Elisa Tabakman: Editing, Ceramics, Life / Luis Felipe Rojas

15 Jan

Luis Felipe Rojas, 11 January 2016 — Her friends call her Elisa, it’s that simple. She is an Argentinian writer, editor, ceramics artist who got so involved in the case of the Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban that she ended up redesigning his blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, and wrote to Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, to help them to visualize the irregularities in process repeatedly divorced from reason, but that sent Santiesteban to prison at the beginning of 2013.

Between that date and his release in 2015, while she posted the letters and articles of the Cuban novelist in “The Children…”, Elisa Tabakman was cooking animals and rare and beautiful creatures over a slow fire, with pieces of glass and wire. When the oven temperature drops out of the oven come cats and fish now celebrating life.

These big-eyed beings sent the imprisoned writer a message of encouragement to speak in front of Raul Castro. I met her through my colleague Amir Valle and since then I go to her Facebook wall and to her blog Elisa Tabakman Metal y Piedra. There I see that the blows and the dungeons haven’t left my friend and brother Angel Santiesteban all alone.

Tell me about your background, how did you come to this mixture of techniques.

I’m a fire artist, all, or almost all, the techniques of my work are covered in what is known as the fire arts: ceramics, glass, iron, jewelry. All the materials involved pass through fire, because even in my mosaics fire is involved, whether it’s stained glass or figures in iron or silver. You could almost say that if you pass through the path of the fire it is inevitable you will involve yourselves in all of its arts and possible techniques.

Fire is magic, fire purifies, fire transforms. Fire is what converts things in alchemy techniques. When you trap fire, you can never abandon it. In fact, I was 8 when I started studying ceramics, later, starting at 14, I trained for long years at the National Ceramics Schools, and I had some experience in stained glass at that time, until come years ago I went to direct fire with a torch, making contemporary jewelry, and then returned to the path of glass but researching and experimenting and sculptural techniques and in fused glass.

And again I embraced the techniques because the jewelry I was making with silver and precious stones asked me… and this is my current work, parallel to the works I continue doing and displaying. The training of an artist never ends, either through taking specialized seminars or experimenting, but it is an endless process.

Why are animals the central motif? What moves you to engage in artistic creation?

I love animals especially, I don’t understand life without animals. They are the best thing that could happen to us and ironically, we are the worst thing that can happen to them. The love and communication with animals humanizes us. We learn from the to respect others, their vital space, their times and needs. But especially, we learn from animals that unconditional love exists, they loyalty exists and that there is a true relationship that lasts for life.

In animals we don’t expect evil, self-interest or selfishness. We can fail the animals because we tend to be with them like we are with our fellow human beings, but they never will do that to us. And I have a very idealized perspective of human beings, I represent the values I would like for us with animals. Even with the most terrible issues I have a positive and optimistic vision, a vision of real life that flies in the face of reality.

But art tries to express feelings, ideals, create awareness… so it is not my intention to construct my messages with them, they just emerge from me. And I feel like I recognize them. If you look carefully, the most horrendous dramas that humanity suffers, the animals suffer, because we have them living with us and they also die of hunger, bombings, floods, on rafts or in wars… in those in their natural environments are victims of human cruelty, either because we destroy their habitat or because we hunt them without mercy.

Animals are so marvelous that I also owe to them having found my want to express what I feel or am trying to express.

The use of glass and metal make you go back to the origins, especially when your motives are figurative. Do you not call the art conceptual and abstract, which has become every more “fashionable.”

Honestly, I believe that art is abstract; art is always a representation, more or less ties to the real image of what it represents. There is no art without abstraction, and at the same time there is always an intellectual or emotional elaboration. In my case, “abstract” art doesn’t work for me as an expressive language, I don’t see how to represent the drama of a concentration camp, or the drama of the refugees, or whatever it is, it is not with “figurative” elements or high symbolic value.

And it is not just ab out how one uses this language to express it; I believe that it is fundamental that works that have a strong social commitment be “accessible” to the readings of the “spectators”; if not we have more or less beautiful “objects” (taste is always relative) but we are not doing what I understand as art. The rest, of course, is always respectable, if it doesn’t allows a dialog with the viewer and it doesn’t spark feelings, and it only awakes a great aesthetic appreciation, it is “decorative art,” which I would always flee from.

It’s very difficult for me to make utilitarian objects, it horrifies me, working them technically and designing them with no expression; so I know that is not my way although from the economic point of view, clearly I should choose that option.

Your work is halfway between literary editing and Human Rights activist. What do you do to combine this?

I came to the world of editing because I was always a fanatic reader and devoted to books and the worship of the “object” of the book led me to pursue a graduate degree and editing and worked for many years in the most important publishers. There is no work more gratifying than that which allows us to enjoy what we do, and this is true in my case.

Reading is a key trigger in artistic creation, there is nothing like reading to awaken our imagination. The same thing happens to a writer who can never stop reading the work of others to enrich their own production. What in the intellectual world is called “intertextuality” also exists in the world of plastic arts; we are a product even of the genetic memory of our species.

In every artist there is a germ of those who painted the caves of Altamira, the artistic expressions of all peoples of the world, and more recently, individual artists. Throughout history we have had the same need to express, to ask, to thank; it started in the walls of the caves, and we continue it today with many techniques and materials, but the human need was, is and will be the same.

In my case, for multiple reasons and personal experiences, my expressive needs landed on the issue of human rights, of human dignity. But it was not reduced to that but to the feedback with a strong commitment to it and that’s what I spent years doing, not without problems, sacrifices, injustices and misunderstandings. but, aware of being on the right side of History, I resisted everything, not without pain, but I have resisted it.

I always thought I was in a privileged place, to be fighting for those who need help not being one who needs it. So every time I thought I would collapse, I thought about those who needed me, and the conclusion was always the same: if there are those bearing the unbearable and I owe my commitment to them, how can I not bear insults, insults and threats?

Each time I felt I couldn’t do it any more, I thought about the reality of facing prison, torture, persecution and the complete lack of freedom and legal guarantees. And I grew with each disagreeable episode, and curiously, in every moment of these I did my best work.

I feel privileged to be able to do committed art but even more to accompany it with a real commitment to the victims of what I am denouncing. My only regret is not being able to do more; these years of struggle have also make me aware of how limited we are no matter how infinite our effort. But as the Talmud says, “He who saves a life, saves humanity.”

And this is the guiding principle of my life. In the case of Angel Santiesteban, I also help humanity to continue to have an excellent writer, who is so committed to his art, he paid with his freedom, and worse still, he could pay with his life. Caring for Angel, caring for a human being and a great artist.

The Crumbs That Pope Francis Will Eat in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

19 Sep
Cuban prison. Photo from http://www.telemundo51.com

Cuban prison. Photo from http://www.telemundo51.com

Luis Felipe Rojas, 12 September 2015 — Joy came to 3,522 Cuban homes, this being the the number of prisoners serving sentences for (technically) common crimes who set to be released. Indeed, this calls for celebration, as jails certainly do no reeducate anybody, much less in the island’s repressive atmosphere.

Thus, the Cuban government has just offered another gesture to Pope Francis in advance of his visit to Cuba, which will begin on September 19. The Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed its gratitude, as no doubt many Cubans have done, but with no questions asked. As the saying goes, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. And the meager crumbs scattered in recent months by the Castro’s tight-fisted military regime has left many people dazed and confused.

The twisted nature of Cuba’s leadership — stuck like a peg in the daily life of the island since 1959 — has taken the liberty of deciding which steps its countrymen must take without allowing questions to be raised. Rather than being a cause for celebration, the specific details of this phony amnesty are of a source of embarrassment and shame.

The internal gulag

There is something the intended audience for this “humanitarian gesture” — Pope Francis, Cardinal Ortega, the bishops, priests, laity and all the faithful mentioned in the message of thanks published in Thursday’s special edition of Gaceta de Cuba, issued by the Ministry of Justice — should know. Continue reading

Three Al Jazeera Reporters Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Egypt / Luis Felipe Rojas

3 Sep
The three journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera.

The three journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera.

AFP/ Khaled Desouki. The journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera,  Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, seated in the prisoners’ cell during their trial in Cairo on 29th of August 2015

This Saturday, an Egyptian tribunal sentenced  the three journalists from the Qatari network Al Jazeera to three years in jail,despite the international campaign for their acquittal.

The Australian Peter Greste, the Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and the Egyptian Baher Mohamed were found guilty of having “spread false information” and of having worked in Cairo without the necessary permission.

The judge Hasan Farid also indicated that “they were not journalists” as they hadn’t registered as such with the relevant authorities.

The reporters were accused of having supported by their coverage the Muslim Brotherhood formed by the Islamic President Mohamed Mursi, toppled by the army in 2013.

Fahmy and Mohamed were present at the tribunal and Greste was sentenced in his absence, after having been expelled to Australia in February by presidential decree.

The verdict is “a deliberate attack on freedom of he press” was Al Jazeera’s reaction in a communique.

“The only fair outcome of this case was acquittal” due to the “lack of evidence”, declared Amal Clooney, Fahmy’s lawyer, after the verdict.

Before the hearing, Amal Clooney indicated that there would be meetings with responsible government officials to request, if they should be sentenced, a presidential pardon or expulsion.

Translated by GH

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Asks Maduro to Cease Harassment of the Media

1 Sep
Screen shot of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

Screen shot of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) reacted with “profound concern” to the lawsuit filed by the President of the National Assembly, deputy Diosdado Cabello,against the newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual, and the website LaPatilla.com. It urged national authorities to “cease these acts of harassment that deepen the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression in the country and threaten the media and critical journalists in Venezuela,particularly in an election year.

The case that Cabello filed against the media, and the judicial decisions that several judges have rendered in it—like the one prohibiting 22 executives of the defendant companies from leaving the countryor the one last week seizing the headquarters of El Nacional—worry the CIDH, a body that is aware of the support that the Supreme Court (TSJ) gave the legislator last May when it described as “lacking foundationthe accusations that he was linked to drug trafficking, as had been reported in Spanish and U.S. media, in stories that were republished in the country by the defendants.

This current situation is aggravated by a public statement unfavorable to the media outlets, issued by the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in Venezuela, about the factsunderlying the complaint, and which would be considered by a lower court. On its website the Court expressed its solidarity with the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, and without due process ora hearing by the lower court handling the case, advanced its opinion that the disclosure of such information ‘lacking truthfulness carries sanctions under national law,'” said the Commission.

The organization, in a letter also signed by the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, demanded that the authorities cease their attacks against the media, both verbal and judicial, in order to ensure that the legislative elections scheduled for December 6 are transparent.

“The Commission and the Special Rapporteur consider that in the context of an election year, faced with a reduction of pluralistic news reporting, and diminishing independent media, it is urgent to stop the verbal and judicial harassment that restricts the free flow of ideas and opinions. In this context, the concerted state actions aimed at encircling those media that havean editorial line independent or critical of the government are of special concern to the Commission and, in turn, represent a very significant threat to independent journalism andinvestigation, to freedom of expression, and to the free flow of information publicly available in Venezuela ahead of the elections to be held in December 2015.

Source: El Universal

Translated by Tomás A.

Translated by Tomás A.

“El Sexto” in the Clutches of the Castro Beast / Luis Felipe Rojas

28 Aug
Piece by "El Sexto" (mixed media)

Piece by “El Sexto” (mixed media)

Danilo Maldonado is a Cuban political prisoner who just embarked on the terrible path of committing to a hunger strike. This was confirmed by his family members from Havana late on August 25th.

“El Sexto” (as in “The Sixth [hero]”, referring to the 5 Castro spies who were imprisoned in the United States, and in open mockery of the 6th Congress of the Communist Party) is a restless youth who for months ran Cuban Intelligence ragged in Havana, painting his graffiti art around as he pleased.

The following is a short and intense note posted by Lia Villares today on her blog. She has accompanied him during the months of travail since his apprehension for painting the names “Fidel” and “Raul” on two pigs that he was going to release in a Havana park, as performance art:

From Lia Villares

In a telephone conversation a few minutes ago with Danilo’s lawyer Mercy, she told me that—because she has only been licensed for two and a half months, and is in the midst of family problems—she has “turned over” Danilo’s case to another lawyer.

This Monday when she started work, the first thing she did when she got to the office (at 23rd and G) was to pick up Danilo’s file.

She said she had done everything possible for Danilo, including filing with the prosecutor more than 4 petitions to modify the conditions of release; all were rejected. The last time she went to apply for modification of conditions of release at the Municipal Prosecutor’s office, a prosecutor named Viviana told her that she couldn’t do anything because the file was at the Attorney General’s Office (at 1st and 18th).

She insists she wants to take on Danilo’s defense, because she sees no “crime” in the case, and although Danilo had told her during their last visit (some months back) that he did not want any defense, she still wants to defend him because she also sees no “dangerousness in the act,” which is what they are arguing in denying the modifications she has requested.

“I didn’t want to let go,” she told me in an anguished voice, “and everyone who has come to see me knows that I haven’t stopped doing everything available to me.”

Tuesday I will see her along with Danilo’s mother and take to her the Complaint document prepared byCubaLex, the independent legal counsel office. I delivered a copy of it on Tuesday, August 25 to the Municipal Prosecutor of La Lisa, to the Provincial Prosecutor of Havana, and to the Attorney General of the Republic. I have an acknowledged receipt from each of them. They are required to respond within 60 business days.

The document explains how Danilo’s case ranges from arbitrary detention to the violation of the universal right to freedom of thought and expression, how “due process” has not been accorded him, and how his right to liberty, security, and personal integrity has been violated.

The Complaint is directed to the officials charged with enforcing the law, that they “accept this document, and investigate the facts here reported, and submit the officers involved to criminal proceedings, while restoring the law violated, to avoid the international responsibility of the Cuban state for breach of its obligations to respect and guarantee the human rights of all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, without distinction, as affirmed by almost all the relevant international treaties.”

And it further requests his “immediate release as a necessary measure to protect his personal well-being. The precautionary measures requested are raised as necessary and appropriate, according to the truthful information reported and provided in this document.

“The extreme gravity and urgency of this case justifies the need to protect the physical and mental integrity of Maldonado Machado, because of the extreme seriousness of the threat to his freedom and personal safety presented by his arbitrary detention and current imprisonment by the national authorities. The urgency of the measure is clear when we set forth the extremely vulnerable position Danilo finds himself in because of his role as a dissident and defender of human rights.

“It is internationally understood that ‘a person who in any way promotes or seeks the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, nationally or internationally’ should be considered a defender of human rights, and that the work of human rights defenders is fundamental to the universal implementation of human rights, and for the full existence of democracy and the rule of law.

“Defenders of human rights are essential for strengthening and consolidating democracies, since the goal that motivates the work is for society in general and seeks to benefit it. Therefore, when a person is prevented from defending human rights, the rest of society is directly affected.”

Translated by Tomás A.

Queer* / Luis Felipe Rojas

20 Jul

 William S. Burroughs, Ediciones Alma Perro.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 5 July 2105 — For a week I have been steeped in the acidic prose of William S. Burroughs. It is neither a debut novel nor something reissued in the wake of legalization of gay marriage in the United States. The work is an edition released by Anagrama, a Barcelona-based publishing house, and it comes without frills or pretensions. The faded cover shows Burroughs under a blue visor, almost dissolving into a watery background of opaque tones. Reading it took me longer than I would have thought.

Those looking for a world of good manners and polite expressions — or even the insane for that matter — might not want to tread near this literary specimen. In one-hundred thirty tightly packed pages, Burroughs bangs out a chronicle of his alter ego Lee’s travels through the most sordid and filthy corners of Mexico, Panama and Ecuador. This is definitely not everyone’s idea of literature, as Queer attests.

The homoerotic experiences of the intense Lee and his brash companion Allerton — a young man aroused not by other human bodies but by his own flesh and entrails — form a portrait that is somewhat darker than the story of two homosexuals simply trying to live a “normal” life in a Mexico that is more than a little bit macho, which makes it all the more alluring. Their goal is to find what has brought them there: Yage, a natural substance that promises total control over their thoughts.

The story takes place in a bar where the two have met up with an elderly man, Guidry. After a few beers, Guidry initiates a conversation:

“Did I tell you how I made the cop on the beat? He’s the vigilante, the watchman out there where I live. Every time he sees the light on in my room, he comes in for a shot of rum. Well, about five nights ago he caught me when I was drunk and horny, and one thing led to another and I ended up showing him how the cow ate the cabbage.”

A character narrates without an intended audience. A “pesky reporter” trying be a wise-ass casts doubt on Oriental wisdom by asking an old man in a trance — colored smoke streaming out of his nose — who has made cosmic contact: “Will there be war with Russia, Mahatma? Will Communism destroy the civilized world? Is the soul immortal? Does God exist?”

The response is priceless and Burroughs delineates it in his cool, agile prose: “The Mahatma opens his eyes and compresses his lips and spits two long, red streams of betel nut juice out through his nose holes. It runs down over his mouth and he licks it back in with a long, coated tongue and says, ‘How in the fuck should I know?’ The acolyte says, ‘You heard the man. Now cut. The Swami wants to be alone with his medications.’ Come to think of it, that is the wisdom of the East. The Westerner thinks there is some secret he can discover. The East says, ‘How the fuck should I know?'”

Upon its release, the British novelist Martin Amis said that Burroughs had “written a thoughtful and sensitive study of unrequited love.” Recently the Spanish newspaper El País published an article, “The House Where Burroughs Killed,” a story about an apartment in Mexico where the writer shot his wife. It describes a site which has become a place of pilgrimage for Burroughs’ fans and other oddballs who make up the human species.

The author of Naked Lunch was charged with murder and sent to jail in Lecumberri, a place where years later the Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis would also be imprisoned. Here a key protagonist, the Mexican attorney Bernabé Jurado (“the Jack of All Trades, clever corrupter of judges,” according to Garcia Robles) appears on the scene. After only 13 days in prison the shyster lawyer manages to get his client released by “proving” it was an accident. That was the version Burroughs offered while still behind bars to La Prensa, a tabloid newspaper that thought it was interviewing just another crackpot.

“My wife had had a few drinks. I took the gun to show it to my friends. The gun slipped and fell, hit a table and discharged. Everything was purely accidental,” said Burroughs, as reported in the excellent article by Juan Diego Quesada for the Madrid newspaper.

Sixty-four years later, residents of the Mexico City building — two little old ladies — are besieged by curious visitors, sticking their noses in, hoping to learn ever more about a troubled writer who shocked so many in the latter half of the twentieth century.

“There are those who believe he was a vile murderer crowned with a halo of romanticism but they are a minority,” concludes the El País reporter. “Bernardo Fernández is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Uncle Bill, which is based on Burroughs adventures in Mexico City. Upon leaving the office of his psychoanalyst one Monday, Fernández peered through the entry to the building but it was too dark to go for a stroll inside. He fantasized entering the apartment, having coffee with its tenants and taking some photos. But he did not dare because he knew that the response of the sisters and their five dogs would be the same as always: ‘Get out of here.’ The mystery of Burroughs remains hidden behind that door.”

*Translator’s note: English-language title of a novella by William S. Burroughs. Written in 1951 and 1852, it was not published until 1985. The complete work is currently available for free online:


Writer Angel Santiesteban-Prats Released from Prison / Luis Felipe Rojas

18 Jul
L to R: Antonio Rodiles, Angel Santiesteban, Ailer Gonzales, Claudio Fuentes, an unidentified human rights activist

L to R: Antonio Rodiles, Angel Santiesteban, Ailer Gonzales, Claudio Fuentes, an unidentified human rights activist

Luis Felipe Rojas, 18 July 2015 — In the early evening of this Friday, 17 July, the Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban-Prats was released from prison. The news raced from the editor of his blog, the Argentinian Elisa Tabakman. Elisa sent messages to Santiesteban’s friends immediately.

“I was released on parole, which they had denied me April and June and recently they told me they would grant it in August, but they released me today,” was Angel’s statement to the blog “Crossing the Barbed Wire” from the home of regime opponent Antonio Rodiles in the Playa municipality of Havana.

Santiesteban entered prison on 18 February 2013, charged with “violation of domicile” and accused of beating his ex-wife. His case was plagued by clear legal violations and the process was repeatedly denounced by his family members, his first attorney, Amelia Rodriguez Cala, and dozens of human rights activists.

Santiesteban’s release occurred just hours before the beginning of functions at the embassies of the United States and Cuba, which until now have maintained interest sections in their respective capitals since the end of the ‘70s of the last century.

Writers, human rights activists, and people of good will, have generally received the news of Angel Santiesteban-Prats’ release with pleasure.