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

19 Sep
Cuban prison. Photo from

Cuban prison. Photo from

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 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.

Frida in Miami / Luis Felipe Rojas

16 Jul


Click on this link to see a slideshow of many more images.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 14 July 2015 — Beautiful things can happen. This post is because of three pleasant surprises I had last week. First, I met — after 20 years — my dear friend the poet, Orlando Coré Fernández. Coré introduced me to a couple of special women. I interviewed the first one Friday afternoon and already gave you the news. The second was the painter, Mariana Altamirano, from Ecuador, who has lived in Miami since 1981 and just inaugurated her exhibit, “Frida Kahlo: Releasing the Magic,” the true magic that surrounds Frida.

In the Art Emporium on 7th St. and 13th Ave. in southeast Miami, Mariana expended all her energy to give us a redefined Frida, one she herself revisited in her dreams and in real life.

About that energy of Frida that you see in each piece, Mariana said: “She’s an artist that left every Latino a very large legacy. Because as a woman she managed to triumph in the art world in the 1930s and 1940s, when no other woman had been able to go that far then.”

Mariana wandered through the house/gallery, which was full of people. She showed me a couple of pieces where, she believes, she left enough of Frida’s power and sweat, which she appropriated from her. Mariana believes that she owes Frida her gratitude “for imposing myself on her life of terrible illness.”

As part of the show, several women dressed up as Frida, to the delight of the attendees.

Frida’s arrival in the United States at the beginning of the ’80s in the past century pushed her to study, guided by Professors Baruj Salinas and Yovany Bauta, below whose supervision she received a B.A. from the Miami Dade College Inter-American Campus.

In an interview with the journalist María Espinoza in 2012, Mariana related something Frida said that shows her tenacity: “There are many significant events in my career, but there is one that I always remember, and I am sharing it with other artists so they will be prepared. It took place many years ago, when I had my first solo art exhibition. I didn’t know that they were going to have me speak, and I was in a gallery where the curator spoke only English. The day of the gallery opening, they brought me up to the stage and bombarded me with questions. I wanted to die. Although I understood English, I didn’t speak it well enough to answer, so they had to get a translator. I was so ashamed that day that, since then, I set myself the goal of learning English, in order to speak on the opening day of my exhibitions.”

Mariana said goodbye to me that night with a hug that made me lose myself in her immense geography, and I ended up with one of her paintings, impregnated with color, where Frida Kahlo looks out on the world, now that the magic has been liberated and installed in Miami’s Little Havana. f15

Translated by Regina Anavy


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