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

Three Cuban Women Under the Boots of Crime / Luis Felipe Rojas

22 Oct

Signs: Throw something at my house because I have more honor than you. Political officer throws excrement at my house under the dictatorship
This appeared on the house of Caridad Burunate after being pelted with eggs by a mob.

“On October 4, they had me in a choke hold, it was the Special Brigade.  There were men, I was talking to one of the big men, they took me to the door of the house, inside the house.  They came with their uniforms.  Some men dressed in overalls painted the house in asphalt, five times they have done it, without taking into account that there are minors here,” that is the testimony of Damaris Moya Portieles, President of the Central Opposition Coalition, resident of Santa Clara.

Violence against women, dressed in white or not; with or without gladioli in hand has become recurrent all over the island.  It has to do not only with the hate sessions like the Acts of Repudiation, the physical mistreatment and the torture are “a piece of cake” in the containment measures against the opposition.  Damaris herself relates:  “Some months ago I was admitted into the Arnaldo Milian Castro hospital, the result of a beating that the State Security officers dealt me,” she says, and offers the name of the oppressors:  “Yuniel Monteagudo Reina, Erik Francis Aquino Yera and Ayor vigil Alvares, plus Pablo Echemendia Pineda,” she concludes.

Fourteen Sundays Under Rocks and Words

She is a hardworking woman and always likes to prepare the best dishes for her family; one day she decided to do it for the poor.  Caridad Burunate hosts each week in her home some twenty elderly and destitute people to give them a little ration of food.  She does it under the project “Capitan Tondique,” and the name of the anti-Castro guerrilla fighter has cost Burunate, in Colon, Matanzas, the well-known acts of repudiation, beatings, arrests and the painting of her house black.

“The mobs prepare, they are criminals, and they cuff us, fight us.  Even prisoners have been brought from the Aguica prison, because they tell them that they are going to give them passes, they even kick us.  When we arrive at my house from the walks (every Sunday with the Women in White), they wait for us with bags of rocks, eggs, they even painted my house because they wrote, “Long live Fidel, Long live the Revolution” and I wrote to them on top of that:  “Down with the Revolution” and “Down with Fidel.”

The president of the People’s Power, Dignora Zenea Sotolongo, brought a jeep full of eggs, which are non-existent, people do not have them to eat, and they threw them at my house; and of course, she has almost all her family in Miami.  This house they bathed in eggs and asphalt.  They give eggs to children for them to throw.  I made myself an opponent because we have no rights, and because I have always enjoyed expressing what I feel, I did not do it just for myself, but also to help others,” she concludes.

A Violent Beginning

Tania Oliva Chacon resides in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba.  She received the first beating “in March of this year,” when she joined the Ladies in White.  “On October 10 I found myself at a friend’s house and we were about to watch the class they broadcast on TV every day, but the house was surrounded since early morning, and when we were about to sing the national anthem, they threw themselves on us like beasts, like animals.

They knocked me down with a kick to the leg, and injured me.  They immobilized me for 21 days, but I had no way to heal.  The one who kicked me is Captain Arsenio, the chief of the sector Police.  One of my companions was badly hurt, they got him in the ribs and he is still in a very bad way.  On many occasions they come dressed as special troops in order to impress us.  I was in my last year of studies for a Bachelor’s in History, but as I began to demonstrate and to tell about the thefts that were happening, then I “fell ill” and could not finish.  My son has graduated and has not been able to get a job,” she said.

Translated by mlk.

21 October 2013

A Cyber Cafe in Cuba? No chance.

20 Oct

Illustration: photomontage The Singularity of the Island.

Under the heading “Protect Internet Cafes in Cuba. Julian Assange Bungles It,” the website  http://www.lasingularidad.com offers good advice for Cuban citizens and digital non-conformists wanting to get around censorship restrictions.

Every time that I receive questions from activists in Cuba about the internet browser rooms, I never tire of repeating the phrase “Begone, Satan”, “Good riddance”, “Take them winter wind”, or any other interjection I can think of at that moment to make it clear that they should run as though from the devil himself. Like moths to a flame, they are designed to attract the unwary, who are bedazzled by its radiance.

The Cuban regime took its time designing these “booby traps” and — in what it considers a masterful sleight-of-hand — is attempting to make itself look good in the eyes of the modern world, which increasingly considers internet access to be a basic human right.

In fact, it has already reaped some rewards this week by successfully recruiting a “figure” of no less international stature than Julian Assange to proselytize politically on behalf of the Cuban regime. This is a completely surreal and incomprehensible development since, supposedly, the hacker’s code of ethics mandates fighting for free access to information.

His support for one of the world’s most repressive communist dictatorships — one known for restricting access to the free flow of ideas on the internet — is a senseless action that will very probably cause Assange to lose face in the eyes of the hackers who support him. Will Assange turn out to be one of those typical useful, misinformed fools or an opportunist looking for free vacations in the Caribbean? Whatever the answer, the betrayal of the ideals of hackers like Anonymous will not go unnoticed.

Why is Nauta a trap?

1 – Price censorship.

The cost of one hour of access to the internet in these rooms is 4.50 CUC, some $5 US if we convert it. Considering that the average salary in CUCs is approximately $20 per month, we can calculate that one hour of internet use costs Cubans close to 25% of their monthly salary. In a country where the salary is barely enough for one or two weeks’ worth of food, very few can afford to visit these rooms. By way of comparison, if in the United States or Europe one hour of internet cost more than $1,300, social network sites like Facebook would be very bleak places…

2 – Total lack of security, privacy and basic functionality.

To be able to buy a Nauta card, users have to display their identity cards. Their names, addresses and surnames, together with the identification code of the cards sold, are registered in a database. In this same database all their activity is stored: the sites they visit, passwords they enter, screen captures and general captures of all that they type (keyloggers).

The computers available are in fact thin clients* running a modified and highly restricted version of Windows Xp, an operating system so antiquated that it will soon be discontinued by Microsoft, which will no longer issue updates for it.

Short Restrictions:

It is not permitted to right click with the mouse. This reduces functionality for those who are used to cutting and pasting text using menus and eliminates all the information that right clicking in Windows provides. Hint: You can use the keyboard shortcuts ctrl+C to copy, ctrl+X to cut and ctrl+V to paste.

It is not permitted to run any programme from USB memory sticks.

It is not permitted to run any programme from command lines (CMD.exe).

Task Manager is disabled, the Ctrl + Alt + Del and don’t even dream of administrator access in order to install some program that you may need.

Overcoming Nauta

The number one rule is : If you can avoid it, DO NOT USE IT. In Cuba, there are many other alternatives: Access from work centers, much less restrictive network dial-up access, illegal accounts shared by foreigners, friends who can send your emails as a favor, and of course access to offline internet content like the Web Packets Weekly Mulitmedia Packets that reign across the island.

If you have no other option you can protect yourself using these simple tips:

1.  Use disposable email accounts, ask your contacts to do the same if possible. The value of your messages lies not only in their contents but also in those to whom they are directed and from whom and from where you receive them (Metadata).  Never use your name or personal information to create an email account or to search websites on the Internet.  If you use false data and a fake name it will be much more difficult for government analysts or their spy programs to determine if your mail or user profile is worth the effort of analyzing.  These spy programs are used by almost all governments, including the United States and, of course, Cuba.

2.  Mask “complicated” words in your messages by using spaces, repeated letters and punctuation signs at random.  This will prevent automated software or analysts that search for key words from being able to flag your messages or profile as being of interest for analysis.  For example, instead of writing “the dissidents screamed liberty at the demonstration” write “the di. Si-dde :ntes shouted lib. ee.r t y in the demi. str *ati-on”  A text search for the words “dissident” and “demonstration” will not detect your messages.  Government agencies in other countries like the C-I. A and the N-S. A will not appreciate this advice, either.:)

3.  Mask your messages by excess information.  For example, began your email with several paragraphs of weighty poems and by prior agreement let your recipient know in which paragraph will be the true message.  The poor analyst that has to read your email will simply go to the next when he sees your long poem. The idea is to make his work difficult all the time.  Remember to mask words as explained above.

4.  Be aware that everything that you type and capture on-screen is being recorded on your user profile.  If you are forced to use a personal password, mask it with random fillers that you will then remove with the mouse and the Delete key. For example, if your password is “freecuba123,” write “iwantfreecub123456.”  Then select “iwant” and “456” with your mouse and hit delete.  This is not 100% safe with advanced keyloggers but it will make it hard for the analyst who is watching your information to discover which is the true password.  There exists no completely secure protection in the world of information nor in the real one.  It is like protecting your home:  the more difficult you make it for the thief, the less likely your house will be the one in the neighborhood that gets hit.

5.  Use PHP proxies for accessing web pages whose navigation is censored and that you do not want to be kept in your navigation history.  Write on Google:  “php proxy list” to access web pages that keep lists of proxies that constantly change in order to prevent them from being blocked.  These proxies will permit you to navigate as if your were in another country and will hide the website addresses that you visit.  Nevertheless, remember that your screen is being recorded and if you do something that calls attention they might check your user profile.

6.  Https is your friend.  Always prefer web pages in which the URL or address begins with https.  This means that all traffic between your navigator and the web page server is automatically encrypted in a secure way, hence the letter “s.” However, remember that what you type is being recorded so you cannot stop using the tricks listed above or better still, if you can avoid it, do not enter your search information on any page from Nauta.

If you have other ideas and suggestions for the protection of privacy and security of users in browser rooms in Cuba, write them in the comments below.

Archived in Cuba

*Translator’s note: Computers or computer programmes which depend heavily on other computers (their servers) to fulfill their computational roles.

Translated by Shane J. Cassidy, mlk

30 September 2013

A Che Not Printed on Money

9 Oct

I now see how an asthmatic who was too sick to travel became someone who could kill and command his own army of troops. But twenty years would have to pass before I would be able to write such a simple statement. When you are six Februaries old and they force you to bring your hand up to your forehead in a salute and say that you want to be like the Argentinian Rambo… (the good guy), who killed Batista’s henchmen (the bad guys) and wanted all the countries of the third world (?????!!) to be free, then you think, he is not only Rambo, he is Elpidio Valdés.*

The Che I learned about in school made his way through the intricate byways of the Sierra Maestra, teaching his men how to read and use rifles while “slapping around” the knuckle-heads and brown-nosers among his troops. According to textbooks he was the one who captured Santa Clara and organized the army of bearded men who entered Havana in 1959. But then came the other Che, the one introduced to me through books wrapped in newspapers by dissidents in the 1990s. In pamphlets and newspaper articles the other Che (no longer a guerrilla hero) arranged executions at La Cabaña, screwed over Virgilio Piñera and called forth a river a blood in an attempt to overturn capitalism.

Five years ago I saw a photo of a bearded man dirtied from months spent in the jungle. I was with Javier Palacios, the Peruvian nephew of a former guerrilla army leader. The Peruvian man and his family want nothing to do with the icon immortalized by Alberto Korda and his camera. The stories they have heard about him are horrifying. They have buried once and for all the idyll of internationalism manufactured in the offices of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

A guy who bullies, curses, walks around all day in a bad mood and years later seizes on several Cuban families (almost all of them peasants) with the story of doing away with imperialism…cannot be a nice guy. A guy who did not sing, did not laugh and did not play a musical instrument cannot be a nice guy. About five years ago a Spanish newspaper published a photo of his corpse lying in a laundry in La Higuera, Bolivia, all the veils fell away. The songs of adulation which had been sung for decades, the sea of ink and even the famous letter of farewell no longer mattered, even if you find out at the end of the story that it was read ahead of time as an order to kill. To Cuban ears it sounds like a settling of scores, like high-spirited taunting. Like saying, “You can go straight to hell.” As the saying goes, “He who lives by the sword…”

*Translator’s note: The hero of an animated television cartoon for children from the 1970s and 1980s who fights in Cuba’s 19th century armed struggles for liberation. 

8 October 2013

Another Birthday for Malcom / Luis Felipe Rojas

23 Sep

Today is Malcom’s birthday and we went to a nearby bank to change the coins and notes that he and Brenda had been saving for a while in a glass container. It’s not a “knob” (jar) as we say in Cuba. Or it is but with an electronic lock that allows it to count the savings. It’s like a miniature bank. In the bank we are tax-free, but they don’t change it, that dependence has ceased to be.

They do it at a supermarket, and I feel strange writing these words new for me. Malcom and the girl who smilingly helps him complete the transaction. I’m left out for the first time. Malcom receives an envelope with the amount accumulated.

This is a different Malcom-birthday. We even go to an Office Max because he’s going nuts for a Tablet (the cheap one, eh?) and we’re going to buy it. The clerk settles me in the line and two ladies clutch their purses between their arms and hips. A boy fidgets for a bit until Malcom comes and they talk. He has come for his iPad.

The clerk asks me for my ID and related things. Surprisingly, I don’t have to participate in the transaction because the almost teenage clerk and my barely 10-year-old son understand each other wonderfully and my inadequate English would only get in the way of this just created relationship. They’ve become pals in the store (so to speak), the girl wishes a long life (to the device) and that the boy will enjoy it.

We have a new lodger. We don’t talk for two hours because it’s hard, today, to pull him away from the wonder.

23 September 2013

Where is Robertico? / Luis Felipe Rojas

17 Sep

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

This is the question many are asking after the events at the “Protestdrome,” where the Cuban musician Roberto Carcassés let loose with good things.

The first thing that happens in these cases is a silence that is scary … the repressed and repressor (for different reasons). Although they haven’t taken physical measures, Robertico knows what the tools of torture are. They’ve just told him that he would not be performing any more for a while. But he knows with what pliers they’ll tie his jaw shut, what is the substance they smear on you so you stink for a thousand miles and not even some of your colleagues in your own band will come by the house.

It happened recently to the painter Pedro Pablo Oliva, it has happened to a lesser or greater extent to Pablo Milanes, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Ana Luisa Rubio, Rafael Alcides and Antonio José Ponte. Maria Elena Cruz Varela and Carilda Oliver fared no better; Antón Arrufat, Fausto Canel, Marcos Miranda, Cundo Bermúdez and Reinaldo Arenas lived a hell of  full of thorns when in their way they also said, like Robertico: “I want / remember that I always want.”

There is a big distance between the poems for which José Mario went to labor camps and this timba-with-swing where it seemed the leader of the Interactive musical group was going to dedicate it to the 4 remaining spies imprisoned in the United States … or five because Ana Belen Montes is imprisoned due to the inexperience of Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

This time it is not a documentary like PM, a magazine like Diaspora, the  troubadour intimacy of Pedro Luis Ferrer or the rawness of Lichi Diego, informing against himself (and the family, partners and all the rest divided). The last straw came under the Mount of Flags (hehehehehe, so great that) with the United States Interest Section in the background, presided over by the freed spy and the story of the yellow strips. Fiesta and dance, the best of the Communist youth danced and shouted against President Obama and the killjoy Robertico was seen with the tight note, the peg leg, the red flag, the witchcraft and the creole tripe.

A few weeks ago the poet Rafael Vilches was expelled from a cultural institution for joining up with the disaffected with the government. Angel Santiesteban receives a prize for a novel in prison, the PEN Writers in Cuba continues to operate even though squeezed into Johny Feble’s house, and Alina Guzman Tamayo continues offering some really good performances from Alamar, without the help of anyone, according to what I’ve been told.

Robertico will appear and those of us who love the irredeemably crazy music that he makes with Interactive (or without the partners) will sing: “I want / remember I always want.”

16 September 2013

Useless? Without Virtue?

3 Sep

Photo: LFelipe Rojas

An event has shaken the forums on Cuba and Cubans lately. The trips abroad of some Cuban opponents of the regime has focused attention on the tendency of we Cubans to be who we are: passionate, extremists, relaxed, dazzling, contemptuous, in short, human. But there are three women in particular I want to talk about: Yoani Sánchez, Berta Soler, and Rosa María Payá. Each one stretched the cord until it broke, from one side and the other, of Tyrians and Trojans.

In order of appearance, the linguistic slip and use (perhaps incorrect) of irony in a battlefield (the media) where gaps of misunderstanding are not allowed, unless for the use of their own machinations, painted with the first scandal the multi-award winning girl from Factor Street. All the posts she wrote over five years, taken together, didn’t generate the flood of comments as great as her 15 seconds of “fame,” and that’s bad… but it’s good. If anyone really doubted that Yoani could grab the attention of the world, they were as wrong as she was.The verbal stumbling had the same company of cheers and repudiation. We all learned the lesson, she not to again trade her communication tools, we to demonstrate once again our propensity for intolerance, and Europe and Washington to serve as a clear path to show themselves exquisite hosts.

For her part, Rosa María Payá is in, probably, the most delicate moment in her political career, Cuba doesn’t know it. Even the Human Rights activists don’t know, the Independent Civil Society (not forgetting that the opposition is not exclusively in Havana… far from it) and the contacts with the movement she hurriedly inherited (the Christian Liberation Movement) have not taken a couple of trips from the capital of the country. But the strength with which she has led the fight to denounce the death of her father, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and the activist Harold Cepero Escalante, had demonstrated the fiber she is made of, seasoned with three ingredients very dangerous for her adversaries: clarity of thought, ease of communication, and a clinging to the truth that could put the Castro regime in a position as delicate as that it faced three years ago with the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Berta Soler Fernandez brings the experience of a decade plotting strategic actions, reckless and brave against a repressive machine that went down in the annals of the twentieth century and has taken the lead in the twenty-first. Seconding the peerless Laura Pollán was a difficult test, but she took it on with ease in ten years of the struggle with the Ladies in White. Steering the mythical and effective female group, working as a team and gaining their blind trust was the final exam, conquered cum laudem. Berta Soler has deployed her agenda on the old continent as one who knows every word, every phrase the political prisoners whispered in her ear, the spirit of Pollán and the Ladies in White who continued protesting in Havana as long as she represents them. Soler has flatly denied having political ambitions, she has focused on Human Rights and with simplicity and bravery continues to support her ideals.

Three voices, three women called to tell the story and they are narrating it in a tone of voice that anyone of us would wish.

22 March 2013

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