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All Exiles Are Possible / Luis Felipe Rojas

7 Sep

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When I say exile, I only think of the word life. That was what happened to me at the meeting “Fight for Liberation against Castro-communism,” which the writer Julio M. Shiling generously coordinated and which was held at the West Dade Regional Library of Coral Way, Miami, last July 10.

Attending the discussion were no more and no less than the well-known former political prisoners Angel de Fana, Agapito “El Guapo” Rivera, Jorge Gutierrez “El Sherif” and others who presented an overview of the insurrectional struggle from 1959 to the present.

De Fana’s words and his hopes for a future Cuba moved me. Twenty years in jail did not seem to have put a dent in the energy of this man who confronted the torture and prison horror of the Castro regime. “We must fight, not for the Cuba that we lost but for the one that awaits us ahead,” I heard him say.

Agapito, a peasant known for having fought in the central plains of the island against the militias and formal army, spoke of the bravery of those who accompanied him in that feat (there is no other name for this action). The loss of 11 relatives has not made him a resentful man, although pain emerges with each word for a country that could not be.

“No one knows the pain that is felt on learning of the death of the youngest of the brothers that you have taken to war,” says the man who earned the nickname “Handsome” in the prisons where they tried to break him for the 25 long years that he spent without tasting freedom. His liberation in 1988 must have been a relief for his jailers, according to the anecdotes that are told by those who shared galley, hallway and punishment cells with Agapito.

We live likewise through the story by Jorge Gutierrez, who landed in one of the infilitration teams days before the Cuban expedition in the Bay of Pigs. The loss of friends that had sent him off days before, the bitter flavor of the disappointment of promised help that never arrived, were related in detail by Gutierrez with a dynamic that left no room for doubts.

The other fight, the same country

Roberto Luque Escalona like Normando Hernandez related experiences of what is known as the peaceful resistance struggle, which although it has its detractors on both sides of the island, gave rise to one of the samples of respect that Cuba deserves.

Those who preceded Luque and Hernandez recognized the co-existence of both methods without sidestepping one or the other. Luque as well as Hernandez explored anecdotes that illustrated the advocacy of human rights, the confrontation of a more sophisticated military, which although assisted by Moscow, since its beginning was refining methods of repression from physical to psychological torture: to the point that at the beginning of 1980 many countries ignored what was happening on Dr. Castro’s island. So far the majority of nations ignore the lack of liberty in Cuba.

It has been a good opportunity, a landscape portrait of thousands of Cubans who do not fit in a single photo. Thanks to the labor of Shiling and his insistence on learning more of the untold history of the resistance against communism in Cuba.

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Translated by mlk.

17 July 2014

The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

27 Jul

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultima 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality.

“The shadows lift themselves/ from the same path/ where once was born/ that rare flower; / and the wind breaks through to cut/ the voice of some history.”

There is a flavor here of Machado, a thread connecting us to Paul Eluard, but it is La Avellaneda and Gabriela Mistral who season the bundle of words with which “Testigos de la noche” shows us Janisset, while the publisher Ultramar takes a mature step on its path of promoting literature. We see here a book that stands out through its modesty and economy of resources, both achievements boding well for the poetic profession as well as that other dying star, the readers of poetry, who upon entering the 21st century are seen as odd creatures.

An old poem is a new poem

Would that nothing human were foreign to us. It is like a canticle, a voice emerging from the deep thoughts of someone wiser than we. Nothing human is foreign to me, responding to that poetic subject that Janisset Rivero utilizes to traverse that broad plain that is Testigos.

The expression of love, desperation and fear of death surrounds us since the dawn of the world. Articulated anew by the momentum of Janisset Rivero’s verses, the realization of these timeless themes seems renewed: “The cry of the night/ charges the word/ and later silences…” Thus says one of her perhaps most accomplished compositions. But, is it death? Is it life? Is it the flowering of the fears of all times? We don’t know – Janisset Rivero leaves nothing assumed, and thus we witness another example of how insinuation is perhaps the surest shot.

Contemporaries as we are, we now face the dilemma that all that we poets touch has been touched by others, but the intimism revived in this work becomes addictive and pleasurable. To again read poems of love, hatred, human fears (which by virtue of being human we have all had them), is a good enjoyed by the most cultured.

No one tires of reading letters, messages, cries. No one – human as he may be – can simply walk by the weeping or the smiling rain of a woman. And we have here, readers and listeners, attentive to that voice that has emerged from JR to insert itself as a matter of course, in the skin of the poetic subject that she has utilized to narrate the ancient canticle of her work.

This, is it a new book or an old one? We, are we new or old readers of poetry? I believe that two words, two concepts have brought us together on this night of celebration: friendship and love. JR treats both with the same intensity – “Testigos” shows it.

Poetry without compromise

I do not believe in literary compromises. Somebody said that we writers are gravediggers by birth. We kill a writer to ride his glory, we bury an author because we want to throw off his powerful influence. For this reason, the mentions that JR makes here of her compatriots, of her brethren who have preceded us in death and of the glory of their heroic achievements, are a natural act of gratitude, and not an archetypal “compromise”. At least that is how I have read it and her, and this convinces me more than any instruction or qualification made on the surface, or under pressure.

Why were there not appearing here the shadows or the lights of (Pedro Luis) Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo? “Redeemed at last/ in battle./ They fear still…/ and you shine, Pedro/” … and I would add, OZT, Antonio Maceo, Virgilio Campaneria, Marti, Eusebio Penalver, Zoila Aguia, The Girl (the lovely girl, I would say) of Placetas. The verses in “Testigos…” are not accusations. They are tollings of a bell to remember, they are antidotes to apathy and greetings of a new time that is today and not tomorrow. This manner of greeting without weeping, of remembering without the frigid and obligatory applause, renew a poetry that refuses elegies. The verses of JR are a flower-word-wind, a herald, and for that, poetry is ever grateful.

JR chose the difficult path of touching her dead without placing a banner at the door to the house. This is a happy thing, because it makes her intimate as well as plura; it makes us participants in all that she touches, in all to which she invites us, on this night, and tomorrow.

Miami, June 5, 2014

Yusimí Sijo (L) and the rapper Raudel Collazo (C), Luis Felipe Rojas (R)

 

Janisset reads portions of her work.

Archived under Cuba.

Translated by GH; and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

6 June 2014

Journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez Beaten / Luis Felipe Rojas

13 Jul

Photo: Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, beaten June 11, 2014

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez was beaten on Wednesday, 11 June by a regime partisan. Guerra Perez uploaded a photo to his Facebook account where he appears with contusions on his face.

Guerra Perez is director of the Information Center and Prensa Hablemos (Let’s Talk Press), and in days past had warned about the threats that he was receiving daily. Perez made public the detentions Monday morning of journalist Mario Echevarria Driggs and journalism student Yeander Farres who receives training at Let’s Talk Press.

The independent reporter and director of Palenque Vision, Ramon Olivares Abello, was beaten on 31 May by a “State Security collaborator named Fidelito,” his wife told Martinoticias.com from the city of Guantanamo.

The director of Let’s Talk Press, Guerra Perez, added a brief message that the known dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello also had been beaten on leaving her house on Wednesday.

The telephones cut off by Cuba’s only phone company (the state-run ETECSA), short but continuing detentions, beatings and death threats seem to be the messages that the regime sent to non-conformist Cubans at the same time that the Vice-President of the government, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, insists that the official press should be “more transparent.”

Translated by mlk.

11 June 2014

The Massacre in Canimar River: 34th Anniversary / By Enrisco in the Blog ofLuis Felipe Rojas

11 Jul

By Enrisco

Today, July 6th, is the 34th anniversary of what is regarded as (only by a few certainly) as “The Massacre in Canimar River” because 14 years before the sinking of the “March 13th” tugboat there was an almost identical event in which the Cuban regime was left further unscathed than in the crime of 1994. In the same days as the exodus from Mariel three youths attempted to seize a tourism boat in the area near the Matanzas bay carrying 60-100 people.

While they attempted to escape they were persecuted and machine-gunned by the authorities and later drowned. The exact number of victims is still unknown although they were approximately 50 people of whom some where women and children. (“The precise number of victims remains a secret, but it is at least 56, including children of the ages 3, 9, 11, and 17 years old” according to the Cuba Archive). Only 10 people survived and 11 bodies were retrieved.

Its “historical” importance is to serve as a reminder that the sinking of the tug boat “March 13th” tugboat was not an isolated incident, but one of the most salient characteristics of the political system whose aim was to repress through all venues — including assassination — people who attempted to escape the island.

The other point is to better explain the sinking of the tugboat as a sort of general rehearsal: whomever made the decision to sink the tugboat (and given the transcendence of the decision the most logical answer is, Fidel Castro) had to remember the scarce international repercussions from the massacre that occurred 14 years earlier and reflect that, effectively, it would serve as an intimidating gesture in the domestic sphere without the price to pay in public relations being too costly.

If there remain doubts on the level of involvement of the country’s higher authorities in the crime, it should be known that Julian Rizo Alvarez, who was secretary of the Communist Party of Matanzas gave the order to machine-gun, was promoted 5 months later to Secretary of the Communist Party at a national level in the 2nd Congress of the PCC.

The original post appears in “el blog de Enrisco,” on Sunday, July 6, 2014.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

7 July 2014

Miami: Diverse and Pluralistic

8 Jul

somersault1403737414_img_00702Just by strolling through, you can see the diverse medley that everyone has described Miami to be. A girl pirouettes in a public square; exiled Cubans peacefully protest in a major street within the city; a Muslim woman takes a rest away from the incessant heat on a Saturday morning; and the Marlins Park opens to avid baseball fans. This is Miami.muslim1403737415_img_07752

 

writers happy hour1403737415_img_0232Miami: “Happy hours” on Thursday. Writers. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

hunger strike1403737416_1Democratic Movement – Hunger Strike. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas.

marlins parkmg_0270Marlins Park.

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

8 June 2014

Children Screaming / Armando Añel, Luis Felipe Rojas

30 Jun

About 30 members of the Cuban opposition,belonging to the illegal Partido Popular Republicano, throwing flowers into the sea in memory of the victims of the tugboat “13 de Marzo”. Archive photo (martinoticias.com)

By Armando Añel

What happened can be briefly summarised: on July 13th 1994 – 17 years ago today – at the crack of dawn, 72 people tried to escape from the island in a tug. When they were some 12 km from the coast of Havana, three other tugs charged the vessel, spraying high pressure water jets over its occupants. In succession they targetted the 13 de Marzo – which was now flooded – until it gave up the ghost, broke up and sank, with a total of 41 fatal victims, 23 of them children, including a 6 month old baby.

Up to now, the Castro government has not shown the slightest willingness to clarify what, from the start, it termed “an accident”. In the Granma daily newspaper, ten days after it sank, an article appeared – signed by Guillermo Cabrera Alvarez – where it said that, among other things, “a group of company workers took direct action to defend its interests. They informed the Coastguard of the crime and took it upon themselves to prevent them getting away.” Earlier, the same newspaper had argued that “in order to obstruct the theft (referring to taking the 13 de Marzo), three MITRANS boats tried to intercept it, and while they were manoeuvring in order to achieve that, the unfortunate accident occurred, in which the vessel sank.”

Since then, the tone of the sporadic explanations given by the government has remained the same:  we were dealing with an irresponsible act of  piracy promoted by the “counter revolution” , in the face of which people took the law into their own hands.  Obviously, goes the official line, the “people” taking the law into their own hands is nothing punishable.  As long as things turn out in their favour, any crime is justifiable.

It’s clear that the official version gives rise to various questions. If we were looking at a spontaneous, uncoordinated action, why were various tugs waiting at the entrance to the bay  on 13th March, at the crack of dawn? And why tugs exactly, a type of boat which lends itself perfectly to intercepting fugitives ? Why did these lookouts let the vessel continue on its flight? Why did the interception take place some seven miles off the coast, exactly where it could not be spotted  from the land by unwelcome witnesses, but while still in Cuban waters?  And how was it possible that, having been informed about the escape from the start, the coastguard  speedboats  delayed for an hour and twenty minutes before turning up at the scene, after the massacre had taken place?

But all these questions become irrelevant when you frame the fundamental question: why don’t they try the case to clarify once and for all if what happened was an accident or a crime? Because, if it was the first, the urgent, reasonable and normal course is to put the people involved in front of a judge, a defence lawyer and a prosecutor, in order to see justice done. That’s what happens when any traffic accident occurs, especially if there are fatalities:  they don’t take the driver’s innocence as a given; they investigate first. And, in Cuba, since 1959, the accused have to prove their innocence.

Meanwhile, the 13th March massacre of the tug – more than that of Canimar, Cojimar, Guantánamo base, etc., – has become lodged in the  collective memory  of those who are exiled and even of many of  those who are stuck on the island. The image is horrific: a young woman protects her baby from the Castro regime’s high-pressure jets of water, while she shrieks, almost in a whisper “they are going to kill the children …they are going to kill the children … “. She surrendered, but to no purpose. She surrendered , and her executioners mocked her. She surrendered, but in an island’s memory, it is exodus and memory, escape and perennial return, the Tug does not surrender.

The screaming of the children continues to shake our ears.

Translated by GH

25 June 2014

Prats Sariol: “To Write About the Cuban Reality is a Duty” / Luis Felipe Rojas

24 Jun

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I hadn’t seen José Prats Sariol since 1997, when he offered a lecture on Phenomenology in the conference room of the School of Arts at the University of Havana. Seventeen years later he came to Miami to talk about the great poet Gaston Baquero, at the invitation of the Pen Club of Cuban Writers in Exile, and Saturday afternoon, June 14, he spoke to us of Gaston… and Cuba. The author of the novel Mariel (1997), the studies contained in Criticizing the critic (1983), The Artizada Matter, and others, presented the talk Gastón Baquero, poetic singularity.

“The fact that Gastón (an anti-communist, labeled with the epithets of ’Batista supporter’ and ’Franco supporter’) wrote a seminal text like “With César Vallejo in Paris — when it rains” is a ’singular’ event, if we see that Vallejo was a community who was the direct opposite — ideologically — of the Cuban who had to go into exile, after the pressures put on him by the ’Cuban Revolution,’” said Prats Soriol.

“Both lived in the same street, in the same block, on the same sidewalk in Madrid that harbored them, and only a sensitivity so high, this singular detail, would make one find the other. The singularity is that in this small deviation in which you say: this is different, it makes it singular. It is one of the problems of poetry today, and it greatly resembles that,” he said.

1402916596_img_0584The meeting featured the voices of the poets Orlando Rosardi and Angel Cuadra reading a poem by Baquero. At the end of each piece Sariol talked about the author of “Discourse of the Rose in Villalba,” about how Gastón came to Origins Magazine and how he later influenced the poets who followed him. But for Cuba, the current professor at the University of Arizona, offered an aside.

Cuba is a duty

Cuba is the passion of this Doctor of Philology who has crossed the waters, the classrooms from Havana, Mexico to disembark with his lessons and poetic approximations “in the Arizona desert.” However, he admits that he would like to bring the map of everything produced on the island.

“Sadly, many things escape me, books, authors. I could talk with a certain authority about the generation of Origins, the generation of the 30s, but when I want to advance a little bit more, for example your generation, I start to slip. And why? Because of ignorance, because I don’t have access to the books. I met Magaly Alabau here in the United States, what ignorance, a critic of Cuban poetry who hadn’t read Magaly Alabau. I never had access to her, I didn’t kow her, although later I read her books, she became my friend.

“Prats, why haven’t you written about Magaly Alabau?”

“Out of ignorance,” I answered myself.

“As long as the dictatorship exists, it’s a duty for me. Of course I respect opinions, that other people aren’t interested, but for me it’s a duty as a Cuban to write and offer my point of view about the situation in Cuba, and I include all Cubans,” he concluded.

16 June 2014

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