Archive | February, 2011

Dungeons and Physical Blows on Patriotic Anniversaries

26 Feb

Photo/Archive ADO

The news of the arrests of more than fifty Human Rights activists throughout the entire country has only further confirmed the violent nature of the regime which governs my country.

Some people had illusions. Once again, those detained and beaten in their own homes were peaceful dissidents and their families. No voluntary actions, little solidarity among neighbors, and a great wave of fear which can be seen on the faces of people. It is a profound fear which “inspires even further fear.

“The arrests began during the early morning of February 21st, when activists from the Eastern Democratic Alliance, Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz, Omar Wilson Estevez Real, Annie Sarrion Romero, her husband Juan Carlos Vazquez Osorio, and Milagros Leyva were all taken to a police unit in the Villa Primada in Baracoa. From this group, Manzanet Ortiz and Estevez Real remained detained until the 24th. The main goal of the pro-Castro soldiers which guard the gardens of the Plaza of the Revolution was to prevent any tributes to Orlando Zapata Tamayo to take place on the 1st anniversary of his death on the 23rd of February, as well as tributes to the shot down pilots of “Brothers to the Rescue” on the 24th.

As usual, the homes of human rights activists, other dissidents, and independent journalists from Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, and Holguin were all extensively watched over by the combined forces of the political police (G2), the National Revolutionary Police, and the paramilitary Rapid Response Brigades. On the 21st, in fact, the independent Baptist pastor, Desmides Hidalgo Lopez, was brutally beaten by members of State Security in the town of Buenaventura, Holguin. While I was writing these paragraphs, Desmides had already been released but his house was surrounded by soldiers.

On the night of February 22nd, I received a call from Yanet Mosquera Cayon. She was telling me that her husband, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, the general coordinator of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, and other dissidents had been detained in the streets of Guantanamo.On the 23rd of February, after a strong military deployment, Reina Luisa Tamayo was able to visit Zapata’s tomb in the cemetery of Banes, but only with 11 other family members.

On the morning of that same day, Jorge Corrales Ceballos, Jose Cano Fuentes, and Isael Poveda Silva (all from the Eastern Democratic Alliance), were detained in Guantanamo. According to the testimonies of ex-political prisoner Fidel Garcia Roldan, in Holguin political police agents began to beat the journalist Maria Antonia Hidalgo, her mother Maria Mir, and the activist from FLAMUR, Marlene Pupo Font. Caridad Caballero Batista, her husband Esteban Sande Suarez, and pro-democratic activist Juan Carlos Gomez, were also all beaten in this eastern city.

Other arrests occurred in Palma Soriano. Raudel Avila Losada confirmed arrests of nearly 30 activists all of which, according to his testimony, were released in less than two hours. On the morning of February 24th, Avila Losada confirmed that Cauto Marino Antomachin and Reinaldo Martinez Rodriguez were still detained in that Santiagan city on the banks of the Cuato river.

Restrictions of movement, with special orders preventing dissidents from leaving their own homes, were confirmed in Antillas, Banes, San German, and Santiago de Cuba. In the latter (Santiago), there were reports of arrests of various dissidents in the town of El Caney, without having a clear figure of who they were or how many there were, because they were all detained while on their way to another point of the city. Idalmis Nunez Reinosa was in her home, but her telephone line would constantly drop.

I also received news that Antunez, just like Idania Llanes and others, also suffered arrests. The home of Antunez was also attacked by Castro forces. From Havana, where I am currently writing this post, a neighbor of the independent journalist Hector Julio Cedeno Negrin tells me that Hector did not return to his house after an opposition activity which took place on Neptune Street outside the house of Laura Pollan Toledo. Cedeno Negrin was beaten and still remains detained.

I have been able to write this short report after calling the few phones which had not yet been disconnected. It is the 24th of February and I do not want to wait until tomorrow to post a partial report. Surely, today there will be more arrests if any dissident goes near the ocean to toss some flowers in memory of the fallen Brothers to the Rescue. I am writing in haste because I am being followed.

My wife tells me that far away in San German there have been troops stationed around my house for more than 24 hours. She does not know if the purpose of this is to detain me upon my arrival, or because they are not sure whether I am inside.

Here, in the streets of Havana, I see a tense calm. But I walked to the cybercafe and went ahead and sent this post.

This time I have avoided walking into the trap of my captors in order to send out some tweets with the little credit I have left in my cell phone, and to write up this note for all of you. I fear that there will be a fight in the afternoon if they try to detain me.

Fellow activists and dissidents have asked me to send them messages through my cell phone. They all want news of what happens.I also had the illusion, or the dream, of Egyptian or Libyan streets lit up at night, of that same sound of the people’s demands which filled the middle-Eastern desert air. But the Cuban reality is different. There have been arrests and beatings, and there are fewer of us than those who filled the plazas of Cairo to demand freedom.

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

February 24 2011

Orlando Zapata Tamayo: The Extension of His Body

23 Feb

Archive Photo: The Ladies in White

It is now one year since the death in prison of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, His death from the effects of a prolonged hunger strike was widely reported by the international media. A year later the body of this young black man has provided an excuse to extend the repression to his brothers in the cause, to those who sympathized with him though they didn’t know him, and to a large number of people who have seen their neighborhoods surrounded by hordes of police encircling peaceful dissidents.

The fact that Zapata’s death came about through starvation is one more piece of the hunger we have endured for over half a century. I speak of the spiritual hunger for the lack of freedom and the other, which hurts in one’s own body. I speak of the lack of food for a people because of the government’s apathy and lack of actions to meet our minimum needs.

That is the paradox, that is the legacy. When millions of Cubans wrack their brains every day to find something to eat, a man without freedom such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo decides to starve to death rather than to continue being humiliated and severely beaten in prison, where he was.

The acts of being black, a dissident, and from eastern Cuba were other sentences that carried him to his final torture. Discriminated against because of the color of his skin, like thousands of Cubans in this era of “equalities,” he refused to believe in this veiled, but latent, apartheid.

Pro-government academics and intellectuals have made their thoughts known about racism in Cuba, on that there’s no doubt. A law approved in 1997 prohibits and regulates those from “the interior of the country” from taking up residence in “the capital of all Cubans,” and so his punishment was threefold.

One day in the summer of 2009, I was stationed in front of the Holguin provincial prison in solidarity with Zapata on one of his hunger strikes. Eight months later, on 3 February 2010, I marched with thirty dissidents through the streets of Camaguey, and was outside the hospital where the black Zapata lay dying in his penultimate battle. The arrests for when I have tried to reach his native Banes, the days when my house has been surrounded by hordes of plainclothes and uniformed police to keep me from leaving and which have required my son to undergo psychiatric treatment, are an extension of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s body.
The metaphor of the body in the body of another is not a pennant, a medal worn as a trophy of war, it is the consequences of the dream of freedom.

Hundreds of arrests have occurred in the space of a year. But the attempt to publicly humiliate him, using all the mass media under the government’s control, has not been enough to silence this simple and civic act of planting oneself firmly in opposition to the dictator.

The rebellion of the Ladies in White, the hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas, the stubborn decision of hundreds of Cubans to seek freedom, have proved that his death was not in vain. The clumsiness of the authorities in blocking those who want to go to Banes, to freely visit the cemetery, a place of national pilgrimage, is part of the extension of the body of Orlando Zapata Tamayo who is all of us.

23 February 2011

A Civic Gesture

21 Feb

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

With seventy-five years on his back Leslie Chan never imagined he would take his bones to a police station. Barely a week ago he was sitting on a public bench waiting for some friends to have a little chat as he does every morning since he’s been retired, but a police officer interrupted the day.

The cops told him to thew were going to search the home of a family living very near to where the septuagenarian were seated and they needed his presence as a witness. He told me they approached him without any preamble and he refused outright. “I don’t want to,” he told the police firmly, and added, “I am not a snitch.”

When they clarified it and explained to him that it was his “civic duty” he repeated what he said and added that he’s retired, he suffers from high blood pressure, and added other excuses for what he would consider being an “accomplice” to the search. The police asked for his identity card and spit out that he could look for it at the town police station.

I am a witness to the fact that for four days he went, helped by his sister, also in her seventies, to the police station to look for his ID card. Every time the clerk explained that it was true he had a right to claim it, and even the head of the military post told him that when the uniformed officer returned he would be reprimanded.

Still unknown is if there was actually a fine but he’s sure of what he knows very well and that is according to the Cuban penal code no one is obliged to attend a home search as a witness unless it is “a question of life and death.” And in this case it was just about “looking for some bills in Cuban convertible pesos” in the house of dealer so that requirement does not apply to this seventy-five year old.

Leslie flatly refused, like Rosa Parks he clung to the truth. As she did, grabbing onto the bars of her bus seat, Chan refused to cooperate with an absurd policy. It is a gesture, a small action like those that set off any social revolution.

“They returned the card to me after four days,” he told me, “but they now know they can never count on me.”

February 21, 2011

Usurping the Public Space

18 Feb

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

There is no way the Cuban government is noted for civility and good manners in sharing the country, the land, the public space with its peers, though they be adversaries in the social or political arena.

For several years, over her, as the level of civil disobedience grows, the repressive forces, propping up the unsalvageable, prohibit any public act, any gesture of public participation and the popular imagination has fabricated the idea that the “the streets belong to the revolutionaries,” or “this street belongs to Fidel,” as some of the partisans and those sent to repudiate dissidents scream.

To place flowers on Marti’s monument, a wreath on the statue of Martin Luther King, Gandhi or Lincoln, becomes a suicidal act ending in beatings, taunts and arrests that last from hours to days. The recent twenty arrests in the east of Cuba when the distinct independent civil society groups tried to commemorate the birth of Jose Marti last January are the most recent proof. The public space has been usurped in the name of national security, on the pretext of maintaining public order, leading to beatings and arbitrary detentions.

Public space and civic action are hostages of a law is a dead letter, but needs more voices claimants. The scenario is there.

February 17 2011


15 Feb

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas



limits which my country invents

vain farewells

the gondola

the oar

the nostalgia…the postcards…

(From my unpublished book of poems)

The Inflamed Nation

13 Feb

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

The massive layoffs so frequently announced by the Cuban nomenclature have not yet been implemented, but we can already see some of the first effects.

Despite the initial impulse of those who have seen an incentive, escape, or “breath of oxygen” in this, others have decided to “take justice into their own hands”.  The absence of labor options, and the economic incentives, has actually really gotten to some people, and everyone has thought up something different.

So far during this new year, there have been a few robberies in some grocery stores, warehouses, and other public service businesses in the city of Holguin.  In San German, a series of robberies left a couple of other grocery stores empty.  They took the oil, the coffee, and nearly all the rice.  All these products belonged to the “basket of basic goods” category, or in other words, they were products monitored by the rationing cards.  Now, people do not hesitate one bit when they see 4 ounces of chicken or some kind of “texturized” ground beef (as it’s called here).  They immediately go to buy any such products.  “Just in case they run out fast,” someone–who nowadays is one of the first people in line whenever products arrive to the local grocery shop–commented to me.

The products mentioned in the Rationing Card are few and seldom available (only once a month), and the distribution company gets caught up, and one day the oil comes in, the next the soap arrives, and then the following week is when the coffee would arrive.

The incursions of the burglars go from the most basic thefts, with the usage of crowbars and pliers, to the sophisticated use of lock picks.  In some places, they have left behind some messages warming that what was happening was only the beginning of much more to come.  In other cases, these messages point out the negligence displayed by those in power.  The unfortunate fact about this is that we are now witnessing a wave of theft which, on the one hand, puts many innocent people at risk, while on the other hand it serves as a “mirror”, as the only way of being able to achieve what one wants.

Robberies in local grocery stores are the reflection of thievery taking place in the high ranks, where men with white collars have amassed personal fortunes, and when this was not enough for them anymore they decided to stick their hands in the coffers of “Father State”.

“The General’s men are the ones who are robbing”, a street corner know-it-all tells me, while adding, “Nobody robs 6 millions dollars from the local shop, and nobody asks to borrow 2 airplanes to later return them.  In order to do any of that, one must be up in the high ranks,” he reassures me.

The truth is that in order to carry out such robberies they did not have to get some people from Planet Mars to do it.  They have used the same ones who one day went to the Plaza to scream slogans which were forced down their throats, or in the worst of cases, traveled to Africa to kill people they did not even know.  They are also the very same ones who scream at the top of their lungs, “This street belongs to Fidel!”

February 10 2011

Unions and Now What?

7 Feb

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

So far, during this new year the expectation of massive layoffs has increased, and along with it so too the decisions of various people I know to enter the private sector as self-employed workers, whether it be setting up a small shop or becoming agricultural workers for farmers.

However, around here it is a fact that the “re-organization of the surplus labor force” has been held back “until April” (which curiously coincides with the long-awaited congress of the Communist Party).  There are already signs of what’s to come, what has been set in motion by the current prevailing malaise.

In the municipal leadership of Culture in Holguin and San German, they have announced that 1/3 of the staff will be cut, without specifying what will be done with those left over.  Uncertainty reigns around here, and an old friend of mine (who for a very long time was the leading union member in the Cultural sector) told me that:

“They are going to eliminate many cultural promoters, and you know the idea to form them in first place was of the Commander, but we can’t even escape that.  The truth is that no one can make a living from songs and poems.  I don’t know where we will end up, for here in this municipality there are more than 100 of us working in the cultural sector and sometimes even rounding up 20 fans is a difficult task.  But what can we do?”

I asked her if she would appeal to the union of cultural workers to see which options they would give her.  She stared at me with a mocking face and said, “What union are you talking about?  They have always done whatever the Communist Party tells them to do, and now the order being given is that we must understand that it is necessary for the country to take such measures.”

In January, it was announced in San German that Housing Inspectors will have their salaries cut by 40 pesos.  A neighbor of mine sees that as a contradiction.  For many years, he was a union member himself and he always believed that “layoffs were in part to stimulate and increase the salary.”  Now, he was another who with an incredulous face told me, “I don’t know what these people are talking about.”

Each citizen I have approached on the street has taken a different tone.  In some, I can note the expectations, while in others I hear the frustration.  Most commonly, there is a clear sign of alarm.  The people have noticed that the direction taken by the government finds itself amid an old dilemma.  Many express the feeling that, “Today they say one thing, and tomorrow they announce the opposite.  But they won’t take the plunge… they are testing the grounds to see what will happen, to see what the people will do.”

Every corner of San German has become a public spot to debate, although many still do so with much fear.  There are no firm demands or accusations aimed at anyone directly.  In some instances, some labor centers have been host to heated debates in the presence of Party executives and representatives.  Each argument has as its focal point the “The Draft Political, Economic and Social Guidelines,” but as usual many ask themselves, “How are we going to argue about something which has already been approved by Parliament and by the Party hierarchy?”

Antonio, my neighbor, is also a union member.  He explains it to me as if it were a grand strategy “The unions are dormant.  They only seek to amplify what the bosses of businesses or institutions are saying, but then again, people aren’t protesting much…”

February 6 2011

My Map of Prohibitions

6 Feb

Yesterday, February 2nd, I was on my way to the home of Caridad Caballero Batista in Holguin.  She is a great friend of my family and during the last few months I have barely been able to visit her for two reasons.  The first reason is simply because her house continues to be under the eternal vigilance of the G2 (Secret Police)who prevent anyone from being able to get to it.  The other reason is because I am also prohibited from leaving my own town.

Just a few meters from her house I was intercepted by the political police officer, Saul Vega, and another official who claimed his last name was Caneyes.  I was detained and taken to the police station of that same neighborhood.  Without giving me any explanations they kept me sitting on a bench for half an hour.  Later, they put me once again in a police car and took me to the center of the city to another outpost of the G2 known as “El Anillo” (‘The Ring’).  I submitted to an interrogation where the main question was why I was visiting Caridad Caballero.

Then came the lecture of the “do’s and don’ts.”  They will not allow any type of commemoration to go on during the 23rd of February, the one year anniversary of Orlando Zapata’s death.  They will not allow meetings to be held by the Eastern Democratic Alliance.  They will not allow me to go to certain towns to report any incidents of those which “you put on your blog.”  Once again, my blog, my reports, my interviews with citizens and activists who are beaten and mistreated by that same police who were questioning me right then.

In another section of that document which they read to me they stated that on the 3rd of February it would be one year from the day when a public protest was held in Camaguey by more than 20 peaceful dissidents who took to the streets to alert everyone that Orlando Zapata would soon die in the Amalia Simoni hospital room and that not a single guard was doing anything to help save his life.

There were other prohibitions mentioned as well.  Neither myself or any other member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance has permission to travel from one town to another.  In other words, I am restricted during this whole time from traveling to Las Tunas, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Moa, Bayamo, Baracoa, or Holguin.  And never to Banes.

When they concluded the litany of warnings, threats, and prohibitions, they took me (once again in a police car) to the exit of that town, which indicates the way back to San German.  They told me that I “better return to my town because the restrictions for Holguin and Banes for this month had been made very clear.”

Not only do they limit and restrict my freedom of expression and movement from one province to another, but also within my own province which is the place I am forced to move about, for all my friends live there and that is where all the cultural centers I visit are located.

At some point in the “chat” (which although it violated my citizen rights, this time it was not aggressive) I asked the official who claimed his name was Caneyes if all those prohibitions and formulated threats could be handed to me in written form.  His answer came quick, “No, no.”

I then told him, “That’s where the difference lies between both of you and me. ”

“What’s that?” he asked.

I responded by telling him that, “Whatever I think about any subject I write it down and publish it on my blog, and you can’t give me what they tell you to do in written form.  For my part, I have the freedom to chose what I will write and the freedom to publish what I think.  As soon as I get out of here I will write about what we just “spoke about” and it will get published on my blog.  I will try to get someone to print it for me and if you accept it, I’ll give you a copy, and a few copies of previous entries as well.”

February 3 2011