos from the 26th of July Movement fired his gun and perforated colonel Fermin Cowley Gallegos (chief of the Holguin Rural Guard Regiment) with bullets.  A year prior to that, many Cubans had been killed during the dark period known as Bloody Christmas.  The animosity ran so deep that more Cubans were killed even after the death of Cowley, who himself had carried out a wave terror throughout Holguin.

Now, 54 years later, in the very spot of those bloody events, they are going to exhibit the arms, some of the 26th of July bonds, documents, and various paraphernalia to commemorate an era of hate and violence among Cubans who did not see eye to eye.  These Cubans decided to solve the problems of a country the same way they would have solved a domestic brawl and they started a war.

In this “Museum of Clandestinity” they will display dry blood-stained clothes, pliers and nail clippers, and photographs of the street where the automobile of the colonel and his driver once stood before he was assassinated.

Yesterday, I walked by Liberty street, located in the corner of General Angel Guerra, and I could not believe it.  Of course, I don’t know the exact amount of money they are spending on doing this, but I do know that with this same money they could restore a theater, re-open a library, or install working computers which provide internet service.  And if this seems to be too much for them, they could even renovate a children’s park or invest on the Museum of Natural Sciences, which is about to collapse any moment now.  But I must realize that I am only dreaming.  For an autocracy, there is nothing more gratifying than to pay tribute to its own aura of “strong guerrilla fighter”,  and to its spirit of violence.  And they have to inject the new generations with this as well, for it is in that age group where they seek to create their “back-up”.

Photograph: “Automobile of Cowley parked outside the offices of Cuban Air, the very same spot where the assassination took place, on Liberty Street.”

March 18 2011

A Fair, a Fury

14 Mar

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

A few days ago, the 20th Annual Book Fair concluded in Holguin.  This event traveled from Havana where it was presented as an event of international character, but other provinces received a watered down version.

When I walked by the small stands where books were displayed for sale, it seemed as if there were two fairs, two countries, and two provinces.  On National TV, they had been enthusiastically promoting books which contained testimonies from soldiers who had gone to the war in Africa, as well as other titles which consisted of discourses, essays, and other documents belonging to Fidel Castro.  The TV would show the publications from the Ministry of the Interior: police novels where the bandits were always caught and such.

But the fair that we actually miss is the one where true political or social literary novelties were sold.  Those were the days where some books would be snuck in, and although they bothered the vigilant eyes of the ideological apparatus of the PCC (Cuban Communist Party), they always somehow found their way into the hands of readers.  The frank and open debates which challenged the current radical thought which prefers to cheer on the so-called Bicentennial Collection (of American Independence) before bringing some clarifying texts of current social thought to light.

I bumped into a rather amusing sight in Holguin: a tent with many books on display, some happy and expectant customers browsing through the titles, and a gang of uniformed MININT (Ministry of the Interior) officials keeping a close watch from behind.  I asked myself, “What were they guarding? What were they searching for? What are they defending?”  Maybe this would be logical at a bar, one of the ones known as “Perreras” where Cubans go to empty out their worries over fermented drinks.  Maybe, there it would make sense to have some sort of authority to calm down so much energy (never through beatings, right?), but at a book tent…

As a product of the budget cuts, we were once again presented with the same old books which had been circulating among some of the darkest libraries throughout the island months ago.  Here, they were presented to us as if they were brand new literary publications.  Once again, that old custom of going to a bookstore or library to always find some recent publications has been lost.  It’s all an absurdity, an urgent measure taken by a fair which has gotten worse each year, just like the euphoria which instantly vanishes time and time again.

March 13 2011

Another Hunger Striker Nears Death in a Cuban Prison / Luis Felipe Rojas

10 Mar

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina with his children in happier times

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina Needs the Eyes of the World Upon Him
by Luis Felipe Rojas

 

Just like Sisyphus forced to push his stone uphill for eternity, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina is enduring his latest arbitrary incarceration as a punishment for his unwavering commitment to civil disobedience. As I write these lines, Nestor has been on a hunger strike for more than 20 days.

His latest trials began when he was arbitrarily arrested in front of his 10-year-old daughter, Dayana, on December 9 of last year. He was beaten and forced into a police car, according to this child’s report, while she was left on her own standing in the street. By the time she made it home that night she was hysterical.

Although no formal charges have been filed against Nestor, his father learned that the arrest was apparently carried out in retaliation for an incident that had occurred several months earlier, in August of 2010. On the day in question Nestor’s house was stoned by government sympathizers, students recruited for the task, and political police agents. As these assault troops destroyed his home, Nestor, his brother and three other activists were taken into custody by a team from the Secret Police (the feared “G2″), and thrown into cells in the city of Guantanamo.

According to his accusers, Nestor “hurt a young girl” during this attack on his home, but in fact this “child” is 18 years old. An active member of the Communist Youth Union, she ultimately admitted that she was not involved in the incident, but was “passing by” in a bicycle-taxi, and claimed to have been hit by a thrown bottle.

After more than two months of being held without charges among murderers, rapists, thieves, swindlers and other men who have lost their way in life, Nestor decided to begin a hunger strike to demand his rights. As happened with Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in similar circumstances just over a year ago, when Nestor refused food the prison guards retaliated by turning off the water in his cell. When he finally was granted access to water again he refused to drink and is now being kept alive through an IV.

In addition to the apparent intention to charge him with “inflicting harm” he is also expected to be charged with “public disorder” — as a victim of the attack on his home. Together these accusations would carry a five-year sentence.

Nestor already served a six-year sentence under similar circumstances, at which time he was declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. During that prison term he was savagely beaten by a common prisoner with the last name of Duvergel, a former police office following orders from State Security (according to Duvergal’s own testimony, years later). Nestor’s jaw was fractured in this attack requiring a long convalescence.

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina is on a hunger strike that may lead to his death. All he is asking for is to be released, as he considers himself to be innocent. His family is asking for people to join them in support, in hopes that the eyes of the world can help free this peaceful campaigner for Human Rights. We, his brothers in the opposition, fear that this could end in yet another death in Cuban prisons, and so we issue this warning and plea for help.

Note: Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina is a lifelong Cuban activist working for democracy and human rights in our country, founder the Alternative Studies Center of Cuban Youth for Democracy. In recognizing him as a Prisoner of Conscience in 1999, Amnesty International wrote: “Political activist, Nestor Rodriquez Lobaina, was arbitrarily arrested on 11 July 1999, for exercising his right to freedom of expression when he began a hunger strike in support of the Tamarindo 34 hunger strikers. His whereabouts are unknown. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and is urging his immediate release.”

March 8, 2011

Today, I Write Only An Excuse

6 Mar


I received very strong testimonies via telephone by Ramon Rodriguez and his son Rolando about the situation Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina — on hunger strike — is facing in the convict unit of the provincial hospital of Guantanamo.

Hours later, news of the death of my grandmother, Maria, left me incapable of putting together a coherent and precise post like you all deserve. My cherished Maria is now resting in peace and I know that God will receive her as it should be.

But with Nestor, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t want to believe that another Cuban man of mixed race — and an eternal defender of human rights in Cuba — is already taking the first steps down the path which Orlando Zapata Tamayo also went through.

Band-aids to Save a Country

2 Mar

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

The Council of Ministers of Cuba expanded its quorum in order to hold a session this past February 28.  Nearly 30 thousand proposals were already calculated in the meetings to discuss the lineaments, and now the olive-green leaders are rushing to put band-aids on the wounds of the battered Cuban society.

Now, it turns out that the layoff process is not the purpose, but instead it is an attempt to recover some unknown sort of efficiency.  After 52 years of arbitrary administration, the ruling hands have been informed about the worst evil present in the Cuban ecosystem.  Thousands of acres of untouched lands destroyed with the purpose of establishing fields of sugar cane, which are no longer of economic interest, leading to a grave mistake which is now very difficult to fix.  The charred and salty ground has lost its fertility.  The effects of this are present for everyone to see.  The full-blown process of establishing a system of hotels with better beaches in nearby keys has dried out natural lakes, lost a great amount of sand, and destroyed much of the vegetation along the Cuban coasts.

This is how the next planned Communist congress in April has designed its agenda.  Now, we will have to believe that we have benefited, and continue benefiting, from the economy of an Old Havana which was saved by the sacrifices of the messianic Eusebio Leal.  The trained forces of the National Revolutionary Police, which are stationed in the historic district, have not had much training in the area of safeguarding peace among the population.  Instead, they have had more experience in the field of harassing their own citizens who approach tourists in an attempt to get their hands on any crumbs, establishing a friendship, or engaging in simple human communication.

In the past few days, I have seen trucks full of workers and professionals heading toward fields of sugar cane in an attempt to “change jobs” or join in on “voluntary labor”.  This is happening in various Eastern provinces of the country.  It’s the new institutionalized blackmail strategy aimed at those who will attempt to enhance their standing before the massive layoffs arrive.  It’s the open door for those who are laid off.

We must be very attentive, for these are the whip lashes of a country, of a government which looks out for itself in the midst of a crisis… which has been going on for more than 50 years.

March 2 2011

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.