The Cuban Writers Club / Luis Felipe Rojas

2 Dec

Víctor Domínguez. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Men who believe themselves to be free manage to break the bars imposed on them by authoritarian regimes. The Cuban Writers Club (CEC), established in Havana in May 2007, is an initiative that arose from the desire for free literature, poetry out loud, and a way to rub up against life as if they were living in a free country. A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune of having lunch and chatting with one of these free men, Víctor Domínguez. Armando Añel delivered him through the crazy Miami traffic.

“A group of writers, some of the members of the official National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), others from the Hermanos Saiz Association (AHS), but all of us marginalized from the institutional spaces because of ideological problems, realized we needed our own independent space. We are more than fifty writers from the whole county, and twenty of us have published works, which is an accomplishment,” says Victor Manuel Dominguez, co-president of the Club.

Dominguez is one of Havana’s veteran independent journalists who survived the hardships, arrests and police harassment. “Twice they have expelled Jorge Olivera Castillo and me from literary and cultural meetings we were attending — once it was in the Cuba Pavilion — and we have to say that we are here and we are going to continue doing our literary work despite the repression and censorship,” said the author of the banned and still unpublished novel, “Operation Cauldron.”

The fruits they already taste

Jorge Olivera Castillo is one of the independent journalists who has survived hardships of every kind. He is the founder of Habana Press, a banned press agency born in the long past year 1995; he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the well-known Black Spring of 2003, and today has nearly a dozen books published by helping hands around the world.

“It was prison that made me turn to literature, and especially being at the side of Raul Rivero, unfortunately now in exile. I was in solitary confinement for a year, in a cell in Guantanamo, six hundred miles from my home in Havana, but literature helped me to survive,” Olivera Castillo said with pride.

The award of the Franz Kafka Novels from the Drawer Prize to Frank Correa Romero in 2012 for his work “The Night is Long,” and that fact that 2010 was “a great year” for Olivera Castillo, made them realize they were beginning to reap what they had sown.

Jorge Olivera Castillo has published nearly a dozen books of poetry and prose. Publishers from half the world have helped him, not because of his having been condemned to 18 years in prison in the 2003 Black Spring, the only criterion is the quality of his writing. Olivera saw his book of poems appear almost a decade after they were written: “Lit Ashes” (Polish-Spanish, Lech Walesa Institute, 2010), and from Galen Publishing (French-Spanish) “In Body and Soul,” which had been published in 2008 by the Czech Pen Club.

The world, all the worlds

In Havana, the Swiss, German and Czech embassies have opened their doors to these bards to develop their literary gatherings, blocked by the authoritarian regime. The German Romantic Period, the work of A. Von Humboldt, the dramas and poetry of Polish writers, as well as readings by their own members, are part of this unique Writers Club.

The digital magazine Puente de Letras (Literary Bridge) contains all of this flood of creation: the list of its members, the prizes they have won, fragments of works half done and on their way to publication, are part of the mission of this attractive digital site.

Authors such as Luis Cino Álvarez, Juan González Febles, María del Carmen Pino or Manuel Cuesta Morúa have presented their stories, poems or essays on the Puente de Letras magazine and website.

Looking ahead, they have made this bridge to the future. “This is a source of feedback, you write and life gives you these prizes: the books, the friendship, the sharing,” Olivera concluded.

2 December 2013

Cuba Tweetup for #FreeSonia and Freedom of Cuba

20 Nov

Poster, courtey Rolando Pulido

Tweet a tweet this Monday on the social networks, Facebook, Twitter and the others for solidarity with #FreeSonia, #FreeElCritico and all the other Cuban political prisoners.

17 November 2013

Cuba and the Association for Freedom of the Press / Luis Felipe Rojas

12 Nov

The Association for Freedom of the Press (APLP) is an organization to disseminate the work of independent journalists in Cuba. Recently I spoke with José Antonio Fornaris, one of its officers, and with Juan Carlos Linares Balmaseda, manager of public relations and it’s well worth taking a tour of its site.

Recently they gave out the awards for their contest: Newsprint. The winners were Augusto César San Martín, in the genre reporting; Filiberto Perez del Sol, chronicles; Ernesto Santana (member of the government-sponsored Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), in interviews; and Dimas Castellanos, in op-ed. Special mention went to Sergio Esteban Vélez in interviews.

The prize for the winners consisted of a certificate, 250 convertible pesos ($225) and a statuette carved in wood, which — according to the artist Iley of Jesus — its Greek column represent democracy, the wings represent freedom and the pencil,  freedom of expression. For the honorable mention the award consisted of the certificate and the statue.

In conversation with the public relations person, Linares Balmaseda, he said: “We are driven primarily by desire to tell the world what is happening in our environment, in a dictatorship that blocks our right to freedom of information. But most important is to say it from within the island, because they are the ones who are reporting on the changes that must occur on the road to democratization, that is what makes the APLP,” he said.

12 November 2013

#FreeElCritico #FreeSonia Now

10 Nov

Today at the Versailles Restaurant, of Miami and the whole United States, those of us who want to can add our names to #CubaLibre #FreeElCritico #FreeSonia and all the Cuban political prisoners. Raise your voice, you can do it. We are on the social networks, we are with Cuba.

8 November 2013

Graphic Artist Supports Cuban Rapper on Hunger Strike / Luis Felipe Rojas

8 Nov

Poster: Rolando Pulido

Once again the graphic artist Rolando Pulido echoes the suffering of Cuba and has prepared a poster calling for solidarity with Angel Yunier Remon Arzuago, who as of Thursday has completed 22 days on hunger strike, in protest of a prosecutor’s request for an eight year jail sentence, for a supposed attack.

In conversation with the wife of the controversial rapper, Yudisbel Rosello said that they had put a tube in the rapper’s neck to feed him, because he could no longer bed fed through tubes in his arm.

The young woman also reported that Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Provincial Hospital in Bayamo, where her husband Remon Arzuaga has been admitted, is completely guarded by police and State Security.

The organization NetForCuba called a protest: Thi Friday, 8 November, at 7:00 PM we will gather at the Versailles Restaurant in Miami to protest for the release of the rapper Yunier El Critico.”

#FreeElCritico

7 November 2013

One Year Outside Cuba, Within The Country / Luis Felipe Rojas

2 Nov

Photo: “Self-Portrait of exile. Nostalgia machine.”

It is exactly one year ago to the day that I left Cuba to enter the other Cuba. They gave me a kick, manu militari, and so I came to fall on this side of the lost country.

Miami gave me the opportunity to speak in the tongue of my grandparents, to return to the preferred palate of my grandparents.  I have achieved the dreams of my grandmother Maria: I drank Jupiña, I tried Materva and I ate again the guava pastries that my godfather Mayaguez used to make.  In that sense the nostalgia machine is still oiled, as always.

Here I have been bored since the police don’t ask me for my identity card nor do they ask for how many days I’ll stay in Little Havana.  My children Malcom and Brenda don’t have to put their hands to their foreheads in each school activity and say that they want to be like Che, that Argentinian fan of multiple and foreign deaths, foreign lands, foreign women, foreign families, to live a borrowed life, to jump from melancholic guerrillas to adolescent T-shirts.  My children are free because they are learning how to be.

It’s been a year since I came to a country that is a lot more generous than it is described to be, from the hand of Lori Diaz and the International Rescue Committee (IRC, “Ay-Ar-Cee, how can we help you?”).  I came to a Miami even more generous, where civil society is so organized that there was no need for a campaign for a foreign lady to give me the first $40 in her checkbook for the month and she treated us in a café.  From the hand of Ivon, Berta, Idolidia and Mario we all went through the first and hard hurricanes of red tape and we came out sane and happy, thanks to God and to them.

Miami gave me back my bicycle and a pain in my calves the first months; the bus and the fright of the next stop.  Here again I published a book and read poetry without demand for political ideology affiliation, at least that’s what Idable and Armando have shown me.  Miami gave me a microphone and a website so I can talk to Cuba at every second as if I was a ubiquitous man, Borgian, and I have been able to interview people from Baracoa, Puerto Padre or Jaimanitas without being afraid of the police attacking my house.

For the past year I’m happy playing dominoes and war. Twelve months I’ve been lounging on Saturdays in the grass with my wife Exilda, (at Tropical Park) looking at the sky to give thanks and ask for another wish: like two children, or two fools, but happy as never before.

P.S: There are other names and beautiful sunsets to mention, but no thanks.

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy

25 October 2013

We’ll Always Have an Ode (Fuck)* / Luis Felipe Rojas

2 Nov

I had to let a year pass in order to compose this ode (fuck) which is not for Enrisco and his refrain of throwing it all to hell.  This is the story of a one-eyed but happy man.  I was in the Havana room of my friend Roberto Gonzalez, eating bread and tons of ice cream because there was nothing else, while I read “We Will Always Have Madrid”.

I did it in one go, as the best jokes are read and about every twenty pages La Chipi would appear with the jugs of ice cream.  I believe I’d returned to the best of Marcos Behemaras, to the most spicy Zumbado that was taken from us “by accident” and all that was seasoned with the Madrid stories which will never be ours (nor Enrisco’s) and a Havana that was no longer mine because I was leaving Cuba.

But no sooner had we followed the food and that digital version, than it occurred to me to write to the “prof” and give him the bad news that his book was already being pirated between the corsairs and the cyberpirates, in a capital that wouldn’t recover, this Havana simultaneously virgin and whore.

“We will Always Have Madrid” is a linear story, since humans at the end always come back to the scene of the crime, or of ridicule, and the value of this book is that, in not stopping to laugh at the misfortune of the cold, the naiveté of a just arrived immigrant, or the sons of b… that destiny reserves for us at each step. The turbulent Havana of the 90’s is like an old movie, fading into black but without credits.

When this character, who years later will delight us in “Encuentro de la Red” with those disparate stories, left the Cuban capital, a half-Cuba missing the best and the worst of the so-called “Special Period,” and to sympathize with us Enrisco and his troops walk alone in a Madrid of a thousand demons

I will not share with you any of the jokes that are related to loneliness and estrangement to the point that on some occasions our respective tears fall. If anyone decides to buy the book or the books, I’d recommend that you do it right now. I wanted to look like a “yuma” or a “pepe” — a foreigner — and I bought “wine, bread and sausage” and went down the hill until I came to the end.  What a good time.

*Translator’s note: In Spanish “ode” can be turned into “fuck” with the addition of a single letter.

2 October 2013

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